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One, but not the same

Posted by Mark Bennett on July 3, 2009

3220803117_22cf199b2f_mThis 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

8 Responses to “One, but not the same”

  1. Really excellent post, Mark that takes the important next step in the process of analyzing the internal networks, and what should constitute employee success or proficiency in using and contributing to the network. I think you are absolutely right to suggest the strongest proponents of these tools are typically the heaviest users, and often fail to appreciate that not every person or function is best suited for hundreds or even thousands of connections. Thanks as well for mentioning my earlier comments.

  2. Meg Bear said

    Mark, I think you are spot on that networks, like humans are complex and require sophistication to measure their value. Value put in and value derived from networks.

    I think the key is not to avoid measuring networks but to be careful in assuming what the numbers are telling you. Thanks for keeping ahead of this complex topic for us, it’s leaders like you that keep us from going astray attempting to over-simplify things.

  3. […] One, but not the same […]

  4. […] Mark, Amy, and Meg (The TalentedApps team) discusses social networking in their submission One, but not the same […]

  5. Daniel said

    It’s a very interesting and valuable read, thank you so much for this post! I’ve never thought of social networks in this context, which now, when you popped it up makes so much sense to me.

    Thanks again, will keep reading.

  6. Amy Wilson said

    Mark – I had been troubled by the social score as well. Thanks for laying out so clearly why it can be dangerous, and yet how deeper analysis can be quite useful.
    Your mind is a wonderful place to visit 🙂

  7. […] Mark, Amy, and Meg (The TalentedApps team) discusses social networking in their submission One, but not the same […]

  8. […] is shared, but people experience it in their own individual way. This is where the power of shared purpose combined with diverse contribution makes itself felt. The shared purpose is a shared belief, a […]

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