I was recently asked to give a talk to a breakfast meeting of the Managing Partners’ Forum (MPF). The focus of the talk was around the possible dichotomy (or misalignment) of the development needs of the individual and the demands of the organisation they work for. At times these needs align, sometimes they need to be reconciled and at other times they diverge. Nothing radical in that statement, but does the organisation believe there is an asset value in the personal networks that the employee develops, maintains, cultivates and nurtures whilst on the payroll, and if so, does it exploit it at the expense or detriment to the employee? These networks are increasingly likely to traverse the boundaries of the organisations’ directly employed staff, and embrace customers, stakeholders, partners and even competitors. This is what the much-hyped term “Social Business” is really all about.
These “personal” networks (I’ve used quotes because this is at the heart of the issue – is the network really personal or is it a corporate asset?) are sometimes – but incorrectly – assumed to be visible entities, measured in terms of number of Twitter followers, or Facebook friends, or Klout or Peerindex scores, all of which are pretty much irrelevant if trying to quantify the value of “trust”. In actual fact, these networks are often invisible to company leadership, and are blend of personal, real-world relationships and the virtual world of social networks. They are not recorded on any company handbook, they don’t appear on organisational charts, but are very likely to be embedded in the organisation’s business processes. It might not be until the employee leaves the organisation that the real value of these networks is realised. When the ties are broken, chaos can ensue.
The other side of this coin is where perhaps the organisation does recognise the value of these informal networks and relationships, internal and external, and sets about exploiting them. I think this point is effectively communicated in the quotes I’ve borrowed (with permission) from Helen Blunden:
I felt that my network, my trusted network which I worked hard to maintain, cultivate, nurture, trust and grow was going to be exploited by other individuals who saw me as their ‘free ride’ to some quick answers.
I look at the culture of the organisation. If there is a genuine, authentic opportunity to share and learn and be respectful of each other’s networks then I have no problem. If it is mandated, or if my networks are used, misused or discounted, then I’d question why I’m even working there.
For the time being, I will nurture and maintain my networks but I will be cautious in how mine are used within my organisation and for what purpose. But I’m the one who decides that.
So, no matter how we look at this, the growing importance of networks and networking as both a professional competency and as an organisational asset cannot be overlooked, and leaders need to start taking relationship building into account when considering the value an employee brings to the organisation, and therefore how he/she is rewarded. Time and investment in PKM to develop these skills and competencies is a critical part of this reward mechanism.
The slides I used are embedded below, and also available on Slideshare. The presentation looks specifically at the changing nature of organisations and the emergent power of networks and networking. Personal Knowledge Management (PKM), and particularly the networking element, as a set of competencies we must all learn in order to remain relevant to our organisation. I raise the point about who ultimately “owns” the ‘corporate’ knowledge that we gather through the networks we nurture and sustain but have left it to the audience to ponder this point. Whether or not the organisations we work for recognise the importance of these networks as places for continual learning, knowledge sharing and as incubators for innovation is – I believe – fundamental to the success of the business, but employees need to be aware of the possibility of exploitation, and be ready to answer that question of “who owns your network?”.
As a closing point I posed this question to the audience, which readers here may want to think about. I suspect there may be different answers dependent on where you sit within the organisational structure, which in itself might tell you something about the organisations you work for. Looking down may give a very different perspective to looking up!
What is the predominant culture in your organisation, and does it encourage learning and sharing?
- Autocratic – We’ll do it this way
- Bureaucratic – We’re supposed to do it this way
- Technocratic – It’s best to do it this way
- Democratic – How shall we do it?