In the innovation programs I have run for large financial services companies, a primary objective is to get the participants to build strong networks as they collaborate with their peers and seek assistance from seniors, vendors and clients. Participants regularly report that working with others outside their area and learning about other parts of the business made the experience worthwhile. While everyone recognizes the value of these networks, measuring their value is rarely a priority. Innovation initiatives, especially in financial services, are judged by the revenue generated by the resulting innovations. Nonetheless, we constantly modify the design of the programs through both human facilitation and through supporting collaborative technology to strengthen the networks and to enable the “go-to” people or “hubs” to emerge and garner visibility. Analyzing the social networks of these high performers and comparing them to their peers would undoubtedly reinforce the value of investing in these “softer” aspects of the innovation initiatives. It could also give managers another metric to use when determining how much an employee is worth.
Bruce MacEwen writes on his blog Adam Smith, Esq. today about an article in Booz-Allen’s Strategy + Business in which the authors, Tim Laseter and Rob Cross of the University of Virginia, describe how companies can benefit from actively designing and managing social networks. They write that the first step is to map the social networks.
So what’s the payoff, again? Consider the well-known reality that a consistent differentiator of high-performance individuals is their habit of cultivating ties outside their unit and outside the organization. For example, in one (unidentified) financial services organization, a key female leader of one community of practice was determined through SNA to be surprisingly central to the entire group. Indeed, by herself she accounted for nearly one-fifth of the entire unit’s value creation.
“When we asked one of the company’s leaders what would happen if she left the organization, he blanched. It turned out that she had recently submitted her resignation.”
Now you tell me…Had the firm known the value of the woman’s centrality earlier, they could presumably have taken steps to retain her.
The more far-flung organizations (and law firms) become, the more important it is to ensure the “knowledge workers” who inhabit them are well-connected. This nicely sums up its value:
“The system we have developed is intrinsically rewarding to the users,” says Guillermo Velasquez [instrumental in the Halliburton experience]. People participate because they see value. Experts get recognition. As time goes by and people in the community start to know each other, they develop reciprocity. An individual in need today may be tomorrow’s expert providing the knowledge to help solve a problem. Gradually, we see much higher trust, and the community changes from the mode of “getting the right information to the right person at the right time” to truly start building on each other’s ideas to find a solution to a problem. In other words, that’s when we start creating knowledge.”