We all have networks, but many of the relationships may have happened by default, these three forms of networking give us a purpose for each relationship, so we know what value it may have and how to nurture it.
The 3 forms are adapted from Ibarra & Hunter, How Leaders Create and Use Networks. HBR Jan 2007
1. Operational – get the work done, mostly internal and prescribed by the needs of the role.
As you move up in leadership, so your horizon broadens and with each step up you will need to make new contacts across the organisation. You’ll need to move out of your function and improve your understanding of how the functions are interconnected to deliver the company mission. You’ll need to know what is happening in other areas and also want them to know what is happening in yours. You may be involved in cross-functional, cross-geography projects and need to take the initiative to connect with others or you will not bring the necessary knowledge to the role. Also those connections can help you influence decision-makers indirectly. You may have connections outside the business unit, but these are task-related (eg regulators) and tend to be bounded by operational demands.
2. Personal – personal and professional development, access to information, skills, contacts, mostly external.
We all have contacts and networks outside of work, but some of those people will be friends and acquaintances you don’t even think of as being part of your personal network and therefore able to provide information or support. I’m not suggesting you suddenly start milking your friends, just to be aware that they can be a good source of information, referrals, etc. Our personal network is particularly valuable in broadening our horizons – if you only connected with people in your function and company, you would have a narrow understanding of the world.
You may choose to develop your understanding of your profession by joining a professional association and actively engaging in their events – I’m a member of CIPD and Association for Coaching and use this for keeping up with industry trends, developing my knowledge and skills and connecting with those in the industry.
There are many clubs and societies where you can develop your interests and skills – I’m a member of Toastmasters International and have developed my speaking skills and my leadership skills through this as I have taken committee roles and been President of a club. I also took a leadership role in AC and was Vice Chair of AC in the UK, which significantly enhanced my position in the industry and opened up powerful connections. You may also be a member of a sports club or similar and this can also provide personal support and enhance your resilience.
Personal networking can be less stressful, due to the nature of the relationship, so it can be a good place to try out ideas or approaches and learn in a relatively safe environment, building your confidence to network strategically.
As your personal network is likely to be a more eclectic mix of people, it has great referral potential. According to the famous 6 degrees of separation principle, our personal contacts are valuable in that they can help us reach, in as few connections as possible, the far-off person who has the information we need.
3. Strategic – future orientation, both internal and external.
As you transition into more strategic roles, so you will want to broaden your connections. Research shows that what differentiates a leader from a manager is the ability to figure out where to go and to enlist the people and groups necessary to get there. Recruiting stakeholders, lining up allies and sympathisers, diagnosing the political landscape and brokering conversations among unconnected parties are all part of a leader’s job. The key to a good strategic network is leverage: the ability to marshal information, support, and resources from one sector of the network to achieve results in another. Giving wisely to this network is important as it sets the scene for when you want to influence others into action.
Strategic networking can demand significant amounts of time and energy that you would rather devote to meeting operational demands. But if you focus on the operations, you won’t have the support in place when you need it, so it can be helpful to develop your operational network into a more strategic one. Start with your strong operational contacts and use them to create connections to people who can help you more strategically.
Your personal network may also be a good starting point for more strategic connections – maybe through a shared interest – golf is well known for that opportunity. In my case volunteering to sit on the board of the AC brought me into contact with leading figures in the industry.
You will want to analyse your connections to see how they best fit into these three forms. This will highlight whether you have the right mix for your coming needs and therefore where you can best focus your efforts. You may well find that you have a number of connections and you’re not sure which category they fit into, so what will you do about them? Maybe a telephone call or email to make contact and catch up with what they are doing now, will be a good opportunity to identify how they may fit.
Knowing the main purpose of your contacts is just a start point; your network will have limited value if you don’t keep those relationships warm, so develop a plan to keep in touch.
Please do comment below or pose any questions you may have.