For business professionals, networking is a crucial skill for career success. Establishing a strong professional network can provide opportunities for professional growth, help employees develop and improve professional skills, and stay on top of the latest industry trends. In addition, having an expansive range of industry contacts gives employees the opportunity to exchange information, advice, and knowledge. Meeting new people through networking also builds invaluable social skills and self-confidence.
The more employees network, the more they grow and develop professionally, which ultimately benefits the business that they work for. However, many professionals find networking difficult due to the social and relationship-based nature of the task. The following are some of the most common issues professionals may face when networking and how they can be overcome, with help from their employer.
The Most Common Issues Faced When Networking
- Lack of Structure: Networking often occurs socially after an event or function, which means there is no structured frame of reference. For many people, finding a way to start a conversation, or introduce themselves to someone they don’t know can be very intimidating.
- Herd mentality: At networking events, there will likely be already established groups that are interacting together. This can be very daunting for an ‘outsider’ to try to break into.
- Leaving a Conversation: The main goal of networking is to meet as many people as possible. However, it’s easy to get stuck talking to one person and miss out on other networking opportunities.
- Following Up: If you don’t follow up with someone immediately after the initial meeting, it can be a struggle to reconnect down the road.
How Leaders Can Support their People to Network Better
While networking may seem like an individual task, there are steps that employers can, and should, take to encourage and support their employees to network better.
Internal Networking Strategies
Internal networking is the process of establishing connections within the workplace. The following are some examples of internal networking ideas.
- Create an Environment for Networking
Creating communal office spaces, such as collaboration areas or break rooms can encourage employees to network internally. This facilitates interactions between employees across the company and can help to build the necessary networking skills for external networking.
- Host Regular Social Gatherings
Internal networking events are a great way to help employees to interact on a social level. A quiz night, lunch, or happy hour are examples of events that employers can host to help employees build connections with others in the organisation. Broadening these activities to include different departments can help to foster inter-departmental relationships, which can boost overall departmental productivity.
- Encourage Online Networking through Chat Groups
Now that employees are working from home more often, online chat tools have quickly become instrumental in employee interactions. Employers can take full advantage of these tools for networking by creating groups for employees to ask questions, discuss ideas and share information.
External Networking Strategies
External networking refers to developing connections with people outside of the immediate organisation, who are in similar job roles or operating in the same industry. Ideas for encouraging external networking include:
- Support Employees to Attend Industry Events, Conferences or Course
Attending a local industry event or conference or enrolling in a professional course (on or offline) can be a great way to establish connections with like-minded business professionals in similar roles. This also allows employees to learn new information, share ideas and stay up to date on industry trends.
- Host an Event for Local Businesses
Hosting a professional happy hour or quiz night can create a great opportunity for employees to interact with other professionals in the community, where they can talk, relieve stress and connect without the dynamics of work getting in the way.
- Create a Professional Online Discussion Group
Creating an online discussion group such as a learning community can provide a place for professionals to interact. The group should be focused on a topic that many people in the industry are interested in to encourage sharing of insights and experiences, asking questions and building connections.
There are many ways to encourage employees to establish solid networks with both internal and external groups of professionals.
Cahoot Learning’s Network IQ Academy is another way to help employees with networking. This is an acceleration program for young and mid-career professionals who are in need of utilising their networks in new ways either to become more effective when working in a digital environment or more innovative for business growth and career impact or change. Get in touch with us to find out more about the program.