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The People Who Make
Organizations Go –or Stop
y Rob Cross and Laurence Prusak
Reprint r0206g
HBR Case Study r0206a
The Skeleton in the Corporate Closet
Julia Ki
HBR at Large r0206
My Week as a Room-Service
Waiter at the Ritz
Paul Hemp
Managing Yourself r0206c
A Survival Guide for Leaders
Ronald A. Heifetz and Marty Linsky
Charting Your Company’s Future r0206d
W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne
The Very Real Dangers r0206e
of Executive Coaching
Steven Berglas
Value Acceleration: Lessons r0206f
from Private-Equity Masters
Paul Rogers, Tom Holland, and Dan Haas
The People Who Make r0206g
Organizations Go – or Stop
Rob Cross and Laurence Prusak
Best Practice r0206h
Spinning Out a Sta
Michael D. Lord, Stanley W. Mandel,
and Jeffrey D. Wage
Frontiers r0206j
Have Your Objects Call My Objects
Glover T. Ferguson
June 2002
e’re all familiar with the truism “It’s not
what you know, it’s who you know.” Managers
invariably use their personal contacts when
they need to, say, meet an impossible deadline, get ad-
vice on a strategic decision, or learn the truth about a
new boss. Increasingly, it’s through these informal net-
works – not just through traditional organizational hier-
archies – that information is found and work gets done.
Social networks can be powerful political tools as well;
few managers can resist the temptation to use their con-
nections to discredit business initiatives they dislike or to
support proposals they favor.
Most corporations, however, treat informal networks
as an invisible enemy – one that keeps decisions from
eing made and work from getting done. To many senio
executives, these intricate webs of communication are un-
observable and ungovernable – and, therefore, not ame-
nable to the tools of scientific management. As a result,
executives tend to work around informal networks or,
worse, try to ignore them. When they do acknowledge the
networks’ existence, executives fall back on intuition –
scarcely a dependable tool – to guide them in nurturing
this social capital.
It doesn’t have to be that way. It is entirely possible to
develop informal networks systematically. In fact, our re-
search suggests that if senior managers focus their atten-
tion on a handful of key role-players in the group, the
The real work in most
companies is done informally,
through personal contacts.
How can executives manage
such amorphous networks?
Start by focusing on those
employees who play fou
critical linking roles.
y Rob Cross and
Laurence Prusak
Copyright © 2002 by Harvard Business School Publishing Corporation. All rights reserved. 5
The People Who Make
Organizations Go – or Stop
pages, we describe the four roles in detail and suggest
ways that executives can transform ineffective informal
networks into productive ones.
The Central Connecto
The first person you notice when you look at a network
map is the person everyone in the group talks to the
most. Take a look at the exhibit “Finding Central Connec-
tors and Peripheral Specialists,”which depicts how the in-
formation flows in a global pharmaceutical company we
consulted with. In this informal network, Alan is clearly
the central information source for almost everyone in the
network. The incoming a
ows on the map indicate that
Alan is the go-to person for most of his colleagues, even
though Lisa is the head of the department.
In most cases, the central connectors are not the for-
mally designated go-to people in the unit. For instance,
effectiveness of any informal network can be enhanced.
After analyzing informal networks at more than 50 large
organizations over the past five years, we’ve identified
four common role-players whose performance is critical
to the productivity of any organization.
First, there are central connectors, who link most peo-
ple in an informal network with one another. They
aren’t usually the formal leaders within a unit or depart-
ment, but they know who can provide critical informa-
tion or expertise that the entire network draws on to get
work done. Then there are boundary spanners, who con-
nect an informal network with other parts of the com-
pany or with similar networks in other organizations.
