How to Improve Your Professional Social Network

Vindication! Case research shows that the typical office politician stumbles professionally in the long-run. This is according to a recent Harvard Business Review Article on improving professional social networks.

Effective professional networking is an invaluable resource. It can open the door to job opportunities, career advancement, professional development and political influence. It is also difficult, especially for those just beginning the journey of a professional career. If you are struggling to find a job after college or stagnate in an entry level position, there is a good chance your professional network needs constructing or adjusting.

Focusing on quantity or prestige of having a particular contact is not fruitful in the long run. Though there might be some initial success, superficial network relationships can be detrimental over time. I’ve seen this occur in my own office experiences. Movement within a company, changes in management or new corporate initiatives can negate the value of a long list of personal contacts. What you want is to build a network that is synergistic and constructive, not just powerful.

After reading the article, I thought of the following  types of relationships that I’ve found in my own network.

  • Assets– These are contacts that can help you see a bigger picture, another angle and expand your expertise or business. Surrounding yourself with members of your own department is wise when you are starting out, but it can limit possibilities and creates a nexus of groupthink. Make sure you are also spreading out and leaving the safety net of your peers.
  • Coaches – Are seasoned veterans who have experience in your office, job or industry. They can offer advice, support, influence and encouragement. They can validate your work and give you suggestions on how to improve. Unfortunately, your boss is not always the best person for this job. (The equivalent of becoming someone’s disciple)
  • Confidants – Someone who relates to you, who can give you personal advice and energize you in a constructive way. This is a dangerous category and you need to be careful that you are finding the right people to fill this role. Focus on finding people who leave you feeling positive. The wrong confidant is someone who engages you in constant gossip and backbiting. The occasional griping is healthy, but avoid those that are trying to continue their teenaged, social vices.
  • Disciples – You need people you can depend on; that have your back. They are loyal, competent and will help you hold down the fort. If you have subordinates, it may be your star performer, which is why I picked the term disciple. It could be a peer who is a good “go-to” person and can assist in completing difficult tasks. It’s just that Disciple sounded like a better label than “Go-To Guy.”

According to HBR, a good mix and healthy number (12-18 to be exact, more than 18 and you might overextend your ability to maintain the relationship ) of these types of social contacts and you will have constructed a powerful social network.

I for one am taking applications for disciples. Any takers?

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