Making strategic connections in a new community services era
Robyn Keast (Professor in public management at the Southern Cross University School of Business and Tourism) spoke to the Toowoomba crowd of community service representatives gathered for the Ignite and Unite: CSIA Women’s Business Breakfast. She had a strong and actionable message about making strategic connections to thrive in a new community services era.
Quite rightly, Robyn says that togethering is in the DNA of the Community Services Industry.
“The social and community services industry has a long history of working together,” she says.
But she also asks whether as an industry we’re too connected and whether we’re making the right types of connections.
Are our networks too deeply embedded? Are we over-invested in our relationships? She noted the resilience of ‘dark networks’ – that is criminal or corruption networks – that can last for decades with limited relational top-ups and asked if we could learn something from this.
“Heart and soul can only take you so far,” she says.
“You’ve got to know your options, know your connections, be strategic and deliberate in your actions, and be a value-adding connector not just a connector.”
What exactly are your options when it comes to connecting?
Robyn talks about the 5C’s: A compendium of ways of working together:
Sporadic connections by way of money and contracts
Looser connections by way of shared known information and referrals
More defined connections by joint programs and planning
Thicker relationships, pooled power, money, etc. which is about creating something new
Creation of a new entity or one entity consuming the other via a legal merger.
“All of the 5Cs have merit and application,” says Robyn.
“The task is to match the approach to what you want to achieve and to the strength of the relationship.”
She offered some ‘top points’ to help people in the sector to make better use of their connections so that their time and effort is optimised.
Know your connections
Robyn puts emphasis on understanding your networks and their connections:
who is connected to who, around what types of resources, and how strong are their relationships?
who is in and out, what are their points of vulnerability?
who are the gate-keepers, the connectors?
“Be strategic and deliberate,” she says.
“Be service and future oriented. What do you want to achieve through this connection?
“Deliberately assess your connections and plan for how you will use these and what actions could be undertaken to build the right relationships, to help you and your service meet community needs.
“It’s not about who you like – although a prior working relationship is often helpful – it’s about who needs to be in based on the problem you’re facing and the resources you need.
“Put effort where you’re likely to secure the optimal results. You don’t need to go to every meeting,” she says.
Robyn says it is vital to invest time upfront and get agreement on:
what you’re going to do (the outcomes)
how you’re going to do it – what are the terms of engagement (how you’ll work together)
Omitting these two steps is a key reason why many networks and collaborations fail.
Being a Value Adding Connector
She argues that while there are many people out there making connections and linking people to each other and resources, there is an increasing need for what she calls the Value Adding Connector.
This is the person who goes beyond just linking people together, for example introductions – rather Value Adding Connectors are always looking to add value from the interaction – to achieve something extra, for the individuals and more widely the sector.
There are four steps to being a Value Adding Connector:
1. Make real connections
- Develop genuine relationships
- Ask questions – learn about others and how they’re connected
- Realise the value and power of reciprocity, reputation and reflection
2. Asses the connections – understand your network and others
- What can you do to reconfigure the networks, to create hubs?
3. Deliberately leverage the connections – do something with them that adds value
- It’s more than networking, its more than just having a cup of tea and a bit of a chat
4. Curate and convene – collect and share information, hold ‘connecting’ events e.g. coffee
- Connectivity is central to delivering individual and service outcomes
- There are numerous ways to connect in a fit-for-purpose manner
- Everything doesn’t have to be fully connected all the time. It’s not effective, it’s too costly and it’s too hard to sustain
- Be strategic (know what you want to achieve) and deliberate in the types of connections you develop and how these are used
- There are many Connectors and Super Connectors out there but to advance change and create real value, more Value Adding Connectors are needed to create compound value.