Network training refers to the process of learning about effective professional networks and how to develop and maintain them. Network development refers to the actual process of building and strengthening one's professional network.
But network training doesn't always lead to network development.
According to Kristin Cullen-Lester and coauthors (2022) effective network training typically has three objectives:
Objective #1: Approach network development intentionally
The first objective is to help trainees understand the importance of intentionally building and maintaining their professional networks. Many people believe that their networks will form naturally and that they don't need to actively work on building and maintaining connections. They are mistaken!
Research has identified a number of biases (proximity, immediacy, homophily, relational inertia) that undermine the effectiveness of networks that develop naturally. In short, as humans we tend to develop relationships with people who we interact with frequently, need to work with currently, and to whom we’re similar. Once we develop these relationships its hard for us to let them go. Network training aims to help people overcome these biases and approach developing their network in a more intentional and proactive way. This involves taking active steps to build and maintain professional connections, rather than relying on them to form naturally.
Objective #2: Learn the Characteristics of Effective Networks
The second objective is for trainees to learn the characteristics of effective networks. Effective networks are open, diverse, deep, and resource rich. These characteristics enhance workplace effectiveness, career prospects, and well-being. See Part 1 in this series to learn about those characteristics.
Objective #3: Identifying Network Development Needs
The third objective is for trainees identify their specific network development needs. The Leader Network Diagnostic provides trainees with personalized feedback based on a comparison of their current professional network to the characteristics of effective networks. For example, in a recent study 82% of trainees received feedback that they needed to open up their networks. This means that their networks were too closed off and they needed to build relationships with people outside of their existing professional circles. 55% of trainees were told that they needed to diversify their networks, meaning that they needed to increase the number of different perspectives represented in their connections. Only 5% of trainees were told that they needed to deepen their networks, meaning that they needed to strengthen their relationships with their contacts in order to build trust and mutual understanding.
This feedback helps people identify what changes they need to make in order to improve the effectiveness of their network.
Achieving these objectives of network training prepares people, but the "real work" of network development happens when people actively invest time and effort into building and maintaining their professional connections. Network training provides people the tools they need to do this effectively.
In Part 3 of this series, we’ll discuss why people struggle to use what they learn in training to actually develop their networks.
In the meantime read Crossing the Bridge from Network Training to Development: A Guide to Move Trainees from Classroom Insights to Effective Networks to learn more.