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Eureka! "The network is the person"

Yesterday morning I had something of a Eureka! moment (while showering – typical!).

For whatever reason, Sun’s motto from the 1990’s “The network is the computer” started buzzing around in my head however my context was thinking about people’s social networks.

Suddenly it hit me, what Euan Semple has been saying on a few occasions when I’ve seen him speak (and chatted with him) but which I hadn’t fully grasped bubbled up in my mind. My most valuable asset as an employee is my network! As an employer the networks of my employees are a vital asset. (I mention @euan not because he’s necessarily the first person to propose this but because he’s the first person who helped me to recognise it… and also because if there were a vote for one person to run the planet tomorrow he’d get my vote as he just “gets it”). Hence the paraphrase above! The network is the person!

It’s blindingly simple when you think about it. If you hire someone, even a really clever someone they can only ever solve the problems that they can solve on their own but if they come with a network of friends, family, ex-colleagues and aquaintances which they can tap, their potential to solve problems increases manyfold.

I feel like a bit of a dimwit that I haven’t consciously recognised this before now and perhaps I’m the last person on the planet to cotton on but darn, it’s as obvious as the nose on my face!

When building teams and interviewing people I’m a big fan of competency based interviewing techniques and generally speaking the core competencies I’m interested in 99% of the time are adaptability and learning capacity. It’s never occurred to me that there is another key consideration I should have when interviewing and that is to investigate with the candidate how extensive their social network is. Of course I should be concerned with this as it gives me a measure of how well they can answer the questions they don’t yet know the answers to!

In a one of those weird synchronicity things yesterday I later read an article from Phil Bradley bemoaning the shortsightedness of the “Forum of Private Business” around proscribing social media access for staff as a productivity measure.

Phil’s message (in a ranty way which I can empathise with) is that it’s as idiotic to deny workers access to “social media” as a productivity drain as it is to prevent them having paper and pen for doodling. This resonates with me as I’ve always maintained that technologies like “WebSense” etc. and restricting access to the internet for staff as a means of ensuring they don’t “slack off” of “do something inappropriate” is as idiotic as preventing them from buying a morning paper.

If your staff are finding excuses for not working or acting inappropriately in the workplace that’s a that’s a problem your organisation should be looking very closely into, not covering it up by plastering over it with a draconian policy. (Ironically, once upon a time I used to be involved, as a technical consultant, in selling WebSense… most of the time I spent trying to persuade my clients not to buy it… they still did! The illusion of control was too strong a pull.)

In my opinion the overall effect is greater than Phil has alluded to (mindless pursuit of the illusion of control), it’s not just about productivity but if you cut your staff off from their networks you’ve seriously curtailed their effectiveness. (not to mention the morale implications leading to negative productivity) You’ve limited them, in effect, to being only able to solve the problems they can solve for you instead of the vaster set of problems they, with access to their networks, can.

This realisation has begun to fundamentally change my thinking about how I should manage and recruit. Awesomeness will ensue!