Just as the human resources arena has recently evolved from an individual-focused, personnel-service mindset to a team-oriented framework, the next decade may require human capital strategies to further shift to a network-driven mentality.
Business initiatives span traditional functional and geographical boundaries, heightening the need for greater knowledge sharing and collaboration. With a higher premium placed on achieving flexibility and agility, organizations that rely on strong internal networks have been more successful at coordinating efficiency and innovation.
From a talent management perspective, organizations will need to adopt a more network-centric approach to foster leadership effectiveness within this new context.
Though the team format will certainly not disappear in the near future, ignoring the merits of a network approach will limit the execution options for a company. More importantly, such a narrow focus on the team context prevents HR from maximizing its organizational impact. HR needs to be equally prepared to enable leaders to perform within a network-centric environment.
What’s a Network?
For definitional purposes, a network consists of a large, informally defined group of professionals who often possess a wide range of expertise. In contrast to a team, a network may not designate specific group leaders and usually functions as a long-term forum for mutual consultation.
It is not necessarily responsible for a targeted objective or project that needs to be accomplished within a stipulated time frame. Instead, the structure and contextual traits of organizational networks allow for specific benefits. For instance, the broader range of expertise within networks can offer more diverse solutions to organizational issues than individual teams. Networks also allow for the sharing of best practices, client contacts, and mentoring resources through organic, employee-initiated interactions.
This functional range, in addition to a wider span of leadership levels within a network, can also help enhance the credibility and leverage needed to push through new initiatives or operating models. The flexibility of networks may strengthen leadership capacity as well.
For senior managers or executives who may not have the time to contribute to full-time teams, a network may provide a more ideal setup for them to offer consultation on an ad-hoc basis. A network analysis can also identify employees who consistently leverage network relationships and proactively contribute to such collaborations, even though they may not be recognized as high performers based on individual performance.
Networks Can Be Better Than Teams
A focused network might also be more inclusive than smaller teams. Research has shown that teams have the potential to become more insular and consequently less efficient.
Working together in teams encourages individuals to be less receptive to external feedback. Team members tend to exhibit a lower tendency to incorporate external information and modify opinions in response to such new data.
Networks, on the other hand, could mitigate this drawback, as members operate individually and usually form independent judgments before consulting each other. Research indicates that network transactions are not only more balanced but also exhibit a stronger learning orientation, higher trust levels, and a longer-term duration.
A Network Approach Can Transform HR
A stronger network-driven approach for human resources will also help transform the profession into a model of continuity. In other words, HR initiatives will start to shift from episodic processes to more of a continuous cycle of talent management, mirroring the ongoing activity of networks.
Fostering a network mentality within HR will not only promote collaboration but also a deeper integration of the HR function into daily business operations.
Beyond HR: Geese, Pit Crews, NFL Referees
Little has been written about the networked workplace, but the literature is rich with examples of network behavior that could profitably be imported from other realms and applied to the general workplace. Here are three examples:
7 great lessons from geese:
1) Geese share a common goal. As each goose flaps its wings it creates “uplift,” an aerodynamics orientation that reduces air friction, for the birds that follow. By flying in a V-formation, the whole flock achieves a 70% greater flying range than if each bird flew alone.
2) Geese provide each other greater visibility. Flying in V-formation increases the visibility as every goose can see what’s happening in front of them. The lesson here is to make organizations more visible in both org-chart directions.
Having top-down visibility enables leaders to stay connected with the edges of the organization to make better informed decisions. Bottom-up visibility enables employees to see the bigger picture, engages them, and empowers them to better align themselves with the organizational objectives.
3) Geese are not too proud to seek help. When a goose falls out of formation, it suddenly feels the friction of flying alone. It then quickly adjusts its mistake and moves back into formation to take advantage of the lifting power of the bird immediately in front of it. The lesson here is to be humble, admit the challenges we face, ask for help as soon as we get stuck.
4) Geese empower others to lead. When the lead goose in the front gets tired, it rotates back into the formation and allows another goose to take the leadership position. The lesson here is to empower others to lead. Micro-managing and keeping tight control will cause employees to disengage while burning leaders out.
People have unique skills, capabilities, and gifts to offer. Give them autonomy, trust, and a chance to shine, and they will shine. Geese teach us to rotate, empower, delegate, and even step down when it’s in the best interest of the team. How often do we see this taking place among organizational leaders?
5) Geese recognize and acknowledge great work. They honk to recognize each other and encourage those up front to keep up their speed. The lesson here is to make sure we praise people and give them the recognition they deserve.
Lack of recognition is one of the main reasons employees are unsatisfied at work and quit. It’s very common for people’s efforts to go unnoticed by their peers in a busy and fast-moving work environment. However, remembering to constantly provide recognition and encouragement is vital and keeps teams motivated to achieve their goals.
6) Geese offer support in challenging times. When a goose gets sick or wounded, two geese drop out of formation and follow it down to help and protect it. They stay with it until it dies or is able to fly again. Then, they join up with another formation or catch up with their flock.
The lesson here is to stand by each other in difficult times. It’s easy to always be part of winning teams—but when things get difficult and people are facing challenges, that’s when your teammates need you the most.
7) Geese stay committed to core values and purpose. Geese migration routes never vary. They use the same route year after year. Even when the flock members change, the young learn the route from their parents. In the spring they will go back to the spot where they were born.
The lesson to learn here is to stay true to the company’s core values and purpose. Strategies, tactics, and products may change in order for an organization to remain agile, but great companies always stick to their core purpose and values, and preserve them with vigor.
Southwest Airlines and NASCAR pit crews
Southwest Airlines has an outstanding reputation for on-time performance. While other airlines struggle, Southwest leads the pack. It wasn’t always that way. Southwest had a dismal record. In an effort to reverse this, they began a process of benchmarking their activities against other airlines, assuming that by doing this, they could learn and then make the appropriate changes. Unfortunately, you can’t benchmark against others who are just as bad at it as you.
Looking outside the airline industry for inspiration, Southwest identified one group that was literally the best in on-time performance: NASCAR pit crews. NASCAR pit crews excel, with each team member having a clearly defined role, singular focus, a team approach, always correctly anticipating when the race car will arrive for service, and training rigorously to perfect their task.
Cars are in and out of the pit within seconds. With NASCAR as its model, Southwest quickly transformed its performance, achieving 10-minute turnaround times for its planes and leading the industry.
Each week during the NFL season, the NFL Officiating Department reviews each play the referees called. The Officiating Department identifies successes, areas for improvement, and points to emphasize. They grade at least one game each week using specific criteria. The referees receive their grades, participate in weekly training videos, and debrief specific plays. The evaluation process culminates when officiating crews are evaluated for the past season’s work, with rewards and consequences.
Kelly Max is the CEO of Haufe US, provider of employee-centered enterprise transformation solutions and programs.Haufe is a leading global provider of Success as a Service (SXaaS) HR solutions that transform company culture and enhance businesses ability to attract and retain top talent. Working with over 600 companies across 28 countries, Haufe offers a combination of consultative services and people-centric software that empowers clients to address real challenges and build flexible solutions that evolve to meet organizational goals. Haufe’s newly launched HR Operating System, Rhythmix, combines scientific tools and a human-centered methodology to align company culture, organization and tools while also optimizing each employee’s career journey through talent acquisition, onboarding and performance.