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Types and Key Features of Strategic Networks

Question:

Discuss About The Establish And Maintain Strategic Networks?

Growth and popularity of social media in recent times has created a new medium in strategic networking with people forming interest groups, alumni groups, professional groups and collaborative learning spaces through a number of web-based platforms. When managers begin the delicate transition from functional manager to business leader, they must start to concern themselves with broad strategic issues. The present study deals with the type of network as well as its key features. Stakeholders and their profile related to business, strategic values and advantages for stakeholders as well as its advantages for organizations is explained in the present study.

Networking is a socioeconomic business activity by which businesspeople and entrepreneurs meet to form business relationships and to recognize, create, or act upon business opportunities, share information and seek potential partners for ventures.

In the second half of the twentieth century, the concept of networking was promoted to help businesspeople to build their social capital (Gawer & Cusumano, 2014). In the US, workplace equity advocates encouraged business networking by members of marginalized groups (e.g., women, African-Americans, etc.) to identify and address the challenges barring them from professional success. Mainstream business literature subsequently adopted the terms and concepts, promoting them as pathways to success for all career climbers. Since the closing decades of the twentieth century, "networking" has become an accepted term and concept in American society (Johanson & Mattsson, 2015). In the 2000s, "networking" has expanded beyond its roots as a business practice to the point that parents meeting to share child-rearing tips to scientists meeting research colleagues are described as engaging in "networking". There are 3 types of strategic networks in business such as operational, personal and strategic.

Operational networks include direct reports, superiors, people with the power to block or support a project, and key outsiders such as suppliers, distributors and customers. All managers need to build good working relationships with the people who can help them do their jobs. The number and breadth of people involved can be impressive—such operational networks include not only direct reports and superiors but also peer within an operational unit, other internal players with the power to block or support a project, and key outsiders such as suppliers, distributors, and customers (Semrau & Werner, 2014). The purpose of this type of networking is to ensure coordination and cooperation among people who have to know and trust one another in order to accomplish their immediate tasks.

Operational Networks

On the basis of a close study of 30 emerging leaders, Ibarra and Hunter found that operational networking was geared toward doing one’s assigned tasks more effectively. It involves cultivating stronger relationships with colleagues whose membership in the network is clear; their roles define them as stakeholders (Forsgren & Johanson, 2014). The previous quote provides with a good working definition of operational network. That is, anyone who satisfies this criterion should be considered part of r operational network.

Personal networks can provide important referrals, and people who can offer information and often developmental support, such as coaching and mentoring. “Personal networks are largely external, made up of discretionary links to people outside the workplace with whom having something in common (Kleymann  & Seristö, 2017). As a result, what makes a personal network powerful is its referral potential. According to the famous six degrees of separation principle, our personal contacts are valuable to the extent that they help us reach, in as few connections as possible, the far-off person who has the information that need.

Personal networking engages kindred spirits from outside an organization in an individual’s efforts to learn and find opportunities for personal advancement. Personal networks are one’s circle of casual acquaintances, typically composed of people outside of the company work for (Tunca et al. 2014). Before have a job in a particular company, many of r network ties are personal, oriented toward current interests and future potential interests. Key contacts are typically discretionary—that is, it is not always clear who is most relevant.

Most personal networks are highly clustered—that is, r friends are likely to be friends with one another as well. And, if made those friends by introducing self to them (as opposed to being introduced by a mutual acquaintance), the chances are high that their experiences and perspectives echo own (Griths et al. 2014). Ideas generated within a personal network typically circulate among the same people with shared views. This creates the risk that a potential winning idea can go unexploited if no one in the group has what it takes to bring that idea to fruition.

That connection, formed by an information broker, can expose r idea to a new world, filled with fresh opportunities for success. Diversity and breadth, that is, reaching out to contacts that can make referrals, makes the difference (DePoy & Gitlin, 2015). Through professional associations, alumni groups, clubs, and personal interest communities, managers gain new perspectives that allow them to advance in their careers. This is what is meant by personal networking.

Personal Networks

While personal networks are important, particularly to the extent that they provide with valuable resources and access to needed resources, the challenge is to convert them into network resources that also help with operational and strategic needs (Gil, 2013). Too often, however, those individuals in the personal network just aren’t the right types of ties to be beneficial operationally or strategically, which is why need to look at broadening r network to address operating and strategic needs.

