Last Friday you would remember how I created a weblog post on a recent BusinessWeek article regarding Social Network Analysis and its potential business value, specially for larger organisations where their employees may be rather dispersed in multiple timezones, geographies, etc. etc. Well, just this morning (And it looks like I wasn’t the only one since one of my fellow IBM colleagues, Aneel, also received an e-mail from Noel Cuinane (From Blood and Treasure) and has commented on another weblog post on the subject), I got an e-mail from Noel as well asking for some further feedback comments regarding their weblog post. Since I cannot leave a Trackback there I thought I would create a new weblog and link to it from here in order to add some more into the conversation.
The weblog post is titled Social Network Analysis and you can find a link to it over here. The article itself comes to question the actually business value of SNA for every business and while reading through it I just couldn’t help noticing a couple of paragraphs worth while noting:
“Senior management will love it. All the hot buttons are there – hierarchies, web surveys, expertise, software programs, management consulting, resulting charts, hub-and-spoke route maps, internal networks and, finally, innovation“
Actually, I wouldn’t think that just senior management would be interested in Social Networking Analysis. We all know how this discipline has been around for a number of decades now and how it has been applied to multiple communities to try to get the best out of them and create some more awareness about the different connections inside of the community. What is actually happening now is that more and more businesses are realising how they could benefit from something that has been there for a long time and which they could leverage with. Pretty much the same thing as what is happening nowadays with weblogs, wikis or Instant Messaging.
Apart from all that it would also be worth while noting that all those elements quoted above are, in my opinion, just a minimal representation of what SNA would be about since we should not forget that it has always been associated with Knowledge Management. And still is, probably.
“What Social Network Analysis does, essentially, is identify who is considered popular and who is not. That someone has managed to persuade others to rate their input ‘important’ doesnâ€™t necessarily make their input valuable. You have to take a look at the results they are achieving to judge that. SNA however, does not measure business results. It measures social popularity according to a defined set of â€˜collaborativeâ€™ behaviors.”
I never thought we would be identifying Social Network Analysis as having to deal with popularity. All the other way around, actually. It is about everything else but popularity. SNA is all about trying to study the different relationships, and their connections, that are taking place within a particular group to try to identify who may have potentially more connections in such a group and try to leverage those. Main reason being ? Well, thinking about how relevant (remote) collaboration and knowledge sharing are becoming nowadays, with the increasing presence of Web 2.0 applications, SNA will be that tipping point that will make it work by helping businesses identify who could act as potential critical mass users in order to help spread the message and get a much tighter collaboration where everyone is encouraged to share their knowledge, their skills and so forth but all of that with the additional help of multiple hubs that would act as catalysts . Nothing to do with popularity I would think. In fact, I can imagine how there would be quite a lot of people well connected but not necessarily popular. However, their collaboration and knowledge sharing skills may be much more meaningful for the business than they themselves being popular.
“When â€œhubsâ€? show up on the informal map, however, you’ll know you’ve found the people who spend all day promoting themselves internally instead of doing their jobs. Now you can annihilate them.“
Indeed ! Unfortunately, this is the very same reason why people still do not think that collaborating and knowledge sharing would help them instead of annihilating them ! Thinking that you are indispensable to do your daily job and therefore your reluctance to stand out and share what you know is perhaps one of those factors that companies are realising it is no longer good enough. Actually, more and more that attitude is the one getting you less noticed and in much more trouble. I have yet to see the first person being annihilated for sharing or collaborating too much with other colleagues; however, I can think of many hundreds, if not thousands, of other people who have been annihilated just because of how exclusive they felt their knowledge was that they didn’t share it with others. In the end it is all about how much you would want to collaborate, share and work closer together with others and certainly SNA can be a great helper to find out who those folks may be and how you could get the most out of them to become the engines of your business. Simple.
Tags: Social Network Analysis, SNA, Knowledge Management, KM, Communities of Practice
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22 thoughts on “Social Network Analysis – Adding Business Value”
Luis, thanks for putting up such an interesting post on the subject and for linking to mine.
I can see how SNA could seem like a revolutionary step forward – the idea that a group of people can be identified through SNA to act as a critical mass to get behind and push through a new initiative, but as I said to Aneel, since SNA does not seem concerned with connecting the information it turns up with business results or even useful facts, how SNA can help managers run their business better is a mystery to me.
Let’s say an idea is put out by the senior management team. They’ve been doing their SNA and know who the ‘hubs’ are (that is, influential people in the organization) so the message is passed first to them to encourage them to build consensus around whatever the idea is. The people who are ‘hubs’ know they are ‘hubs’ and are not unaware of their influence. When you formalize that through something like SNA, you are giving people power they are going to use for their own ends and not necessarily to advance senior management’s ideas or the interests of the business. You are far better off giving experienced managers autonomy. This gives them real authority and the responsibility of using that authority in the best interests of the business. Sharing ideas will happen anyway, but this concern for controlling the conversation through SNA is counterproductive because when people know everything they say or write is being surveyed, it makes them even more careful about what it is they say or write. This is not the way to get open, free flowing conversation. It is the way to get risk averse, contrived political maneuvering.
SNA actively creates networking friendship circles and by doing so, actively perpetuates office politics which is something you want to discourage, not encourage, in a business environment since office politics waste time and have nothing to do with a person’s ability to do their job. I believe strongly that it is a manager’s responsibility at every level of the organization to limit office politics. Installing something like SNA, unless you are using it as I suggested satirically in my post to beat the devil at his own game, is guaranteed to produce a glut of networked good ole boy conversations that slow down the implementation of any new initiative to a crawl.
Excellent feedback comments, Noel ! Welcome to elsua and thanks a lot for dropping by !
