When it comes to strategic networking, one of the areas in which organizations struggle is internal networking, i.e., strategic relationship building across teams and functions within an organization.
At the same time, many organizations grapple with silos, weak corporate cultures, low employee morale, and approaches to career advancement that make employees feel as though progressing within the organization is impossible, especially today. As remote work is more common than ever, internal networking is an acute challenge.
All these factors ultimately lead to one of the biggest consequences of a lack of internal networking: high turnover.
Conversely, improving employee morale and loyalty, creating a path for career advancement within the organization, creating a culture that fosters authenticity, and helping with succession planning have a direct positive impact on retention. Internal networking is a business imperative.
The importance of internal networking
Internal networking is an approach to strategic relationship building across teams and functions within an organization. Too often, people think of networking as only being externally facing (i.e., an organization’s relationships with clients and prospective clients).
However, emphasizing the importance of relationships within an organization helps employees at all seniority levels feel connected to and supported by their colleagues. An added benefit is that when employees have strong networks across internal teams, they feel empowered to problem solve, ask questions, and help others.
There is a challenge and an opportunity here. Because many organizations do not prioritize internal networking, employees can feel disconnected to the organization, silos and turnover can persist, and even a strong corporate culture can lack the cohesion that makes employees stay. The good news is that companies that do prioritize strategic internal relationship building create a competitive advantage over peer organizations that emphasize client relationships over relationships between their own employees.
Improving internal networking at your organization
Implementing efforts to improve internal networking at an organization can be simple, organic, and cost-effective. The following is a list of ways in which you can prioritize strategic networking (aka relationship building) within your organization. Each strategy listed can be tailored to either digital or in-person initiatives, depending on the environment:
- Make strategic and effective internal networking a part of the organization’s culture by offering learning and development opportunities that teach employees how to network internally and why it is important.
- Pilot an internal networking initiative within the HR/talent function first, so that HR and talent leaders recognize the importance of internal networking and can then become ambassadors in implementing an organization-wide initiative to encourage internal networking.
- Establish cross-functional internal networking initiatives to break down silos. You may do this by creating learning and development opportunities whose participants span teams and functions or implementing an organization-wide stretch assignment initiative that enables team members to work with people with whom they would not ordinarily get to work.
- Ensure you have representation of talent across the organization when you set up teams for strategic projects. Examples include deal teams for new transactions and committees for leading the organization’s strategic planning process. This is about more than simply including someone from HR and someone from operations and someone from technology, etc. The best internal networking happens when you also have people across seniority levels working together.
- Leverage business resource groups (BRGs) for internal networking initiatives (veterans, LGBT employees, generational, cultural, etc.) and be sure your groups are providing programming that fosters internal networking, rather than simply bringing everybody together in one room at events.
- Work with BRG leaders and sponsors to ensure that employees who are participating in the BRGs receive information and education on the benefits of internal networking and how to do it.
- Create a communication plan that consists of a variety of different formats (email blasts, slack updates, short videos, town halls, newsletters, etc.), highlighting the importance of internal networking and tips for how to network internally.
- Encourage employees to work on strategic networking initiatives continually, setting time aside each week to work on relationship building.
Retention is a talent imperative at which every organization hopes to excel. Once an employee gives notice, there is very little that can be done to successfully make him or her stay. We all know that relationships matter, and networking well is important. Throughout the talent management process, starting from recruiting, demonstrate the importance of strong and healthy internal networking relationships at the organization. New hires will begin to feel drawn to the organization’s culture, welcome and connected to colleagues, hopeful that career advancement is not only possible but encouraged, and certain that the organization is where he or she belongs.