Encourage Employee Networking

“To be successful, you have to be able to relate to people; they have to be satisfied with your personality to be able to do business with you and to build a relationship with mutual trust”. – George Ross

Companies that allow and encourage employee networking are able to build a wide repository of contacts, which in turn would help the business to grow. These contacts could help to generate leads, provide business and referrals and overall improve the brand image and reputation of the company. Employee networking is now considered to be an important part of the tasks in many companies and but will not be effective if this activity is done on an as and when basis. Trained must be provided to employees, in the art of networking such that each person is able to generate leads and therefore more business for the company. In fact, employee networking is a crucial part of their own development as contacts with co-workers of other teams, senior leaders, employees and leaders of other companies and some influential customers will serve to increase their knowledge base and influence. Employee networking promotes sharing of ideas, exchange of best practices, learning of new skills, better understanding of their company’s industry and other industries.

Employee networking eases the pressure on the company’s top people too. They can focus on building the business and forging ties with other top leaders, who may not network with employees at other levels. Reaching out and interacting with other people helps employees to understand the business trends, customer service practices, the kind of products and technology in the market and gain a holistic view of the business environment. This sea of information is a strategic advantage for any company that greatly assists leaders of the company in formulating even better policies to serve customers, creating innovative products and successfully leading change. When all these factors are in play customers, investors and other stakeholders are attracted and more inclined to remain with the company, enhancing the company’s profits and reputation.

With such an energized and knowledgeable workforce, customer-centric policies and employee networking a company is able to open many new doors for business in the form of prospective customers and existing customer referrals. In addition, to encourage employee networking, companies must recognize and reward employees for bringing in new business and for spreading the word about the business on their own social networking sites. ‘Internal references’ send a strong message across the industries and customer segments about the ‘health and focus on customer service’ of the company. This generates positive interest in your company and leads easily converted to new business and existing customers are more willing to provide repeat business. In order to make employee networking part of the culture, leaders must weave this task into the overall business strategy to promote development.

If networking is so important and has so many benefits, why are all companies not as enthusiastic about it and what prevents the employees from engaging in it? Does your company encourage employee networking? If this is not happening in your company, it is possible that the policies and structure of your company do not support it. Given that the company does not consider it important, employees too believe that networking and generating leads is not part of their job (unless they work in sales and marketing). Another major reason that could be inhibiting employee networking is that people do not have the talent and skills to make a success of this task. Lack of cohesion and cooperation between teams and departments and lack of team leadership would be another factor that would prevent employee networking and any attempts towards cooperation.

With employee networking being such a strong support to the leaders of the company, it would be hard to comprehend why some companies do not encourage it as a regular business practice. In fact, employee networking encourages employees to remain with a company, as they feel valued and as direct contributors to the bottom line of the company. Allowing employees to do only ‘what their job description’ states, does not motivate them to contribute in different ways to the company and soon the drudgery and routine of the job makes them restless enough to leave. With high staff attrition and internal movement to cover the tasks left behind by exiting employees, it is hard to imagine why employee networking would be on the list of priorities. The remaining employees would rather focus on doing their core tasks and retaining their jobs.
We have discussed in the past too, that in order to make any employee driven program or strategy a success, there must be buy in from them. It is not wise to coerce the employees to agree to any of these ‘extra’ tasks and it is therefore necessary for companies to offer proper guidance and mentoring as to the value of employee networking. In addition, a structured rewards and recognition scheme should be in place to encourage more employees to introduce contacts and leads to the business. Providing focused training and development programs and lead roles in important projects connected with their networking potential is essential for those employees who display this talent. Imparting training on the intricacies of networking, even to the customer facing representatives is crucial, since they have direct and maximum contact with customers – both existing and potential. It is therefore the onus of the company and its leaders to recognize the value and importance of employee networking and putting in place policies to encourage it, thereby making it part of the culture.

Even though networking is one of the core skills of sales and marketing staff, they too sometimes fall short despite the experience and training they carry. It makes sense therefore, that those employees who do not have direct responsibility for this task would be ill at ease to engage in employee networking. Confidence, communication and the ability to interact with unknown people does not come easy to many people and hence in order to encourage employee networking companies must be sensitive to these needs and limitations too. It would take time and concerted effort in bringing most employees up to a level where they are comfortable with taking on more responsibilities, especially those that maybe outside their comfort zone.

Depending on the level of importance and degree of seriousness displayed by the company and its leaders, the task of employee networking would or would not be something that employees would be interested in. Leaders must lend their expertise, encourage team managers to recognize and praise behaviours that are inclined towards networking and building the business and reward those employee efforts that translate to an additional business contact or sales lead. Making every employee transcend the limitations of their ‘job boundaries’ requires time, passion, dedication and genuine interest – it is a process and hence must not stop in order for it to be successful and sustainable. The good news is that the complete onus does not belong to the company – employees too that aspire to move up the organizational ‘ladder’ and be afforded opportunities for growth, must contribute towards their own development. One of the potent methods is through employee networking and becoming a direct contributor to the revenue and profits of the company.

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