I know a few organizations where the way to get ahead is to be taken under the wing of a senior leader—someone based at headquarters, hundreds of kilometers away. I’m not saying this is a role model for talent development, but for those who’ve taken the time to cultivate their networks and relationships, it works. Some say it’s realpolitics, not only for themselves, but for the projects they have to drive. In any case, it’s about being savvy about how global, generally matrix, organizations work.
Networks facilitate global effectiveness
With the opportunities and constraints of cross-functional and remote project teams, managers no longer have easy access to those who will ultimately determine either the resources for their projects or the course of their careers. This is very different from our predecessors, who had their immediate decision-makers sitting down the hall. Today you won’t get much done without managing your connections and networks: key people in key places who know you and will support you when the going gets rough and when you want to move on.
In this kind of context, networking is about connecting with people and building relationships that are fundamentally useful to both sides. To say “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know” may sound a bit extreme, but is it really? Networks are neither a hierarchical structure nor a matrix. They are sets of paths or links between different individuals throughout the corporate structure. You can think of them as “ad hoc partnerships” that band together when something specific needs to get done. So knowing the right people, or being in the right networks, is more important than it ever was. And besides, if no one has tracked your competencies and contributions in a systematic way over time, who will step up to the line for you?
So, nurture your networks!
Network building is a skill to develop if you want to make your mark in a large organization. The fact is, you are probably already part of networks in your organization although you might not have consciously set out to nurture them and let them work for you.
It could be time to start. Follow these four simple steps:
1. Start with your own area of responsibility
Work out from there: sales, finance, human resources, marketing. Whatever it is, this is a professional “community” and you probably already know quite a lot of people who are part of it. Now’s the time to grow that number. Start asking your colleagues who they know in your area. Take a look on your company’s website. Identify the people you believe you just have to meet, and also those who just have to meet you.
2. Find a way to meet.
Do some up-front planning. Think about partnerships. Networks have to add value to both sides. Think hard about the knowledge, experience and contacts you can offer. Think about what keeps your target contact awake at night and how you might help/ Only then make the call, send the email and find a way to meet.
3. Do this systematically
Don’t stop after one shot. Find out where the authority lies and nurture those relationships. Remember, networks will only work if they truly are two-way streets, so get ready to do the “little bit more” as well. It’ll pay off!
4. Don’t get lost in “vague networks”
One of the lessons one can draw form the “social networks” experience – Facebook, LinkedIn etc – is that “too many friends equals no friends”. A network has to make sense to you, as well as to “them-friends” who are part of it. Making sense of the network, facilitating interactions or communications within it will take time and as time is a scarce resource, you should aim at true benefits for all members. A living network is a network that has gained buy-in and a sense of ownership from its members. Then and only then will it “pay back”.
When working with our clients on “building networks” we always face this challenge of defining goals and limits to an idea (networks) that seems so open to an infinite number of connections. But here as in everything else, defining boundaries and making choices is key.