“In our global, networked economy, you can’t allow your social capital to lie dormant. Reinvest.”
While there is a battle still being waged in social networks about defining and engaging influence online, in the executive suite, influence is often defined as informal power to support and help coordinate resources. Successful executives network with a select group of people.
According to research conducted by Rob Cross and Robert Thomas, the executives who consistently rank in the top 20% of their companies in both performance and well-being have diverse but select networks —made up of high-quality relationships with people who come from several different spheres and from up and down the corporate hierarchy.
The researchers say these high performers tap into six critical kinds of connections, which enhance their careers and lives in a variety of ways.
They have strong ties to:
1. People who offer them new information and expertise
Including internal and external clients, who increase their market awareness; peers in other functions, divisions, or geographies, who share best practices; and contacts in other industries, who inspire innovation.
This is the area of mastery and personal support. To connect based on information and expertise, we want to research context. What is going on in the business and the broader industry that could have an impact on the company? We should think both in terms of achieving better results and eliminating or solving problems.
2. Formally powerful people
Because they provide mentoring, sense-making, political support, and resources; and informally powerful people, who offer influence, help coordinating projects, and support among the rank and file.
While power may seem to be the sole driving force, sense of purpose and worth are also important. Executives have a higher degree of autonomy, but they still need others to provide insight and get things done. We all have role models, goals, and the desire to avoid mistakes we can prevent.
3. People who give them developmental feedback
They need someone to challenge their decisions, and push them to be better. At an early career stage, and employee might get this from a manager or customers; later, it tends to come from coaches, trusted colleagues, or a spouse.
In many situations, the spouse is the first to notice the need for feedback, especially in situations of high stress. Depending on their leadership and working styles, executives may need to work harder at having honest conversations about what is going on.
The most satisfied executives have ties to people who provide personal support, people who add a sense of purpose and worth, and people who promote their work/life balance.
How do we create such a varied network?
Analyzing—we identify the people in our network and make a note of the focus of our interaction and how it makes us feel. It's important to self-examine on what we feel is acceptable for us to align value with our values.
For example, maybe the mandatory “quid pro quo” doesn't fit with your philosophy of being open to making the best connections possible for the better fit and bigger outcomes.
What is the tell? They look for something back before they even do the first thing for you.
De-layering—making hard decisions to back away from redundant and energy-sapping relationships. We'll talk more about the value of energy in our lives. But this is a quick way to store precious personal energy and step fully into owning our core values.
What is the tell? We should check how we feel after an interaction.
The more deliberate we are in checking in with ourselves, the higher resolution our appreciation of the subtler ways attention vampires sap us. To use a food analogy, once we start eating more nutritious and healthy food, we know right away when we ate something we shouldn't have.
Diversifying—building our network out with the right kinds of people, for example energizers who are willing to help us achieve our goals, or troubleshooters and problem-solvers who can help us deal with day to day realities. This is especially useful when we want to change industries, or are growing into a new role, or starting a business. In short, when we're starting something new.
What should we look for? People with complementary strengths, skills, similar philosophy, belief systems, and values. We can tell so much of this by just having a conversation.
Capitalizing—making sure we're utilizing the opportunity to reach out to our contacts as effectively as we can, for both parties. When we're head down busy on our projects and work, we often forget this. Which makes it quite awkward to reach out in a time of need. Because we gave ourselves no runway to develop relationships, we are the poorer for it.
What should we do? In risk management mode or in a crisis, the best we can do is be honest and get ready to take the consequences. We can start small, touching base with people whose opinion and experience we value periodically when we come across someone they should meet, or a resource they would find useful.
We can also reach out to touch base and see how business is going, if they need anything? Maybe we can help answer a question, or make an appropriate introduction to get them closer to where they want to go. The point is being too busy to build social capital is a poor excuse.
Regardless of the size organization we work in, or whether we are independent consultants and entrepreneurs, it's a good idea to be deliberate about our networks and evaluate what's working and what we can improve to achieve better business results, problem solve more effectively, and build the right relationships of mutual support.
Based on our goals and career stage, in business we're called to recognize the value and importance of planning. But sometimes we make the best connections when we ourselves are clear on our vision, values, and priorities.
How we actively construct our network will help us find the best opportunities, ideas, and talent.