Network size is not a critical predictor of performance for most people. But your network’s structure is strongly associated with success.
Top performers are more likely to have what is called a non-insular network. They invest in boundary spanning relationships and position themselves at inflection points in organizational networks.
A Non-Insular Network Drives Success
Remember when everyone was talking about the game Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon? That’s a great way to visualize this kind of network. To play, you try to connect any actor to Kevin Bacon by way of the network of films and actors. An actor like Jennifer Lawrence who has appeared in a movie with Bacon is one step away; Michael Douglas is two steps away.
It is difficult to name any actor from the history of film who is more than three steps away from Bacon. But the magic in Bacon’s network is not its size, but how he is positioned within the movie universe. He is central—though not the most central—because he has starred in different genres and so has ties spanning action, comedy, thriller, drama and family movies. He created a non-insular network.
This stands in contrast to actors like Jim Carey who have invested in a single genre. Their lack of ties that bridge genres makes them much less central in the entire movie network.
Network research has consistently shown the value of these non-insular networks. Strategically leveraging these bridging relationships allows you to see the big picture, generate innovative solutions by integrating the expertise of those with unique backgrounds, bypass bureaucratic gridlock and obtain resources and support. Having a broad network also helps you identify and access opinion leaders or influencers needed to gain support and execute work.
Over 20 years of mapping networks and individual performance in over 300 organizations, I have found that this network strategy—creating ties across function, geography and expertise—is the second biggest predictor of performance!
Another Surprising Predictor of Performance
What is the number one predictor of performance?
Counterintuitively, it is how people engage the network.
A lot of us waste time and collaborative energy chasing people, things and ideas. We push our way into the network.
A better approach is to create a flow of people and ideas to you. I call this creating pull. By interacting with people in specific ways, your network becomes a living entity that funnels good things your way.
My quantitative research shows that people who do this well are four times as likely to be high performers as those who don’t. The behaviors include:
- Building trust.
- Injecting energy into situations.
- Generating a feeling of purpose, meaning or impact.
Some people have a real knack for this.
By understanding both the hidden network structures and the power of how you interact within the network, you can gauge the health of your personal network. Then, consider the subtle—perhaps counterintuitive—ways you might cultivate your network to address a current goal or challenge.
Want to learn more about the research and specific actions to take? Check out Collaboration Without Burnout in the Harvard Business Review or read our white paper, The Invisible Network Strategies of Successful People: Counterintuitive Ways to Innovate, Execute and Thrive at Work. Or put the ideas into practice for yourself using our Collaborative Overload Tools.Share!