· Features

The HRD's pocket guide to networking

Our new series explains areas outside day-to-day HR that business-savvy HRDs need to have a handle on

Why do I need to know about it?

If anyone’s effortlessly nailing networking it’s HR, right? Wrong. While it’s true many in HR will have highly-developed interpersonal skills this still doesn’t mean they’re true networking pros, reports Helen Pitcher, chair of Advanced Boardroom Excellence. “Generally they do not network widely enough, and it tends to focus on other HR people,” she says, explaining that HR should be networking more widely in the business community.

The importance of networking is threefold, reports Linda Kennedy-McCarthy, group HRD at SIGplc. Improving future job prospects is the motivation many will be most familiar with. “Most senior HR roles are appointed via headhunters and personal recommendations, which depend on your individual reputation outside of your business,” she says.

But HR people also need to network within their own organisations. “It is key that you have a strong network upon which you can rely,” explains Kennedy-McCarthy “You can use this to gain support for an initiative that you are looking to launch, and ensures that you have understood all points of view. This then allows you to demonstrate empathy”.

What do I need to know?

On internal networking, Kennedy-McCarthy advises moving outside your comfort zone. “Not only will this give you experience, it will also allow you to build relationships in different parts of the business,” she says.

“Networking requires practice. It is not a classroom-based activity,” says Julia Hobsbawm, honourary visiting professor in networking at Cass Business School. “Getting to meet people face-to-face and going to well-curated events is an essential first step,” she adds in relation to external networking. “Focus on the other person to overcome nerves and build confidence,” Pitcher adds.

Kennedy-McCarthy advocates advance research. “It’s useful to prepare beforehand and know who you want to speak with so that you can prioritise – it’s your valuable time, so invest it wisely.”

Pitcher reminds that the persona projected should always be “positive, warm and friendly”. She also advises networkers to be giving. “Give your time, your advice, and especially your referrals. It will all come back to you in positive benefits.”

Finally, remember to keep in touch. “Periodically meet with people in your network face-to- face,” says Pitcher. “When you can’t meet in person then a phone call or personal note works well too.”

Where can HR add value?

Regarding the benefits well-networked HR professionals can bring back to their companies, Pitcher explains that this “increases their access to new ideas and current thinking”, and “enables the ability to rapidly gain knowledge about a particular subject from a variety of sources” for free.

“HR is at the frontline of the new landscape at work, which requires people to be far more connected in their thinking and networks than ever,” adds Hobsbawm.

Anything else?

Helping others in the company to network will also hugely benefit the organisation. Communications consultant Gina London recommends holding a “LinkedIn workshop”. “Hire a photographer to take great individual portraits,” she says. “Next, guide the team to craft compelling bios. Content, look and feel are the key to building relationships.”

Organisations should also hold ‘practice’ networking events. “Nothing beats learning by doing,” says London. “Your team will feel empowered by practising new conversation techniques. This can be a great way to make sure they’re representing the organisation well at external events.”

Further reading

The HRD's pocket guide to IPOs

Act Like a Leader, Think Like a Leader by Herminia Ibarra

The Power of Women United by Tina Dezsi and Lia Bandola

Fully Connected: How to Survive and Thrive in the Age of Overload by Julia Hobsbawm (published next year)