The significance of forming strategic networks has been well established in the literature. A few of the associated benefits include personal development, winning more business, promoting corporate brand, strengthening business relationships, forming alliances and strategic partners, etc (Connolly, 2013). In line with this, XYZ, a medium retailing company, acknowledges the significance of developing managerial networks; accordingly, this report sheds light on the identified network members who would aid XYZ’s in attaining its long and short term objectives.
2.1 Creating and maintaining personal networks
Levine, (2015) developed a framework that aids in the formulation of a networking strategy which is followed in this report.
Figure: A framework for the formulation of a networking strategy. Source: (Levine, 2015).
2.1.1 Identifying career goals
As stated by (Levine, 2015), a vital component of the development of an effective and beneficial networking strategy is the identification of the main goals and objectives of the company. The following lines illustrate XYZ’s goals and objectives.
- Short-term goals:
- Objective 1: To capitalise on the changing customer behaviour and attitudes due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Objective 2: To enhance customer engagement and satisfaction rates through the enhancement of customer experience using the company’s e-commerce channels.
- Objective 3: To diversify and optimise the usage of social media for marketing purposes.
- Long-term goals:
- Objective 4: To increase the rate of return on digital transformation investments.
- Objective 5: To make use of digital transformation and digital solutions for the overseas expansion and growth of the company.
- Objective 6: To enhance brand reputation and awareness through the undertaking of more diversity and inclusion initiatives.
2.1.2 Creating and maintaining network nodes
Garner, (2017) proposed a framework with four main stages for the development of a network. These are Sort, Search, Seek and Sink. Sorting entails assessing the existing network to identify needed relationships; searching includes identifying ways through which the existing gaps could be bridged; seeking entails approaching individuals to create network relationships and finally, sinking is related to the identification of shadow archetypes that should be removed from the network.
In doing so, the first step to be considered while expanding one’s network is planning and forming a networking strategy. This entails the preparation of systems and structures that would aid in attaining the maximum outcomes with regards to the value and relevance of the established network (Thomas, 2016). Through such planning, the ability to identify the right networking nodes is facilitated (Connolly, 2013) to meet the company’s general vision and strategy. Besides, another crucial aspect of networking is to follow up on networking relationships. Thomas, (2016) states that there are two forms of follow-ups namely, active and passive. The formal entails follow-ups related to a particular conversation or a specific need; whereas, the latter entails creating more active relationships through the act of keeping in touch.
2.1.3 Networking Goals
According to Achrol and Kotler, (1999), networking goals and objectives could be identified based on four networking types namely, internal, vertical, Intermarket and opportunity networks. Hence, the company’s networking objectives would be identified according to the aforementioned network types.
- Objective 1: Requires having opportunity networks through which market information in relation to the newly observed trends and attitudes could be identified to introduce changes that would meet such needs.
- Objective 2: Requires the formation of strong internal networks through which communication, collaboration and coordination could be enhanced; thereby, facilitating the implementation of novel innovative means to augment the customers’ experience.
- Objective 3: Requires vertical alliances with marketing agencies to enhance the brand’s reach and awareness; thus, leading to higher customer acquisition and retention rates.
- Objective 4: Requires vertical networks with different IT digital solution providers is necessary to adopt and implement the most appropriate and beneficial IT solutions.
- Objective 5: Requires opportunity networks to assess and identify market opportunities in other countries along with other critical success factors that would aid in having successful market penetrations and market share acquisitions.
- Objective 6: Requires internal networks through which awareness could be raised to create a shared vision, business alignment and commitment that would enhance the company’s reputation.
2.2 Identifying people from the networks
Garner, (2017) identifies four core traits that should exist within network relationships to lead to a successful strategic network namely, promoter, pit-crew, teacher and butt-kicker.
Figure: Four core traits within a successful strategic network. Source: (Garner, 2017).
These are further classified into 12 key people and personalities which are as follows:
Figure: 12 key people and personalities in a network. Source: (Garner, 2017).
Using the aforementioned traits, the following network members are identified.
