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Whether as a result of digital disruption or transformation, Brexit, or global economic uncertainty, business leaders are having to steer their organisations through extremely challenging times. Inevitably, it will involve major change if not total reinvention of processes and business models in some cases.
To achieve this, leaders will likely be working with new stakeholders, collaborating with external parties, recruiting new talent as well as ensuring the workforce is fully aligned behind the new business direction. All of this demands a reliance on high-level strategic networking in addition to direct and indirect influencing to make sure the correct people are on board, everyone is where they should be at the right time and firing on all cylinders. In short, it is about manoeuvring the network strategically to achieve the goal.
Leaders must first ensure that the network is able and equipped to deliver on the task. Are there obvious – or not so obvious – weaknesses that need to be addressed? Where does capability need to be increased? Maybe some teams within the network require re-structuring or re-balancing. Are they being adequately resourced? Are external service providers or other suppliers in the chain up to meeting requirements? And are stakeholders being wholly supportive, or are their demands getting in the way of achieving the goal?
Where gaps exist, leaders must know where to go and how to fill them and this is where the quality of their own professional networks come in. The risk can be when leaders have failed to recognise the importance of continuing to network throughout their careers. As is the case with software, people networks also need to be refreshed and continually updated to function at their best.
One of the big challenges is to build harmony, trust and co-operation across the different sub-networks that exist. Given some network members will never meet, such as suppliers and stakeholders, this can represent another layer of complexity. It is down to the leader to manage the vertical and horizontal relationships, not to mention the politics that exist in the network but it can be impossible to achieve single-handedly. Leaders must therefore identify and appoint key individuals who have the necessary sense and sensitivity to manage the various nodes of the network and who can be trusted to influence in the appropriate way when required.
Effective strategic networking can make huge demands on a leader’s time, energy and resource and, for this reason, not all executives are prepared to invest in it. But with organisations increasingly shifting towards more collaborative working models and some even finding themselves occupying the same ecosystem as their competitors, it is difficult to see how it can be avoided in the future.
The ability to leverage the power of internal and external networks to achieve end goals will become increasingly an in-demand skill. It draws on core leadership and management capabilities such as influencing, negotiation, listening, motivating, conflict resolution and many more. It also requires leaders to acknowledge they are dependent on others and to regard this as a strength, not a weakness.
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