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Networking strategies: devoted networking leads to high organizational commitment

Datum:13 juni 2017
Auteur:Yingjie Yuan
Networking strategies: devoted networking leads to high organizational commitment
Networking strategies: devoted networking leads to high organizational commitment

In a recent interview, Elon Musk, the phenomenal business magnate, engineer, inventor and investor, the founder of Tesla Motors and SpaceX, recalled how his industrial empire started from a cold call he extended to a Canadian executive[i]. In no time, this anecdote went viral on social media. Just like many other networking anecdotes, it continuously inspires following entrepreneurs and startups to network like Elon Musk—hunting the big players and networking with them.

The appeal of networking is huge. As researchers evidenced in the past decades, networking—even cold callings—enriches our social capital, which further increases visibility and therefore reputation, leads us to job opportunities (often rare in our own corporate communities), and boosts our performance and even salary. While the benefit of networking is being publicized, the question of how we network effectively remains underexplored. What are the available networking strategies? Who tends to use which strategies? How effective are they?

To address these questions, a new line of research emerged in the past years to identify distinct networking strategies and their utilities. Vissa (2012) first identified the difference in networking strategies among professionals: some focuses on creating new contacts and others on managing existing contacts. More recently, researchers proposed that networking strategies vary in terms of individual attitude (i.e., passionate, apathetic, and approving), levels of engagement, and relational foci (i.e., upward, external, lateral, and downward). Bensaou, Galunic, & Jonczyk-Sédès (2014) pointed out three distinct strategies in an investigation of service professionals: (1) devoted players are those relational entrepreneurs, who consider networking as sine qua non, openly hobnob with supervisors, peers, and external sources, and cast the least attention to their subordinates. (2) On the contrary, purists, who view networking as disingenuous and artificial, tend to let their performance speak for itself and work individually. They only network internally with their project members. (3) More in the middle ground, selective players acknowledge the value of networking but only network selectively—they mainly branch out to their business partners and peers through shared work experiences and collective tasks.

Distinct as they are, such networking strategies are equally employed across groups of different gender, age, or tenure in the firms. Interestingly, more experienced professionals tend to act as devoted or selective players, whereas junior professionals favor the purist approach more.

More central to the practical concern is the performance benefits of different networking strategies, such as individual competence, social capital, and promotions. Do devoted players gain more than purists or selective players? In fact, researchers found out that professionals using different strategies do not differ in perceived competence. Nevertheless, the devoted players and selective players are more committed to their organizations than the purists. Moreover, the fact that experienced employees tend to act more as active players (devoted or selective) rather than purists indicates that networking strategies can be socially learned.

For managers and practitioners, it is reassuring to note that different strategies can be equally useful to develop individual competence. Yet it also points out the risk that purists may be less loyal to the local firms. As a result of exclusive focus on individual performance and minimized networking, purists are less dependent on organizational support and therefore less bonded to organizations.

For the purpose of talent management, managers need to be more cautious to retain purists’ commitment and loyalty. Alternatively, enabling their transition from purists to selective players or devoted players may also help retain these employees.

This line of research being rather new many questions are still open, such as why juniors tend to act as purists, and why a broader network apparently has little effect on perceived competence. Since people seem to spend more time on networking (with diverse social media) an answer to the question of what strategy is most effective is of interest of many organizations. We expect future studies to follow up.

Yingjie Yuan (yingjie.yuan@rug.nl) is Assistant Professor at the Faculty of Economics and Business of the University of Groningen. Her expertise is on:  Creativity/innovation, Social networks, Team compositions, and Team information processing.

[i] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/christopher-kai/3-networking-strategies-y_b_8951380.html