Networking is not a chamber by-product. It is the product.

Apr 29, 2014

Networking is not a chamber by-product. It is the product.

By Mick Fleming 

Spring 2014

"When asked to justify the chamber’s reason for being (and invoicing), most execs mention “networking” or “connections” within the first 10 seconds. Even for large chambers with grand missions, connectivity among influential community/business decision makers is a critical part of the membership pitch.

On the other hand, “networking” is also the term used by those who say “no thanks” to chamber involvement. “It’s just a networking group,” says an output-focused plant manager or overloaded entrepreneur. “I don’t need that kind of thing.”

The label might be out of favor, but how does connectivity among humans ever become obsolete? Every business person, (actually everyone, period) needs and craves networks. 

Collective action, mutual responsibility for the future, participatory problem solving, group buying power, coalition building, person-to-person support, transactional friction reduction, efficient information exchange, sense of belonging, fame-by-association, shared lexicon, economic mobility and, yes, greater happiness – I’ve seen all of these things in chambers across the country.

Respondents to member satisfaction surveys who say they appreciate chamber networking (and most chamber members DO say that) may be fondly recalling different things such as a profitable connection with just one person at a business breakfast, or the target-rich environment at the 19th hole after your golf tournament. An industrial safety manager serving on one of your committees may value confidential peer support from other companies or the extended network of lawyers or lab techs so critical to his/her work. The connections made in your boardroom can relieve the loneliness of the C-level suite at a major corporation.

One chamber exec told me that he’d like his network to resemble a Kevin Bacon utopia, in which “2” is the normal degree of separation between everybody and everybody else. Close connections can transform a community and an economy.

None of us should assume that cocktail party guests bumping into each other will discover networking gold," but if you are not attending events you are missing opportunities to build your network.  


Mick Fleming is president of ACCE.

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