Case Study - Process: Diverse Employee Network Mapping Industry Sector: Manufacturing
By Jeffrey Deckman
I was retained as a consultant to serve as the acting president of a medium sized 2nd generation manufacturing company that focused upon precision miniature zinc die cast & plastic injection moulded of miniature parts.
The owner and CEO of the company was taking a semi-sabbatical to “catch his breath.” and to begin developing a strategic plan that would allow him to diversify into the micromanufacturing industry.
The company had 60 employees and focused on domestic and international markets. The goal was to turn the day-to-day management of the operation over to me with him primarily providing off site support when needed, and on-site support on most Friday mornings. While I had never run a manufacturing company, I had extensive experience owning and growing companies in the telecommunications industry which were also labour and material intensive and which had similar labour forces and cultures.
The management team was primarily comprised of people who had been with the company for many years, with the exception of the VP of Operations. He had been on the job for several months and was still being assessed. Most of the workforce on the shop floor had also been with the company for many years and several of his most valuable and experienced were scheduled to retire in several months.
My first challenge was to gain an understanding of how the organization functioned. I was familiar with the Org Chart but they primarily identify who is responsible for which departments and for which people. In order for me to become effective in the shortest amount of time I needed to understand the organizational and interpersonal dynamics of the team with whom I would be engaging the most. I also had to identify those people who were most influential within the group but who may not appear on the Org. Chart.
I also needed to quickly gain a sense for the capabilities, talents and underlying political dynamics of the group as well as the health of its inter-personal “communication network. But this information does not appear in job descriptions or on resumes.
So, the first challenge was getting a clear understanding on the culture of the organization, identify those who were most influential in the group and to understand as much about the group’s “knowledge capital” as possible, as quickly as possible.
To accomplish this task, I used a proprietary analytical process designed specifically to reveal the interpersonal and group dynamics of an organization and to identify previously unrecognized pools of knowledge capital and capabilities within the group that could be accessed for the benefit of the organization.
To capture and map this information an analysis was performed of 7 key informal employee networks that exist amongst the people in organizations but operate outside of the Org Chart. These DENs are responsible for how most of the work is done within an organization. McKinsely and Company states that as much as 67% of the work done in an organization occurs outside of the Org Chart and within informal networks created by the workforce.
The informal networks targeted and examined were:
• Work Network - Defines those who are engaged in the most work transactions
• Social Network - Helps to identify the health of the culture of the organization
• Innovation Network - Identifies the most innovative thinkers
• Mentor Network - Identifies those who best counsel, guide and are most trusted
• Strategic Thinking Network - Identifies those who are best at “getting things done”
• Learning Network - Identifies the level of intra-departmental teaching occurring
• Peacemaker - Identifies those who work as calming influences within the organization
Before beginning the survey meetings were held that allowed for the process and the intention behind it to be explained in detail and to allow the participants to get familiar and comfortable with me. This helped to create an environment of trust, cooperation and honesty; all of which is crucial to the success of the process.
The group to be assessed included upper management, middle management and key individuals who were not in management but who had specific responsibilities. The CEO was not surveyed for his answers but was included as one of the persons who others could name as being influential or someone they engaged regularly.
Once the initial orientation process was completed the surveys began. They were conducted individually over the phone. This maximized convenience and afforded the respondent a “comfort zone” which may not exist for them if the survey was conducted in a close quartered face to face meeting.
Each participant was asked questions whose answers identified those they considered to be the most active or influential in each of their personal versions of the 7 networks defined. This individualized data was assembled and combined to provide a cumulative view of the group’s collective answers. The result was that those who were most active or influential in the overall network began to be revealed and a picture of the underlying culture of the organization appeared.
Upon completion of the survey the entire group was assembled and only the results of the collective network were revealed, explained, assessed and discussed. The individual’s responses which created their personal network maps were kept confidential and only made available to that individual and were discussed with the CEO. But much time was spent assessing the collective data with the group.
The diagram below represents the data compiled from all the networks. The most active individuals in a network are indicated in dark blue. The second most active are in light blue and the third are tan coloured.
