How to help managers plug in to their networks

There are a number of ways HR can help managers stay connected through their networks. Source: Thinkstock

Facilitating network building for managers is vitally important in breaking down silos and helping managers stay connected, writes Jennie Walker

How is a manager role different from an employee role?

It may seem a simple question for those who work in human resources and actually create these job descriptions, however, the fundamental difference can easily be overlooked in the long list of tasks that a manager performs. The usual response to this simple question is that a manager manages employees. Certainly, many managers do have direct reports that they supervise on a daily basis.

Alternatively, some would point out that a manager makes decisions about work products and services in his or her department – what is produced, how, by who, by when, how much, etc. Again, this is generally true. Supervision and decision making are tasks that managers perform.

The key difference between a manager and employee role, though, is in how they add value to the organisation. Managers are charged with producing work through others.

Whether a manager has direct reports or not, he or she must influence others to contribute, create, perform or serve with respect to their function. While positional authority has traditionally been the source of influence that is leveraged, most organisations today favour more collaborative forms of influence. Additionally, the changing structure of work requires collaborative approaches to perform in teams that may be cross-functional, matrixed, geographically dispersed, virtual, or all of the above.

“The key difference between a manager and employee role, though, is in how they add value to the organisation. Managers are charged with producing work through others”


Managers must increasingly work inside, across and outside of the organisation at once. This new complexity makes professional networks vitally important, and this puts human resources leaders on the front line of helping managers make their professional networks more vibrant.

Networking should be a fundamental part of any onboarding process for managers. Onboarding programs are usually good at showing how managers connect to other parts of the organisation through organisational charts. What managers really benefit from is assistance in actually meeting – either live or virtually – those who they will most immediately need to work with across the organisation.

HR is in a prime position to facilitate these introductions. Assuming managers will just meet the people they need to meet in the course of their work is a great way to build a silo. Facilitating networks breaks down silos and also provides a benefit to HR leaders by helping them stay connected.

When facilitating network building for managers, it is important to first examine your own network. This has become so important that there is actually a scientific field dedicated to it called social network analysis. You could consider having a formal analysis done within your organisation, but a simple analysis often produces important insights. Consider the following:

  • Who is in your network?
  • Who should be in your network to facilitate work across the geographies, functions and projects in which you work?
  • How do you maintain your network?
  • How often do you communicate with individuals in your network?
  • What do you communicate to your network?
  • How plugged in are you to communications you receive from your network?

Don’t let your headcount on LinkedIn or other social, professional networks fool you. Numbers mean nothing when those connections aren’t plugged in.

For example, British anthropologist Robin Dunbar suggested through his studies of social relationships in the 1990s that there is a limit to the number of relationships in which an individual knows who each person is and how each person relates to every other person. That number is about 150.

Dunbar’s research was done prior to the internet and the explosion of social networking tools, so it may be possible to grow that number now. While technology makes communication easier, the question remains: Are you fully plugged in?

6 steps to helping managers develop professional networks

Your own insights will help you coach managers in building their professional networks. You can also use networking tips that have been drawn from executive coaches:

  1. Identify influential people and key connections inside, across and outside of the organisation by asking colleagues and then asking for a warm introduction.
  2. Build relationships before you need them by periodically engaging people in your network in dialogue.
  3. Seek input from people in your network to enrich your work and to help you get to know them better.
  4. Identify a mentor in your industry or organisation who can help you network with others.
  5. Examine how diverse your network is, and make a concerted effort to connect with colleagues and business partners outside of your normal circles.
  6. If you work on a virtual or geographically dispersed team, be sure to get to know members at a distance and regularly foster those connections.