by Dr Jill Shepherd

For some people, networking comes as second nature; for others, it can be an uncomfortable and intimidating ordeal. It involves creating, cultivating and using interpersonal relationships to achieve career goals. It is the intentionality and the career goals that some can find uncomfortable. In modern business, organisations need people to expand their networks and renew them. There is no need to feel uncomfortable thinking about your network and how to make it more productive. As communication is an ever more in-demand soft skill, networking is important in ensuring you are using your communication skills with the best people to add the most business value.

Let’s unpack what networking is about and how it relates to performance. Stuff that affects the behaviour or act of networking includes the organisational culture and industry. Job characteristics such as level, role, hours and individual characteristics such as personality, self-esteem gender, education and attitude towards power and politics – back to it all being an intimating ordeal. Once networking happens, the networker gains access to information and relationships that support, make things happen, and have access to resources and political power (aka social capital). Social capital is what you do not have within an organisation when you join it and which takes on different dimensions to create in hybrid working.

What are the outcomes of networking? You are more visible, you have increased power and career success. If you are not known and trusted then opportunities will not come your way. Businesses gain more from their talent, people might stay longer as they are embedded in that network and information flows more easily.

With the advent of social beyond the company, there are perils. Organisational reputations have been lost as tweets mount up in reaction to a decision, product, service or promotion. Most organisations have a social policy to avoid individuals committing career suicide and reputational damage. Equally networking beyond the organisation brings in ideas, intelligence, and entrepreneurship.

Our QA perspective

Here at QA, we spend time helping people reskill and upskill. Never has learning been so important as we work in a tech-rich world where technology changes make skills outdated. Learners can be asked to return to work and apply their learning. The problem is if that application occurs within the same networks its value and impact is lessened. They might also contain their learning to networks inside the organisation limiting how they stay ahead.

We use the work of Granovetter, which is old but has become trendy again recently. Even the MIT Sloan Management Review uses his work to discuss Hybrid working. Important is the concept of weak and strong ties. Strong ties are well-established relationships, often formed when working together for a considerable time. These are where assumptions are shared without thinking and effort, making working within those relationships fast and efficient. They make and continue to make hybrid working feel easier.

Meanwhile, we also have weak ties. These are new relationships or can be new conversations that do not follow the same pattern or subject area as normal. These are tougher and often start informally and in F2F environments might be coffee moments or water cooler encounters. They tend to be the source of innovation as different perspectives join up between people who hold different views and experiences.

Introducing weak and strong ties to how to network serves to:

  • Reduce the fear that networking is manipulation
  • Balances efficiency with transformation and innovation
  • Give a structure within which to manage hybrid working which can encourage easy weak tie formation as virtual contacts with way more people can be established.
  • Aid learning transfer where learners are encouraged to create and cultivate new weak ties that use their new skills, behaviours, knowledge etc.
  • Speed up digital transformation by facilitating bridges across divides between business and technical roles
  • Promote wellbeing by having a larger network to pull on that can include weak ties able to provide a greater variety of support

Contact us if you would like to improve networking in your organisation whether that be as a networking course or part of aligning the need to network post learning for more effective learning transfer as an add-on.

Gibson, C., Hardy III, J.H. and Buckley, M.R., 2014. Understanding the role of networking in organizations. Career Development International.

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