How Senior Managers Can Move to the Next Level: Operational, Personal and Strategic Networking
According to Harvard Business Review (HBR), networking is among the most beneficial—and among the most daunting—activities for senior level managers at an inflection point in their careers. As HBR notes:
[pullquote align=”full” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]“We’ve found that networking—creating a fabric of personal contacts who will provide support, feedback, insight, resources, and information—is simultaneously one of the most self-evident and one of the most dreaded developmental challenges that aspiring leaders must address.”[/pullquote]
The reluctance to embrace networking is understandable. For one thing, most professionals rise to the top levels of management based on the extent of their technical skills and knowledge. Taking their careers to the next level typically requires a different set of skills—those related to forging and leveraging business relationships. This is something with which many mid and upper-level managers are not only unfamiliar but which some also find distasteful, “insincere or manipulative—at best, an elegant way of using people,” as HBR puts it.
The Benefits of Networking
The several benefits of business networking are inescapable. Effectively managed, career networking:
- Opens substantial opportunities for promotions and moves to better positions with other companies;
- Provides a group of trusted advisers who can offer guidance throughout one’s career;
- Enhances professional development and new learning opportunities; and
- Adds to status, image and personal brand
Benefits like these are critically important in advancing one’s career, often providing that small edge which separates those senior-level managers who are able to move on to the next stage in their careers from those who remain where they are. The question for career professionals, especially those who are reluctant to engage in networking, is how best to do it.
Operational, Personal and Strategic Networking
One way to more effectively manage networking is to conceive of it as three distinct but related activities:
Operational networking helps professionals better manage their internal responsibilities and accountabilities. In order to move to the next level in your career, it’s important to maintain strong working relationships with peers, supervisors, direct reports, suppliers, distributors and customers related to your current position. These are the people who have the ability to help you perform your job efficiently, or to set up obstacles to impede your performance. Having a strong operational network ensures that you have the cooperation and coordination necessary to complete assigned tasks and achieve your key business goals.
Although operational networking is useful for enhancing current job performance, it focuses only on what you are doing now, not on what you should be doing, or could be doing. In other words, operational networking is neither forward-leaning nor strategic, focusing solely on enhancing current strengths.
Personal networking, on the other hand, advances career potential by focusing on limitations in professional knowledge and social skills. Personal networks include membership in key professional organisations, alumni associations and personal interest communities to expand one’s horizons and career perspective. Personal networking creates relationships with important contacts who can provide career referrals and developmental support, such as coaching and mentoring.
While operational and personal networking both relate to ways a senior manager can better perform his job or gain the additional skills and competencies necessary for lateral moves, strategic networking enhances his or her ability to move up the chain of command. It provides the knowledge and capabilities which extend his influence to the entire organisation. Strategic networking, in other words, moves professionals from understanding how to do his job to how the individual contributions he makes contribute to the bigger picture of company—not simply departmental—objectives. As HBR explains:
[pullquote align=”full” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]“The key to a good strategic network is leverage: the ability to marshal information, support, and resources from one sector of a network to achieve results in another. Strategic networkers use indirect influence, convincing one person in the network to get someone else, who is not in the network, to take a needed action.”[/pullquote]
Senior-level managers who avoid networking because they feel it steals precious time they need to perform their current job more effectively need to reflect on the full scope of their capabilities and the larger contribution they can make, both in their current job and in future, more influential positions. Networking is the acknowledgement of future possibilities. Whether or not forming networking relationships is something which comes naturally to a senior manager, it is absolutely essential to advance one’s career and realise one’s full potential.
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