You have coffee next to your keyboard. It spreads a sweet aroma along with the promise of instant alertness. You're psyched for your to do list (which you're about 20 hours behind on).
You start scanning your email inbox. There is an email from a stranger asking if they can meet you for lunch. The person looks interesting. However, you don't see an immediate and obvious connection to your urgent deadlines and goals.
"To go to lunch or not?"
That is the question.
Your answer compounded over time will have a dramatic impact on your career and life.
Solely meeting those who have an immediate benefit might lead to missed game-changing personal and professional relationships.
On the other hand, if you take the reactionary approach of meeting with everyone, you may not have the time to push your business forward to sustainability and greater impact.
What should you do?
Throughout my career, I've struggled with this question and experimented with many different approaches:
Many of my most important personal and professional relationships have come when there wasn't an immediate and obvious benefit. Also, I love connecting with and helping others. I would not be where I am if it were not for mentors who helped me with no prospect of immediate payoff.
So what is the best solution?
The Solution: Open Relationship Building
Over the past year, after interviewing several of the world's top relationship builders and experimenting myself, I've embraced a new approach. I call it open relationship building.
Open relationship building is a systematic approach to finding efficient ways to say "yes" to connecting with as many others who resonate with you and want to connect as possible — spending just 10 to 15 minutes a day taking calls in your downtime. It also means being extremely discerning on who you go on to build a deeper relationship with.
The three qualities that make it unique are:
In many ways, open relationship building isn't a new concept. It is one that is used by many successful business people from Gary Vaynerchuk to a former Fortune 500 CEO…
A Former Fortune 500 CEO Shows The Power Of An Open Network
When Doug Conant became the CEO of Campbell Soup in the winter of 2001, he had a lot of work ahead of him. The company had lost more than half its value in three years and morale was low across its 20,000+ person global workforce.
Rather than hunkering down in his office with his top lieutenants, he decided to reach across the entire company. After visiting each of the offices across the globe, he started two simple practices that defined his tenure and ultimately helped lead to a turnaround. He:
Why would a CEO with 20,000-plus employees take the time connect with a few dozen employees each day? Wouldn't that just be a drop in a bucket?
The answer comes down to a concept that Doug coined called Touchpoints. Doug realized that short moments with people could be exponentially powerful.
Here's what he found:
1. It's possible to build a lifetime connection in just a few minutes. In today's age of information overwhelm, it is increasingly becoming accepted to not respond to emails, even from people you know. There are even lower expectations from strangers, especially if you have a higher profile. Simply responding shortly and quickly and being helpful can make someone's day or week. Imagine if you were a new employee at Campbell Soup, a company with 20,000 employees, and you were able to spend a few moments with the CEO of the company. How could you not tell everyone you know about the experience?
2. It increases the diversity of your network. One of the biggest research findings in the field of network science is the power of having a diverse network. By having a network that consists of people who don't know each other, you're more likely to be successful in your career as measured by title, salary, and promotions. Diversity was critical for Doug because it helped him reach out vertically and horizontally across the company.
3. It keeps you connected to what people really want and need.By noticing the words people use, the questions they ask, and their nonverbal communication, Doug was able to gain valuable insight in what was really happening throughout the company. This can also be a valuable form of market research with your target market.
4. It builds a community based on generosity. Sharing your advice helps you feel a deep sense of service by helping potentially transform someone's life path in just a few minutes. It also serves as an example of others who pay-it-forward. During Doug's tenure, the employee engagement ratio (engaged employees vs. not engaged employees) went from 2:1 to 17:1. 12:1 is considered world-class.
When Doug left Campbell Soup in 2009, the company was fundamentally and comprehensively transformed. Organic sales growth was 2X the industry growth rate. Total shareowner returns over the last eight years of his tenure was over four times greater than the overall S&P. In addition, over the last five years of his tenure, Campbell Soup was rated in the top ten socially responsible companies in the U.S.
Why Open Relationship Building Is Made For The 21st Century
Relationship building in the 21st century will be a lot different than it was in the 20th. Scaling your short one-on-one connections is and will continue to be critical for three reasons:
1. The benefit and ease of having a large, diverse network of weak ties is more than ever. What makes this so is the evolution of social media and social software, which help us meaningfully keep in touch with our tribe as well as co-create products and services together. For example, as entrepreneurs, people in our extended network, help us raise money through crowdfunding, recruit others by sharing our open positions, give feedback, and spread our work through rating, liking, commenting, and sharing on reputation platforms. After connecting with someone one-on-one, we can easily stay in touch at a mass level at no cost by creating content that connects with and adds value to people's lives.
