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Overall Program Description

The collaborative intensity of work has exploded over the past decade, making networks of both formal and informal relationships increasingly the means by which employees innovate, execute and thrive at work. Unfortunately, most people have only a vague idea of the networks around them and often don’t invest in relationships in ways that can boost success. Contrary to popular belief, performance and well-being are not enhanced by simply building a big network, but rather by establishing one that is managed across five benefits that effective networks confer.

In this five-module course, Rob Cross will review network dimensions that two decades of research have shown to be critical to success and help you build a personalized action plan to optimize connectivity. Specifically, this course will help you build a network that:

  • Produces Innovative Solutions: Non-insular and efficient personal networks promote your ability to frame/solve problems broadly and envision unique opportunities.
  • Executes Work Efficiently: Seeding relationships and driving influence through networks enhances your ability to efficiently advance projects and drive results.
  • Creates Followership and Pull in Networks: Creating competence- and benevolence-based trust and energy in networks attracts better opportunities and talent.
  • Generates Physical and Mental Well-Being: Building networks that provide a range of task and social benefits positively impacts your physical health and resilience/well-being.
  • Allow You to Learn and Adapt through Experience: Leveraging relationships to build capabilities in times of transition and avoiding derailing network traps is critical to individual performance during times of change.

Session 1: Cultivating a Network that Improves Individual Creativity and Innovation

Personal networks are critical to individual success. However, performance is not enhanced by simply building a big network, but rather by improving the efficiency of collaborations and investing in relationships that decrease insularity. Module 1 will focus on two key actions that people can take to improve their ability to see and take action on opportunities more innovatively:

  • First, as the volume and diversity of collaborative demands have exploded over the past decade – typically as much as 90% of time in a given week is spent on email, phone calls and meetings – a key competency of more successful people lies in efficiency of collaboration. The Connected Commons research has shown that more successful people engage in a series of practices – cognitive, behavioral, structural and technical – that enables them to manage collaborative demands much more efficiently.
  • Second, network size is not a critical predictor of performance for most people; however, the network’s structure is strongly associated with success. Top performers have a greater tendency to invest in boundary-spanning relationships and position themselves at inflection points in organizational networks.

Action Plan Development for Next Class: (1) Improving Collaborative Efficiency Best Practice Inventory and (2) Decreasing Network Insularity Template.

Session 2: Cultivating a Network That Improves Efficiency and Effectiveness of Execution

Effective personal networks enable people to accomplish things that surpass their own abilities. In most work today very few accomplishments of any substance are a product of individual effort, but rather are enabled by relationships that provide expertise, information, resources, decision approvals and political support. Module 2 will focus on three ways more effective people invest in and leverage networks that support significant accomplishments:

  • First, more effective people build relationships ahead of need. Specifically, they tend to give first so that relationships are seeded and initial phases of trust developed, thereby increasing the willingness of others to help and the efficiency of interactions.
  • Second, when implementing ideas, high performers are far more likely to engage key opinion leaders in networks and diffuse ownership early so that their efforts are supported. Specifically, four kinds of opinion leaders have a significant impact on success: (1) Central Connectors, (2) Brokers, (3) Energizers and (4) Resistors.
  • Finally, for those in formal leadership roles, two decades of research shows that more successful leaders cultivate unique networks amongst groups they lead (from teams all the way up to units in the thousands or more). Specifically they:
    • Manage the center of the network: Minimizing collaborative bottlenecks and acknowledging hidden talent that makes their colleagues more effective.
    • Leverage the periphery of the network: Rapidly integrating newcomers and engaging under-connected high performers.
    • Selectively bridge organizational silos: Facilitating effective collaboration at key intersections in the network (across functional lines or physical distance).
    • Develop awareness of colleagues’ expertise throughout the network: Ensuring that expertise is known and brought to bear on new problems and opportunities.

Action Plan Development for Next Class:(1) Complete Reciprocity Components of Decreasing Network Insularity Template; (2) Complete Key Influencer/Stakeholder Template and (3) Review Network Management Best Practice Guide (Note: This guide is relevant for those in formal leadership roles only).