Strategic networks provide opportunities to look at the bigger picture through mentoring, or simply give a different perspective on r organization.  Making a successful leadership transition requires a shift from the confines of a clearly defined operational network…It is a challenge to make the leap from a lifetime of functional contributions and hands-on control to the ambiguous process of building and working through networks (Wimmer, 2013). Leaders must accept that networking is one of the most important requirements of their new leadership roles and continue to allocate enough time and effort to see it pay off. Whereas an operational network is fairly narrowly focused, with the locus of contacts formed around specific objectives, a strategic network necessarily involves lateral and vertical ties to stakeholders inside and outside of the firm.

As Ibarra and Hunter found in their research, strategic networking is the ability to marshal information, support, and resources from one sector of a network to achieve results in another (Stam, Arzlanian & Elfring, 2014). Pushed to its logical limit, the basis of this difference is that effective leaders are highly dependent on others to get things done. The irony here is that the individuals in r network, who are the lifeline for building up the big picture, are also individuals who are likely to be outside of r immediate control. While this may seem obvious, it is often difficult to transition from a purely operational network to a strategic one, either due to simple time constraints (strategic networking takes time, often without immediate or obvious benefits) or because of negative personal attitudes toward strategic networking.

All types of networking overlap, but strategic networking will provide the most immediate impact on r organization (McCormack & Johnson, 2016).  What makes a social network so powerful is its referral potential, which can expand r network. These networks, their purpose, and how to build network membership, are summarized in “Personal, Operational, and Strategic Networks.” Most importantly, Ibarra’s work suggests that leaders need to possess all three types of networks, and not just one or two. Let’s take a look at each one of these networks.

 

The purpose of this network is to…

If want to find network members, try…

Personal network

exchange important referrals and needed outside information; develop professional skills through coaching and mentoring

participating in alumni groups, clubs, professional associations, and personal interest communities.

Operational network

get work done, and get it done efficiently.

Identifying individuals who can block or support a project.

Strategic network

Figure out future priorities and challenges; get stakeholder support for them.

Identifying lateral and vertical relationships with other functional and business unit managers—people outside r immediate control—who can help determine how r role and contribution fit into the overall picture.

Strategic Networks

Table 1:  Personal, Operational, and Strategic Networks

(Source: Ross, 2015, p.221)

A stakeholder profile describes in detail the characteristics of a stakeholder group or organization. It is a useful reference for staff to draw on when planning for a program or project. The characteristics included will depend on the type of stakeholder but may include: ? Demographic or socio-economic information (if the group is a sector of the community) ? Structure (eg, if the group is an organization) ? Major sub groups ? Key functions and responsibilities, priorities, key issues or concerns ? r relationship with them - why they are important to , how they may be currently involved, any formal agreements that may be in place, and who in r organization may have an existing relationship ? The relationships between this group and others - for example who is a key influence on their action or behaviors, and what groups or sectors they may influence ? Description of any drivers or barriers for change.

Stakeholder profiles that are developed utilizing the knowledge and experience of a cross section of staff and board members can ensure that the information is comprehensive. A detailed step by step guide is provided below (Vernuccio, 2014). Stakeholders might be organizations (eg Government departments, industry organisations or non-government organisations) or sub-sectors of the community (eg rural residential landholders, dairy farmers). It may be that, during the development of the profiles, it is realized that there are major sub-groups or perhaps different roles or relationships of a stakeholder (Grant, 2016). If this is the case, it is recommended that additional profiles be developed for each sub-group, so that the information is comprehensive. It may be that insufficient information is available to complete the profile. Additional sources of information may be obtained through desktop reviews (eg websites, published documents or statements, socio-economic data), holding discussions (eg key informant interviews) with the stakeholder (or a third party), or conducting surveys or focus groups to ascertain information.

Profiling is an essential aspect of managing relations with stakeholders. In the financial industry, banks are encouraged and even mandated to know who their customers are (KYC). Business Analysts in turn, should know exactly who their stakeholders are, and what they're dealing with at every point in time (Seyfang & Longhurst, 2013). Analysts should never assume that they already have a thorough understanding of stakeholders. Profiling becomes even more critical if’re an analyst dealing with stakeholders from different parts of the world.

Advantages of Networking

Identifying stakeholders is one thing; profiling them is a different thing altogether. Profiling stakeholders involves an appraisal of their characteristics, attitudes and behaviors.

Demographics: This has to do with understanding that the stakeholders are by considering their age, gender, location, marital status, education level, nationality and the like.

Psychographics: This involves describing why r stakeholders act the way they do by considering their values, interests, lifestyle, attitudes, aspirations and other psychological criteria. For example, profiling might reveal that have stakeholders who are price-sensitive and do not believe in spending large amounts of money on software solutions or may find that are surrounded by technology laggards who are slow to adopt technology (Seyfang & Longhurst, 2013). Having such knowledge beforehand is key to preparing a pitch that will help sell recommendations to the business.

