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The three types of network you need to succeed in your career


Sara’s career was shaping up nicely. She was well liked in her company, she was hitting her numbers, her team were too. Coming in early and leaving late, she shared what little time she had left for friends and family and promised to start to listen to reminders from her waistband that she should reacquaint herself with the gym. With a promotion seemingly just around the corner, she looked back at the development points from her last review – ‘build your market profile and network’.


Surely networking was a distraction from ‘real work’ in an already packed schedule. What’s more networking events made Sara feel uncomfortable – standing up in function rooms having awkward conversations with strangers to him smacked of insincerity and sometimes manipulation.

Sara’s case is not unusual. Yet ‘networking’, creating a fabric of personal contacts who will provide support, feedback, insight, resources and information, is one of the most obvious but simultaneously, for many, one of the most dreaded aspects of the job that we do. However, it's value, when planned and used well is one of the most effective and least expensive marketing tools to build relationships and business.

The three forms of networking

Herminia Ibarra, Insead Chaired Professor of Organizational Behavior at Insead in Fontainebleau, and Mark Hunter, an investigative journalist and professor of communications an Insead, conducted research focusing on the three types of networks you need to succeed in your career.

According to their findings, there are not one, but three distinct linked forms of networking, all of which play a key part in our lives and careers: Personal, Operational and Strategic:

1. Personal: This is the network of individuals whom we trust and share similar interests with (friends, family and acquaintances). These people are typically outside of the workplace and provide help and advice when dealing with professional dilemmas.

2. Operational: This is the network of individuals we need to do get our jobs done efficiently. These people are typically colleagues who depend on us (including, direct reports, superiors, peers, suppliers and customers), whose demands typically take up a lot of our time and attention.

3. Strategic: This network is about tomorrow. It helps us define what the future looks like, and drives us to succeed in that future. People in this network are both internal and external to the workplace and help pose the question, what should we being doing, as opposed to what are we doing?

You need all three

Leaders who believe themselves to be strong networkers are often operating at only a personal and operational level. The most effective leaders learn to employ networks for strategic purposes

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