Working Out Loud with ESN and ESN Analytics : A Conversation Starter

WOL graphic

This week is Working Out Loud week #Wolweek. In celebration of this important event, this article continues our theme on smashing the productivity sound barrier; in this instance by Working Out Loud (WOL). We have chosen to focus on WOL in the enterprise, facilitated by the Enterprise Social Networking platform (ESN) and ESN analytics. While it could be claimed that the rise of ESN technology provided a key impetus for the acceleration of the WOL movement, ESN analytics support of WOL practice has not been extensively discussed. In this post we are providing some propositions on how particular ESN analytics could support and facilitate WOL and consequential breakthrough productivity performance.

We have framed our propositions around specific key WOL messages provided by John Stepper in his book Working Out Loud, someone who as much as anyone, is responsible for the WOL movement. We have selected key messages verbatim from the book. We then humbly provide some suggestions on how we believe ESN analytics could help individuals effectively WOL. We have no evidence on how effective these initiatives may be. In the spirit of WOL, we are simply putting them out there for comment and improvement suggestions.

We apologise in advance, for the length of this list. Stepper identifies so many important issues, that it was hard for us to leave any out, so we hope you will persevere to the end with us. Perhaps we could develop a virtual WOL circle for those interested in WOL analytics?

So here it is….

1. “Working in an open and generous, connected way helps you tap into your innate psychological needs. A richer, more diverse network gives you access to more opportunities”

 So how do we find out how diverse our networks are? Is my network more or less diverse than my peers? What measures can I use to find out how diverse my network is? There are proven measures of diversity that can be employed to assist with this task. Might we be able to use those?
 
2. “ There are 5 key elements for WOL: Purposeful Discovery, Relationships, Generosity, Visible Work, a Growth Mindset”

Can we track and measure any of these elements in a way that we could monitor self-improvement? Perhaps “Visible Work” is the simplest if we can track ESN postings made. “Relationships” could also be measured, both in number and intensity/quality? Generosity could perhaps include all ESN contribution, posts, likes, replies, notification and mentions made. How about Purposeful Discovery and a Growth Mindset? Any ideas?

3.    “Purposeful discovery is a form of goal-oriented exploration, to guide your decision making and lead to better possibilities. It is equivalent to lean startup….your initial goal orients your activities. As you get feedback and learn, you adapt your goal accordingly”

We could monitor replies you get from your postings. You might then identify how often your goals have been adapted, based on some specific feedback. But what if you have got little feedback online to work with?

4.    “Your network, if developed properly, gives access to knowledge, expertise, and influence. Ideally your network includes clusters of strong ties with people who trust you so you can exchange valuable information, as well as weak ties with people who are different from you, who have information and contacts that you and your strong ties don’t have.”

Bridging and bonding ties are the core analytic principles from social network analysis (SNA), so there is a vast science available to exploit to help us with the above. Using ESN logs it is possible to identify the mix of online strong and weak ties one has:

Annotated Screen Shot Network mapCould you see yourself using information like this to help build your network?

5.    “Self-interest and other-interest are completely independent motivations: you can have both of them at the same time.”

Much has been written about your “Give-Receive” balance and in fact how important it is to be balanced. Adam Grant in his best selling book Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success identifies how givers, receivers and matchers can best manage these complementary roles. Sandy Pentland’s research on what makes great teams, goes further, to emphasise the importance of short, sharp give and receive interactions.

We think that a personal give-receive measure identified by your posting/replying etc. behaviour would be a valuable contribution to this aspect of WOL. You could simply review your recent ESN activities and count posts, likes, mentions etc. made and received. Is this something you would be comfortable doing?

 6.    “The interesting part isn’t the technology, but the benefits people experience from using the technology….you don’t have to be online, but your online presence extends your reach, multiplying your possibilities.”

It goes without saying that to benefit from analytics you do have to work out loud, online, as much as possible. But clearly there will be challenges with this. Do you think the benefits will outweigh the personal costs of going online?

7.    “Focus on getting better, instead of being good…emphasizing improvement instead of performance can make a significant difference in effectiveness and confidence. To help you avoid the resistance to change, frame the entire process as a learning goal. Focus on getting better, rather than being good.”