Strategic networks could be a valuable source of information, expertise and competitive advantage for organizations, offering access to resources that might not be otherwise available within the organization. Networks enable and enhance flow of information between stakeholders and may lead to important strategic partnerships and collaboration.

Today's organizational context is rapidly becoming more complex and turbulent and often unexpectedly so; Value Management (VM) is ideally suited to support the organization's need to become more responsive to both stakeholders’ needs and a continually changing market and competition.

VM was initially developed at General Electric (GE) in the late 40s as value engineering and value analysis, a product improvement methodology known today as “hard” value management (Seyfang & Longhurst, 2013). Since then, it has evolved into, first “soft” VM, which focuses on achieving stakeholders’ needs and expectations with the least possible resources and more recently into a strategic methodology to help organizations stay competitive. VM is one of the most effective processes to agree multiple stakeholders’ needs and expectations. It is also an efficient group decision-making and problem-solving methodology that helps clarify a strategy and define the means to achieve it.

For value management to be able to support strategic decisions and help deliver business benefits, it needs to be closely combined with portfolio, program and project management. It targets all managers who want to deliver business benefits that are in line with the organization’s strategy, while making sure that these strategies are achievable. It is tailored for business, Program Management Office (PMO), portfolio, program or value managers who are interested in helping to deliver business value and want to achieve both significant benefits and outcomes and improved stakeholder relationship management.

Stakeholder Profiles

For some, “Strategy” and “Strategic Planning” is something that is done once a year which results in a report.  Others think it is market position, operational effectiveness or an idea or business model.

Strategy is choosing to perform different activities that can be preserved and that will provide a sustainable competitive advantage.  It is a mental exercise.  It is a way of thinking about the world and approaching business (Dekker & Engbersen, 2014).  Strategic planning is a process to produce innovative and creative ideas which serve as the core framework for the company and designing its’ future.

Strategic planning can have an immediate influence on your company and organization. It is the difference between being proactive or reactive (Dekker & Engbersen, 2014).  Be on the defensive or the offensive.  Be a victim of circumstances or be victorious in the fight.  Not every situation can be foreseen but you can make decisions and react to changing market conditions with the end in mind.

Clearly defines the purpose of the organization and establishes realistic goals and objectives consistent with the mission which can be clearly communicated to constituents.  It provides a base from which progress can be measured, employees compensated and boundaries established for effective decision making.

How do you distinguish between a good idea and a great idea?  Without a clear vision of what you want to achieve, and mission or purpose for doing it, everything seems like a good idea.  Having clarity about what you want to do, who you need and how to get there will focus limited financial and people resources.

The world market and industries are changing faster than ever and those companies who do not have a solid foundation and have relied on luck or opportunity most likely will not be around for the future (Kang, Tang, & Fiore, 2014).  Data reflects that one out of every three companies at the top of their industry will not make be there in five years.  Focus is powerful.  Scientists focus light so intently that it becomes a laser which is used for surgery or able to cut through glass and metal.

Focused planning and strategic thinking will uncover the customer segments, market conditions, and product and service offerings that are in the best interest of your firm.  An targeted approach to markets and opportunities which guide your sales and marketing efforts, distribution and other business decisions which ultimately mean more profit to the bottom line and a stronger market position.

Steps for Developing Stakeholder Profiles

Companies have gotten so used to looking at their competitors and their best practices and then trying to duplicate them that it becomes harder to tell the companies apart.  They all start to look the same with less distinction in unique value.  Strategy means having a unique differentiation that sets you apart from your competitors.

Consistently one of the top reasons for leaving a firm is the lack of job satisfaction.  People need to have a motivation to come to work and feel like part of the team.  It has been proven that employees are the greatest source for innovative ideas (Pearlson et al. 2016).  If your employees were in essence bricklayers, would they say that they are building a wall with each brick they lay each day or building a cathedral. The purpose and meaning of work gives a new focus and reason to show up each day.

Businesses in the 21st century have access to a wide range of communication methods to use with both internal and external audiences. From the traditional--business meetings and print--to the new age--social media and videoconferencing--businesses can use multiple tools to address audiences in locations near and far. While new methods of communication receive a great deal of attention, the traditional methods still have value and relevance.

Face-to-face communication can't be beat. According to an article in "Entrepreneur," 67 percent of senior executives and managers say their organizations would be more productive if their superiors communicated more often by personal discussion, based on the survey by NFI Research. But, while face-to-face communication is often preferred, it is not always realistic, particularly in companies that may be based in multiple locations--even around the world. Fortunately there are tools that make it possible to approximate face-to-face communication through videoconferencing, for instance, allowing even the largest companies to create personal connections between staff and management.