Very easily, I would think. Just simply get the managers themselves to execute on that information put together. I will explain. I agree with you that SNA just provides the results from the group’s connections and not much more. However, I think it is a fundamental capability from SNA that once those results are available that managers act upon them. I mean, we should all think that managers are smart enough to be able to draw their own conclusions from the SNA results and the like so depending on what they get to see they would be able to work through a solution one way or another. SNA is not meant to provide a solution to a problem. It is supposed to provide information on the roots of a problem so that the powers that be can act accordingly and address / fix it so that things go back to normal. So it all starts with doing a SNA and from there expect that managers would be able execute whatever the actions based on those results. It will be up to them, not to SNA. That would not be part of it scope.
Hummm, I seriously doubt that would be happening, Noel. But even if it does, I am not sure I would want to be their manager or work in the same company those people are. Why ? Because over time the working environment would become rather unbearable and if their manager does not stand up and puts a stop to it it will create a negative working environment where people would not feel content with what they do. My experience so far, and not just within the company I work for, has been that eventually you may find the odd group who may behave like that, however, it is not the common rule. There are plenty of other folks who realise about their potential influence and who are committed to make things work the way the business would want to provide some more value add. That is why I meant that those folks, the hubs, would become part of an integral critical mass of individuals who will be advocating for that knowledge sharing and collaborating with others so that they would make those social network interactions much more meaningful and powerful, so that they could spread around to reach out even more folks.
Yes, sharing ideas might eventually happen but not at the same degree as to what you would get in a much more collaborative environment. In my opinion, there are still lots of people working very hard inside their own silos not looking at the outside and see what is happening out there. Thus those ideas may be there but if they are not shared with people outside of your immediate environment they will not go very far, I am afraid. That is why SNA would become so interesting and relevant for businesses because it would allow them to identify those hubs to help establish that working connection between those silos and help them break the barriers so that they can collaborate with others and share what they know.
Also another key aspect referencing your last couple of sentences above is the fact that may be, indeed, the way some people would feel, but would you feel the same way in an trustworthy environment where not only your peers, but also your management trust you blindly in what you do? I doubt it. Trust is an integral part of every core business activities and the more you collaborate, the more you share, the more successful connections you make the higher your trust levels will be and I would think that is perhaps the only way to go. Otherwise what is the point? Continue working away in your silo ignoring whatever else is happening out there that may, or may not, be relevant to you ?
Yes, indeed ! And like I mentioned above this is something at the discretion of each manager. SNA will have nothing to do with it, since it is just presenting the results the way they are happening in that particular group and it would then be up to each manager to act upon it accordingly or to just allow for that office politics to take place because that is the easiest way out in order to keep things relatively simple and manageable to some degree.
Thanks again for the feedback !
It is true that there are two organization charts in any company; the official one found on the chart detailing positions and titles and the unofficial one where those people who are respected by others without necessarily having a title commensurate with their influence can be found. You often find, for example, that a VP of Manufacturing sitting in head office in Boston has the official title, but one of the plant managers in Pittsburgh has the real influence, i.e., people throughout the division respect his opinion more than the opinion of the VP and not just because the plant manager is on the front lines, but because his opinion is always solid and he is respected as a decent and reliable fellow who knows what he is talking about.
SNA advocates say it tries to identify people like our Pittsburgh plant manager. The problem is that SNA is not based on identifying people who are respected in the way our Pittsburgh plant manager is respected. Instead, it depends on surveys and ratings that you might find in a 360 with the difference being that no attention is paid to business results, or tracking business results, whatsoever. It is only people’s social networking skills that come in for consideration.
My objection to SNA as it is at the moment is that it contains within it too much potential for gaming the system, encouraging people to ingratiate themselves socially with the hubs and in so doing, turn themselves into hubs without necessarily having anything to offer the company. This is how politics works, not business.
You may say that the SNA process will eventualy weed out the political players because they will be ‘voted’ out in subsequent surveys. I say it will be hijacked by them with the additional concern that by installing SNA you’ve given the green light to political maneuvering, or, if you prefer, jockeying for position, based solely on social networking and not on accomplishment.
Managers are not running for election, or at least they shouldn’t be. Some managers are not good at networking socially, but are damn good at their jobs. SNA overlooks these people, even more so than regular office politics does, because SNA institutes formal procedures for identifying the upwardly socially mobile which is not the same thing at all as identifying who the actual achievers are.
Over time, the socially popular who know how to talk a good game come to populate the power hubs and gradually the company descends into a political morass that overlooks merit in favor of popularity … until a new CEO comes in to focus everyone’s attention back to where it belongs, that is, on achieving business results. I think part of how that gets accomplished is by encouraging people to focus externally on what the market is doing and on what customers are wanting instead of encouraging them to focus internally on who is rated popular and who is not.
This is not to suggest that a means of sharing information and ideas throughout an organization is not a good idea; only that SNA is not the answer.
Great discussion, Noel ! Thanks again for sharing those great thoughts ! Let’s see if I can comment on them sharing my two cents worth of commentary.
Yes, that may well be the case, but what is wrong with that? What would be the harm in doing such thing? Actually, I think it is perhaps one of the most important components that has allowed every single business survive throughout the years, whether we like it or not. Let me share an example around those same lines with the dichotomy of Tacit vs. Explicit knowledge. The former being the social networking skills and the latter being the business results. My take on this is that no matter how good your business results / explicit knowledge may well be, without the tacit knowledge / social networking skills from the people behind that explicit knowledge you have got nothing. Yes, nothing. In order to be able to have those great business results you first need to be able to get people to work with one another, to trust one another, to make use of their extended networks in order to get the job done way before you can concentrate on those business results or capturing that explicit knowledge. And what SNA is currently doing over here is providing a way to increase the visibility of that underestimated social capital that makes it all work out just fine. Think about it what could you do with your business results if you do not have a strong network of knowledge workers collaborating extensively with one another ?
Yes, that is my whole point as well, Noel, but unfortunately, you cannot achieve those accomplishments without first working on your social networking skills. And even more in the current business environment where more and more people are distributed working remotely and lack that daily face to face contact that could make things easier. Otherwise how are you going to trust that your colleagues would do the right thing? Without any social capital involved? I am not sure about other folks but I have yet to see that happening. Specially in the 21st century. Perhaps I am wrong, but I would love to be proven wrong in this particular aspect. Any takers?
