I first became interested in developmental networks when I took a short course at University College London and read a research paper about baseball Hall of Famers,I have been hooked ever since. A few weeks later I taught a course at the London School of Economics where one of the assignments required the students to explore their developmental networks, I became intrigued. The course leader was one of the leading scholars in this emerging field. That was three signs in a row, I decided to follow the signs and now developmental networks are at the heart of my PhD thesis.
A developmental network is a career-focussed subset of a social network. Your social network is made up of everyone you know everywhere. A developmental network refers to those who actively help you in your career. This is a simple but novel construct that has been becoming increasingly popular over the past 10 years.
In their influential paper, Professors Monica Higgins and Kathy Kram from Harvard Business School integrated mentorship concepts with social network theories to reconceptualise the traditional mentorship relationship as being one of many in a network of developmental relationships. This means that you should think of a mentor as one of many people in a network designed to help advance your potential in the workplace. This changes everything, the problem with mentoring is that so much of the power in relationship resides with the mentor. A developmental network can give you more power over your own development.
This feels like the perfect time for this type of research to be emerging and you can expect to hear this phrase more often in the future. The 20th century model of being successful in the workplace needs to be updated in line with the changes in technology and the way we live our lives. I believe developmental networks can play a role in that.
Who is in your Developmental Network?
In their research paper Dr Shasa Dobrow of the London School of Economics and her colleagues identified four fundamental attributes of a developmental network:
An Active Interest
The people in your developmental network are the ones who take an active interest in your career. This is interesting because most people I speak to about this think of their line managers as being responsible for their career development. Unfortunately not every manager acts in the interests of those they are responsible for. In their questionnaire, Higgins and Kram ask the very specific question: “Who has taken an active interest in and actions towards advancing your career”.
This is a penetrating question; if you have a mentor assigned to you at work but they don’t actually do anything to help you, perhaps they are not in your developmental network.
The defining characteristic of a developmental network is the potential to have several simultaneous developmental relationships. This moves us beyond the one to one mentorship relationship to be able to benefit from the experience of multiple developers. There is potential to get the support you need if you are not getting it from a mentor.
Broad Social Spheres
This means that a developmental network can include people outside of the workplace. This is not restricted to your friends or family, it can include members of your local community or faith group. This isn’t the same as multiple mentors or a mentoring network. A mentorship relationship implies a person that may be older, more influential and senior in an organisation. Even if multiple mentors were in different organisations, they still encompass a narrow range of people. Developmental networks allow you to include people who may be inexperienced with your workplace or junior to you in your capacity at work, like a daughter or a nephew.
Varying Amounts/Types of Support
A developmental network is a dynamic construct that allows members to change as required, the amount of support or the type of support can be different for everyone. This means that you can have both
Your developmental network is about you and taken from your perspective. This is what social network researchers call an ego network. It’s all about you and your perception. My research is about how minority ethnic professionals use developmental networks in order to enhance their careers in the face of disadvantage. I’m hoping I can use what I learn to help you in your career.
I’m interested in hearing about your experiences: I want to ask you two questions
Who has taken an active interest in your career in the past year?
Is there someone in your social network that would find this interesting? Share this with them.
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