Thinking Out Loud: Using Social Network Analysis to Transform Organizations

tavern-586323_1280I haven’t thought this all the way through, and there are a lot of people (Jon Husband, Harold Jarche, and a guy I had beer with on Monday who is the founder of Simplexity Systems and the inspiration for this post, for example) who are way more knowledgeable about Social Network Analysis (SNA) than I am. I’m really just riffing a bit here.

Monday evening I had beer with a couple of people, one of whom I’d just met (thanks for buying, by the way). His official title is something like Manager of Enterprise Architecture, but his real mandate is to shake things up and make some changes for the good of the organization (a client of mine, BTW). Anyways, after a bit of chit chat, and my two companions finishing up with what they were talking about before I got there, the conversation turned to the topic of Social Network Analysis. What the heck is SNA? Well, my very simple understanding of it is something like …

Analytics and algorithms are used to mathematically prove the strength of relationships between nodes (people) in a network. For example; by examining aspects of an email chain between multiple people it is possible to map the relationships between the various participants and to see how strong those relationships are. One thing that’s really cool about the whole SNA thing is that it not only measures the numbers of emails flying about and their sources and destinations, it also measures and evaluates elapsed time. What’s missing (or we just didn’t talk about it) is the sentiment of the relationship, since the analysis is focused on emails going back and forth and not the content and tone of the emails.

Before I forget … you ought to check out Wirearchy for some more in-depth stuff about SNA and how it can be applied …

Anyway, after chatting for a couple of hours, and the conversation being cut short (babysitters, feeding kids, family nonsense) I went into head scratching mode for a bit. I started thinking about other types of connections that could be mapped, using SNA principles. Could we map relationships between people and content, and then make inferences about those relationships? Could we make suggestions about potential relationships? For example, could we make inferences and suggestions about a relationship between two people (content author and content consumer) based on the consumer’s relationship (activity) with the author’s content, even though the people may not know each other? To what end would we apply these insights?

I also started thinking about what would happen if we added content and semantic analysis to the mix. Could we draw conclusions about the tone of the relationships? Could we figure out if a relationship between individuals was positive or negative? What else could we infer about the relationship?

What if, instead of looking at relationships between individuals, we aggregated the findings to look at relationships between departments in an organization? Could we identify relationships and dependencies where we previously assumed none existed? If we could, could we also then use this information to restructure certain elements and systems in the organization? In effect, could we use the combined results of Social Network Analysis, Content Analytics, and Semantic Analysis to tear down silos and improve information flows, thereby positively impacting the organization? My gut says we can.

As I said, I know very little about SNA though I am convinced that if it were applied in concert with other analytic approaches there’s a lot of good stuff we could do. For the moment I’d really like to spend more time with my new drinking buddy, some wine or beer, and a whiteboard to learn more about this whole Social Network Analysis thing.


Get Sh!t Done – Right People Do Right Things

This is a response to this post by David Spinks of Feast and The Community Manager. Simply put, David points out all that`s wrong about a “Get Sh!t Done” mentality. Obviously, GSD’s not worth a S if the capabilities and tools aren’t in place to enable getting stuff done. It also helps that you’ve got an actual clue about what stuff should be getting done, when.

In my personal and business lives (going back to my mid-teens) I’ve been a coach, team lead, mentor, father (still am), team member, and manager. I’ve worked on dozens of projects in many countries and industries, many of them with a great sense of urgency to GSD. I do not, however, have much experience with startups. In all of those roles and projects I’ve been told, and told others, to “get sh!t done.”

Regardless of the business, there is always pressure to get sh!t done. Whether it’s getting a product out the door, processing a benefits application, getting a website updated, implementing software, putting together a budget, crafting an HR policy, … whatever, people need to perform and things need to get done. It doesn’t matter if the organization is a startup, an established multi-national, or a government entity; the expectation is that things get done.

“Get sh!t done” needs to be prefaced with an understanding that the right stuff is getting done and the right people are being tasked to do it. What makes people right for getting it done? They have the necessary skills, capabilities, attitude, and time to get it done. If they don’t, and they are still being asked to get it done, it’s their manager’s fault, unless they’ve lied to their manager.

If someone is told “GSD” there has to be an assumption that the doer has the necessary resources and skills. If not, either the manager is mismanaging or the intended doer needs to pipe up and articulate any deficiencies in resources or capabilities.

There are type A’s and type C’s out there, just as there are people who will always be less productive than others. Why they’re like that may be interesting to discover, but is ultimately a waste of time (unless it’s a temporary blip brought on by circumstances). What’s more productive is to determine whether or not they fit in the organization. Depending on the dynamics of an organization, having people that aren’t type A, super-productive-ambitious may actually be a good thing. As a manager you need to know how to deploy them correctly and keep them motivated; you need to find out what their capabilities and limits are. If they don’t fit in to how things need to be done, you need to get them out of the way. As long as everyone is working towards the same overall objectives, things are good.

Get sh!t done is a tactic. Shipping a product or some software code is not the goal; the goal is profitability. In the case of government, the goal is delivering services and governing without wasting taxpayer funds. Lots of little sh!ts need to get done to meet organizational goals; simply living a mantra won’t get you there.

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