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Archive for the ‘social network’ Category

How Can Your Network Help Your Inner Homer?

Posted by Mark Bennett on April 2, 2010

Homer: Just give me my gun…
Gun Shop Owner: Sorry, the law requires a five-day waiting period. We’ve got to run a background check.
Homer: Five days? But I’m mad now!

Your two brains

You’re probably familiar with the idea that we all have two systems of thinking – a thoughtful, logical system and a impulsive, emotional system. Richard Thaler* has a great model for thinking about them: Mr. Spock and Homer Simpson.

Mr. Spock is what Thaler calls your “Reflective System”, i.e. the part of you that stops and thinks of consequences, re-checks calculations and assumptions, etc. Homer is your “Automatic System”, i.e. your “gut reaction,” “fight or flight, “lizard brain,” etc. It’s the part that came in very handy when your prehistoric ancestor was strolling across the Savannah and wished to not be eaten by predators lurking in the tall grass.

Doughnuts. Is there anything they can’t do?

As civilized folk, we try to ignore our inner Homer and be upstanding Mr. Spocks when it comes to making decisions. We’re taught that making decisions rashly or under emotional stress should be avoided.

When angry, count to ten before you speak; if very angry, swear.    – Mark Twain

That’s wonderful advice, but while we can identify obvious situations where we know we need to wait to cool down or spend extra time doing research, we are still incredibly vulnerable to subtle tricks that cause us to make faulty decisions, even when we think we are being quite logical. Homer may be dense at times, but he also can be quite sneaky. For even while our inner Mr. Spocks are supposedly making cool, logical decisions, our inner Homers are influencing them by how we weigh certain risks, how we look at future needs vs. immediate wants, etc. These all impact how we decide no matter how hard we try to cut off that influence.

This is where your network can come to the rescue. We typically see networks as a way we can not only find out things from others, but also as a way to perhaps influence others. Well, it works in both directions. It turns out that while our inner Homer is pretty powerful in prioritizing his own immediate reactions for reasons to do with survival, so is our inner Homer’s tendency to need the acceptance, praise, attention, approval, etc. of others. Our prehistoric ancestors that lived in cooperative groups increased their chances of survival and hence the passing of their genes to future generations.

Put your inner Homer to work!

So when, for whatever reason, we’re still on a path not in your best interests (e.g. can’t quit smoking, downplaying project danger signals, floundering in a fulfilling job, discounting marketplace trends, etc.) and personal motivation doesn’t seem to be enough, use Homer’s need for approval to help you alter your behavior.

Here’s the catch: you need to have built a network that can really help you, not one that will just reinforce your biases. Just as having diversity in your network for working on “logical” issues helps you reduce your blind-spots, so it is with working on these “emotional” issues. For instance, it won’t do you much good to help you quit smoking if your network is entirely made of smokers. Likewise, it doesn’t help you spot and take seriously trends that threaten your competitive position in the marketplace if your network is made up of carbon copies of your experiences and outlook on trends.  But also keep in mind that you are more apt to be influenced by your network the more you share in common with those members. So you have to mix it up a little: common interests and beliefs in some areas along with different beliefs in other areas with certain folks, plus different common interests and beliefs with other folks.


*Check out “Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness” by Thaler and Sunstein. Richard Thaler is well-known for his work in behavioral finance.

Posted in influence, leadership, social network, Uncategorized | Tagged: | 5 Comments »

Are We Human in the Network?

Posted by Mark Bennett on February 21, 2010

At an HR Happy Hour a while back, Mark Stelzner made the important point that, “You are the most important tool in the network.” This is absolutely correct, yet within it also lies a hidden danger.

Mark was making the crucial point and reminding us on the call that while which technology tools to use will be an important part of our decision making, a social network has no value without the participation of people in that network. In other words, the technology provides the platform, but it is not the network; the people are the network.

What’s so bad about that?

Here’s the hidden (at least to some) danger: people make up the network and the more that people participate, the more valuable the network can become. However, if the network becomes too much the primary value to its users to the exclusion of the individual, the risk is that the identity and humanity of the numerous participants can become diluted, even to the point where it affects their perception of their own identity and humanity. That is paradoxically the opposite of what was supposed to happen.