Session 3: Cultivating Followership and “Pull” in Networks

Networks enable individual success not solely by being resources for people to tap into, but also by creating followership and flow of ideas/opportunities to an individual. In fact, 20 years of research shows that being someone who creates enthusiasm or pull in networks is a far more significant predictor of success than other network dimensions or individual characteristics. Module 3 will focus on two critical ways more successful people cultivate networks that pull better talent, ideas, resources and opportunities to them:

  • First, specific behaviors are necessary to build and use a network effectively: top performers engage in behaviors that lead to high-quality relationships—not just big networks. In day-to-day work, they are more likely to engage in specific behaviors that cultivate two forms of trust – competence- and benevolence-based trust – as well as reputation.
  • Second, people who create energy or enthusiasm around them enjoy performance and innovation benefits. In fact, people’s position in the energy network is a much higher and more consistent predictor of performance than the ability to get information, decisions or political support from networks. Importantly, this is not a product of personality traits – like extraversion or charisma – but rather, is created by engaging in nine behaviors people can learn and adopt.

Action Plan Development for Next Class:(1) Complete Reputation Component of Key Influencer/Stakeholder Template and (2) Complete Trust and Energy Best Practice Behavior Inventories.

Session 4: Cultivating a Network that Generates Physical and Mental Well-Being

In today’s hyper-connected world, it is no surprise that relationships play an increasingly significant role not only in one’s performance, but also in physical and mental well-being at work. In fact, our research shows that in many forms of knowledge-intensive work, the network one forms on certain dimensions is a more significant predictor of one’s career satisfaction than factors such as job design. Module 4 focuses on research showing network dimensions associated with well-being on two fronts:

  • First, increasing evidence shows that one’s personal network is a significant predictor of physical health. One study went so far as to test this by injecting people with the cold virus and found that those with more effective networks tended to be more resistant to it. Our research has identified a set of four positive dimensions that increase the odds of being healthy and two negative dimensions that should be avoided or mitigated in networks.
  • Second, for over a decade our research has included items that help us measure the subjective experience of work in dimensions such as satisfaction, resilience, thriving and psychological well-being. Across this work, three aspects of networks emerge as highly related to an individual’s mental well-being at.

Action Plan Development for Next Class:(1) Complete Physical and Mental Well-Being Network Template; (2) Skills Development Template (covered in next class) and (3) Initial pass at Network Action Plan Summary.

Session 5: Leveraging Networks to Learn and Adapt in Experience

It has long been known that most development throughout one’s working life occurs in experience and that networks form a key component of whether people either improve or not. In fact, our research continues to show that people are far more likely to learn and take action on information they get through their networks than from books, databases or web sites. Module 5 will conclude the course by showing how more effective people adapt networks in times of transition on two important fronts:

  • First, our work has shown a series of career-derailing network traps that undermine personal effectiveness and decrease the likelihood of staying in an organization’s top performance category. Specifically, four traps – archetypes we have named the bottleneck, the biased networker, the disconnected expert and the surface networker – can derail careers even though they are often created by following the advice of many self-help books.
  • Second, more successful people tend to be more intentional in building networks during times that support their need to supplement/develop expertise, acquire resources and coordinate work. These people are not extraverts or necessarily building large networks, but they do make investments that help them acquire or supplement needed skills during a change.

The final 20 minutes of this module will be spent highlighting action plan items and initiating the final course conclusion requirements.

Rob Cross

Rob Cross is the Edward A. Madden Professor of Global Business at Babson College and one of the world’s leading experts in organizational network analysis. For almost twenty years and across more than 300 organizations, Rob’s work has focused on managing social networks intentionally to drive innovation, and improve organizational performance and personal effectiveness. Rob is currently focused on three ways leaders can use network insights to drive performance—talent optimization, leadership effectiveness, and organizational alignment and change. Rob’s work has been published in top scholarly outlets and featured regularly in such venues as Harvard Business Review, Sloan Management Review, California Management Review, The Economist, Fortune, Forbes, Business Week, The New York Times, Inc., and The Wall Street Journal. Ideas emerging from his research have resulted in three books, the most recent one titled, “Driving Results Through Social Networks.”

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