Profit potential laid bare
in e-mail links
The social networks we navigate at work are
not only key factors in how we perform, they impact
on the bottom line as well
TECHNOLOGY has finally caught
up with a very bright idea: social network analysis.
Whose brains we pick, how often and why can be mapped
via e-mail as a complex web of professional relationships
very different from the traditional boss-down reporting
This is bad news for the office slacker who just
sits in a corner avoiding work, but will social network
analysis make everyone else’s working life hell? Just
the opposite, says Peter Cheese, managing director
of the human performance practice at Accenture, the
consultancy. “Collaboration is human nature, particularly
for the younger generation — sharing and collaborating
is something they want to do.” In the past, he says,
organisations have been better at putting up walls
and creating dead ends than enabling information to
E-mail is a simple way to track social networks, according
to Mark Newman, the CEO of the software development
firm Morphix Company: “What we find is that e-mail mirrors
the business relationships in an organisation.” MetaSight,
an e-mail management programme developed by Morphix,
reads e-mail envelopes and stores their sender, recipient
and subject information, without reading the content.
Newman says that it enables employers “to see who knows
who and who knows what”.
On the flipside, employees discover that they can
spend their time more profitably: “It enables you
to search for colleagues in your organisation who
might be interested in your topic. Work becomes more
fulfilling . . . they get to work with people who
can really help them get the work done.”
Should employees be worried about their privacy?
Newman is sensitive to this charge and MetaSight allows
users to opt out by marking their e-mails private
and confidential. Privacy could be the least of your
worries if you find yourself on the periphery of your
boss’s social network map.
“I know who I named (in my network) but when I look
at the map, I might see that person didn’t name me
back,” Tracy Cox, director of enterprise integration
at the US defence contractor Raytheon Co, tells Business
Week (Feb 27). Now that hypothetical employee
“knows that he isn’t valuable to his boss. And not
only does he know it, but 50 of his closest friends
know it too.”
Cheese describes social network analysis as the “next
generation of knowledge management” which could become
standard practice for managers rather than a specialist
HR practice, or an IT project. This will require a
culture change: “We have to value and reward the extent
to which you share knowledge and make yourself available
to share knowledge,” he says.
The bottom-line benefit is potentially enormous.
How companies react to change, how quickly and effectively
they gather information from inside the organisation
and from customers and suppliers, is a “big competitive
differentiator”, Cheese says.
Failing to find new ways to identify and pass on
knowledge and experience is unthinkable. If 80 per
cent to 90 per cent of an organisation’s smarts remain
invisible, the imminent retirement of legions of baby-boomers
will be hugely damaging to UK Plc. Playing six degrees
of Kevin Bacon, sorry, separation could become a matter
of corporate survival.