Yes, indeed !!! I couldn’t have agreed more with that statement as well, but you and I know that in the end that is going to cause more harm than benefits. Certainly there are plenty of managers who are very very good as project managers focusing on the business results alone. But there is no doubt and not denying that those same managers will not be very well received by their employees because they will feel like they have been left out in the exclusive interests of the business. And what will eventually happen is that even though initially those business results may be very good they will eventually fade out because those same employees will start looking for greener pastures, that is, for managers who are good both as project and people managers. Relying solely on the business results and pure project managers is something from the 20th century that has been lingering around for many years. However, while entering the 21st century and where everything happens on demand and on the spot managers need to be flexible enough to accommodate achieving business results at the same time that they would need to take care of their knowledge workers. Otherwise, they would just quite and move elsewhere leaving the business suffering, perhaps irreparably.
This is already happening, as far as I can see. Otherwise how could you explain the recent renaissance of Knowledge Management in businesses thanks to the proliferation of a good variety of different social networking tools that allow empower employees to think that they are no longer alone in producing business results but more part of a social group with which they could collaborate to produce those same business results much faster, with much more quality and still feeling an important part of the organisation. That is what KM, social networking and collaboration is all about and SNA is just the eye opener to help people get it.
I agree that having some ability to navigate socially and persuade others to your point of view is a useful skillset to have in business. SNA, however, isn’t aimed at growing leaders, if such a thing is even possible. What I mean is that it is not a tool that encourages leadership behavior because being a true leader can often mean taking a stance that is politically unpopular. Doing that under the SNA system would mean a low SNA rating.
I have met people in business who lacked social skills, though I considered their judgment and their character solid. When I look at people, I value these things higher than I do social networking skills. There are abuse merchants out there with not a shred of sociability, who poison a work atmosphere but are tolerated by senior management because they produce results, even if the results they produce are achieved without any consideration to the human cost. I too would like the pendulum to swing in favor of people who combine some social awareness with an ability to achieve business results.
Unfortunately, SNA as a system is designed to only accommodate social networking skills. It does not marry that skillset to achievement of business results. Such a system looks ripe for manipulation. It has the potential to elevate people whose claim to authority is based solely on their social networking skills. In fact, I think SNA has been specifically designed to achieve this outcome.
Absolutely ! And I don’t think that I have tried to imply that on the above comments. On the contrary. SNA is there for businesses to identify their strengths in their working environment, and their weaknesses, so that the powers that be (Whoever leaders that business may have) can act upon and augment them (The strengths) or fix them (The weaknesses). Nothing more, nothing less.
Interesting thoughts, Noel. I must admit that I would qualify for being quite the opposite; however, I think that the most valuable thing would be, for instance, to have a balance between the two: to value people for their project management skills and also for their social networking skills. Why would we have to give up on either option when we could have both? When we could make extensive use of SNA to help improve both to come up at the same level? I am not sure about you but I would think that most businesses would want to go for both of them, otherwise you would have to explain to me why there is such a huge interest in corporations, and small businesses alike, in all this so-called Web 2.0 applications that more than anything try to encourage and boost those social networking skills.
Yes, certainly (And unfortunately) but how much longer do you think that business could sustain itself. Remember that businesses are a whole lot more than just senior management. Those folks would need to put up with their working environment, i.e. their colleagues, and I doubt the latter would endure such situation for much longer, would they ?
Yes ! That, to me, would be the ultimum goal to achieve and believe it or not SNA can be of great help in that respect. And there are plenty of studies that could prove that. And as an example take a look into the upcoming seminar on SNA: Social Network Analysis (SNA) Jump Start Conference Call Series
I agree, but that is just the beginning of it ! The accommodation of those social networking skills will be having a direct impact on the achievement of business results. We would only need to focus on what is key for the business: through the augmentation of social skills try to achieve much better business results. And SNA, I am afraid, is only there for us but to help achieve that.
SNA is there for businesses to identify their strengths in their working environment
How does SNA identify strengths and weaknesses? What constitutes ‘collaborative’ behaviors? Always being accommodating, even if you disagree? To what extent is SNA looking to identify an army of aggressive political sycophants who never speak their minds? Isn’t it better for a business to focus on experience and judgment and not on a gossip mill?
“When I look at people, I value [character and judgment] higher than I do social networking skills.”
I must admit that I would qualify for being quite the opposite.
But which is more important, judgment and character or social networking skills?
I think that the most valuable thing would be, for instance, to have a balance between the two
Why would we have to give up on either option when we could have both? When we could make extensive use of SNA to help improve both to come up at the same level?
How would making extensive use of SNA equalize character and judgment with social networking skills when all it is interested in are social networking skills?
otherwise you would have to explain to me why there is such a huge interest in corporations, and small businesses alike, in all this so-called Web 2.0 applications that more than anything try to encourage and boost those social networking skills.
Web 2.0 is great. It’s interactive. It’s more personal, but it’s just a minor extension to what we have now. The fundamentals don’t change no matter what new tools come our way. The telephone, fax machine, e-mail, didn’t change people. It just meant we could communicate faster. The fact is that you cannot change human nature. Mao tried that in China with disastrous consequences going so far as to remove children from their parents at the age of 3 to raise them by the State. Even with that sort of brainwashing, he wasn’t able to change human nature, and admitted it himself.
The motivation for bothering to identify and categorize people only according to their social networking skills is to control their social interactions. This is not the way to build trust.
Big companies today show their workers no loyalty with the predictable result that the workers have no loyalty to the company either. It is a very mercenary environment where everyone is out for themselves. To hold onto a job in that environment people need keen political skills, or if you prefer, keen social networking skills. SNA aims to identify the best political players and thereby encourage everyone else to emulate them. You want a high SNA rating, right? We’ve already agreed that internal politicking is bad for business because it wastes time and has nothing to do with a person’s ability to get their job done.
Remember that businesses are a whole lot more than just senior management. Those folks would need to put up with their working environment, i.e. their colleagues, and I doubt the latter would endure such situation for much longer, would they ?
