Much has been written about successful executives and leaders and how they participate in formal networks, but very little is known about the substantial amount of time they spend within their informal networks.
What is known is that the impact is vast. It is imprudent for you to underestimate the power of informal networks by saying they are merely “nice-to-have.” These types of networks are increasingly having a major impact on organizational effectiveness. More importantly, these types of networks provide major business advantages for the participants and thus are known to advance many careers.
Defining the Networks
The main difference between informal and formal networks is the effort of the individuals to create and maintain them. The formal network often has an organizational culture attached to it, such as a formal philosophy, mission, structure, leadership, membership, eligibility and funding.
These networks are easily identifiable—board of directors, economic clubs, affinity groups setup by corporations, executive talent pools, online discussion groups, management groups, professional conferences, and associations.
Informal networks are based on the objective of achieving a reciprocal exchange of information and favors. There are no rules—members share advice freely, expand the network at will, inspire each other, achieve personal goals and help each other obtain business and career advantages. The “old boys network” is based on the informal network system—hence the phrase, “It’s a man’s world.” Again, the emphasis is on a one-to-one networking effort, as opposed to an organizational system that characterizes the formal network.
Informal Networks Are Hidden
The informal network may be a group of industry colleagues with a common interest or a shared philosophy getting together for a casual gathering away from the office. Other networks may be created through people you meet while traveling, attending church functions, or simply completing errands.
The most effective informal network contains high-functioning people who are extremely skilled, knowledgeable, powerful, and who have strong personal networks. Research indicates that extroverts drive a successful network. People who are friendly, courteous, tolerant of differences and respectful of cultures and different perspectives achieve the most success. The informal network, without hierarchy and bureaucracy, encourages the most interaction and achieves the most positive results.
On the other hand, there are many skills one must possess before being invited to an informal network. The most important skill to acquire is avoid treating everyone like a mass market, a machine or a cold call. The success of this most prized network depends on respecting the commonality among one another and to help each other achieve their goals.
Reflecting on Your Informal Networks
Here are strategies for polishing your informal networking skills. What do you need to work on?
> Does your informal network share the same philosophy about career, business, friendship, or family?Identify key people you can relate to otherwise move to another network.
> Do you have a great attitude? Are you positive? Do you see the big picture? The successful networker has a strong belief in themself.
> Who makes up the network? What are their needs, company, and interests? Leaders listen to the needs of the network.
> How much have you given to your network? Successful people have the ability to give back. Share information and opportunities with one another.
> Do you know your goals, strengths, and career direction backwards and forwards? Educate the network on exactly what you do and what you are looking for—people cannot read your mind.
> Are you believable and credible? Leaders are passionate about who they are and what they do.
> What are your gifts? Leaders share their talents within the network without reciprocity.
Informal networks are hidden and filled with rich resources to drive you to your next destination.
Michele Wierzgac, MSEd, keynote speaker and author, promises that you will leave her solution-driven presentation with at least one passionate, life transforming, leadership tool – something that will change the way you seek out a solution and practically apply it without getting stuck. To book Michele, call (708) 710-7055 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit http://micheleandco.com