Birds of a feather flock together, as the aphorism goes, and it's just as true for humans as it is for groups of animals in the wild. We all have a tendency to associate with people of similar personality to ourselves based on our shared attributes. This can affect our social networks. To cut a long story short, most of us have a stable network of contacts who look a lot like ourselves. What we're lacking are challengers, opinion leaders and mentors that can add a little salt to the soup.
For managers, this is a problem. Getting people to network effectively and build alliances – both within and outside the organization – is often a key part of the job. When your employees surround themselves with people who think the same way as them, they're missing vital opportunities to try out new perspectives and develop their own ideas. They're also missing opportunities to open doors for the business.
Hate networking? You're not the only one
Of all your employees, only around one-third will have a clear affinity for networking, which we'll define as the process of developing your contacts to enhance and challenge your knowledge and increase your sphere of influence. These people, typically your Extraverted Perceivers, have a natural talent for relationship building and are strategic in their approach. Left to their own devices, your native networkers will naturally acquire a diverse mix of alliances, and often with seemingly little effort.
For everyone else, networking is a bit of a chore. Some personalities enjoy the act of networking but are wary of its value. Others are extremely uncomfortable when they have to approach people who may be quite different to themselves, and to do so "cold." You might even have some networking deniers who refuse to take part in this kind of practice, which they consider to be smarmy and sleazy and well beyond their job description.
Given these differences in profiles, how can managers help their employees to develop their networks effectively? The answer of course, is to look through the lens of personality.
Bet on the expertise of your decisive Introverts
We don't normally single out Introverted-Judgers (ISTJs, INTJs, ISFJs and INFJs) as a personality grouping but when it comes to networking, your I-J team members share distinct similarities. None of them are natural networkers and most tend to be cynical about its value. All Judgers are motivated by achieving results, not collecting business cards. IJs only feel confident about networking when they have a lot of specialist knowledge to share in a subject.
- Stick to one-on-one or small group networking that is structured around an important business goal
- Choose industry committees that are related to the IJ's area of expertise over casual networking events
- Give them plenty of advance notice so they can prepare a list of key contacts and questions ahead of the event - or check out online networking options
- Go for connection quality over connection quantity
- Avoid large and unstructured events – the classic sprawling conference is a no-no
- Don't ask them to network for the sake of it with no planned outcome
- Avoid spontaneous interactions that require rapid responses with no planned forethought
Give visibility to adaptable Introverts
Introverted-Perceivers (ISTPs, INTPs, ISFPs and INFPs) have a moderate approach to networking – they are generally charming, spontaneous and fun people to be around, but most are terrified of putting themselves out there. As such, I-Ps tend to have fewer external contacts than the other personality groups and often experience the frustrating feeling of being stuck in their careers. Without realizing it, managers can exacerbate these feelings by allowing these personalities to disappear into the background.
- Stick to small group and one-on-one networking sessions but keep them relatively unstructured
- Focus on opportunities for them to join cross-functional teams or secondments to client accounts and other offices; this allow for serendipitous encounters
- Tie networking to an immediate work theme – ISPs in particular prefer to get their hands dirty than simply building and address book
- Allow them to participate as active listeners and follow up later
- Avoid large groups and structured settings
- Don't expect them to acquire multiple contacts in a short space of time
- Don't throw them into events where it's unclear about the usefulness of the connections they're making
- Don't put them on structured committees with little flexibility or room for inspiration, or where they might get a bad case of imposter syndrome
Go with the flow for adaptable Extraverts
Extraverted-perceivers are perhaps your most talented networkers with a passion for meeting people. From this perspective, it's easy to throw them into any event and expect them to charm their business cards out of people. A too-scattergun approach might backfire, however. EPs are dynamic personalities who can be self-serving at times. It's legitimate to rein them in and ensure their efforts are helping the company as well as the EP herself.
- Mix casual events with large-scale conferences – variety is the spice of life for EPs
- Choose conferences that include working sessions and roundtables, especially for ESPs who learn best by doing
- Rein in their natural exuberance by giving them a leadership role or allowing them to contribute to conference planning
- Keep it short and unstructured – EPs need the flexibility to introduce themselves and steer the conversation in a way that suits their agenda
- Avoid one-on-one sessions in a formal office
- Don't dictate the theme of the networking as this limits the EPs ability to shift focus
- Don't make formal introductions within a strict agenda
- Don't restrict EPs to "official" networking events – they'll get just as much value from a spontaneous evening out at the bar
Focus on speed networking for decisive Extraverts
Decisive Extraverts ( ENTJ, ESTJ, ENFJ, ESFJ) are your natural-born leaders who want to get things done quickly and well. In social situations, they are both goal-oriented and assertive, wanting to get as much out of the situation as efficiently as possible. Speed is the key to their networking success. EJs enjoy trying to charm or influence others but they have no patience for time wasters. They will always limit their interactions to those who can help them to reach a specific goal.
- Look for large group settings where EJs can move freely between contacts
- Check out breakfast sessions which are naturally efficient and limited in time
- Use pre-arranged appointment slots with allotted times to meet multiple contacts
- Choose industry or problem-focused events that confer the EJ with a sense of leadership and purpose – teaching and speaking opportunities are a good option
- Avoid unstructured events with no time constraints
- Casual socializing should be optional, not the focus of the event
- Don't just throw them into it – EJs need time to strategically think about the type and number of contacts they wish to make ahead of any meeting
Networking isn't a one-size-fits-all process and each personality brings something new to your company's network-building capabilities. Your responsibility as a manager is to figure out what each team member's strengths are and help them develop their connection-building skills with a tailored networking plan.
The tool for doing this is personality. Once everyone on your team is networking within their own innate preferences, you'll be well on your way to networking towards success.