Systematic improvement methods have been with us for decades. While there are many improvement themes, from Total Quality Control, Lean Manufacturing, Six Sigma, Business Process Management, the common factor is performance measurement. This makes ESN analytics central to any improvement initiative. The Stepper WOL book provides many excellent examples of manual and semi-automated ways of tracking performance. Would online analytics that can make this task easier help you sustain your focus on this improvement process?

8.    “Who can help you with that goal? Start by thinking of people who are already doing something related to your goal…”

Inside the enterprise these people could be framed as fellow “stakeholders” in your goal. Some may already be in your network. Others you will need to recruit. Once you have identified your ‘hit list’, you could start to selectively reach out via the ESN. Some stakeholders will have complementary goals to yourself. ESN analytics could then be used to monitor your hopefully growing stakeholder relationships, over time. Is this something you could practically see yourself doing?

9.    “Dale Carnegie principle “Give honest and sincere appreciation”. A small gesture of appreciation is to recognize the other person’s work online….”

A ‘Reply’, a ‘Like’, a ‘Mention’ provided are all signals of appreciation from you. Why not total them up and monitor them as your personal ‘recognition given’ index, over time. Of course, it also works in reverse, for recognition received. It seems quite a trivial thing to do when one considers the level of appreciation it can engender. Who doesn’t like getting likes! Do you agree?

10.    “You want to develop the habit of regularly reviewing your relationship list asking, “What do I have to offer that can further develop the relationship? You also want to review your contribution list and, for each item, ask, “For whom might this be a contribution”. By repeatedly working your lists, thinking in terms of relationships and contributions will come more naturally over time.”

This sounds like a customer relationship management (CRM) system, where experience tells us that the data recording part is the most onerous. This is where ESN relationship interaction capture can reduce the workload and provide you with more opportunity to assess the analytics that might identify how well your network interactions are aligning, or not, with your current relationship focus list. How do you feel about this? Over the top? Or a necessary means to an end?

11. “Keep track of a few things for each person – your last contribution, the date of the contribution, and the date for the next one – can turn your relationship-building efforts from ad hoc to systematic”

Like with the previous point 10, manual tracking can prove too onerous for many people to sustain. ESN analytics already tracks much of this data, which can then be selectively reported for your convenience. But again, as for the last point, would you be comfortable doing this? Let us know why or why not?

12. “How your contribution will be received depends on how well you know the person and how you present the gift… even asking for help can be framed as a contribution.”

By using ESN analytics to identify and list your strong and weak/non-existent ties, you may be able to tailor your messages appropriately. But would you trust the identification of your strong and weak ties to an analytics system? Do you have any better ideas to achieve this?

13. “By the law of the few, some people in your relationship list have much more influence than others. Putting extra effort to identify and develop relationships with them will produce outsized results.”

A core value achieved from SNA is the identification of the influencers in a network. Using ESN data and SNA is likely to provide stronger evidence of who the real influencers in your network are, than simply solely relying on your intuition. We know that SNA is good at this identification of influencers, but it can never be 100%. Would the provision of a ‘prospective’ list be of value though?

14. “To deepen relationships…go beyond liking and commenting on other people’s work to creating your own original contributions”

In our work on ‘Personas’, we identify four common behaviours: Observers (minimal activity); Commentators (a preference for responding); Catalysts (an ability to attract many responses from their posts) and Engagers (those that can balance catalysing and commentating). This point is about learning how to be a catalyst i.e. posts that can engage an audience. ESN analytics can monitor your ESN interaction behaviours. There are many of you out there who are excellent catalysts and can write extremely engaging posts. Any tips for those catalyst aspirants?

15. “Enabling and encouraging an audience to be part of your work helps amplify it.”

This is a reinforcement of the previous point 14 on “how to be good catalyst”. Writing an engaging post or reply, that gains a significant response, is about how it is written, as well as the audience it is directed at. Writing something for your strong ties (once you have identified them), is likely to result in a good response. ESN analytics might help not only identify your potentially most receptive audience, but also report on the response, both in volume and timing. Is this something you would find valuable?

