Does your organisation’s performance management review process assess for softer skills such as building professional networks, as well as technical skills? If yes, it might be worth rethinking how you go about it. Some studies suggest that different people approach networking in different ways – and that to mark down those who, on the face of it, don’t seem to excel at building and maintaining professional relationships might be to miss a trick. Particularly if you find that certain groups within your organisation aren’t progressing through the ranks as you might like.
It might be that you have to reframe what networking is all about for a millennial, i.e. more altruistic, audience for example. Or it might be about providing coaching around networking to mitigate against any blocks that might be socio-economic in nature.
Insights gained through work with our clients have shown that, sometimes, certain groups won’t even try for promotion because they don’t feel connected to the people at the top of their organisation. Their life experiences have been different and, as a result, they don’t feel there is much common ground around which connections can be forged. Our advice to clients where people feel this way: reach out yourselves; connect with people on a human level; show what you have in common - and then see how their networks and performance evolves.
A great deal of research points to the benefits of social networks to create the practical “get-me-ahead” ties instrumental for pushing ahead professional careers. It would be fair, given the weight of research, to ask how do people who aren’t passionate about networking survive? And what can firms do to help them access and leverage the knowledge that comes from developing professional relationships? Firms should scan their performance management systems for bias. While no company we know of measures and rewards employee networking for its own sake, internal performance review systems that inadvertently encourage the accumulation of contacts risk putting the equally valuable but less socially-overt members offside.