How exactly would an SNA study help beyond what is currently in place, i.e. normal complaint resolution procedures?
The accommodation of those social networking skills will be having a direct impact on the achievement of business results.
We would only need to focus on what is key for the business: through the augmentation of social skills try to achieve much better business results.
That brings us back to my first questions. How does SNA identify strengths and weaknesses? What constitutes ‘collaborative’ behaviors? Always being accommodating, even if you disagree? To what extent is SNA looking to identify an army of aggressive political sycophants who never speak their minds? Isn’t it better for a business to focus on experience and judgment and not on a gossip mill?
I find this SNA movement disturbing.
By simply allowing businesses to find the different connections between knowledge workers. If you see, for instance, that within one area of the business there are plenty of connections that would indicate a strength and vice versa. That way you exposed what may not have been widely available before, identify gap analysis and try to look for solutions.
As far as I can see “Collaboration, literally, consists of working together with one or more other people“, instead of being in your silo doing your job without looking outside to see what is going on. Quote from the wise Wikipedia.
Gossip mill ? I doubt SNA would ever focus on that. On the contrary, it relies on identifying and pointing out the different connections between knowledge workers in such a way that those connections would stand out on themselves to help identify those key hubs. I have never seen any SNA done focusing on gossip mill, and I doubt I would ever be.
Both ! Why would we need to give up on one in detriment of the other. What is the point? We are all social beings and as such those social skills will always be there in one way or another, whether we like it or not. So since they are there inherent to us why not make extensive use of them applying them to businesses. I see no reason whatsoever why one should be consider more important than the other. To me they both walk hand in hand. In fact, one’s own social networking skills already detail quite a lot about people’s judgement and character. We cannot deny that one either.
Not entirely accurate, Noel, I am afraid. SNA is by far never interested solely in the social networking skills. On the contrary, it tries to identify those social networking skills to then apply them to whatever the business in order improve productivity, quality of deliverables, collaboration amongst peers, etc. etc. you name it. I have never seen any SNA just focusing on the social networking skills just for the sake of those skills. There is always something happening afterwards that will ultimately reflect in the business itself, i.e. improve the way business is executed.
Yes, indeed ! You just said it out loud yourself, Noel ! You cannot change human nature and it is our human nature to be social animals and as such there would always be a need to make use of such tools not only because they allow us to do our jobs correctly but also because they allow us to keep afloat with our social networks in the current state of things. That is exactly what the telephone, fax and e-mail did in the past. And that is what the Web 2.0 will do over the next few years. Besides that, I think that they all do change people. But perhaps that is a another discussion for another weblog post.
No, I am afraid I do not agree with that. If anything they wouldn’t allow to control their social interactions but to augment them to a much higher level so that they could then be reused extensively to help improve collaboration, communications, interactions with other colleagues, etc. etc. And that, to me, is one of the most powerful ways of building trust. Getting people together and establish multiple and complex connections that will tie them with one another while they are performing their jobs. If not how do you plan to help build that trust? If it is not through social networking skills then I would love to know what other ways there are out there that efficiently increase those trust levels.
Like Bill mentioned elsewhere what you are describe above is not just unique to SNA. It has always been there in many businesses. And I still wouldn’t associate SNA with business politics as I still do not see the connection between them. I still think SNA provides some new options for businesses on how to improve their businesses by making use of their best talent that in some cases could be well hidden. Even then by some of those same politics.
Basically by what I have mentioning all along. Highlighting the different relationships out there within the different knowledge workers to help identify potential areas of conflict like knowledge gaps, but also at the same time to help identify those hubs / connectors that could help provide more visibility on whatever else may be happening around the company. Some of the current procedures, like the one you mention, are just too formal and like everything else they would be missing out on the social aspects of what is happening inside work. SNA will identify those and help provide some recommendations to act upon. I wish at this point in time I could grab some information from potential SNA studied already carried out but I do not have any handy at the moment and would need to dig in further. But perhaps other folks reading out this could chime in and provide some of their experiences as well in the work related to SNA they may have done recently. Any takers?
Very simple. Allowing people to make use of their social networking skills to get together with other knowledge workers, collaborate closer because the connections have been created, the trust is already on the way, and people start working closer with one another because of those social links. Let’s face it, we all know that whenever we have got a problem with our computers, as an example, the first thing we do is not look at the manual or use a search engine. We usually go to our network of folks and ask around to get the answer. That connection is what SNA will help boost tremendously but not from a perspective of working in a silo but from the entire company. So, in a way you put yourself to your service a whole lot of subject matter expertise that could help you become much more productive. And more productivity would mean better business results.
See above. Or perhaps an initial good read on the subject for some more answers on the topic would be Wikipedia’s article on SNA. There are lots of information out there that would be worth while a read. And I am sure there are some more. But one step at a time.
“How does SNA identify strengths and weaknesses?”
… If you see, for instance, that within one area of the business there are plenty of connections that would indicate a strength and vice versa.
Not necessarily. I think it is at best a waste of time to analyze people’s social networking skills and at worst results in officially sanctioning internal politicking (something we have agreed should be limited in a business). If someone was still going to proceed with an SNA, then I think it should be the quality of the connections that matters, not the quantity. According to what criteria could SNA possibly define quality? Since it looks only at people’s social networking skills by surveying people on their opinions of their co-workers social skills, what is it that constitutes quality social networking skills? Politeness? Agreeability? What?
To make a comparison, there are 10 gazillion blogs out there. The top hundred are rated based on the number of links they have. I have read the top hundred and found that the number of links is no indicator of quality. Quantity of links may indicate popularity, but that is not the same thing as quality. In business, it is the quality of a person – their character and judgment and results achieved – that matters more than their popularity because popularity is fickle and can be manipulated. If a person’s character and judgment are as important to you as their social networking skills, why would you implement a study that overlooks their character and judgment and concentrates instead only on their social networking skills?
