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  • Writer's pictureLev Mikulitski

If you could take on one skill only, building a social capital would be it.

As the economy dramatically shifts, fundamental questions are being raised about the readiness of the working professionals to handle the "jobs" of the future. In an effort to assess how "top of mind" these skills and competencies are, the American Management Association surveyed 2115 managers and top executives about the importance of the same. This survey defined the most critical skills for organizational success as follows:

  • Critical thinking and problem solving – the ability to make decisions, solve problems and take action as appropriate

  • Effective communications – the ability to synthesize and transmit your ideas both in written and oral forms

  • Creativity and Innovation – the ability to see what's not there and make something happen

  • Collaboration, team building and networking – the ability to work effectively with others, including those from dicers groups and with opposing point of views

In this article, I would like to address the last mentioned point - the the ability of collaboration and team building and give it a wider scope as the ability to create social capital, which is a fundamental key competence and a catalyzer of success.

First, what is social capital? And why is it important to your success? One of the most robust findings among researchers is that the ability to cultivate mutually supportive relationships is central to professional success and personal well-being. No matter how conscientious and gritty you are, and no matter how deep your expertise, no one succeeds alone. The mutual goodwill, trust, cooperation, and influence that you develop through your relationships helps you get the resources you need to add value to your organizations, achieve your career goals, contribute to your communities, and take care of yourself and the people you love.

Researchers refer to the resources you get through your personal and professional relationships as social capital. These resources include things like information, contacts, opportunities such as job leads, mentoring, reputation, money, encouragement and support for your ideas. These resources also include tacit knowledge, that would be hard to learn on your own. For example, how to get along with a cranky boss or neighbor, what not to say during an important meeting. Which courses to take, and where to meet people who share your interests.

Despite the power of relationships, some people don't take the time to invest in relationship building. And this is often because they believe the following myths that can hold them back from achieving their goals:

  • Myth number one, it's not what you know, it's who you know. What you know, your knowledge, skills, expertise, as well as your dependability, are as important as who you know. After all, people want to work with people they trust, and who will add value. People that are unlikely to put their reputation on the line, and recommend you for an opportunity if they don't think you live up to their endorsement of you.

  • Myth number two, proactively networking is manipulative. Many people assume that there's something insincere about connecting with others for instrumental reasons. For example, to ask for help on a task, or to get introduced to a contact who can give you information about a potential job. But the most effective instrumental relationships, like all relationships, are those that are built on authenticity, respect, good will and reciprocity. And if your job is to add value to your organization, then it's your responsibility to reach out to let others in the organization, to let them know what you're good at, where you need help, and how you can help others, so that they can place you where you could add the most value and make your best contributions.

  • Myth number three, extroverts have better networks than introverts. Although it seems intuitively likely that extroverts would have more effective networks than introverts, research is quite mixed on this. The general consensus is that if there is a significant relationship between extroversion and network size, it is small. Researchers have found that extroverts may spend more time talking to other people, but they may not be more strategic or more skillful than introverts in developing effective networks.

  • Myth number 4, I'm so busy, I don't have time for building relationships. By now, I hope you're convinced that building mutually supportive relationships is a need to have, not just a nice to have. If you are responsible for adding value at work, building relationships is a significant part of your real job, because your relationships help you and others get better results in less time, using fewer resources. And if you want to create a home environment in which you and the people you care about thrive building relationship both inside and outside, your home will be central to making that happen.

My point is, that you should never underestimate the power of relationships in making important things happen. Societies depends on people connecting with each other in order to alleviate poverty, increase civil rights, fuel entrepreneurship, stimulate economic growth, and create safe communities.

The World Bank called social capital the glue that holds societies together, because it provides the solidarity, the trust and cooperation that encourages the exchange of critical information and resources, as well as the means for communicating common goals, gaining influence and mobilizing action. For example, newly arrived immigrants with strong network ties have more access to opportunity such as jobs, living arrangements, and religious institutions.

In a meta-analysis of the relationship between social capital and children's wellbeing, researchers have found that children who grow up in families with strong connections to each other, as well as to the people and institutions in their community, are more likely to stay in school and less likely to be depressed and get involved in delinquent activities and so social capital was second, only to poverty, in predicting children's well-being.

Organizational success depends on relationships and social capital as well. Now, just think about it. Organizations have long known about the competitive advantage of financial capital, that's money structural capital, that's buildings and equipment. Technological capital, that's information and communication technologies. And human capital, which refers to employees' skills, education and experience.

More recently, however, many organizations have come to understand the competitive advantage of social capital. The benefits the organization gains by fostering mutually supportive relationships inside and outside the organization. Now, notice that there's a difference between human capital and social capital. Human capital refers to individual benefits that employees individually bring to an organization. Social capital refers to the benefits that employees bring to the organization through their relationships, inside and outside the organization. These benefits include things like increased commitment to common organizational goals, fast exchange of reliable information and resources, and increased cooperation and coordination.

Now, it's important to understand that organizations can copy each other's financial, structural, technological and human capital, for example, by benchmarking best practices and hiring each other's employees. But they cannot copy an organization's network of mutually supportive relationships that help employees get things done better faster with less cost and more commitment.

Finally, you know the different ways that social capital is essential to the success of societies and to organizations, and rightly so. It's also critical to your own success. Regardless of whether you work for the private, public, or nonprofit sector, regardless of your position, and regardless of the focus of your particular job, the quality of your relationships will significantly determine your ability to achieve your professional and your personal goals. It's clear that people who develop strong a network of mutually supported relationships, are:

  • More likely to find jobs more easily through personal contacts, be more satisfied with their jobs, and stay longer at their jobs.

  • More likely to add value to their organizations, because they can harness the power of their relationships inside and outside the organization, to get the resources and support they need to get better results.

  • More likely to get promoted more often, and paid more, because they are likely to add more value. Hear of more opportunities, have more visibility, both inside and outside the organization, and have more sponsors who endorse them. More likely to get more venture capital for their entrepreneurial endeavors, and they're more likely to be able to help their children achieve academically, stay in school, and go to college.

  • More likely to be happier, healthier and longer lived.

Relationships and networking are everything in life. Like a healthy nervous system, the greater and more robust the quality of your relationships, the faster you will be able to find solutions to any problem that may come your way. Go now and work on your social capital.

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