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The Power Of Networks

October 5, 2009

Years ago, I remember that I read an article highlighting the behavior of executives versus that of managers. Researchers had observed the working patterns of these groups and discovered that most of those who were destined for executive ranks were ‘networkers’. They tended to spend a high proportion of their time at the margins of their responsibility, interacting with people outside their immediate department.

Successful managers also built relationships outside their department, but spent far less time wandering the corridors and making connections.

These findings were  before the internet became pervasive, before networking became in some respects much easier, but also – because it broke down boundaries – more demanding.

Networks are important. Research has shown that networked individuals are more valued and have higher status within teams. Used effectively, they offer rapid routes to information and knowledge. I suspect that today’s  aspring executives are mostly avid users of business and social on-line networks. Their use of traditional network meetings also remains strong, but has become more selective.

Networks ought to be especially important to people like contracts managers or procurement professionals, because their work is focused on external relationships. Indeed, there are those who would argue that you cannot be a professional if you do not network.

IACCM is running a survey to test attitudes to networking and later this week will run one of its ‘Ask The Expert’ discussions to review the findings. As we know from previous Expert input (I think especially of Vaughn Hovey from Ohio State), the generational divide on use of on-line networks often causes workplace friction. Newcomers are impatient with the methods employed by many senior professionals; senior professionals express fear over the lack of youthful awareness of confidentiality and intellectual property rights.

Certainly at IACCM we have observed that many professionals make little use of the power that on-line networking offers. It remains alien to them and to the way they work. Old habits die hard, benefits are often hard to grasp, and there are plenty of possible problems that can be cited as reasons not to change. Many still prefer physical meetings – although in reality they often do not attend them, due to pressures of work.

What should we be getting from networks? In what ways can it assist us and what are the drawbacks? These are the types of questions that will be answered in the IACCM program. I am looking forward to it. But of course, a fundamental question will be whether anyone who is not already a networker will actually find the time to listen!

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