Build a strong and diverse network
An effective network is a diverse network. Different viewpoints and varying styles promote debate, dissent and diversity of thought. In this way we can progress.
In preparation for a podcast recording session with Thais Compoint for her 2018 Inclusive Leadership Global Conference, I needed to organise my thoughts around the value of a diverse network. This is what I came up with.
Organisations are facing an unprecedented rate of change. Millennials will be the major demographic in the workforce within 2 years. The nature of employment will shift from permanent to freelance or gig working by 2025. We will see a 5 generation workforce. AI and automation are going to impact many of our talent management processes. Today’s emerging markets will become the dominant economies by 2030. Jack Welch said 20 years ago:
“If the rate of change on the outside exceeds the rate of change on the inside, the end is near.”
We will require a shift in leadership style from authoritarian, hierarchical, control and patrol system to one that is more inclusive and based on genuine diversity to cope with these significant changes. Instead of diversity and inclusion, many organisations get involved in exercises of self-deception, so that D & I becomes “deception and illusion.” Those involved don’t really want transformation and would be happy to get away with a little tweak. But if they settle for that, they will get left behind. Part of the change will require leaders to have a diverse network to support that new style of leadership.
Very often hiring managers and recruiters tap into their networks for referrals to fill vacancies. If their networks lack diversity they run the risk of copy paste hiring and clone recruiting. This is why organisations very often talk about “cultural fit.” That is shorthand for candidates who will easily blend in and be easier to manage. What it doesn’t generate is genuine diversity, including diversity of thought. Our talent pipelines will always tend to be non-diverse which can lead ultimately to stagnation. Without the buzz created by difference, businesses will struggle to sustain optimal levels of innovation and creativity to be competitive in the market.
How to build a strong and diverse network
An effective network provides opportunities for growth and learning. It will stretch, educate and inspire you. It also adds new dimensions to extend your influence and reach, allowing you to tap into a wider range of people and experiences. But above all it encourages diversity of thought. This is something that we all struggle with, showing a strong preference for living in confirmation bias echo chambers.
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So what steps should you take to make your network more diverse?
#1 Create a networking strategy
An effective network is a diverse network composed of individuals from different backgrounds, genders, race, experiences, learning and communication styles. They will be cross functional and cross sector, characterised by a diversity of thought that generates debate and dissent. These will help you shift away from “group think”, highlighting new perspectives and a different vision. But it’s important to think about how you are going to connect with this type of person and then creating a networking strategy that meets your goals. Otherwise you will just end up having fun with a group of colourful characters.
#2 Get out of your comfort zone
Homogenous teams are easier to manage, which is why leaders tend to favour cultural fit. Diverse teams, with divergent personalities which might create tension are harder to manage. They require leadership courage. Most people grow their networks within their immediate circles – what I call People Like Us. This is a safe zone which is comfortable, but limiting. When we hire from our networks (around 31% of new hires come from network referrals) we reduce the chance of bringing in new blood.
#3 Choose new people
When you check out your network, make sure you have connections who will add value on:
- New trends and developments, updated skills and up to the minute market knowledge
- Sharing similar values but might have a different action plan
- Giving open feedback and acting as sounding boards and mentors
- Wider range of exposure in terms of age, culture, physical ability, communication, learning and personality styles and
Volunteering is a good way to meet new people in a different context and environment. Try reaching our to colleagues from a different department or function. Or raise your visibility by taking on an assignment in a different location or with a new team. There are many ways to diversify networking opportunities.
#4 Be pro-active and follow through
You are really looking for people who will walk the talk and deliver on their promises. They will be open and extend your reach even further and wider. They may disagree with you, and will be challenging, but any dissent will not be personalised. Even if they are not of immediate help – maybe you can do something for them.
Innovative businesses and forward thinking leaders will move forward via collaboration by leveraging a diverse network to give them competitive edge so that their organizations maintain the pace of wider social changes. Networking takes time and patience!