16. When you’re a linchpin, your purpose is no longer about what you might accomplish, but what you and your network could accomplish together.

In point 13 we noted how influencers might be identified in your network. Once you have achieved ‘linchpin’ status you will indeed be identified through your ESN interaction patterns, as an influencer. You will most likely now show ‘Engager’ type behaviour in your larger than average network. ESN analytics can help you measure and monitor your journey to linchpin status. For early ESN implementations, we regularly see the ESN community managers as linchpins. We sense though that while a community manager might feel good about being acknowledged as an ESN linchpin, their heart is in creating many more linchpins across the organisation. Are we right in thinking this?

What tomorrow looks like: WOL and Analytics together

Let’s now try and visualise what the enterprise might look like should all these propositions prove true. Would the enterprise be able to achieve “breakthrough” productivity improvements through ESN and ESN analytics deployment?

In this scenario we would see:

  • All staff at all levels using WOL practices, both online and offline.
  • The ESN has replaced email as the ubiquitous communication channel of choice.
  • Through WOL at all levels, enterprise goals are evolved through active participation through the ESN.
  • Cascading of organisational goals is no longer required as all staff have had the opportunity to participate in their setting in the first place. They have also aligned their own personal goals with input from others in their network.
  • Adapting to changes in environmental conditions no longer requires extensive organisational change management programs.
  • WOL allows all staff to be appraised of both enterprise and the personal goals of their colleagues, in real time.
  • Working with their strong-tie network, teams can now execute on team activities without the need for continual review and approval processes. At the same time, all staff will now and have access to their weak tie network, the prime source of innovation and new value creation for the Enterprise.
  • Online ESN analytics becomes the predictive data platform, which the organisation relies on, to achieve the agility and adaptability required to thrive in challenging marketplaces.
  • While staff are well connected internally, their networking performance is not constrained by Enterprise boundaries.
  • Market intelligence is no longer only the purview or the marketing department, but something that is potentially accessible by all staff, as it happens.

Would a world like this be able to smash the productivity “sound barrier”? We think so.

In the spirit of WOL and WOLWeek, we are keen to facilitate a virtual WOL circle on ESN and ESN analytics for WOL. With our SWOOP social network analytics platform in mind we want to create a product that is totally in synch with WOL principles and practices. At the same time, we anticipate that participants in this WOL circle will have their own goals for joining up, that are not related to buying a new tool or analytics product. For us the key value for joining a WOL circle like this is to work toward a common vision we all have for WOL and to have fun breaking through that productivity sound barrier together, both for yourself and your respective enterprises.

Are you up up for it? Then reply here….

 


Who would you like to sit near at work?


Sounds a simple enough question, but likely to provoke a mix of emotions that strikes at the heart of the social and business dichotomy. On one hand we like to sit with people that we can get on with; people that potentially share our interests, both inside and outside of work. But also they might be people that are different enough from us to challenge and stretch us without descending into acrimony. On the other hand we might put our ‘business’ hat on and consider our current role. As a technical specialist we might want to sit near other like specialists to share our learnings and experiences and deepen our capabilities. As a line manager I may consider whether I would like to sit with my boss and be more visible and aligned with the strategic directions of the organisation, or alternatively be with my team, to be a ‘hands on’ manager. As a client facing person I would similarly be considering whether it is best to sit near my customers or my service providers. As a senior executive I would also have to consider which stakeholders I would benefit most in being near. Even the idea of individuals being allocated a ‘seat’ is becoming outdated. Hot desking was established to enable facilities to be shared by staff not requiring a permanent location. A recent workplace study conducted of its CBD premises by one large organisation found that staff only spent 63% of their time at the office and of that time, were away from their desk 47% of the time, with the rest of the time being mobile between other workspaces and meeting rooms. The average occupancy was just over 30% overall. Facilities managers are now looking to design workspaces that can accommodate more modern and productive activity based work practices, while at the same time, making more economic use of the spaces provided.

