Business Social Networks Need to be ManagedIn addition to the brief research reports discussed in the last two posts, the July-August 2008 issue of the Harvard Business Review offers a third piece on a topic of particular interest to me, namely organizations' social networks.
Adam M. Kleinbaum, a postdoctoral fellow, and Michael L. Tushman, a professor of business administration, respectively, at Harvard Business School, have been examining what sort of social networks promote successful identification and implementation of innovations.
Kleinbaum and Tushman make two main points.
First, "idea brokers" people with broad cross-divisional networks are important for catalyzing generation of ideas for productive collaboration. However, "idea brokers are rarely able by themselves to mobilize the organizational support and resources necessary for execution."
For implementation, a different sort of person is needed someone with deep cross-divisional relationships. Such deep relations "enable the exchange of fine-grained and tacit information, help actors navigate the unfamiliar terrain of partner divisions, and allow cohesiveness to build within the network, increasing trust and reducing intergroup rivalry."
Second, executives must work to shape and cultivate their company's social networks. Kleinbaum and Tushman recommend a two-pronged approach:
- Invest in both idea brokers and in people with deep cross-divisional relationships.
- Develop the skill needed for encouraging and overseeing informal networks. In particular, "executives must proactively manage the transition between discovery of a collaborative opportunity and execution of a cross-divisional project. They can do this by selecting people for important positions on the basis of not only their skills and prior experience but also the nature of their social networks."