I asked “What constitutes ‘collaborative’ behaviors?” and while I agree with your and Wikipedia’s definition of collaboration, I was asking more how does SNA define collaborative behaviors.
I have never seen any SNA done focusing on gossip mill
A gossip mill, in the absence of a better definition, is essentially what SNA maps.
We are all social beings and as such those social skills will always be there in one way or another, whether we like it or not. So since they are there inherent to us why not make extensive use of them applying them to businesses.
It’s true we are social animals and sociability is a big part of our lives, but not to the exclusion of things like experience, character, judgment, results, intelligence or honesty. How does SNA map these things? It doesn’t.
one’s own social networking skills already detail quite a lot about people’s judgement and character.
No. They detail your social networking skills. There’s no shortcut to experience. Politicking and corporate tricks can give the impression of experience, but sound judgment and character are not necessarily indicated by how friendly or accommodating you appear to be. SNA takes a very superficial approach to determining who is influential in a company.
I have never seen any SNA just focusing on the social networking skills just for the sake of those skills. There is always something happening afterwards that will ultimately reflect in the business itself, i.e. improve the way business is executed.
I think the SNA process in and of itself focusses exclusively on identifying social networking skills, though how it goes about defining those skills – what constitutes ‘collaborative’ behaviors – is still unclear. It is also unclear how managers in the aftermath of an SNA could improve the way business is executed, unless by ‘executed’ you mean job terminations based not on poor business results per se, but on being rated socially unpopular. I think companies should be careful not to introduce a system that has every possibility of breeding an intolerance for people who look at things differently. In my experience, innovation does not result from everyone thinking the same way and agreeing with each other; quite the opposite. Occasionally, there are personality clashes. Sometimes, employees hate each other’s guts, but still have to work together. There really is no substitute for hands-on management.
You just said it out loud yourself, Noel ! You cannot change human nature and it is our human nature to be social animals …
It’s one part of human nature. It is also part of human nature to be curious, intelligent, constructive, independent, self-reliant, innovative, creative. These things do not necessarily require use of your social skills.
In business, sociability, though useful, is not the most important skill to have. I’ve known many successful negotiators who had very little to offer in the charm department, but were very capable deal-makers. Even so, many skilled negotiators do use their social skills, but it is a very superficial aspect of the negotiation. What matters more is their ability to negotiate which is something that can only be learned through experience.
… and as such there would always be a need to make use of such tools not only because they allow us to do our jobs correctly but also because they allow us to keep afloat with our social networks in the current state of things. That is exactly what the telephone, fax and e-mail did in the past. And that is what the Web 2.0 will do over the next few years.
In business, the tools we use are not there to “allow us to keep afloat with our social network.” The purpose of business tools is to allow us to do our jobs.
1940. Telephone call: “5 tons of flour will be delivered to the warehouse next Tuesday.”
1982. Fax: “5 tons of flour will be delivered to the warehouse next Tuesday.”
1999. E-mail: “5 tons of flour will be delivered to the warehouse next Tuesday.”
2010. Wireless automated hologram: “5 tons of flour will be delivered to the warehouse next Tuesday. This is a recording.”
Unless that wireless automated hologram has been given an SNA make-over in which case it will be programmed to say:
“Hi! Really loved your party! The champagne was exquisite. And you are looking sooooo fit. Have you been working out or something? Oh, by the way, 5 tons of flour will be delivered to the warehouse next Tuesday. This is a recording. The team is out developing their social networking skills at the local bar and grill and they have left me in charge!”
If anything they wouldn’t allow to control their social interactions but to augment them to a much higher level so that they could then be reused extensively to help improve collaboration, communications, interactions with other colleagues, etc. etc. And that, to me, is one of the most powerful ways of building trust. Getting people together and establish multiple and complex connections that will tie them with one another while they are performing their jobs. If not how do you plan to help build that trust? If it is not through social networking skills then I would love to know what other ways there are out there that efficiently increase those trust levels.
Trust in business comes from not shafting your customers, your workers or your stockholders. The quantity of social communications being mapped matters very little.
I still think SNA provides some new options for businesses on how to improve their businesses by making use of their best talent that in some cases could be well hidden. Even then by some of those same politics.
Saying something is so doesn’t make it so unless you can show how it is so. I do not see how SNA benefits a company. I see that it wastes time, costs money and encourages internal politicking to flourish.
“How exactly would an SNA study help beyond what is currently in place, i.e. normal complaint resolution procedures?”
Basically by what I have mentioning all along. Highlighting the different relationships out there within the different knowledge workers to help identify potential areas of conflict like knowledge gaps, but also at the same time to help identify those hubs / connectors that could help provide more visibility on whatever else may be happening around the company. Some of the current procedures, like the one you mention, are just too formal and like everything else they would be missing out on the social aspects of what is happening inside work. SNA will identify those and help provide some recommendations to act upon.
SNA sounds very vague and inefficient. If a complaint is made, for example, against an abusive boss for sexual harassment or some other serious allegation, then a formal complaint should be lodged. In fact, I think there is no other way to handle something like that considering all of the possible litigation companies need to concern themselves with today. How SNA could help in resolving complaints is unclear. Are you suggesting SNA would bring complaints people may have about other people out into the open?
“The accommodation of those social networking skills will be having a direct impact on the achievement of business results.”
Very simple. Allowing people to make use of their social networking skills to get together with other knowledge workers, collaborate closer because the connections have been created, the trust is already on the way, and people start working closer with one another because of those social links.
People form their own links in work without needing to go to an SNA data manual, assuming they were even given access to the data that is collected.
So, in a way you put yourself to your service a whole lot of subject matter expertise that could help you become much more productive.
You’re assuming everyone will be given access to the data. I do not think this likely. But even if some SNA manual detailing the names of the hubs etc. were made available to all employees, it is likely it would be tossed onto the growing pile of useless management communications people are accumulating every working day. Business is not complicated. If you need someone to fix your computer, you pick up the phone and call IT. If you need legal advice on a deal you’re doing, you call the corporate lawyers. If you need more paper, you call Office Services. If you need a raise, you put on your biggest smile and go to your boss who won’t give a fig for your social networking skills, only for what you’ve accomplished in real business terms that merits a raise.
