The New Normal for Networks

The thing the pandemic could have killed is going viral. B4 Non-Executive Chairman, Frank Nigriello, looks at how networks are making and breaking the rules for 21st Century companies.

“It’s not what you know, it’s who knows what you know that makes all the difference.”  

That was the sage wisdom from the New York Daily News editor when I first started out in journalism. For a young journalist still soaked behind the ears, it was about earning that all important by-line by getting the inside track on a story.

But today that advice still rings true in a different context. The pandemic has constructed an additional set of barriers to business through multiple lockdowns, social distancing and working from home. These actions were necessary, but they certainly put paid to opportunities for business leaders to meet informally at events, dinners and conferences.

“The pandemic could have been fatal to those networks, but it did just the opposite.”

That was the very lifeblood of business or peer networks that brought people together to share information or experience or just get to know each other. The pandemic could have been fatal to those networks, but it did just the opposite.

Networks learned to pivot. 

They adapted all the technologies at their disposal and created a new set of advantages that demonstrate how organisations that can succeed by letting customers ‘know what they know’.

“Networks are firing new synapses in the economic engine of business communities.”

Networks are firing new synapses in the economic engine of business communities. Ideas, innovation and new partnerships are forming as business leaders use a growing range of channels to share knowledge and expertise across networks.

The distributed workforce has been enhanced by the distributed company. While people may have been locked away in their homes – or working six feet apart from their colleagues – networks are connecting companies across geographic and commercial boundaries in ways that are far more valuable to than the business card exchange sessions of the last decade.

“And the rules are changing; competitors are finding common ground for working on social and community projects that create mutual benefit, like building 21st century skills in schools.” 

Specialist knowledge and information, once the competitive edge for many industries, is being shared more freely. Video blogs demonstrating thought leadership are replacing sales brochures.

For instance, over the past year, B4 has become a broadcaster. B4 TV, podcasts, interview programmes and online events have brought together some of the county’s most thoughtful and experienced people and created content that can be shared freely amongst network members. 

While B4 is creating an ‘online MBA’ of sorts, the power of networks hasn’t been lost on academia. Oxford Brookes Business School recently launched two networks of businesspeople, Visiting Industrial Fellows and Entrepreneurs in Residence. The aim is to connect academics more closely with people at the sharp end of business for mutually benefit.

The Oxfordshire Business First network (or OB1) adapted its highly successful “BIG Gig” in an online pivot that made the innovation events even more accessible to busy entrepreneurs. Extending the idea, OB1 started a new action learning group exploring how storytelling could be used as a technique to build customer engagement and sales.

Across the South East, leaders facilitated by Business in the Community, are meeting virtually through seminars and other online events to share best practice on issues like skills and climate change. And, as community groups struggled for resources during the pandemic, BITC’s National Business Response Network reached out to members to channel devices, food and support to those most in need.

In Oxfordshire, the Firestarter network launched a series of monthly online events and podcasts exploring a range of business issues from resilience to technology.  These networks intersect; OB1’s BIG Gig for the mental health charity, MIND, inspired the Firestarter network to provide MIND with a platform to reach out and assess the needs of Firestarter members. 

“In another example of connected connections, a group of B4 members have begun working with OxLEP on creating an Oxfordshire ‘virtual work experience’ platform for young people.”

In another example of connected connections, a group of B4 members have begun working with OxLEP on creating an Oxfordshire ‘virtual work experience’ platform for young people.

Networks are old school, but the driving motivation for business leaders to connect with peers, share knowledge and work together in new ecosystems has been noticeably accelerated during the pandemic.

Creative online connections between peer organisations are providing business leaders with the platform to explain ‘what they know’ and to reach out to potential partners and customers to create additional value.

In post pandemic Britain, building back better will be more about bridges than banquets and business cards. It is the network connections that can make all the difference in enhancing the value organisations deliver to customers, their people and the communities around them.

B4

B4 provides platforms for our growing and diverse community of members to connect, learn, raise their profile, inspire and be inspired to become better businesses.

Frank Nigriello

Non-Executive Chairman

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