Julia Palmer, Relatus
Julia Palmer, Relatus

The ability to forge meaningful connections is becoming crucial for HR as workplaces grow more networked and interpersonal capabilities gain importance, a relational strategist says.

But most HR professionals still network randomly and haven't given their connections much thought, Relatus CEO Julia Palmer tells an HR Daily Premium webcast.

The majority of webinar attendees (60%) described themselves as "accidental" networkers, and only 20% reported being "strategic" networkers.

Some 62% had never thought about mapping their connections, while the remaining 38% had not done so in any formal way.

But there are ways to transform networking from a dreaded task to a fruitful pathway, Palmer says.

"I'd say number one is really know your purpose. Number two would be engage meaningfully, and we've talked to both of these things in terms of the non-verbal and the verbal [communication], and obviously the goal setting as well.

"Investing in those two-way reciprocal relationships, so really knowing who's in your network and strengthening those would be number three. Number four: you actually need to prioritise relationships. It's got to be habitual, you almost need to diarise it so that you’re not caught up on a project, on a job, and the next thing you know six months, 12 months have passed and you haven’t talked to that person.

"Last but not least, you need to be future focused. You need to really think about what's coming around the corner."

Fostering employee networks

Meanwhile, as organisations move away from formal hierarchies and flatter structures towards more networked workplaces, HR has a big role to play in fostering connections, Palmer says.

The aim is to boost efficiency, and this is achieved in networked structures by ensuring individuals are motivated, engaged, and connected enough to get the job done.

"As we move forward, we're looking at more of a team-based network structure, kind of project-driven in a way, and it's really exciting because the onus then is on the individual, and the more those individuals can access information, can access other people in the organisation, can access external people, we know that that will only impact their productivity and therefore the profitability of the organisation," Palmer says.

"That scares a lot of people. The reason for that is because, pretty much you're saying that everyone can engage with whoever they want to get the job done.

"If we can start shifting towards that network structure, then we're creating those human paths and abilities."

Of the webinar attendees, however, 25% said their organisation does not foster a networked, collaborative environment.

Creating more highly networked organisations is also becoming crucial in light of the rise of "skills of the heart", Palmer says, referencing a recent Deloitte study.

Today's jobs require workers to use their heads rather than their hands, but the next progression is jobs of the 'heart', and eight of the nine skills required for this are in shortage.

The skills required for such jobs include empathy, communication, emotional intelligence, interpersonal skills, and creative skills, Palmer says.

Professional networks and relational capabilities are therefore crucial in an environment where soft skills are playing an increasingly important role, she adds.

Palmer provides a checklist for organisations as well as networking strategies and tips, indicators of networking success, and more in the full webcast, accessible with HR Daily Premium membership – upgrade here if you're not a premium member.