 SNAW1In reality, when it comes to where we sit and co-locate with at work, most of us do not get asked. The task of assigning workspaces is left to line management and facilities staff. By default, workspaces will often be aligned with the formal organisation chart, making the assumption that the formal structure also reflects the preferred work patterns. This assumption is becoming highly questionable as workplaces become increasingly interdependent. Workspace allocation can become a highly emotive issue. It’s not just about the corner offices. It can be impossible to meet everyone’s expectations, yet its important that organisations maximise the opportunity that co-location offers. Despite the facility offered by modern communications technology, physical co-location is still by far the best means for sharing knowledge and maximizing productivity.  So how can we converge the duplicity of personal co-working preferences, natural team collaboration patterns with physical workplace design, to achieve maximum possible productivity?
SNAW2

Social Network Analysis and Workplace Design

Modern organisations are rapidly moving away from ‘command and control’ structures to more ‘empower and support’ frameworks, with of course social business initiatives leading the way. It is therefore not surprising that staff would be given more input into their physical working environment and in particular who they would like to sit near. The essence of this change is cleverly articulated in “Re-imagining Work”, part of the popular RSA animate series, where the choice of who we choose to work with and near is increasingly becoming a personal one. Social Business principles would dictate that it’s the people themselves, more so than their management,  that are best placed to choose their most productive collaboration partners. One doesn’t need to look further than the successful open source software industry to see this in action.

Social Network Analysis (SNA) is a method of choice for analyzing and understanding informal collaboration patterns. Typically an SNA study surveys staff about who they benefit from working with.  Social networking maps and analytics can then be developed to assess where the most productive patterns of collaboration exist and also potential productivity bottlenecks or blockages.

The “who would you like to sit near at work” question was designed to support projects looking to consider productive networking patterns into workplace occupation activities. Forward thinking facilities design and development firms are now appreciating that having a deeper understanding of the natural collaboration patterns of their prospective clients will enable them to provide a more convincing design and development proposition. In a recent project Optimice worked with one of Australia largest developers in developing an occupation plan for their key client, a major telecommunications organisation that was looking to refurbish their central city facilities. Their objective was not only to optimize their floor space, but to configure their physical spaces to be aligned to their ‘future way of working’ vision, which of course included much more mobility and technical enabled communications. Some 5,000 staff were asked to nominate and rate the people they would benefit most in terms of their personal productivity, by being co-located. As with any SNA study it only takes a relatively modest sample to characterize an organisation’s overall collaboration patterns. By aggregating at the ‘Team” level we were able to quickly identify those teams that feel they would be most productive when co-located. Additionally, because we were able to measure the ‘strength of ties’ between teams we could incrementally “fill” a building floor with teams preferentially by manipulating the strength filter, as illustrated below:

SNAW4The top panel identifies the two teams with the highest collaboration score (94), along with the total number of staff (230) contained within those teams. Decreasing the strength filter exposes additional teams with collaboration scores above (24) as shown in the middle panel, constituting a total staff of 1589. Decreasing the collaboration strength even further down to (12) exposes even more teams configured in several clusters. The clustering patterns, along with the staff counter, can be used by occupancy designers to effectively ‘stack’ building floors according to stated collocation preferences. Note that only just over 3,000 of the 5,000 staff would have been allocated at this point. We could continue to decrease the strength of tie filter to allocate the remaining teams or we could determine that those teams with only weak connections could be placed anywhere without seriously impacting their productivity. If you like, these teams could be used as ‘fillers’ for floors only partially occupied.

Where to Next?

 The above example identifies how SNA can be used to realize social business principles for collocating teams. The science of social networks can assist in mediating the politics that regularly pervade office space allocations. There is more to do however. Cohesive, co-located teams can deepen capabilities and enhance efficiency. Productivity however, is not just about efficiency.  We know that a certain level of diversity of connections is needed to facilitate creativity and to deliver innovation. Such connections may not require extended co-location but will require an environment where serendipitous connections are more likely. Those staff in roles requiring diverse networks tends to be those that are more often not in the office and/or not at their desk that often. These people may feel that nominating permanent co-location partners is incongruous with their desired mode of operation. Like teams that have no strong ties to other teams, at the individual level, those staff without strong ties are far from being outcasts, especially if they are seen to ‘bridge’ between cohesive teams, providing the important balance between cohesion and diversity that characterizes high performance organisations.

