The hot weather has arrived, at least here in New York -- and it's a good time to get in shape and shed that extra weight which winter and spring forgave. But "weight loss" extends beyond how good you look on the beach. Your business network can get bloated, sluggish and inefficient, too. And when it's overloaded with ineffective contacts or becomes one bland board meeting after another, your professional health may suffer.
Luckily, there are things you can do to nourish and strengthen your network. They're not all easy, but neither is losing that beer gut, is it? Here are five ways to maximize the summer season with a healthier network.
1. Slim down.
Resist the urge to hold on to every business card you take. The more relationships you add, the greater the chance that you begin to amass some dead weight -- people for whom you can do nothing and who can do nothing for you but take up time and energy that could be spent, say, taking a coffee meeting with a prospective client. Your network should be curated. Look for people who have their own efficient and far-reaching networks, professionals who are where you want to be in five, 10 or 15 years; and young, energetic upstarts you can mentor. Focus on cementing those relationships.
2. Get "outside."
Homogeneity is a death sentence to your network. First of all, when seeking advice, you should go outside your own realm of experience; if you tend to surround yourself with people who've shared similar experiences, you'll get nothing but an echo chamber. Look for people of diverse backgrounds, education, levels of professional experience, country of origin and, yes, gender. At an individual level, they can add new perspective to your concerns, and, overall, you'll be provided with a comprehensive assessment of your situation.
3. Train for strength.
If you want to see results, you need to be consistent; this rule applies as much to muscle-building as it does network-building. Don't let months go by without contacting some of your top-tier connections. A quick email or phone call might be enough, but be sure to set aside time each week to reach out to a few members of your network. Additionally, stay plugged in to what's going on with their firms and industries; promotions, mergers and layoffs are opportunities to reach out and re-connect. Stay top of mind while reminding them of their value to you.
The best way to grow your healthy network is to feed it nutritious fuel. That means putting in more than you get out. Wharton professor Adam Grant recommends saying yes to any favor you can do within five minutes. That covers a whole host of small but important actions that will earn you the gratitude and respect of your network, and help cement your reputation as a reliable and trustworthy connection. This, in turn, will pay off in the future by helping to create an environment of generosity around you. Whether it's a cup of coffee, some advice for a junior exec or an introduction between two contacts, make it a point to say "yes" this summer.
Even the fittest among us require the occasional day off from diet and exercise. But that doesn't mean you relinquish all you've learned about healthy behavior. Instead, focus on taking some time to quiet down and listen to those around you -- it's an easy way to help strengthen your relationships, glean new perspective and give your time to someone else (see the five-minute favor above). Active listening helps foster trust between you and members of your network, which in turn leads to more effective and efficient relationships.
The takeaway: Don't wait another day to get your network healthy. It takes work, but you can start small: reaching out to an old colleague, taking a mentee out for coffee or introducing yourself to a potential contact from another department, industry or sector. By focusing on one or two acts each day, you can build a strong, lean network that will pay dividends for life.