A few years ago, I completed a Change Leadership professional certificate (Cornell University) that included a course on Navigating Power Relationships. As the name implies, the content was mostly about looking at your own power in professional settings (ie the power you have through an org chart, by nature of your expertise, etc.), but there was also an assignment to analyze your network. I learned to think in a more deliberate way about networking through this exercise and to be more thoughtful about balancing nodes and considering strong and weak ties. It may seem counter-intuitive, but research shows your weak ties may be more valuable than strong ties — particularly for new knowledge and unknown opportunities.
I’ve adapted the following process from the Cornell assignment to examine your own professional network (you will consider personal connections, too, but this is primarily for professional outcomes):
Step One: Identify Nodes
Use the following grid to identify 25 important people in your professional and personal life. The assignment involved 30 names on a 6 x 5 grid — you can expand the number if you have a large network by adding rows — but 25 feels more manageable to me.
Definitions of category headings:
Collaborators — the people you bounce ideas off, talk about business or work-related projects or topics. Or, near and dear to my heart, you may talk books, podcasts, articles.
Promoters — these are the folks you have connected with for job searches in the past. They make intros, give you feedback on your pitch, resume, help you evaluate offers.
Connectors — people in your current company or industry that don’t necessarily fit elsewhere but can possibly open doors to other networks or resources. An interesting point on this — these are people that you may not interact with frequently, but they would at least recognize your name on a reach out.
Mentors — people who assist in your professional development.
Friends — no deep explanation needed, but consider your closest, those you like to spend the most time with.
Note: A person can appear in more than one column — you may have some Swiss Army knife types in your network. Also, the exercise had us look at the window of the past year, but that may not apply as well for you (for example, you may not have undertaken a job search recently). I don’t believe the timeframe necessarily changes the usefulness of the exercise.
Step Two: Create Your Network Map
- Line through people in more than one column, but leave their name in at least one category.
- Circle the people you consider strong ties.
- Draw lines between any two people that know each other.
Step Three: Analyze
Size — do you have a lot of Swiss Army knives (many names repeated across categories)? If so, your network may be smaller than you think (the course describes this as effective vs nominal size).
Density — do many people already know each other? If yes, you have a denser network.
Constraint — did you circle several strong ties? This indicates a more constrained network.
Next, look at the numbers. How many people:
____ have the same industry background as you
____ work at the same company as you
____ live in the same geographic region
____ are more junior than you in experience
____ have the same level of experience as you
____ are more senior than you in experience
____ are more junior than you in organizational position
____ are equal to you in organizational position
____ are more senior than you in organizational position
____ share one affinity group with you (a group formed around an interest or common goal)
____ share more than one affinity group with you
This last part of the exercise looks at the heterogeneity (diversity) of your network and helps you think deeper about where you can source new thinking. As noted earlier, weak ties can bring new ideas and new opportunities. They are also the connectors to other networks and promote sharing across a wider variety of people. Cultivate these relationships — there may be a fantastic opportunity waiting for you.
My own learnings:
I’ve got gaps in the mentor category. (I did have to cross out a few that were already in other categories for me). Always looking and open for this type of relationship.
I’m doing fairly well on my weak ties but that has taken a great deal of effort for me. Although I am a very curious person and like to discuss ideas with new people, I’m not naturally wired to reach out to more sporadic connections as I feel as though I am imposing. Funnily enough, I don’t mind when it goes the other way and weak ties reach out to me — I welcome the interaction.
I’ve got some great Collaborators and offer a big thanks to the Promoters in my life.
Oh, and Connectors, I’ll be in touch!