Your Three Networks.

In recent years, I have been asked by many clients "How do I build my network?"  that begs a few questions:  Why? What are you trying to build?  Is 'build' the right metaphor for the actionyou are taking?  What is your network? 

For my first letter out, I will address that last question.  Because you don't have a network. 

You have three. 

At least, you have three networks that are important in a business and career context, which is my focus here.  Really, you have an infinite number of networks. To explain, let me refer to Social Network Analysis: Methods and Applications (Structural Analysis in the Social Sciences), by Stanley Wasserman and Katherine Faust; otherwise known as the 3 pound tome of Social Network Analysis (SNA). 

 The 3 lb tome is one of the key books for SNA researchers.  It lays out the fundamentals of network science and how to analyze relationships in a network.  In it, Wasserman and Faust tell us that networks are defined by what we are measuring.  They say "relations defined by linkages among units are a fundamental component of network theory."  Translated from academe to human, that means networks are the relationships between people or things, not the people themselves.  So you don't have A network. You have a work network, a family network, a fan network for your sports team, a network of DIYers.  Everything that you do in a social context is a network. 

Some might stop here and start hyperventilating.  'Now I have infinite networks? I wasn't even able to handle one!'  not to worry.  When talking about work, researchers from Harvard and Insead Business School in France found that three networks matter most for executives. 

Hermina Ibarra and Mark Lee Hunter interviewed thousands of executives who had come to her school for training.  In the process of that, she found that these executives had three networks that mattered most to them:  a network of people who they go to get stuff done, a network of people they go to learn and develop, and a network of people they go to for outside perspective.  Here's my take on these:

Connecting with people to get things done: this is the network of colleagues, vendors, clients subordinates and bosses that are essential to you producing the work you produce.  Formally I call this your Operational Network.  Informally, it's you GSD network.

Connecting to learn:  this network is more diverse, but often overlapping with your operational network.  Learning is both present-need focused and future oriented, so we tend to reach out beyond our work associates.  This network includes current and former teachers and classmates, mentors, and the person you ask how to file TPS reports.  I call this network the Developmental Network.

Ibarra and her colleague's third network was a strategic network, built deliberately to get outside insight.  When coaching mid-level executives and early career leaders, I found that this network didn't resonate with them.  What they did express was a common need for a Support Network, so I shifted my focus there.

Your Support Network consists of the people you go to when you are in need.  Instead of GSD, it's the SHTF network.  Support can come in a variety of forms: emotional support,  financial support, resources and insight. 

At this point, this sounds very interesting and academic.  Three networks?  That's nice.  So what?

Looking at your networks based on how you connect instead of who you are connected to has some really positive consequences.  You don't look over people and get obsessed with super-star connections.  You can manage your network in a way that balances future and current needs, so you don't find yourself in a network dead end. You are more likely to succeed in a new business.  

With all that in mind, what can you actually do differently with three networks instead of one?  First, take some time to map out your networks.  Put together three lists:

  • Who do you got to for help getting things done?  Who comes to you with work to do?
  • Who do you go to learn new things?  Who comes to you?  Who did you go to in the past?
  • Who is there when you need a hand?  Who do you reach out to for emotional support?  Finance and resource support?

Those three lists will help you understand the landscape of your networks, and when it comes to develop them deliberately or to go to them with a novel request, you will be better prepared. 

If you'd like to see even more raw ideas, follow my Flipboard magazine, The Networked Leader.  It is a resource for notes and interesting articles I find.