Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Networking: Business Benefits, Partnerships, and Best Practices

The importance and power of networking can’t be overstated.
Organizations, businesses, and individuals must continually
develop new connections and relationships to succeed.


Most of those connected with the aging industry have heard that networking and
partnerships are critical to long-term success. Although this concept appears to be
pretty straightforward and obvious, many of us question the value of these activities. How do we “network and partner” to ensure we reap the rewards? Our resources and time are precious. How do we keep from wasting human capital and money as we build relationships to build our business? 

Having been in the aging industry for quite a while, I have had the opportunity to build relationships in many different settings. Through memberships in professional associations and networking groups; enrollment in civic organizations; presenting at national, state and local conferences; participation on non-profit boards; and community volunteering, I
have found connections that have helped me to fulfill my business goals while helping others strengthen their organizations. What is the trick to successful networking? Why
take networking to the next level through the development of partnerships? This article will help you to clarify methods, benefits, and best practices.

Definition of Networking
Businessdictionary.com defines networking as “Creating a group of acquaintances and associates and keeping it active through regular communication for mutual benefit. Networking is based on the question, ‘How can I help?’ and not ‘What can I get?’” What defines a successful networking situation? Successful networkers use terms like mutual benefit, give and take, reciprocity, helping others, and being willing to give to receive. Note that all of these approaches focus on service before self. Successful networking requires that you put your personal needs on the back burner, take the time to build trust and relationships, and be friendly and approachable.

On February 23, 1905, Paul Harris, a small-town Vermonter who moved his practice to Chicago, founded the world’s first civic group to build networking opportunities—Rotary. Now an international success story, thirty-three thousand Rotary clubs are still based on Harris’ founding principle, “Service before Self.”

Ivan Misner, Ph.D, founder of Business Network International (BNI), reveals two important things:

1. Networking is an essential professional skill and practice.
2. Putting others first is powerful.

Dr. Misner states, “A good networker has two ears and one mouth and should use them appropriately. When you meet someone in a networking environment, you should listen more than you talk.” In other words, be patient. It may take some time before your business benefits from your networking efforts, but you will find that time is well invested (Blasingame 2011).

Methods for Networking
Sharon Michaels, author of the membership site, WomenEnjoyingSuccess.com, has developed five key networking tips (Michaels 2013).  


1. Understand your target market. Do your research and attend networking functions where you can connect directly with your market. 

2.Know exactly what you bring to the networking table. Ask yourself, “Why would people want to network with me?” What do you have to offer? 

3. What is your networking goal? Have a realistic understanding of how networking fits into your overall business plan. 

4. Networking rule of thumb: Give value to receive value. Build solid trust relationships. 

5. Follow up promptly to develop and maintain win-win relationships. Get to know, like, and trust one another.

The aging industry has a variety of network groups across the country. Many communities have provider network groups who have monthly luncheons to bring aging businesses together, providing a chance to educate, network, and build relationships. Organizations such as the Gerontological Society of America (GSA) have local chapters that bring providers together for continuing education opportunities and monthly meetings. The Geriatric Social Work Initiative (gswi.org) references state and international network groups for emerging professionals in aging such as socialworkhelper.com, The Chicago BRIDGE: Emerging Professionals in the Field of Aging, EmergingAgingNYC, Boston Bridge, Eldercare Professionals of Ohio, GenPhilly (Generation Appreciation Philadelphia), and others.

As you determine how to approach networking nationally and locally, consider the following:
 
• Attend meetings and events of your professional associations
• Present at your professional associations conferences
• Join an advisory or governing board
• Join an online network, such as LinkedIn
• Get to know the colleagues in your business
• Invite colleagues to lunch or coffee
• Work on cross-functional or cross-industry teams
• Attend training classes and programs
• Volunteer to work on projects where your specific expertise is needed
• Volunteer at charities, nonprofits, fundraisers 

The CSA Leaders Network—A New Networking Opportunity
In March 2013, the Society of Certified Senior Advisors® supported the development of a pilot chapter program in Denver, Colorado, called the CSA Leaders Network, Denver Chapter, made up of Denver-area CSAs who have united for the purpose of building a strong network. Its goals include developing valuable strategic partnerships, furthering members’ education, and working together to inform and educate the public about the CSA Difference. The CSA difference is what makes CSAs exceptional due to their knowledge and experience, compared to someone in the same industry who is not a CSA. 


The CSA Leaders Network—Denver provides presentations and education programs, as well as outreach to the Denver Metro area older-adult communities through volunteering with older adults, and for causes such as fighting against fraud and abuse. In addition, it works with SCSA to assist the organization in its mission to inform professionals who work with older adults about the importance of educating themselves about health, social and financial issues.

The foundation of a network of CSAs is that all individuals have studied the same body of knowledge and passed the exam, are background checked and hold the CSA credential in good standing. This is a network of resources valuable to the CSA in their business and ultimately for their clients. How many networks can state that all members are background checked? The CSA Leaders Network will be a valuable asset for all older adult consumers. 

Best Practice: Six Rules for Networking
In his book, Collaboration: How Leaders Avoid the Traps, Create Unity, and Reap Big Results (2009), Morten Hansen, a management professor at the University of California, Berkeley, clarifies the Six Rules for Networking within an organization. Although these six network rules apply to networking within an organization, they offer valuable lessons that can be applied to external networking—especially when you are running a small business. Hansen’s philosophy is to “build nimble networks which embrace individuals who can work in a collaborative way.” 

