THOUGHT LEADER : Know Who To Know How

Kiwi companies are great at forming networks but lousy at keeping them going.
That was one of the first statements I was thrown when I started in my role at Kea New Zealand. And after 18 months at the helm, I’d have to say I generally agree. Initially, I didn’t believe this. But when you hear that same statement repeated by many Kiwi expats, you do have to wonder.
In my experience, Kiwis are proud of our country and proud of each other so those working abroad are usually keen to seek out and identify with fellow New Zealanders.
Our relatively small communities and economy back home helps instil basic networking values – we’re friendly, loyal and good at the job and you can usually count on us to do what we say we’ll do.
Offshore, Kiwis are great at forming networks, but often weak in managing and leveraging those connections because offshore networking is often more formal, mechanical process with greater social protocols than those we encounter back home.
In today’s marketplace, whether you are looking to export or not, there’s value in the saying: Your “know-who” is just as important as your “know-how”.
One of the best steps Kiwi companies can take to improve international performance and long-term profits is to invest in their know-who and leverage their networks more fully to create and sustain lasting business relationships.
While know-how is difficult to protect, your know-who – or trusted relationships – are difficult to replicate. These relationships take time to establish but can help you understand the subtle differences in new market which, in turn, provides competitive advantage.
And the great news is, with such large numbers of skilled Kiwis working around the world, local businesses back home have tremendous opportunities to tap into.
The statistics – that 800,000 New Zealanders or 16 percent of the population now live offshore – are usually dished up to illustrate stories of gloom about the “brain drain”.
But rather than bemoaning the loss of talent from our shores, I get excited by the potential for New Zealand to be the most globally connected and competitive small nation. In fact, if we think of New Zealand as global business, we have alumni that will rival organisations such as McKinsey and Harvard Business School.
In Kea’s experience, our expats are incredibly keen to engage with what’s going on in New Zealand and to make the knowledge they gather offshore available to local businesses and the economy in general.
Kea was set up to help link the skills and knowledge of the talented New Zealanders all over the world to New Zealand and our membership of 25,000 after seven years is testament to their willingness to help.
It’s often the case that our members can be more valuable in terms of the doors they can open from offshore than if they were employed locally.
Early this year local telco start-up experienced the boomerang effect from global networking when an introduction, through Kea and Beachhead networks, to US-based and well connected Kiwi telco experts – saw them referred on to meet with senior executives in several New Zealand companies that such young company would not normally have had access to.
Global networking holds tremendous opportunities for all businesses, not just exporters. Some of the most active networkers we see are domestic businesses keeping close eye on the behaviour of their offshore rivals for ideas to improve their performance and profitability. Don’t forget that what goes on overseas also helps to shape your customers’ expectations of you so networking to glean ideas is just as important as scouting for sales opportunities.
Here are three ways to help improve your networking game.
1 Make clear plan of what you’re trying to achieve for your business and be honest about the skills required. Cover all the skills, even those you think you already have.
2 Network to learn – not to transact. Have the modesty to look for (and listen to) advice and expertise from the people with the answers. Prepare well (don’t just wander up for casual chat) and ask good questions. Openness to learning from your contacts builds people’s trust in you – and builds your capability to win business. If you impress and build trust, then the introductions and opportunities will come.
3 Follow up and follow through: Report back to your source with what you have done with their advice and introductions they’ve given you. Treat relationships well and you’ll get more value out of them.
Once you’ve improved your networking game, don’t forget all the usual standards for good business performance still apply. Nepotism is dead. The fact you have good networks and relationships isn’t enough to win you business on its own. Although it will help you spot opportunities and open doors, it doesn’t close deals. You still have to be as good as the next guy, which, in the global marketplace, means being as good as anyone else in the world.

Ivan Moss is CEO of Kea New Zealand, network of Kiwi expats and friends of New Zealand. www.keanewzealand.com

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