CoachingMentoringWhite Paper

Extracted from DDI White Paper – Strong Start to Job Success 

by: Dr W C Byham with MDQ comments on the application in coaching and mentoring

Courageous Networking defined

Courageous Networking is the proactive relationship-building and information-seeking behaviour that new hires engage in to help them become quickly proficient in the job. The name “courageous” networking is used because the behaviour does not come easily to many individuals. While it may be second nature to individuals who are outgoing and gregarious, those less given to seeking help or interacting freely with others may require support or encouragement.

Help new team members become Courageous Networkers. No activity a new team member can engage in will accelerate his speed to proficiency more than seeking the help of peers and others in the organization with assignments and projects. We refer to this behaviour as Courageous Networking (see definition above).

Courageous Networking encompasses a set of behaviours that can include, but are not limited to:

  • Seeking input or advice from others before performing an unfamiliar job duty.
  • Asking for an explanation when a work procedure or task is unfamiliar.
  • Building relationships with influential people in the workplace who may, at some future time, be a source of information, skills, etc.
  • Taking action on feedback from colleagues or leaders.
  • Seeking information about the internal politics of the team, department, or company.
  • Seeking out a mentor at work.

Seeking help to attain information, build skills, or enhance knowledge is only half of networking. The other half is opening a mutual channel of sharing. Networks won’t last unless networking is a two-way street.

The illustration below shows how an individual can be encouraged to grow his or her networking skills in stages and, thus, develop “advanced” Courageous Networking skills.

After a person is settled in his job, networking with people outside of the immediate work group becomes more important.

Often, people within a workgroup or team have much the same information, so there isn’t a lot to share. The big payoff comes from people beyond day-to-day contacts, people who can provide a greater organizational perspective or people from different technical specialities. The skills required for this level of networking are trainable.

Michael, a leader in a large organization, hired two new team members, Colleen and Luis. Both were highly educated and technically competent. Within Colleen and Luis’ first weeks on the job, Michael gave each of them an assignment—a report that needed to be researched and written. Colleen, a naturally gregarious person, immediately reached out to her new peers for help. She found out how similar assignments were usually handled, and determined Michael’s expectations for the report’s length and format.

Within a couple of weeks, Colleen completed the assignment. But, more important, she had begun to build her network of internal contacts — people she would be able to reach out to for future projects. Colleen was a Courageous Networker.

Luis, meanwhile, tried to complete the project on his own, without seeking out others. He made two wrong assumptions at the outset, which led to Michael rejecting his report. In fact, Michael wound up taking the project off of Luis’ plate and giving it to Colleen who, by drawing on and further expanding her network, was able to complete it quickly. Luis was not a Courageous Networker.

Courageous Networking does not come naturally to all people. For many, this is just not how they operate. In fact, often Courageous Networking is thought to be gender-related — women are better at it — similar to their greater willingness to ask for directions. (A July 2007 New York Times article drawing on anecdotal evidence supports this observation.[1]) Yet it’s a behaviour that is related to job success and should be encouraged, whether or not the individual is a natural networker.

One reason for its effectiveness is that Courageous Networking helps people to learn from their successes as opposed to their mistakes. If Luis had begun his project by asking questions of others instead of trying to do things all on his own (and doing them wrong), he probably would have been able to successfully complete the project. The success would have reinforced his decision to join the organization and work with the people in it. Instead, in the wake of his initial, humiliating misstep, Luis started to rethink his decision to leave his old job. There he knew how things worked, what was going on, and who did what — insights he had attained through trial-and-error over several years. To hedge against the possibility that he would make more mistakes, Luis put his résumé back on a couple of major Internet job boards, “just to see what comes up.”

Research has proved that Courageous Networking is effective. In a 2007 article published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, the authors presented the results of their meta-analysis of 70 different studies of the successes of new hires.

Among their findings was that information seeking — the core behaviour or Courageous Networking — “was significantly related to role clarity, self-efficacy (self-confidence), and social acceptance”— outcomes that, in turn, positively impacted job performance, job satisfaction, organizational commitment, and intention to remain with the organization.[2]

The challenge for leaders is to encourage a strong start toward Courageous Networking. Yet, many don’t, even though it clearly accelerates time to proficiency. (The outcome for Luis in the example above might have been different if Michael had realized that Luis wasn’t a Courageous Networker and had given him specific directions to check with others, while also encouraging and supporting him in his networking efforts).

Leaders often do not promote Courageous Networking because they believe that they have given the new hire all the needed information and if more is needed, the individual will get it on his own and doesn’t need to be encouraged to ask questions of others.

What’s more, some leaders view Courageous Networking as a time-consuming, as opposed to a time-saving, activity.

