Earlier this Spring I was invited to present to a lecture theatre of University of Cambridge STEM students on the value of networking and how individuals can maximise the time spent at events.
For an organisation that builds its value on forming connections between people and companies, it felt like a simple talk to deliver. The team at CW are full believers of the idea that the greater the personal network, the more efficient and influential a person is in their role. Throughout our careers we have seen that those with strong networks take less time to get projects off the ground and those projects are generally higher performing because they can be influenced by the ideas and experience of more people.
The reason behind this is that businesses are built primarily out of people, not their products. It is the people within a company that design and built the product, people who provide them with their supply needs, people who purchase the product when it is complete. A product is never more innovative than the person who is building it; and the importance of the personal relationship on the purchasing decision cannot be overestimated - especially in a mature market where offerings between companies are similar and this decision tends to be emotional as much as it is rational.
In our current circumstances where traditional networking is a challenge, it is important for businesses to remember the value that networking can bring both to itself, its employees and the community in which it lives. Opportunities for virtual networking are emerging that enable people to continue to make new connections and exchange knowledge with peers – many of these opportunities can be as effective as face-to-face networking and need to be embraced. Here are some ideas for the benefits that networking can bring, whether face-to-face or virtual.
If you invest time into networking, more job opportunities may come your way – and you may be more successful in your job applications. Research by Payscale suggests that over 70% of jobs are given to people that are already known to the employer. To complement this, in 2018 the Association for Talent Development (ATD, a US-based organisation) concluded that someone could expect to earn 6% more if they were recruited on the back of a referral from someone in their professional network.
The connection between professional networks and innovation is widely reported. Incremental innovation is found to regularly arise from existing business relationships, and high levels of social capital is particularly important among entrepreneurs for whom not just idea generation is important, but also the communication and sales of those ideas. The logic behind this correlation is the more time you spend on knowledge exchange activities, the more exposed you are to new perspectives, new approaches and new influences on their own day-to-day work.
The mutual sharing of ideas and experiences that comes with networking can offer you a rich source of reassurance and motivation, enabling you to be more confident and higher performing in your role. Talking about work to peers at networking events generates valuable feedback and constructive advice which can inspire you to proceed with your plans, or give you confidence to try something new.
The same ATD report referenced earlier showed that retention is almost double among employees hired as a result of networking—8 years on average compared to 4 without. This can have a dramatic difference on a company’s bottom line as it experiences lower hiring costs and higher productivity because fewer staff going through the “new job learning curve” at any one point in time.
What is more, a business with highly networked employees will find that their brand is better known, they are uncovering new customers and new collaboration partners sooner and, from the knowledge exchange that happens alongside networking, they are more aware of what is going on in the industry, enabling them to react appropriately and in a timely manner to emerging threats and opportunities.
Networking is particularly key for start-ups, not just in the inspiration and validation of an entrepreneur’s ideas but in the opportunity to build relationships with the larger corporates. These established companies can be essential to start-up growth by acting as a flagship customer, R&D funder or key supplier. A conversation at an event can expand into something upon which the success of a company is built.
Regional / National
Finally, there is a perceived national effect to networking. Andy Neely, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Enterprise and Business Relations at the University of Cambridge, suggests that the innovation capacity of a region depends – among other factors - on high quality institutional interactions and networking.
The concept of ‘innovative milieu’ has led to a new perspective of explaining innovative behaviour. The milieu restores the importance of social elements in explaining the process of innovation. As such innovation is now seen as a collective learning process reinforced by “such social phenomena as intergenerational transfer of know-how, imitation of successful managerial practises and technological innovations, interpersonal face-to-face contacts, formal or informal cooperation between firms, tacit circulation of commercial, financial or technological information”
Higher regional innovation results in higher productivity, higher wages, more job opportunities and better quality of living. Cambridge is dubbed the UK’s most innovative city because it publishes the most patents per capita. In the late 1970s and early 1980s the city transformed itself from a standard UK university town into one of the world’s centres of technology. For a city that is just 15 square miles, it now houses 1000 technology and biotechnology companies that together employ about 40,000 people.
The university is traditionally thought to be at the centre of this growth. Many of its success stories being spin outs from the Engineering Department and Computer Labs. They were supported by investment in buildings to nurture fledgling companies such as the St Johns Innovation Centre or the Bradfield Centre. But Cambridge’s growth is underscored by the networked nature of the people in these early businesses, many of whom came from the same source: the university. Because of the single origin of many of these companies, connections between businesses were present and innovation flourished in the area. Since that start, professional networking organisations have been founded to ensure that future generations of businesses can benefit from a similar innovation environment. Cambridge Wireless is one of these.
Keep an eye on our upcoming event schedule to register for upcoming webinars and online meetings as they are released, along with our Autumn event series.