Organisations need to focus on influence rather than hierarchies

Companies should be looking at the value of internal relationships and not just those at the top, says Nicholas Creswell

Organisations need to focus on influence

Organisational structure charts are a staple of every large business. You would struggle to find a big company that doesn’t have one, and that doesn’t give a copy to every new starter on their first day, explaining who reports to whom. The implication is that you need to understand these if you’re going to get stuff done.

But these traditional organisational models leave a lot to be desired. A ‘top down’ approach of email cascades from senior management and town hall-style meetings often means communication only reaches a certain level of understanding and buy-in. It doesn’t recognise the more informal relationships people use to make sense of what’s going on around them.

By disregarding these connections, it’s more difficult for information to flow freely around the organisation. That makes it more difficult for organisations to be agile and innovative.

The groups of people chatting while making their morning coffee or sharing ideas while waiting at the printer all have insights and information to convey and value to contribute. 

But most organisations don’t use them to anything like their full potential. Identifying the experts and influencers within an organisation and connecting them to both senior leadership and the rest of their peers opens up a completely new way of working that paves the way for increased efficiency, better performance and greater innovation.

At Thomson Reuters, we took the technology teams from each of the organisation’s business units and created a new enterprise technology group of 12,000 staff in 2016. Completing a network analysis of this new organisation (with the help of organisational network consultancy Innovisor) revealed that the most influential 5 per cent of staff could reach more than 50 per cent of the enterprise technology workforce – meaning we knew how to reach most of our people by engaging more meaningfully with a targeted few.

By identifying those individuals who have the most influence and play specific roles within their teams – in particular, the connectors who link individual sub-groups of staff, and the brokers who act as bridges between sub-groups, as well as the experts people go to for help – we could leverage these connections to the business’s advantage, understand where our expertise lay, and ultimately help the company perform more efficiently.

These groups of people now have a key role to play within the remodelled enterprise technology organisation. The influencers have met with senior management to act as a voice for the rest of the workforce, as well as sharing their own solutions at un-conferences. Peer-nominated experts are building communities of expertise in their own areas through monthly knowledge-sharing days, and connectors are invited to meet senior hires during their onboarding period to start building relationships. 

And although it’s down to a combination of factors we can’t attribute solely to the network analysis, we have seen a definitive increase in productivity within the enterprise technology organisation during the last two years.

I firmly believe this connected, influence-driven organisational model is key to running the businesses of the future – and of today. Information flows dynamically through organisations, and to understand how to perform more effectively, HR and senior management have to be prepared to get under the skin of their ways of working and have a dialogue with influencers about how to run the organisation.

So often when we design and develop organisations, we focus on the more formal hierarchies. Of course, we need to do that – but let’s ensure it’s not at the expense of the more informal channels through which so much information is relayed and so much work gets done. 

Learning how to focus as much on the key influencers at the heart of the organisation, as much as we do on those at the top of the organisational structure chart, should yield disproportionate benefits in terms of engagement, effectiveness and – above all – productivity.

Nicholas Creswell is VP, talent & development at Thomson Reuters

This article was originally published on People Management. Read the original article.

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