Networking up

Yesterday I had a cuppa with a good friend of mine where she chatted about some issues at her workplace. She works for a not-for-profit with national reach and a couple of thousand employees. Although the discussion covered a variety of topics, an issue she mentioned was the all too common problem of coordination and liaison between similar functional units within different business units. And although everyone was kind of aware of the issue, it was difficult to get any traction to resolve it as they were all just simply too busy and nobody owned it.

This friend also wanted to enjoy a better profile within her organisation as someone whom could make change happen, so I let her in on a couple of little secrets of mine…

Secret number one

The problem with specialisation in an area is that you tend to be blind to how other areas solve the same problem. As she works in HR, she just doesn’t ask herself: “how would a salesperson approach this problem?” Cross-pollination of ideas from different professions (or even just plain theft of ideas) is a massively simple route to innovation that’s all too often overlooked. But getting to the point – I as the business development guy told her what I would do.

Secret number two

Dinners are a great way to get a group of people to focus on an issue. I have talked about running discussion dinners before, but the benefits are:

  • you get their complete attention for an extended period;
  • you get to connect with people through the informal discussion and anecdotes;
  • it’s much more pleasant than a 45 minute meeting stuck in a meeting room.

I like to have a formal agenda that I split up over a set menu. The issue with dinners though is how do you get people to attend outside work hours? See Secret number three…

Secret number three

Nobody wants to network down, they want to network with equals or people perceived to be more senior than them. So you need to get someone seriously senior at the dinner (and not necessarily from your organisation). But how do you get someone seriously senior? Well, firstly they need to be the “guest of honour” with clear expectations of their role (no homework, just wise insights on the topic). Secondly you need to work with their schedule, not yours. Almost every discussion dinner I have ever run (some years 20-plus dinners) has had someone who was initially a stranger happily accept the role of guest of honour because it’s a highly appealing offering to most people. And once you have got your guest of honour, the other invitees will move their life around to ensure they make the dinner, because they all want to network up.

The added bonus here is that you if you get a senior person in your organisation to attend, the chances of having your dinner sponsored improve dramatically.

The interesting thing is that this approach doesn’t just work for large enterprises. I have regularly engaged small business owners and sole practitioners at dinner. The only trick is figuring out how they define “networking up”.


To read more Brendan Lewis blogs, click here.

Brendan Lewis is a serial technology entrepreneur having founded: Ideas Lighting, Carradale Media, Edion, Verve IT, The Churchill Club, Flinders Pacific and L2i Technology Advisory. He has set up businesses for others in Romania, Indonesia and Vietnam. Qualified in IT and Accounting, he has also spent time running an Advertising agency and as a Cavalry Officer with the Australian Army Reserve.


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