It’s a proven fact that those with the best networks usually get the most job opportunities, the fastest promotions and the top salaries. Yet building a great personal network is not as easy as many think. Recent research confirms what I’ve found to be true in my own business: effective networking is more about giving than getting.
Adam Grant of Wharton, the hottest organizational researcher of his generation, shatters the myth that greed is the path to success. With personal research as well as an exceedingly knowledgeable base of research on career success, Grant reveals how and why you don’t need to be a selfish asshole to succeed in this life. And the research generalizes readily and applies directly to successful networking.
As Grant tells the story in the April McKinsey Quarterly, a team of Harvard psychologists “invaded” the US intelligence system after the tragic events of 9/11. They ranked the 64 different intelligence groups from best to worst and identified what they assumed were the factors driving a unit’s effectiveness. After parsing all the data, they discovered that the most important factor wasn’t on their list. That critical factor wasn’t a clear, challenging and meaningful vision, stable team membership, the right number of people, team cohesion or even strong leadership and resources.
. . . The hidden dimension. The single, strongest predictor of group success was the amount of help that analysts gave to each other. In the highest performing and most productive teams, analysts invested extensive time in coaching, teaching and consulting with their colleagues. What Grant points out is that the importance of helping-behavior for personal and organizational effectives stretches far beyond intelligence work—the 9/11 issue, and it even enhances networking success.
The benefits of helping behavior, Grant finds, are both broad and deep. Among the consequences are the following:
- Problem solving and getting work done faster
- Better team cohesion and coordination
- Transfer of expertise from experienced to new employees
- Reducing performance variability caused by overload or distraction
- Creating an environment in which both customers and suppliers feel that their need’s are the organization’s top priority
. . . Key to networking In his terrific study on social capital, Wayne Baker doesn’t mess around with the networking issues. Right from the get-go Baker takes aim on the myth of individualism, showing beyond a shadow of a doubt that the people who prosper most recognize that what they know is never enough. They understand that it’s also who they know. Who you know provides the information, the ideas, leads, business opportunities, financial capital, power and influence, emotional support and even good will. And, surprisingly people with good networks enjoy better mental and physical health and they’re a lot happier than most. Furthermore, they even live a longer life than most. Networking is about great business success. . . and a far better quality of life.
But right from the get-go also, Baker takes aim on the false notion that networking is about getting. “The goal of building networks,” he writes, “is to contribute to others. Doing it the other way around—to help oneself—is ultimately self-defeating.” And then, not surprisingly, Baker goes to biblical wisdom and even to Chinese feng shui to make his point (“It is more blessed to give than receive.”) He wraps up his approach to networking with the sage advice of psychology: “A mark of emotional maturity. . . is the switch from a focus on getting to the joy of giving.”
It’s hard for many of us to give up the focus on getting and buy into giving. It’s rooted deep in our modern individualist culture. But the fact of the matter is that once you hold getting in abeyance, you’re able to view new possibilities. Although the older psychologies viewed gratification as the key human driver, psychologists today argue that the primary motivation is participation: growth and development in connection with others. There you are: Both top organizational psychologists Grant and Baker emphasize giving for success–not getting!
Adam Grant’s conclusion to his McKinsey article is spot-on for successful networking: “If you want it, go and give it.”