Companies create organization charts that show hierarchies and reporting relationships. But work rarely gets done as it appears on an org chart. Instead, people operate through networks: informal webs of relationships that people instinctively form in the workplace.
Traditionally, leaders have used organization charts to understand their boundaries and spheres of influence. Network maps provide new and helpful information about how people actually perform work, make decisions, and solve problems. Network thinking and network maps can help leaders gain a holistic perspective and uncover unseized opportunities, identify lurking risks, and address unarticulated needs.
In this series, we look at how several different leaders used network knowledge to advance their company’s strategy. This first installment tells the story of the unexpected departure of a high performer and what the leader did to mitigate the loss.
Using Network Maps as Leadership Tools
Jerome led the European region of an important division within a Fortune 500 company. In many ways, Jerome was a traditionalist. He grew up within the company and relied on standard tools like Management by Objectives, SMART Goals, and so on. When his division undertook a network mapping activity, he was skeptical but open.
Jerome and I met to talk about how to serve as the most effective leader within his region. Before looking at the network maps, we started with Jerome’s strategy and goals. What did the region need to achieve in the next year? Among sharing expertise, innovating, solving problems, and making quick decisions, what were the priorities? What issues concerned Jerome most?
A Star Performer Leaves
Jerome identified one issue that was taking up most of his attention. A star performer, Tosca, had earned a promotion that would move her out of the division. It was a positive step for her—recognition of her competence and effectiveness—but a challenge for Jerome and the organization. Tosca had been a hub of information and activity. Her combination of subject matter expertise, history with the company, easy working style, and connectedness made her a magnet for her peers. She was often sought out for questions about the division, the political terrain, and how to get things done.
We looked at the network maps to see how Tosca’s move would realistically affect the organization and what Jerome could do to mitigate any negative impacts of departure. Tosca’s importance was immediately apparent, especially in relation to how expertise was shared within the region. Tosca (represented by the box in the center of the starburst in the image on the left) was the most connected person in the expertise network. More people went to her for information than anyone else. While Tosca possessed considerable knowledge, she also knew how to find expertise. The arrows pointing away from her to others indicate that she wasn’t simply a hoarder of information. Instead, she brokered expertise and practical know-how by gaining and sharing information constantly.
The image on the right shows the exact same network without Tosca. It became much less connected and robust in her absence. Six individuals, circled in red, disconnected from the organization. Two pairs also detached from the whole. The overarching message: without Tosca, it would be much harder for people to access the expertise they needed within the division.
These maps helped Jerome understand and mitigate the impact of Tosca’s promotion. Together, we identified concrete strategies to connect people isolated by Tosca’s departure. We pinpointed people who shared many of her same connections and fulfilled many of the same purposes within the organization. These people were valuable since, with a little coaching and support from Tosca, they could fill holes she left. Finally, we clarified the ways in which people depended on her so she could train a replacement to provide those services. Jerome was left with a solid plan for filling the gaps left by Tosca’s departure.
Learn More about Using Network Maps as Leadership Tools
Interested in learning more about how leaders can use network maps as leadership tools to guide performance? Read “From Regional to Global: Using a Network Strategy to Align a Multinational Organization,” recently published in People + Strategy.