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Networking is for all

Last night I went to a thought-provoking CIPD session for consultants on networking engagingly given by James Nathan. It made me think about why we are so obsessed with networking and what we expect from our investment of time and emotion. As a consultant specialising in supporting organisation changing the way they work to encompass technology supported approaches such as remote, agile, smart, desk sharing, downshifting etc. I also know the negative effect of poor networking events which can be disheartening and lead to cynicism.The timing was opportune for me as the day before I was giving similar messages to staff on a career development workshop. The participants work in a project based organisation where the culture is changing and staff need to seek out opportunities rather than waiting to be asked. It brought into focus the fact that in dispersed and fluid organisations networking is just as important for employees as for the self employed and SMEs. With more organisations adopting agile and start working practices, networking is vital to maintain contact and engagement, be informed, share learning and yet few organisations encourage or train staff to do it.Some US and Canadian companies integrate internal social networks as a key part of their internal information sharing processes. In the UK the CMI, BSC, ISMM are all currently running sessions on this topic for members and many Chambers Commerce include it in their events. Some  good examples of companies who encourage internal networks are Boeing, Microsoft, Skanska.So what would I advise organizations to do to support their employees find the career chances they seek and the emerging information they need to do their jobs effectively?

  • Be explicit that this is what staff need to do and will be expected to engage in and why
  • Make it OK - so staff are sure they will not be punished if seen talking to people not directly involved in their work and approaches will not be rebuffed
  • Have a specific activity for networking within all conferences ad large company meetings
  • Expect people to socialise around all meeting - 5 minutes is all it takes
  • Encourage all staff to think about what they want to gain from and give to networking within the organisation: what information do they need to help them identify who may be able to help them find the information either directly or be a link in the chain? what can they offer to others?
  • Include networking skills in existing interpersonal skills training  - especially the skill of listening and using questions to explore not to interrogate
  • Clarify what networking is: based on mutuality, offering as well as taking
  • AND remember that good manners are important in all social interactions: networking is not exempt.