More Power to the Connectors

I loved this article by Rosabeth Moss Kanter of Harvard Business School, as I’ve always considered myself a connector. Find the full thing on http://blogs.hbr.org/kanter/2009/11/power-to-the-connectors.html – yet here are the most important excerpts:

America in the 20th century was called a “society of organizations.” Formal hierarchies with clear reporting relationships gave people their position and their power. In the 21st century, America is rapidly becoming a society of networks, even within organizations. Maintenance of organizations as structures is less important than assembling resources to get results, even if the assemblage itself is loose and perishable.

Today, people with power and influence derive their power from their centrality within self-organizing networks that might or might not correspond to any plan on the part of designated leaders. Organization structure in vanguard companies involves multi-directional responsibilities, with an increasing emphasis on horizontal relationships rather than vertical reporting as the center of action that shapes daily tasks and one’s portfolio of projects, in order to focus on serving customers and society. Circles of influence replace chains of command, as in the councils and boards at Cisco which draw from many levels to drive new strategies. Distributed leadership — consisting of many ears to the ground in many places — is more effective than centralized or concentrated leadership. Fewer people act as power-holders monopolizing information or decision-making, and more people serve as integrators using relationships and persuasion to get things done.

This changes the nature of career success. It is not enough to be technically adept or even to be interpersonally pleasant. Power goes to the “connectors”: those people who actively seek relationships and then serve as bridges between and among groups. Their personal contacts are often as important as their formal assignment. In essence, “She who has the best network wins.”

Connectors have always been more promotable, even in traditional hierarchies. Wherever teamwork across positions is desirable, natural connectors who instinctively reach across divides to form relationships get the plum jobs. Network stars have social capital — a stockpile of personal relationships with many people whom they regularly connect to one another.

To be known is to be in the know. This is why connectors with big networks have so much power. They don’t need to be the formal boss if they have the connections. Nick Donofrio, former IBM executive vice president, encouraged 90,000 technical people to think of themselves as working for him, even though they did not work directly for him in any formal or official way. He answered hundreds of daily emails personally, counting on this as a major bottom-up source of information about issues and opportunities.

Social capital is often, but not entirely, correlated with length of organizational experience. The other factor is whether the nature of the job encourages getting to know large numbers of people — that is, whether the job involves mobility, a portfolio of varied projects, and participation in initiatives that call for communication across groups.

In short, giving people work that spans boundaries is a way to grow the potential for more connectors, in a nice multiplier effect. But ultimately the power of connectors lies in themselves. It comes from their own willingness to continue making relationships, passing on information, and introducing people to one another.

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