Dialogue for performance: how networking helps
One of the basic rules for growing and maintaining effective networks is to look out for interesting conversations. I was fortunate recently to encounter, on a guided walk through the mountains of Gran Canaria, the author of a fascinating study on networking within and between firms. His PhD thesis, published in 2009 explored HR practice in a sample of companies in the food industry and compared it to various aspects of networking. Among his most interesting results were that:
• The more advanced and well-managed the people management systems of an organization were, the better it performed in terms of inter-organizational networking, which is in turn associated with high levels of product and organizational innovation.
• The companies most highly networked within their industry all ranked networking and communication skills in their top three competencies for juniors and seniors in innovation projects. This fits well with assertions by Devanna and Tichy (1990) that network building organizations will increasingly select workers with the facilitation skills to create and maintain social networks.
• Higher levels of coaching and other forms of development, including job rotation, encourage people to share information and promote both internal and intra-organizational networking.
• While firms with both medium and high levels of inter-company networking encouraged the use of personal development plans, those that were most highly networked tended to provide higher levels of career direction. (So people were able to focus their networking activities more clearly.)
• Support from supervisors for networking was also associated with high levels of networking activity, especially where managers were expected to set a good example. Some companies had members of the leadership team with specific responsibility for encouraging networking.
• One of the most common reasons people give for not networking is time pressure. Jolink found that too great or too little time pressure were both associated with lower levels of networking, whereas people under intermediate time pressure tend to be more “engaged in what they do, are more curious and more willing to take risks, leading to greater exploration of ideas and networking… High time pressure can cause employees to rely on routines when approaching problems and can reduce their engagement in exploratory thinking.”
• In project working generally, “more networking is connected to higher effectiveness of innovation projects, but lower efficiency. Using many external contacts can lead to more creativity in the project and better access to resources. However, networking also takes up considerable time and coordination costs. For new market innovation projects, however, it seems that more networking also leads to better efficiency.”
Among Jolink’s recommendations to HR are (paraphrased):
• Select new hires based on their networking competencies and the strength of their existing networks
• Look at training and development as opportunities for people to build their networks and encourage them explicitly to do so
• Reward and recognize people for their achievements in projects (which helps them be sought out by other particular networking partners)
• Explicitly communicate that people should know potentially relevant partners in their field
• Develop the habit at both individual and firm level of telling people what you are working on/ interested in
• Manage the time pressures – have systems in place to take the pressure off to ensure people do network
• Invite outsiders into project teams, both as a direct learning resource, but also because of their links to other potential network partners
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