“Why should you be concerned about Social Networks?”

Mar 30, 06

This Month

This month’s issue features an extremely interesting subject on Social Networks, its emerging importance for both organizations and for individuals.

As Social Network theorist, Karen Stephenson puts it, “Surviving the savannahs of the New Economy may be just as treacherous as leaping from tree to tree in the jungles of old economy corporate takeovers”. Organization Network Analysis may provide you with a tool that gives you an edge over fellow knowledge workers or an organization the competitive advantage.

Make sure that you explore and read further about the research and studies of the pioneers of this fascinating subject through the links provided.

Happy reading and warm wishes,



“Why should you be concerned about Social Networks?”

It seems that the old adage, “It is not what you know but whom you know” is being proven true through mathematical models now. To modify that a little bit, what you know will give you the starting point and who you know will enable you to be truly successful. Your ability to leverage on your social networks decides whether you would make it to the upper echelons in your career.

The reason why organizations are paying attention to “Social Networks” is because flatter organizations and cross functional / geographical collaboration has resulted in people increasingly relying on personal networks to collaborate and to get work done effectively.

From an organization point of view, if the premise, “everybody is interdependent” holds true then it becomes important to recognize the network patterns that high performers leverage on to succeed. Technology has enabled Social Network researchers to measure and study how their success can be duplicated by others.

So what exactly is Organizational Network Analysis?

Organizational Network Analysis (ONA) studies patterns of information flows across various groups and collaboration happens. An organization chart of a CEO and 5 direct reports fails to reveal the strength of human network. ONA goes beyond this chart to pinpoint the actual network in which the CEO operates to get things done. The network may actually stretch beyond the organization.

For example, if you moved into a new position in a new organization, over a period of time you would be able to identify the people within the organization you need to tap for expertise, for collaboration, for implementing your ideas or to act as sounding boards. The speed at which a person deciphers the patterns distinguishes him from others and makes him or her truly successful.

What if you had a sheet that showed you your predecessor’s network when you joined the organization? Depending on how your predecessor performed, you’d be able to emulate his or her success or avoid failures. It would give you a template to be successful.

From the organization point of view, if collaboration of two departments depended on the networking skills of a key individual and if this individual left the organization, the effectiveness of the entire group would be significantly impacted till such time that the new incumbent learnt how information flowed in the past.

How are organizations using ‘Organization Network Analysis’?

Social Network Researchers like Karen Stephenson and Rob Cross at the University of Virginia and Rob Burt at the University of Chicago are enabling organizations to study the information and collaboration flows for various uses through various survey tools and software.

The emerging patterns allow organizations to apply the results in several areas such as Decision Making, Encouraging Innovation, Post Merger Integration, Initiating Change, Leadership Development, identifying right fit, smoother transitions for new hires and the recently promoted. As you can see, the potential for various applications is enormous.

Organization Network Analysis will be helpful in understanding how work happens, where knowledge lies and whether formal structures are being bypassed.

A big advantage in using this tool would be – once the hidden patterns of flow and collaboration become visible, it is easy to take corrective action, to align the networks to meet the overall organizational goals. Building your own network will no longer left to those who did it intuitively and now becomes a very trainable activity.


From an organizational perspective:
1. How would you define the network characteristics in your organization – external and internal? How does work happen (within the formal organization charts or outside?) How is Knowledge shared? How does collaboration happen? How do ideas get exchanged?

From an individual perspective:

2. How does your own person network look like? Karen Stephenson identifies six types of knowledge networks.

a) The work network – whom do you exchange information as a part of your daily work routine
b) The social network – whom you do you check in, “inside and outside” the organization, to find out what is going on?
c) The innovation network – whom do you collaborate or kick ideas around?
d) The expert knowledge network – whom do you turn to for expertise or advice?
e) The career guidance network – whom do you go to for advice about the future
f) The Learning network – whom do you work with to improve existing processes or methods?


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