A recent book by Jaron Lanier, “You Are Not a Gadget: A Manifesto“, discusses this problem and its philosophical, ethical, and economic effects. While his focus is mostly on Web 2.0 technologies in the public internet, some of the thinking applies to enterprise social networks just as much, especially in the way that management shapes the culture of its use.

Our SVP of Fusion HCM Development, Clive Swan, puts the concern well by wanting to make sure that we don’t end up treating people as “interchangeable carbon-based units.”

How can this happen?

How can primacy of the network affect our perceptions of our own identity and humanity? The network acts in many ways as a mirror that can powerfully affect our perception of ourselves. It doesn’t affect us all the same way and to the same extent, but it happens nonetheless. This effect isn’t a new phenomenon; the propensity for individuals to lose their humanity when they see themselves as an anonymous member of a mob is well-known throughout history. What’s changed over time is the acceleration of that effect through technologies that support things like mass media, assembly lines, and the internet. When radio and film propaganda was used effectively in changing almost entire nations’ images of themselves (by turning the cameras and microphones onto the population itself in carefully controlled ways), we almost lost the world. That danger hasn’t passed either.

As before, it’s not the technology itself that causes the problem, as much as we’d like to blame it. Rather, it’s the warping of the technology to achieve certain self-serving effects directly, or it’s the unintended side effect of some other nobler aim. So, for instance, we hear about the wonderful ability to tap into the experience of our workforce to extract knowledge so that we either improve productivity or stop the loss of knowledge as people leave the company. But here’s the catch: when the network solely becomes a mechanism for people to extract slices of information from “the network” (i.e. information that other individuals provided, but was blended into a homogeneous, albeit organized, mass), then the individuals that made the network even possible in the first place become secondary to the network itself. This can insidiously work its way into the culture with no one really seeing what’s happening because everyone is utterly focused on the first-order benefits.

Re-humanize Yourself

I work all day at the factory
I’m building a machine that’s not for me
There must be a reason that I can’t see
You’ve got to humanize yourself

– The Police

So, we must be vigilant both as management and as individual contributors. Management must adhere to the borrowed phrase of, “first, do no harm.” Resist the temptation to load the organization with too many policies and procedures that end up just obscuring the greater goal. Instead, communicate to people what the purpose of collaboration technologies are, along with general guidelines. Avoid the problem of unintended consequences by making sure that business goals in the use of collaboration technologies don’t create perverse incentives.

As individuals, we must all keep a look out for creeping anonymity. Maintain your identity on your enterprise network and nurture the identities of others. Recognize people and their contribution. Resist the temptation to always just “get in and get out fast.” Sure, there will be times when time is pressing and you need an answer fast or you need to answer somebody else fast. Just don’t let that so dominate your interaction with the network that you have become just a “gadget”. There are times when anonymity might be called for like with surveys, but the majority of your activity should be identified with you and convey as much of the whole you as you can.

Photo by brtsergio

Posted in social network, Uncategorized | Tagged: | 8 Comments »

Some Great Books from 2009

Posted by Mark Bennett on January 3, 2010

Here are some very good books and if you haven’t read them yet, you might want to check them out. The list is restricted to books published in 2009 that I read (there are several others published in 2009 that I still have on my reading list). The list is grouped somewhat by topic. Enjoy!

Enterprise 2.0 / Collaboration

Driving Results through Social Networks: How Top Organizations Leverage Networks for Performance and Growth by Rob Cross and Robert J. Thomas

I referred to this book in Not One of Us, When More Isn’t Always Better, and Is Bacon at the Center of the Universe? It covers the whole range of scale from individual performance and productivity impact of collaboration to the impact of collaboration on organization innovation, projects, and processes as well as the impact of organization culture and strategy on collaboration. There are many solid use cases provided. Cross focuses on social network analysis as a way to understand how information flows through an organization, how it goes into decision making, etc. I wrote about his work being done through manual surveys at Fortune 500 companies prior to leveraging social networking software two years ago in Finding Value in Enterprise Social Networks.

