Do we need to re-onboard?

I sat down with our Chief People Officer, Kristin Cullen-Lester to discuss the topic of onboarding during the pandemic. When diving into what onboarding looked like during the pandemic, Dr. Cullen-Lester shared how in an effort to minimize health risks, organizations transitioned most of their onboarding to asynchronous (e.g., email, online checklists) or synchronous virtual sessions (e.g., webinars, one-on-one meetings). This enabled organization’s to complete the necessary paperwork and distribute vital information to help employees get started in their new role. However, onboarding (aka organizational socialization) is meant to accomplish more than checking off obligatory HR policy boxes. It is a critical process for getting new employees off on the right track by helping them acclimate to their new workplace. 

A completely virtual process has made it difficult for many new employees to meet and develop meaningful collaborative relationships with new colleagues. It also has made it more difficult for newcomers to identify and develop rapport with ‘go to’ people throughout the organization who can help them learn the ropes, navigate the written and unwritten rules, and understand the ins-and-outs of the organization’s culture. Many people who have onboarded in the last year are struggling to feel comfortable and embedded in their new workplace, undermining their commitment and ability to contribute to the organization. 

When I asked Dr. Cullen-Lester if she thought employees might have to be re-onboarded she stated that all employees, especially new one’s -would likely benefit from re-onboarding- especially if the organization has changed the way it operates or its mission and goals as its adapted to the pandemic (some orgs have had to change their business models, some orgs will now work remotely or in hybrid form). 

When it is safe, organizations are encouraged to provide venues for relationship development – e.g., creating space for before/during/afterwork social interactions and building time into team meetings for not only professional but also personal updates.

Webinar Alert!

How professional networks suffered during the pandemic, and what’s next?

Nick Petrie and Phil Willburn led us through a discussion and touched on important questions like: What have you noticed about your own network and relationships during the last 12 months? What changed about who you were connected with? And, how deep were your connections?

As the floor was opened up for discussion, a variety of answers came forward. One person stated how their network expanded at the beginning of the pandemic, and when they noticed that the pandemic wasn’t going away anytime soon, their group became smaller and more selective. They mentioned that if they were to take the Leader Network Diagnostic (LND) at this point, their network would be dangerously closed. Another audience member said that his network opened up a lot during the pandemic, especially with the help of tools like Zoom, but his deeper connections were not as nurtured.

Phil then informed us on how people analytics and insights on the workforce became a top priority for organizations around the world. This was due to a variety of factors:

  • health and well-being purposes
  • productivity issues 
  • safety 
  • burnout
  • functioning of the organization

The pandemic has had a tremendous impact on the culture of organizations. According to research, people feel less connected to their teams, even though they are spending more time with the same handful of people. Employees desire greater career growth but feel there is the lack of support within the organization. 

Professional ties were the primary source for new opportunities in their careers and at this time, they have ceased to exist.
Check out the full webinar to learn more about how the Leader Network Diagnostic (LND) can help you and your organization overcome these challenges.

Lester 2021 Early Career Award Practice Award Winner

We are excited to announce that our Co-Founder and Chief People Officer, Dr. Kristin Cullen-Lester has been awarded the Lester 2021 Early Career Award for her efforts in:

  • Advancing the science of leadership development practice
  • Pioneering the Center for Creative Leadership’s network-based leadership development practice
  • Co-creating the Leader Network Diagnostic tool and certification
  • Educating managers/practitioners about the power of networks and network development

Dr. Kristin Cullen-Lester hopes that her research and development work will continue to make network based leadership more scientifically grounded and scalable.

 Follow Dr. Kristin Cullen Lester

Did You Know?

Our Co-Founder and Chief People Scientist, Dr. Kristin Cullen-Lester is leading a cutting-edge research project, with generous funding from the National Science Foundation. The Strategic Leadership Systems project is able to provide qualified organizations with full network evaluations at no cost. The aim is to help participating organizations adapt to today’s challenges by diagnosing strategic and network vulnerabilities and improve the effectiveness of their strategic leadership systems. These vulnerabilities often include: strategic decision making, organizational success, disruption in communication, and weak leadership influence.
Using social network analysis the team will reveal how leaders and their teams collaborate, communicate, and make decisions that impact organizational performance. The full evaluation includes a detailed report and a 60-90 minute debrief session.

Curious to find out if your organization qualifies? Learn more here

The pandemic has stolen the weak ties from our networks. Here’s how to get them back.

Our teams have lost so many connections during quarantine.
All those chance meetings and serendipitous moments – gone.
Those weak connections help open up our networks – and give us opportunities for new ideas and perspectives. 
Here’s how to get those connections back.

Be intentional.
Look out for professional development, or informal groups to join – maybe create one yourself.
Invite leaders from different organizations to team meetings for unique perspectives.

Use the tech
Informal Slack or Teams channels are great for open forums. 
Donut offers informal watercooler talks and virtual coffee breaks.

Track your network
Knowing what types of connections are missing from your network is important to getting it back to full health
Work with your teams to make sure they are deliberately keeping their networks open.

