Guest post from Amanda Scott
We’ve seen this story so many times: A 30-year-old manufacturing company in Ireland is acquired by a global business. To survive under the umbrella of the larger business, the company is expected to restructure. New jobs are on offer but there won’t be one for everyone.
I have two candidates vying for a senior role reporting to the international board. On paper Michael and Liam both look solid: they are highly experienced engineers with management experience, they’ve delivered consistently and they are well known around the site.
Or are they?
As part of the restructure, I see Michael and Liam in their day-to-day interactions as well as more formally in meetings. I bump into them in the corridors and frequently in the canteen.
Michael always sits at the same table; ‘with the boys’ as he’s likely to joke. That means the management team. These lunches give Michael an informal opportunity to talk on after meetings and keep within earshot of important news coming from the top.
Liam is often at the table too but mostly I see him in the corridor, his hands dug into his pockets, head tilted, listening and chatting. Today it’s a lab technician he’s talking to.
Michael’s work habits are efficient for getting things done – he admits that he likes to get in early, plan his day and then talk to the people he needs. He prides himself on being familiar with reporting lines and knowing exactly who to go to for what.
Liam admits that he gets into too many conversations. His habit is to reach out frequently and early in his thinking process. The technician he’s talking to isn’t a team lead and a step away from the problem he’s dealing with, but in his own words ‘the one who lifted the lid on something I’d been looking at the wrong way’. Because he’s approachable, he’s also fair game for other people’s challenges and he recognises that managing his time is an ongoing struggle.
Rob Cross, Professor at the University of Virginia and author of the Hidden Power of Social Networks, X-rays the networks of people like Michael and Liam, to highlight their differences.
Michael’s network is efficient: it reflects the formal structure of the business and his status, with strong connections to the other senior decision makers. He makes clear use of reporting lines and is effective in getting things done. When it’s business as usual, his adeptness with the official network helps him to execute well.
Liam’s network reveals a different structure; Cross describes this as a bridging network. With his wide-ranging relationships, he is unusually able to connect different parts of his organisation. This gives him certain advantages – his informal network acts as an early warning system, so that he can nip new problems in the bud. It’s also likely to mean that he experiences a level of trust within groups in different parts of the business. A network, rich with diverse people could help him to be an effective influencer when it comes to implementing new processes and systems.
Some questions that lead from this:
1. As an HR professional, how do you decide whom to keep? Is it Michael for his precision or Liam for the hidden power of his informal network?
2. Liam’s network capability may not show up on his CV or maybe he’s an external hire, so what do you ask at interview, to identify his key differentiator?
At Personal Boardroom, we work with companies to help them bring new hires up to speed by focusing on the connections they need. Please get in touch if you would like to know more.