Networking Competence and Its Interdependencies: Own Study Results

Empirical evidence is required ro prove or disprove rhe main thesis— stating that amid the growing importance of knowledge, developing network organization forms in management, and increasing ownership of one’s career, knowledge workers achieve career success and enhance their employability by demonstrating networking competence—as well as the hypotheses derived from it.

Consequently, this chapter presents findings from analyses of the empirical material collected within the qualitative and quantitative portions of the study. To identify and evaluate the networking competence of knowledge workers, it reports the results of focus group interviews on the meaning and manifestations of networking competence, validation of the developed networking competence scale, and the analysis of variability in networking competence and other latent variables among knowledge workers depending on their demographic, professional, and organizational characteristics. Associations between networking competence and its predictors (network organization and knowledge work) as well as its dependent variables (career success and employability) are tested using two types of statistical analysis, namely regression and structural equation modeling.

Analysis of Focus Group Interview Results

The primary objective of the focus groups interviews was to identify networking competence manifestations in terms of establishing and maintaining professional contacts remotely and in person. Considering the hypothesized differences in the quality of networking competence between the three selected professions, respondents from each field (IT and mathematics, medicine and healthcare, and education and training) were interviewed so as to accomplish the research objective regarding the identification of differences between representatives of the three professions. The respondents were knowledge workers or had experience in building social networks.

During FGIs, networking competence was first defined and identified as the main topic of discussion. Once respondents accepted the working definition of networking competence, they engaged in discussion on situations in which this competence is manifested and on any behavioral manifestations that help one identify it. In the interviews, respondents described a number of situations in which networking competence is needed for performing one’s current and future work. Situations conducive to networking competence manifestation included:

a. Sharing knowledge to confirm that one has high competences

b. Selling services and winning clients

c. Planning and implementing new projects that exceed the scope of one’s duties at work

d. Performing tasks other than usual at work

e. Finding new employees for one’s organization

f. Solving difficult problems

g. Continuous learning and development

h. Activity on social media platforms dedicated to professionals

i. Attending conferences, symposiums, and trainings

j. Attending team-building events

k. Collaboration with mass media

1) Membership in professional associations m. Attending occasional private and professional meetings.

At the FGI stage, the theoretical model comprised four networking competence sub-categories: establishing contact personally, establishing contact remotely, maintaining contact personally, and maintaining contact remotely. Establishment of contact aims at entering into a new professional relationship. It can be done in person, when one enters into direct contact with an individual or a group. Maintaining contact aims at managing one’s social network in such a way as to obtain the resources necessary for one’s current or future work from the other network actors. As in the case of establishing contact, it can be done in person, although direct interaction with individuals who are available in the network, or remotely, with the use of mediated channels or telecommunication tools. Even though maintaining contact is crucial, establishing contact helps one expand one’s social network to include individuals who can be valuable at a given moment in one’s career. Establishing contact is dynamic—it helps broaden the social network, increase access to previously inaccessible groups or individuals, increase access to resources, and ultimately, decrease the risk of excessive attachment to a small group. As mentioned before, maintaining contact is crucial, as it is much easier to obtain benefits from a relationship where mutual trust already exists. Values such as trust, reciprocity, and cooperation help maintain and strengthen contacts. The establishment and maintenance of contact in person are expressions of humans’ eternal need for socializing. In the past, establishing and maintaining contacts already determined the scope of social networks. Yet, with the development of remote communication tools, such as the phone, the Internet, mobile applications, and social media, these processes gained a whole new dimension.

Qualitative data analysis results are presented below, consecutively for each study group—physicians, IT professionals, and teachers.

Respondents in the medical FGI, all of whom except one were physicians, needed a contact network in order to receive support in handling difficult cases, gain new knowledge, develop their competences, and to help others. Because one’s social network translates into new positions and endeavors, the physicians also explicitly named “business” as a motivation behind building and developing professional contacts.

Many of the respondents spoke of the importance of establishing and maintaining contact in person. They maintain contact with people they had met at the university and within the medical community. They establish contacts personally at work—more frequently in hospitals than in clinics or their private practices. Attending conferences, symposiums, trainings, or team-building events also facilitates this process. Physicians also spoke of the need to be brought into a group by a member, or to be introduced to someone new who can provide important contacts.

