“Small Worlds” Thinking: Breakin’ Down the Talent Pools…

Josh Letourneau Candidate Pool, Executive Search, Influence, Joshua Letourneau, Recruiting, Science, Social Media, Social Network Analysis, Social Recruiting, Sourcing

Need some Recruiting & Sourcing Juice to get you going these days?  Feel like you’re connecting with lots of people in the Talent Pool, but they’re not yielding the information you’d like (referrals, intel, leads, “word on the street”, etc.)?  Perhaps it’s time to step back and think about the structure of the Talent Pool itself . . .

Before I begin, yeah, I get it – this is a highly personal business that is all about relationships, first and foremost.  I live that mantra every day – frankly, this premise alone is needed if you’re going to build and dominate a niche from scratch.  As Recruiters and Talent Acquisition Professionals, we’re fortunate to have a fire-hose of content (independent blogs, FistfulofTalent, ERE, RecruitingBlogs.com, HireCentrix, TLNT, etc.) that keeps us actively “sharpening the saw” when it comes to these issues.

What we don’t speak of much, however, is the network structure and characteristics of a “Talent Pool”, and how we may be able to ‘game‘ these elements to our advantage.  Is this a little bit of subversive manipulation, “Cloak and Dagger” of sorts?  Perhaps, I’ll nod to that, but keep in mind we’re manipulating the network and our position in it, not any people individually.  This is real stuff, Folks – don’t get it twisted.  If we found Saddam Hussein in a spider hole using this understanding, you can surely find your Candidate.

The number one thing we need to keep in mind is that a Talent Pool is a series of “Small Worlds.”  Specifically, I’m referring to “Small World Networks“, the groundbreaking research by Duncan Watts and Steven Strogatz in 1998.  Here’s the meat and potatoes, the absolute need-to-know about this work:

1. Small World Networks have a high clustering coefficient.  For us, this is what it means: The Talent Pool is made of of lots of clusters.  That means it’s an ongoing process to penetrate ALL clusters within the Talent Pool, not just a few.  That’s why “networking” never ends.

2. Small Worlds Networks have a short path-length.  For us, this simply means that information flows through each cluster in the Talent Pool quite efficiently because it only takes a very short number of “hops.”  In other words, if we connect to the right people within an individual cluster, we’re likely going to be able to learn everything that everyone else in the cluster knows as well . . . that is, if we have trust built up with the person so that they’ll share this intel with us in the first place.  That’s why “relationship-building” never ends.

Reflect on the image to the right for a moment.  It’s a rendition of the 9/11 Hijackers network.  Typically, I refrain from using this as an example, but it’s my personal viewpoint that Talent Pools are extremely similar to Terror Cells.  While their intention is not, their network structure is nearly identical.  The reason is simple: Fluidity.  Within Terror Cells, people die off by design (“martyrdom”) – within Talent Pools, people get hired, retire, receive counter-offers, are no longer “on the radar” due to pressing projects, etc.  We can learn quite a bit by studying this image and network structure.

Take a look at the numerous clusters that emerge – there are a lot of them, just like in a Talent Pool.  The individuals in red have many overlapping memberships, indicating a high degree of closeness, or short path to information flow throughout the network.  These are people that we’d like to build relationships with, and personally, I think they’re easy to find because most are Social Media mavens.  After all, their online behavior often mimicks their offline behavior.  Here’s the truth, though – they’re well-connected, but they’re not the people I think we need to spend the most time chasing.

Rather, take a look at the people that are more central to their cluster, the “Moderately Connected Influencer.”  They’re not the super-connectors within Social Media; nope, most don’t have the narcissistic complex needed to be “plugged in, all day, every day.”  They spend more time building their real relationships (their strong ties), not their online ones (mainly weak ties) – and more importantly, they’re well trusted within their own cluster because of this behavior.  For example, think about yourself for a moment – if you read a Social Media Super-Connector write a raving review about a product, would you believe it 110%?  Would you really?  What if someone you respect within your own Social Circle wrote the same review, however?  Exactly.  Their messages and thoughts aren’t dilluted like those of the Super-Connector; they resonate with us.  They’re more real.

So here’s what I’d like to leave you with today: Stop focusing on finding the Super-Connectors and start focusing your efforts on the Moderately Connected Influencers.  A Talent Pool is made up of several clusters which may be due to common interest, life stage, affinity groups, geography, etc. and our goal needs to be to penetrate each one – the easiest way to do this is by identifying the Influencers within each and building the right types of relationships with those individuals.  The Moderately Connected Influencer will be more inclined toward a true relationship, where the Super-Connector is more inclined to surface networking.  That’s the point where we re-inject our right-brain (and EI, emotional intelligence) into the game, which I’d argue is keenly important.  Let’s not give up on our left-brain just yet, however – in the end, the best of the best leverage both.

P.S. Just to illustrate how powerful this stuff is, consider the possibility of a sweeping pandemic.  Did you know that by strategically vaccinating 5% of the people in the network, we could achieve the same results as vaccinating 95% randomly?  That 5% isn’t just about vaccinating the most well-connected, it’s about their network location as well.  Are you finding that 5%, the “Juice”, you need in your Talent Pool?  If not, it might start with your thinking about who you really need to connect to and build deep relationships with in the first place.

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 .