2. What we do in private on a one-on-one basis scales to a larger audience more than ever. We now live in a networked public where it is easy for people to help build your online reputation by sharing positive experiences to their network. Therefore, connecting with people one-on-one at scale can have a large impact.
3. Micro communication is now a social norm. Two trends have made micro communication a social norm. First, on December 3, 1992, the first text message ever was sent. Today, tens of quadrillions of short messages are sent annually and this number is increasing exponentially. Secondly, over the last 20 years, there has been a dramatic shortening in attention span. In the past, a short message may have seemed curt and rude. Now, it is respectful and normal.
8 Steps To Building An Open Network
The beauty of having an open network is that the whole process of setting up, having, and following up on meetings can be systematized. Here is a step-by-step guide to being an open relationship builder:
Step 1: Create A Sender Filter
What makes open relationship building unique is not its lack of filter. It is the type of filter.
Most people filter incoming communication in the moment.
The challenge of hearing from a stranger is that you don't know whether it makes sense to connect. If you do research on them, then you've already spent 5 minutes and you might as well have just responded "yes" right away. The same applies if you spend 5 minutes and emotional energy politely declining.
A sender filter puts the onus on the sender to filter themselves by:
The power of the sender filter is that it saves you time and energy deciding how to respond to each email.
According to new research, your daily willpower is limited. Ultimately, you don't want to be using that willpower filtering people's incoming requests if you don't have to.
Clay Hebert is a serial entrepreneur and a crowdfunding expert. Most of the people who reach out to him want advice on how they can do a successful campaign. As more and more of the campaigns he advised became successful, more and more people started reaching out to him.
At some point, the number of people reaching out exceeded his capacity, so he created filters that put the onus on the person asking for help. Here are the filters he created:
Free content that answers FAQs. Clay finds himself answering the same questions over and over, so he created a series of articles and videos that cover the most common questions. He publishes them on his blog, CrowdfundingHacks and can quickly refer entrepreneurs to specific links when they inquire (productivity tip: Clay uses TextExpander to quickly send a set of links with only a few keystrokes).
Online pre-call survey. Clay has developed a simple survey that acts as an application to make sure the relationship is a fit. I personally ask folks one simple question, "What is the one thing you'd like to get out of the meeting?" This helps both of us be more purposeful with the call. Also, if you're not the right person, you can recommend another person or resource. Or if you know the answer right away, you can send an email instead.
Charging for his time via micro-consulting. After the requests became too numerous for him to handle during his downtime, Clay started charging for his time. At first, he used Clarity.fm, a community of experts who want to help but need a better way to scale the delivery of their expertise. Experts charge per minute and get rated. Now, Clay works with a small number of entrepreneurs and startups as an official crowdfunding and marketing advisor. Charging as a filter makes sure that Clay connects with the people who are the most committed. It also keeps meetings to the point.
Step 2: Say Yes To A 10-15 Minute Meeting Or Phone Call
A call doesn't have to be one hour long to be impactful. As I mentioned in a previous article, Kathy Calvin, President and CEO of the United Nations Foundation, has developed a 15-minute meeting policy where she takes meetings with people she wouldn't normally connect with. This exposes her to new networks while still maintaining her fast-paced schedule.
This policy has been extremely beneficial. One example is a 2005 meeting with Elizabeth Gore who was in her late twenties and had just returned from spending two years in a remote village in Bolivia with the Peace Corps. The meeting was in November. By March of the next year, Elizabeth joined the UN Foundation in a newly co-created position. Elizabeth went on to create the Foundation's largest campaigns, Nothing But Nets, Shot@Life, and Girl Up. Today, Elizabeth is the first-ever Resident Entrepreneur leading their work on innovation and entrepreneurship.
In some ways, email is less efficient than in-person. It can take a long time to respond to a good question. Furthermore, to respond in a helpful way often requires context.
With email, many of the relationship building and rapport parts are taken out. Telephone calls allow people to hear your tone and feel your energy.