They take the time to consult with and advise individu-
als from many different departments – marketing, pro-
duction, or R&D, for instance – regardless of their own
affiliations. Information
okers keep the different sub-
groups in an informal network together. If they didn’t
communicate across the subgroups, the network as a
whole would splinter into smaller, less-effective seg-
ments. Finally, there are peripheral specialists, who any-
one in an informal network can turn to for specialized
Despite the enormous influence these role-players
wield within an organization, they are often invisible to
senior managers. Because senior executives rely on gut
feel, gossip, or formal reporting structures for their infor-
mation about their managers and employees, they often
misunderstand the links between people, especially in
large and globally distributed corporations. And because
there are so many informal networks in an organization,
the problem is exace
ated. So the first step in managing
informal networks is to
ing them into the open. That
can be done through a well-established technique called
social network analysis, a graphical tool that maps out the
elationships in an organization. (For an explanation of
the tool and how it can be applied in business, see the
sidebar “Who’s Who?”)
Once these network maps have been drawn, executives
can start asking the right questions of the right people. Do
the employees in one business unit have problems getting
vital data from another business unit? Maybe that’s be-
cause one of the central connectors in the informal net-
work is hoarding information. Is the unit too isolated
from other parts of the organization? Perhaps the bound-
ary spanners aren’t talking to the right people outside the
group. Is the unit losing its technical expertise in a key
area? It could be that a peripheral specialist needs to be
drawn more closely into the network. In the following
6 harvard business review
The People Who Make Organizations Go – or Stop
Rob Cross is an assistant professor of management at the
University of Virginia’s McIntire School of Commerce in
Charlottesville. Laurence Prusak is the executive directo
of the IBM Institute for Knowledge-Based Organizations in
idge, Massachusetts.
Over the past two decades, much has
een written about the role and impor-
tance of informal networks from a vari-
ety of academic perspectives including
sociology, social psychology, anthropol-
ogy, and epidemiology. Drawing on
those disciplines, social scientists have
developed and honed a powerful tool
called social network analysis, a tech-
nique that lets users identify and map
informal networks of people. In fact,
David Krackhardt and Jeffrey R. Hanson
wrote a detailed description of social
network analysis in “Informal Networks:
The Company Behind the Chart” (HBR
July–August 1993), in which they argued
that this tool could be logically applied
to business. Indeed, some organizations
are already using social network analysis
to recognize and manage their informal
Although it may be tempting for
senior executives to map all the infor-
mal networks in a company at one go,
this may be overkill. It is more effective
if executives first identify the functions
or activities where connectivity is most
needed to improve productivity and
Who’s Who?
the information flows at one practice of a large technol-
ogy consulting company we worked with depended al-
most entirely on five midlevel managers. They would, fo
instance, give their colleagues background information
about key clients or offer ideas on new technologies that
could be employed in a given project. These managers
handled most technical questions themselves, and when
they couldn’t, they guided their colleagues to someone
else in the informal network – regardless of functional
area – who had the relevant expertise. Each of these cen-
tral connectors spent an hour or more every day helping
the other 108 people in the group. But while their col-
leagues readily acknowledged the connectors’ impor-
tance, their efforts were not recognized, let alone re-
warded, by the company. As a result, the connectors we
spoke with were losing heart; they told us they were plan-
ning to focus more on work that top management was
inclined to reward.
Therefore, it’s important to explicitly recognize the
connectors. Indeed, merely acknowledging their exis-
tence by showing them the network map, and their im-
portant role in it, gives central connectors considerable
gratification. But longer term, companies need to set up
tangible ways to reward the good citizenship of thei
Some organizations offer spot rewards. For instance,
there were few central connectors at a large engineering
company we studied, so senior executives instituted a sys-
tem of “above and beyond” rewards: Each time someone
went out of his or her way to introduce a colleague in
trouble to those who could help solve the problem, the
connector was nominated for a cash reward. Although
small, the bonus was paid out quickly and the effort was
publicly acknowledged. This incentive helped create
many more central connectors in the engineering com-
pany in a relatively short time.
june 2002 7
The People Who Make Organizations Go – or Stop
then map the co
esponding networks.
