There’s so much value in our professional networks and our interpersonal networks too. Many of us think of our networks as ever-expanding communities were more and more connections are made. And to some extent this is true. As we age and mature in business we know more and more people and we get a deeper and deeper network.
It’s also true that at some point we can only do so much maintenance to our network. After all, there are only 24 hours in a given day and we have to prioritize who we keep in touch with and where to allocate our limited time. So while our network may be growing in numbers we have a finite number of people that we can keep in touch with to actually build or maintain deep connections with.
So at some point people who are deep connections today are going to become more distant connections tomorrow. And more distant connections today may move into a deeper role tomorrow. A new connection maybe grow into an amazingly close connection in time.
The truth is that our networks are always moving and revising themselves based on the reality of the world around us. Our circumstances will change, the economy and business sector around us will change, and we’re going to have to work with it.
So it’s good that we stop and pause and think about how to prune and maintain our networks to make them as strong as possible. Here’s some ideas on what I’m seeing with my network and helping it grow and expand while also maintaining it so that it doesn’t get out of control.
Know Is Has To Be Done
We have to start with the realization that pruning our networks is absolutely a necessary activity. We must be taking care of our networks. And that means that we have to figure out who to prioritize, who still a fit and who needs to be eliminated.
Imagine your garden at home. If you allowed anything and everything that started growing in the soil to continue to grow and germinate you’d end up with a real mess. Sure you’d have some lovely flowers that grew, but you’d also have a lot of weeds that found their way in there. And those lovely flowers that grow would not have grown as large and beautiful as they could have because many of the nutrients and space would be taken up by the weeds.
So we know in the gardening situation we’ve got to get rid of the weeds to leave space, sunlight and nutrients for the flowers that we really want to develop. It’s no different in our personal and professional networks. We’ve got to remove the items that take away our attention that aren’t going to be part of our long-term plan. And this makes more room to grow, germinate and expand the relationships that matter.
Networks that are not maintained become unruly, waste time and don’t deliver results.
Know That It Leads to Growth
Pruning your network does indeed lead to growth. Because we stopped using these resources on the unnecessary — or less strong — connections we can put more resources into more probable connections. And that means growth.
Removing non-strategic elements suddenly leaves room for strategic elements.
Growth simply doesn’t happen when there is not sufficient space, time or energy for the things we need to grow. Rest assured that pruning is the right thing to do as a pathway to a brighter future.
It’s Not Just Personal — It’s Really Personal
We’ve all heard the old saying “it’s just business, nothing personal.” Pruning and developing our networks is actually a very personal activity. It is about having the right persons in our network for ourselves, for our goals and for our future. It’s actually about us and where we are headed.
On the flip side, it’s not really personal to the other person when we make a determination on whether they’re in our network or not. Sure, we want to keep room for great friends; the people have been there for us through thick and thin and that we have a strong working relationship with. Those are just the kind of people you want in your life. You don’t want to prune that.
But there may be other people that sneak into your life, either through deception or accidental association, who don’t share your values. Keeping these people in your network is going to undermine your strength, your abilities and your growth. We definitely don’t want the wrong people hanging around in our networks.
Who we continue to associate with will be reflecting back in the growing version of ourselves. These qualities and characteristics of who we want to be in the future should determine who we keep in our network.
While making choices on your future network is highly personal it’s not about whether the other person is good or bad, necessarily. Obviously if somebody behaves in ways that you find to be bad, such as being unethical, lying cheating or stealing, you probably don’t want them in there in your network. But there will be some people that are good and that are positive energy in the world that just don’t fit your personal missions for the future. Sometimes we have to make a decision to conserve our energy and our resources to nurture the relationships with those that are in alignment with our long-term direction.
So while it may be very tough we all need to prune some good people from our networks.
Making The Tough Decisions
And in the end there will be tough decisions to be made.
What do we do with the person that’s good, that you enjoy spending time with but you have very little common direction for the future? Is just having that goodness in your life worth the time, energy and resources that you’ll be putting into it? Because every hour you spend in one area of endeavor is an hou that you can’t spend in another area.
And the hardest part of all of this thinking an analysis is there are no right answers. Sometimes it’s good just to have good people in your life. But sometimes there will be people that are good that just aren’t a good fit for your future. And that leads to some very tough decisions.
Sometimes this hits old friends. There may be people who used to be very valuable parts of your network but you’ve grown apart. Maybe life is taking you different directions. Maybe circumstances are showing you that that person is not who you thought they were. Whatever the case, there will probably be some difficult decisions to be made.
The key is to not run from the tough decisions. We need to face reality and make sure that we keep the right people and eliminate the wrong people.
Getting Systematic About It
The best way to maintain and grow good networks is to get systematic about it. It’s one thing to stop and periodically evaluate your network. Major shifts in your life may necessitate this on an unscheduled basis. For instance, you might move or have a major change in career or health.
Putting aside those one time or infrequent events, it’s a good idea to get systemic about reviewing and maintaining your network. Perhaps once per quarter you should stop and think about who are you associating with and why. Also take a good look at all of your closest friends and associates and determine whether the relationship is maintaining mutually beneficial. Yes, mutually beneficial. You should both be getting something positive about the relationship or else it’s not really going to last.
There’s no exact science about the frequency of reviewing and pruning your network. Every quarter, every two months or every 6 months could work. The key is to stop and spend time to be critical about what you’re doing and where you’re headed. If you don’t pay attention to your network and who you’re associating with it’s very likely that your use of time will become haphazard or disconnected with your goals.
Keeping In Touch
For those that you do keep in your network it’s a great idea to have a system in place for keeping in touch. How do you reach out to them regularly?
There’s no one answer. It may vary from person to person. Some people like email, some like telephone and something like text.
But there should be a system so if somebody is qualified to be in your network that you want to keep in touch with you do, in fact, keep in touch. We all know it’s hard to keep great people in our lives. We’re blessed when they come along.
But then we have to make the relationship sustain. So think about ways to maintain the relationships within your network. How can you add value when you aren’t with each other?
Maintaining the White Space for New Connections
Keeping open space for new contacts is an often forgotten key to having the right people in your world. Just like if your garden is full of weeds there’s no room for new growth f your network is full of the wrong people there’s no room for the right people. So it’s critical that when pruning and maintaining you leave some open space for exploration and meeting new people.
For me, having white space often feels empty. I like to be as productive as possible. However I discipline myself knowing that having that open space for new relationships means that I can take new meetings, have conversations, explore new relationships.
Being intentional about this has led to great opportunities. Recently, I met a friend of a friend who turned into a business collaborator. I was introduced to a lady named Casey Haston as a suggestion by her friend. Our initial conversations revealed we had much synergy in business. Soon, she would become the new co-host of my Women Business Leaders YouTube Show. Now we get to work together more and more and spread lessons from one woman business leader to another. If I hadn’t had white space in my world that would have never have happened.
Leaving some open space in your world by pruning some existing connections will create the opportunity for new connections and growth.
The reality of having a prune and maintain your network may be a lot to internalize. The truth is good networks are well-maintained and they’re running in an intentional manner. Sure, life will send you some randomness and unexpected upsides and downsides.
By being intentional about thinking about who you’re associating with and what it means for you and your future you can have different outcomes.
Good luck, and happy pruning!
By: The Our Shawn McBride who is constantly studying the Future of Business as the host of The Future Done Right(TM) Show. If you want regular content on the future of business subscribe to get new blog posts from us here.
One of my recurring themes on Medium.com is looking at what words mean. Here are some prior articles on the subject:
And for some completely different topic from me check out Why I’ve Given Up On Work-Life Balance.
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