How to stop networking and start connecting

Only connect! … Only connect the prose and the passion and both will be exalted, and human love will be seen at its height. Live in fragments no longer. — E.M. Forster, Howards End

“Success leaves clues,” says “peak performance” coach Anthony Robbins, in his 10-day audio program ‘Get the Edge.’

Modeling the success strategies of truly exceptional people is a key strategy Robbins teaches in his books, seminars and retreats.

The reasoning behind this principle is straightforward: Top achievers – whether they’re entrepreneurs, entertainers, athletes, salespersons, IT professionals or money managers — do certain things consistently that fuel their success. Studying and intelligently emulating their tried, tested and true strategies could fast-track your own pathway to the top, saving you a whack of “trial and error” time.

Success modeling is also a key motif running through Maribeth Kuzmeski’s new book ‘The Connectors.’

In a sense, the entire book responds to a fundamental question: “What makes the world’s most successful individuals so good at what they do?”

In the Introduction, Kuzmeski admits the “how to do it” aspect of success in business has always intrigued and fascinated her.

As founder of Red Zone Marketing LLC, a marketing management and consulting firm in Grayslake, Il., Kuzmeski says she’s had the good fortune to meet with top professionals worldwide, analyze their behaviours and outlook, and the personality traits that have got them to where they are.

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When interacting with stalwarts in every field, she has spent much time studying their intellectual prowess, competitiveness, determination, implementation strategies, staff, funding options “just about anything else you can think of that may distinctively contribute to [their] positive results.”

She’s also taken a hard look at their personal qualities.

Apart from “obvious, enviable traits” – persistence, drive, hard work, intelligence, the ability to generate new ideas, to change, and so on – these persons possess a key quality that has propelled them to the top, she says. It’s the ability to effectively connect with others.  

Only Connect

“Only connect”, wrote EM Foster in his 1910 novel Howard’s End. “Live in fragments no longer.”

This ability to truly connect and form meaningful relationships is a quality often ignored or minimized in the corporate world, Kuzmeski noted, as it’s not seen as contributing to business success.

While this ability is “innate”, she says it’s also something anyone “can learn and improve upon.”

Over the rest of the book, she offers readers an entire arsenal of tools and techniques to help them do just that in a range of different situations and environments.

And just so you don’t cop out using the commonest excuse in the book (“I don’t have time to connect”), she has a short but eminently readable chapter devoted to answering that objection too.

What really grabs your attention is the apt examples Kuzmeski uses to illustrate a technique she’s describing. But these anecdotes do more than clarify her message. They also inspire the reader to adopt a similar approach to dealing with some of the challenges described. Chapter after chapter in her 258-page volume is peppered with these illustrations or mini case studies.

For the purposes of this article, we’ll focus on the last section (Part IV) — Power Tools for Relationship Building, simply because it’s replete with takeaways for the information worker.   

Here are the author’s top three tips for harnessing technology to improve your personal effectiveness, while building and nurturing high-quality relationships.

1. Tackle this day, thy daily mail

E-mail is a great tool for connecting with and building high-quality relationships with stakeholders and customers, but only if managed well.

Most knowledge workers know how disconcerting it can be to confront a bloated Inbox chock-full of unanswered e-mails every morning, with no clue on how to sift through all that mail, much less respond.

It’s a challenge Red Zone Marketing faced, and it led them to develop an effective strategy to tame the e-mail tiger.

It all begins with categorizing e-mails for appropriate action soon after you get them.

Kuzmeski suggests creating folders relevant to your job or situation (such as Marketing) and others indicating follow up action that needs to be taken on the e-mail (for instance, ‘Respond Later’ or ‘Read Later’).  Another folder could be FYI – for all e-mails on which you’ve been CC’d — because someone felt you should be aware of the subject matter — but don’t need immediately act upon.

Only e-mails you must to respond to immediately or still need to categorize should be in your immediate Inbox, she said. “You can then schedule 15-minute blocks of time during your day to respond to e-mails.”

It’s a process that requires self-discipline, but the alternative isn’t very attractive. “If you don’t establish some sort of plan, it’s possible to spend almost all of your time responding to last-in, low priority e-mails.”

Popular e-mail programs help you automate some of these tasks and could take away some of the grunt work involved when you do them manually, Kuzmeski said. “Microsoft Outlook, for example, has great tools like ‘filter’ and rules’ that can automatically perform these functions for you … For example, you could have any e-mail from a certain person and/or subject automatically placed in one of the folders we just mentioned.”

While leading e-mail programs have a range of powerful features, most people probably tap into only 20 – 30 per cent of these, she rued. “Imagine if [were able to use] 80 per cent to 90 per cent of what these programs have to offer.” Her recommendation: Get some coaching — learn from others, or attend a class either online or in a classroom, or buy a CD. “It can take less than an hour to find out about some great tools that will literally save you hundreds of hours in the future.”

2. Use a multi-source, multi-media information organizer  

Knowledge workers often rely on information from multiple sources to get a handle on an issue their tackling at the moment.

For those whose regular routine is a series of back-to-back meetings, travel to customer sites, attending events or conferences et al – lugging along a laptop to capture data from these events may not be the best idea. Instead, they may want to consider using a pen-enabled tablet format device that’s also capable of storing audio and video.

The software one uses on such an appliance is crucial – and Kuzmeski recommends OneNote, a software offering from Microsoft Corp. for free-form information gathering that supports multi-user collaboration.  OneNote’s user interface is the digital version of the tabbed ring binder.

OneNote, Kuzmeski suggests, addresses the needs of a busy professional who wants to be able to capture information quickly and in multiple formats, add to that information, and organize it in multiple ways.

“You can type notes into OneNote, and if you have a tablet-type laptop, you can even hand write on the pages. The great thing about this tool versus a real notebook is that if you are taking notes and need to go back and add info in the middle of a paragraph, you can easily add space to do so.”

Another advantage, she said, is you can capture pictures or illustrations in OneNote – photographs or your own drawings. “You can audio and video record on to your notes pages. The latest version even allows you to search the audio for key words.”

OneNote, she said, also syncs well with Outlook, so you can send e-mails to a note page and reference those e-mails during a meeting. “You can set tags to let you know whom you should delegate your work to, or remind you to view a handout or get a book related to your note.”

3. Encourage consumers to make your brand their own 

Kuzmeski devotes a chapter in her book to discussing how social media can be used to connect with a network of engaged people.  Much of the content in this chapter is pedestrian – heavily focused on describing the top 10 social media sites (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, Digg etc.)  with few insights on how to use these sites to build brand and business.

One vaulable takeaway from this chapter has to do with enticing consumers to work with content around your brand, and make it their own.

“As humans,” Kuzmeski said, “we’re very possessive over what we deem our own. This is one of the beauties of social media. Consumers become ‘co-owners’ of the material and will [champion it] from the highest mountain.”  So far, so good.  But how do you motivate your stakeholders or customers to do this. The author offers very little in terms advice on that point.

She does, however, have some great tips on how to boost your visibility on Twitter. For instance, she recommends using Twitter search to seek out users who are engaged in conversations of interest to you and your brand. “By typing out keywords related to your business or industry, you can quickly get a glimpse into active conversations.”

Another strategy, she said, is visiting Twitter Grader , identifying some of the top users, and trying to get into their networks. “This is done by providing content that’s so fascinating, they feel compelled to “Retweet” it. Their followers are expecting great links from them, and a retweet gets your name out to these followers, and may even convince them to follow you.”

Joaquim P. Menezes is Editor of ITBusiness.ca. Follow him on Twitter.

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