Top 10 Employee Training Tools: Networking


Top 10 Employee Training Tools: Networking

Take an opportunity to share and learn.

While not essential for producing good product, much like with sales, training key employees on how to reach out and effectively make connections in the market can pay significant dividends in the long run through greater product acceptance and more robust sales opportunities. This is the essence of networking.

The term “networking” is used in many contexts: social networks, business networks, computer networks, media networks, etc. People have networks of associates, friends and contacts on whom they rely each day both for conducting daily operations and for the ultimate success of their businesses. 

Given this reliance on networks, the important question to answer is what is a good way to extend those networks to either increase business, increase knowledge or find additional resources (e.g., more employees).

For at least the past 15 years, SBCA and SBC Magazine have spent a lot of time encouraging component manufacturers (CMs) to get more involved in their local building official and fire official communities. 

Similarly, BCMC educational sessions have focused more and more on how CMs can get involved in building relationships with local high school and technical school career counselors. These efforts to push better networking have been spearheaded by CMs who have gone out, done it and realized the incredible value networking has brought to their businesses.

Networking should be approached as an opportunity to share and learn; you should gain as much from the other individual as you gave with a goal of giving more than you learn (because those are the “go-to” individuals others seek out). Networking can take on several differing facets, and can easily be accomplished through both social media and direct, personal contact. Between the two, direct relationships are the most important and valuable. As a consequence, it’s a good practice to start networking efforts with face-to-face contact.

There are many opportunities to reach out in the marketplace and share our industry’s story. Companies should start by telling their own, individual story. Begin by sharing what makes the company unique and valuable. Share the backgrounds of individual employees. What is it about them and their experience and skills that contribute to the value of the company in the market? Then share the value of the products and services the company provides. How does the company and its employees work to solve the problems faced by the market and the public?

Where to Start?

A good place to start networking activities is with a blank page. Fill that page with the common headaches faced through the normal course of business:

  • Are there too many customer call backs?
  • Are there too many truss repairs due to field alterations made by other trades?
  • Are building inspectors holding up projects during or after installation?
  • Is it difficult to fill customer orders because it’s impossible to find enough designers/production employees/drivers?
  • Are local building codes creating a competitive disadvantage for the company’s products?

Once the page is filled with headaches, identify who in the chain can help you address these headaches. Those are the people that need to become part of the company’s network. Start with the most persistent source of headaches, and work down the list.

Before reaching out, remember SBCA has developed a series of excellent tools CMs can use to make opening doors easier. SBCA’s Component Technology Workshop (CTW) presentations make setting up and giving presentations to fire and building officials, architects and engineers, and builders and general contractors an easy and straightforward process. These CTW presentations are geared specifically to these audiences and give CMs a chance to help the audience get a quick working knowledge of the component manufacturing industry. 

It’s a good idea to use these CTW presentations for downstream lunch box meetings where CMs can expand their network and meet new people in the market. A side benefit of this approach to broad industry networking is that it lets people know more about the company and the specific issues the company struggles with that relate to the audience members. SBCA also has a series of tools to help CMs give presentations in a high school, technical college or academic setting, where a company can extol the virtues of pursuing a career in the component manufacturing industry, and more importantly, seeking employment with the company giving the presentation.

Networking Is a Process

Developing long-term relationships can lead to long-term mutual benefits. However, it takes time and won’t just happen through emailing or texting, which seems to be the norm today. A contact can start with an email, but at some point, time must be invested in verbal and face-to-face communication. Here are a few considerations:

  1. Have patience with the process; it is not easy.
  2. Sincerely get to know the individuals you're communicating with. What is their social media profile, their likes, what have they done in the past, what are some common areas of interest? 
  3. Have you worked together on building projects in the past?

The more a company can grow its network across the component manufacturing industry, the more opportunities that company will have to learn best practices from peers and find a competitive advantage in their local market. Part of developing these long-term relationships has always been helping even when there is no other reason to be involved. Architects, engineers, builders, building officials, and fire officials all find situations where they need advice on something they may run into with respect to structural components. Taking the time to become part of their network increases the likelihood they will reach out to the company for information or advice. Companies in that position will also find that, when a new general contractor or builder comes into the area and asks for recommendations on a supplier, companies that take the time and reach out are the ones that get recommended.

Nuances of Networking

Sometimes people think of social networks like LinkedIn or Google+ as a source of building relationships. While these social networking activities can have their place, the real relationship building happens in the local markets a company serves. As a consequence, there is no real substitute for attending meetings, conferences and social events hosted by a local building official, fire service, general contractor, home builder, etc. There is also no better way to find a reliable source of employees than by developing a pipeline with your local educational institutions.

Just like the principle of six degrees of separation, interacting with someone who has nothing to do with the component manufacturing industry or business might lead to an important contact with a potential builder or contractor. It’s a good idea to always take the opportunity to make introductions, share your company’s goals and learn about their business.

It cannot be emphasized enough that, during the networking process of building relationships, it’s important to focus on giving more than receiving. People have lost the art of listening, yet this can be the most effective way to build a good relationship. Most people have a tendency to be self-centered both in person and in their social media practices. Most organizations have a statement to this effect: Listen, contribute, help others. It’s a different attitude, but when you approach it from the point of view of how much you can contribute to another, your relationships and influence will expand and, in turn, you will easily gain more in the long run.  

It does take time to reap the benefits, but once a company’s employees are focused on networking and developing relationships, the amount of knowledge and market opportunities generated by that network is more than worth the initial investment. Sometimes, when quick results do not occur, people give up too quickly. However, with mentoring and practice, companies and individuals can easily reap relationship success.

Ben Hershey is a Past President of SBCA and Owner of 4Ward Consulting Group - Experts in Lean Management & Manufacturing.