internal networking

When people think of networking, what usually comes to mind is networking online (e.g., via LinkedIn, email) or with people outside of their organization (say at a tradeshow or industry event). But what about internal networking? If you’ve never done it, you may be wondering what it is and how to do it.

Networking is what we do every day when we talk, text, email and meet new people with the purpose of sharing information. While external networking helps us grow our connections to professionals outside of our organization, networking with coworkers helps us grow and strengthen connections with professionals inside our organization – with the added benefit of increasing productivity and engagement internally. Internal networking is something many of us do naturally every day. Like external networking, internal networking is about building a group of people who know you and will help you if they can.

related content: the art of making small talk to improve networking success.

Although internal networking is talked about less, there are many advantages for both the employee and the organization.

Internal networking promotes:

  • development of great ideas
  • gathering insights into other functions within a company
  • collecting industry information
  • learning more about functional roles and open roles
  • mentoring and career development
  • collaboration between  departments

the benefits of internal networking

For most professionals, external networking is a key way to discover career opportunities in new companies and industries. Internal networking follows the same idea, just internally: By asking the right questions of the right people within your organization, you can grow your career in your company. Engaging in casual conversation with members of your own organization will help you discover useful information (such as which certifications may be beneficial for your professional development), learn about new industry and business trends, generate new project ideas, gain details about upcoming product/service launches, discover company needs that may lead to role opportunities and get a better understanding of the company mission and vision.

For organizations, encouraging internal networking leads to lower rates of employee turnover because team members feel connected and tend to have a clearer picture of their organization’s purpose. Remember the saying, ‘what goes around comes around?’ Building mutually beneficial relationships can have a positive impact on individual career satisfaction and on the future of the organization.

internal networking: how do you do it?

Be strategic. Identify your targets, rate contacts based on level of influence, then prioritize to figure out who to connect with first. Your internal priorities might include:

  • people you already know
  • people who already interact with your department in some way
  • people who may be in a position to help you reach career goals
  • people in different areas of the business who might otherwise help you

If you feel awkward about internal networking, you may be wondering where the line is between networking and brownnosing. The answer to that question lies in your mindset, attitude and how well you are able to offer as much as you ask. To begin, proactively plan your actions and make sure you don’t cross over the line from making new social connections to bothering people.

The key here is to understand how complimenting people just to get in their good graces is not networking. You want to be authentic. One way to accomplish this is to be an active listener – truly listen to what people are saying and observe their body language and tone. When feedback is provided, it should be reflective with follow-up questions so the other person knows you're engaged. Lastly, be open and honest in your responses.

related content: networking and the giving mentality.

Research your internal contacts prior to meeting with them to identify how they might be able to help, and ask yourself what you could learn from them that would be valuable. Some questions you may want to ask your targets include:

  • Is there any general advice you would give me to be successful in this department?
  • Could you tell me about your role here? 
  • What do you find most rewarding in your role/in the company?
  • What are the opportunities in your department?
  • Have you taken any good classes, workshops or webinars that I may find interesting?
  • Are there opportunities for us to collaborate?
  • Is there anyone else in the organization that you think would be good for me to introduce myself to?
  • What might I be able to do for you?

Listening carefully and taking notes is also important. People love talking about themselves, so asking them honestly about their experiences can make for more interesting and mutually beneficial conversations, and lead to new learnings and opportunities.

how does internal networking help the employee?

Someone you already know or someone you could meet tomorrow from another department might be the critical linchpin in your success. Building on existing contacts and identifying and cultivating new associations is the key to career growth. It's all about asking questions, offering help and maintaining mutually beneficial and ongoing communication within your network.

You never know what jobs are coming down the pipeline in a different business unit or when pursuing a new career path within your current organization may be an option. By networking internally, you can get your name in other people’s minds and help them understand your interests and goals.

In the future, there may be an open role that would be a perfect match for you. Even if you don’t have the specific qualifications, you’ll have made the connections and shown your ability to take initiative. If the hiring manager already has a good understanding of your passions and transferable skills, you’re well-positioned to be considered for job openings that may be just outside of your expertise, but for which you have the aptitude or interest.

