Hidden Signals

Communication comes in many forms, not all of them verbal and many of them under-valued… If eBay has taught us anything, it is that what one person considers waste can be another person’s prized possession.

Read More

‘Bring Your Own Profile’ to work

Summary: ‘Bring your own device’ has transformed mobile access to corporate information thanks to new consumer devices being adopted faster than their corporate equivalents. Could ‘Bring your own profile’ do the same for corporate knowledge by leveraging consumer social networks?


The adoption of enterprise social software continues to grow. Social media command centres are becoming more commonplace, certainly for recognisable brands. Conversation hubs to facilitate knowledge-sharing are replacing older groupware tools and email discussion lists. Sentiment analysis is a relatively new form of analytics, tapping into current moods and trends visible through user-generated content that are less predictable than your traditional statistics but can prove invaluable to enabling smarter decisions and actions. And internet-connected mobile devices are granting access anytime anywhere, putting the individual at the centre of anything and everything he/she/it chooses to participate in.

But in the world of work, there is one aspect that is already proving tiresome. The need to recreate your profile in a multitude of different enterprise social networks. Uploading a photo, adding a description, declaring skills and interests. Signing up for groups, duplicating opinions across platforms. Change company frequently (increasingly likely in the current era), or live life as a freelancer (also increasingly likely), and it becomes a regular chore.

What if, as has occurred with mobile devices, you could bring your own profile to work? Simply grant permission to your current employer to recognise your online career profile as an employee, and former employers to include your profile in their Alumni network. With a history of contributions that would enable the network to auto-suggest what company groups you are likely to want to affiliate with, and could recommend when you are likely to be able to contribute to something the organisation is seeking help with.

Whilst there are plenty of technical details to overcome, there are benefits for both the individual and the organisation in terms of skills recognition and knowledge transfer. The individual is able to integrate more quickly into the corporate social network. The company has a constantly maintained employee directory that can be easily expanded beyond organisation boundaries to include alumni, associates and other interested or relevant parties. And accurate recognisable photos in most cases too!

To do so would mean integrating one of the online consumer social networks. I’m guessing Facebook is an unlikely candidate. Most people observe a separation that means Facebook is kept for family and friends, hobbies and informal events. Of the others, in English-speaking countries, the likely candidates are LinkedIn and Google+. LinkedIn has the weight of maturity and a thriving group system that includes algorithms to suggest what you might want to participate in. People are used to crafting and maintaining their profile for career development. It also offers the potential to integrate with the existing company pages and recruitment services. Google+ has the breadth of coverage, plugging individual profiles into a global search index that enables also sorts of SocialRank based possibilities. As well as social networking tools already popular within some organisations, the Google Hangouts. But it has some work to do still – few people maintain well-populated profiles there (in my experience). Others? About.me is interesting but just a static profile page for now, like an online business card but without the value of context.

I’ve deliberately ignored the enterprise social networking tools such as Jive, Yammer, Kenexa and SocialCast because, for all their newness, they still represent the traditional world of enterprise software. Focused on the needs of the organisation first and foremost. The future of work is about networked individuals with careers, interests and expertise spanning far beyond traditional organisational boundaries. The tools and services demonstrating the most agility to adapt to this new world of work are online and consumer-based.


Featured image: ‘Selfie’ kindly shared on Flickr by Tim Ellis

Groups versus Individuals

organisation hierarchy

To be effective and productive in the modern world, organisations should not rely solely on hierarchical organisation charts to explain how work gets done. Networks help highlight individual contributions

The image above is a classic traditional organisational hierarchy. A manager responsible for making the decisions, supported by supervisors, each leading a team of people tasked with carrying out the decisions.

One of the biggest flaws within hierarchies is the tendency to treat all individuals at the each level as identical. In the example above, we have a decision maker, a group of supervisors: the blue dots A, B and C), and a group of do-ers: the red dots 1 to 9. (Yes I’m back with the pictures of dots again – goes with the name…) There are all sorts of challenges to the effectiveness of this system, not least trying to operate in an environment that doesn’t observe the rules of hierarchies and let’s everyone make decisions. But that’s for another post… This one is exploring how a network makes it easier to identify individual contributions and raise productivity.

Let’s rearrange our dots as the actual network that functions within this organisation:

Image: organisation network

The numbers and letters represent the order in which each individual was hired. The organisation chart does not tell us anything is different between the first person hired or the last. But the social network does.

Teams A and B are highly inter-connected. Team C is not. Supervisor C has barely any connections out of his/her reporting line and team. And we could guess that hires 7 ad 8 were made by C. All have come from outside the organisation and have yet to build up their network. The most useful member of Team C is no.9 because they have direct connections into both other teams and can more easily tap into their knowledge and expertise. But most interestingly, they have a connection with their manager’s manager. I’d guess No. 9 is heir-apparent to C’s job. C should be planning their next career move.