For the individual, the network ensuing from the simple question of “who would you like to sit near as work?” can be much more than your position in a popularity contest. While you may have a view of who you would benefit from being co-located with, even more insightful is who, if any, have nominated you as someone that they would benefit from being co-located. But that’s another story!

 

Leading from the Bottom

We have been long term advocates of J.B. Quinn’s inverted hierarchy model for new service led economies.

Inverted HierarchyEssentially Quinn’s argument was that the vast majority of jobs in the developed world (around 80%) are now service oriented and that competitive advantage now comes from having ‘best in class’ competencies. His inverted hierarchy emphasises the need for line management to “support”, rather than “direct” front line staff in services organisations. Since its publication in the 1980s there has been a plethora of supporting voices from all quarters. The Deloitte’s led study “The Big Shift”; and book on “The Power of Pull”; the MIT management think tank on “Leaders Everywhere”; Steve Denning’s book “Radical Leadership”; plus numerous HBR and McKinsey articles all imploring the same message, get rid of the bureaucracy, flatten the organisation, and empower the front line staff. Easier said than done? 

Try as we might the management hierarchy, with its military heritage adopted by industry in the last century, has been a hard one to shake. Over a decade and a half of Social Network Analysis (SNA) studies has highlighted to us just how embedded this model is within organisations, though clearly the degree of hierarchical compliance does vary significantly across industries. A network model of a well functioning hierarchy will show cohesive networks at the executive level. The cohesive groups will then fragment as you move down through the levels of the organisation chart. At the base of the chart you will see shop floor level teams only connected through higher levels in the hierarchy. 

Network Hierachy

Of course in an industrial age, where the workforce was largely engaged in manufacturing or producing widgets, this form of work organisation has stood the test of time in terms of efficiency and low cost production. The situation changes when those passive widgets become active and opinion fuelled customers! As aware as we are how can we enact change to the inverted hierarchy?

 Barriers to Change

Rather than going straight to solution mode it is worth reflecting first on the nature of the barriers that we are faced with:

  1. Your organisational remuneration systems are likely to be strongly biased to the levels in the hierarchy, hence there is a vested interest for those at the top to maintain the status quo.
  2. Those part-way up the hierarchy have developed long term strategies as to how they can climb that hierarchy and have little interest in disrupting the status quo.
  3. Those at the base of the hierarchy have learnt that to progress up the hierarchy one must first learn to do what your line manager boss wants, hence reinforcing the hierarchy.
  4. For many nationalities the management hierarchy is embedded in their cultures. Asian cultures in particular have ‘respect for your elders’ and ‘respect for your leaders’ built in, even if sometimes that respect is not implicit, it is usually explicit.
  5. Even office or workplace designs reinforce the hierarchy. The default design is to co-locate those according to the organization chart. Though some forward thinking organisations are now challenging this by looking to engineer innovation and developing serendipitous connections through judicious physical space design.

There have been several sources of suggestions for facilitating the required changes. For example, leadership guru Steve Denning in his book on radical management suggests:

–       A shift in goals from making money for shareholders to delighting customers through continuous innovation.
–       A shift in the role of managers from controlling individuals to enabling self-organising teams.
–       A shift in the way work is coordinated from bureaucracy to dynamic linking.
–       A shift in values from a preoccupation with efficiency to a broader set of values that will foster continuous innovation.
–       A shift in communications from top-down commands to horizontal communications.

 
Gary Hamel in his writings on “Leaders Everywhere” suggests:

 –       Too much is required by too few people on top — change is belated, infrequent, convulsive, i.e. by the time the top realises that a change is needed, it’s too late.
–       Instead of continuing to ask more and more of the top leaders, we should move responsibility and expertise downwards.
–       We already realise that value is created by the associates (note: most don’t call them employees any longer), e.g. by interacting with clients, we talk about co-creation with clients.
–       One of the next important steps, after 360-feedback, is 360-compensation that gets rid of the rigid, hierarchical structure of compensation, but attributes compensation more fairly to where it is created.


