Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Relationships Trump Rank

I finally got to reading through Karen Stephenson’s article dated February 28th on The Community Network Solution. The subtitle reads: “In reweaving the social fabric of a city or town, relationships trump rank.” That last phrase caught my attention! And it teased me into leaving it on the top of my ‘reading pile’ for the last two weeks! (I know – I need to retire my reading pile and try an Amazon Kindle or a Sony Reader.) Anyway, the whole article is excellent.

The article begins by bemoaning the selection of quote-unquote ‘power brokers’ to make things happen within a community. Here are some highlights:

When a community sets out to address complex problems such as … the effort usually ends up going nowhere.

The quiet failure of such initiatives is often attributed to human nature, or to some flaw in the process that shaped the effort. But in fact, the problem usually starts when the project organizers compose their first list of proposed participants. The organizers ask themselves: Who are the power brokers around town? Who are the key players? …

Thereafter, the whole effort will operate on the unspoken presumption that influence derives primarily from positional power, and that positional power translates into the ability to get things done.

That assumption is as naive as the belief that a company’s organization chart –– with its boxes and circles, its dotted lines showing who reports to whom — provides an accurate picture of how the organization actually works. Like org charts, “most powerful” lists reveal nothing about the human qualities of those who occupy senior positions, the web of personal relationships upon which they can draw, or the trust they inspire (or don’t inspire) in other people.

She goes on to share both her understanding of and experiences for how networks permit and accelerate the flow of information and her approach to identifying people who have the capacity for “fruitful collaboration”. These are people who transcend workplace silos and collaborate freely across traditional community boundaries - to get things done.

The glory of the whole thing is that these most likely unheard-of-people are the ones that can bring together the skills, knowledge, and approach to operate without hesitation of differing hierarchies or CULTURES.

My question is can we transfer these ideas inside of the walls of the traditional organization? Can E2.0 be a catalyst for bringing these folks to the fore of our organizations? I think a good reading of this article alongside Gary Hamel’s chapter on W.L. Gore [The Future of Management, chapter 5] should be required reading for E2.0 practitioners. It is a challenge to be achieved. Let me know your thoughts.

If it’s not a dialog, why waste the time.


Bob I said...

One opportunity for leveraging the value of connectors in an organization is in change management. Consider a situation of a major re-organization or change in strategy: there is likely to be a work-stream in the effort called "Change Management," and it is likely to include activities like "Identify impacted groups," "Develop training and communications content," etc. Effecting the Change Management plan will then, typically, involve engaging with "Mary's organization" or "Dave's group," and this usually ends up being driven through Mary and Dave.

Would change management efforts be more powerful if they explicitly identified non-executive connectors and engaged them?

Is it enough to informally seek these folks early in the process? Or does an organization need to go through a scientific process like the one described by Stephenson?

Perhaps the evaluation of each employee's "network role and potential" could become formally embedded in the individual performance management and workforce planning process. A typical skill/competency model probably includes skills around "People" or "Communications"; what if informal network leverage were explicitly part of that model?

R. Todd said...

Relationships Trump Rank? What seems to be missing from the article is the response from the Ranking Power as the effort becomes a success. Those with positional power will not sit idly by as progress is being made. They must put their stamp on it, especially it it’s to be a success. Will this work within the enterprise? Of course, it already does and has for many years. You may not hear of it but it happens down in the trenches. Recently I read a story on the Civil War where between battles the Union soldiers and the Confederate soldiers would meet in the battle field to exchange goods. The Union had extra coffee while the Confederates had extra sugar. So even in battle of the harshest kind, the troops find a way to collaborate. Perhaps there is hope for the enterprise.