In a world where virtual working becomes more and more common, networks are also becoming more and more important. A network can help you meet new people and advance your career. However, there is also organisational value.

A study by McKinsey concluded that “formal structures of companies, as manifested in their organizational charts, don’t explain how most of their real day-to-day work gets done. So it’s unfortunate, at a time when the ability to create value increasingly depends on the ideas and intangibles of talented workers, that corporate leaders don’t do far more to harness the power of informal networks”. The study advised that: “companies can design and manage new formal structures that boost the value of networks and promote effective horizontal networking across the vertical silos of so many enterprises today.

Taking into account the many networks that don’t even pass the two-year mark, this raises the question what makes networks work and what lessons they teach us for strengthening the networks we have. Yolanda, a Finance Improvement Specialist at Shell outlines the steps for creating networks that work.

“Let’s first define “network”. In this article, the term network can mean many things. A network is a group of people who are held together by a shared common interest. Members may come from different organizations or perspectives. A network can be formal and informal. It could be a professional association, a sports team, an employee network or a team of accounting experts in the organisation. A network is different from a project team as a project team is held together by a task. When the task is accomplished, the team is ended.

Here is how to increase your odds of creating a network that will last long enough to have an impact:

lady with smile on her face

1. Start small, and build upon successes

All things take time to create. So don’t expect to accomplish something or achieve success immediately. Look at the longer term and make sure there is a sustainable model. Listen to the network members (via surveys or coffee chats). This is important as the members of the network should really drive the content. Consider how technology can help you be more effective, for example, by launching a collaboration site (for example on SharePoint) with an event calendar, by meeting virtually or by using a survey to get input from members.

Ilonka van Osch, Head PSA Accounting in Qatar, says: “In 2012 the Shell Cost Recovery Forum was initiated. The purpose of the forum is to share knowledge between Operating Companies and Service Providers on cost recovery. Through this forum issues are discussed and best practice solutions are shared. It raises awareness and improves end to end collaboration.

2. Define a vision

“If you decide to go ahead and start up a network, the first step is to define your aim. It sounds simple, but it is key to building a shared vision. Also define measurable targets. Everyone likes to be on a winning team and showing results can be a great boost.

Even if you think a network will grow only slowly, life can surprise you. Recognise that organisational planning at the beginning goes along with a vision of what success would look like in ten years. This will help you look for opportunities.

In 1999, the Certified Financial Analyst (CFA) Society in the Netherlands was founded. There was already a similar network in the Netherlands for investment professionals. The network needed financial sponsorship, but had no achievements to share with potential sponsors. The vision statement set the right direction and convinced the first sponsors to help build the foundation of the society. Since 1999, the membership base has grown to over 700 members today.”

3. Get the right team to help you set up the network

“There is nothing wrong with approaching influential people to join your team. However, enthusiasm and diversity should be more important to get the right team together to drive a network forward.

In 2005, the Platform for Professional Women networks (PFPWN) was founded in the Netherlands. The Platform connects women’s networks from various companies, including profit and non-profit organisations. The platform started small with only six members. Each network provided a board member with complimentary skill sets. A Communications Professional was nominated by Unilever, an HR Professional by Cap Gemini, a Finance Professional by the Shell Women’s Network and a Change Manager by Ahold.

The Chairs of the women’s networks could have been the logical choice as board members. However, it was unlikely that they would have had the time to drive the network. The enthusiasm of the first board paid off. Within three years after founding, the platform had tripled in size.”

4. Get something on the calendar asap

“To start a network, you need an event so you have something specific to invite people to. But just as important, already get a second event into the calendar too, so people leave the first event with something else to look forward to and get excited about.”

5. Be willing to promote your network in any way possible

“Many people seem to have a natural talent for speaking in public. Others are great writers. If you are one of those, congratulations! If not, don’t let this stop you from promoting your network.

Promote your network anytime and anywhere. This could be in the elevator moving from the 1st floor to the 4th floor. This could be via an article in My News. Someone with a clear vision combined with strong drive, will usually be able to sell their vision to others, irrespective of any talents they may have for writing or public speaking.

Networks can help you meet new people and advance your career. They helps you build skills, such as speaking in public, writing articles, building content for a website. Networks increase the value of collaboration by reducing the search and co-ordination costs of connecting parties who have related knowledge and interest.

And what is more important, they are fun.”

Shell currently has a number of finance career opportunities open, search our job vacancies for more information and to apply.

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