Collaboration: How Leaders Avoid the Traps, Create Unity, and Reap Big Results by Morten T. Hansen

I wrote about this book in When More Isn’t Always Better. It is primarily focused on large-scale collaboration and paints it in the starker colors of “good vs. bad” collaboration, highlighting the hidden costs of collaboration without some kind of business purpose and understanding of tradeoffs. Hansen lays out the hidden traps companies fall into with collaboration, identifies the barriers to collaboration, and three levers to avoid the traps and overcome the barriers. It has many use cases as well. Oliver Marks has a great post about this research and our colleague Christine found this great Economist article about the book. Hansen recently wrote about collaboration failure in the intelligence community due to persistent issues regarding incentives, workforce mix, and talent mobility in this Harvard Business Review article.

Enterprise 2.0: New Collaborative Tools for Your Organization’s Toughest Challenges by Andrew McAfee

McAfee coined the term “Enterprise 2.0” a while back as a way to identify not just the technologies of Web 2.0, but the way in which organizations would use them to get improvements in productivity, innovation, etc. I wrote about McAfee’s work two years ago in Finding Value in Enterprise Social Networks. McAfee has a great way of presenting four different, real business value based use cases that were not being addressed adequately by existing (pre Web 2.0) collaboration technologies (i.e. “Groupware” and “Knowledge Management”), then sort of leaves you hanging (a great “sticky idea” mechanism), then introduces the concepts of Web 2.0 in an accessible, non-techy way, and finally comes back around to show how the four use cases were successfully addressed by various Web 2.0 tools. Furthermore, each of the use cases focuses on a particular level of interaction from close-knit workgroups out to people with shared interests who may not even know each other.

Social Media at Work: How Networking Tools Propel Organizational Performance by Arthur L. Jue, Jackie Alcade Marr, and Mary Ellen Kassotakis

I wrote about this book being published in Talking about OraTweet in Social Media at Work. This book is similar to McAfee’s in that it is less about the technologies themselves as it is about how companies can best adopt and exploit them to gain competitive advantage through increased productivity, innovation, and engagement. This book is also loaded with relevant, real-life use cases that demonstrate how Web 2.0 tools were able to address a tricky problem, trigger innovation more rapidly, etc. It also addresses the organizational adoption issues head-on, such a threats to power and status quo and offers advice on how to tackle those issues.


The Failure of Risk Management: Why It’s Broken and How to Fix It by Douglas W. Hubbard

I referred to this book in HR: Why Improve Your Analytical Intelligence? and HR: Why Broaden Your Risk Perspective? Hubbard’s book is an eye-opener about how badly most companies are handling risk, due in large part to misguided comfort in following supposed “best practices.” Hubbard pulls no punches and is especially vehement in targeting “fluffy” risk analysis approaches that use things like “heat maps” that are based on “scoring.” His main objection is that these approaches have no way to be really tested as to whether they work because there really isn’t a testable measurement being used. He refutes those who object by saying that some things just aren’t measureable by providing examples of how to do it (some of which are taken from his previous book, How to Measure Anything: Finding the Value of Intangibles in Business.)

The Flaw of Averages: Why We Underestimate Risk in the Face of Uncertainty by Sam L. Savage

I also referred to this book in HR: Why Broaden Your Risk Perspective?. It’s a great companion book to Hubbard’s but takes a lighter approach. The first thing that Savage does is dispense with the arcane terms used so often in statistics that drive most people away. He correctly identifies that as a leading cause for why so many people miss out who could benefit from actually understanding what statistics really has to say about uncertainty and risk. He then goes into a whole series of examples to show what he means about how people get themselves into trouble. The book weighs in at 360+ pages, but it’s divided into 47 bite-sized chapters, some of which he signals can be skipped if you don’t want to do math.

Workforce Strategy

The Differentiated Workforce: Transforming Talent into Strategic Impact by Brian E. Becker, Mark A. Huselid, and Richard W. Beatty

I wrote about this book in HR: Why Improve Your Analytical Intelligence? It is a continuation of their “HR Scorecard” and “Workforce Scorecard” books, although reading them is not a prerequisite, nor is the book a rehash of the previous material. Instead, it introduces enough of the basics from them and expands on them to focus on how to best invest in your workforce so as to maximize its impact on your strategic success. In many ways, I saw this book as a companion to Beyond HR: The New Science of Human Capital by John W. Boudreau and Peter M. Ramstad. Between the two, you’ll have an excellent framework from which to construct or modify your HR strategy.

