Wednesday 31 October 2012

The Strength of Weak Links.

Below you can find the second chapter of the book by Rob Symes "First Who, then Woo", Enjoy!

The Strength of Weak Links

“All animals are created equal but some are more equal than others”
George Orwell. Animal Farm

Definition of a Source “ A place, person or thing from which something comes or can be obtained. A person who provides information.”

  Weak links in a career context was thoroughly researched by sociologist Mark Granovetter when he asked a random sample of professionals who had just switched jobs how they found their new opportunity. Of those, who had found their job through a contact, Granovetter then asked how frequently they saw that contact. He asked participants whether they saw the person often (twice a week) occasionally (more than once a year but less than twice a week) or rarely (once a year or less). Only 16% of individuals had found their job through a person they saw often. The rest found their job through a contact they saw occasionally (55%) or rarely (27%). In Granovetter’s words, the contacts that referred jobs successfully were “weak ties.”

  Granovetter’s explanation for this was simple. The stronger your relationship with someone the more likely you are to know what they know: their friends, their restaurants and their job opportunities. This interconnectedness is limiting because you all have the same information. In contrast, weak links are outside the inner circle. They can uniquely serve as bridges to other worlds and pass on information and opportunities you would not hear about otherwise.

  Weak links are also a highly effective method of locating candidates. However, exploiting weak links cannot be done on a whim. It requires a fundamental shift of mind-set.

  Building sources that can bridge you to weak links is different from building traditional friendships. The criteria you use to build friendships is not only unrelated to building a network of sources but will actually harm your chances of being referred to weak links. When you build friendships you tend to focus on similarity, shared interests and what experiences you can have in the immediate future. In contrast, when you are building sources you attempt to look for different personalities, diverse interests and focus on the long term.

  The long-term focus is crucial. People are inherently self-interested but also reciprocal. It is illogical to expect someone you met yesterday to introduce you to his or her Rolodex. There is no benefit to them and even if they like you, they do not trust you. The key to building the relationship with your source quickly is to do something genuine for them first. If it can be a shared experience so much the better. Physical and mentally strenuous experiences are much better at building a trusting relationship than impersonal emails. Here is a recent example.   

I met Scottish entrepreneur and MD of Anvil mobile, Ian Phillip, at a post conference dinner. On the face of it we had little in common. We are twenty-five years apart, Ian is far more technologically savvy than I and we weren’t interested in buying each other’s services anytime soon. However, I quickly realised that Ian could be an ideal source because of his background running large sales teams for telecoms companies. It also helps he’s great fun to be around.  

In the three months that followed we exchanged emails, he appeared on our weekly podcast, I discussed his daughter’s post graduation plans with her over coffee and we arranged to play golf.  

Now during this time, I happened to be asked by a client to find a VP of sales. Remember, in my business, clients are difficult to win and devilish to keep so I was keen to find the best candidate possible to help them succeed and gain repeat business. Clients also expect speed. Reactions like job advertising and cold calling prospects is not only time consuming but usually ineffective for this kind of specialised position. Planning trumps reactions.

On that night I was calling the twenty people I’d designated as sales sources, I called Ian who gave me three names. One candidate only accepted the approach because of my referral from Ian. He is approached at least once a day by recruiters. He ended up being the client’s new VP. No one worthwhile is easy to find.

Just because you are connected on LinkedIn does not mean you have a worthwhile relationship. Just because you have a business card does not mean you’ll get a referral. In a world where weak links still trump technology it’s not about who you know, but how well you know them.

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