About the art of networking

On average in France, women have 50 people in their networks and men have 72 people. A survey conducted by HEC Management School revealed these figures a few days ago. These are rather small numbers when you think that this activity is essential for the success of any career.

For 59% of executives, networking requires learning and technology. More than one in two believe that maintaining a network requires considerable efforts. And 73% of them do not think they have the time to build up a good network. From my own experience, the art of networking is far from being superficial, it is a quick to learn activity and the cost is low. But the relationships you will have created will be dear throughout your entire life.

These are basic principles of the Art of Networking:

  • Win-win philosophy, networking does not mean “selling”.
  • Good listening and questioning skills.
  • Clear communication, a good understanding of the people you want to meet, proper use of the media and language.
  • Straight profile, you need to be able to tell who you are and what you do in a few words.
  • Promises kept, which means being realistic about what you can offer.
  • Regular contacts, with a quick message from time to time.

Contrary to common beliefs, networking does not mean going out every night. You can include this activity in your daily lives in a simple manner. Digital tools, such as LinkedIn, Twitter, Meet-ups for instance make it easy for you to develop your network. Just show a little creativity.

Any job is a combination of needs and solutions. Your network will play an instrumental role in getting things done in this complex world. Develop new bonds outside your traditional circles and you will be able to access ideas that may not be part of your natural groups’ thinking.

Positive in every circumstance

It may seem obvious but to lead change, a positive attitude is an absolute must. It is essential to believe in what you need to achieve and never let show any doubts. Others will test change agents all the time which I think is fair.

  • Always show confidence and desire to do more, with a growth mind-set. Always be available to others.
  • Listen more than you talk and learn how to question behaviours and routines in an efficient but gentle way, inspired from coaching techniques.
  • Surround yourself with those who also believe that things can change. Grow an internal network of positive change agents. Don’t do everything alone.
  • Use positive language, and avoid phrases such as “if you do not change, you will not survive.” Be specific about the kind of change you want to see, use visualisation techniques.
  • Put great energy and efforts into accompanying small changes, they will have as much impact as large ones.
  • Bypass people who do not seek to understand and who want to block at all costs.
  • Be a facilitator of change. Do not be in control, and start to learn a lot from others.

Accompanying a profound change is rewarding for oneself – if one applies to respect some basic rules above to get to the vision. I wish you a fruitful journey!

Winds of the old days

In the old days, internal communication services generated information, with little input from staff. Employees were rarely, if ever, motivated to contribute to more than their jobs.

In the old days, turnover was rare and thus, little knowledge management discipline needed. Some were deleting their email right after a long vacation. Some others were destroying all copies of their deliverables before they retire. And at that time, we could see the same mistakes again and again.

In the old days, it was expensive to test performance. Thus the good worker was one who was coming in early and staying late in office. We could see strange behaviors for this reason. Some employees were hiding themselves behind screens in their small offices. Whereas some others were running through corridors or meetings all their days to remain visible.

The winds of the old days blew away parts of our knowledge and engagement, but we will still find good things to say about our good old ways. And they are plenty of course!

We may also start to improve a terrible situation – only 13% of employees worldwide are engaged (Gallup, 2013). Digital makes it possible to foster improvements by providing each individual – not just some – an unlimited influence. And many things too expensive for any business are finally processed at low cost. Such as surveys, evaluation, knowledge management and idea generation.

Today, we hear talks about staff engagement, staff as ambassadors, right to fail, and transforming cultures, and it feels good.

Good times for givers

Five months ago, I decided I would take some time to develop myself more. I wanted to get to know better the trends, meet always new people and organizations, and share my discoveries in this blog. Time flies, and I always find myself running after it. Although I do not share as much as I would like to, I hope my quick updates are still useful. In this one, I highlight some of my findings. You can always ask me any question, give me any feedback or request stories.

  • In a lot of organizations – at least those which perform well, humans are back at the centre of work, that is something exciting. I see organizations caring about their workforce, as never before. Many initiatives take off. This is a beautiful journey full of opportunities. I am happy when I see people sharing, more and more, inside and outside with their stakeholders.
  • Some conversations bear more fruits than others. But how to make sure they all do? I still see how hard it is to let go off command and control for more empowerment. In this period of change, organizations try to move the cursor from hierarchies to networks mode. And some find it more comfortable to control conversations. From my experience, the more you control, the less you get. Why do you think the weather is such a natural topic between strangers? If you need to yield business outcomes, it is even more important to invest into building relationships.
  • Are you making the best of your network of givers? Givers want to take an even bigger role in your company. For instance, they want to define the vision and to innovate services and products. They also want to spread the word about its achievements, and solve problems. Different tactics are possible to make the best of their energy, and to make this energy viral across your organization and around. Givers are a treasure hidden.
  • Implementing the vision is still the hardest piece to achieve. Why do senior managers struggle with cascading their vision? I see three main reasons for this. First, if you expect a change of behaviours from staff, then managers should act as role models. Employees will not take all the risks alone – only a few audacious will. Second, you need more examples to define the vision. You need to make sense of the desired change. A strong belief is not enough. And you need to give concrete demonstrations of how this is going to work in practice and offer support along the way. Finally, the top-down approach alone does not work. Organizations need to start a transversal approach, for similar business functions. And a bottom-up one – for better accountability.

