One of the modules I teach involves the use of case studies to bring key Human Resources issues to life. A recent theme was learning and development, with one of the questions asking students to think about learning via networks. This generated some confusion. Isn’t networking about circulating a room, making uncomfortable small talk and handing out your business card? Where is the learning in that?
Although these questions hint at a certain amount of truth, I asked them to think about it on a more simplistic level; do you learn more sitting on your own in a room reading a book, or by sharing your learning with others? The realisation dawned that networks are everywhere; between a team, departments, organisations.
However when networking , unless you have a set motive in networking (such as selling), what tends to happen is this. We either gravitate towards the people we already know, or we manage to meet new people and then gravitate towards them in future. This may be why we don’t view networking as a learning opportunity. When we talk to the people we know the opportunities to be challenged, to change and to develop are severely reduced. Similar people have similar ideas, and that’s a far more comfortable proposition.
There’s been a dawning realisation is the HR profession over the last few years that there is something in this. First at the CIPD annual conference and exhibition in 2014, collaboration was a key theme (see my blog here). Building on this in 2015, learning by networking on the periphery (Hermenia lbarra) was one of the central ideas emphasising the importance of networks.
The conference itself is a network with an opportunity to easily meet new people and hear different ways of doing things. This year’s behavioural insights seemed both radical and obvious, but underpinned by scientific proof attendees leave incredibly enthused, ready to share their learning with others and implement new ways of working within their organisations.
Why then are we not seeing a sea-change in the profession? Yes, one or two forward thinking companies will grab these ideas and run with them. The rest are left making small iterations towards the same idea year after year. Why? Because they must leave the conference, that new exciting network, and return to their old networks. And those old networks like things just the way they are thank you very much. Best case scenario, someone might listen for a while or a small project may be allowed. Worst case, their ideas meet a wall of silence and the disheartened professional retreats to their familiar ways until the whole cycle repeats again the following year.
I’m convinced the whole process of networking needs to change. A random encounter can lead to the most learning, yet these encounters are few and far between, and used to their mutual advantage even less often. Only by sharing can we increase these opportunities and their chance of success. Facilitated networking (what you’re doing is interesting, you should meet..) is far more powerful than leaving people to their own devices. Most importantly, networks need to be open, inclusive and refreshed. Let’s keep the #cipd15 buzz going and prove HR can change!