Social Network Mapping and Trust

John Rolander, one of the good people at Katzenbach Partners , pointed me to a fine piece in Fortune Magazine about their work in OQ—Organizational Quotient. (July 23, 2007).

Katzenbach is a leader in identifying and analyzing the “constellation of collaborations, relationships and networks” that are responsible for much of an organization’s real effectiveness, and which is quite distinct from the formal organizational chart.

“Jon Katzenbach [calls the] ability to toggle between both power structures ‘organizational quotient,’ or OQ.”

Katzenbach helped Bell Canada scour 50,000 employees to identify “14 low- and mid-level managers who embodied the mentality the company sought: committed, passionate, and competitive. Here’s what they found:

The subjects shared the ability to get people to trust them and to solve problems rather than complain about them. “These people have incredible influence. It’s like the Life Cereal commercial—Will Mikey eat it?”

You could say this is yawningly obvious; but only in the rear-view mirror. Which makes it worth emphasizing.

First, these are 14 massively influential people. Influence doesn’t happen by accident. These people attract others. To be proper, others are attracted to them.

What attracts others? Their perceived trustworthiness; and their propensity to solve rather than complain.

As Phil McGee (who I’m appointing as a business guru) puts it, “All business problems boil down to two: a tendency to blame, and an inability to confront.” That’s the negative way to put it.

The positive way to put it is, business works best when driven by people who take responsibility, and who are trusted by others.

There is an awful lot of stuff written about how to be trusted. Listening. Eye contact. Networks. And so on.

We tend to forget that true trust is only earned by being trustworthy—which means, literally, worthy of trust. All else is fakery. Ask someone why they trust so-and-so, and you’ll always get two things near the top of the list—"he has my best interests at heart," and "I can trust him to speak the truth."

"Blame" reeks of falsehood—the word has connotations of evading responsibilty, lying about accountability. Valid assignment of responsibilty is devoid of “blame,” and the true measure of validity is whether one is willing to take on responsibility oneself. Clear assignment of responsibility speaks to both putting principles ahead of self-interest, and to speaking truth rather than spinning it.

So the presence of blame is a sure-fire signal of the lack of trustworthiness. How can you trust someone who will not take responsibility?

All of which is to say, mapping of social networks reveals something very fundamental—trust nodes.

Well done.

[Footnote: I must add, there is also a small irony here. As Katzenbach says in the article, “the informal organization is most helpful when you’re trying to influence behaviors that are more emotional than they are rational.”

The irony lies in the need for most organizations to have rational proof of the power of emotions over rationality.

Then again—whatever works ]

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