I often get questions from leaders of business networking groups about what to do with a member who doesn’t participate. The member is not actively engaged, whether it’s that they are not bringing visitors, or passing referrals to others, or helping on the chapter’s mentoring or support team.
Ask the Question
My first suggestion is that the leaders of the group have a conversation with the member and ask this question: “How can we help you?”
It’s very important to begin by asking that question because if you go to a member and start criticizing them for not participating, they just get defensive. Instead, use this very powerful technique: ask how you can help them do XYZ more effectively.
It is powerful because when you ask how you can help them, they will inevitably give you one of two answers. They will give you a can’t do answer or a won’t do answer.
The person will either explain why they are having difficulty with the situation because they don’t know how to address it effectively, or they will answer in a way that illustrates that they don’t really want to do this for some reason or another.
The “Can’t Do” Answer
This story comes from my own experience with a BNI® chapter. The member was a printer who received many referrals from the group, however, he gave very few referrals to other members. We asked him, “How can we help you bring referrals?”
His answer was, “I am really struggling with this. I am having a hard time finding referrals because I don’t usually have much of a conversation with my clients other than the printing job they bring to me. They say, “I need 1000 copies of this flyer next week,” and then they leave. I don’t know if they need a CPA or a florist. I don’t know what is going on in their lives because I don’t have that kind of dialogue with them. I am struggling. I want to bring in referrals. I just don’t know how to do it.”
That is a classic “Can’t Do” answer. They want to help and participate more; they just don’t know how. When someone says they can’t do something, they are open to being coached. It is our responsibility to help those people, to teach them. Remember, we have all been a “can’t do” at some point, especially when we first started networking.
To help that printer, we recommended that he put up a board in his shop with multiple copies of each of his fellow BNI members’ business cards. Customers would pull a business card from the display and ask him, “What do you know about this person? Are they really good?” He replied, “Oh yeah. I see them every week. They’re very good.” The printer became the leading referral giver in his group. He went from a “Can’t Do” to a CAN DO, and he did it well.
The “Won’t Do” Answer
The “Won’t Do” people are a real problem in networking groups. They understand that they are not performing – and they have plenty of excuses about why they aren’t willing to do what needs to be done. When you say to them, “How can we help you bring in more referrals?” they typically say something like, “It’s really difficult for me in my profession to be able to give referrals to the people in the group.” Their excuses include they are busy… it’s too difficult… I’m different… my business is different… They are a “Won’t Do”. They are just not going to do it. It becomes obvious that they are only there to get referrals and they are not willing to give referrals for whatever reason.
My suggestion is that you open the door for them; give them a graceful exit opportunity. It is amazing how many people will remove themselves if you simply say, “It’s okay if you step down if this isn’t for you at this time. It is okay to step out and come back later when it’s more convenient.” You’d be surprised at how many people say, “I probably should step down and leave the group.” Giving them the option to leave in a positive manner allows them to save face.
If they don’t take the opportunity and want to stay because they are getting referrals, the chapter leaders need to sit down with them to explain that for their membership to continue, they must contribute back to the chapter. Whether it is bringing visitors, referrals, or supporting the group in some way, they must participate. You need to help them understand that they have to contribute within the chapter; they need to be a giver, not just a taker. At that point, they still might choose to leave the group, or they may step up and become a contributing member. Either way, it is their choice.
The concept of members being a “Can’t Do” or a “Won’t Do” applies in networking, and it also applies in management and in general business terms.
Some final thoughts:
> stay positive and solutions focused
> support people who really want to be there
> help people move out of the group who are only there to get and not to give
Have you experienced something similar in your networking group? Perhaps you were a member who benefited from the chapter’s help and guidance. Share your thoughts in the comments.
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