This process revealed very valuable information on the inner workings of the organization at a variety of levels ranging from insights into the levels of influence of people to information on the culture of the organization.
The assessment identified operational issues that were causing bottlenecks and offered information on interpersonal connections that were important to understand to better understand how to mobilize the organization and maximize the strengths of its relationships. Influential people were revealed and previously unknown capabilities and aptitudes were identified that people were willing to offer on behalf of the organization if asked.
It also provided information on issues of importance in areas they had not thought of before.
A sampling, of the most relevant findings, is listed below:
Prior to the assessment it was the opinion of both the CEO and the team that the organization operated very independently of him and that most of the issues were handled either by the person’s direct supervisor or were addressed in processes and procedures manuals that had been created.
The survey revealed that Steve was the most influential person in 4 of the 7 networks (Innovation, Mentor, Strategic Thinking and Learning) by a large margin in 3 of those 4 networks.
The reasons behind this, it was discovered, was that due to cultural and education issues amongst the group, many of the people felt most comfortable getting personal directions as opposed to reading manuals. This, coupled with the confidence the people had in the CEO and his level of accessibility, created a culture of “relaxed dependency” that neither side fully realized existed. The organization did not operate nearly as independently of the CEO as they thought.
This did not mean that they did not possess the capability to operate independently but the culture was one that chose to be more reliant on the CEO as opposed to itself.
As a result of these findings, it was decided that weekly departmental meetings would be held without the CEO present and would be run by those in the meeting. Companywide issues such as finance, sales and marketing, QC, engineering and personnel were discussed and the necessary decisions and action items were defined by, and acted upon by, the management team.
While there was a core group in the meetings other attendees were invited dependent upon the current issues of concern of the organization.
Only those items which rose to the CEO level were held for his input and a weekly report was created informing him of key issues or action items taken by the group. This process resulted in the group operating more independently, leading more and using more of their natural and learned capabilities on behalf of the organization.
Denny was in Quality Control and was in the lower middle management layer, as per the Org Chart. She was viewed by management as an employee who was loyal and dependable but not one who was very influential, even though she had been with the company for 15 years. She had a low-key personality and did not actively seek out recognition.
Denny ranked in the top 3 categories in every network mapped. While she was not the highest in any she was ranked in the 2nd and 3rd tier across the board. She was well liked (Social); a good strategic thinker (Strategic Thinking) and worked behind the scenes as a stabilizing force (Peace Maker).
The survey revealed that Denny was highly respected by the network. She also engaged the network often and widely, as indicated by her first place ranking on the chart that tabulates network activity levels. So, while management did not see her as one who was highly influential, because of her quiet nature and mild demeanour, she was very respected and was more influential than either the company, or she, realized.
As a result of these findings Denny was made one of the key people to attend each of the weekly manager’s meetings. Her input on her department was important but her standing amongst the group, and her natural sense for how the workers operated, allowed her to help the group to clearly think through issues and make delicate decisions which could affect employee morale.
This hidden capability resulted in her confidence growing, her standing in the management team increasing and better designed solutions with far fewer unintentional upsets amongst the workforce.
Doreen was the purchasing manager and, as per the Org Chart, was to have limited involvement in the Work Network of most people. There were only to be 2 people reporting to her and she was to report to the CEO.
Doreen was ranked in the 2nd tier of activity in the Work Network and was the 3rd most active person in that network. Subsequent research found that she had extended the reach of her control far beyond what was appropriate or in the best interest of the organization. People from all layers in the organization were engaging her regarding issues in which she should not have been involved. As a result, the political climate around her was negatively charged, processes were bottlenecked and people were doing unproductive “work-arounds” to circumnavigate her self-appointed influence.
Once this condition was discovered and analysed a meeting was held between Doreen, the CEO and myself to confirm our findings and to begin a conversation designed to re-establish the proper organizational design and increase operational efficiencies. We were also aware of the need to neutralize to increasing political tensions the current situation had created amongst the group.
