Archives for September 2009

Network Acupuncture

Leaders who excel over time utilize organizational networks in distinctive ways to compensate for weaknesses in formal structures, says Rob Cross (U of Virginia) and colleagues who conducted network analyses at more than 100 organizations.

In the journal Organizational Dynamics, Cross et al map out five principles that drive productive organizational networks.

1. Manage the centre

Cross finds that 3 to 5 percent of people in a network account for 20 to 35 percent of the “value-added ties” – collaborations that generate sales, efficiency gains, or key innovations. But these hubsters are often not managed or leveraged intelligently. The lesson for leaders: locate employees at the centre of networks and manage them well.

Specifically look for bottlenecks and hidden stars. For bottlenecks, figure out if they are central because of their position on the org chart or because of their expertise and leadership qualities. If they are central because of their roles, shift decision rights or responsibilities to others. If they are experts or born leaders, identify the strengths that the network is seeking from them and build these capabilities in others.

And hidden stars? “We have found that there is only a 25 to 40 percent overlap between the individuals classified as ‘top talent’ by the organization and those who are revealed in a network analysis to be critical enablers of others.” The researchers suggest acknowledging the contributions of hidden stars with promotions or increased pay.

2. Leverage the periphery

For maximum benefit, focus on two outlier groups: newcomers and high performers who have drifted. For new hires, create initial assignments and encourage behaviors that integrate people into existing networks rapidly. For underutilized high-performers, re-engagement has to be done on a case-by-case basis. “Roughly 30 percent of the employees considered as top talent – those on high performer lists or in the top 20 percent performance category – have migrated to the fringe of the network.”

3. Selectively bridge collaborative silos

The strength of the network idea at a unit level, writes Cross and colleagues, “is that it allows us to see more precisely how to connect not everybody – but only the four, five, or six junctures that can allow the organization to differentiate itself strategically.” To bridge the “white space” created by divisional boundaries, geography, or hierarchies, a network analysis can be commissioned to show unit heads how they are connected across regional and product groups.

4. Develop the ability to surge

Cross says “surging” happens when networks sense opportunities or problems in one pocket of a network and rapidly tap into the expertise of others in the network to coordinate an effective response. Cross: “As new opportunities arise, employees need to know who has relevant expertise that can be helpful; they need to have a sense of who knows what in the network.”

5. Minimize insularity

Effective networks do not stop at “city limits” but extend out to clients and sources of expertise. For example in professional services, Cross writes, understanding touch points with key customers is a critical network view.


How Effective Leaders Drive Results Through Networks, by Rob Cross, Amanda Cowen, Lisa Vertucci, and Robert J. Thomas; Organizational Dynamics, Vol. 38, No. 2, pp. 93-105, 2009

Measuring the Practice-Research Gap

There is yawning chasm between practice and research. The gap is twofold: HR practitioners are generally not aware of the latest HR-related research findings that impact on their work; and HR practitioners and researchers are interested in different issues.

Researchers Diana L. Deadrick and Pamela Gibson (Old Dominion University) wanted to determine how consistent that gap has been over time and what issues have dominated the practice and research fields over the past 30 years. To answer those questions they went on a massive reading binge. They content-analyzed more than 6,300 articles published in four HR-focused journals between 1976 and 2005 according to 14 topic areas. Two journals were geared to practitioners and two to academics.

Deadrick and Gibson found:

  • Issues relating to HR development (training and development, careers) dominated the field over all time periods. Next most common topic over time was staffing (such as job analysis, testing), followed by motivation-related topics (job design, satisfaction, stress).
  • Two topics – teams and organizational exit – were the least popular in all the time periods studied. Teams did experience some growth in interest during the past 20 years, though organizational exit continued to be off the radar.
  • HR development and staffing issues were the dominant issues for both practitioners and academics. The gap in interest narrowed over time for employee/labour relations and widened for compensation and rewards (with growing interest among practitioners and decreasing interest among academics.

The researchers say they want HR practitioners and academics to assess the field and determine what is most important to HR as a coherent discipline. “If we want to progress as a field, we need to articulate the common values and body of knowledge that sets up apart from other disciplines,” they write. “What is the mission statement of the HR discipline as a whole? What are the core values underlying the field of HR? Are those values reflected in our publications?”

Good questions indeed.

Note: The four journals studied were: HRMagazine, Human Resource Management, Journal of Applied Psychology, and Personnel Psychology.


Revisiting the research-practice gap in HR: A longitudinal analysis, by Diana L. Deadrick and Pamela A. Gibson; in Human Resource Management Review 19 (2009) 144-153

Participation that Matters: Creating Shifts that Enable Individual and Organizational Change

To lay the groundwork for true and effective participation among stakeholders, change agents must create an environment that enables high quality conversations and learning interactions and that engenders strong positive emotions.

A few years ago, under the direction of a new facility manager, the Human Resources Director of a large Canadian oil refinery approached me to complete a whole-systems operational assessment. I advised an alternative approach, suggesting that I facilitate the work of a steering team that would guide this critical effort and design its own set of interventions. While the HR Director was intrigued by the approach, she declined, saying that she had “no time” as the new facility manager wanted the recommendations yesterday. I gave her the names of several consulting firms and the assessment was duly completed. Two years later she called me and reported that none of the consultant’s recommendations had been implemented. I asked why, and her answer confirmed a deep truth about enabling change. In essence, she said that because senior managers and key staff were not involved, they did not support the recommendations. Sadly, they had a strategy with no people committed or energized to make it happen.

Download PDF: Participation that Matters: Creating Shifts that Enable Individual and Organizational Change

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