Optimizing Your Network Optimizing Your Network

An executive’s network is a critical tool for their career.  As an executive advances, their network is the primary source for career opportunities.  In fact, outplacement experts suggest that ~85% of new roles are secured through an executive’s network.  Beyond new roles, a network can be helpful in many other aspects in a leader’s career.

Two key attributes that are critical to a network:   build it and use it.  To build a network requires some effort.  Strategically, the professional network should be crafted on at least two dimensions, function and industry.  The functional linkages allow for fresh ideas and approaches employed in other industries and/or geographies.  Those contacts can stimulate thinking about areas that are new or alternative approaches to fairly routine activities.

From an industry standpoint, it is important to have contacts with a range of firm sizes and scope.  Most industries are large and broad enough to know persons beyond direct competitors.  On this scale, it is helpful to think broadly and you may find the industry has a blend of product and service providers.  This breadth offers a varied approach to industry issues and alternative ways to address them individually or collectively.  Interesting partnerships may also be developed through this network.

Tactically, there are a couple of ideas to boost your network.  Use LinkedIn to reconnect with colleagues and create new connections.  Focus on persons that are peers and more senior.  From there build on both functional and industry professionals.  Once connected, make the effort to have an introductory conversation and begin the journey of developing a professional relationship.

In addition to technology, attend conferences and events targeted towards your function and/or industry.  This may prove to be venues to serve as a speaker, panelist or contributor in another manner.  Actively participate in the event and establish a goal of meeting 10, 20 or more executives.

As important as developing a network, it is equally important to use it.  By activating your network, you can dramatically increase its value.  Using your network is little more than “touching” the persons in it.  The knowledge gleaned from those “touches” in addition to the relationships developed can differentiate two similar leaders.  One who is “plugged in and aware of issues/opportunities” as contrasted to another whose view is more myopic and company focused.

One means of activating a network is when building your teams.  Clearly, there are benefits when employing this approach, such as trust and understanding of work styles/expectations.  Thus, cultural fit is a virtual given.  While these are meaningful advantages, most of them skew toward the short-term and speed.

From a longer-term view, an executive’s network may not be the optimal choice when building their team.  Here are two reasons for considering talent beyond your network:

  • Broader and more diverse pool—the talent pool is vast, whether considering a domestic or global scope. Additionally, potential team members can be identified through the industry and/or function. Regardless of size, the available pool of talent significantly exceeds the network of any one person.
  • Focus on the position specification versus the person. When one considers the key attributes and experiences desired for a position it is conceivable that persons beyond one’s network better align with the needs of the role(s).  Regardless, several qualified candidates should be identified and vetted to determine the best choice.

A larger pool of talent can be secured internally via HR or externally with a search partner.  Regardless of the path, it is valuable to evaluate persons in and outside of one’s network.  This should lead to a more diverse and hopefully, successful team in achieving stretch goals/objectives.

In summary, build and nurture your network.  However, before selecting new team members, evaluate a broad pool of talent.

Dwain Celistan is a Managing Partner and Global Diversity Practice Leader at DHR International, one of the world’s largest executive search firms.

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