- Objective 1: Market Analyst
Market analysts are needed to achieve objective 1 as they could be regarded as explorers who through their curiosity, competitive intelligence, vision, mapping and analytical skills, and actionable insights are capable of using their lens of opportunity (Garner, 2017) to identify new shifts and trends in customer behaviours.
- Objective 2: Internal Communication Specialist
Internal communication specialists are needed for objective 2 as they could be regarded as explorers who through their vision, strategic planning capabilities, innovation and creativity could challenge the norms and identify new pathways (Garner, 2017) through which internal communication could be enhanced. They could also be regarded as architects who through their vision, communication skills and problem-solving capabilities could design and supervise (Garner, 2017) novel work processes that augment internal communication and collaboration.
- Objective 3: Digital Strategist
A digital strategist is vital for attaining objective 3 as they could be regarded as professors and mentors who through their knowledge, experience, passion, diversity of perspectives, and persuasion, communication and active listening skills are capable of opening avenues of new data and information and providing the needed guidance and advice (Garner, 2017) on how to enhance the company’s digital marketing strategy.
- Objective 4: Digitalisation Expert
Similar to the digital strategist, a digitalisation expert is also important in the network to act as a form of teacher and consultant to maximise the return of return on digitalisation investments.
- Objective 5: Global Growth Expert
A global growth expert is essential for the overseas expansion of the company as they could be regarded as connectors and architects who through their connections, innovation and creativity, visualisation, risk-taking capabilities, and problem-solving skills (Garner, 2017) are capable of identifying and drafting new routes, alternative pathways, opportunities and limitless possibilities (Garner, 2017) that would aid the company in achieving its growth objectives.
- Objective 6: Change Agent
Change agents are vital for objective 6 since it entails having a cultural change (Barratt‐Pugh, Bahn and Gakere, 2013) that is accepting and accommodating of diversity and inclusion. This is since they act as inspirers, influencers and accelerators of change (Barratt‐Pugh, Bahn and Gakere, 2013) who through their passion, know-how, momentum, rigour and focus (Garner, 2017) are capable of driving change.
2.3 Boundaries of confidentiality within the networks
Despite the multiple benefits associated with creating and maintaining managerial networks, confidentiality remains a vital aspect that should not be overlooked by managers. This is due to the several risks that could be encountered including lack of privacy, misuse of information and data, reputational damages, vulnerability issues, security breaches, etc (Haynes, 2012). Thus, creating an urge to set effective boundaries that govern the type and the extent to which information could be shared (Haynes, 2012). Accordingly, Haynes, (2012) suggests the development of policies that could protect the privacy of organisational information, staff and customers. Furthermore, these policies should protect against infrastructure risks and data loss. Besides, it is also recommended to increase awareness with regards to safe networking behaviours and attitudes through training and induction sessions (Haynes, 2012).
3.1 Information gathering process
According to Nonaka and Takeuchi, (1996) knowledge creation and knowledge transfer is based on a four dimension model (SECI). The socialization dimension explains how tacit to tacit knowledge is transferred through existential face-to-face meetings and interactions (Nonaka and Takeuchi, 1996). The externalisation dimension explains how tacit to explicit knowledge is transferred through reflective peer-to-peer interactions (Nonaka and Takeuchi, 1996). The combination dimension entails the transfer of explicit to explicit knowledge in a systematic and collaborative way, such as through computerized communication networks (Nonaka and Takeuchi, 1996). Lastly, the internalisation dimension illustrates the transfer of explicit to tacit knowledge through proactive hands-on experience and learning by doing (Nonaka and Takeuchi, 1996).
Figure: The SECI model. Source: (Rice and Rice, 2006).
Nonaka and Konno, (1998) further introduced the Japanese concept “Ba” which related to the “physical, relational and spiritual elements of ‘place’, or perhaps more expansively ‘context’.” (Rice and Rice, 2006, p. 672). The concept has four different notions which, according to Rice and Rice, (2006) are as follows:
- The originating Ba: The context where emotions, feelings and experiences are shared.