4 internal networking do's

  1. Prepare your professional value proposition (PVP): Also called a 30-second elevator pitch, your PVP is compelling, concise and conveys your unique value.
  2. Focus on building relationships and helping others across your organization: Get into the right mindset by understanding that networking isn’t schmoozing (you’re not a car salesman). Networking is strategic with mutually beneficial value involved, so  don’t forget to ask what you can do for your contact.
  3. Develop a conversational style: Organize your networking by understanding how to build different types of rapport, keep track of what you and your contacts spoke about and be sure to follow up appropriately. Use spreadsheets or online tools to keep administrative notes and for managing contacts.
  4. Think creatively about who to network with: 
    • Coworkers – Create an easy avenue for open dialogues with other employees who you don't get to see very often (or have never even met) so that you can learn more about their roles within the organization.
    • Supervisors – Find shared interests or other commonalities that can help you to better relate to your manager or direct report.
    • Internal recruiters – Ensure they keep you in the forefront of their minds when they hear about a new role or foresee a need coming up in the organization that would suit your interests.
    • People who interact with your company – This can include vendors, suppliers, clients and consultants. They can provide links to other employees in your organization whom you might not know.

how does internal networking help the organization?

Internal networking develops symbiotic relationships with coworkers and leads to a higher sense of empowerment and personal achievement – improving engagement and longevity with the company along the way. Without internal networking, it’s easier for employees to feel disconnected, which can cause performance issues and lead to talent searching for roles outside the organization.

Instead of losing employees to other organizations, HR leaders can use the power of cross-company social connections to help employees develop more passion and purpose in their work and a stronger connection to their colleagues. Engaged employees with sociable work environments boost the morale of their coworkers, encourage everyone around them and bring out the best in others. This can lead the organization to outperform competition across every business metric and gain that winning advantage. 

Another way internal networking helps the organization is by cultivating satisfied employees who are so well connected and content within the company environment and culture that they’d rather not leave the organization at all. Even if there’s a layoff, companies that have a powerful internal network of employee evangelists may see a rise in boomerang employees. These are people who have left an organization only to return to work for that same employer. This isn’t just beneficial for the employee – who’s rehired based on previous experience and reputation – it's also ideal for the organization because it’s more cost-effective and efficient to rehire someone with cultural knowledge and internal contacts than to hire someone who’s completely new.

‘When boomerang employees return, they bring legacy knowledge with them,’ explains RiseSmart Senior Practice Development Manager Kimberly Schneiderman. ‘In other words, they already know what the company is about, and on some level, they’re already on board with its mission. This historical knowledge can jumpstart the boomerang employee in their new role and make the hiring and onboarding processes much easier.’

how can HR help employees network more efficiently?

  • Host office events: Put internal networking events on the calendar periodically. They don’t have to be only after work hours when you may not have high attendance. Plan something during the work day, even if it’s just one hour, to bring people together and promote collaboration and socialization.
  • Online groups: Using social media and online business-wide platforms can provide employees with a forum to exchange insights while investing in open communication. The workforce can use digital tools to ask questions, request resources or share information.
  • Team motivation: Team events and bonding set the tone for comradery and internal networking by making the workforce feel closer and more nurtured and engaged. Some options include:
    • attending industry events/conferences
    • volunteering
    • local get-togethers or virtual activities
    • educational or networking nights for teams, employee resource groups (ERGs) or employee chapters of larger organizations  
  • Scheduled breaks: Giving employees time to socialize is important for well-being and is a powerful tool to provide opportunities for them to connect with different people. You can schedule lunches or activities where the workforce has the opportunity to talk with someone new every other month, or team lunches where everyone gets their voice heard. You could also set aside time for new employees to meet with veterans – whether virtually or in person – to learn about the company's culture as well life outside of the organization.

Internal networking is all about conveying value through social relationships. Whether you are in HR or an employee, having internal social connections makes the environment more pleasant and increases the teamwork spirit – ultimately creating a better overall work experience and positive workplace culture.

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