There are lots of information out there that would be worth while a read. And I am sure there are some more. But one step at a time.
I have researched SNA. I have read Patti Anklam and Seth Early, two authorities on the subject who have assured me that they will try to stop by Blood & Treasure to give their take on how the use of SNA benefits a business. I remain skeptical of what I’m pretty sure is set to become another fad that will end up costing a fortune in consulting fees and contribute nothing in real terms to improving a business unless you can consider even more centralized bureaucratic control over the people who work in a business a benefit.
I am not sure why you keep insisting on this, Noel, but SNA is just a part of a whole and just now the end result of it. And pretty much like Bill Ives just mentioned elsewhere SNA is just “a starting point, not a final solution“. So with that said SNA will help people find a way to study social relationships and interactions which would then need to be evaluated and mixed with that character and judgement from knowledge workers. To suppose that SNA will be the end result is a misconception we should try to avoid. It is just a means to try to provide some visibility on something that up until now nobody has dared to pay attention to it, probably because it was never thought it would have an impact, when in reality it does.
Firstly, placing a much stronger focus on people as opposed to the system (i.e. Tools), where SNA will identify the richness of communications and connections amongst group members and how knowledge flows inside of the group. The more meaningful communications there are and the more knowledge that gets shared the higher the chances that collaboration will stand out as part of that information flow. And vice versa, which will reflect clearly on what SNA was trying to do in the first place: identify those potential weaknesses so that they could be worked out, addressed and sorted out as soon as possible.
I don’t think so (From what I have been mentioning all along), and something tells me that we may not be able to reconcile our views on this one 😉 I have always considered gossip mill as something trivial and I doubt that throughout all these years people working and specialising on SNA related topics would like to read that particular definition of the serious piece of work they do on a daily basis. Yes, perhaps a much better definition should be found, but certainly the I cannot see anywhere in SNA the connotations implied by that expression. It must be just me, I don’t know, but I just don’t see it.
Hummm, somebody correct me in here but aren’t those qualities (Experience, character, judgement, intelligence, honesty) part of every human being and as such part also of what SNA would try to map? I mean, those are human qualities, which, indeed, are very difficult to measure, and perhaps it is not very much needed at the moment. However, the interesting thing would be to help try to identify those in a much more meaningful and relevant way and because of the social nature of SNA I have always believed that is what will make it all work.
Yes, indeed, but you cannot deny that judgment and character are human characteristics and since SNA is studying the behaviour, connections, communications and knowledge flow from humans I see a very close relationship between the two aspects. To me, and as I have already said above, it is all a matter of balance of the equation, where SNA provides on aspect, the social networking skills, and then whatever you would want to call it and related to the business results. Both items should walk hand in hand to make a business and its knowledge workers much more productive.
So spot on ! I agree with that statement and this is why I clearly see a benefit in making use of SNA for managers to try to identify what their teams are like and how they operate, how they connect with one another, how they get to share knowledge and how they work to provide those business results. And based on those results it will be up to those managers, and not SNA, to work on whatever potential recommendations may be coming out to then fix whatever issues may be at stake and ensure that everyone is valued for what they do and how they collaborate. To think that a business in the current state of the business world today can survive without having people collaborate and make those connections is something that I haven’t seen yet, and probably never will. It just wouldn’t survive too long.
A difference of opinion … Some of them do require extensive use of your social skills, like being curious in things other people are doing, or constructive sharing your ideas with others, or innovative and creative sharing your innovations and ideas with others to augment them or even go ahead and implement them. For the other qualities there is a very silo-mind tag attached to it, I am afraid, and like I said businesses in an on demand world like today will not survive for that long with that attitude.
Ah-ha ! Here is another part of the conversation where I feel we might not ever reconcile on, because I have always strongly believed that your social skills, although certainly not THE most important skill, are an integral part of how successful (As you say) you would be in the business. I think that at this point in time we would need to take into consideration different cultural issues that may be at stake where potential what may work for some countries and geographies may not work for others. There are lots of cultures for which social skills might be the most important skills and there may be others where it just isn’t. And I would bet that SNA would be able to help out figure that out as well and make some recommendations, specially for international business working in multiple countries across the globe. To me, it is all about cultivating the active participation of others. And I bet I am not the only one…
LOL ! Hilarious ! But I think that one thing is to suck up on someone and another one, quite different, would be, like I mentioned above, cultivating the active participation of others. In this particular example you went through something that would be key to me as far as that exchange of information: trust. Certainly, in the above examples you are getting the message across but does that mean that people would trust you next time ? How long could you keep up again being so up front to want to do business. How quicker those relationships will deteriorate into a very rarefied atmosphere where people would certainly do the job, but feel not very comfortable doing it ? I bet that example would have a completely different outcome in multiple countries. And I am saying that because I have been experiencing it all the time all over the place on a daily basis. If you would want to I could provide some examples.
On the contrary ! It matters quite a lot, actually ! And the proof of that is how customers walk away from different businesses that do not take very seriously the cultivation of those relationships. Again, one thing is to suck up and the other to actively improve those interactions not only with your customers but also with your coworkers.
No, I am not suggesting that. I am just saying that SNA will take to the surface the way relationships are in a specific group and then it would be up to the manager to interpret and act upon them accordingly. And even then they may not even come out, specially for touchy examples like the one you are mentioning.
In principle, I would think that the data would be available to just a few, i.e. managers and the like, but then I would think that depending on the criteria and discretion from the managers they could certainly share the data with their teams, why not? That is not something that would depend on SNA per se, but more on the people who evaluate and act upon those results. They should be the ones making that decision.
This may well be the case in some businesses but not all of them I would think. I bet there would be others where business results and social networking skills would be walking hand in hand. I could name a couple of them from top of my head. Pretty much like I could do for a few businesses focusing just on business results. We will just have to wait and see which ones would persevere throughout the years.Time will tell.