Authors of the “Power of Pull”, John Hagel, John Seeley Brown and Lang Davison address the issue of client engagement (the pull) with these suggestions:

 –       Choosing environments that increase our likelihood of encountering people who share our passions; becoming and staying visible to the people who matter most.
–       Influencing their endeavors so they amplify our own work.
–       Discovering and interacting with the right people at the right time (timeliness).
–       Making the most of every serendipitous encounter (relevance).

Along the same lines MIT professor Thomas J Allen, the inventor of the ‘Allen Curve’ which articulates the level of drop off in communications with spatial separation, with co-author Gunter Henn, find that levels of physical co-location predicts the level of electronic communication. In their book the Organization and Architecture of Innovation, they make the compelling point that non-collocated teams that share an organizational membership will suffer some loss of intra-departmental communication, but this would be more than offset by increased inter-departmental communication with co-located members of other departments, which would be virtually non-existent without that co-location. The increasing availability of electronic communication facilities has no or little effect on this. So their suggestions could be summarised as:

 –       For staff involved in tasks requiring complex communications, co-location is essential.
–       For staff tasked with coordinating others, co-location is not critical
–       Where organizations are looking to build a diversity of interactions (like the base of the service pyramid) the tradeoff between intra-departmental vs inter-departmental communication, in deciding on who sits near who, is well worthwhile.

Orchestrating Change through Networks

For our part we believe that the value that SNA can add is the ability to provide specificity to these general recommendations. By providing targeted areas for action, the effects are likely to be felt in the shorter term, providing a stronger catalyst for change. For example, in addressing Denning’s recommendations, SNA can provide a baseline as to how the current organisation is working. What are the current levels of bureaucracy? Is it uniform or are some areas more bureaucratic than others? Which areas are likely to be engaging in innovative co-creation activities with clients? Is this happening at the service interface or at higher levels in the hierarchy? How are customers being engaged at each level of the hierarchy? How is client intelligence being vertically integrated up and down the hierarchy?

Management LayersThe above map is filtered to show predominantly reciprocated relationships to accentuate the relationship patterns. One can see how the management layers are closely clustered with a selection of clients. At another level we can see many associate-client disconnected clusters. The opportunity exists for the management to facilitate peer connections between these disconnected clusters to achieve a broader base of client connection, without the need to introduce bureaucratic overheads.

In addressing Gary Hamel’s suggestions, SNA can assess how much appreciation the management layers have on the value being generated at the client interfaces. We regularly find that in hierarchical organisations dependency nominations rarely point downwards i.e. managers tend not to acknowledge their dependency on their own staff, but will freely nominate ‘up and out’. In the Hamel scenario we would see many more reciprocated nominations. SNA is often compared with 360 deg reviews. When asked a question like “who helps you most in getting your job done well”?” Those staff nominated the most would qualify for higher remunerations according to Hamel. SNA can identify these ‘most valued’ staff precisely.

In terms of efficiency we had already indicated that the dependency relationships invariably point upward, rather than the other way. As Hamel indicates, this causes a logjam at the top, with many organisations paralysed while waiting for management responses. Many of the executives we work with have despaired at what they see as their staff’s inability to be accountable and to resolve peer level issues amongst themselves, rather than relying on the line management to make a call on any little dispute. We shouldn’t be surprised as hierarchies are designed this way. Unfortunately with growing interdependence between job roles the call on managers to adjudicate disputes is growing with it. What we need to see and encourage is natural ‘leaders without authority’.  These are the influencers and ‘can do’ staff who can influence others through their powers of persuasion, rather than through the power of position. They are able to successfully negotiate outcomes through co-operation and collaboration. We have found that the ‘key players’ identified by the SNA are, more often than not, these types of people. 

Natural leaders

In the above map we have identified those that are not part of the line management, yet have attracted several peer dependency nominations, which are often reciprocated (red lines).

In the “Power of Pull” much is made of being able to quickly identify the people you should be collaborating with, independent of a formal structure. An ‘industrial era’ response to these needs would be to build a skills or ‘yellow pages’ directory where everyone’s skills and experiences could be catalogued and freely searched. These efforts have largely been miserable failures. For several organisations we have been able to fill this gap by using the key players identified in the SNA as connection brokers. Rather than building expensive directories that become out of date before they are published, the SNA identified brokers who are organised to respond to people search enquires, by doing what they do naturally. And that is to provide qualified referrals, meaning that the right connections are being made in the fastest possible time.

