Rethinking Networking

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!

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2 thoughts on “Rethinking Networking

  1. Ian Walker

    Hi! Its an iteresting point to explore… and the human psychologly of the perception of “networking” comes into it. Think of it… “networking” i dare bet saying the word to a group automatically defines two sets of folk; those who jump at the chance to go about self promotion and those that would rather gloss a door listening to sam smith waiting for a jelly to sette… (without wanting to characterise; extroverts and introverts).
    Networking should be re-sold. Fair do’s if its about organisational connections etc… But i agree… it should be about sharing.
    Sharing intelligence, thoughts and ideas… not brands and achievements. Networking should be about genuine people coming together, like minded or not, to share a common belief or purpose, to consider opportunities for results.
    The pitfall of networking is also outcomes and implementation…. networking is great for the individual but there has to be a delivery mechanism in place. Do not send candidates for the sake of it, if real intelligence is found; utilise it. Use ot or lose it… or if its staff thats been sent that had to report back but see no benefit… well… its like being a paperboy with no wage….
    Networking needs to be more realistic, accepting and accommodating of however a person chooses to do it.
    Helen has an exceptional intuition and i agree whether knowlege is gained from books or ever fellow twitter..erm…ers… it is all knowledge gathered.
    From an individual perspective that is what networking should be all about; gathering knowledge. Self development. If i was thrown in a room and told to network i dont think i could write what i would want to tell the person who said that do… but chuck me in a room and ask me to share ideas…. well… how much time do we have?
    Lets all presume networking on its sence works… and well all leave a session highly enthused… like Helen refers to, for jeepers sake grab that while its hot. Dont plan or defer a meeting or a repirt till 4 weeks later… let that enthusiasm and content be delivered at the earliest opportunity… and at the very least… do something about it.

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