Social Network Analysis Helps Maximize Collective Smarts

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In one case, the central IT unit in the Canadian government, with a staff of 1,600, decided to do an SNA to establish which skills they should retain and develop. The IT group, which provides IT services to most of the Canadian government, made the move because they expected to lose 40 percent of senior managers to retirement within five years. Using SNA software from Knetmap, the agency was able to determine who had the most important knowledge and experience, and it was better equipped to start succession planning.

Even if succession planning isn’t at the top of your agenda, data from an SNA can be used to help motivate your current staff. At Mars’s Las Vegas meeting, the scientists were given a booklet mapping their own personal network as well as ideas on how to expand it. Later, they were encouraged to network outside the organization in order to increase possibilities for new ideas at the company. Now, networking has been built into the development and performance review process, and scientists have to set goals on expanding their networks.

Mars executives acknowledged that the data from SNAs can be sensitive, particularly when it comes to employee performance. Those who turn out to be highly connected are often high performers, and conversely, those with few connections often are not performing as well. "We looked at the outliers to figure out why they were isolated," Ruzicka says.

Initially, some of the scientists were reluctant to respond to the surveys. But because Mars officials were discreet with the results—Ruzicka and Helferich were the only ones who saw the results (about who was an outlier, for instance)—and because they didn’t use the data in a punitive way, the scientists ended up embracing the project.

"When people got their own network profile, they came away energized to do more networking," Ruzicka says. "In the end, what we’re doing is trying to retain people and increase innovation."

Senior Writer Susannah Patton can be reached at spatton@cio.com.

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Copyright © 2005 IDG Communications, Inc.

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