Building a Solid Foundation from the Intangible

We may not be able to see it, but it’s there – an invisible web that connects organizations the way some physicists say the string theory connects the universe. It flows everywhere, in all directions, not just up or downstream. It’s difficult to put a finger on and complicated to monitor, but it can change the way an organization functions. It’s networking, and Hope Greenfield, former chief talent officer at Lehman Brothers, and Lisa Vertucci, former head of talent development at Lehman, kicked off Monday morning’s presentations with “The Value of Networking,” in which they discussed the patterns, relationships and networking behaviors of high performers, the difference among “central connectors,” “brokers,” “connecting brokers” and “peripheral people,” and the evolution of the networking concept. They explained how they conducted a survey that changed the way networking affected Lehman at a time when the company was experiencing unprecedented growth.

Networks are connections among people that can drive innovation. They can reveal leadership potential and make it easier to get work done. They can also be an invisible source of inefficiency. When Greenfield and Vertucci arrived at Lehman, they found a tribal atmosphere that prided itself on teamwork but was “shockingly stove-piped,” with no system in place to develop a network across business lines. With complete support from the top and on both the individual and organizational levels, the two began to develop networks. They began the process with onboarding, discussing with whom a new hire would talk and then debriefing that hire afterward. As a result, there was an uptick in productivity. They established a method of collecting hard data and found that the more revenue-producing relationships VPs have, the more likely it is that they will be promoted to SVP; yet high performers are much more likely to nurture the quality of relationships than the quantity. Likewise, the more value-added connections VPs have, the more likely they are to stay with the organization.

Greenfield and Vertucci assert that connectivity is key, and they support this assertion with their finding that if 5% of the ties within a network were to be removed, 29% of the connections would be lost. If 10% were removed, 43% would be lost. Connectivity affects retention, promotion, performance and compensation. And getting things done can often be more reliant on an informal network of colleagues than on formal structure. Of the top 50 connectors (people) identified at the outset by Greenfield and Vertucci, 62% had been at Lehman for more than 10 years. So, when considering the networking web in your organization, perhaps it might be wise to consider the speakers’ questions: In which direction is the information flowing? Are some of the people involved overly central? Are there divisive subgroups within the network? Not only can a strong networking platform answer these questions, it can be the bridge to repair a broken web.

This summary is from the first presentation of i4cp's 37th Annual Membership Conference.