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by Jay Fienberg

KMWorld: Hidden Power of Social Networks

posted: Oct 16, 2003 1:21:33 AM

I am at the KMWorld conference in Santa Clara.

This presentation, "The Hidden Power of Social Networks", is by Rob Cross of the University of Virgina McIntire School of Commerce, and author of a forthcoming book by the same name and one called (I think) "Networks in the Knowledge Economy".

He works with the Institute of Knowledge Management (at IBM?).

Why focus on networks now? Where work happens. Network drives performance. Looking for precise connections, not simply more connections between people. Approach allows you to understand what are appropriate connections.

Better connection results in better performance. Teams do better. Individuals do better in a certain kind of diversified network.

Better connection results in better satisfaction in work lives. People stuck on the edge of a network are more likely to leave an organization. More retention with people better connected in network.

Better connection results in better knowledge. People provide more knowledge than databases. Rarely is an internal KM system as good as the public Internet, and rarely are these as good as a person (who knows).

Social Network Analysis (SNA). What is the relationship we are mapping? For example, who do you get information from, and rate that; vs who trusts whom. Being precise about questions is very important. But, usually a simple 10-15 minute survey, not a huge scope of tracking people.

What roles do people have? Who are the central people? Who are the people on the edge? Most of the time, the people on the edge are people who want to get connected, but need help.

Splits in the network. Often they occur right where management wants integration.

Is the network's level of connections sufficient.

Getting things done often depends less on formal structure than on an informal network of colleagues. He is showing a chart comparing the formal structure vs the informal structure of an organization.

Frequent occurrence: central people in the network are surprises in terms of org chart. Often people far down on the org chart are very central. Often senior people in charge are on the periphery of network. Don't want senior people too central, because it means they aren't delegating enough, but too peripheral isn't good.

Also seen, executives heavily rely on the groups they came from, and even ignore groups they didn't come from.

Why do splits occur, why one department is off from others? Language (how they communicate and what they care about) is important, but often it is as simple as one department moving to a different floor / building that substantially can affect collaboration patterns.

Normally, the first networks or groups he looks at don't even show up on the org chart, e.g., communities of practice. Looks across divisional boundaries.

Function, geographic, and hierarchical divisions are often the most significant splitters of the network.

Survey of top 114 executives in a Fortune 250 organization: how likely would you be to get information from this person in the future, rated 1 to 5.

Density chart: out of 100% potential connections, how many are actually connected. Looked at division A to division B, and vice versa opinions.

Selling point: where are pockets of connection that organization deeply dependent on. Look at those connections on density chart, and see what level of disconnect is there.

Different kinds of drivers for disconnects. Some times it is people who don't know what others know, sometimes it is an interpersonal issue, sometimes it is a policy issue.

Q about data collection. Doesn't like email analysis and other automated data collection measurements. Resistance is a very cultural matter in terms of what people are willing to disclose: some people really want to see a trust network for example, and others don't want to reveal even who they talk to.

The data collection and analysis doesn't need to disclose the names of individuals.

Q about dynamic changes of social network over time. He has done this, and it is powerful to show an assessment before and after changes.

Q about season changes to networks of information flow. A: yes, each mapping represents only one network. He always maps, who are you aware of? But, he also asks questions about specifics regarding the particular network (along the lines of business goals) he is looking at.

With surveys, you can ask people about each other to cross-check the accuracy of the information. Do you go to person A? Does person A come to you?

A holistic approach to intervention. Notes that how people were paid often has a big effect on the networks. Asked what is it about an organization that drives good collaboration. Came up with 60 point diagnostic representing everything across HR, leadership and culture, work management, etc.

Asks two questions in relation to each practice (choose 10-20 in any given analysis). 1) How clear is it who you can turn to to make a decision? How effective at making this clear. 2) What potential is there at improvement.

Creates clear picture of points to address in intervention. Get very difference picture than when executives are asked.

Next layer: developing relationships in network. What stage is network in, for example, in a merger situation vs a group that has been together for 20 years and has gotten stuck in a unconstructive pattern.

Often best practice companies are very inward focused, and executives have very few ties out. So, it is unlikely they will adapt over time.

Understand the role of the individual in the context of the network allows us to enhance overall connectivity. Find central people. Why are they central? Hold the network together. Are an important source of expertise. May become bottlenecks.

Q about introverts and extroverts as central people. A: even with Myers Briggs, there is no tendency for one or the other to be central. Even with what he call fast movers, they can also be introverts or extroverts.

Brokers: people who don't necessarily have the most connections, but based on where they live in the network, they hold the network together the most. SNA helps determine who these people are. (Again, mention of Gladwell's The Tipping Point.)

Brokers can be tapped to quickly unite a group. Talks about two degrees of separation, friend of a friend.

Give people feedback on their personal networks. About how they have allowed or not allowed bias to creep in their networks. People can think not just about what skills they need, but about how their connections are growing.

People need: ties across hierarchy, ties across boundaries (inside and outside the organization), ties across proximity. Also: structure vs unstructured connections, and amount of time spent in relationship are also important.

Q about young people and how they are on Friendster, and importance. A: also important questions: medium of contact, IM, email, etc. Older are more reliant on face to face and telephone, younger are more reliant on other media. Another key split in networks is around gender, age, education, and ethnicity.

He is creating software the helps companies create and administer SNA surveys, that then report out 20 pages of analysis.

His new work is on "energized networks". When you interact with this person, how does it affect your energy level: plus, neutral, negative.

Comparing energy question with other networks, and found that leadership of this one company was not particular engaging / energizing to each other or their company. He is comparing these with other measures.

People's position in the energy measure was 4x predictor of performance in organization (over position in network). Energizers are high performers, and they help raise the performance of those around them.

Does room survey: shows 1/3 room knows an energizer, but pretty much all the room knows a de-energizer. Anecdote: going to meeting with de-energizer, trying to get through, as soon as you get out, you go and complain to others. Brings performance down.

Is this person energizing? Why? Shows clip of Mel Gibson in Brave Heart (the scene where the Scots decide to blow off the fight that their leaders have called them to, and then William Wallace [Mel] comes in and inspires them all to fight) .

Energizers create possible futures. Things that are not so extreme that they are impossible, but things that are visionary and also possible. Connecting values to a vision, with conviction and integrity. Allows others to hope, to get inspired. And, being in it for something other than themselves, greater than themselves.

Also, energizers get good reputations, and people then want to work for them and with them.

Also: use of humor. Energizers, in his experience, are always somewhat lighthearted. Not excessive, but use humor.

People are energized when: focused on a compelling vision, where they can make a meaningful contribution, where participants are fully engaged, marked by a sense of progress, when they allow themselves to be. De-energizers: keep a vision from ever getting off the ground, often rob people of this feeling like they are making a contribution by bull dozing over them [some more stuff I missed].

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April 30, 2003

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