- The Dialoguing Ba: The context where tacit knowledge is transferred and documented as tacit knowledge through dialogues and metaphor creation.
- The Systematizing Ba: A virtual context where explicit knowledge is reformed to create new explicit knowledge through the facilitation of information technology.
- The Exercising Ba: The context where explicit knowledge is transformed into tacit knowledge through practical experiences.
Based on the aforementioned models, the process which will enable data or information to be gathered from networks to support planning and operational functions is as follows:
- The organisation and participation in social networking events, formation of collaborations and partnerships with key partners and following the “working out loud” strategy, demonstrated by Bozarth (2014). These techniques would aid in the sharing and acquisition of tacit to tacit knowledge.
- The conduction of training and reflecting sessions, formal and informal speeches, group discussions and group forums, and meetings within and outside the organisation to facilitate the transfer of tacit to explicit knowledge. This would be achieved through having an open communication culture where active listening, feedback provision, constructive criticism, and self-reflections would act as the basis for learning and knowledge transfer.
- The leverage on new ICT technologies for the collection, collation, storage and dissemination of data (Roberts, 2000). This supports the digital transformation efforts by partnering with IT solutions providers to incorporate the Internet of Things (IoT), big data, and other tools and technologies that aid in the creation of new explicit knowledge from existing explicit knowledge.
- The leverage on the different experiential learning theories through the organisation and participation of workshops, studio work, apprenticeship, problem-based learning, case-based learning, project-based learning, cooperative (work- or community-based) learning, etc to facilitate the transfer of tacit to explicit knowledge (William, 2019).
3.2 Evaluation of the gathered information
The data gathered through the aforementioned techniques from key members within the network proved to be vital for informing the decision-making process towards the company’s main goals and objectives. To illustrate, the data obtained from market analysts provided deep insights into the new trends in customer behaviour and attitudes towards e-commerce and online shopping that would act as the main driver for shifting focus. This information is further supported by the data obtained from digitalisation experts with regards to the different new IT solutions that could be incorporated and leveraged to meet the shifting demands while increasing the rate of return on digital investments. Following such efforts, the data and information collected from the digital strategists would inform the company’s digital marketing strategy to enhance its brand awareness and reach levels. The data gathered from global growth experts provided a deep understanding of the different global market conditions along with the countries with the highest potential for the company’s growth and expansion objectives.
4.1 Analysis of macro-environment- PESTEL
PESTLE is an analysis that evaluates threats and opportunities imposed over a business through its external environment (McManners, 2014). It has 6 main factors namely, political, economical, social, technological, environmental and legal factors which are discussed hereunder.
- Political Factors: The UK’s Brexit agreement along with the COVID-19 pandemic was accompanied by political turbulence leaving the political situation unstable not only in the UK but around the globe (Maguire, Eccles & Buckwell, 2020).
- Economic Factors: Similarly, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused several disruptions to the global economy which affected open market operations (OECD, 2020); thereby, businesses and customers alike are expected to encounter economic hardships.
- Social Factors: There is conflicting evidence that suggests that purchase behaviours are disrupted with a few indicating a tendency to buy only the essentials while others indicate a tendency for emotional and impulse buying (Chawla and Bharatwal, 2021). Thus, disruptions in demand levels are expected to occur.
- Technological Factors: Besides meeting shifting consumer trends towards e-commerce, the pandemic has also caused an urge to expand investments in technological solutions to enhance the resilience, flexibility and sustainability of businesses (OECD, 2020).
- Environmental Factors: Similar to many other industries, the retail industry has been under increasing pressure to shift to more sustainable practices in all its business processes including logistics and supply chain management (Taneja and Girdhar, 2013).
- Legal Factors: Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, there are rapid changes in laws and legislations that affected international trade and supply chains (OECD, 2020). This would bring about several disruptions in the company’s local operations and might affect its expansion efforts to other countries.