Excellent stuff ! I surely look forward to reading from them what they think about the whole subject of SNA and how businesses could benefit from it. Or perhaps not. We shall see.
Luis, you’ve made some interesting points and I think your heart is definitely in the right place: your interest is to get people working together.
Unfortunately, SNA only makes the social interactions visible, though according to what criteria they are assessed is unclear. Neither the quality of the people – their experience, character, judgment or accomplishment – nor the quality of the social interactions themselves are mapped. It’s half-baked. The subsequent ‘map’ detailing only who is and who is not rated socially popular is then given to select managers, more than likely only the top management team, hardly what you’d call a transparent process. Of what use is this social map? At best, it allows the top management team, perhaps already far removed from what is going on in the business and looking to SNA to provide a substitute for the messy hands-on management any business requires, to identify who the popular employees are, which is not the same thing as who the best achievers are. This is why I have termed SNA a gossip mill. It’s only interest is in mapping who talks to who and who likes who. That to me is what a gossip mill is – and coming from Ireland I ought to know 😉
Since the information presented in an SNA only concerns people’s social networking skills, top management will take that factor as their starting point – how popular someone is – to base whatever it is they are looking to make a decision on. It means that if you didn’t score a high SNA rating, your chances of having other important factors about you taken into consideration for promotion or whatever are now reduced. Or are they? I do not think it unlikely that someone will come along and blow all the targets away without paying a whit of attention to what constitutes ‘collaborative’ behaviors as mandated by the HR department. They will step on toes and get results, despite the threats of a low SNA rating. So what use is SNA?
In today’s corporate climate, people are hired guns. The best of them are not interested in being popular. They’re interested in getting results. This has always been the criteria to measure people by in business and always will. Results. Trying to introduce a ratings system that overlooks results in favor of social popularity is to me, at best, a waste of time (and money) and at worst will actively encourage internal politicking to flourish, and I think we have agreed that office politics waste time and have nothing to do with a person’s ability to get their job done.
I think it is necessary to look beyond social popularity to determine a person’s worth. Since SNA excludes everything other than a person’s skill at being socially popular, it raises the question, why? It suggests SNA advocates the belief that a person cannot be a leader unless they are considered popular. As mentioned before, this is how politics works, not business.
I can see how SNA sounds good, but it is flawed. As I said to Bill, the idea is that you are getting to the people who are the most important. But you’re not. You’re getting to the people who are the most political. Communism sounds good too – the idea of community, everyone sharing equally in a collective effort – but in reality it sounds better than it works.You cannot take the spirit of individual enterprise out of human nature and make it solely collaborative or community-based. There needs to be a balance. In my view, capitalism needs to continue to be a system that is merit-based.
Thanks much, Noel, for the thoughtful comments. I think this has been one of the discussions I have enjoyed the most in a long while, actually. And I feel that we may be getting closer and closer towards some sort of consensus. Appreciated all your great feedback.
Regarding your last reply, there is one clear thing to me and that is that although you may believe in the purpose of what SNA could potentially do for a business somehow it sounds as if you feel that it could well be misused (Perhaps even abused) to try to address something that could have been addressed using other traditional methods. And I would tend to agree with that statement actually. SNA will be providing that data about the social networking skills but it would be up to the manager(s) to make good use of it and even more it would be the manager’s responsibility to make good use of the data provided by the SNA and failure to do that would not be something to blame on the SNA itself but more on the managers and whatever they may have done.
To me the good-willed use of SNA is a very powerful way to try to augment the way different connections and collaborating is taking place amongst coworkers so that it could improve the way they get to work and produce those business results. Any other use of the SNA data by different managers is something that I doubt it could be blamed for.
One other item that I wanted to mention about this whole discussion is that SNA should not be considered the one and only infallible system to check against businesses in order to improve their working processes. All the other way around. It is just one other method for analysis of how the business is working and to think that would be the one and only thing to consider would be a bit shortsighted and definitely something that should be avoided at all costs.
Yes, certainly ! There needs to be a balance. A balance, like you say, where capitalism needs to continue to be a system that is merit-based but not just from an individual perspective. Also from a community perspective. Why not? What is there to lose ?
Luis, from what I can tell, SNA isn’t interested in providing managers with a balance of information. It is not just slanted in favor of a person’s social networking skills. Social networking skills are the whole enchilada. Where’s the balance?
Instead of trying to blame managers for misusing an ineffective tool, why not just give them better tools? Sure, you can mow the lawn with a ruler and a pair of scissors, but why? The point I’m trying to make is that managers will base their decisions on the information made available to them. If the data they are provided with only relates to a person’s social popularity rating to the exclusion of all other factors concerning that person, as SNA does, then that is what managers given access to the data will base their subsequent decisions on: social popularity, because that is what senior management are telling them is important.
The Soviet Union employed a similar system: people survived based on how good of a comrade they were, or on how highly rated they were by other comrades. A person’s individual initiative, character, experience and accomplishments were all subordinate to their political skill at toeing the party line.
Yes, that is correct, it is not supposed to provide a balance of information since it just focuses indeed in the social networking skills. It is just supposed to provide managers with some information they can make use of and which they would balance out with whatever other aspects they had in mind. That is where the balance will be taking place. Let’s not forget that till not long ago there wasn’t much balance either since businesses were only focusing on everything else than social networking skills.
I do not think that SNA is an ineffective tool, on the contrary, because just if it were the case why has it been there for so long, probably way before you and I were born, and why are there so many professionals out there who are taking this discipline so seriously making it their daily job for a number of years already. Ineffective ? I don’t think so, otherwise we would have some serious problem in here, I would think.
I call SNA ineffective because it doesn’t provide a balance of information and it is good to see that we agree on this. It elevates social hearsay (gossip) concerning how popular people are rated to be above every other consideration and in doing so, makes gossip the basis for further decision making. It doesn’t just slant information in favor of gossip; gossip is all it reports.
My understanding is that SNA as a tool is new, arising from a growth in wikis and blogs. I’m not sure that SNA was around before I was born, at least not as a tool that only mapped social interactions to the exclusion of other, and in my view more important, considerations.
