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How to build a networked organisation

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How to build a networked organisation

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I wrote recently about some new research suggesting that a quick 10 second glance at a candidates Facebook profile was a better indicator of job suitability than more traditional personality tests.  Additional research suggests however that it is not just what is on your social networking profile that is the key to career success but who you are connected to.

Whilst talent management has rightly become a discipline that is at the forefront of HR thinking, where gains can really be made is when organizations focus on the collaboration between employees.  IBM discovered recently that companies that provide online collaboration tools were 57% more likely to be high performers.

These findings suggest that managers should be applying as much thought to collaborative networks as they have previously given to their organizational charts.  Achieving this requires a fundamental rethink of how our organizations are structured.  Traditionally jobs are designed for individual accountability, despite an increasing onus on collaboration with other colleagues.  Such focus on the individual often overlooks the importance of a persons collaborative connections as opposed to just their individual ability.

Margaret Schweer and colleagues surveyed 76 talent managers at organizations to determine what practices enhanced collaboration.  They also interviewed talent experts and conducted 15 in depth case studies, before analyzing the behavior of leading performers within these organizations to see how they differed from their less collaborative colleagues.  Her team made a number of key findings.

  1. High performers invest in their networks – Those individuals that ranked in the top 20% of their organization were found to have spent considerable time early on developing high quality network relationships throughout the organization.  These individuals tend to target strategic relationships, placing themselves at key leverage points within the organization.  Organizations should attempt to mimic these positive deviants and replicate these networks throughout the organization.
  2. You have more talent than you realize – As Jeremy Lin has emphasized recently, many organizations have more talent than they realize, but often these talented individuals don’t register on management’s radar.  The research found this pool was often much larger than leaders believed, with only 30-40% of the talented people at a company appearing on management’s most talented hit lists.  The researchers suggest this is down to a combination of companies not valuing collaborative work and because managers often pick their favorites for the fast track.
  3. You’re not making the most of the talent you have – A final observation was that whilst many large companies have deep talent pools, many of these make little to no collaborative contributions.  Often this is a deliberate strategy, with the belief being that collaboration time is wasted time.  In many cases allowing employees to develop their social networks not only improves performance but enhances work/life balance.

With as many as 1 in 4 employees in the study not collaborating well with their colleagues it’s clear that there is significant untapped potential available.  Such people are typically found in organizations that reward individual contributions rather than collaborative ones.  They are literally a product of their environment.

The research uncovered several strategies that talent managers can use to encourage a more collaborative approach.

  1. Use social networks when recruiting – If a new recruit was found from within existing social networks then there is a higher chance that they will be tightly integrated into the organization from the start and will not become marginalized.
  2. Use induction processes to build relationships – Whilst many organizations still use inductions to to fulfill housekeeping activities, the best use them to help new hires build relationships throughout the organization.  There is a similar level of attention given when people leave an organization to ensure that connections are maintained should future openings arise.
  3. Enhance intellectual and emotional engagement – Use of social networks was found to enhance employee engagement significantly.
  4. Build organizational knowledge – A central facet of knowledge management is to turn individual knowledge into organizational knowledge.  Organizations have real opportunities to mimic the strong networks developed by the best collaborators and ensure employees are learning and working with a wide range of people.

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