What does networking actually mean? Is it the equivalent of speed dating or Tinder for leaders? Why would you want to do it and how would you get started if you did? Dr Cain Hunt offers some answers
It is very easy to get tunnel vision as a leader, especially when going through challenging times. You have so much to do with your team and your practice that anything else seems a distraction. But it’s worth being aware that your practice is part of a larger group and that being connected to others makes you stronger. There are many practices (both near and far) dealing with the same problems you have, and you can learn from each other.
There are some major benefits to being a skilled networker and broadening your contacts. For a start, having insight intowhat is happening to other practices may give you an early warning of problems you may face and can help you head them off. You can learn from people with more experience than yourself and sometimes it makes sense to join forces in tackling a problem.
Sometimes, you also need completely need fresh perspectives and different viewpoints. You need to be able to understand why people who disagree with you think what they think. All knowledge is useful and having a wide perspective keeps your team protected from possible external risks. Getting to know people in different sectors, like education or housing, can give you useful insights – and perhaps unexpected opportunities to work together.
So, how do you ‘network?’
Networking isn’t really anything new. What you are doing is building a rapport and making conversation with others that go much deeper than small talk. And people have been doing that forever and in all areas of their life. To connect with people in other practices or other areas or even people who hold opposing views, you need to deliberately put yourself in situations where you can meet new people.
Devote time to making contact
First, decide how much time you have available for this so it’s an activity built into your working week. Then start getting involved and participating. Here are some ideas on how to do that:
- Get back in touch with colleagues you have lost contact with
- Volunteer to serve on the LMC or PCN
- Get involved in mentoring or support for trainees and new GPs
- Develop training for staff and share it with other practices
- Host First5 groups, locum groups or practice manager groups
- Host a meet up among local practices (with food, of course!). it’s an opportunity to tell each other what you all are focusing on and what challenges you are dealing with
- When people contact you to invite you to an event/meeting, try to say yes – they have bothered to make the first move and you never know what may happen in the future
- Make use of chance encounters when they occur.
The people you want to get to know might be interested in getting to know you too so simply making contact may be all that is needed. If they are more experienced or have a higher profile role, they may have a lot of people wanting their time so you may have to wait. Spread your invitations widely and be patient. You can make use of events that people outside your team attend but don’t be pushy. Making friends is like a dance, the other person has to be ready too.
No one likes being used. If you are making contact just to get something, people will quickly catch on to that and be put off. Look for what you can do for the other person, for what they need. Give your time, be genuine and be yourself. Explore shared interests and see where the relationship goes.
If you do useful things, people will want to know you. Share your expertise. Organise group events and get people together from different sectors for projects. Be a resource. Host events using your premises. Do things that are aligned with your core purpose and persist with them, so you are focusing on the long term. This is all not just to look good. It is about creating something worthwhile, that others will want to be a part of.
Play the long game
Networking ‘down’ is easier than networking ‘up’. People more junior than you typically have more time and are more eager to get involved. They may not have as much experience right now, but they will be the leaders of the future, so is a vital group to connect with. Encourage relationships but allow things to develop naturally. You are planting seeds. Not all of them will germinate. Water those that do.
This is about building and nurturing long term relationships. There is no rush, and you need to budget how much time you can give. Do not over commit. You need to feel comfortable with what you are doing. The whole idea is that it is fun, and you enjoy it. People who are worthy of your time will appreciate you and want you to get something out of the time you spend together. If the other person doesn’t want to put the effort in, recognise that and move on.
Be active on social media
Using platforms like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn can be helpful to find like minded GPs. GP Survival, Resilient GP and Tiko’s GP Group are some of the best-known groups. But you need to treat them as a jumping off point rather than actual networking. Although you can exchange messages they aren’t as good as a real conversation and you need to be aware that your comments can become public. The algorithm will show you posts from people who think like you or things to react to but it won’t give you a balanced view. Still, social media can be invaluable for broadcasting your points of view and being able to see the response.
- Decide how much time you have available for networking, don’t over commit
- Look for opportunities where you can offer help or collaborate to solve problems
- Become an expert in something useful
- Share your knowledge
- Look for opportunities to deepen relationships which you feel are meaningful
- Be active on relevant social media
Dr Cain Hunt is a former GP partner from Cambridge and author of Guerilla GP
This article originally appeared on our sister service, Pulse Intelligence.