5.1 The generated Idea
One of the ideas generated from the gathered information from members of the social network is the participation in omnichannel platforms which is a multi-channel approach to sales that seek to enhance the customer’s shopping experience (Ameen, Tarhini, Shah and Madichie, 2021). As stated by Mika, Mark, Spence and Hannu, (2018), “omnichannel retailing examines channels as a holistic offering to appeal to the heterogeneity in customers’ shopping orientations – such as varying levels of ‘need for touch’, ‘need for cognition, or degree of ‘self-reliance’ – with the aim of providing a seamless cross-channel experience” (p. 5).
5.2 Risk and benefits analysis
Omni-channels could bring about multiple benefits to retailers. To start with, Omni-channels are capable of providing customers with personalised shopping experiences as customers are capable of shopping from any location at any time for the right price considering different delivery options (Deloitte, 2015). Thus, enhancing customer satisfaction rates by augmenting their shopping experience. Besides, the guidance and assistance provided to customers through omnichannel platforms aids in forming strong and long-lasting relationships with customers (Mika, Mark, Spence and Hannu, 2018). Thereby, increasing brand loyalty and customer retention rates.
Omni-channels are also associated with many operational benefits that emerge as a result of the enhanced flexibility, adaptability and resilience of organisations against unforeseen risks and changes in their internal and external environments (Mika, Mark, Spence and Hannu, 2018) which ensures the long-term sustainability, growth and prosperity of businesses. Furthermore, Omni-channels could improve the company’s demanding sensing capabilities which in turn minimises supply chain and demand meeting risks, enhances productivity and profitability and reduces waste leading to reductions in operational costs (Ameen, Tarhini, Shah and Madichie, 2021). Moreover, Omni-channels allows firms and businesses to have data-driven marketing and advertising strategies which enhances the efficiency and effectiveness of marketing initiatives while reducing costs (Deloitte, 2015).
5.2.2 Anticipated risks
Since Omni-channel retailing is primarily based on the integration of new digital technologies, it is also associated with multiple risks. To start with, one of the greatest risks relates to data security and privacy as a result of the high transparency levels. Such data could be used in bad faith against the company (Deloitte, 2015). Another risk that emerges from Omni-channels is the fierce levels of online competition causing the company to be in a perpetual mode of innovation and creativity to gain a competitive advantage (Ameen, Tarhini, Shah and Madichie, 2021). Although the sales and profitability rates are expected to increase with the use of Omni-channels, there are multiple technical risks related to the required level of expertise to manage, maintain, evaluate and upgrade systems (Ameen, Tarhini, Shah and Madichie, 2021). The failure of appropriately doing so could lead to higher associated costs. Finally, since the involvement in Omni-channels entails multiple changes to the work processes, there is a high risk of resistance to organisational change from employees (Garcia-Lorenzo and Liebhart, 2010).
5.3 Proposed communication methods
As aforementioned, the generated idea entails having an organisational change that should be effectively communicated to all employees to generate acceptance and minimise the anticipated resistance to change. Accordingly, Kotter’s (1996) change model framework, which includes eight transition phases, would be used to communicate the proposed change. The eight steps are:
- Creating a sense of urgency through meetings to demonstrate the significance of the proposed change.
- Building the guiding coalition team that would motivate and accelerate the proposed change.
- The development of s strategic vision and a strategy to shift towards Omni-channels.
- Communicating the vision through formal and informal meetings, dialogues and feedback sessions to ensure alignment and commitment.
- Empowering action by removing barriers through the prompt addressing of employees’ concerns and uncertainties while providing them with the needed support to drive change.
- Generating short-term accomplishable wins that could be regularly celebrated to maintain motivation and momentum towards the change.
- Sustainability acceleration through the gradual increase in challenges and expected outcomes.
- Embedding change within the organisational culture to sustain future changes with minimum resistance.
To conclude, networking is an essential part of a successful leadership strategy towards the firm’s main goals and objectives; therefore, it should not be overlooked by managers. Besides managerial and strategic networking, other forms of networks, such as personal development networks to sustain momentum and seek perfection.