The Hidden Power of Social Networks: Understanding how Work Really Gets Done in Organizations

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Harvard Business Press, 2004 - Business & Economics - 213 pages
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Identifying and Leveraging the Hidden Social Networks That Drive Corporate Performance

In today's flatter organizations, collaboration in employee networks has become critical to innovation and to both individual and companywide performance. Executives spend millions on new organizational designs, cultural initiatives, and technologies to promote the sharing of knowledge and expertise across functional, hierarchical, and divisional lines. Yet these efforts have achieved disappointing results.

Rob Cross and Andrew Parker argue that's because most managers have little understanding of how their employees actually interact to get work done. In fact, formal "org charts" fail to reveal the often hidden social networks that truly drive--or hinder--an organization's performance. In this eye-opening book, Cross and Parker show managers how to find, assess, and support the networks most crucial to competitive success.

Based on their in-depth study of more than sixty informal networks within organizations around the world, Cross and Parker show how managers can implement a wide range of specific and inexpensive actions-from bridging strategically important disconnects in a network to eliminating information "bottlenecks" to recognizing key connectors-that will enhance the powerful impact networks can have on performance and innovation.

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The Hidden Power of Social Networks: Understanding How Work Really Gets Done in Organizations

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That organizational charts rarely describe functional hierarchy is obvious to any employee who's ever tried to adhere to one. Instead, survival often depends on incorporating oneself into unofficial ... Read full review

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Page 11, We learned the technology use and individual expertise did not distinguish people as high performers. To be sure, not having sufficient expertise or not using technology in the right way could land a person in the bottom 20 percent of performers. However, what distinguished the performers were larger and more diversified personal networks than those of average or low performers. This is consistent with other research findings, in which more diversified networks are associated with early promotion, career mobility, and managerial effectiveness. Page 12, in no cases did we see any technology come close to the importance people gave to other people for finding information and learning how to get the work done. Page 25 in contrast, if you continue down the diagonal, you see fewer connections between senior and staff consultants. As is typical in consulting, staff consultants were hired and then shipped out to client sites for long stretches. Because they did not have many ways to connect with their home organization, they had a hard time getting information and learning organization norms from their peers. Our interviews revealed that the 40% turnover rate in the consulting staff was mainly caused by disaffection and feelings of disconnectedness among these people. To improve the situation, the firm made several changes, including extensive orientation efforts that rotated new hires. Leaders adopted a different consulting model that focused on bringing all employees back into the office on Fridays and began to hold monthly meetings for senior staff consultants. A collaborative space was created, and a small budget was allocated for social events and other innovative means of improving productivity. Page 49. Our high performers are not just people who are smart. We have some of the brightest consultants in the world here. But some are more successful than others, and it has much more to do with what I call buzz than a slight difference in IQ. Our high performers create enthusiasm for things. I mean they are smart and have good ideas, but more than that they are able to get people to buy into and take action on their ideas. They create energy, and even though this is intangible it generates client sales and follow-on work as well as gets other people here engaged in and supportive of what they're doing. I know this might sound like a New Age idea, but what I call buzz or energy has a lot to do with these people's and ultimately the firm's success. -- managing partner at the strategy consulting firm Page 54. But this energy really matter for individual performance and learning? In three of the seven organizations, we obtained reliable performance information on the people in the energy network. We found a critical link between a person's position in the network and his or her performance as measured by annual human resource ratings. In all surveys, we assessed information flow in the entire network as well as each person's use of impersonal sources such as files and databases. We anticipated that those who tapped their informational environment more effectively would be better performers. Intriguingly, we found in all three settings that performance was closely connected to people's positions in the energy network. Even after accounting for the use of various personal and impersonal sources of information, we found that those energize others were much higher performers. Our interviews also suggested energizers get more from those around them. In the short term, people devote themselves more fully in interactions with an energizer, giving undivided attention in a meeting or problem-solving session. People are also more likely to devote discretionary time to an energizer's concerns. Reflecting on a problem during our commute, sending an extra e-mail or two to find information, or introducing someone to valued contact are all things we are much more likely to do for an energizer than a de-energizer. Page 57 second, energy is created in conversations that balance several 

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About the author (2004)

Rob Cross is an assistant professor at the University of Virginia's McIntire School of Commerce in Charlottesville. Andrew Parker is a Research Consultant with the IBM Knowledge and Organizational Forum in Cambridge.

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