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What do people get most wrong about networking? originally appeared on Quora: the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world.

Answer by Lane Shackleton, CPO at Coda, on Quora:

Early in my career, I was fortunate to get invited to a weekly breakfast where I met an amazing group of founders, engineers and product people, but I dropped the ball on maintaining relationships after the initial meeting. I never kept notes or followed up with most of them. This group of people went on to produce some of the best startups in the last 15 years, but I missed the chance to help them create products, invest in them, and create lasting relationships. I’m still kicking myself.

One of the biggest misconceptions about networking is people believe it happens at two extremes: it’s an organic process that occurs without trying, or it’s a calculated approach with an ulterior motive. I’d argue that the truth is somewhere in between.

As the Chief Product Officer of Coda, I meet amazing people every day. Over the years, I’ve devised a system based on the following principles to help manage relationships for the long term.

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  1. Create a structure to capture the most important information. Most personal CRMs are focused on people, interactions, and companies. That’s a great start, but it’s inadequate if your goal is to create a system that nudges you toward creating a meaningful, ongoing relationship with that person. My system includes personal information like how and when we got connected, the names of their family members — partner, kids, siblings, etc., my current understanding of their potential superpower, what I’ve learned from them, and what others might learn from them. In practice, I’m able to have more personal communication, and people appreciate this attention to detail. If I catch up with someone I haven’t seen in two years, I can start the meeting by asking about their kids by name. They’re delighted that I care enough to remember their kids’ names. Of course, it’s not that I have a great memory—it’s that I write things down.
  2. Don’t focus on self-serving aspects—write down opportunities to help. If you’re taking notes during the meeting, write down any opportunities you hear to help that person. One thing I’ve become better at over the years is listening for moments where I can help. Sometimes they surface as a statement like ‘I’m not sure what to do about X’, or sometimes they’re more explicit like ‘I wanted to get your help on Y.’ Either way, I write down these asks so I can evaluate later how I might be able to help that person. This has also allowed me to connect a person to a new job. Because I write down each person’s superpowers, if a hiring manager approaches me to ask if I know someone who’s good at thinking about brand design, I can quickly look through my system and find great experts to recommend.
  3. Schedule the follow-up and take immediate action. When I meet with someone, I also block off time immediately afterward for following up, whether that’s introducing them to someone else or writing down what I learned about them. I also draft and schedule an email follow-up directly after the meeting. Most people wait until the end of the day or end of the week to write the follow-up email, but I’ve found it’s too easy to get sucked into other tasks. So I draft the follow-up email directly after the chat, while it’s fresh. Then I’ll schedule the email to send whenever seems appropriate. For example, if it’s a simple ‘thanks’ for the discussion, I might schedule to send it the next morning. Or, if the person has a big event coming up, I’ll schedule the check-in email for the day after the event to ask how it went.

I call this system “human relationship management,” or HRM. In contrast to customer relationship management systems (CRM), my HRM is not focused on sales prospects and targets. The whole point is to create a system for building and maintaining long-term relationships with people, so you don’t drop the ball like I did. But your system doesn’t have to be calculating. It has to work for you, and it has to put people—and relationships—first.

My grandmother had six grandchildren to keep track of, but she never failed to send each of us a card and a check every year for our birthday. She meticulously wrote down our birthdays in a wall calendar, but it’s this note-keeping that let us know she cared. A HRM system works the same way: it’s personalized to your relationships, and enables you to show people you care.

Networking shouldn’t be transactional, but it should be thoughtful. Creating a system that allows you to stay connected to others will always pay off in the long run.

This question originally appeared on Quora – the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world.

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