Remote contact was often seen as a secondary or supportive form of contact. It was an accepted way of continuing contact that has been established personally or maintaining contact when it was impossible to do so in person. According to the respondents, writing posts and comments on the Internet under one’s own name, or publishing articles in academic papers or journals could play a role in establishing contacts. They emphasized, though, that they do not have much time for such activities. Simple telecommunication tools were mentioned as supportive tools. Remote contact by phone and email facilitated performing tasks and keeping in touch. The respondents expressed little interest in social media platforms, though they did mention a number of them, such as: Facebook, Linkedln, Golden Line, Nasza klasa (Pol.), W kontakcie (Pol.). However, the physicians also noted that a contact network can be built in a reverse order: contact may be initiated remotely in order to meet someone in person. Activities which involved the use of remote contact tools were perceived by some respondents as a form of promotion that a good physician simply does not need. They expressed doubt as to the quality and credibility of information posted on portals such as the Polish “Znany Lekarz” (which translates to “Know your doctor”). In their opinion, establishing contact remotely does not necessarily lead to better job performance. There are also risks involved in maintaining contact—for instance, one can give or receive poor recommendations, or one’s colleagues may “steal” valuable contacts which determine one’s competitive advantage.

According to many respondents from the IT sector, networking competence involves activities fostering cooperation and two-way exchange, mainly of knowledge and information, which are often triggered when problematic issues are encountered. Some respondents claimed that IT professionals enter into contact with others in order to gain something for themselves, build their position on the market, but also to find a new job, start a new project, or to assess potential coworkers.

The remarks of many respondents suggested a preference for remote over personal contact. The significance of new forms of communication for establishing and maintaining contact (such as blogs and webinars) is also growing. The respondents value the diversity of tools and functions offered e.g., by YouTube, professional portals, social media platforms, or discussion groups, though phone contact also remains important in terms of maintaining contact. IT professionals listed many tools for maintaining remote contact over the Internet:

a. Facebook—social media platform

b. Twitter—social media platform with microblog functionality

c. Golden Line, Linkedln—professional social media platforms

d. Skype—online communication tool which relies on data processing in the cloud

e. Stack Overflow—social media platform for developers

f. YouTube—online portal for sharing short videos

g. Tumblr—microblogging platform

h. Instagram—social media platform for sharing photographs

i. Badoo—a dating chatroom.

IT professionals use online tools to maintain contact remotely. Some of them use the Internet cautiously—they control how much information they share, build their social network deliberately, and decline invitations that bring no value.

Personal contact is also important when creating a social network. For some respondents, personal contact plays an important role and positively affects the quality of relationships. Also, if they had worked with someone before, this was considered a strong argument in favor of maintaining contact. According to the respondents, contacts are commonly established in person during private and professional meetings, formal or informal. The relationship may be further developed by publishing or sharing news (personal or professional), which is a motivation to maintain or renew contact.

Respondents R5 and R7, who worked in the IT sector but were also in contact with clients, managed business processes and aimed at combining personal and remote contact when establishing and maintaining relationships. They were also more aware of the need to establish contact in order to achieve specific work outcomes, as well as of any difficulties involved.

For respondents from the field of education, the purpose of manifesting networking competence is to receive support in one’s work, gain competences, and win new business (trainings).

Public education teachers mainly maintain personal relationships at their workplace. These contacts result from teaching, organizing task and problem groups in the school, performing additional tasks at work, or helping students with their problems. If they receive a direct work order, they also establish contact, in person, with other teachers whom they had not met. External trainings and conferences may sometimes offer an opportunity to establish contact, thought as the respondents emphasized, these are usually one-off situations. Some respondents expressed reluctance to establish relationships with new employees in their school. In conclusion, establishing and maintaining relationships among teachers is dominated by personal contacts.

However, the respondents pointed out that some in cases, remote contact was valuable and enabled them to participate in interesting educational projects, develop their competences, and implement their own ideas at school. Searching teaching materials on the Internet and seeking support in performance of school-related tasks is also a potential opportunity to establish professional contacts. Almost all respondents stated that they avoided using social media platforms.

One exception was a female teacher (R5) who maintained remote and personal contacts with school employees and students, as well as with people outside of the school, in order to perform her teaching duties and carry out innovative educational projects. She was an IT teacher, who had worked as a graphic designer before.

Respondents in the educational FGI also included trainers who treated contact networks as a method of accomplishing their own professional goals. Their remarks on networking competence differed from those made by teachers. They emphasized that in their opinion, networking competence is useful whenever one has to meet people from outside one’s company who may be helpful in achieving one’s work goals. The range of activities performed to establish and maintain contact was quite broad. The priority was to have relationships built on trust and credibility of one’s competences. Personal contact was seen as very important, though the respondents did not dismiss those forms of remote contact that were aligned with their priorities and values (Table 6.1).

The FGI part of the study led to a number of conclusions significant for subsequent stages of the process.

