Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Group Discussion: A Business Case for Social Network Analysis

Last week I attended the September meeting of the Canadian Conference Board Knowledge Strategy Exchange Network, of which I'm a member and on the Advisory Group.

(Dave Pollard also attended and has a very good write up on his blog titled Introducing Social Networking Tools and Social Networking Analysis to Business: What To Do, which captures some information from those discussions, and a breakout session he conducted.)

(For anyone involved in formulating / implementing strategies and programs involving management of knowledge and information, you should seriously consider joining.)

After presentations and discussions with Patti Anklam and Ted Graham about Social Network Analysis, one of the group discussions was around "How do you build a "jargon-free" business case that will lead to a meaningful project and a valuable outcome."

To set the context for the business case we talked about a number of the cultural and contextual challenges that, in some combination, many public and private sector organizations face:

  • acknowledged difficulties across the organization managing workloads, information "assault"

  • many long serving employees, strong relationships, long memories, tendency to be more polite/collegial with each other than candid

  • shifting demographics as "boomers" retire

  • highly regulated environment, subject to a variety of legislation that governs requirements record keeping - e.g. e-discovery, duty to document, access to information

  • moderate to high risk aversion, tendency for perfectionism rather than "good enough"

  • deep social networks, highly leveraged to get work done, yet often taken for granted

  • some degree of "command and control" / hierarchical management culture where subject matter experts have risen through the ranks

  • multiple "stove pipes"

  • difficulty recognizing / rewarding horizontal collaboration

  • many other initiatives competing for scarce attention

  • multiple major sub-cultures such as research or R&D / operations / corporate administration (HR/FIN/Audit/Communications / IT etc.)

After two modified "world cafe"-type discussions, I summarize the key learnings as follows:

  1. Go "deeper" than broad - target a specific group or 'stove pipe' rather than position SNA at a broad or strategic context

  2. "Dance with a willing partner" - see if anyone understands the value of social networks and is interested in exploring them. Look first at the part of the organization that is perceived as most critical / important / visible at the time - someone in our session humorously described this as "suck up to power."

  3. Pick articulated pain - find out where needs and issues exist rather than trying to create them, and look to key organizational issues like retiring "boomers", identified collaboration issues etc.

  4. Need Proof Points - that the value of SNA has to be proven, which could mean an effective internal pilot, and / or bringing in external case studies

  5. Connect the initiative to Risk - financial, operational, reputational

  6. Think of SNA as a diagnosis tool - a means to an end and not an end in itself. Position it as part of an approach in a business case, and don't try to build a case for the SNA itself.

  7. Look at SNA as not just a vehicle to uncover hidden experts, but also to expose informal leadership, hidden roles, influence, strength of connections, informal communities etc.

  8. Look at connecting / blending SNA with an engaging HR strategy e.g. "rapid onboarding", workforce planning, talent development

  9. Work with whoever is talking to the Board as a way of adding value to tackling real business issues with SNA

  10. Use models and scenarios when communicating with engineers, R&D, economists etc.

  11. Expose your own personal social network so you can identify weakness relative to exposing / promoting the use of SNA as an effective management tool

  12. Expose the value of "net work" to the organization in the context of key organizational processes and deliverables
When I step back a bit, I think the most important things that the presentations & discussions reinforced were:
  • SNA is definitely rooted in the people side of KM - who we are and how we work

  • analyzing the results of the analysis in the actual business context is critical

  • SNA shouldn't really be done without a strong collaborative partnership with HR who can play a significant role in making sense of the analysis and working with clients on action planning, and of course who will provide some of the data on turnover rates, retirements etc.

  • don't try and sell SNA - it's a tool / approach that should be part of a bigger business project

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