Employees often network to help advance their careers, but did you know networking can help organizations succeed as well? Diversity in social ties, even if it’s just as acquaintances, improves a sense of wellbeing, belonging, and opportunity at your organization. Providing employees with networking opportunities contributes to building a great workplace culture. Networks, formal or informal, lead people to collaborate, share ideas and knowledge, and work together, even if they are not assigned to. Employees may even network with peers outside of their organization for best practices, recommendations, and advice. By providing and supporting your employees’ networking activities, companies benefit from more collaboration, innovation, engagement, and business success. So where do you start?
Provide company-sponsored networking activities When employees see their organizations formally support networking activities, they know their company is committed to helping them grow and develop. By having networking and relationship building activities during work hours, it allows all employees to participate and shows the company prioritizes this social connection. Employees are 106% more likely to have a sense of opportunity for career advancement when their organizations provide opportunities at work to build relationships and connect. Encourage cross-departmental projects and involve employees in special projects. This gives employees access to leaders and peers they normally don’t interact with. Leaders can also support longer lunch breaks for offsite meals or scheduled break times for mid-afternoon socializing. Open spaces for collaboration and meet ups provide places for employees to network and exchange ideas. Frequent one-on-ones help leaders check in to see how employees are connecting with others.
Give recognition publicly When employees do great work, they want the world to know it. Public recognition can be a great networking tool. It gives the entire organization visibility into the contributions and achievements a team member has made. It allows other leaders to be aware of an employee’s work, and inspires peers. Be sure to include people outside their immediate team/department in a public presentation of recognition, or broadcast the individual’s achievement in company meetings, newsletters, on the intranet, or on shared screens in public workspaces. When recognition is not communicated well and not a priority for an organization, employees are 38% less likely to feel appreciated.
Formalize mentorship programs Create formal mentorship programs and offer it to all employees, not just top performers. Ensure they are cross-functional and cross-departmental so employees can learn from and be exposed to new areas and knowledge centers. This broadens their perspective on how they can (and do) contribute, helps them see the impact their work has on others, and reveals new ways to improve. Companies that provide mentorship to all employees, not just top performers, have employees who are: • 72% more likely to believe their organization allows all employees to grow, not just favorites • 66% more likely to believe their organization provides an opportunity for career advancement • 30% more likely to believe they help influence important decisions at work • 56% more likely to say they learn new and valuable things in their current role
A few companies with unique networking and mentorship opportunities: Intel: Rather than matching up new talent with seasoned veterans, Intel matches employees based on their skills. Rather than promoting a few key favorites, the company would instead pass along information and skills from one generation to the next. Caterpillar: Professional development at Caterpillar includes a 2-3 year rotation where employees learn technical competence and leadership skills, as well as get exposure to senior leaders and build lasting relationships with mentors. Netsuite: By matching up high performing women with senior leader mentors, Netsuite gives employees access to a broader network of peers. They incorporate structured events for networking, regular email communication, and allow for mentorship both ways—employees get career coaching from leaders, and leaders learn new skills needed to stay current in the fast-paced industry from their mentees. *Sources: Sean Bryan, “The Best Fortune 500 Mentorship Programs”, Investopia, Sept 19, 2017 Kate Ward, “These Companies Run Mentorship Programs That Actually Work”, Fast Company, Oct 5, 2016
Using technology to “connect” - a word of caution With a plethora of apps and tools out there to connect, it’s easy to rely on technology for social interactions. Use social tools appropriately. They should be there to facilitate and enhance human connection, not replace it. It’s great to have company or department social media pages on Facebook, Chatter, Slack, etc., but also promote in-person interactions. Use video chats and virtual meetings to network across offices, and use your communication apps to schedule face-to-face meetings and social activities. Technology can be a great connecter, as long as it’s not the only way your people are connecting.