Networking aids promotion

Networking, not competence, is the proven key to career success

Networking, not competence, is the proven key to career success

I have often been impressed by more confident colleagues pressing the flesh and instigating business card confetti at industry conferences.

At the same conferences I often find myself torn between talking to colleagues and working out how to blag more free pens from the software suppliers rather than extending my web of influence. Therefore, it came as a shock to discover that networking is proven to improve the personal success of a manager.

It appears that it isn't what you do; it's how you do it. The slippery pole of corporate success can be ascended, but only by those managers prepared to build a network at the expense of doing the job they are paid to perform.

Many conscientious managers have worked hard for years, earning respect, but no promotion. It might seem destructive to focus your efforts on tasks that are not on your list of objectives, but according to academics and business leaders it is the key to success.

In his book, Real Managers, Fred Luthans describes the time management of 450 managers and there is an interesting correlation between the most successful - defined by the speed of promotion - and the level of networking.

The average manager in Luthans' study spent 32% of his or her time in traditional management activities, 29% communicating, 20% managing human resources and 19% networking. The most ineffective managers spent just 11% of their time networking and 44% communicating, but the most successful spent only 11% of time communicating and 48% networking.

The conclusion that to get on you need to spend half your time on self-promotion led me to contact others for their opinion.

Ramesh Kumar, chief executive of SG Software in Bangalore, says, "Through networking you gain an appreciation of other companies and cultures."

Emmanuel Rodriguez, director of IT for Prudential Portfolio Managers in Singapore, says, "It depends on your career goals. If you move company often then an external network is essential. However if you are committed to staying long-term in your current firm then you need to focus on an internal network."

Rodriguez adds, "Internal networking is far less risky in terms of perceived loyalty than external networking and those people from outside your organisation who do know you will be the ones who share your vision."

Stephen Robbins, of San Diego State University, summarises the research in his book Organisational Behaviour. Robbins says, "This finding challenges the historic assumption that promotions are based on performance, vividly illustrating the importance that social and political skills play in getting ahead in organisations."

It appears to be verified by both business and academia that competence is no key to success. The future for anyone dreaming of that elusive chief information officer role is to get out there with the business cards blazing.

Mark Kobayashi-Hillary is European programme manager for the Wall Street equity research company Sanford C Bernstein

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