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Network‑Based Leadership: The Answer to Transition Success

Network Leader
June 12, 2023
minute read

Network Leader recently held a webinar with one of the world’s eminent thought leaders on professional and social networks, Greg Pryor. The webinar, hosted by Nick Petrie, Network Leader’s head of design and delivery, addressed the following topics: 

  • Research and insights on why network-based skills are the answer to transition success for key employees.
  • Network-based strategies to empower your people to quickly adapt to organizational movement through collaboration.
  • How to build diverse networks that make employees more innovative, resilient, and impactful in the organization
  • Setting new employees on the best path to success inside an organization by eliminating an individual-based, transactional mindset into a collective, networking mindset.
  • Leveraging networks-first thinking to stem attrition.
  • Eliminating uncertainty from the workplace by showing employees how to establish and propagate three different forms of trust: benevolence, competence, and integrity.

The full recording of the webinar is here.

About the speaker: Greg Pryor

Greg is an experienced talent management leader and co-founder of the Connected Commons, a community of business and academic leaders providing the social network science research and resources required to effectively operate in the NEXT world of work. Greg’s articles and work on the growing importance of positive and productive connections at work have been featured in the Harvard Business Review, Fortune, Forbes, MIT Sloan Management Review and Organization Dynamics. Greg’s HBR Cover Story article on How to Succeed in a New Role has been selected as one of the 10 definitive management ideas of the year from Harvard Business Review. Until December of 2021, Greg served as the Senior Vice President and People & Performance Evangelist at Workday, where he helped the company achieve extraordinary growth while being recognized as one of the world’s best places to work. The Great Place to Work Institute recognized Greg’s pioneering work on employee experience and culture with their Innovator of the Year Award in 2019.

Before Workday, Greg served as Juniper Networks’ Vice President of Talent where he helped create Juniper’s Talent Matters Practice that has been featured as a pioneering performance management practice by the Corporate Executive Board, Mercer and Strategy & Business. Greg also served as Head of Talent Management for Merrill Lynch’s Global Technology and Operations function and was a Partner in Accenture’s Human Performance Practice.

On the importance of professional networks

From Greg’s perspective, until recently traditional talent management initiatives lacked a full appreciation of how organizations work, how work gets done, and where the future of work is going. He discovered how networks are fundamental to the way individuals and companies accomplish goals, especially with respect to the social cohesion of teams. Specifically, Greg discussed how network science is one of the most important if not the most underappreciated and high value domains in the talent management and human capital management space. Going forward, the changing nature of work will lead to more emphasis on understanding how our connections and our networks contribute to individual and team success. 

Watch a clip from the webinar here: 

On transitions of leaders

Approximately ten years ago, Greg noticed an intense focus on institutional agility, and how organizations were positioning themselves for agility; skills to support individuals to become more agile; and a dramatic increase in the collaborative intensity of work. The increased velocity spawned a virtuous cycle where individuals needed to move more frequently onto new projects and work with new teams. With social agility a critical success factor, it became essential to understand how people join new teams, and how they no longer just rely on their personal competencies, but how they can accelerate those new connections. 

Watch a clip from the webinar here: 

Foes until we’re friends

Greg talked in detail about how our brains have been physiologically evolved through millions and millions of years to actually process people who are new to us through the fear centers of the brain, versus those people who we perceive as part of the in group. But when individuals have a sense of psychological safety, we process them in fundamentally different ways. It takes about three to five years for the average person to replicate the networks of a high performer. So, who's able to hit the ground running in a new role and who has those trusted relationships are seen as insiders. These individuals have both bridging and bonding connections across the organization that allow their ideas to get pulled into the organization. In short, professional and company success depend on how fast high performers are able to join new teams, be seen and viewed as trusted insiders with valuable contributions. 

Watch a clip from the webinar here: 

On shifts from hierarchy to peer-driven leadership

While hierarchical structures inside organizations continue to exist, the opportunity to accelerate one's contribution in an organization comes primarily from your peers. In the past, new leaders would push their way into organizations to make contributions. Today, fast movers position themselves to get pulled into the network. Based on hundreds of interviews with leaders, it became clear that success depended on being considered an insider with the right connections which contributed to a sense of belonging. Peers who challenge others to think differently can be vital allies in one’s career trajectory.

On unlocking your network

The ability to unlock what we know is often dependent on who we know. Individuals activate their capabilities through connections, and those connections allow you to spread your ideas and diffuse your reputation.

Watch a clip from the webinar here: 

On what separates fast movers from the crowd

They're very intentional about who they connect with. Counterintuitively, fast movers don’t thrust themselves onto others but rather ask others to outline their team’s priorities and then position what they’ve done in the past, to accelerate and amplify, to connect and support and empower what's important to others. This strategy neurologically positions the individual as an insider to you, it starts to move from foe to how can the new person help.  In addition, fast movers ask new connections to make introductions to their connections which dramatically increases that person’s ability to connect with people in the network. When fast movers catapult themselves to the center of the network, they find themselves being increasingly indispensable. After nine to 12 months, fast movers actually begin refining their networks so they don’t become overloaded. 

On refining networks

Fast movers intentionally refine their networks to avoid overload through streamlining, collaboration, sculpting and crafting a role that brings them energy and joy. If one is too central in the network, it really restricts one’s ability to learn to grow, to be exposed to new things, and to have your next career move, or career experience in mind.

On decision making bias

Individuals who lack open networks risk decision making bias because they don’t experience exposure of the full picture. The antidote to this is to spend time understanding people in different regions at different career levels across different functions. 

On relational benefits

There are a series of relational benefits you get from your network, and you should be very intentional about why you’re engaging with each. Networks can share new insights, offer innovation, diffuse information, energize you, broker connections, etc. It’s important to understand what you’re trying to achieve before going to a particular contact or network. 

Watch the full recording of the webinar here.

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