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Building your Network and Social Capital

Building your Network and Social Capital
Welcome. In this session, you’ll learn about how your network can help you achieve your goals in life. You’ll have an opportunity to assess your network and determine the ways in which it’s helping you achieve your goals and what you can do to make it even stronger. Now, think about the times that you depended on someone to give you information, advice, support or an introduction to someone else. Did you hear about a job, a promotion or another work opportunity? Did you learn about a good restaurant, daycare or a class to take or avoid? Did someone introduce you to someone who would become an important part of your life? A neighbor, a colleague or someone to love?
Did someone give you emotional support in a time of need? Now, our relationships play a central role in helping us make and implement the big and the small decisions through which we build our lives, achieve our goals, and contribute to others. Most people develop their network primarily by chance. For example, by connecting to the people they happen to live next to or the people they work with but your network also can and it should be developed more proactively in a way that strategically builds mutually supportive relationships that benefit not only you but others, your teams, your organizations and your communities. One way to find out the effectiveness of your network is to build what researchers call a socio-gram.
Write your name in the middle of a piece of paper or put your name on a post-it note and put it on a wall. Now, think about the people you’ve connected to in the past six months, for example, to discuss important issues, to socialize, to get your work done, or to help someone else get their work done, to get or give support for a project or to get and give advice or emotional support. Now write the names of each of these people around your name, putting clusters of people who are in similar groups together.
For example, you might have a family cluster, a work cluster, a neighborhood cluster, a school cluster, a religious institution cluster, club or hobby cluster or maybe a children’s school or activity cluster. Now, draw a line between people who know each other; both within and across these clusters and put a star next to the people you know very well. These will be your strong ties. Your socio-gram Is a visual depiction of your social connections. Your network is made up of individuals and clusters of people who are connected by links.
It’s your connections to these people, as well as the links among the people in your network, that predict the type and amount of social capital you have as well as the speed by which you get access to these resources. Now it’s likely that your network is too complicated to be adequately represented by this drawing. Eventually you’ll run out of space, or the lines that connect people will become so dense that you won’t be able to make sense of your network diagram anymore. But by drawing your socio-gram, even if it’s an imperfect and simple drawing, you’ll learn about some of the key characteristics of effective networks and how your network can help and hinder you from achieving your goals.
Researchers are clear that the most successful people do not leave their networks to chance. Rather, they systematically build, maintain and use their networks to create mutually supportive personal and professional relationships that add value not only to themselves, but to others as well.
You can assess your network by focusing on four characteristics: size, structure, diversity and strength. I will discuss each of these now and as you learn about each of these characteristics, consider what they tell you about the effectiveness of your current network given your goals. The size of your network refers to the number of people you have in your professional and personal networks. Researchers have found that people with larger networks in their organization, tend to gain more knowledge about the organization and its strategy, especially if they know people in many different parts of the organization. Researchers have also found that people who are socially isolated and lonely are at a higher risk for a variety of health problems and mortality.
And the researchers say, it’s on par with smoking, obesity, elevated blood pressure and high cholesterol. The structure of your network refers to the degree to which the people in your network are connected to each other. When you look at the socio-gram you drew of your network, are most of the people connected to each other or are there gaps between people and groups? Researchers have found that the structure of your network can be more important than the size of your network because of what they call redundancy. Regardless of how many people you have in your network, if most or all of them know each other, they’re likely to share a lot of the same resources.
The same information, expertise, contacts and opportunities. And this gives you a narrower range of resources. A network in which most people know each other is considered to be called closed or dense. If you spend most of your workday interacting only with people on your team or in your department, and those same people live in the same neighborhood and they go to the same religious institutions and social clubs, you’re likely to have a relatively closed network, and closed networks have the advantages of having more trust, loyalty, predictability, cooperation and cohesiveness. It’s easier to build a shared identity and common goals in a closed network. But there are several downsides as well.
You’re likely to have access to fewer and less diverse resources in a closed network. You’re also likely to have less influence outside your group. More likely to develop us versus them perspectives and more likely to engage in group think, because people in your network may be more inclined to support what each other already believes. If you have a lot of people in your network who don’t know each other, then your network is considered to be relatively open. If your network is open, you are likely to enjoy the benefits of more social capital because contacts that aren’t redundant provide you with more unique information, contacts, support and opportunities.
Researchers call the gaps between the people and groups who don’t know each other structural holes. They found that people who have more structural holes in their network, tend to be higher performers, get promoted more often, get paid more, have more influence and demonstrate greater creativity. There are many reasons for this. If you have an open network, you have more visibility among people in many different places. People in different social and professional circles give you access to more diverse information, skills, opportunities and contacts to their networks and you can get this access more quickly.
You’re likely to have more influence because you could act as a bridge that brings people and groups who don’t know each other together and by doing so, you provide others with valuable contacts and resources that they would not have if you weren’t in their network. Researchers have found that people who are connected to multiple groups, for example, family, neighborhood, work, religious institutions, tend to be healthier, live longer and have less cognitive decline. In one particularly interesting study, researcher Sheldon Cohen and his colleagues recruited 276 healthy people to have nasal drops with two rhinoviruses, that’s the common cold germ, put into their noses to find out who would catch a cold and who wouldn’t.
They found that the people who are connected to diverse social groups were actually less likely to catch a cold. Just as with closed networks, there are limitations to open networks as well. In an open network, the people are less likely to share common goals and they may be more likely to experience conflict. If you have access to too much information and too many resources, you can start to feel overloaded and the cost of keeping up with your network becomes higher than the benefits. The diversity of your network matters, as well. You can have a lot of people in your network and know people in many different places.
