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vendredi 18 avril 2014

"Office influencer" : a new job?

Rachel Feintzeig has recently written a provocative paper in the Wall street Journal about the rise of the influencers (ie. opinion leaders) in the enterprise. "Office influencers are high in demand".  And companies like Cisco System, Procter & Gamble in the United States, Pernod Ricard in France, harness the clout of their well-connected employees. Towards a new social race, a new competition inside companies? Making friends at the office has never been rewarding by the management. But now, employees must sharing information via new private social networks, and followers are welcome.

Theorical roots of opinion leader influence in companies are drawn from a Rob Cross's (McIntire School of Commerce at the University of Virginia) and Jon Katzenbach's (senior partner with Booz & Company) research. They observed a senior leadership committee that conducted a network assessment to improve its performance.The CEO assumed the bulk of improvement would come from within the committee, through the strengthening of committee structures and decision-making processes among those 14 senior leaders.

What are the characteristics of an influencer's social network?

Results show that "there was much more leverage for improvement in the links between the senior group and the rest of the company. That was because although members of the senior leadership committee held a disproportionate share of collaborative ties, those ties were not distributed evenly.  One executive (“Person 1”) was a highly networked individual, with more than 60 people claiming her as a key information source, whereas another (“Person 14”) maintained only four connections. The CEO — in the middle of the pack, labeled “Person 7” — was shocked by his own relative lack of influence. He was also surprised by the prominence of a few executives he had not realized were so important in enabling others.

What are the office influencer traits?

Rob Cross and Jon Katzenbach identify five distinctive leader traits :
    •    Outgoing: Extroverted and exuberant but also good self-monitors.
    •    Empathetic: Approachable and able to sympathize.
    •    Accessible: Fully present and welcoming.
    •    Energizing: Fellow employees feel invigorated by them.
    •    Optimistic: Focus on solutions, not what can't work.

How to indentify an office influencer ?

To find these people, some companies conduct surveys, asking questions like, "Who do you go to when you're having a bad day at work?" or "Who do you go to when you have a question that seems obvious?". But others could be fascinated by new web algorithms, like Klout. In marketing now it's well-known that consumers have been talking about brands on social media; and because 92% of people trust their peers, this had a major impact on sales. And moreover, opinion leaders also provide four times more retweets about brands than other folks...

From Twitter to Chatter, the new private social network: has buit an internal platform called Chatter: it's closed to Twitter, the company defines it as "an enterprise social network". And, as Klout does with its algorithm, Salesforce elevated those who post and comment a lot to an elite class called “chatterati", term for its highest influencers.

The novelty is not found in the idea that in every office there are always one or two people who are great at engaging, knowing and influencing behavior, sharing ideas and thoughts. "What is new is the effort to identify and engage these people for the benefit of the company." And last, but not least, "the top 20 "chatterati," are invited to attend the company's global senior management meeting, which occurs twice a year and was formerly open only to Salesforce's top 600 leaders. Moreover, some managers also take employees' Chatter scores into account when determining promotions and compensation, though the company declined to provide specifics."

And here it is the wrong idea.

We largely agree with Mary Marshall's  (a CEO coach) arguments. She tells us : "I have no problem with doing this because it identifies a person’s “gift” or “talent” and helps them to become better at it. Essentially, it’s like placing a professional sports player in the right role and in the zone. Nirvana. What I do have a problem with is saying that all employees should do this, as some companies have done. It’s like asking a musician to become an IT specialist. One size does not fit all".
We also agree with Jerry Davis, a management professor at the University of Michigan's Ross School of Business, says companies could be "rewarding the wrong thing" if they put too much stock in the hubs in their social networks. "When it comes to promotions or layoffs, that's when it starts to get hairy," he adds. "Wait a minute, I thought I was doing my work really well, and because I didn't spend my time networking, I'm going to be fired?" he imagines an employee saying."

And finally, it's always the same song: "What does an influential person and influence mean at work?". A power to affect persons  based on prestige or a hierarchical position? Or  causing something without any direct or apparent effort? And what does Chatterati's or Klout exactly measure? Friendship? Expertise? Talkativeness? Gossiping?

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