Welcome back effective network 

Learn more at

Sponsorship during a pandemic

The importance of professional sponsorship in career development has been proven, but how has the pandemic impacted those relationships? Co-founder of Network Leader Kristin Cullen-Lester and sales strategist Cassaundra Brownell have a conversation about how to gain sponsorship during quarantine and also how to best sponsor others when everyone is busy and exhausted.

The Closing of Networks

Networks Also Closed Down During the Pandemic. We Need to Open Them Back Up

The pandemic has changed a lot of things about how we live our lives. Some people and places have been more impacted than others, but we all have seen a change in the way we interact with each other. A year into it, we know the value of toilet paper and disinfecting wipes. Masks have become ubiquitous in environments where they weren’t before, and we all understand “pod” to mean more than just a group of dolphins. We have had to make difficult choices in the ways we interact with others. Beyond the lives lost, the pandemic has also taken from us something social, something intrinsically human – it has taken our larger community and narrowed it down to a few.

A recent article in The Atlantic by Amanda Mull highlighted the loss of weak ties, all those people who experience life with us, but not WITH us – the barista who knows how to spell your name, your neighbor who you have seen every morning for 3 years, but still can’t quite remember their name, or all those people cheering with you at an event. Many of these ties seem to have disappeared during the Pandemic. These ties are not strong enough to bind us when our survival depends on being alone, or at least podded up with our 10 closest people. “During the past year, it’s often felt like the pandemic has come for all but the closest of my close ties.” Mull says. 

The research is very clear on the importance of strong ties, but in a world where weak ties feel like an avenue for infection and to be avoided at all cost, the effect of their loss is staggering. “Peripheral connections tether us to the world at large; without them, people sink into the compounding sameness of closed networks.” says Mull. We don’t have access to completely new ideas. We don’t have a random conversation at the supermarket and learn how to pronounce quinoa. We don’t get to overhear the person next to us talking casually about a new restaurant. In a work environment, we lost the friendly banter in the kitchen that exposes us to new information at work, including new opportunities. Instead, we are consistently surrounded by the same information from the same people – our networks are closing.

We have seen in our data that more executive leaders have developed a closed network since the pandemic hit. In one leadership cohort we’ve worked with over time, we saw that leaders’ networks closed down by 60% year over year. In November 2019, the majority of these leaders had open networks. In November 2020, less than 15% of leaders had open networks. Most leaders, like most of the world, were not fully prepared to be remote workers. They haven’t built their networks to support a work from home standpoint. 


 It’s not just leaders who are struggling to build connections. Authors Balazs Kovacs, Nicholas Caplan, Samuel Grob, discuss  the increase of the feelings of loneliness and the decrease of network density in their recently published journal, Social Networks and Loneliness During the Covid 19 Pandemic. The more connections a person had with their strong ties, the less lonely they felt. But, “Interestingly, emailing with strangers (people previously not known to the participant) was also associated with lower levels of increase in self-reported loneliness.” they state. 

Our research is finding that our closest connection can help us get things done and in the last year these ties have been an absolute necessity, helping us overcome the challenges and achieve our goals in the midst of a global pandemic. But, closed networks can become the resounding echo chamber of group think – a dangerous thing in a time when innovations and novel problem solving strategies are needed most. We need to fight the inertial closing of our networks. Leaders must become even more intentional about opening up their networks. But, in the age of Zoom socials and 6ft masked social gatherings, how do we do this? Prior to the pandemic, one might have socials or conferences or lunches. We had “codified” ways of colliding perspectives. So, how does one build an open network now?

We have a few suggestions and ways for individuals to open up their network. The key to it all, however, is intentionality. Leaders must construct opportunities for new “chance” connections to occur within their network and the networks of their teams. 

  1. They have to schedule more serendipitous connections. One leader we work with has been bringing in a new leader from a different organization each month to speak to their team, just to get a different perspective
  2. Use technology. There are a lot of different tools out there to help build connections. For example, Donut provides serendipitous, coffee chats in informal environments. Givitas is a platform that provides simple ways  of helping those out by offering advice. Look and see if professional development groups are still occurring. Find out if organizations are leveraging tools like Slack to provide more open forums for meeting others within the organization, but perhaps outside of your team. Seek out new opportunities for growth and explore places to find new perspectives.
  3. Track your network as it grows so you can see the change and the openness of your network through the LND. We know that just learning about your network is key to improving it. Take action to assess the openness of your network now, and compare this baseline to your future network after you have taken deliberate action to open it up.  Gain insights into how you’ve grown and where you need to focus next. 

Nobody knows how long we will stay in a virtual work environment. There is hope as things begin to open up, but the world has shifted. One day, we will all hopefully have the opportunity to go back to movies and happy hours, but some organizations are making long term decisions to remain virtual. Adopting the practice of creating serendipitous connections will help leaders continue to develop open networks full of opportunity and new information.

