Open or selective networking – what works best for you?

Inspired by the class presentation on professional networking, I wanted to add my thoughts on an issue I find interesting and important, which is whether open or selective networking works best for young students today. I believe that for many of us it might seem like ‘the more the merrier’ is the guideline when thinking about networking, and that too many LinkedIn connections never hurt anyone. However, living in a city with so many opportunities as Singapore, there seems to be an endless amount of business dinners and networking events to attend and only a limited amount of time. Therefore this issue should be thought through in order to maximize the benefit from your professional network. There are many pros and cons with the two ways of networking, so I will just address the ones I find most interesting and the ones that we did not pay that much attention to in class to add some more thoughts.

First of all, it is important to think through the potential impact to your reputation by attending different networking events. An innocent company dinner might harm your reputation if it is commonly known that the company is really not on your list of potential employers.  This is because your fellow classmates and future colleagues might look at you as a “networker” who goes to events for the sole purpose of receiving some future benefits from the people you meet there. This again might harm the potential to network with your classmates, which might be a way more interesting target. Nobody likes to feel that their relationship with another person is based upon the level of career benefit that can be extracted by the relationship. While this might be the underlying foundation for the relationship, and it certainly is in some cases, it should not be highlighted.

Secondly, an open approach to networking might lead you to lose focus on what you really want since time is limited. If an unknown company can buy you dinner and take you out, this seems fine. Will this however lead you to become tired the next day, thus hampering your opportunity to work for your real goals? Will you lose focus on the goals you really should be working to achieve? And will you spend unnecessary time maintaining a relationship that will not help you reach the position you want? These issues should be thought through before answering yes or applying for the event in every case.

Finally, if you are selective with the events you attend, you will also seem more interesting in the eyes of your peers. You will seem like a person who knows what he or she wants and who is not always accessible. This will greatly improve your networking opportunities, making people come to you instead of you chasing them. In lack of better examples: One reason why so many people try to flirt with the same person is that he or she rarely says yes.

To summarize, many of the arguments above are based on the assumption that you know which industry you want to work in and which job that might fit you, and in this case a more selective and concentrated approach to networking seems like the best fit. However, it might be the case that you have no idea where to work, in what sector or in which position. Open networking will probably suit you better in that case, but the real problem in this situation is the lack of self-awareness.

Leading without a title

It has been suggested that flattening and more democratic organizations are the future, and if that is the case it will have direct impact on how we think about leadership. Employees can no longer solely rely on their managers to show the way. If a firm with a flat structure is to excel, everyone will have to lead. This acknowledgment is starting to gain momentum. Robin Sharma is the founder of a leadership consulting firm with the simple mission of helping people in organizations lead without a title. He calls it leadership v.02. Sharma has already got many of the fortune 500 companies on his client list, as it seems like businesses are moving towards the trend of letting people lead from wherever they are in the organization.

Through a couple of the cases we have been discussing this semester, this trend is becoming visible. The Taj Hotels encouraged their employees to think outside of the box, not to follow the book and to take individual decisions in every situation. This is a very clear example of employees acting as their own leaders. The benefits for the hotel were motivated employees who took charge, instead of passive waiters who waited for orders. Similarly, the Haier case showed a new approach to management, with every team completely responsible for their results. This also encourages innovation. If every team is acting like a separate unit trying to maximize their results, the best-practice approach in choosing the best from every unit can boost value. I remember a work shop with Google, where they told us that they don’t have one single R&D unit. If every employee was encouraged to lead, innovate and make decisions, the cumulated innovation would be way beyond what an R&D branch could achieve. Indeed, this is how major successes such as Google Maps, Gmail, Google Art Project and Google Book Project got invented.

Does this mean that a firm should have hundreds of employees trying to act a CEO with their own view of how the company really should be run? Of course not, that would have created a complete chaos. Showing leadership can be done at every level of the organization as long as employees know their roles and then adapt to that role like a leader would. This would spark a self-sustaining company, not dependent on a very small group of managers at the top end of the firm.

The world’s best tennis player the last couple of years, Novak Djokovic said after winning a dead close match: “Tennis is mostly a mental game. Everyone has got good forehands. Everyone is fit”. This can be useful to think of in the business world as well. Consider the case of big consultant firms. They all have fairly skilled employees from high regarded universities, and they all know how to solve complex cases. One of the differences must lay in how leadership is present: to which degree will consultants feel responsibility and care about the outcome of the case, and are they allowed to pursue the path they feel will bring about the best results. It may seem like the best firms have a different approach to leadership.

Further readings:
Many have probably heard of Robin Sharma’s best seller The Monk who sold his Ferrari. Sharma also offers a lot of resources on his webpage www.robinsharma.com, where his blog, podcast and video coaching are available for free.

A professional work environment

Inspired by our class discussion on the 29th of January, and the TV series Lie to Me, I will in this blog post continue our discussion about ethical dilemmas in regard to reading colleagues’ facial expressions and emotions. I believe that in a work setting, the ability to read facial expressions can create as much harm as good. The question I raise, is whether managers really should pursue this skill. That is not to say that a manager should not be a people person. It is impossible to distance yourself completely from reading obvious facial expressions and body language. I am merely talking about the active and intentional digging for information about people’s hidden feelings and emotions. Since we are in a business class, I dare to compare the difference to that of a radio and a radar: one is open for signals, while the other is in search of signals. I will address the latter.

The first problem I found has to do with productivity at work. For a work place to be efficient, it has to be professional and oriented towards the stated goals of the organization. A manager should concentrate on results and long-term culture, not devote his or her time to temporary feelings and emotions. Many people want to go to work in order to leave their problems at home and focus on their work tasks. Therefore, work should not be a constant reminder of personal issues. Of course personnel management is important, and it is necessary to handle a situation if one employer is discontent with his or her work assignment, or has any other issues at work. Nevertheless, every work place should be a proper arena for communication and feedback in the first place, without having to study facial expressions in depth.

The second problem is more concerned with the ethical aspect of the subject. People must be allowed to have their own secrets and feelings. Everyone has things they do not want to share. Trying to readpeople’s minds can be considered an intrusion into their private domain. If you as a manager find out that your employee hates your guts by reveling micro expressions of despite or anger, it is not necessarily a valid reason to take action, but it might be hard not to. The problem is even more severe if we consider the ability to read facial expressions as common knowledge. For example, you can tell that your boss can tell your feelings, and your boss can tell that you can tell and so on. Who would want to go to a job where you knew that your boss knew your inner feelings?

The TV series Lie to Me is based upon the work of Paul Ekman, who serves as a scientific consultant for the show. In the fictional show, Dr. Cal Lightman aids investigators and authorities to detect lies reviled in the suspects facial expressions. While this ability clearly serves him well as an interrogator, Lightman’s workplace is suffering from the brutal honesty that takes place when no one can hide a secret from each other and when every “Hi, how are you” can be dangerous. Because what should you do when you can detect a lie in the face of your colleague’s spouse? It is impossible to write off the importance of Ekman’s work, even for managers, but it might be that a manager should devote his or her time to more productive matters than the search of hidden emotions and feelings.

 

Further readings: I will also recommend the article of Adam Grant, The Dark Side of Emotional Intelligence, where he looks upon among other subjects how people with Machiavelli traits can use EI to manipulate others. Perhaps EI should not be judged by how people use or misuse the knowledge, but it is still a fun and interesting read of a problem that is worth being aware of. The article can be found here:
http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2014/01/the-dark-side-of-emotional-intelligence/282720/