 Yellow Pages

The “Power of Pull” also identifies the importance of serendipitous connections or relevance. In SNA terminology these are called ‘weak ties’, made famous by Mark Granovetter’s “Strength of Weak Ties” theory. Granovetter’s research identified that someone looking for a new job is much more likely to be successful by working through people that they might only know peripherally, rather than working through their closest connections. The logic is that your weak tie network provides a far broader search potential than your close ties, whose connections you are likely to be already connected to.  SNA can explore your ‘weak tie’ network, identifying those that are best positioned to broker connections to the largest number of relevant connections.

 Weak Ties Network

The above map identified only those connections that were nominated as ‘minor’ and therefore representing this organisation’s ‘weak tie’ network. The nodes were sized by a ‘betweenness’ metric, which identifies those best positioned to broker connections between diverse groups. Interestingly the most dominant grouping (coloured ‘grey) were viewed as somewhat peripheral in comparison to the core groups. Our advice to the management was to make them aware of the potential role these ‘brokers’ could play in triggering breakthrough innovation.

Finally lets address the Thomas Allen’s research and the powerful influence physical proximity has on connectivity and collaboration. This topic is addressed in more detail in Workplace Space and Connectedness, but for this article we highlight how SNA can overlay physical location attributes onto the social network analysis maps to identify just how powerful this impact might be in any given workplace. To ‘engineer serendipity’ we basically need to change where people sit. In doing this however, we don’t want to destroy existing teams. Using SNA we can clearly identify those teams showing the strongest density of internal connections. It is these teams that are mostly susceptible to the negative aspects of group think and therefore would benefit most from a more diverse suite of connections. They are also the teams least likely to be damaged by physical separation, as the existing trust links will ensure continued collaboration, independent of physical location.

 Network Map - Across floors and levelsThe above map identifies the connectivity patterns across physical work areas (identified by a Floor/Area code). In this case we can see the organisation has allocated the physical space according to the organisational structure (as per the colour of the circles). The connectivity patterns identify the ‘traffic pattern’ of connectivity across the physical space. The cohesiveness of the existing teams can also be seen, providing a choice for those teams that could be physically separated for ‘engineered serendipity’ purposes.

Summing up

There are many arguments for inverting the management hierarchy in order to thrive in today’s economy. It is however, easier said than done, with many structural mechanisms working to reinforce rather than dismantle it.

We have identified a number of ways SNA can facilitate this challenging task:

  • Identifying how clients are actually being engaged with at all levels of the organisation. Visually identifying where bureaucratic processes are impacting performance.
  • Identifying who the ‘key players’ in the organisation are, being those identified through 360 degree nominations. Rewards and acknowledgement of these key players can change behaviours.
  • Identifying the ‘leaders without authority’. These are the people at the bottom of the hierarchy who through their powers of influence and persuasion can lead the way from the bottom.
  • Use the identified key players as connection brokers. In this way ensuring that the right connections can be made at the right time, without the overhead of bureaucratic systems.
  • Build the reach across the organisation through identified brokers in the ‘weak tie’ network, as a more effective alternative to relying on the formal hierarchy.
  • Identify the most cohesive teams as those who would benefit most from an injection of diverse connections through co-location. They would also suffer least from not being physically co-located. 

Reflections on SocialBusinessForum 2013

The annual Social Business Forum held in Milan, Italy has now been operating for 6 years. I have the honour of speaking at all 6 forums so it was not a surprise that a former attendee asked “was there anything new?”. I’d like to say that I could immediately gush with a string of amazing new developments, but in truth the question did stump me for a while. I had to sit back and reflect on the past 6 years, and there have been developments. Not the amazing blockbuster types, but clearly an evolution, more so than revolution. So in no particular order here they are:


– in 2008 at forum #1 it was the first time I witnessed the speakers, other than myself (we were all on the stage for the entire event) tweeting about the speeches. In my naivety I thought they were all being terribly rude, with lap tops open…no pads in those days… doing their email there up on the stage while a fellow speaker was talking….. until it tweeked as to what they were doing. For the 2013 edition there were more than 5,000 tweets and 800+ tweeters with tweets coming in at over 1 a second during the keynotes. We provided the networking page for the event by social network mapping the tweet traffic. I’m saving some more in-depth analysis for a later post.

