Tips for turning the traditional approach to networking upside down

Overcome organizational and individual barriers to effective networking by recognizing the unexpected ways networks can positively influence companies – and careers.

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Does the thought of going to a big work-related event where you will interact with lots of new people energize you - or fill you with dread?

Is networking considered a vital part of your job – or something your boss labels “socializing” and won’t permit you to do while you are “on the clock”?

For some people, networking is a key part of their job responsibilities, while others are actually forbidden from attending networking events during regular work hours. And some professionals simply love meeting new people, while others find it uncomfortable or even unnecessary.

To overcome these organizational and individual barriers to effective networking, it is important to recognize the unexpected ways our networks can positively influence our companies – and our careers.

For example, Reid Hoffman, founder of LinkedIn, explained in a 2013 Harvard Business Review article that given broader societal and marketplace changes, it is vital that we all begin to think differently about the value of networking.

That’s because both employers and employees are thinking differently about jobs and careers. Many employers no longer offer the promise of long-term employment, or the benefits once associated with dedicating your career to a single employer (such as a pension and lifetime healthcare benefits). And, younger professionals came of age in a time where the “always-on, always connected” role of technology combined with media based messages touting the value of entrepreneurship (think “Shark Tank,” and “The Profit”) – and witnessing career struggles of older siblings and parents have led them to believe they need to be the CEO of their own careers.

This new definition of career encourages us to leverage every opportunity to build a new network of relationships, acquire new skills and to think and act more like an entrepreneur than a traditional employee.

Hoffman calls this the “tours of duty” approach to careers. It’s an expectation that you will (and should) change jobs every two to four years to ensure you are focused on building your skills, growing a network across industries and professions, and contributing in a meaningful way to each organization that employs you, then moving on once you or the employer feels the time is right.

So, if you are a manager or a specialist in an internal role, remember that establishing and nurturing mutually beneficial connections with others in your profession can be a vital source of new ideas and energy for you, even if you love your current job. And, should things change – you get a new boss who doesn’t value your perspective or skill set or your company is suddenly acquired and an impending round of layoffs is announced – those external connections become a valuable resource for helping to ensure you can land on your feet.

For leaders, given the business benefits of nurturing a well-networked workforce – and the different expectations of the next generation of talent entering your organization - it’s critical to embrace networking as a part of every employee’s job. And, in the current tight labor market, nurturing a networking culture at every level can be a powerful tool for connecting with new business opportunities as well as play a valuable role in employee recruitment and retention.

Check out the KU Professional Workplace Communication Certificate program, providing more valuable skills and training for today's work environment. 

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