House of (Business) Cards

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A March release date has been set for season four of the popular Netflix series House of Cards. Speculation on plot lines has already reached a fever pitch, and when the big day comes, you can bet there will be a whole lot of cars tucked into their garages. Even Barack Obama admits to being a fan.

There are several reasons why this show sends people into a weekend-long rapture, but one of the main attractions is the networking prowess of the show’s two main characters, Frank and Clare Underwood. They treat personal and political connections like so many pieces on a chess board, manipulating complex situations like grandmasters. It seems they’ll stop at nothing to destroy the opposition and expand their sphere of influence. As a viewer, you’re constantly asking yourself: How far are they willing to go?

The world would be a pitiful place indeed if everyone approached networking like this power-mongering pair—yet those of us in the hospitality industry can still learn a thing or two from Frank and Clare Underwood. Whether we’re a global chain or a newly-opened independent, our ability to foster connections is one of the keys to success.

Donate your time

The Underwoods don’t particularly like shaking hands and attending fundraisers, but they understand that a strong network of support comes from being generous with your own time and talents. Whilst the Underwoods are fairly calculating in this, a genuine approach to sharing your time and expertise with others will always pay off over time. In fact, it’s not about being owed favours, or manipulating people towards your own ends. The simple reality is that outreach breeds outreach. When you’re willing to support other businesses in their goals, you strengthen your own brand full-stop. And if that support is reciprocated in tangible ways at the right moment, all the better. I had the pleasure of seeing Zig Ziglar in person many years ago and one of his key tenets in marketing was that “you will get all you want in life if you help enough other people get what they want."

It’s not just about hospitality

One of Frank Underwood’s friends, Freddie, is the proprietor of a humble barbeque joint. Even though his trade has nothing to do with politics, Freddie ends up catering an important state dinner and playing a key part in Frank’s political dealings.

In other words, people like to know people in the hospitality industry, whether they be restaurant owners or, other hoteliers and so on. So, use that interest to network but remember you still need to provide a value to the other person.

Make sure you follow up

Very little of Frank and Clare Underwood’s time is spent brooding alone behind sprawling oaken desks. This is because paperwork doesn’t make good television, but it’s also because effective networkers are constantly in search of real-life interactions. They know that face-to-face encounters tend to bear the most fruit. This is as true in the hospitality industry as it is in the White House.

When you do end up with a business card in your pocket (or perhaps a name you can plug into Facebook), always follow-up. Those courtesy calls and messages let the world know you’re serious about being connected.

Refine your message

Notice how smooth and convincing Frank and Clare come off, even when they’re speaking to each other in private? This is another symptom of television, but it also demonstrates the power of well-honed communication skills. If you’re attending a conference, try to keep a message or two in mind—about you, your hotel, what you want to achieve. Work on delivering that message. Maybe you could be more relaxed during professional interactions. Maybe you could show more interest in the other person’s work. Whatever the case, meeting loads of people won’t lead anywhere unless you convey a message of confidence and genuine interest—a message that makes both parties want to pursue (or at the very least, remember) the conversation.

Build your empire

The best hospitality networkers are open to partnerships, but they aren’t only interested in themselves—at least not in this business. Hospitality is one industry that’s built on playing an active role in the community and carving a reputable niche for your brand. The value of a given connection may not always be apparent, but the sum total of your connectedness will always open a path to greater success.

Happy networking, and don’t forget your business cards!

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