If you're too busy for one-on-one calls, consider a standing group meeting. For example, Keith Ferrazzi, author of Never Eat Alone and founder of Ferrazzi Greenlight, organizes a monthly breakfast in Los Angeles where he lives. For this breakfast, Keith invites many of the people that wanted to meet him one-on-one. Keith also invites his family so that not only can he make connections with everyone, he can bring others together who are like-minded. Keith also organizes dinners when he's on the road.
Another route to go if you're too busy is to invite people to an event you're already going to. Saya Hillman, founder of Mac & Cheese Productions, uses this approach. In her words, "Then nothing extra is added to my schedule, they get the face-to-face time they wanted, and bonus, they get to meet other interesting people AND be entertained/educated."
Step 3: Setup Time Every Week To Take Calls During Downtimes
Everyday at 3:00pm, I drive 20 minutes to pick up my two children from school. I leave this time open for calls.
No matter how busy we all are, we all have downtimes during the day that probably add up to a few hours per week. By multi-tasking things we already do anyway and that have become automatic, we can connect with people without taking time away from anything else.
Here are a few examples of when I have downtime and set up calls:
The software you can use to setup calls is becoming increasingly sophisticated. Using the right software means you save 5-10 emails per meeting:
I personally recommend AppointmentCore because of it's many extended automation features. With AppointmentCore, it's very easy to send custom automated emails before and after each meeting or even automate a personal reminder text message like, "Hey Bob, I look forward to our chat in 20 minutes!" With the time saved sending those text messages and emails alone, the software pays for itself.
When people set up the meeting, you can customize your appointment scheduling software to ask them a few questions. At the very least, you can ask for:
Step 5: Enjoy Yourself And Be Generous
Have you ever been on a call where somebody you look up to takes the call, but also makes it clear that they have more important things to do. Their tone of voice is muted and they give quick responses that indicate they're trying to end the conversation.
If you're going to take the time to do the call, you might as well make the most out of it and add as much value as possible while being as positive as possible.
By being direct upfront with your time availability, you don't have to worry about the call taking a long time.
Step 6: Keep Track Of People's Questions
John Hall is the co-founder and CEO of Influence & Co. Influence & Co helps position individuals as industry influencers and thought leaders through high-quality content.
John keeps a list of the questions that people ask him via email, over the phone, and in-person. After answering those questions, he puts the question and his answer into a database. He then uses this database as a source of future in-depth articles on his Forbes column.
Once the article is written, he sends the article to new people when they ask him the related question.
Step 7: Be Ruthless On Whether Or Not To Have A Second Meeting
Jon Bischke, serial entrepreneur and founder of Entelo is open on the first connection, but then is more discerning, "I like to say yes a lot initially to new opportunities whether it is a quick coffee or a phone call. That opens up the opportunity for new things. That said, I'm a little more ruthless with second meetings. I think you have to be. During the initial meeting, I trust my gut and try to identify if this is someone I could see myself collaborating with 10, 20, or 30 years. It is not necessarily about immediate value."
Other indicators that will help you determine whether to invest more time: Are they prepared? Are they on time? Do they end on time? Do they show appreciation? Do they offer to help you?
Step 8: Set Up Paths To Stay Connected
If you hit it off with the individual, there are lots of ways to help deepen the relationship. A few paths that I've created are:
Also, depending on your goals, there might be ways to do micro collaborations. For example, as a writer, it's always nice to have an extra pair of eyes giving me feedback on titles and rough drafts of articles. These are the exact situations where a diverse perspective is helpful.
As you've seen in this article, for most of us, it's possible to connect with many more people one-on-one without taking away time from other activities.
Imagine if you just did one of these 15-minute relationship building calls every day. Within a few years, you'd have 1,000+ people that you connected with. As Kevin Kelly, founder of Wired, discussed in his seminal blog post, 1,000 True Fans, this tribe can be the foundation of your career and life.
If you're looking to be proactive, go over to your social media site of choice and ask, "One of the things I appreciate the most in life are my relationships. How can I be helpful to you today?" You'll be surprised at what you hear back.
[Read More Here > Thank You Business Insider July 2nd 2014]
i blog about the things I love: fitness, hacking work, tech, Experiences and anything holistic.
> I am the Head of Product at Sikka Software.