ATD Blog

Should We Teach Them to Network?

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Have you heard the story about the CEO who says “no” to a program to train employees in networking and collaboration skills? He justifies his decision by saying, “What if we train them and they leave?” His managers counter with, “What if we don’t train them and they stay?”

As the old command-and-control ways of managing fade, your direct reports need new skills for working together, for becoming more engaged, and for participating fully in the network-oriented workplace. In this new environment, the skills of connecting, conversing, and collaborating face to face—not just electronically—are crucial to enterprise success. That’s the way things get done, innovation happens, employees get more engaged, and businesses stay competitive.

But managers should beware of these fallacies that still abound, even though ways of working have changed. Be ready to tell organizational leaders why networking is a skill you intend to foster. 

Fallacy #1: Our People Already Know How to Network 

Really? I wouldn’t be so sure. When 549 people from all walks of life took a networking competency assessment, their employers were shocked. Only 32 percent said, “I know exactly who I need to have in my network,” and 39 percent reported, “I know the next step to take to make any relationship more useful.” Meanwhile, another 39 said, “I know questions to ask that will move the relationship forward.” Finally, a paltry 41 percent felt that, “I tell stories that teach about my team’s or my organization’s capabilities.” 

Fallacy #2: Nobody Can Learn How to Network; You Either Have It or You Don’t 

Networkers are made, not born. Contacts Count’s client research shows that only about 20 percent of people are “natural networkers.” We’ve identified eight competencies that outline a multitude of skills for the other 80 percent to learn. And the natural networkers also pick up new perspectives and tools. Bottom line: anyone can learn to put the tools of networking to work in the service of business goals.


Fallacy #3: Everyone’s Already Connected—We’ve spent $$$$ on Collaboration and Social Networking Software 

Good! But, that’s like saying, “I have a phone, so I have lots of friends.” Having the ability to connect electronically is not the same as knowing how to build trust-based relationships that spark innovation, get things done, and bring in new clients. Even in this electronic age, training programs need to focus on the face value of face-to-face contact whenever possible.

Fallacy #4: Networking Is an Expensive Time-Waster; Socializing Brings Very Little Real Value  

Not so. Ben Waber a visiting scientist at MIT reports that, “employees who ate at cafeteria tables designed for 12 were more productive than those at tables for four, thanks to more chance conversations and larger social networks.” Imagine what happens when people are actually taught how to make conversations even more productive. Value soars.


Fallacy #5: Collaboration and Networking Are the Same Thing  

Not quite. Networking skills are the tools and strategies people need to build the kind of trust that leads to collaboration. When you trust someone it means you’ve decided there’s very little risk in relating to them – and the work can get done.

Fallacy #6: We’ve Told All of Our People to Collaborate 

Sorry! It’s takes more than a decree from above to create a culture of collaboration. Savvy organizations get rid of the disincentives and roadblocks. What’s more, they put into place the systems, policies, procedures, and training programs that will develop, encourage, and support collaboration.

Fallacy #7: You Can’t Expect Our ________ (Engineers, Scientists, Consultants, Researchers) to Develop Business 

Many companies feel that it’s the sole responsibility of the marketing department to develop business. But it’s time to give up that outdated idea! In this competitive world, business development is everybody’s business, no matter what their function or level within the company.

About the Author

Lynne Waymon is a thought leader in the field of business networking and the CEO of Contacts Count, an international training firm that specializes in helping organizations create collaborative cultures for the network-oriented workplace. She also co-authored Strategic Connections: The New Face of Networking in a Collaborative World.

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