As the effects of globalization and technology march on, contracting our work world so that information and colleagues are easier to access, an increasingly valuable resource for a knowledge worker is exactly that – knowledge. Information is quickly disseminated through the internet, and it arrives wherever we are at the moment through our smart phones and tablets. But while all that readily accessible information is out there, it still takes people to turn it into knowledge. Information may influence decisions and help shift priorities, but it’s still people who make decisions. In the modern workplace, having a workplace network with depth and breadth is among the best tools you can have.
Organizational structures are changing and look like they will continue to change; chains of command are relaxing, and rigid hierarchy in the workplace is being replaced by more informal interactions and flatter management mechanisms. No longer is a network contained in a rolodex perched on your desk. It’s embedded in your phone, tablet, and computer, and those networks are eager to grow. LinkedIn suggests connections to you, a colleague follows you on Twitter, and the moment someone new joins your office your digital contact list is populated with his or her information. Connections are so easy to make, that making valuable connections has becomes even more important. So with these “networks” always growing, their value is not measured by their size, but by the strength of the connections they contain.
Just because someone has twice as many LinkedIn connections as you, doesn’t mean they’re “better networked.” When you look at your own repositories of connections, on Facebook, LinkedIn, your Outlook contacts, and your phone – scroll through and see how many are “strong connections;” how many, when it came down to it, do you feel you could reach out to at a moment’s notice to ask an important question, or get intelligence on the breaking news rumored to be coming out of his or her department? Whatever that number is, that’s the more accurate representation of the strength of your network. But when it comes to the strength of your workplace network, it’s more than that. You also need organizational diversity. If your search returns 50 contacts from within your organization, but 49 work in sales, your workplace network may have depth, but it lacks breadth. Those 49 close contacts in sales won’t be able to help you when you’re waiting to hear back from accounting about the budget for your next project, or when it’s 4:30, you’ve got a report to send out at 5:00, and the new software from IT just isn’t loading. To make your workplace network truly valuable, make sure it represents different facets of your organization, including different teams, levels, and if applicable, geographic locations.
When we're coaching clients about how to be most effective in their workplace, one of the key points is building a strong foundational workplace network. When done well, a workplace network is your own aggregator of what is happening in your place of business – accelerating your access to decision makers, better work resources, and even career moves in your organization. And the more parts of your organization are represented in your network, the stronger your network will be and the better access, and more knowledge, you’ll have.