Photo by by mrkathika

Posted in book reviews, collaboration, risk, social network, Uncategorized, web2.0, workforce strategy | Tagged: | 7 Comments »

Join the Internal Enterprise Conversation, Already in Progress

Posted by Mark Bennett on October 19, 2009

2866399803_f10bdde231_mConversations among employees (vs. broadcasts from corporate) have always taken place in organizations – they just haven’t always been easily seen by the leaders. These conversations continue to take place inside, outside and across organization boundaries and recently, social technologies have substantially amplified their volume. These amplified conversations then get the attention of management, and not always in a constructive way.

The enterprise’s interests are better served by participating in these conversations, particularly through the effective use of social technologies, rather than by ignoring, rejecting, or banning their use. The result is not only higher employee productivity, more effective innovation, and greater employee engagement. It also results in the organization making more informed business decisions by having a better understanding of what makes the company “tick” and by being more aware of key events and conditions. Finally, the organization can have at least some input into the conversation as well, but only if it participates.

What are the conversations about?

Steve Boese posted a great summary of the findings in an IBM research paper on how employees were using social networks and why. One of the paper’s most eye-opening findings, and one that organizations should note, is that employees appear to use social network within the enterprise more for reaching out to employees they don’t already know and for building stronger bonds with them and their other “weak ties.” This is interesting to know as it is in contrast to what most detractors cite as why social networks within the enterprise would be a productivity drain. Those detractors often label it “Facebook for the Enterprise” and point out that a primary use of Facebook is just to keep current on what close friends are doing and gossip on things that have nothing to do with work, ergo it is a waste of time in the workplace. The research paper shows the error in thinking that is the primary use.

Beyond reaching out to create and build stronger ties, what else is happening? As mentioned in this earlier post on last month’s HR Technology® Conference, Nokia’s Matthew Hanwell related how his company gradually adopted internal use of social technologies. Steve also has a terrific summary of the points from that presentation. It turns out that employees sometimes also used the social technologies for general discussions about work. For instance, they might discuss overall state of the market, business profitability, and so on. They might discuss various benefit programs. In general, topics often on employees’ minds regarding things that impact their employment.

The upshot is that employees use social technologies to discuss the things they would still talk about even if the technologies didn’t exist or were banned. It’s the same thing they have always talked about and for good reason; it’s their career and their livelihood. For instance, the IBM paper shows that why employees have these conversations over internal social networks is reflected in the way they use them. Both developing one’s career and campaigning for a project are particularly assisted by reaching out and strengthening weak ties. That notion was covered in this previous post about the advantages of being more “central” in a given network through the creation and maintenance of diverse networks. You get more benefit from diversity of connections than simply pure quantity. (More to the point of this post, it’s about the diverse conversations and not just the connections themselves – you have to actually use the connections.)

How can the enterprise join the conversations?

Hanwell’s presentation showed that at first, fear drove much of the reluctance to permit social technologies in the enterprise in the first place. What would employees say? Could moderators keep up? In other words, worst-case thinking that in turn triggered further rationalizing rejection – such as governance costs – of the technologies. However, once key stakeholders understood that the conversations were happening anyway (including using external social technologies like Facebook) and that there was much to be gained by observing and participating in them, they gave the green light.

Most obstacles to the enterprise joining the conversation are self-inflicted. During the HR Happy Hour at the HR Technology conference, we talked about how organizations need help in overcoming the fear that puts up obstacles to successful adoption and use of social technologies. Jason Seiden pointed out the “risk-aversion” obstacle – in particular how it surfaces in staff departments like HR – which in many cases see only downside in backing an initiative like this. This is very much driven by how HR is viewed by the organization. As long as a given HR department is exclusively chartered with (and therefore measured on) compliance and governance oversight, and not with maximizing the strategic impact of talent, putting social technologies under its control will likely result in not much adoption, use, or benefit.

How can that perception be dealt with? We’ll hit that in another HR Technology – themed post soon.

Photo by cliff1066™

Posted in conversation, HR Technology, social network | Tagged: | 14 Comments »

Making more Top Talent with better job fit

Posted by Meg Bear on October 16, 2009

TRAs a Maximizer theme the concept of Top Talent is an especially personal one.   In fact, I have managed to get a team of directs that are all Achievers, which was something I knew about them, before I even knew there was such a theme.