But if most of the people share the same identity groups, say race, gender, nationality, religion, class, age, even hierarchical level in the organization, your network can still lack an important kind of diversity. When you look at your network, how diverse are the people in it? A diverse network shares many of the same advantages of open networks; access to more and different resources. For example, someone who is older can often offer younger employees more experience and knowledge, as well as a rich pool of contacts, whereas someone who is younger can offer older employees fluency with the newest technologies, as well as fresh perspectives that are not entrenched in long held ways of thinking.
Not surprisingly, you are more likely to get career sponsorship if you know people who work in higher organizational levels. Especially if you’ve earned their respect and they’ve heard good things about you from people who work at lower levels of the organization. And note that having a diverse network is useful only if you take advantage of the benefit the diversity brings. Researchers Robin Aly and David Thomas, found that organizations benefit most from diversity when organizational members are encouraged to use their different perspectives to make decisions and help their teams achieve their goals. You also want to consider the strength of the connections you have with the people in your network.
You have strong ties to people you know very well and are mutually invested in each other’s success and well-being. For example, your family, close friends and colleagues who you interact with regularly. You can think of a strong tie as someone who is a confidant, someone who you feel comfortable telling things to that you may not share with more casual ties. You have weak ties to people with whom you interact with frequently, and with whom you have little emotional investment. For example, casual acquaintances; neighbors you wave to in the morning on the way to work but don’t know them very well.
Students you’ve met in class but don’t see outside of class and colleagues you see at meetings but don’t work with closely. Now, both strong and weak ties contribute to your success. The advantage of people with whom you have strong ties is that you can count on them to give you emotional support, provide career sponsorship and come through for you with the resources you need, if they have the ability to do so. They also may be more willing to take the risk to pass on sensitive information to you or take more time to discuss more complex issues with you.
On the other hand, the people with whom you have weak ties can be more helpful than strong ties for finding jobs because you’re likely to have more weak ties, and they are likely to have access to not only more information about job opportunities, but also more diverse information about these opportunities. As a word of advice, some people focus on having a strong tie with one mentor. But researchers have found that people with multiple mentors benefit more, because each mentor can provide different benefits. One may introduce you to job opportunities and another may help you learn specific tasks skills.
One may give you political advice and another may provide emotional support as you navigate through the challenges in your organization and in your career. And remember too, that you’ll need sponsors, as well as mentors.
A simple way to distinguish between sponsors and mentors is this: A mentor gives you advice. For example, a mentor may advise you to take on new job responsibilities, build your network or develop your presentation skills. A sponsor gives you opportunities such as introductions to important people, opportunities to be on high profile committees and strong recommendations for jobs. Now that you know more about the different characteristics of your network, think about what aspects of your current network will help you achieve the goals you have for your organizations, your communities, family and for yourself, as well as what steps you can take to strengthen your network. Is your network more closed or open?
Do you have structural holes in your network and are you connecting people across different parts of your network? Do you have much diversity in your network? Is your network focused more on home, work or community service? Do you have both strong and weak ties? Keep in mind that there is no one best network that works for everyone because everyone has different goals. The best network for you is the one that helps you meet your life goals, helps others achieve their goals and adds value to your family, organization and community. Here are some general recommendations for building, maintaining and using your network. Remember that small steps can result in big rewards.
Considering your reputation, you may know a lot of people but your network isn’t going to add much value to you or others if they don’t think you’re competent, reliable and trustworthy. Remember, it’s not just what you say about yourself that determines your reputation, it’s what other people say about you, as well. And remember that reciprocity is at the heart of all effective networks. Think about the past week. How much did you help others, compared to how much others helped you? And then of course, take action. There are many different things you can do to build your network. You can get to meetings early and spend time talking informally to people rather than checking your phone or computer.
You can walk to someone’s office to talk about an issue rather than send an email. You can always help someone out who needs help, and remember that no one ever forgets a kindness. You can introduce your contacts to each other when you think they’d enjoy meeting or if you think they can be helpful to each other. You can take job rotation assignments and international assignments that expose you to different kinds of people. If you can’t or choose not to travel or change jobs every few years, then get on committees that expose you to different people and perspectives on the organization.
Go to conferences in your field, and you can join networking groups that are in your profession, industry or your area. You can maintain your contacts by staying in touch. You can send cards or helpful emails, as well as articles that may be of interest to others. If you have children, and if they’re in daycare or school, pick up your children from daycare and school, drop them off because you’ll have a chance to meet the teachers, staff and other parents, as well as your children’s friends. To increase the diversity of people in your network, you’ll need to rise above the human biases to interact more with people who you perceive to be similar to yourself
or who are located near you, for example: in the same office or neighborhood. One way to override this bias, is to put yourself in situations that will expose you to more diversity. When our children were little, we put them in a daycare that had a sliding fee scale to increase the chance of the children they met and the parents we met would be more diverse than if we were all from the same income group. Now, I could go on and on with recommendations but you get the point. There are many things you can do to increase the size,structure, diversity and strength of your network and many of these actions don’t require much time or any money.
I certainly understand that many people watching this course are very busy and can’t imagine how they’ll find time to focus on their network but remember that there are many small things you can do to enhance your network. Something as small as looking up from your phone and saying hello to someone, having lunch with someone rather than eating at your desk or sending an article to someone that might be of interest to them. Remember too, that no one ever forgets a kindness. So please don’t miss opportunities to be kind. The important things to remember from this session, are that building relationships, it’s a need to have not a nice to have.
Getting ahead requires getting along with others and no one succeeds alone. Thanks for learning about the power of relationships.
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The Science of Success: What Researchers Know that You Should Know

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