Email communication has become common in organizations and is an important tool for sharing information with one, or hundreds--even thousands--of employees, says Linda Pophal with Strategic Communications (Zhao, 2016). Email is often an important part of any communication plan, and while it may not replace face-to-face or other forms of communication, it is an inexpensive and readily accessible option.

Social media tools like Facebook can be used effectively within organizations to communicate between employees, departments, divisions and locations. Other tools like Yammer are designed specifically to create social media networks within the confines of a specific business domain.

Meetings remain common in most business settings, say Pophal, and can now be augmented through the use of technology tools that allow remote participants to take part in discussions, even if they are not physically on-site during the meeting (Bari et al. 2013). Effective meetings share key elements--an agenda, a facilitator and minutes that clearly outlines follow-up activities and assigns accountability for various tasks.

Businesses today are faced with multiple channels that can be used to reach potential customers. Where traditional businesses may have once relied solely on offline communications strategies to reach their prospective clients, many businesses today rely heavily on online methods to reach a more digitally savvy audience. While neither method is incorrect, businesses should not be limiting themselves to one or the other. To develop an effective, well rounded communications strategy, it is worthwhile to spend the time incorporating both online and offline communication methods. Here are some examples of online and offline communication methods that are effective in building the profile and reputation for your business.

Online communication strategies invest in social media while many businesses recognize the importance and value of social media, many don’t take the time to strategically think about how best to use the different platforms to their advantage (Ollier-Malaterre et al. 2013). When it comes to social media, you need to act just like you would at a real life networking event; you need to listen, respond, provide interesting conversation, monitor what people like, provide content people like and most importantly be yourself and inject a personality. Make the most of your business’ time on social media by creating a robust social media strategy.

Start blogging Blogs are an excellent platform to include in your business’ communication strategy. They are an effective way to communicate directly with your customers, bypass the media, share insights into your business, be known as an industry expert and create relationships with clientele (Arda, Benitez & Kim, 2013). It is important to produce quality and interesting content in order to engage your readers. Start by researching your target audience and try to determine what their interests are. Interesting blog content can involve:

Network with potential clients: Attending networking events your potential clients and customers would attend is a great start. Avoid attending events that aren’t related to your particular area of expertise. Network alone: To make the most out of each networking event you should attend the event alone. That way you will be encouraged to talk to new people instead of friends and colleagues. Network with confidence: Don’t wait for someone to approach you at a networking event – always try to make the first move. Introduce yourself to others and start discussions. Often it is easier to join a discussion with a larger group of people than approaching a discussion between two people. Networking is all about listening. Take the time to listen to other people and ask them about their businesses.

Implementing a code of conduct in the workplace involves communicating the policies and guidelines to all staff and providing any necessary training to ensure they understand the code. The code should be practiced and promoted by management to lead the way for staff.

Before you implement your code of conduct, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Which method will you use to implement the code?
  • How and when will you publicize the code, both inside and outside of your business?
  • What do you need to do so the values in your code are reflected in all relevant business policies and practices?

Induction training is a chance for employers and new employees to review and understand expectations and requirements (He, Niedermeier & De Meer, 2013). Along with a code of conduct, the induction package may include a training manual, mission statement, safety information or any other information that you wish to deliver to new employees.

One-on-one training

A business representative - such as the owner, manager, supervisor, HR staff member or trainer - could work through the code of conduct and other requirements and expectations with existing employees.

Online training course

Codes of conduct can be delivered online in a format that allows staff to work through topics at their own pace (although a deadline should be set to ensure it is done in a timely manner). After completing the course, staff should be able to print a competency certificate as proof that they understand the code.

Company intranet

Providing the code of conduct on the company intranet allows all staff to access it when they need to.

Employee handbook

A printed version of your employee handbook left in a communal area such as a staff room will provide staff easy access to the code of conduct when required.

Notice boards

A summary version of the full code of conduct can act as a reminder to staff. Different parts of the code can be highlighted in different parts of your office - for example, you can put up signs in kitchens about cleanliness and respect for others.

Get feedback from your staff to ensure that they understand the code of conduct and what is expected of them. If they don't fully understand some areas, provide appropriate training. For example:

  • physically show them designated smoking areas
  • give examples of websites that are inappropriate
  • Role-play a difficult phone call or sale and demonstrate how it should be handled.

Accepting the code

Ask staff to sign a document to say that they agree to abide by the code of conduct. This can minimize conflict if an employee violates the code and you need to take disciplinary action.