When I think about using a Talent solution to get business value, I have to know what business leaders want.  What keeps a business leader up at night? Is it wondering if their team will meet their Performance bell curve?  Or if they will be using a 3 or 5 point rating scale?  I’m guessing not.  In fact the entire performance process is a means to an end, to a business person (or conversely a PITA but I’d rather not cover that part in this blog).

What a business leader wants is to be successful.  Successful in their business, seen as capable to their leadership and exceeding on their objectives.  For business leaders to scale they need teams who are able to deliver for them.  Here is where we get back to top talent and job fit.

When people are doing the job that is best suited to their strengths, they become top talent.  Making that connection between individual motivation and job role is not just a touchy-feely ideal, it’s smart business.

The better I can position people to do what they do best, the more they do for me. The more they do for me, the more I can do for my boss and my organization.  So, to me as a business leader, the more top talent I have the more successful I am.

So what I want from a talent solution, is to help me get people aligned into job roles based upon their strengths.  When I can do this, I get all the goodness from the rest of the talent strategies.  Goal alignment and attainment become easy,  engagement improves and overall output  is optimized.

To make all this work for me, I need more data.  I need data that I have never captured before.  Not just your competencies but your strengths.  Not just your career plan, but your motivations.  The more rich data I have, the better job I can do getting people to become top talent.

So now we are back to systems and scale.  Systems today have a better ability to gather and make use of data.  With the rise of social software, and a heightened awareness of the importance of a personal brand, people are volunteering more data than ever before.

These are exciting times for those of us who are allowed to find unique opportunities between technology and business. For awhile now I’ve been anticipating a shift in what defines a talent solution.  Initially I thought it was just my own personal boredom with having done this for so long, but now I realize that what I have really been doing is a lot of thin slicing to get to the most obvious of “a ha” conclusions.

The job of a talent solution is not really to measure talent.  The goal of a talent solution is to use the measurement of talent to drive better business results.  If you are just doing the former and not getting the latter you are missing out.  It’s time to think bigger about what can and should be possible with technology.

Are you doing that today?  Is that your talent strategy?  If not why not?  What is your plan?  Hit me with the comments and give me your ideas, I promise to use them for your benefit.

Posted in Career Development, engagement, Innovation, Job Fit, leadership, performance, profiles, social network, talent review, top talent, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , | 9 Comments »

The Da Vinci Conundrum

Posted by Ken Klaus on September 18, 2009

Da Vinci Flying Screw

Leonardo Da Vinci was a very gifted man to say the least.  He was an accomplished painter, sculpture, engineer, architect, mathematician, musician, inventor, and, if you believe Dan Brown, a keeper of really big secrets.  And I can’t help but wonder if Leonardo awoke each day and agonized over how to spend his time: “Should I finish the Mono Lisa, get Peter added to The Last Supper, finish the designs for that flying screw thingy, continue working on the four armed – four legged man sketch (Note to self: I need to come up with a better name for this drawing), or maybe just work on my journals – so much to do, so little time.”

Few of us are as gifted as Leonardo, but most of us have excelled in at least one or two areas.  And chances are many of us have also found a way to incorporate our interests and skill set into the work we do.  If you have, then my guess is you’re also getting pretty high marks on your performance evaluations, because a high level of engagement coupled with the right skill set is the perfect recipe for success.  So if you’re like me, and not like Da Vinci, chances are your skill set is pretty narrow; which means your ability to be successful will be limited to one or maybe two areas of expertise.   Unfortunately this situation leaves many of us with a conundrum: how do we remain successful in our chosen vocation (success = engagement + the application of the right skill set) without succumbing to the mind numbing boredom that so often comes after years or even decades in the same role?  For some the answer to this puzzle will be to advance to a new role, adapting their current competencies or learning additional skills which will help them succeed in their new jobs.  But for others, who may not want or be ready to change roles, remaining focused and engaged can be a real challenge. 