Over the next two months attempts were made to realign her range of control to match the responsibilities of her position to no avail. After several attempts were met with resistance it became clear that the only remedy for the situation was to remove her from the position, which is what occurred.
After analysing the data, it was revealed that the level of activity in the Learning Network was very low. This sparked concern and after further review it revealed that there was not a high priority put upon teaching the next generation worker in the organization.
Those who knew did not actively teach and therefore those who were less experienced did not know actively seek to learn. They did not have an active “learning culture” in the organisation.
Further analysis revealed that several of the oldest and most experienced of the “shop floor” employees, two of whom were retiring, had not been grooming replacements. They had also created innovation solutions and workarounds to problems and machine fixes which they neither shared nor documented. This created a disconnect between how the operational and procedure manuals stated one should set up machines or respond to malfunctions and how they were actually handled.
A concerted effort was made to begin capturing, documenting and transferring the unique, but relevant, information that was in the heads of the two retiring employees into manuals and to begin training those who were going to be replacing the retiring individuals.
This proved challenging for several reasons. The first was that these individuals were not naturally inclined to teach others and did not perform the task well. Secondly, since they were used to solving problems as they occurred, they could not remember all of the work -rounds and “fixes” they had for all of the situations that could occur. Management then had to wait until many problems arose again before being apprised of the fix and institutionalizing the learning. They then had to revise the manuals and resolve any contradictions.
Although steps were taken to address this cultural issue the challenge continued after these employees retired. Thankfully, they agreed to be available to coach their replacements through situations as they arose. But this was problematic due to the immediate nature of solutions and the availability of the person being sought after.
The overall level of activity in the networks, with the exception of the Learning Network, was healthy. While the Peacemaker Network appeared to have low activity, it was to be expected due to the nature of the network.
Steve’s #1 ranking, as revealed in the chart which maps how much the network engages an individual, plus his top rankings in 4 of the 7 networks clearly demonstrated that the organization was much more dependent upon him than anyone realized.
The mapping also accurately reflected that the people liked one another and genuinely cared about the organization. The level of activity in the Social and Work networks demonstrated that people interacted with one another both in the workplace and personally. If the organization was filled with conflict and discord those numbers would have been lower as people avoid interacting with people they don’t like.
There were many other findings and situations that arose from performing this analysis. Some involved manipulative people who feared being found out and who revealed themselves. Others helped to explain, after the fact, why a person who appeared to be satisfied left quickly and without warning.
More important than the tremendous insights I gained which helped me to shorten my orientation curve was the impact this analysis had on how the organization viewed itself. Everyone involved, especially the CEO, learned a lot about how the organization actually operated, as opposed to how the Org Chart said it was supposed to operate and how it was thought to operate.
As a result, the organization began functioning more of a knowledge network than as an Org Chart. They also uncovered people who were mentors, strategic thinkers, had innovative minds and others who were quiet influencers who had undetected leadership abilities.
Once these hidden resources were uncovered all of everyone had a much truer understanding of how the organization operated. As a result, I was able to become effective more quickly. The management team also had an opportunity to grow, take more responsibility and become more engaged with a greater sense of ownership and pride in their accomplishments.
The organization was then on their way to becoming the type of independently operating organization the CEO had thought they were all along.
Jeffrey Deckman is an internationally recognized thought leader, strategist and an award-winning author on the topic of conscious leadership. His book “Developing the Conscious Leadership Mindset for the 21st Century” was awarded 2 international Stevie Awards and 4 national awards for its ground-breaking work detailing and defining conscious leadership in the modern era.
Jeffrey is the creator of the M3 Process for Conscious Leadership Transformation; The Bigger Know Principles of Conscious Leadership and a variety of instructional programs designed to transform leadership through higher consciousness.
He is a stage 4 cancer “thriver” and for the past 15 years Jeff has devoted his life to expanding his consciousness and creating ways to share what he has learned with like-minded individuals who share his passion for bringing a higher level of consciousness into leadership to serve future generations.
Contact email: firstname.lastname@example.org