posted 14 Jan 2005 in Volume 8 Issue 4
Thought leader: SNA
By Verna Allee, Verna Allee Associates
Publication of Rob Cross and Andrew Parker’s The Hidden Power of Social Networks (Harvard Business School Press, 2004) marks the entrance of social-network analysis (SNA) into mainstream management practice. A recent conference on social networks at the University of Virginia showcased academics, consultants and practitioners from MWH, Halliburton, the World Bank, Raytheon, Russell Reynolds, Mars and the FAA. In
Although SNA has been around since the 1930s, knowledge strategists are now discovering it helps to map connections – to see who exchanges information with whom, identify opinion leaders, locate hubs of influence and trace the flow of ideas. Those tuned in to business, like Cross, Parker, Valdis Krebs, Patti Anklam, Dave Krackhardt and Vic Gulas, cite successful cases where social-network analysis has helped people develop knowledge-retention strategies, manage external connectivity and stakeholder relationships, build alliances, identify and utilise change agents, locate pockets of innovation and expertise, improve knowledge and information flows, and support communities of practice.
In the hands of an expert, SNA can reap substantial insights and returns. But there are a few dangers and pitfalls:
- Learning curves. SNA is a true scientific discipline and there is a lot to learn if it is to be used effectively. Building competence internally can be a challenge;
- Hijacking by vendors. Buyer beware! KM was hijacked by technology vendors and there is a similar danger as vendors promote social-network technologies that are little more than expanded online contact databases;
- Lack of management education. In a high-trust environment, the reception can be extremely positive. However, in financially or culturally stressed companies, SNA can trigger adverse reactions. Educating leaders and managers about the ethical uses of SNA is essential;
- Misinterpretation. Network analysis is highly contextual. An inefficient bottleneck in one situation might be a powerful information hub or knowledge broker in another. Findings are best used to spark meaningful conversations rather than snap judgments;
- Assuming all connections are good connections. The quality of information flows and appropriate connectivity is what is most important.
SNA is a powerful and essential tool for understanding knowledge flows and identifying expert networks, but it in and of itself it does not show how knowledge creates value. For that, SNA must be coupled with new network approaches to business analysis. Combining SNA with value-network analysis will generate a more rounded approach to network thinking, capable of yielding real business results.