These priority areas – say, the develop-
ment of a new product line or the inte-
gration of a recent acquisition – normally
follow from the company’s strategic
The next step is to collect information
from people to map sets of relationships
within the priority areas. While those
data can be obtained in various ways,
from tracking e-mail to observing peo-
ple, the most efficient way is to adminis-
ter a ten-to-20-minute questionnaire.
The questions asked will depend on the
kind of network you want to uncover.
In most companies, senior managers
are most interested in assessing how in-
formation flows. For instance, they want
to know “To whom do you talk regularly
about work? From whom do you get
your technical information? And from
whom do you get your political informa-
tion?” Some organizations map net-
works of trust (“Whom do you trust in
this group to keep your best interests in
mind?”) or networks of energy (“When
you interact with this person, how does
it affect your energy level?”). Other orga-
nizations choose to map activities such
as decision making (“To whom do you
turn for advice before making an impor-
tant decision?”) or innovation (“With
whom are you most likely to discuss a
new idea?”). In short, the ability to map
networks of relationships is virtually lim-
itless and can be tailored to the needs of
each organization.
The survey can be pretested on a
small sample of employees to determine
if they would respond positively or if
the poll would be seen as an unwanted
intrusion. Safeguards such as guarantee-
ing confidentiality and cross-checking
esponses can be built into the process
to ensure that employees’ privacy is
protected and that they are answering
The information collected from the
surveys is then used to create network
maps that illustrate the relationships be-
tween the members of a group. Software
programs are used to generate such
maps since it is almost impossible to
draw them by hand. Reading the maps is
easy. Typically, each line on a network
map indicates a link between two peo-
ple, while the a
ows show the direction
of the relationship. In an information
network, an incoming a
ow indicates
that someone is being sought out for in-
formation or advice, and an outgoing
ow signals that someone is seeking
information or advice.
If an informal network has more
than 50 members, it may be a good idea
to focus on the subnetworks in the
group. Subgroups form for a variety of
easons–formal reporting structures,
political tensions, or physical locations –
and can have a major impact on a net-
work’s performance. Executives must
analyze why there are such splits in the
informal network before planning thei
Finally, it is essential to conduct inter-
views with the key role-players indicated
in the map. Although the roles are re-
flected in the number and nature of
interactions among members of the
group, they cannot be simply read off
a map: Sometimes a person plays more
than one role in a network, and, often,
that same person may play different
oles in different networks.
Other organizations have changed aspects of their per-
formance management systems to regularly reward cen-
tral connectors. For instance, an investment bank we
worked with changed the criteria for its annual bonuses:
At the end of the review period, each manager’s ability to
link people in the bank was specifically evaluated by all the
people with whom he or she worked. The most successful
connectors (those who greatly improved employee com-
munications, for instance) were awarded
igger bonuses than other managers
were–a major departure from the schemes
most investment banks follow, in which
the managers who create the most profits
get the biggest bonuses.
While most central connectors serve
the company in a positive way, linking
colleagues and increasing productivity,
some end up creating bottlenecks that
can hold back the informal network.Some-
times the connectors use their roles fo
political or financial gain; in other cases,
they are just struggling to keep up with
their own work while also fulfilling thei
oles in the network. Whatever the rea-
son, it is not easy for the other members
of the network to supplant an ineffective
central connector because he or she is often the person
around whom the network first formed.There may be little
incentive for anyone else to take on this time-consuming
ole. Instead, the members of the network will keep buzz-
ing around the central connector out of sheer habit –
though, increasingly less often than they would like to.
A network map cannot
Answered 1 days After Oct 12, 2023


Deblina answered on Oct 13 2023
18 Votes
Summary of the Article                                    2
Table of Contents
Summary of the Article    3
References    5
Summary of the Article
The attched article delves into the critical role of social network analysis and its implications for optimizing informal networks within organizations. Informal networks, which often function independently of the official hierarchy, are vital for achieving organizational objectives and enhancing productivity. The article introduces four essential dimensions for evaluating managers' social networks: firstly, whether managers connect predominantly within or outside their functional areas; secondly, the influence of hierarchy, tenure, and location on social relationships within the...

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