Dr. Rick Franza, Professor of Management at the Hull College of Business, discusses a different, timely business topic each Monday in this column. This week, he talks about the importance of networking and peer groups. The interview has been edited for clarity and impact.
ABD: We just held our successful business networking event, the ABD Spring Expo, last week. Why is networking important for businesses?
Rick: Too often, people see networking as a direct vehicle for the benefits they can get from it, but I see it as an indirect benefit, too. Building a network allows you to help others – it’s not just what can this person do for me. I’ve always thought of myself as a connector. I don’t always know the answer, but I’ll know a person who does. I like to connect people. That’s a way people get to trust you.
A lot of networking is just being interested in other people. People make the mistake of thinking it’s only what’s in it for me, but it’s about learning more about people. Part of it is just being better informed on things because our experience is usually narrow.
ABD: In the definition of being interested in people, it seems that anytime you’re around people you have a networking opportunity.
Rick: For example, I was at a Braves playoff game a few years ago and I heard two young men behind me talking about Notre Dame, my alma mater. I began talking to them and learned they’d both recently graduated from there as well. They even posted a picture on LinkedIn of the three of us, saying it was a great networking opportunity. I became friends with one of them and we both significantly expanded our networks. I’ve even used him as a mentor for my daughter as she started her career.
ABD: You mentioned that networking helps people trust you as a businessperson. How does that work?
Rick: If you work for a company or own a company, what you do networking-wise reflects on your company. People think better of you if you’re networking. You can’t really develop that trust factor without that face-to-face contact. Only so much can happen electronically.
It also plays a role in hiring good people. More of the better jobs are not advertised, it’s people asking, “Hey, do you know anybody who can…?” That’s how good jobs get filled. Part of networking is introducing good people to good people.
ABD: How does an event like ABD’s Spring Expo fit into networking?
Rick: Bringing a lot of people together like that is great because of the diversity of businesses represented. A lot of people there already knew each other, but also a lot didn’t, so it was both a time to re-engage and reinforce current networks and a way to develop new relationships. It was important to bring all the people who interact with ABD together – we learn about each other through the podcasts and columns, but this was a chance to connect in a personal way.
There were a lot of opportunities and different ways of networking, which was good for people who are a little more introverted. There were a lot of balls teed up for you to interact.
ABD: Often networking events are a hodge-podge of businesspeople with varying years and types of experience. But you’ve also mentioned the value of networking with peers. How is that different?
Rick: One of the things our college accreditation group does is create affinity groups for people in similar positions. In each of those groups, we meet at our conferences but also in monthly virtual meetings. We have enough things that we’re all addressing at our schools that we can talk about it. Part of peer networking is just being able to commiserate with each other about the things we’re facing. But it also gives you the chance to talk to other people about how they’ve dealt with a similar issue.
ABD: In your example of the young Notre Dame graduate you developed a friendship with, there is a significant age difference between you. How does networking with people from different age groups help?
Rick: It certainly helps both of us. For him, the most important thing is learning from someone with more experience, for me it’s learning about what motivates that generation. We have a lot of things in common, but we also think differently. Part of networking is learning how people think differently and what motivates them. It’s beneficial to make your networks wide and deep with different people. It will give you better insight.
ABD: It sounds as if networking is as much about making friends as it is gaining business.
Rick: True, trusted networks evolve into friendships. Over time, you get to know what a person’s like. If a network connection doesn’t involve some level of friendship, it will be very transactional.