When people think of networking, the first thought is usually online or with people outside of the organisation. But what about internal networking? If you’ve never done it, you may be asking, “What is it?” and “How do I network internally?”
Networking is what we do every day when we talk, text, email, and meet new people with the purpose of sharing information. While external networking helps us grow our connections to professionals outside of our organisation, office networking not only helps individuals add people to their professional networks, it has the added benefit of increasing productivity and engagement inside a company. Internal networking is something many of us do naturally every day. Like external networking, internal networking is about building a group of people who know you and will help you if they can.
Although internal networking is talked about less, there are many advantages for the employee, as well as for the organisation.
Internal networking promotes:
- Development of great ideas
- Gathering insights into other functions within the company
- Collecting industry information
- Learning more about functional roles
- Collaboration between siloed departments
THE BENEFITS OF INTERNAL NETWORKING
If you ask the right questions of the right people, you may discover new career opportunities. In some ways, internal networking has the same result. Engaging in casual conversation with members of your own organisation will help you discover useful information, like which certifications may be beneficial for your professional development, discovering new industry and business trends, generating new project ideas, and getting a better understanding of the company mission and vision.
For organisations, encouraging internal networking leads to lower rates of employee turnover because team members feel connected and tend to have a clearer picture of organisation’s purpose. Remember the saying, “what goes around comes around”; building mutually beneficial relationships can have a positive impact on individual career satisfaction and on the future of the organisation.
INTERNAL NETWORKING: HOW DO YOU DO IT?
Be strategic. Identify your targets – rate contacts based on level of influence, then prioritise to figure out who to connect with first. Your internal priorities might include:
- People you already know
- People who already interact with your department in some way
- People who may be in a position to help you reach career goals
- People in different areas of the business who might otherwise help you
If you feel awkward about internal networking, you may be wondering, “Where is the line drawn between networking and brown-nosing?” The answer to that question lies in your mindset, attitude and how well you are able to offer as much as you ask. To begin, proactively plan your actions and make sure you don’t cross over the line from making new social connections to bothering people.
The key here is to understand how complimenting people just to get in their good graces is not networking. You want to be authentic. One way to accomplish this is to be an active listener. Truly listen to what people are saying and observe their body language. When feedback is provided, it should be reflective with follow-up questions so the other person knows you are engaged. Lastly, be open and honest in your responses.
Research your internal contacts prior to meeting with them to identify how they might be able to help, and ask yourself what you could learn from them that would be valuable. Some questions you may want to ask your targets include:
- Is there any general advice you would give me to be successful in this department?
- Tell me about your role here – what do you find most rewarding?
- What are the opportunities in your department?
- Have you taken any good classes, workshops, or webinars that I may find interesting?
- Are there opportunities for us to collaborate?
- Is there anyone else in the organisation that you think would be good for me to introduce myself to?
- What might I be able to do for you?
Listening carefully and taking notes of anything that stands out to you is also important. People love talking about themselves, so asking them honestly about their experiences can make for more interesting and mutually-beneficial conversation, and lead to new learnings and opportunities.
HOW DOES INTERNAL NETWORKING HELP THE INDIVIDUAL?
Someone you already know or someone you could meet tomorrow from another department might be the critical element in your success. Building on existing contacts and identifying and cultivating new associations is the key to career growth. It’s all about asking questions, offering up help, and just maintaining good communication within your network.
You never know what jobs are coming down the pipeline in a different business unit or when pursuing a new career path within your current organisation (workforce redeployment) may be an option. By networking internally, you can get your name in other people’s minds and help them understand your interests and goals.
In the future, there may be an open role that would be a perfect match for you. Even if you don’t have the specific qualifications, you will have made the connections and shown your ability to take initiative. If the hiring manager already has a good understanding of your passions and transferable skills, you are well-positioned to be considered for job openings that may be just outside of your expertise, but for which you have the aptitude or interest.
4 INTERNAL NETWORKING DO’S
- PREPARE YOUR PROFESSIONAL VALUE PROPOSITION (PVP). Also called a 30-second elevator pitch – it is compelling, concise, and conveys your unique value.
- FOCUS ON BUILDING RELATIONSHIPS AND HELPING OTHERS ACROSS YOUR ORGANISATION. Get into the right mindset by understanding how networking is not schmoozy – you are not a car salesman. It is strategic with mutually beneficial value involved. Networking is not all about you. Don’t forget to ask what you can do for your contact.
- DEVELOP A CONVERSATIONAL STYLE. Organise your networking by understanding how to build different types of rapport, keep track of what you and your contacts spoke about, and be sure to follow up appropriately. Use spreadsheets or online tools to keep administrative notes and for managing contacts.
- THINK CREATIVELY ABOUT WHO TO NETWORK WITH
- Coworkers: create an easy avenue for open dialogues with other employees that you don’t get to see very often, or have never even met, so that you can learn more about their roles within the organisation.
- Supervisors: find shared interests or other commonalities that can help you to better relate to your manager or direct report.
- Internal recruiters: to keep you in the forefront of their minds when they hear about a new role or foresee a need coming up in the organisation that would suit your interests.
- People who interact with your company: this can include vendors, suppliers, clients, and consultants.
HOW DOES INTERNAL NETWORKING HELP THE ORGANISATION?
Internal networking develops mutually beneficial relationships with co-workers and leads to a higher sense of empowerment and personal achievement – thereby improving engagement and longevity with the company. Without internal networking, it is easier for employees to feel disconnected. This can cause performance issues, which can then lead to talent searching for roles outside of the organisation.
Instead of losing employees to greener pastures at other organisations, HR leaders can use the power of cross-company social connections to help employees gain more passion and purpose in their days. Engaged employees with great sociable work environments boost morale, encourage everyone around them, and bring out the best in others. This can lead the organisation to outperform competition across every business metric and gain that winning advantage.
Another aspect of internal networking that helps the organisation is when satisfied employees are so well connected and content within the company environment and culture that they would rather not leave the organisation at all. Even if there is a layoff, companies that have a powerful internal network of employee evangelists may see a rise in boomerang employees. These are people who have left an organisation only to return to work for that same employer. This is not only beneficial for the employee (who is rehired based on previous experience and reputation), but is ideal for the organisation because it’s more cost-effective and efficient than hiring someone completely new to the organisation.
HOW CAN HR OPEN DOORS TO HELP PEOPLE NETWORK MORE EFFICIENTLY?
- Host office events: Put “networking” events on the calendar periodically. They don’t have to be only after work hours when you may not have as high of attendance. See if you can plan something during the work day, even if it’s just one hour, to bring people together and promote collaboration and socialisation.
- Online groups: Using social media and online business-wide platforms can provide employees with a forum to exchange insights while investing in open communication. The workforce can use digital tools to ask questions, request resources, or share information.
- Team motivation: Team events and bonding set the tone for comradery and internal networking by making the workforce feel closer, and more nurtured and engaged. Some options include:
- Attending industry events/conferences
- Local get-togethers
- Educational or networking nights for smaller chapters in various locations
- Scheduled breaks: Giving employees time to socialise is important for well-being but is also a powerful tool in providing opportunities for employees to connect with different people. Maybe implement lunch “dates” or activities where the workforce gets a chance to talk to someone new every other month. There’s also the option of team lunches where everyone gets their voices heard. Or set aside time when new employees get to meet with veterans and learn about the company culture along with life outside of the organisation.
Internal networking is all about conveying value through social relationships. Whether you are in HR or an employee – having internal social connections makes the environment more pleasant and increases the teamwork spirit; ultimately creating a better overall work experience and positive workplace culture.
First published by Celia Stangarone (RiseSmart)