The level of networking competence differs among particular groups of knowledge workers. IT professionals maintain contact remotely in a variety of ways and they do it frequently. Physicians manifest networking competence in order to achieve their objectives associated with work and development. Personal contact and remote contact by phone allow them to maintain their social networks, which are rather small and loose. Among teachers, networking competence is usually limited to cooperation within one’s school, which represents only a part of the whole problem scope. Their networks are quite small, cohesive, and homogeneous.

Category

Respondents’ statements in the medical FGI

Respondents’ statements in the IT FGI

Respondents’ statements in the educational FGI

Objective

P R4 Also those that help us develop P R4 Business

P R7 When we are not sure, we can consult someone [...] when there are doubts, we can consult with other members of our profession P R9 Business

P R9: For me, these remote contacts are about 10-15%. When it comes to exchanging information between physicians, it is mostly done in person. Phones and the Internet are used for arranging a meeting or exchanging materials [...]

I R2 verifying people who I don’t know yet, but I know I will work with I R3 sharing good practices with people we work with [...), gaining competences by establishing contacts in the industry by working together or learning together after hours I R3 to learn something I R8 these contacts mainly helped me to learn a lot

I R8 in order to find work or find an employer or get recommendations regarding some subcontractors or when I need an endorsement I R8 to gain some recognition in the business

I RIO to cooperate on projects and possibly to change jobs I Rl: the preferred form is direct contact, because it shows whether you really care about this person and maintaining contact with them [...] someone publishes or shares something interesting, this is also an opportunity to talk [...], follow up after the conference, sometimes

T Rl networking is not about finding true friendships, but about attaining your particular goals

T R4 It is necessary when we’re talking about very pragmatic professional competences and technical issues

T R5 this benefits our work

T R5 It is absolutely brilliant, having someone to turn to with any problem. The fact that we have our own groups at work is normal, it is like that everywhere, but in general people are trying to find a job somewhere else

T R2: I prefer my group at work [...], it is enough

T R3:1 like to keep my distance [...].

I have no need to meet people and maintain contact with people outside the school [...]. It is about the quality of relationships.

Establishing

and

maintaining

contact

personally

P Rl: In the community, the initial contact is live, face-to-face

P R5: In conferences, there is usually a coffee break [...]

- symposiums, conferences, meetings, reunions [...], usually [during a conference] someone makes introductions

this is even more rewarding than the presentation itself [...], conferences, meetings after hours I R2:1 think I am also more in favor of personal contact

I R3 working and learning together after working hours;

I R7: seminars, trainings [...], you maintain contact in group meetings, team building events and also simply by having coffee together in the office kitchen

I R8: once a project is completed, contact is always renewed, not necessarily straight away, but you do work with the same people for the second or third time I R9: from Linux conferences [...] sometimes these are social meetings or parties where there is always someone new, a friend of a friend I RIO: conferences, symposiums, all the places where IT professionals meet, but not exclusively IT [...], conferences, this is also an opportunity to meet someone new [...], meetings with clients

T R4: There is also a mentoring system, in which an experienced teacher formally mentors a new colleague [...]• But these young people coming in now, they are completely different [...]. They have different values

T R5: because usually in those conferences there are workshops and panels [...].

If you do it regularly, it is natural that we start planning projects and activities together. [...] We sometimes also meet up.

T R5:1 went to France, I got an opportunity to visit a Freinet school, where there was no Internet, no computers, just working by doing, wow

T R7: if we want to solve a problem quickly and for good [...], we talk, in our school there are many task groups [...], tutoring sessions [...], we talk about these problems in almost every break

Category

Respondents’ statements in the medical FGI

Respondents’ statements in the IT FGI

Respondents’ statements in the educational FGI

T R7: go somewhere other than my school, for example to Russia, to Moscow, because I teach Russian [...], I managed to establish personal contact with Russian language teachers, establish contact between schools, between children or teenagers

Establishing

and

maintaining

contact

remotely

P R4: I do not often have time for personal contact with friends. [...] This is good, it is good to be online, it is also good when our articles are available online, this gives you recognition, it builds credibility, because when you publish a paper in journal, it must be peer-reviewed P R5: when it comes to remote relationships, there is the Internet and there are phones [...], for more formal issues,

I use Skype to contact someone abroad, and when it comes to people who are closer, I use the Facebook messenger [...]. When it comes to people who are closer to me, I talk to them

I R2: maybe once a year, we saw each other maybe five times overall, but we have kept in touch through these portals for a dozen or so years I R5: The Internet dominates, few people now subscribe to text messages or multimedia messages; emails — also no, [...] mailing lists

I R6 40% are messages from people I have never met in person [...], if we talk about professional networks or networks such as Facebook or Finkedln, then an informed networker moderates these things [...], is active on the forum, prepares articles, is involved in discussion groups in a given field of interest, where they want to develop and gain knowledge I R7: attending webinars

T R4: I don’t have a Facebook account and I intentionally avoid it, and after some initial experiences with the “Nasza Klasa” portal, I am even less eager [...]