1. Build outward, not inward. Your network is stronger if you connect with professionals outside of your own organization. 

2. Build a diverse network, not just a large network. Include people with different expertise and additional know-how. Add contacts who can attack challenges from a different perspective. 

3. Networking is a case where weak ties are surprisingly better than strong ties. You are better placed if you know lots of people you contact infrequently than if you have just a few close friends you know well and talk with all the time. Weak ties are good because they form bridges to resources you don’t often access.  

4. Work hard to develop bridges. Bridges are people who are uniquely positioned to help others find what they want based on the strength of their personal networks. 

5. Always try and swarm the target. When you meet someone to make a proposal, inform them of all the influencers you know and network with. Invoke common links and use these links to persuade. 

6. Know when it’s time to switch to your strong ties. When working on something complex, sooner or later you have to stop dealing with superficial matters and get down to the details. Deal with the people who can help you accomplish your goals and get the details done.

Taking Networking to the Next Step: Public Private Partnerships
More communities and organizations across the country are realizing the benefits of partnering together in order to meet the needs of the growing aging population. In McKinsey and Company’s December 2009 report, “Public-Private Partnerships,” they state that public-private partnerships are “gaining momentum,” and collaborative efforts between public, private, and civil sectors often accomplish far more than any can do alone. The very mixture of differing approaches and expertise is the added value that these partnerships bring, making them far more than just the sum of their parts.

Leading business professionals in the aging industry are taking networking to the next step by providing their expertise to help communities, including other aging service providers, build and enhance their services. These efforts are improving the quality of life for older adults, helping them to remain active, independent, and connected to their communities. Public-private partnerships, often called PPPs, can be powerful vehicles to help companies create and capture opportunities for their core business. They can help boost demand for a company’s products and services, provide a mechanism for joint investment and risk-sharing to create new markets, products or services.

It has become clear that developing successful public private partnerships requires commitment and persistence. For example, in 2005 The SAGE Institute—a nonprofit research organization advancing aging service best practices nationally—developed and facilitated partnerships among ten “aging service network teams” with four hundred aging-focused businesses from all forty-five counties across South Carolina. These teams included elder attorneys, financial planners, geriatric physicians, nurses, home health providers, government-supported aging service providers (Area Agency on Aging directors and senior center directors), geriatric care managers, nursing home administrators, CCRC Directors, hospital administrators, professors, transportation administrators and small business owners. Participants worked together to identify weaknesses and gaps in aging services and work to eliminate those gaps through partnering to create new services and replicate best practices.
 

As facilitator and objective third party, the SAGE Institute was able to help this mix of for-profits, nonprofits, healthcare, and government successfully accomplish their goals. What an enlightening experience it was to help all participants work together, learn each other’s languages and develop new aging services based on each other’s strengths! As a result, new cross-sector programs were developed and communities across South Carolina benefited. These programs include senior transportation (now provides seniors with over ten thousand rides a year in Charleston, South Carolina); two community-case management programs (care transition programs) were developed among hospitals, geriatric care managers, and non-profits; community-wide aging planning commissions were born, and additional successes emerged.

A key rationale for creating PPPs is the recognition that many challenges do not fall neatly into either public, civil, or private sectors, but require joint efforts from all sectors. For example, if making an effort to promote economic development, communities often are more likely to succeed when including the public and private sectors. The most effective PPPs understand that part of their strategy must be to explain to companies the benefits of greater involvement, and to create an environment to engage their private sector partners more deeply. PPPs are not a one-size-fits-all solution (McKinsey & Company 2009).

Successful PPPs depend on the people involved and require strong executive/project leadership, strong communication channels, clear planning, and defined processes. The following table lists the “Principles of Public and Private Sector Collaboration” as defined in a 2006 brief from the National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO). Although some of these methods are “technology specific,” aging businesses and partnerships can learn from these suggestions on addressing the differences among the public and private sectors. 

To Network or Not to Network 
So, where do you as an advisor and aging product/service provider stand on this issue? You must decide if you have the time, resources, commitment, and know-how to move in this direction. Ask yourself the following questions:
 • How will my business benefit from forming partnerships or strategic alliances?
 • How do I identify and screen potential partners?
 • How do I develop and maintain trust with those whom I collaborate?

As you consider the answers to these questions, remember that the Golden Rule of networking is “Don’t keep score. Build Opportunities.” • CSA

Erika T. Walker, MBA, MSeD, CSA, is owner and CEO of SAGE WAVE Consulting, LLC, in Gainesville, Georgia. She conducts strategic planning with businesses and communities across the country, helping them to prepare for the growing aging population. With over twenty-five years of experience, she has served as Director of the SAGE Institute and Director of Geriatrics at Greenville Hospital System. She may be contacted at 678-971-4778, etwalker2@charter.net, or at www.sagewave.net.  

Networking: Business Benefits, Partnerships, and Best Practices was recently published in the Spring 2014 edition of the CSA Journal. 
 
Blog posting provided by Society of Certified Senior Advisors 
www.csa.us