Research and experience tells us that networking improves individual and organizational performance. But how does it work and what dynamics are at play? This research helps us understand the strategies individuals use to build networks and uses specifics about individual’s attitudes, behaviours, and position to identify three networking archetypes – Devoted Players, Purists, and Selective Players. Understanding these archetypes can help organizations encourage constructive networking.
Social capital research has established the performance advantages of networking. However, we know surprisingly little about the strategies individuals employ when networking and, in particular, the underlying agency mechanisms involved.
Research undertaken at INSEAD has analysed the networking strategies employed by newly promoted professionals at two professional service firms to address two closely related limitations in current social network research, ‘agency’ and ‘endogeneity’.
Agency concerns how people, in this case professionals, who display creativity and choice in social networking are influenced by their individual perspectives, beliefs and values. Endogeneity questions the variables that affect the measurement of networking activity and the prominence granted to network structure on individual outcomes, versus the reverse influence of outcomes on structure, and the comparative influence of individual agency on those outcomes.
As a result of their in-depth interviews and network surveys the researchers identified three clusters of professionals by networker type – these three archetypes:
Devoted Players are the most dedicated and active networkers of the three. They expend a lot of energy, time and thought on social relations of all sorts. These professionals have the highest networking activity, targeting stakeholders above the team level (partners and clients), as well as peers. They have enthusiasm for this work and are keen to broaden their networks. To increase the number of encounters, they are socially hyperactive, attending office events, seminars, talks, dinners, and so on. Even though they do not always know the exact outcomes, they purposefully seek to meet lots of different people.
Purists are the opposite to Devoted Players. They are highly sceptical about networking which they believe to be superficial and overly pushy. Purists do not proactively network, or if they do, it is to leverage relationships when they have to, initiating contact mostly when a task requires it. Purists believe that doing a good job and delivering results will speak for itself, instead of ‘schmoozing.’ They prize content and the self-sufficiency of their expertise and talents, value meritocracy, and loath its opposite – contrived relationship management and advancement because of connections.
Selective Players believe that at this early stage in their careers they have to branch out and widen their network of contacts, internally and externally. Unlike Purists they do not dislike networking per se and understand it is important to their work and careers. However they are not nearly as passionate and focused on networking as the Devoted Players are. Networking is not given top priority. Nor does it come easily or naturally to them. Selective Players hold that relationship building usually emerges from the context of specific project work and a focus on outcomes.
Understanding the dynamics behind the networking strategies employed by these three archetypes requires a closer look at their guiding schemas, beliefs, and values. For example the professional schema of Devoted Players emphasizes seeking a senior role within the organization (partnership), and Purists emphasize an identity that transcends the organization (expertise and self-sufficiency), Selective Players tend to emphasize the organization itself, stressing job satisfaction (not simply advancement or expertise), mentorship, enriching interpersonal relationships, and teamwork.
The proliferation of social media has put an additional spotlight on networking. However this has just served to emphasise a key feature of corporate life that has been around for ever.
Networking can help individuals in their career progression and in delivering value to their organizations and is thus an important aspect of executive development that warrants organizational focus, particularly today when traditional hierarchies and career paths within organizations have been blurred.
Organizations should encourage networking both to support the career development of their executives and more generally to encourage the development of strong internal and external networks to facilitate business growth.
In order to do this it is important to understand the dynamics behind the networking strategies employed by individuals. So as to perhaps discourage too much superficial schmoozing which might irritate and demotivate peers, but also to encourage purists and selective players to engage in constructive networking, for their own and the organization’s good.
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