What is it about employees that when they walk into the office, they seem to behave differently to their normal social expectation? There are a couple of questions that stem from this according to Margaret Heffernan – the keynote speaker at this year’s CIPD.
Firstly, Do we care about people? Or have we become social units fighting for our own selfishness? How far do we feel part of a collective? And how far do we feel that we have to constantly fight our corner? This temperament as a society would not only make us unproductive but also our organisations unproductive too.
Margaret Heffernan suggests that organisations should try to encourage building long term, sustained relationships within their workforce. Once an employee gathers information they should be thinking about how that information is useful and who it would be useful to. Taking the information and dropping it on a colleague’s desk, or sending the information to a group of employees is unproductive, old fashioned and will dis-engage a workforce. Colleagues’ relationships should not be transactional. A transactional relationship doesn’t go anywhere, once the transaction is over so is the relationship. Employees may give a lot to each other, but if you don’t give them the opportunity to, they’ll never give you anything back.
She suggested when we start to think, ‘no, I’m just thinking about number one, the whole thing becomes toxic. Choosing not to help each other because you’re afraid to let your ideas and opinions free is potentially holding back an outcome that could be so much greater.
The answer to this, as Margaret Heffernan discussed, is so tragically simple. Start with the relationships between colleagues. The answer could be could be something as little as allowing employees to chat over coffee or something as big as an away day. People feel like we shouldn’t do that because it’s wasting time, but there’s fantastic work on “the impact of social capitalism in the organisation” that discovered, the people who actively attempt to build relationships often are the most knowledgeable in the company. These people are referred to as ‘Nodes’, somebody who is very well connected to everyone throughout the organisation.
The evidence proves that we know these people are more likely to be professional so finding out who they are can be very beneficial to an organisation. There’s analytical software out there that tracks email trails, not the subtlest approach, but it will find your ‘Nodes’. If you want to get the word out about a change or implement a new process, going through the nodes is a very effective way. By cascading information through the business, when it reaches the bottom the original message can be lost. By encouraging colleagues to communicate and connect they’ll start to feel more important and become more helpful, this adds tangible value to a business.
Using the nodes as a management influence is something Margaret Heffernan also discussed. There’s a very direct approach to find out why your node is the way they are. Ask them some very simple questions and use the answers to influence training and interviews. What have they done? How did you get to the position you’re in? How many people trust and know you? A fantastic tip she shared was to ask the question, ‘who has helped you to get where you are? The outcome of this is people really start to understand the value of their colleagues.
You can start to identify nodes by asking a simple question during interviews. If we had two of these positions, who else do you know who would be a good candidate? What’s interesting here is the candidate’s reaction. The candidate is going to panic and question if you have two positions. Are they going to talk themselves out of a job? So it’s a fantastic test for getting a candidate to display their social confidence. This technique led to one of the most talked about quotes of this year’s conference.
“If the answer is ‘well there’s nobody quite like me’, you’ve got yourself a ‘superchicken’ and you don’t want to hire him or her. On the other hand, if the candidate replies with there’s x, y and z who would be really great, this person is a node. This is a person who knows people, notices people, listens to people and rejoices in their societies, someone who would be a fantastic asset to any company.”