In today’s complex world of globalization, instantaneous communication and social media, ask a manager to define connectivity and immediately a smartphone or electronic gadget is drawn from its holster and held up for viewing. These pocket-sized devices rely on a global computer network (the Internet) to provide access to an interconnected system of standardized communication protocols that connect people virtually over time and space. With a few fingertip taps on virtual QWERTY keypads, these devices provide individuals with instant access to data, information and knowledge anywhere at any time. These instances of connectivity have placed more power than ever in the hands of people to influence and impact transactions in real time.
Prof. Henry Mintzberg, Canada’s internationally renowned academic and author on business and management, believes these technologies have tricked managers into believing that virtual communication builds relationships that are equal in value to direct investments of personal time – in building personal relationships with staff, customers and suppliers based on handshakes, conversations and multi-dimensional social interactions. Emoticons, textual portrayals of a writer’s moods or facial expressions, are poor substitutes for assessing the nuances of one’s tone of voice and gestures. Good leaders depend on non-verbal communication clues to fully grasp a person’s intended message.
Stephen McWilliam, Executive VP for Avanti, North America’s print MIS leader, believes connectivity equals community and community is all about relationships. Heidy Lawrance, proprietor of WeMakeBooks.ca, a production house that produced both of Thomas Allen Publishers’ two Giller prize winners, describes connectivity as “Life. It’s considering everyone you meet as a friend.” Tony Curcio, Graphic Arts Magazine Editor, sees the publication as “the print industry’s hub of connectivity. Graphic Arts’ primary mission is to build networks of communication among the print, signmaking and packaging industries by creating opportunities for professionals to connect with one another – as well as providing news and information.”
Avanti and WeMakeBooks.ca are mature organizations. Each has moved from founder-run entrepreneurial shops to structured organizations. As start-up companies, there was neither clear role definitions nor defined processes. As owners, McWilliam and Lawrance were each ‘chief cook and bottle-washer’ in charge of sales, production and marketing. As leaders of mature businesses, their role has shifted from doing the work to building, growing and sustaining the organization’s network of connectivity (i.e. social capital). For McWilliam, this is about building bridges with the right people and investing in these relationships. “Printing has a finite number of people and that’s why forming small community relationships and investing in those relationships is so important.” He doesn’t consider success in building community or connecting with folks as being a LinkedIn profile with 500+ people. “Community and relationships are all about trust. We need to take the time for other folks in our community to know who we are, to like who we, are and to trust us.” Lawrance cautions not to build networks with an attitude of how this relationship will assist you. “Send your energy out and although it may or may not come back from the intended people, it will come back from somewhere else. It’s a circle. Send good thoughts out there and what you are thinking will happen.”
We need to find the right balance between relationship building and electronic connectivity. Email, Facebook and LinkedIn are fantastic ways to keep your network of relationships fertilized. Sending an Instagram picture, or remembering someone’s birthday with an email, are tokens of appreciation that can quickly foster strong relationship bonds. Yet, Lawrance admits “I should do more follow-up.” She adds that publishing is a moveable field. “Today this person is a production manager here. Tomorrow he or she is the VP there. You just can’t burn any bridges. Sadly, Curcio laments, “people today don’t seem interested in returning phone calls. With e-mail one misses the subtle nuances of human conversation and engagement.”
For McWilliam, Lawrance and Curcio, connectivity equals community. You just never know when the person that you’re meeting in one community will appear in another. Also, building networks is a perpetual journey that requires regular investments of time. And, to get value out of your network or community, you must be prepared to give value – so be present, befriend and build bridges.