Though the solution to this problem will differ from person to person and even from job to job, one fact remains constant: engagement is a choice.  We must choose to be focused, motivated, optimistic, and plugged-in.  When we’re feeling tired or beaten down, when we want to retreat and hideaway, we have to summon the courage to connect with others and challenge ourselves to move beyond what we are feeling.  We have to go on the offensive and not give in to frustration, boredom, or despair.  Often this will require some creative thinking on our part.  We might have to look beyond the boundaries of our job description and engage in tasks that will renew our focus and top-up our engagement.  We could join a blog – as a reader, responder, or better yet, an author.  Or grow our professional network by joining an on-line group, attending a conference, or simply finding others outside our organization that have a similar job function.  We could also mentor a new employee or informally advise a colleague from another department wanting to make a change.  Our choices are limited only by our imagine and our determination.  So if you’re feeling tired, unmotivated, or just plain bored it’s time to go on the offensive and take action.  The truth is I’ve been feeling a little defensive myself lately; but I’m already starting to feel better.  Cheers!

Posted in engagement, performance, social network | 6 Comments »

Missing Layer, Filled?

Posted by Mark Bennett on August 17, 2009

71759221_78b453b4a5_mNetwork and collaboration tools not only offer ways to directly improve productivity and innovation by connecting previously isolated parts of your organization, they can also help identify and influence behaviors that lead to better overall performance. In a way, you can look at integration of these tools with enterprise systems as “filling in” a missing layer between two other ways behaviors are already being influenced.

Influencer: The Power to Change Anything” by Patterson, et al, provides some excellent examples of people creating change in many different areas, both public and private, under daunting circumstances. They achieved this by focusing on vital behaviors and by using combinations of sources of influence to change those behaviors. Briefly put, their sources of influence model distills the forces that impact behavior down to just two mental maps, Motivation (“Is it worth it?”) and Ability (“Can I do it?”). In addition, these mental maps are subdivided into Personal, Social, and Structural sources. This results in a total of six sources and the authors make two important points:

  1. The more of the six sources you can tap into, the more likely your influence efforts will succeed.
  2. The more you tap into the Personal first, followed by the Social second, and then finally the Structural third, the more likely you will succeed.

What does this have to do with integrating network and collaboration tools with enterprise systems? We can view these systems as initially having been focused on supporting influencing behaviors from a Structural perspective. This was through things like performance and compensation (Structural – Motivation) and resource planning (Structural – Ability). Gradually, they added focus on supporting influencing behaviors from a Personal perspective. This was through things like tracking competencies (Personal – Ability) and development (Personal – Motivation). This mapping isn’t perfect and there aren’t hard lines between these areas, but you can see how the framework can be applied to understanding how influence is supported.

This framework then causes us to ask, “Where is the support for the Social layer?” Is there a way in which systems can support influencing behavior through Social-Motivation (i.e. networks of relationships that encourage the kinds of behavior someone would like to do more of) and Social-Ability (i.e. ones that support these new behaviors)? One way Social-Ability could be supported is by integrating networking and collaboration tools to support people finding the expertise they need to help achieve their goals. A way in which Social-Motivation could be supported is by integrating these tools with an individual’s development efforts.

Those are just a couple of examples and this is only a start at looking into how to support changing behaviors more effectively. Changing behaviors is one of the trickiest and most difficult, but in many ways the most effective, way to improve performance. We are often uncomfortable with it because we often confuse influence with manipulation or coercion. This makes us either reluctant to attempt influence because we don’t want our intentions to be misunderstood or it makes us resistant to influence because we don’t want to feel we’re being controlled. The former can be addressed by being transparent and honest with people about intention (the antithesis of manipulation) and the latter can be addressed by starting with the individual at the Personal level (as advised by the authors.)

Photo by Dog Company

Posted in influence, social network, Uncategorized | 2 Comments »

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

Posted in collaboration, community, engagement, Innovation, social network | 8 Comments »

Is Bacon at the Center of the Universe?

Posted by Mark Bennett on June 7, 2009


Not here either.

No, this isn’t a cosmological question regarding pork products, but really about Kevin Bacon and his position in the Movie Universe. Although not at the center, he is closer than a lot of other actors. Understanding the principles behind this can help us find ways to develop talent more quickly and effectively, which benefits both the employee as well as the employer.

