Networking has been and will continue to be a critical component to business and social communications. Certainly we have all relied on networking at some point in our career. What’s interesting is how networking has changed and evolved with each generation.
Today, four generations of employees co-exist in the workplace. Their communication styles are all different and the way they utilize networks vary. Regardless of these differences, there is much to be learned and shared across generations around networking and relationship building.
The Four Generations
Traditionalist (currently age 62 and above) prefer a more formal networking structure. They tend to build their network through existing business and personal relationships. They make introductions through others with whom they have established respect and trust. They prefer to network and communicate face-to-face. Traditionalists pride themselves on customer focus, dedication and loyalty. By achieving this, they are able to form long-standing relationships. They are also philanthropic and expand their network through participation in various voluntary capacities such as: religious affiliations, country clubs, non-profit organizations, etc. Traditionalist network mostly with those in their own generation or the generation below them. It’s rare that they network with Gen X or Gen Y unless it is required for business purposes.
My father, a traditionalist who still works full-time, is someone that knows a lot about networking and relationship building. In fact, we joke within our family that he can go nowhere – including on vacation outside of the country – without running into someone he knows. When I asked him what we can learn from his generation about networking he said the following, “focus on customer service, be active in business and social organizations, give back, take leadership roles and don’t ever be afraid to ask for a referral.”
Baby Boomers (currently ages 43-61) are very relationship-oriented individuals. They utilize business and social networks for many reasons including the opportunity to meet and mentor others. This generation has seen the power of networking through cultural change that they were able to drive during their lifetime. For example, the civil rights movement. In business, Baby Boomers are team oriented and use networks to establish and further relationships. At times, their emphasis on relationship building can cause frustration with the younger generations who feel that Baby Boomers take too long to make decisions due to involving many in the process.
Generation X (currently ages 27-42) use of networks is more inwardly focused. This generation is more likely to utilize networks for business opportunity and personal growth rather than socializing. That’s not to say that all Gen Xers are self-centered or anti-social but research has shown that they have a smaller, tighter group of friends and networks. They focus more on internal networking, for example, within the company they are working, then external networking. They also favor more on-line networking resources.
A Gen Xer myself, I spent over 17 years working in large, global corporations. While employed within those organizations, my internal network was large and strong. It wasn’t until I started my own business a few years ago that I realized my external network was lacking. It’s taken time, energy and getting out of my comfort zone to build my network. Now, I am amazed in a relatively short period of time at the relationships I have established and the networking skills I have developed. There’s no question in my mind that building a broad network is essential. Especially, in these economic times, ones network can play a key role in employment and business opportunities.
Generation Y (currently ages 7-26) have embraced the concept of networking early on. Their use of networks starts for social purposes at an early age with the use of on-line resources such as My Space and Facebook. They are the first generation that will be able to maintain and keep a relationship network through the internet from the time they are young through their adult years. By their teen years, they literally have hundreds of cyber “friends” that they communicate with on a regular basis. They have also been engaged in other forms of networking through extracurricular activities and volunteer opportunities. They really have brought a whole new light to networking and will continue to shape it well into the future. Gen Y has no problem including all generations in their network and can see the value from a diversity perspective.
Networking Tips to Share Across the Generations
The bottom line is that each generation networks in different ways, and for different reasons, but all four generations understand its importance and value. Following are some key networking tips that are beneficial across generations:
· Leverage existing relationships to build your network – you will probably be surprised by how many people you know when you really think about it. Start by making a simple list and build from there. Never underestimate the power of a relationship even if it’s one that was formed just moments ago.
· Be willing to experience new ways of networking – there are many, many ways to network that don’t always involve meeting face-to-face. Regardless of your age, try something new. If you typically use on-line networking resources, expand your horizons by attending a few networking events in person. If you’re more of a face-to-face networker, join an on-line network.
· Get involved in a variety of networks – there are literally thousands of different networks available for both social and business purposes. Do your research and talk to others to determine which ones most closely align with your needs and expectations. Once you find a few organizations you enjoy, make an effort to utilize them regularly.
· Practice active listening – remember it’s not all about you. Networking is a give-and-take relationship and one that requires strong listening skills. As you form relationships, make sure that you are really listening for not only what it can offer you but what you can offer to it.
Kim Huggins is the President of K HR Solutions, LLC based in Harleysville, PA. Her company offers services in the areas of organizational effectiveness, leadership development and team dynamics. Kim is a nationally recognized trainer and speaker on the topic of Generational Differences.