No. 1 is the longest-serving hire and well connected but not as well-connected as newer employees. Looking at the connections, the manager (purple dot) must be a more recent hire than no.1 because they have made connections with No. 4 and No.6 so they are not averse to communicating direct with team members yet do not interact with no.1. No. 1 is on the way out. Their career at this organisation has peaked.

No. 6’s career is on the up. Connected with people in all three teams, connected to all three supervisors and connected to the manager. Even if No. 6 knows nothing, they have access to everyone who knows something. The alternative scenario is that they are the person who knows everything, and everyone seeks them out when they need help. Either way, 6 is highly valuable to this organisation. Yet the organisation chart would suggest they are just a junior role.

Organisation charts make it far too easy to lump everybody into a single group – the level they are currently placed at within a hierarchy. And if you are near the bottom, you are expendable because the larger number of people at your level, the bigger the assumption that you are easy to replace. Imagine the company needs to reduce headcount due to financial difficulties? The common method in large organisations is to simply require all teams to reduce their headcount by the same amount. So teams A, B and C each lose a person, facing demoralising uncertainty and disruption in the process. The more productive approach would be to eliminate Team C, but keep no.9 and move them into one of the other teams. You’ve reduced the headcount by the same number, saved a bit more money because Supervisor C would likely have been on a higher salary and not impacted the two higher-performing teams in the process.

image: comparing network connections

The image above visualises both approaches. On the left, the lowest performer from each team is removed. Look how sparse the connections now appear between the three teams. On the right, the lowest performing team is removed but the highest performer from within it is retained, and that isn’t the supervisor. The connections between the remaining individuals is much tighter, across the two teams. How much likelier is it that they will be able to support one another? None of this would have been evident by just studying an org chart that treats everyone at each level equally.

Of course this is a vast simplification of just one of the differences between networks and hierarchies. Hierarchies do have their benefits. They help us organise large volumes of information in ways that are simple to understand, making sense out of what would otherwise seem chaotic. But they do tend to create inequalities – it’s easier to reward the few at the top than acknowledge the many below – and their weakness is in failing to appreciate the messy realities about what is really going on. We are beginning to develop the tools to better understand and work within networks, enabling us to make sense out of the chaos without having to create a hierarchy in the process. Organisation’s that tap into this new found capability will out perform those that don’t.

Similar or related posts

Do enterprise social networks matter?

flick-birds

Massive global online social networks have enabled consumers to disrupt markets and even helped citizens to disrupt governments. But what about social networks within business? Is there potential to improve the workplace?

The quick answer would be Yes! But the messy reality of most workplaces mean the outcome is not quite so clear.

Here are some real-world observations, based on organisations who have piloted and/or rolled out enterprise social networking tools over the past 2 years for internal purposes:

  • The most active uses have all shared a similar trait: connecting a distributed peer group focused on R&D-style activities. People who talk the same language (i.e. domain-specific) and share the same interests but are geographically dispersed.
  • The weakest use has been when it is deployed as a generic organisation-wide tool for everyone to start communicating online. There may be an initial flare of activity but usage tends to drop-off within 6 months.
  • The organisations who experience the most demonstrable benefits are in intellectually competitive markets, particularly science, technology and engineering, where specialist expertise is highly sought and valued but where there is openness to expanding knowledge.
  • Most senior managers are surprised at how well enterprise social networking tools are embraced when people are given the opportunity to participate.
  • Most successful deployments have at least one role dedicated to encouraging and moderating participation. May be a permanent role, can also be an ‘on rotation’ responsibility.

Here are some factors to consider before deploying enterprise social network tools:

  • What’s the intended outcome – Is it to strengthen relationships? Uncover hidden pockets of knowledge? Mine skills for collective intelligence? Involve people in decisions? Speed up access to expertise? Improve communications?
  • Are the dependencies in place – Will people have time to participate? Will they care (priorities)? Will their contributions be acknowledged, used, ignored or dismissed? How will conflicts be resolved?
  • What’s the overall culture of the organisation like – Is gossip encouraged or frowned upon?
  • Don’t mix up collaborative working with social networks. Different audiences, different activities. But one can help the other to scale…
  • Don’t get too hooked up on the technology choice – the value is in the conversation.
  • Consider training to improve communication skills for key roles.

And if there’s one tip above all others for getting started, try focusing on a specific area of the organisation rather than thinking ‘we are going social’. Can an enterprise social network create the digital equivalent of the water cooler or coffee area for a peer group that is otherwise unable to chat on a regular or ad-hoc basis?

Related blog posts

Flickr image: “Group Dynamics” kindly shared by Gary Cooper