We already discussed the principles that show how social networks can help form “weak ties” that foster innovation and breakthrough thinking. It turns out that the book, Driving Results Through Social Networks points out another principle* from the game, “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon.” It can help shed light on how networks and how they are developed can contribute to the success of high performers. This is achieved by building the right kind of network, which not only benefits the individual (and thereby serves to motivate them to put effort into this activity), but there’s a big payoff for the organization as well with these better-built networks.

Authors Cross and Thomas point out that being more central in a network (where the network is the total of all the people and their connections to each other) typically means having more numerous and diverse contacts and therefore closer access to a greater number and wider variety of information, ideas, resources, and opportunities. Note that it’s the combination of number and diversity that generally lead to this. For example, having a huge number of connections to a very narrow segment of a network probably means the connections are highly overlapping, which limits access to the rest of the network.

By having that closer access, an individual can more effectively tap into the network in order to achieve more than they otherwise would, be it goals, career development, etc. In turn, the company gets more productivity, increased innovation, and enhanced engagement from having employees more effectively connected.

There is a danger in looking at this single-minded. For example, grading everyone on a one size fits all “centrality score” is apt to backfire. How central in a network one is helps some individuals more than others based on their role, for instance. The definition of the network as all the people and their connections leaves open some questions. In some cases, you may not want to include every department in the company, but rather the pertinent departments from across all the business units. For some individuals, it makes sense to include more external networks, like industry groups, along with the key groups within the organization. Other individuals might be very central in a particularly intense area of expertise within the company. Remember that all the members of the network contribute to it in a wide variety of ways and it doesn’t serve any purpose to try to force everyone to be the same – that defeats the very usefulness of the network itself.


*Briefly, the principle works like this: while there are a large number of actors, there are hardly any that are more than 3 “steps” away from Kevin Bacon (he is only two steps or less away from almost 25% and three steps or less away from almost 90%). By having so few steps to so many other actors, Kevin is better positioned than the average actor to find out about and exploit an opportunity. Of course, we all know his talent, experience, “look”, etc. all affect whether an opportunity will be opened to him, but a moment’s reflection tells us that these “connections” (to use the cliché) have a big impact as well.

How does this work and how did his network develop this way? Those two are related. By virtue of a combination of the total number of stars with whom he worked as well as who those stars were and with whom they’ve worked, Kevin has a network that reaches relatively quickly to a greater share of actors. This came about by his choices on what movies to star in and/or with whom to work. It’s likely that there is more diversity in the genres, cast, etc. in each of those choices. In contrast, other actors, whether due to type casting or personal preference, had made more narrow selections and their networks are “skewed” towards one area of the network. For example, someone might select for or get typecast as the slapstick comedian or the horror movie queen, and that would restrict the other actors they work with, reducing the share of the total network they have access to, and in turn impact the kinds of opportunities they get.

Photo: Sean Munson

At the time, I thought this was an interesting way to label their crosswalks. It turns out there’s more too it: “On September 25, 2004 Wallace’s Mayor Ron Garitone proclaimed Wallace to be the center of the Universe. Specifically, a sewer access cover was declared to be the precise location of the center of the Universe. A specially made manhole cover was made to mark the spot. It bears the words ‘Center of the Universe. Wallace, Idaho.'”

(Fly to in Google Earth | See in Yuan.CC Maps)

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Holiday Humor: Zombie Employer of Choice

Posted by Mark Bennett on May 24, 2009

colin-zombieCNN and Mashable bring to our attention an inspiring story about an independent film getting notoriety with a (nominal) budget of under $70. The story is remarkable just in the fact that is shows how someone like director Marc Price, with the right attitude (a hangover helps), imagination, and tools, can achieve a pretty amazing goal. Some might say the epitome of a BHAG. But there are some “employer of choice” tidbits as well. Read on.

Clever Use of Social Media

Price showed skillful use of social media such as Facebook and MySpace for recruiting. He laid it out simply by asking, “Who wants to be a zombie?” and then let the network do its thing. Price also used YouTube to build word of mouth buzz for the movie.

Keeping the Zombies Engaged

Rather than take a “Pay for Performance” approach, Price opted to find other, less expensive investments to keep the zombies engaged. In fact, other than a crowbar and a couple of tapes, the $70 budget was spent on “…some tea and coffee as well — not the expensive stuff either, the very basic kind. Just to keep the zombies happy.”

Photo: Mashable article

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