We’ve figure out that being socially and digitally important are vital to business, but do we know how to best optimize our vast networks? Read on to learn ways connectional intelligence and networking skills can improve your bottom line.
We are more socially connected than ever, but do we know what to do with those connections?
There is hardly a person or business that is not engaged in social media. A Pew Research study of 2014 data found that 74% of online adults used social media, with 92% of teens reporting usage in 2015, while Forbes reports that 94% of job recruiters use social media to find new prospects. Almost everyone is online, and almost every business knows there are valuable connections to be found there — that much is clear.
What gets lost in the message, though, is the quality of those connections, says Erica Dhawan, co-author of Get Big Things Done: The Power Of Connectional Intelligence. It’s not simply a matter of having connections, she says, but being intelligent about them.
“A lot of how we measure relationships in the digital world is about quantity. How many Twitter followers? How many Linkedin contacts? The key is how you use that network,” she says. “Building relationships that actually change people’s lives, that create value or meaning or both, is about making the smart connections, getting the right people together, collecting the important data, and using resources in the smartest way.”
We are all connectors, Dhawan says, and businesses ought to focus on the quality, and not the quantity, of their connections. Below, she offers a few tips for how businesses and leaders can make the best use of their connections.
Engage in self-inventory.
Connectional intelligence, Dhawan says, ought to start with a little bit of honest self-assessment. Leaders ought to ask themselves:
- How well am I framing and asking different questions from different contexts to gain new perspectives?
- How well am I engaging in communities with common interests?
- How well am I combining ideas from different disciplines?
- How well am I mobilizing networks outside my business unit to solve a company problem?
By evaluating, rather than just accumulating, connections, a business is in a better position to advance. Increasing the business’s scope of connections also means evaluating how well those connections are serving the business. The more integrative of diverse ideas the business is, both internally and externally, the more potential the company has for innovation and expansion.
Foster an open connection of ideas.
Before you start looking outside for connections, see what kind of connections are already in your workplace. Ensure that an environment for innovation is possible channels in place for an open communication of ideas.
“Traditional mentoring takes a top-down approach—senior people give advice and junior staff are supposed to zip their lips and take notes,” Dhawan says. “But old models don’t always work in our multi-generational, global workforce, where the traditional corporate hierarchy must be transcended in order to respond to rapid change.”
Furthermore, Dhawan recommends one-hour “sparring” sessions with your team once a month, wherein all participants can provide frank, open discussion about potential areas for growth and potential areas of difficulty, regardless of the team hierarchy. A roundtable discussion wherein all team members may provide feedback, and even test or challenge each other’s viewpoints in constructive and mutually respectful ways, could go along way in fostering the connections within the workplace, and opening new avenues beyond it.
Find ways to relate
Communication speaker, Ben Decker, agrees – he notes that the easiest thing to improve communication effectiveness is to relate and connect to their team or audience. In this day and age, it’s easy for a message to be lost in translation, especially via email and text. Too often, Decker says, leaders and businesses “share what they want to say, rather than what the team or audience needs to hear. When this happens – there is no connection” he explains. Decker suggests finding a story or an analogy to help their audience “relate – and make sure you can really connect with them” so they can better understand your idea or request.
Partner with the public — or even a competitor.
Making the most of connections can mean collaborating with former competitors. Dhawan cites the bold example of Tesla, who in July 2014 opened its patents up for public use. By allowing open access to its product, Tesla furthered its innovation by enlisting the help and vision of everyone, consumers and competitors alike. “Treating its patents as open source was daring, but with a company mission to expedite growth of electric cars, Tesla knew this decision would boost collaboration,” Dhawan said. “Tesla has now enabled other people and companies to use its battery patents and build on their innovations.”
In fostering the spread of its product by entrusting the public with its patent, Tesla created the opportunity for personal connection, ownership, and interconnection. This wasn’t just in the name of innovation, Dhawan says, but for another reason – economies of sale. “Tesla’s patents for its vehicle supercharger stations could be shared with other automakers which could help Tesla spread costs and open more stations,” she said.
If in doubt, think like a millennial.
Millennials – who will occupy 75% of the world’s workforce in 2025 – are uniquely equipped to navigate and read interconnectivity. Not only are they native to social media, says Dhawan, but also they have the special capacity to understand it and use it in novel ways. “The key is that we have to leverage milllennials’ connectional intelligence oftentimes in our workplaces to generate new ideas, to solve problems, and define new ways of working,” she said.
Leaders shouldn’t be afraid to encourage innovation and expansion when needed, and oftentimes a millennial employee is just the one to find – and seize – connectional opportunities.
Erica Dhawan is a leading thinker on connectional intelligence.