EcoRéseau Business – In business, who you know counts more than what you know

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An analysis by Céline Flipo, assistant professor at the Iéseg School of Management, and published by The conversation

Companies are social arenas where individuals continue to develop relationships. While some of these interpersonal relationships arise from the company’s org chart, others, more informal connections, develop as employees develop more discretionary friendships.

These relationships are an important resource. They provide access to information, provide emotional support, and help build engagement at work. Hence the old saying: It’s not so much what you know, but who you know (it’s not what you know, it’s who you know). For example, if Adele has become the essential singer we all know, it is not only thanks to her immense talent, but also thanks to a friend who posted a demo of three songs on Myspace which a music director next saw. It was therefore in the first place this friendship that formed the basis of the flight of his career.

As with Adele, the key to performance in companies often lies in the existence of informal collaborative networks. It is therefore crucial for managers to be able to map it. Easy, you say? In 2001, a study showed that managers systematically tendency to make mistakes

Main nodes

While they may be able to identify local collaboration networks, broader patterns of informal collaboration are often much less visible. It is therefore not uncommon for a manager to believe that an employee occupies a central position in the department when it is peripheral, with the manager tending to confuse his own and others’ relationships with this person.

The result is a recent trend for companies to hire consultancies specializing in ‘network maps’, or even for large companies to set up research entities, some of which are dedicated to networking. For example, Microsoft, through its research lab, Microsoft Research, has developed a whole part of its activity social Sciences dedicated to social networks and their mapping.

Their methods? Provide questionnaires to all employees to find out the nature of their relationships: by asking them about the people they turn to for information and expertise, who they regularly make decisions with, who they turn to to address issues that require more creativity and how much time they invest in these relationships. Newer methods determine the strength of connections within networks using all communication between collaborators, taking into account the frequency or even the content of the exchanges via email, chat or videoconference.

This network analysis provides vital information about key network nodes and about the possible existence of structural problems, such as connection holes that jeopardize policy implementation. Important actions can be taken to create a link between disconnected departments. Managers can also build teams based on these natural networks, even assigning tasks to the people best placed to succeed.

U.S studya summary of more than 30 years of research into these issues shows that, for creativity, being a “broker”, that is, a person connecting people who would otherwise be disconnected, is a key advantage.

A tool for inclusion

By connecting individuals from different social circles (such as from different departments), these networks give access to diverse knowledge, a prerequisite for the emergence of creative ideas by helping to avoid the dangers of conformity. For example, one study showed that: innovations of Picasso’s cubism were largely the result of being part of diverse and disjointed networks.

It should be noted that in the context of the pandemic and the growing emergence of remote working, network mapping will become increasingly important. Indeed, the health crisis of 2020 has greatly accelerated the use of telecommuting. In France, the number of telecommuting company contracts has increased by 67% between 2019 and 2020

A recent study conducted by Microsoft documented that one of the consequences of remote working is: increased difficulty in developing networks between departments. At Microsoft, remote working has reduced the share of collaboration time employees spend on interdepartmental connections by about 25% from pre-pandemic levels. However, these are the same connections mentioned above as central to creativity. And this in a time of crisis that forces individuals and organizations to become increasingly resilient and continuously develop creative solutions. It is therefore very important for managers to identify these brokers.

Finally, identifying networks is so crucial because it also has direct implications for diversity and inclusion issues. This cartography makes people aware of the difficulty for minorities to find their place in these informal networks.

For the Women, this difficulty was cited as one of the main obstacles to their success. Mapping the networks of an American technology company, which is nevertheless highly mobilized in terms of parity, has shown that women less likely to be at the center of networks of knowledge, innovation and critical decision-making. In other words, men, not women, were the main players in the networks that mattered.

In addition, women had fewer connections with senior employees than men, even though the company had a strong internal sponsorship program. Finally, men were almost 20% more likely to fill these roles as interdepartmental mediators. Thus, mapping these networks not only provides leaders with a snapshot of the true level of inclusion of their company, but also allows to create targeted interventions to develop more gender-inclusive organizations, but not only. Managers, to your cards.The conversation

This article was republished from The conversation under Creative Commons license. Read theoriginal article

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