The Power of Networking

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Every day, people in the professional world complain that they can’t get ahead in their careers because “it’s not WHAT you know, it’s WHO you know.”

In a way, they’re right.

As many people begin their professional careers, they are often advised that if they work hard and keep their heads down, they will be rewarded with recognition and promotion. As organizations in the modern world become more complex and interconnected, however, this is seldom the case. Quite simply, the rules of the game have changed.

In his book, Power: Why Some People Have It and Others Don’t (2010) organizational scholar Jeff Pfeffer tells the story of Heidi Roizen, who rose to the ranks of vice president of software developer relations at Apple Computer, despite not having a degree in computer science, engineering, or mathematics. (Her bachelor’s degree was in creative writing.) Pfeffer notes that her success was built not only upon her intelligence but also her ability to build and maintain strategic communication networks with key individuals both inside and outside of her organization. 

Networking is more than just exchanging business cards over drinks during happy hour. It is a mindful, strategic activity, through which people develop efficient and effective networks of strong and weak ties inside and outside their organization. As a person helps connect others who are not already connected, they are said to gain a position of centrality.  Network centrality is a source of power in that it makes you more visible and influential to others in your organization. An effective professional network can hence be a vital source of information, support, advice, and leverage to accomplish your career goals.

You obviously can’t know everyone in your line of work, or even in your organization, most of the time. The web of social connections that you form during your professional life, however, does play a vital role in your career success and has been shown to be related to performance evaluations, salary, promotion, and career satisfaction.  

Gaining a better understanding of Organizational Communication allows each of us the tools to navigate the ups and downs of professional life. Given the amount of time and energy each of us will devote to our careers in organizations throughout our lifetime, it is essential to become a better communicator. By developing a strong game plan for organizational networking early in our careers, we can each develop stronger bases of power and influence over our work.    

By: Eric Meiners, Ph. D., professor, EKU Department of Communication

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