How successful does networking play in the quest for influence, power and success? It's not always about how much you network, but much more how with whom you network that makes the difference.
Sometimes somebody laments that "the world in Vorarlberg is too small" and starts scrolling swiftly through his or her address file, following the old truism that while managers need to be qualified and committed individuals who get things done, their success ultimately depends on having the right connections and making the most of long-standing coalitions of interest. So, how significant a role does networking—i.e. making and maintaining contacts that may give your career a boost—play in the (desperate) quest for influence, power and professional success?
In a classic study on this topic, Fred Luthans set out to investigate differences in the behavior of successful managers (those who rise rapidly in their organizations) and effective managers (those who have satisfied employees and high quantity and quality outcomes in their units). His findings challenge the conventional wisdom that promotion is based primarily on achievement: the effective managers devoted 11% of their time to networking, compared to 48% for the successful managers. This confirms what we have always suspected: having connections is more important than keeping your nose to the grindstone!
However, the picture emerging from our survey into the effects of networking on the career success of business graduates is different: networking had virtually no impact on their earnings and even slightly negative repercussions as far as the leadership responsibility given to them was concerned. How can this be explained? It is fairly well established that those who network make better use of their existing social contacts. But this says nothing about the quality and potential of the relationships. We prefer to meet people who are similar to us in terms of attitude, appearance and manner, background, profession, etc.
From a networking point of view, this approach is generally counterproductive. There is research evidence that having non-redundant relationships with a cluster of important and influential individuals and cliques is what really matters. The key to successful networking, in other words, is to bring together social spheres that are usually unrelated. The slightly negative impact of networking in terms of career success may be an indication that those who are falling behind the social curve start making a conscious effort to build and maintain professionally relevant contacts—albeit in highly redundant networks and generally far too late.