Good times for givers that will play an instrumental role in leading your company’s future. Start the treasure hunt and “educate” them while making them grow. If you don’t care about them, their disengagement can also become contagious.

A sense of emergency

People have long invested in and developed expertise in working practices which led to successes. Why would they need to change?

Over the past years, many organizations implemented new working tools and expected new routines. There was this sudden emergency to change, and there was no longer enough time to explain why. You cannot expect that the entire workforce will adopt new behaviours, because the tools are there. You will have to open an internal discussion about resistance and develop a campaign around the bad reflexes.

No one can ignore our changing environment any longer, this is the world where we all live and not just a trend. Organizations need to make clear that digital is important for everyone:

  • Digital media will surpass “linear” TV as main media channel in Europe. Developing digital skills should be as important as the fight against illiteracy.
  • Building customer loyalty has become a big challenge. Employees have a key role to play. They will become true ambassadors of their company’s culture. But, managers find it hard to empower people and to let go off command and control.
  • It is no longer a question of shouting louder on the web. People must learn how to develop more conversations, and how to use the power of networks and communities. But it still seems so difficult to stop pushing for more engagement.
  • Finally, fast adopters of technologies and new usages influence the routines of our future. There is a strong need to listen more to their ideas, with a view to stimulate innovation which is driving the modern entreprise.

And so, despite a sense of emergency to change, there is also a strong need to pause and discuss to make sure the move will make sense to all.

“Adapt or perish, now as ever, is nature’s inexorable imperative”, H.G. Wells.

Steps for managing an internal online community

1. Prepare

Organise a first meeting to help people know each other and get connected:

  • Co-create rules.
  • Identify champions and share the burden – give responsibilities, it is a collective initiative.
  • Define the vision and key success factors.

2. Design

  • Offer a central workspace for the work which has to be done.
  • Invite some co-workers – champions, those who are keen to start the journey, the “that’s a great idea!” people, to have a first look. Based on their feedback, review the collaborative space and develop guidance material.
  • Structure – a “top content” section, a library, conversations…
  • Keep the technology simple to be successful and invest in « killing » functionalities – quick polls, metadata, co-authoring, for instance.

3. Implement

  • Invite all co-workers.
  • Promote training opportunities – for self-learning also.
  • Welcome – behind the scenes, in an intimate fashion – and remind co-workers to complete profiles and set-up alerts as well as following models to get the most of the tool.
  • Accompany the development of successful cases.

4. Develop

  • Work mainly behind the scenes. A healthy community should not need a community manager, in theory.
  • Gather success stories in a dedicated space.
  • Inspire Trust, and Model respectful communication techniques that co-workers can learn from.
  • Send an email digest on a regular basis, linking directly to conversations happening in the space.
  • Curate content.
  • Make content gardening – tag, notify people, new titles for documents, etc.
  • Follow the Community’s lead.

5. Animate

  • Foresee a community management action plan. Make building relationships a priority in this community management plan.
  • Organize events – chat sessions, webinars, quick polls, crowd-sourcing activities,..
  • Notify experts to reenergize conversations – if need be!
  • If you need to energize the community, one option is to let co-workers swap roles and perform another function for a day. They will gain a better appreciation of how people need to work together.
  • Actively listen « if you read, like »
  • Invite new members. Inject new blood who will then « revigorate the community ».
  • Use peer-engagement techniques.
  • If conflicts or misinterpretations arise, be the first to seek a resolution.

6. Monitor

  • Monitor activity on a regular basis. Compare with the average activity in other groups.
  • Identify influencers.

7. Wrap-up

  • Close the space and archive content.
  • Reward most active participants.
  • Promote best conversations yielding business outcomes.

8. Analyze

  • Exchange lessons learnt with other community managers.
  • Compare results.
  • Develop a business case for the organization.

The people-centered organization

In recent years, many organizations have assessed the level of commitment of their staff. Basically, there is a direct link between productivity and staff engagement.
People-centered organizations have a high score in staff engagement. They often manage to make profit while attracting and retaining talents. All good reasons to improve the situation if the level of commitment is low.
According to my observations, these measures bear fruits in this respect:
  • Combine empowerment and strong management
  • Lead with values, not rules
  • Create a trustful environment in which people can safely experiment
  • Let people work-out-loud
  • Enable more conversations with always more and more people inside and outside the organization

It is clear that digital technologies can help in their swift and efficient implementation.