Imagine being able to pinpoint who you really need to get onside in order to accelerate change through the business. And it’s not the CEO or senior managers.
Well not if you are using tools that map the invisible social networks and connections within an organisation, explains Cai Kjaer, a partner at consulting firm Optimice, which uses specialised tools to chart organisational connections.
Unlike organisational charts, social networks take the form of the webs of trusted relationships employees forge to perform work. These can cover everything from routine work to socialising, innovating, mentoring and expertise sharing.
Research indicates just a few per cent of employees are ‘super connectors’ and play roles such as ‘hubs’, ‘gatekeepers’ and ‘covert brokers’.
Penny Lovett (FCPHR), former HR director at Bupa Australia, believes identifying these networks is becoming more important with growing workplace flexibility.
“The way work is evolving shows connectedness is increasingly important, so mapping is a really useful tool to find out more about internal connections,” she says.
Unknown but vital
Mapping an organisational network can identify hugely influential people who may be largely invisible to management, but essential to making things happen within the organisation.
Lovett believes mapping is “a way to lift up the hood of an organisation” and provide it with an edge.
“Mapping network and cooperative flows means you can see the key influencers and connectors and where there is strong cooperation. It gives the organisation the ability to address its failure points,” she explains.
Peter Williams, head of Deloitte’s Centre for the Edge Australia, believes identifying super connectors can improve organisational collaboration and innovation. To leverage their influence, the firm has mapped this group internally using a mix of email, phone, data and Yammer records.
“We asked who are the big ‘hubs’ in the network and who is the ‘glue’. Understanding who the glue is in an organisation is very important – if the glue is removed problems can occur,” he explains.
Hubs are seen as the important (and not in a conventional status type of way) people in an organisation’s network and the glue is their connections. “Organisations often underestimate how important these people are.”
Mapping social networks also allows HR and senior management to determine whether connections are occurring the right way within the business.
“HR has a huge role to play in identifying whether these interactions are right and the way management wants the organisation to work,” Kjaer explains.
The value of mapping
HR can also use the data to undertake interventions to improve collaboration, change behaviours and resolve personal conflicts.
“The maps allow you to be very specific about the level of the intervention and this can be down o the individual or team level,” Kjaer explains. “You can then re-map to see if the relationships have changed. This is a concrete way to prove the value of HR.”
“You need to identify what networks people have and determine how to ensure their relationships get handed over when they leave,” Kjaer says. “SNA brings visibility and transparency to a process that was largely hidden before.”
The value of informal networks was highlighted recently in a successful change management in the July/August issue of Harvard Business Review.
“When it comes to change agents, our study shows that network centrality is critical to success, whether you’re a middle manager or a high-ranking boss,” the authors noted.
Ensuring teams that work collaboratively are located close together is important, so Kjaer often works with architects and building designers to ensure team proximity following an organisational restructure.
The spread of information
Key influencers can also use their position as a hub within a network to spread information quickly as they have a large number of connections.
“In a limited budget environment, if you can identify a subset of people that will go out and influence others, it leads to a multiplier effect and may be a more efficient and cost-effective way to drive a new initiative,” Kjaer says.
“It will not replace ‘town hall’ meetings, but if you target the ‘king pins’ in an organisation, they can be used as advocates, or to help limit antagonistic views,”
“It is evidence-based, so you can’t rig the results and they are very valid for business decision-making,” Kjaer says.
HR needs to lead change in this area to capture the business benefits of social networks. “An organisation that is well glued together, where new ideas flourish and where people can pick up and run with them, is the type CEOs dream about.