I may have been incomplete in terming SNA a gossip mill. It is not a gossip mill. It is a gossip mill mapper.
You may be correct, Noel, that if it doesn’t provide a balance of information like you indicated, however, there are lots of other areas that would be classified as ineffective, including the area you advocate for so far. And that would be fine with me, since the combination of all of those areas is what will make it a balanced approach towards achieving whatever the business results that may have been put together. I still feel a bit uncomfortable about your association of SNA and gossip mill perhaps due to the negativity and secrecy implied with the latter term, something that I have never experienced with SNA. At least till now. But it may be just me.
Actually, and from what I know, and somebody can correct me in here if I got the facts wrong, SNA has been there for over 50 years and the reason perhaps why it may not have been very popular till now (i.e. Wikis and weblogs) is because till now people just didn’t think that the social networking skills were as important as they are starting to be considered now given all this social software applications that keep coming up all over the place and very much related to the so-called Web 2.0.
Thanks for that Wikipedia article, Luis. Here’s something from it that I found interesting:
The power of social network theory stems from its difference from traditional sociological studies, which assume that it is the attributes of individual actors — whether they are friendly or unfriendly, smart or dumb, etc. — that matter. Social network theory produces an alternate view, where the attributes of individuals are less important than their relationships and ties with other actors within the network. This approach has turned out to be useful for explaining many real-world phenomena, but leaves less room for individual agency, the ability for individuals to influence their success, so much of it rests within the structure of their network.
Web 2.0 – looked at from the perspective of allowing us to “keep afloat with our social networks” as you termed it – is great, but the jury is still out on whether it transfers well into a business. Some businesses, for example, despise e-mail and operate without it because it wastes inordinate amounts of a worker’s time to read and respond to, at the expense of just getting their jobs done. Now we have blogs and wikis to tempt people away from the work they were hired to do in favor of chatting socially to each other, without that dialog necessarily having a purpose related to the business that is paying their salary and on whose time their ‘social floating’ is occurring.
You may say that blogs and wikis within companies help people do their jobs better by improving the flow of information internally and to some extent I am willing to go along with you, especially when it comes to Knowledge Management tools like IBM’s Jams “where the firm asks workers to suggest solutions to a set of issues or problems with no consideration given to their rank, job or experience.” (Thanks to Bill Ives for the link to eWeek). I can see a business benefit to Jams because it is directly aimed at solving specific business problems. Sometimes, after all, the best ideas can come from the most unlikely sources.
It does not follow, however, that every KM tool is a useful or valuable tool. What SNA tries to do is turn the mutual rating of people’s social networking skills into the most important (though enormously vague) ‘performance’ metric by seeking to elevate that ‘metric’ – who is talking to who and who likes who – above the achievement of actual business results and without consideration to what I think are more important factors when rating people, like, for example, their character and experience. SNA consultants would like to convince senior managers to consider social popularity the baseline metric for making further decisions. All SNA is mapping, essentially, is a gossip mill based on popularity surveys while keeping what is ‘learned’ secret from a majority of the workforce.
The SNA process communicates to people that a high social popularity rating is now a priority and causes them to focus exclusively on gaining (not necessarily securing because popularity is fickle and can be easily manipulated) social acceptance among their peers; a better incentive for people to waste time making themselves look good while sending levels of internal politicking through the roof I cannot imagine.
You like collaboration. You would like to see people collaborate more. Fine. Keep in mind that just because something comes out of the KM stables does not necessarily mean it is valuable, even though it is backed by credentialled authorities in the field. It still might not be all it is cracked up to be and I think this is the case with SNA.
Hummm, so what are you doing over here, weblogging away, eh? 😉 ! No, seriously, it all pretty much depends on how you view it. You can certainly make use of Web 2.0 applications just for the fun of it to keep things going with your social networks. However, there is no denying that corporations and different business are looking very seriously into how they can transform those so-called Web 2.0 offerings into being able to provide business value / results by deploying them in a corporate environment. More and more businesses are starting to make use of weblogs, wikis, VoIP, social bookmarking, podcasts and other social networking tools as they see the huge potential they have got in the current business world. Otherwise how could we explain how more and more top executives are blogging out there on the Internet. Or how something so relatively simple like an online encyclopedia like Wikipedia has become one of the most popular resources for people to search and find the information they needed and which may not have been available before.
That is what I called a bit of a harsh statement on SNA, Noel, and I would like to understand it a bit more. I’d like to see somewhere written how SNA is considered the most important “performance” metric as you state above when we all know that even today the most important factor, like you say, is if you are able to deliver or not. I mean, I do not know of anybody who has been able to keep a job by using social networking skills as opposed to their business skills. On the contrary I know many other people who have been able to keep up at their jobs because of their business skills without having a single bit of interest in social networking. And the proof is out there. I would love to be able to find some hard facts on that. Any takers?
I agree on that statement since there are plenty of different KM related disciplines which have been going through something similar to what you state above. However, there is a significant aspect that we should not ignore. All of those disciplines have already disappeared some time ago (Perhaps a few years) or are no longer in use; yet SNA is still going strong and our time will be far gone and SNA will still be there. I am sure. And just to show how SNA hasn’t got anything to do with that trivial concept of the gossip mill here you have got a couple of links to some interesting facts on the kind of impact SNA is having in businesses. And all of that from the point of view of just being another option to consider to improve the businesses. Nothing more, nothing less:
21st Century Knowledge : Leading Value Network Analysis
SNA and VNA Presentations: SNA
(Welcome to elsua, Beth! I have thoroughly enjoyed your weblog post with some very good references to SNA and also upcoming (tele)seminars on the subject. Thanks for linking those over here. Appreciated)
Hummm, so what are you doing over here, weblogging away, eh? !
I enjoy conversation and have enjoyed this one, but to be perfectly honest with you, Luis, I am collecting material for our next book. Thanks for the links. Some interesting stuff there which I’m sure we’ll find a way to make some use of. 😉