There are at least five ways leaders can encourage a strong start toward Courageous Networking. They include:

  1. Probing for competencies associated with Courageous Networking (e.g., Collaboration) during the selection process. Questions included in a Targeted Selection® interview can elicit data about an individual’s past Courageous Networking behaviours. Armed with this information, a leader can either determine that the lack of Courageous Networking is an important piece of information that needs to be seriously considered when making a hiring decision about the individual or else note the area as a development opportunity once the individual is hired.
  2. Courageous Networking can be covered by the leader in the orientation discussion with the individual. Alongside the description of the job provided to new team members, underscoring the need to get to know people and what they do, and to seek the help of others can help focus the individuals’ efforts.
  3. Assign a coach or buddy. Peer coaches or assigned “buddies” can be invaluable in helping a new team member navigate the uncharted territory that is his new organization. A peer buddy, who sits nearby and is readily available, can often prove especially helpful as the new employee seeks answers to the most basic questions, such as “Where is the kitchen located?” and “How does the copier work?” as well as more meaningful information about customers or projects. Working with an assigned buddy orients an individual to the value of Courageous Networking and encourages him to develop other “buddies” on his own.
    Courageous Networking is a Third Millennium Skill
    Given today’s fast-paced, interconnected, increasingly virtual organizations, an individual team member’s actions and decisions can positively or negatively impact others on the team – sometimes even the organization as a whole. In this environment, Courageous Networking is not just a skill that builds confidence through early success and accelerates time to proficiency, it’s also a survival skill for employees. With greater frequency, organizations find that Courageous Networkers are most likely to be successful. These individuals prove to be team players, work collaboratively, pitch in when others have a problem, seek insight for themselves, and provide aid to others.
    However, assigning a new hire a buddy doesn’t necessarily mean that the two will prove to be “buddies.” How much time will the assigned buddy be willing to devote to the assignment —especially if the new team member doesn’t seem very interested? The leader needs to play a monitoring role to ensure that these relationships prove valuable.
  4. Promote interactions between the new team member and his new coworkers. Some ideas: organize a lunch where the new team member can meet co-workers in an informal setting; give the new team member early assignments that require assistance from others and coach the individual through the information-seeking process; have “welcome” balloons at the new employee’s desk on the first day as a visible reminder to others to stop in and say hello and introduce themselves.
  5. Help identify networking targets. A challenge for many new hires is knowing with whom to network when faced with a particular problem or task. Some organizations post a chart similar to the one depicted below to serve as a reference. This chart, which shows the degree of knowledge or proficiency of each team member in critical areas, also acts as a powerful motivator for those listed to increase their skills or knowledge.


  6. Identify those who need encouragement and provide them with special coaching. Leaders who must manage several new team members at a given time may find it challenging, if not overwhelming, to give all of them the coaching and encouragement needed to transform them into Courageous Networkers. An alternative is to identify those team members in most need of this encouragement and focus efforts on them.

When leaders encourage Courageous Networking

New team members feel:

  • More comfortable because they know where to turn for help.
  • That they have a better understanding of how the organization works.
  • More like accepted members of the team.

Leaders feel:

  • That they have helped to open the line of communications for the new hire, which will in turn help lead to job success.
  • That the whole team is involved in helping get the new hires off to a strong start.

Courageous Networking by job level

Courageous Networking provides benefits regardless of the job role or level. Here’s what Courageous Networking might look like at three different job levels:

Frontline team member:

  • Seeks help from other team members on how to use the department’s time tracking system.
  • Asks coworkers for assistance in completing a large, deadline-driven project.
  • Shares with others tips learned in past jobs for quickly completing common job-related tasks.

Leader:

  • Consults with peers for ideas on best way to communicate a major change that impacts the leader’s team members.
  • Asks leaders from accounting and IT to help devise a process to streamline employee expense reporting.
  • Asks a respected senior leader to serve as an informal mentor.

Senior Management:

  • Initiates quarterly meetings with employees at different levels to get their take on the business and the organization’s culture.
  • Seeks input and “historical perspective” from senior leaders who have long tenures with the organization.
  • Consults with leaders from outside of the organization or industry to find out how they approach challenges similar to those facing the company

MDQ comments on this article

The concept of encouraging and supporting a new recruit’s networking capability illustrates points from both our coaching and mentoring practice.

Line managers’ coaching responsibilities are well illustrated in the case study. The manager allocates a task but does not check his/her subordinate’s understanding of the task and does not give some helpful hints on resources available. The role of Manager as Coach would include ensuring understanding and working through possible approaches to the task, including where to find help.

David Clutterbuck’s seminal depiction of the role of a mentor is shown below and includes an important role to assist the mentee in building his or her networks.

Specific assistance roles falling within the Networking Facilitator role include, as above, bridging (which might include offering introductions through the mentor’s own networks) and catalyst (which might include assisting the mentee to identify potentially useful contacts). Note that the Networking Facilitator role lies in the Self-Reliance/Learning quadrant of the diagram.

Thus, for a new recruit, having a line manager who has been training in coaching skills and a mentor to assist with transition tasks, will prove to be a valuable investment.

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[1] Tugend, A. (2007, July 7). Why is asking for help so difficult? The New York Times, p. B5.

[2] Bauer, T.N., Bodner, T., Erdogen, B., Truxillo, D.M., & Tucker, J.S. (2007). Newcomer adjustment during organizational socialization: A meta-analytic review of antecedents, outcomes, and methods. Journal of Applied Psychology, 92(3), 707–721.