Anyone who hopes to hit the ground running in a new organization must first cultivate allies — a network of people who can provide the information, resources and support needed to succeed. But few onboarding programs offer concrete advice on how to build those all-important connections.
Our research over the past decade shows that replicating the network of an established employee in a strong culture typically takes three to five years. But recently we began to wonder if there was a way to accelerate that process. Could we develop a better blueprint for newcomer networking?
We started by tracking people joining companies with employee bases ranging from a few hundred to more than 40,000 people and pairing their progress in making social connections with monthly attrition data. The goal was to find newcomers who got connected (and productive) much more quickly than peers starting at the same time and who stayed in the organization through milestones, such as the first nine months and the two- to four-year tenure band, at which flight risk is greatest.
We found a few surprises. First, contrary to popular opinion, “brand-building” across a very broad network was not necessarily better; in fact, it was correlated with departures in years two to four.
Successful newcomers were instead more selective and less superficial in their outreach. They still set up a lot of exploratory meetings, but they used them to ask plenty of questions, offer expertise and assistance where they were able, create mutual wins, and generate energy. Greg Pryor, head of talent at Workday, which partnered with us on this research, describes the difference as working to pull people into your network rather than pushing your way into theirs. “We teach our people how to draw people to their ideas and create energy in interactions from day one,” he explains. “When you embrace the approach, you’re much more likely to connect well.”
We also found — again contrary to conventional wisdom — that newcomers do not need a strong tie to a formal mentor or leader in their first nine months. More important for their long-term success was early contact with key opinion leaders — those well connected in the organization’s networks, who were able to confer know-how and legitimacy — as well as to fellow newcomers, with whom they could form affinity groups.
BY- Rob Cross & Peter Gray