Networking is something that's often undervalued and overlooked. Networks tend to grow organically through education or through work. Opportunities for developing networks within the workplace are generally limited, with people typically only connecting with those they directly work with. Naturally the strength of the relationship correlates with how close people work together. The problem with this, is that it limits career development while also perpetuates a stale mentality or group think within teams. Without looking beyond your team, do you think you can really know what's going on and where you need to go? Broadening your network means broadening your vision and greater resiliency.
Most organizations are aware of the benefits of networking and run dedicated events. Some organizations get a little more creative. One notable example is how Steve Jobs strategically placed meeting rooms, the cafeteria and even bathrooms in the centre of the building. The goal of this was to generate interactions between people as they passed each other in the workplace. Steve Jobs highly valued the face to face interaction and firmly believed this generated innovation. This creates great opportunities for individuals to promote themselves a little more than typical.
As people progress in their careers, their network begin to grow and communication within these relationships are not necessarily about specific work but broader business conversations. But what comes first, the network or career development?
Under the organic network growth model, it's clearly the career development that drives a broader network which then reciprocates back into further career development as it opens opportunities. Knowing that, wouldn't it be better to proactively grow your own network?
What does Networking do for your career resiliency?
A quick search on the internet shows a myriad of studies, blogs and other business publications that discuss how networking correlates with career advancement. A key argument is that individuals can share ideas and knowledge. Two things result from this, the recognition for putting yourself out there and also gaining a broader perspective of your environment. Both of which lead straight into resiliency.
By getting together with different people to discuss work, individuals can gain a lot of insights and different perspectives on the work that they're doing. This friction is what sparks innovation. It can be quite easy for individuals to get lost in their own work and failing to see the bigger picture. Networking means individuals can validate their ideas or get feedback for further refinement. Individuals can begin to tailor their work for the internal customer and align better with the broader business direction.
Building your personal brand are another valuable step for resiliency. A common school of thought is that "who you know" matters more than "what you know", but "who knows you" trumps both. Being active and voicing an opinion ensures you can actually deliver value rather than simply develop it.
A lot of individuals will point out how they already share work and ideas through various communication channels. With the pace of technology it can feel like there's almost one channel available for every piece of work. However the most important and richest medium of communication will always be face to face interaction. There is simply no substitution for this. When people sit down together and talk, individuals can be sure someone is listening and thinking about what is actually being said. It also allows for high quality discussion. The trend in communication platforms contributes to cognitive overload and eventually form a graveyard of thoughts and ideas. Active face to face communication always wins.
What does Networking do for a company?
The modern corporate is based on a hierarchy. While there are a lot of efficiencies with this type of structure, there are some limitations. Poor corporate cultures will mean communication rarely permeates between these silos. While a lot of communication and broader directives come from the top, most of this is lost through the several layers of middle management. A more interconnected and social corporate culture allows a freer flow and exchange of knowledge. This is the type of culture that fosters real innovation.
Organizational Learning is another key benefit for improved internal networking. Despite the prominence of knowledge management systems, most knowledge and especially complex knowledge resides within individuals. Documenting complex knowledge can be time consuming and in some situations virtually impossible. When someone has a problem, it's far easier to tap someone on the shoulder for help. As new connections are made, the flow of information speeds up and more complex ideas begin to better understood by more and more people. The organization become even more self-aware.
What do you need to do?
If you're looking to build up the resiliency of your career, having a great network is a critical component. Proactive networking can be challenging particularly early on, but practice is certainly valuable. A lot of individuals will find that it's often very difficult and time consuming. Although there are a number of great channels out there to build networks such as Meetups, they can be incredibly intimidating. Making that first approach feels awkward for most.
Having a great network means you get a better idea of what's going on, a better personal brand and also numerous contacts to tap into in times of help or simply when you're looking to pursue opportunities. It's not a big commitment but you can be sure you're on your way to a more resilient career.