IBM social network analysis uses repeatable scientific methods to help reveal and demystify the complexities of human interactions and collaborations in the workplace
Bringing new hires up to speed is a challenge for many companies, especially in instances of rapid employee turnover. This process, called on-boarding, requires not only supplying new workers with the information they need to get their jobs done, but also fostering the kind of social networking that can help shorten the learning curve for new hires. Developing relationships with other people in the company is an essential part of the on-boarding process, one that affects not only productivity but also retention. New employees who are not effectively integrated may be at risk for leaving the company.
Social networking also plays a key role in how work gets done in businesses on a day-to-day basis. With today's emphasis on knowledge management and cross-functional teamwork, the degree to which a company's culture encourages collaboration and information sharing can often play a significant role in its productivity.
With that in mind, IBM Research Services — a partnership between IBM Research and IBM Global Business Services — now offers social network analysis (SNA) collaboration services, which have been gaining currency among business consultants as an effective method for revealing the hidden connections that drive how work gets done. The outcome of these focused analyses can show where collaboration falls apart, where talent and expertise could be better used, where decisions get bogged down and where opportunities for innovation are being lost. The data give leaders the information they need to take action — perhaps altering roles and responsibilities in ways that may foster cross-group communications, developing methods for improving trust, using technology to reach others more effectively, or realigning reward and incentive programs.
In one engagement, IBM Research used SNA to conduct a study of 15 summer interns, their mentors and other members of the group. The goal was to see how quickly the interns could make the human connections necessary to accomplish an assigned task. Researchers found that the interns lacked knowledge about people's roles and expertise in the group. As a result, the interns tended to seek information from other people less frequently than did permanent employees, and often had to query several people to get their answers. The analysis also showed that the interns' impressions about the company as a good place to work depended largely on whether they knew who to ask for information and whether their questions were answered in a timely fashion. These results confirmed other published studies showing that awareness is integral to successful on-boarding and productivity.
In this case, SNA helped identify and address ways to make the internship program more effective for the future, in particular building awareness and access. Recommendations included: giving interns and mentors a chance to discuss expectations at the beginning, encouraging the interns to be more proactive about seeking help and focusing on what roles people play in the organization as part of the orientation process.
In another engagement, a large petroleum company used SNA to analyze the information-sharing process in its production division. Using social networks to analyze the organizational chart, IBM helped the company discover that a single mid-level manager served as the conduit for information between upper management and the rest of the managerial staff. Meanwhile, the top ranking executive was entirely peripheral to the process, and in fact was far removed from day-to-day workings of the group. As a result of the analysis, upper management made several changes to the structure of the group, including formalizing the role of the mid-level manager.
Working with informal networks can help leaders make the most of the existing human capital within their company. SNA may be used to enhance knowledge management and collaboration by helping to locate expertise, seed new communities of practice, and improve cross-functional knowledge-sharing and strategic decision-making across leadership teams. In a post-merger situation, IBM can help leaders employ social network analysis to identify how to structure and manage newly integrated teams. Human resource organizations may use SNA to help monitor and improve on-boarding, employee satisfaction, productivity and retention, while sales and marketing groups may find that SNA helps in expanding the adoption of new products, technologies or ideas as part of an overall communication strategy. SNA may also be used to support strategic planning for engaging in partnerships and alliances.
For more information on engaging IBM expertise and methods in social network analysis to help optimize your corporate environment, contact IBM Research Services today.