If someone asked you to draw your personal network, you’d probably start with your own smiling face at the center. From there, you’d likely start drawing in those you’re particularly close to (i.e. your “strong ties” or “1st degree”), with others (i.e. your “weak ties” or “2nd degree”) moving toward the outer area of the picture. Collectively, your “weak ties” form the “edges” of your network… and there is no understating their importance. In their book, “Connected”, Christakis and Fowler point to a compelling body of research data that shows how happiness, laughter, violence, smoking, and even the spread of obesity comes down to Social Network structure. Put simply, we are greatly influenced by our 2nd degree… and we greatly influence our own, even if we don’t know our weak ties that particularly well.
So, we are beginning to get a true handle on just how important the “edges” of our network are from a personal perspective. However, there must surely be other “edges” that are just as important, right? What if we looked at this same concept from an Organizational perspective? Well, I gave it a shot and here is a quick list of my initial thoughts:
1. Customers as the “edges” of the Enterprise (Case #1) — Marketing gets it. They want to sell more stuff to more people in less time for more money. An easy way to do that is to empower Customers; to empower the “edges” of the Marketing and Sales network. How? By giving Customers tools to find stuff out about you and your competition on their own. Given this new trend, it kind of changes the way we think of a “lead”, right? Jeez, if they’re contacting you for “more info” after you’ve given them everything to make their own decision, that’s no longer a “lead” – they’re a sale ready to be closed!
2. Customers as the “edges” of the Enterprise (Case #2) — Sales gets it. When Customers do their own research, they’re well educated about us and our Competition. We should be just as educated about them and not only the basics (i.e. data that Hoovers or Dunn & Bradstreet can provide), but also the tenor and pace of their conversation online. Yep, I’m describing the phenomenal growth and adoption rate of SocialCRM. ‘Nuff said.
3. Customers as the “edges” of the Enterprise (Case #3) — Customer Service gets it. Not only can you contain your Operating Expenses, but Customers that help themselves are generally happier than those that have to sit on hold for 15 minutes to get in touch with a “Technical Expert.” We’re talking basic Psychology… and it’s nice that Organizations have caught on (even if it really does all come down to ROI in the first place.)
4. Partners and Suppliers as the “edges” of the Enterprise — Operations gets it. Just as we want our Customers to be more educated and self-serving than ever before, we want our Customers and Suppliers to be empowered to the maximum as well. Less “fires” to put out equals less friction between each Party. Hey, it’s a simple business case, but that’s when you know you’re onto something – simple is beautiful!
5. Employees as the “edges” of the Enterprise. Ok, I’d like to say that the C-Suite gets it, but I’d be pulling a fast one on you. Some Executives get it, but most don’t. My personal definition of “Employees operating at the edges” involves those that are the most Customer-facing. Literally, who could be more important, right? Often, these are our lowest paid Employees, yet they interface more with Customers than anyone else. Ironic, right? They are the farthest away from the Command-and-Control Corp HQ (multiple degrees removed) and they live at the “edges” (i.e. retail or call-center, etc.) with Customers, yet Execs turn a blind eye to turnover and how this impacts Customer Satisfaction scores. (Ok, I’ll get off my soapbox, but you can see where I’m going with this…!)
So what about HR? Who operates at our “edges” (meaning outside of the Employees listed in point 5 above)? Think about it for a moment – anything or anyone immediately come to mind?
How about Talent as the “edges” of the Enterprise? When you think about it, isn’t the point of our Employer Branding efforts and Career site (and/or “Community”), etc. to empower prospective Candidates? Isn’t our goal to not only position ourselves positively in their minds, but also to convey our core values and selling points in a manner that helps Candidates decide if they’d like to “join our team”? Put in another light, isn’t the goal of any Recruiter worth his or her salt to penetrate selected Talent Pools that are uniquely critical or pivotal to our ability to execute on our Value Proposition? My business case for RPO? Yep, you just read it.
I’d love your thoughts on this concept of “Talent” as the “edges” of the Enterprise – what kinds of things are you doing? What’s working and not working for you and your Organization, etc.? Oh, and to anyone who believes “the edges don’t matter”, consider that Telecom Firms (i.e. “Cellphone Companies”) are now ranking us (as Customers) in importance due to our social behavior patterns. Someone who influences multiple subscribers (identified through calling patterns) gets through to a Customer Service Rep (yeah, an actual Human!) faster than someone who has a weaker network with less strong ties – sounds weird… but it’s true. This research will start showing up soon, and when it does, consider how we might subsequently look at the importance of certain Candidates. Yep, that’s looking at a lot more than just Human Capital (and it might be the reason that one Prospect gets a “Candidate-Experience Lollipop” while another does not!)
P.S. Just a little food-for-thought bonus for anyone that this has made think a little bit – consider how the U.S. Marines has built its entire organization around empowering the “edges” of the Enterprise. The entire Corps is built to support the “Strategic Corporal” at the edge of the battlefield (the “3 Block”)… which is probably why the Marines have become synonymous with providing some of the most Adaptive and Agile leaders (who are ironically both ‘network characteristics’). As you can see, “edges” can be just as geographic as they are about who is functionally closest to Customer (or in this case, Enemy) engagement.
Josh Letourneau is the owner of Knight & Bishop, an Executive Search and Human Capital Intelligence firm, with an emerging focus on Social Network Analysis (SNA). Nope, not like MySpace, but more like who is connected to whom in organizations and how does that impact their influence on decision making and P.O.V.s. And you can learn more about all of this on his new blog .