Conclusion

From the discussion, it can be concluded that Lateral and vertical relationships with other functional and business unit managers—all people outside their immediate control become a lifeline for figuring out how their own contributions fit into the big picture. Thus strategic networking plugs the aspiring leader into a set of relationships and information sources that collectively embody the power to achieve personal and organizational goals. Operating beside players with diverse affiliations, backgrounds, objectives, and incentives requires a manager to formulate business rather than functional objectives, and to work through the coalitions and networks needed to sell ideas and compete for resources.

References

Arda, H. E., Benitez, C. M., & Kim, S. K. (2013). Gene regulatory networks governing pancreas development. Developmental cell, 25(1), 5-13.

Bari, M. F., Chowdhury, S. R., Ahmed, R., & Boutaba, R. (2013, November). PolicyCop: An autonomic QoS policy enforcement framework for software defined networks. In Future Networks and Services (SDN4FNS), 2013 IEEE SDN For (pp. 1-7). IEEE.

Dekker, R., & Engbersen, G. (2014). How social media transform migrant networks and facilitate migration. Global Networks, 14(4), 401-418.

DePoy, E., & Gitlin, L. N. (2015). Introduction to Research-E-Book: Understanding and Applying Multiple Strategies. Elsevier Health Sciences.

Forsgren, M., & Johanson, J. (2014). Managing networks in international business. Routledge.

Gawer, A., & Cusumano, M. A. (2014). Industry platforms and ecosystem innovation. Journal of Product Innovation Management, 31(3), 417-433.

Gil, D. G. (2013). Confronting injustice and oppression: Concepts and strategies for social workers. Columbia University Press.

Grant, R. M. (2016). Contemporary Strategy Analysis Text Only. John Wiley & Sons.

Griths, M. D., Kuss, D. J., & Demetrovics, Z. (2014). Social networking addiction: An overview of preliminary findings. Behavioral addictions: Criteria, evidence and treatment, 119-141.

He, X., Niedermeier, M., & De Meer, H. (2013). Dynamic key management in wireless sensor networks: A survey. Journal of Network and Computer Applications, 36(2), 611-622.

Johanson, J., & Mattsson, L. G. (2015). Internationalisation in industrial systems—a network approach. In Knowledge, Networks and Power (pp. 111-132). Palgrave Macmillan UK.

Kang, J., Tang, L., & Fiore, A. M. (2014). Enhancing consumer–brand relationships on restaurant Facebook fan pages: Maximizing consumer benefits and increasing active participation. International Journal of Hospitality Management, 36, 145-155.

Kleymann, B., & Seristö, H. (2017). Managing strategic airline alliances. Routledge.

McCormack, K. P., & Johnson, W. C. (2016). Supply chain networks and business process orientation: advanced strategies and best practices. CRC Press.

Ollier-Malaterre, A., Rothbard, N. P., & Berg, J. M. (2013). When worlds collide in cyberspace: How boundary work in online social networks impacts professional relationships. Academy of Management Review, 38(4), 645-669.

Pearlson, K. E., Saunders, C. S., & Galletta, D. F. (2016). Managing and Using Information Systems, Binder Ready Version: A Strategic Approach. John Wiley & Sons.

Ross, D. F. (2015). Distribution Planning and control: managing in the era of supply chain management. Springer.

Semrau, T., & Werner, A. (2014). How exactly do network relationships pay off? The effects of network size and relationship quality on access to start?up resources. Entrepreneurship Theory and Practice, 38(3), 501-525.

Seyfang, G., & Longhurst, N. (2013). Desperately seeking niches: Grassroots innovations and niche development in the community currency field. Global Environmental Change, 23(5), 881-891.

Seyfang, G., & Longhurst, N. (2013). Desperately seeking niches: Grassroots innovations and niche development in the community currency field. Global Environmental Change, 23(5), 881-891.

Stam, W., Arzlanian, S., & Elfring, T. (2014). Social capital of entrepreneurs and small firm performance: A meta-analysis of contextual and methodological moderators. Journal of Business Venturing, 29(1), 152-173.

Tunca, C., Isik, S., Donmez, M. Y., & Ersoy, C. (2014). Distributed mobile sink routing for wireless sensor networks: A survey. IEEE communications surveys & tutorials, 16(2), 877-897.

Vernuccio, M. (2014). Communicating corporate brands through social media: An exploratory study. International Journal of Business Communication, 51(3), 211-233.

Wimmer, A. (2013). Ethnic boundary making: Institutions, power, networks. Oxford University Press.

Zhao, S. (2016). Chinese foreign policy: Pragmatism and strategic behavior. Routledge.

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