Positive Networking from the Middle
Networking: a word that drives fear into the heart of many introverts! That’s usually because we have a stereotypical view of what networking means. Such as working a room and swapping as many business cards as possible. This is a very narrow and outdated view of networking in the modern world. However, just as there is more to networking than “pressing the flesh” there is also more to it than complete reliance on social networking tools such as Linkedin. Julia Hobsbawm, a professor of networking in the UK, provides an interesting take on networking that is very relevant from a middle management perspective.
‘Networking has to happen at a personal level and it has to spread laterally across organizations, building knowledge flows, sharing information, and building confidence and connections.’ (Hobsbawm, 2014)
When you think about it, being in the middle in a large organization is the optimal position for effective networking. You should have multiple points of contact upwards, downwards and sideways. The key may be valuing networking for its own sake rather than necessarily as a short term means to an end. To engage as a willing and active participant in this you need to accept that power is not dependent on clinging to your own knowledge security blanket. It’s not knowing lots of stuff that is a strong basis for advancement but knowing how to apply what you know in new and innovative ways. Content knowledge has never been more accessible, but its useful integration and effective communication are less easy to find. Through open and frequent networking across and beyond your organization you can enhance your potential to find new innovation pathways. Ironically the way to compete in terms of mid-level career development may be to more fully co-operate.
Reviewing the research on career networking it is very apparent that much of this still focuses on networking as a tactic for hierarchical advancement. This could just be that there is a lag between real world relevance and published organizational research. Or, more worryingly, it could represent a real collective mental block to moving away from this paradigm.
One aspect of Hobsbawm’s definition that is particularly important is building confidence. Having the confidence to network without imposing unnecessary limits or boundaries upon yourself will take time to build for most people. The further you move out of your immediate circle of contacts and connections the more fragile your networking confidence is likely to become. This will hold most strongly when reaching out to those that you perceive to be higher status individuals. It is important to remember that networking is not selling. In connecting with another person because you believe there may be mutual advantage in doing so, you are not asking them to buy anything. In fact, if you are trying to sell them something then it’s better to be open about your motives and not confuse the interaction by presenting what you are doing as networking. There is nothing wrong with selling, but it’s a different activity.
The other advantage to networking is that it will be good for your wellbeing. Having a strong social network at work and beyond will help you deal with the pressure sandwich that often occurs in mid-level roles. So, active and frequent networking from the middle can serve to help you innovate, develop your career, and reduce stress.
Hobsbawm, J (2014) Networking – it’s who you know, HR Magazine, (December), Available from: http://www.hrmagazine.co.uk/hr/features/1148575/networking