– ‘The Happiness Economy’, the opening keynote by Open Knowledge Founders Rosario Sica and Emanuele Scotti was certainly a first for me. It brought home the need to appreciate that money isn’t everything. In fact happiness is a social construct, it should therefore be natural for us to expect that the social business movement should deliver both happiness and economic benefits.

Jacob Morgan from Chess Media Group told a very funny story to start his speech about catching a late night train from Venice to Milan with his new fiancee. As sometimes happens in Italy an announcement was made that the train would be delayed at a platform for about 30 minutes, so Jacob got out to walk on the platform. As also sometimes happens in Italy, after much less that 30 minutes the doors closed and the train started moving off. He was forced to make a decision to run and jump in through an open window…so his moral of the story…don’t get left standing on the platform. His story was so good I actually forgot what the main content of the speech was. But I later found out that Jacob was born in Australia….so clearly he has a good story telling heritage!

Sameer Patel was at his controversial best by pouring cold water over the social business fever with some real adoption facts …. its still not all that good! Sameer is now with SAP…and it looks like he is having an impact. Unlike many of the other vendors it appears that the SB features will be more than bolt-ons.

– To continue with ‘vendor land’, for me the last few years have been uninspiring. No shortage of new products but my sense is that the ‘big guys’ are finally coming. IBM, Microsoft (now with Yammer, rather than a sparsely dressed sharepoint) and SAP, along with Oracle are getting serious…and there are a lot of big corporate and government players just waiting for this to happen. I think we will see a boost in corporate adoption through these established players. I visited Microsoft in Stockholm after the forum and they are very upbeat about social now, with the Yammer acquisition. Its good for Yammer too as now the Microsoft Enterprise subscribers get Yammer rolled in. It also means life is going to get tough for Enterprise SB start-ups. In the social SCM space I’m still disappointed at the ‘content’ over ‘relationship’ focus. Mining social business content streams can be useful, but doesn’t the ‘R’ in CRM stand for ‘Relationship’?

– I did enjoy Talligent’s CEO Rob Howard‘s statement in his keynote, that it would be useless for him to stand there and present brochure-ware as we wouldn’t listen. In fact that is a little how I felt even in the exhibition area. My usually opening question to the vendors is ‘what is distinctive about your product’….yet to hear anything memorable! But Rob just talked about applications….much more compelling.

Ray Wang and Esteban Kolsky broke the ‘stand and speak’ format by conducting an entertaining CMO vs CIO debate. Ray had to work hard….he noted that he lost the toss :) The message was compelling though…corporate IT have some major challenges in transforming from Dr. No’s to ‘yes men/women’.

George Siemens, the Social Learning guru was back again and speculating about the major transformations that the sector is facing. No doubt ‘social’ is going to play a big part in George’s view. George just received a grant to study the effects of MOOCs…bound to be a best seller!

– I discovered another Aussie disguised as a New York banking wizz. Brett King gave a keynote on Banking 3.0. He wrote the book which has become a big seller but also has attracted $mill in venture capital to build a banking platform which can actually tell you the impact on you annual budget when you are just about to press the buy button! I sense from the discussions I had on this that it may not appeal to everyone though….sometimes we just don’t want to know!

– My final reflection is ‘what comes around goes around’. After 6 years of social business I am experiencing Knowledge Management in the 1990s all over again. Many case studies that look similar; lots of talk about ROI or not ROI; vendors that mostly don’t ‘get it’; perhaps with just one key difference….KM became ‘content centric’ something it still hasn’t shaken off. SB is ‘connections’ centric…though the content kings are still trying hard.

I like the ‘connections’ perspective…so all is still good. I think the coming years will see Knowledge Management start to fulfil its true potential through social business.