|The Professional Social Network|
There can sometimes be quite a grubby connotation to the concept of “networking”. One version of it sees it describing a closed-off business world, populated by a homogenous group of people, and operated solely in their own interests. This version of networking consists of uncomfortable, sycophantic conversations with those in authority positions, perhaps punctuated by empty discussions nobody could find interesting, and populated by go-getting hopefuls who are too painfully focused on their own success. It is, in this light, backroom deals, old boys’ networks, and backstabbing company politics.
At the other extreme, networking is the well-formed, expertly-woven web of people, power and positions that contributes to individual and organisational success in many different ways. A strong network can provide an aspiring leader with new business leads, the spark of a new idea, or the support of a new mentor. It allows a person to learn through observation of how others get things done, and generates a regular flow of information from peers and superiors on what a particular industry thinks. It can also provide informed advice and direction, as well as the means to softly advance in a role on the basis of a hard-won reputation.
Internally also, an organisation benefits from networking where it connects different departments and locales - boosting creativity, enhancing productivity, easing the spread of information. Networks can connect executives to middle management, middle management to reports, and leaders to everyone. Well-networked organisations benefit through the simple fact that people talk to each other more, breaking down – at least slightly – the usual hierarchical lines.
Networking such as this sounds great - an easy win for any ambitious professional. However it is also, obviously, the shining ideal, and takes no account of the often incredible amount of time and effort that effective networking needs. Many professionals are perfectly aware of the importance of networking and the advantages it can bring, and yet will still probably admit to not engaging with it nearly as much as they should.
One reason is that networking isn’t something you can commit to half-heartedly; it really can’t be done on autopilot or with your eyes closed. It requires a concerted effort, from simply finding new groups of people to network with, to the potentially mammoth task of connecting with them in a meaningful personal or professional way – making that first contact, forging some sort of bond, and then nurturing it regularly. Many people feel they simply do not have the time to do all of this on top of the demands of their job and their personal life.
Then there is the simple and not uncommon reservation about the process of networking itself. For some, it might be a matter of ethical questions they believe it raises – the idea that establishing a web of contacts for potentially personal gain is overly political and somehow insidious. For others, it is the actual act itself – manoeuvring opportunities to meet people, striking up the conversation, and trying to stay insightful when talking to people of greater seniority or importance. Introvert and extroverts alike can be cowed by this process.
Arguably all of these reservations can be rebuffed if you view networking not as a distinct activity but as another form of personal development. Less a web that will help you rise and more a series of opportunities to help you learn. So professionals with no time for networking use those spaces in their diary planned for training to establish links that improve their understanding of other industries. People less confident in social interactions treat it as an opportunity to practice making valuable conversational contributions that stay true to their own personality. Those who view the whole concept as slightly vulgar can see it as being about genuinely sharing ideas and resources, rather than tit-for-tat favours.
Technology has, of course, made us all networkers now anyway, with our personal and professional networks tallied up as proudly displayed numbers of followers, friends and connections. Networking face-to-face certainly takes more effort than a couple of clicks, but attempted with the same enthusiasm, the possible professional gains can make it a far, far more palatable exercise.
Ahmad Badr is Chief Executive Officer of Abu Dhabi University Knowledge Group (ADUKG)
Reference: The National