One, but not the same
Posted by Mark Bennett on July 3, 2009
This weekend marks the anniversary of the birth of a nation whose motto is about unity of purpose while acknowledging the differences in those who contribute to that purpose. That’s a very interesting duality that effective networks share; each person in the network has unique capabilities and individual goals, and different ways in which they contribute, but the network is unified in purpose.
As social networking tools gain acceptance in the enterprise, folks are recognizing that first, networks have always existed inside companies and second, that these network tools are more about making the networks more visible and more easily acted upon and utilized. As a result, when properly used, these tools accelerate productivity, innovation and engagement. However, like any tools, used improperly, these tools can damage those objectives as well.
Previously, we discussed how networks are inherently “opt-in” since they are usually not formal organizational structures. This means social factors such as trust play a large role in whether people will participate and make the network effective. But even after you achieve participation, the potential to wreck the network still exists in subtle and insidious ways.
One way is in the very structure of networks themselves. We know that the more connections that exist in a network, the higher the likelihood of information finding its way to the right person. Of course, everybody knows you can’t have ridiculously high levels of connections (although whether the number in 150+ or 1,500+ is debated) but is it right to assume that people in the network who have a significantly lower number of connections than others are somehow not as effective (or vice-versa?) As Steve Boese commented on a previous post, simply measuring the number (or extent) of connections doesn’t really tell you whether or not it’s working; it depends on the role or the person’s objectives. It can go beyond that as well; in some roles, some individuals might simply be more effective having only a tight set of connections with just a few of which reach outside their close circle of colleagues. Now, imagine a manager who simply measures effective use of the network by number and extent of connections dinging that individual for not having a high enough “social score.” Why risk their departure or reduced participation if the individual was an expert in a particularly strategic area and had contributed perfectly well through a “bridge” connection into the network?
What’s a better way? Managers need to look at the big picture and understand first what the purpose of the various networks are that their employees are members of. In that context, the manager can than understand what role an employee has in that network and then coach the employee if it seems that either the network is not getting what it needs, or even more effectively, if the employee is feeling they aren’t getting the most use from the network.
The most energetic proponents of network tools in the enterprise are not surprisingly heavy users of these tools. As such, they can easily fall into the perfectly natural human behavior of thinking other participants should be just as active, or more subtlety, not pay effective attention to those who aren’t as active. They can unwittingly alienate the very kind of employee that otherwise might not have had as much voice or impact on the success of the company from using the very tool that would have overcome the obstacle of organization structure, etc. Especially during the delicate initial phase of encouraging the use of network tools, it’s a good idea to look out for the non-productive effects of social pressure. As the culture becomes more familiar with their use, social norms will start to take effect and help people understand the different ways everyone contributes. Gradually, job and role requirements can then be added where appropriate in order to more clearly communicate expectations and guide career development.
Photo by: pursuethepassion
This entry was posted on July 3, 2009 at 8:03 pm and is filed under collaboration, community, engagement, Innovation, social network. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.