These days, the old adage ‘it’s not what you know, it’s who you know’ has never been truer. We might be spending less time together – working from home, foregoing real company for social media chats – but we nonetheless rely on one another to get ahead, particularly when it comes to our careers.
Research reveals up to 85 per cent of all jobs are filled via networking. For 78 per cent of startups, informal connections are vital to success. According to Deloitte’s Future of Work, individuals will increasingly need to “find others who can help them get better faster – small workgroups, organisations, and broader and more diverse social networks”.
Enter 'social capital' that mutually-beneficial system of give-and-take that exists within our personal and professional networks. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) describes it as “the links, shared values, and understandings in society that enable individuals and groups to trust each other and so work together”. Consciously or otherwise, we trade ‘favours’: passing on a job tip, making valuable introductions, or simply thinking and acting generously towards others in the spirit of cooperation. In many scenarios, it’s as valuable as money in the bank.
Pretty much everything we do affects our social capital balance. Our reputations follow us everywhere: Uber drivers rate our behaviour, dating apps track how quickly we respond to people, and what we say on social media is in the public domain for eternity. Our ‘brand’ is always in the spotlight, for anyone to review. Yet social capital is about so much more than saving face when a potential employer looks you up on Facebook. Your network can support you – and you them – in many other ways, such as by building visibility, exchanging information, offering advice, overcoming challenges and presenting new opportunities.
Organisations can use social capital to their advantage, both internally and externally. Leaders look for ways to leverage shared experiences and conversations among their people – to nurture environments of trust, respect, safety and resilience. The payoff is that strong social capital enhances team performance, with factors such as increased cohesion, coordination and communication improving efficiency. It works between workplaces, too. As Robert Putnam outlines in his book, Bowling alone: the collapse and revival of American community, a large part of the success of Silicon Valley in the US can be attributed to the cooperation that at one time existed between rival startups in the area. It seems we can all benefit by having one- another’s backs.
With that in mind, here are four ways to build social capital:
1. Become proficient at networking – It might be the last thing we feel like doing, but networking offers so many advantages. Do more than just accept a LinkedIn request and attend the occasional event. Follow up with new connections and nurture your relationships proactively. Ask your network for introductions.
2. Seek diversity – Look beyond the obvious sources, such as colleagues and industry events, to make new connections. This MIT study found that the most successful entrepreneurs had more links beyond just their alumni network, compared with founders of slightly-less successful ventures.
3. Create opportunities for personal interactions – It’s not always easy to build strong relationships at work when so much communication is done online. But even simple things, like celebrating birthdays, milestones and company wins, can pay off, with research suggesting that team members who are friends are more likely to share strong social capital ties.
4. Lead by example – Share your expertise and support with your team and network. Be helpful, caring and giving and get to know people better. Prioritise these relationships as you would your job.
Ten coaching questions to ask yourself:
- Do I know what people say about me when I’m not in the room?
- What does my ‘brand’ say about my values and beliefs?
- How can I leverage my relationships to facilitate reciprocal support?
- Do I interact with people that I could turn to for support (and vice versa)?
- How can I contribute to ‘big picture’ conversations?
- Who in my network inspires me to move outside my comfort zone?
- How often do I put myself in situations where I can meet new people?
- Do I know my network well enough that I can get them to do something important?
- Do I engage with people that make me feel part of a community?
- How can I offer value to others?
A friendly reminder that personal success comes from doing some things consistently. Momentum is critical when it comes to personal growth. Do one thing differently today as a result of reading this article.
– The Coach Place Global
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