Professional Network Fake News

It’s everywhere. Fake news. Fake news about fake news. Real news that sounds fake. Fake news that sounds really truthy… Whatever you want to call it, fake news about everything is everywhere: Including Professional Networks. I’m here to bring you some real truth, as in backed by science and data and things that you, too, can find and prove. Here are the top 4 fake news points about Professional Networks and the truths as they should be.

Fake News 1 – There is no point in working on your professional network because it’s all fate.

Professional Networking Truth 1 – Your professional network in the number one indicator of career success. In fact, just LEARNING about effective professional networks can boost your performance. Professionals who spend time learning about what makes an effective network are:  

  • 35% more likely to receive top performance evaluations
  • 43% more likely to receive a promotion
  • 42% more likely to be retained by their organization

Fake News 2 – A professional network is basically your social network.

Professional Networking Truth 2 Your professional network differs from your social network in that it consists of the relationships that impact your career, NOT the parents on your kid’s soccer team, or a rolodex of names on your desk (are rolodexes even still a thing?). For example, your peers, advisors, mentors, direct reports and work friends are all in your professional network (even if you don’t like them). It may also include family or friends if they’re critical to your work success, but your great Aunt Edna who always shares cat memes, is most likely NOT in your professional network. But who knows. 2021 is a strange year.

Fake News 3 – Your professional network is an accidental outcome of reaching out to a catalog of business cards, a list of all of the soft leads from a campaign or conference, or a list of followers on social media.

Professional Networking Truth #3 – Your professional network is not just an aggregate of every person you know who may help you out one day. Instead, your professional network is crafted (consciously or not) through the time and energy you spend developing relationships that affect your career. So, while you can network by attending a professional event, these contacts don’t become your professional network until you have put in the time and energy to develop a reciprocal relationship with them. The connections you build and maintain provide access to information and resources for you, and everyone else you are connected to. Everybody benefits.

Fake News 4 – Your Professional Network is only your direct team or work environment.

Professional Network Truth #4 – Your professional network includes EVERY curated relationship that impacts your career. It includes your team and your supervisor, but it also may include the head of the department in a different division, or a key source of support and information in another company. Your professional network includes sponsors and mentors. It includes the main connections you have that bring you new opportunities and information – for example, people you know in professional organizations can often be key connections in a professional network, as long as you are building a reciprocal relationship with them (and not just name dropping).


There are probably many other myths, or Fake News items we could help bust here, but it’s a blog, and most people only read 75% of blog posts (totally just made that up, but it sounds true, right?). So, if you are still reading this, know that being intentional about your network is the first step toward improving its effectiveness. So congratulations, you’re already doing better than many people out there. 

If you want to learn more about the research out there, visit our Research page. Beware, you may just learn something.

Beyond Extraversion

New research reveals 7 traits of successful networkers

Professional networking – cultivating informal relationships within and beyond your organization to obtain resources that enable goal achievement – is critical for workplace success. Yet, too often, people think ‘networking just isn’t for me.’ They assume that it takes a certain kind of person to be good at networking – namely extraverts. And it is true. Extraversion is a strong predictor of who engages in networking. The social and gregarious nature of extraverts and the energy extraverts experience engaging with many different people predisposes them to participate in professional networking. However, recent meta-analytic research by Hadjira Bendella and Hans-Georg Wolff at the University of Cologne finds that many different aspects of personality are positively related to networking.

Networking around the table

So, even if you are not an extravert – maybe some of these other traits resonate with you. Each will set you up for networking success:

 Agreeableness: Are you warm, considerate, and generally cooperative? These agreeable tendencies make it easier to build and maintain trusting relationships that are the hallmark of effective networks.

Openness to Experience: Are you curious, flexible, and inquisitive? These openness tendencies make it easier to generate conversation topics, engage information freely, and cover a broad range of issues.

Conscientiousness: Are you dependable and hard-working? Developing relationships takes work and requires follow-up and follow-through. The goal-directed nature of conscientious people can help them persist in building their professional networks to achieve their workplace goals.

Emotional Stability: Do you feel secure (as opposed to self-conscious, depressed, or anxious)? People who are higher on emotional stability are better equipped to handle the stress and strain that can sometimes accompany networking.

Self-Efficacy: Do you believe in your own abilities to achieve your goals? This self-efficacy should bolster your confidence when it comes to building and utilizing your relationships too.

Self-Monitoring: Are you able to adapt the way you present yourself in different social situations? High self-monitors can ‘read the crowd’ and adjust their behavior, enabling them to a good impression on others.Proactive Personality: Are you a self-starter? People who are comfortable taking charge and seeking information are well-suited to create and take advantage of opportunities to develop relationships with others.

So, who networks? All kinds of people! And I’m guessing some of the traits that describe these people sound a lot like you.

It’s important to remember there is no one right way to network and that you can draw on the natural aspects of your personality described above to help you develop relationships that will enable you to contribute at work and that will promote your career success. 

It’s also important to know that not all networking will lead to networks that help you achieve your personal and professional goals. Some of our natural human tendencies can undermine our efforts to develop effective networks.

Learn more about what makes an effective network below: