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Helen Menhenett

Fairplace Cedar

Head of Research

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The value of networking

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Lynda Gratton, professor of management practice at the London Business School, believes that “building networks, especially those outside the organisation will be another key leadership skill”.

We used to do our ‘schmoozing’ face-to-face but these days social networking sites are what we use to foster collaboration, within the company, and well beyond.

A good networker juggles a diverse range of knowledge flows and hones their own competitive position by doing so. The value of social networks lies in helping us make better connections with each other, so building reciprocal relationships that enhance knowledge flow and innovation.
 
Social value
 
Bad news for the competitive types – it’s not about how many followers you have on Twitter or how many connections you have on LinkedIn. You have to create value for your network so that later you get something back.

Gratton calls this a ‘cloud of acquaintances’. She says: "This network is a ‘community of practice’ in the sense that it has been built around a common shared interest or experience”.

 
We like that feeling of community, which is what social networking is about, sharing information and feeling that you’ve garnered some insight from a friend rather than a search engine. Of course it’s much easier to measure the number of your connections than to quantify their value.
 
But being connected to 300 or 700 people isn’t much use if they’re not people who want to engage with you. They’ll want to engage if you are creating value for them; it’s a quid pro quo, the classic pay back scenario. Value is subjective of course but social networking sites can be amazingly useful both in professional personal terms.
 
Trade information
 
In terms of the job search your extended network acts as your online eyes and ears. If you are good at networking then you use this to find new opportunities, information and contacts that could benefit you. This works best if people know what you’re likely to be looking for. One good contact is all it takes.

So good networkers trade information and offer advice and expertise, the sort of information that is usually something you have not already thought of. They give you leads and they introduce you to their contacts because they take pleasure in being a conduit.

 
It’s a bit like a marriage broker; they like to bring people together. They like to see others benefit from what they have done.
 
Weak tie networking
 
LinkedIn is fertile ground for the job seeker so work your network, strengthen and expand it. Concentrate on people you need to get to know better. The value of weak ties has a theoretical base in social theory.

In 1973, Mark Granovetter published The Strength of Weak. When the author looked at how people find jobs, he discovered that it is not through strong ties but rather through weak ties, i.e., it seems people did better with those they didn’t know very well.

 
Why? Because those they knew tended to be ‘like them’, to share the same networks and to be exposed to the same experiences. People you don’t know so well have different networks and are exposed to different opportunities and can introduce you to new contacts.
 
Raising your profile
 
There’s a lot of hype around social media but LinkedIn is increasingly used as a recruitment tool by corporate and agency recruiters. Not just for back office jobs but for high profile, big ticket roles as well. To get the best from LinkedIn you need to explore beyond your own profile and connections list.

Check out the groups, there are probably at least a dozen that cover business topics you are interested in and even more that cover your social interests. Check the events pages too. Put up some recommendations for colleagues, Keep your profile up-to-date, and spend time each week updating your page and your connections.

Put a link to your profile in your email signature block. If you are thinking about freelance or contract work, starting up your own enterprise or adding to your portfolio of roles you can use LinkedIn as a business tool.

 
Happiness
 
Here’s some really good news, Fowler and Christakis found that happiness tends to be correlated in social networks. When a person is happy, nearby friends have a 25% higher chance of being happy too. People at the centre of a social network tend to become happier than those at the periphery.

Clusters of happy and unhappy people were discerned within the studied networks, within a reach of three degrees of separation: a person’s happiness was associated with the level of happiness of their friends’ friends’ friends.


Helen Menhenett is head of research at career management consultancy, Fairplace Cedar.

This article was first published by our partner, online jobs board, Changeboard.

2 Responses

  1. Networks work if you work at them – inspiration AND perspiration

    Great post – I’ve chatted to Lynda Gratton a couple of times when delivering Exec Education at Unilever and it certainly is a quality game rather than just numbers.

    That said, Thomas Power, Head of Ecademy would also point out that numbers matter if ‘happy coincidences’ are to take place.  There is a ‘flywheel’ effect to networking in my experience if you are to get ‘sanity’ (business) as well as ‘vanity’ (friends in high places) from it.

    And I meet plenty of people who say they get nothing from networking whatsoever.  So, there are clear differences between the ‘sheep and the goats’ in this area.

    Purely out of a focused approach to networking, I’ve had tea with the Rt Hon Peter Jay, a glass of wine with Prof Charles Handy, Leadership events with Ozzy Osbourne’s guitar player, a book endorsement from Prince, a business project with a female £20M entrepreneur, projects in Sweden, Greece, The US, programmes on BBC Radio 4, BBC One TV, plus valuable connections with a host of less famous but equally phenomenal people.

    Some stories about how you make your own luck can be found at:

    http://humandynamics.wordpress.com/2011/11/01/in-the-lap-of-the-greek-gods-sex-networking-and-rock%E2%80%99n%E2%80%99roll/

    http://humandynamics.wordpress.com/2011/11/28/networking-in-the-dragons-den/

    http://humandynamics.wordpress.com/2011/07/28/a-day-in-the-life-four-powerful-rocknroll-business-networking-lessons/

    Peter 

     

     

  2. The Powers of Networking

    I think Helen has this absolutely right.

    It isn’t only ‘hustling sales people’ who need networks – or job seekers – or even ‘the lonely at home’!  We can all benefit, if we know how.

    For example, what about those we already know?  We can never know how or when people will come back into our lives, actually from the day we are born! Some we will never want to see again, some might be quite amusing to catch-up with, and others could be unimaginably useful. And you can rarely predict who they may be!  But no doubt, social networking can make this so much easier, even than 5 or 10 years ago.

    However, whether new or old contacts, there are some really important rules to successful networking.  Not the least that, before you seek, you must be prepared to give.  That is really important.  I find very few people will turn down a reasonable request for help if they can, but a) you need to build on a personal relationship first, and not just approach someone you saw on Linked-In or Facebook who looked ‘useful’; b) you don’t do this by making contact ‘out of the blue’ – there needs to be an authentic link; and c) to do that, you must at least suggest something of mutual interest which could be of potential relevance to their lives, if not actual benefit.

    There are many really good practical workshops available on professional networking. (I am a special fan of Will Kentish because he is so observant and sensible, but there are many others.)  For a starter, I would suggest:
    – go where the people with whom you might want to network go, in person.  Eg: a branch meeting of your professional institute, an alumnae meeting, a local business network – even the pub. library or church. 
    On-line networks can be great, but you really can’t beat personal contact.
    {I received well over 100 emails yesterday while I was away and, apart from colleagues and family, I met one taxi-driver who told me something incidentally quite critical as it happens.  Guess whom I remember most vidily?}
    – decide beforehand what you might want to achieve, and the sort of people you want to get to know.  And if they aren’t there? – go somewhere else!
    – learn how to network.  It is a skill in its own right.  Do you know how to open up a conversation with a complete stranger?  Do you know when not to?  (eg When they are busy!)  How will you introduce yourself most effectively?  (Often called ‘the elevator pitch’.)  How might you spot a ‘time-waster’?  Do you know how to leave a conversation? And what will you do next?  (Follow through!)
    – keep a record.  As suggested, one never knows how people might come back into lives.

    And above all, don’t wait for people whom you want to meet to come to you?  Go where they are!

    Best wishes – Jeremy
     

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Helen Menhenett

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