Corporate networking needs a rethink: Senior mentors and targeted events aren’t always the best idea

Look across your company – don’t just focus on your department or specialism
Like most of us, I’m a firm believer in the power of networks to help facilitate professional growth at all career levels. In today’s increasingly digital world, much of our networking has moved online. And of course social media absolutely has its place but, in my opinion, you can’t underestimate the value of good old fashioned person-to-person conversations as the most effective way to build personal and professional credibility.

FIND AN EQUAL

In a business environment, peer-to-peer employee relationships in particular are crucial because they are a meeting of equals – an opportunity to share and to help others. It’s often easier to relate to someone at a similar professional level or point in their career than with a senior executive who is perhaps offering top-down advice.
Across the City, there are many fantastic examples of employee-led networks that are enabling personal and professional development, and ultimately contributing to job satisfaction.
Naturally, some people have concerns about joining a network or attending a networking event – perhaps they feel uncomfortable walking into a room full of strangers or simply doubt the event’s usefulness.
But it’s important to remember that networking isn’t about catching the eye of the most senior person in the room; it’s about talking to and connecting with people. Networking groups can provide an important source of support, helping to forge relationships across a company and facilitating access to new opportunities, education and training.

COMPANY – NOT BUSINESS LINE – FOCUS

An important aspect of my role at Bank of America Merrill Lynch is to work out how to maximise our company’s global reach and leadership capability through our various networks.
Recently, for instance, I helped to connect two women who were seeking formal mentors. A few weeks later, rather than pursuing their original route, they joined our LEAD (Leadership, Education, Advocacy and Development) network, and are now plugged into a whole community that allows them to engage with employees across a host of businesses and levels.
From my experience, employee networks that are company-wide, rather than business line specific, are more effective at broadening employees’ understanding of what’s going on across the firm – and they help demystify certain areas too.
Big organisations are complex, but they are also wells of broad and deep expertise. Joining your company’s networks just makes great professional sense because they provide access to a range of personalities and ways of working, an opportunity to share best practice and glean useful tips, and offer great learning opportunities too.
Furthermore, for those people who go one step further and help run a network, this provides an excellent training ground for the development of management and mentoring skills, and affords opportunities to engage with senior colleagues on a slightly different level than the “business norm”.

WIDER MEANING

From a broader, company perspective, employee networks help retain and motivate staff. After all, we all prefer to work in a positive environment, to be around people whose company we enjoy and from whom we learn and grow.
I have seen first-hand how relationships formed through networks play an important function in developing camaraderie and facilitating a forum for discussing issues. Ultimately, this kind of culture keeps employees happy, healthy and ready to succeed. That’s a network that counts.

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