T R5: Yes. At present also Finkedln, but to be honest, it takes time to write back and answer everyone, [...] a person has so many closer contacts rather than those in social media

T R4: Many publishing houses offer so many extra materials, forums, possibilities to exchange experiences, class scenario repositories

on the phone, whereas when it comes to people I email, I have never spoken to some of them in person [...], I have been emailing them for years and we handle many things this way [...]; all sorts of messaging tools

P R6: The Internet and phones offer an opportunity to get in touch and exchange views or opinions on a given subject

P R9: remote contact is not used to keep in touch, but to prepare the ground for personal contact for a specific purpose

P R5: if someone really is an authority figure and has extensive knowledge, then [,..]they do not usually have time to post comments on portals

P R8: there is self-promotion, but then it turns out there is no real expertise behind it

I RIO: the phone generally dominates.

So Linkedln is only for initiating the contact and the actual contact is then on the phone. [...] My friends write all sorts of blogs

I R2:1 am very selective when it comes to who I have in those networks, whether they are private or more professional I R5:1 restrict my contacts. And sometimes I limit the exposure of my profile

T R5: The contacts I made in conferences and online did help me [...], I received information that there would be a webinar, a class streamed from Antarctica [...], so this was also a big thing for me, this series of classes when we connected [...]

Category

Respondents’ statements in the medical FGI

Respondents’ statements in the IT FGI

Respondents’ statements in the educational FGI

Distinctive

respondents

I R7: from the sales point of view, when I want to be more visible in the market, I organize all kinds of seminars, trainings, and other things

I R5: When it comes to meeting these people from the other side, in general, you could write an article, give a speech in a conference [...], there are some people, if they find 15 minutes for me,

I see it as a success, this means a lot to me, because this person will spend these 15 minutes telling me, frankly, what is for me and what is not for me [...]

T R5:if you join a project, then there usually is a forum for this project where you can share experiences [...], we search for some information on forums [...] or in webinars

T R5: These contacts I made in conferences or online helped me [...], an exchange of emails, maybe sometimes a project together [...], when I needed to speed things up, all I had to do was to write an email, reach out to that person, and it was done

Tt R9:1 think the most important relationships are ones in which we professionally complement one another [...] and if this relationship is built on trust, then it is good [...]• This is a mutual exchange

Tt R9: a Facebook group „Trainers train trainers” [...], talks [on the phone], text massages, emails, discussion groups, messaging apps [...]. At work [...), and apart from that, post-graduate courses, specialist trainings, conferences. Sometimes small private parties.

Tt RIO: some relationships are maintained only remotely, for one thing because of the distance, sometimes there are personal relationships, sometimes this brings about more or less intense cooperation

Even though the subject of the study was initially identified as “establishing and maintaining relationships”, it seems more appropriate to use the word “contacts” instead. The term “relationship” presumes an emotional load associated with a bond, so semantically it is closer to social competence than to networking competence. Networking competence involves goal-oriented actions needed for the performance of one’s work. The acquired contacts may or may not develop into a relationship. Respondents also discussed the quality of relationships, differentiating those of an intentional and instrumental character from private, intimate, and emotional ones.

Despite the small number of respondents, a decision was made to restrict the population of respondents in category C (“education and training”) exclusively to public education teachers. The FGIs and additional in-depth interviews demonstrated considerable differences between teachers and trainers in terms of their perception of networking competence, which resulted from some specific characteristics of their work. Keeping teachers and trainers in one category posed a risk of obtaining mean results that would only represent a statistical artifact, rather than describe the studied population. On the other hand, the remarks of some IT professionals who were also in charge of sales and who worked in direct contact with clients expanded the scope of networking competence manifestations in general, and not only in terms of a specific field or professional group. In subsequent quantitative research stages, IT professionals were included as a subpopulation with no distinction based on their specific tasks. In the case of the medical field, physicians were selected as representatives for the quantitative study. More specifically, the group included practicing physicians, as determined by another selection criterion—10 or more years of work experience.

Respondents’ discussions provided empirical data that helped intensify work on the operationalization of networking competence. As a result, 100 statements, or reflective indicators, were formulated (see Appendix 1), which comprise a long list of behavioral manifestations of networking competence in four sub-categories: establishing contact personally, establishing contact remotely, maintaining contact personally, and maintaining contact remotely. The next stages of the study aimed at reducing the number of behavioral manifestations included in the networking competence measuring scale.

 
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