It’s the beginning of 2012 and an excellent time to audit whether your organization is wasting a crucial resource: people in the organization. Ask yourself the following questions and if you are not completely happy with the answers, read on.
- Do the people in your organization know what people in other departments are doing? Can people have a chat at lunchtime to quickly update each other on new developments, or do you need to organize a meeting?
- Are the external networks you are involved in bringing return on investment? Do you know people in those networks? Do they know people in your organization?
- Do you know what resources your employees/colleagues have access to, outside your organization? Do you know what alumni networks they are part of? Do you know what causes they are passionate about? Are you able to incorporate this passion in your organization?
- Wealth creation is what societies do – whether it is creating financial wealth, cultural wealth, or social well-being wealth. Are you teaming up with the right private and public partners to create this wealth?
- Are the employees in your company coordinating and integrating activities and producing innovation through self-organization in addition to formal assignments?
- Do you know how to access the skills and knowledge of people in your internal and external networks?
- Do you have all the people you need to have in your internal and external networks, or are you missing specific types of expertise and knowledge?
If you have a leaky people-resource architecture, capital is slipping through your fingers. And like any other leak, it can be dealt with.
Who is talking with whom? Network research shows that men like networking with men and women network more diversely. If men mainly connect at the coffee bar through the proverbial conversations about sport, they completely miss the opportunity of connecting with women about work. Steer the coffee-line conversation toward a shared stake two people have in their work. Train people to find opportunities to talk about what they love about what they are working on. Organizations that are good at informal sharing need fewer meetings.
Acknowledge as a company that what someone does outside formal assignments is also valuable. For example, if people are part of employee networks, include their participation in their KPIs and make sure that managers are aligned with the idea. Encourage employees to spend time in formal employee networks and have these express institutional as well as individual goals.
You don’t need a system that tells you what people already know, you need a system that helps you find out what people know when you need to know it. I was at a celebration of 25 years of a professional association last week, and a number of people commented on what a pity it was that we don’t know what everyone in the association does. But that is not the point. We are all on LinkedIn and we could all spend time finding out what each other does. What we need to know is what someone else knows that is relevant to something we need to know. What we need are systems that enable us to ask questions and for people to provide answers. This cannot be fully automated: I have not written all the books that are in my head, so obviously I can’t have that knowledge stored in a database. Yet that knowledge is unique to me, because of my background, my experiences, my passions and my interests.
Make it part of the culture of your organization to ask questions of each other (online or offline) and to share information and knowledge.
The people on the payroll are only part of the organization
The people on the payroll are the people who know other people, are involved in external workgroups, and who know people who can be valuable to your organization. Make sure you have systems that enable your colleagues and employees to bring their networks into the organization. For example, through my research into the added value of employee networks to companies I learned that the participation of gay and lesbian networks, on behalf of their companies in a gay pride demonstration contributes to their company in its recruitment strategies, and provides a very inexpensive, positive marketing experience.
You are not the only organization interested in the outcome you have: companies are more and more finding strategic alliances to improve their ability to be successful. In the non-profit world, where sometimes competition for funding inhibits cooperation, it is short-sighted to let that stop you. Go for your goal, be successful, and team up with public and private partners that want that success too.
For more on how great companies think differently, see Rosabeth Ross Kanter in Harvard Business Review (Nov 2011)
By Lin McDevitt-Pugh.
Lin McDevitt-Pugh is a management consultant and expert in building and running teams, networks and alliances that save time and money and increase the effectiveness of organizations. To get in touch, write to her at mcdevitt-pugh @ netsheila.com, or call +31-6-15048468.