How Organizational Stars can accelerate organizational learning

| Feb 8, 2021 | Blogs

Research on organization networks have shown that Stars have superior “collaborative contributions” which can be harnessed by the organizations in creating a learning organization.

In this blog, I share a perspective on how we can harness this resource and channelize this in a manner that builds organizational capabilities.

Let me start with the story of two high potential employees – Adi and Ben – both part of different teams and acknowledged by team members of their superior performance, creativity, and contribution. However, there was one fundamental difference in the operating styles of these high potential employees.

Adi, was an acknowledged technical expert and was the ‘go-to” person for any resolution and technical help. Team members, colleagues and even superiors would approach Adi for any clarifications and guidance. Adi was well read, participated in industry forums, interacted with external experts in the domain and consequently was in touch with the latest developments. Adi’s own personal and informal network in the organization comprised of few senior colleagues and peers also acting as internal customers. While Adi was approachable, helpful, and demonstrated all professional characteristics, the organization was unable to harness the breadth and depth of knowledge possessed by Adi and build wide ranging capabilities. This also put the organization at risk of knowledge erosion, should Adi decide to exit.

Ben, on the other hand, was also a high potential. Ben was also regarded as an expert in the domain and the “go-to” person for any technical query. Ben was equally professional, helpful, and approachable. The value the Ben added was in “collaborative contributions”. Now, how this helped the organization? Ben’s own personal and informal network in the organization was wide, comprising of senior colleagues, peers, juniors, current and prior team members, ex-managers, and internal customers. Ben ensured regular interactions with own network and made a conscious effort in nurturing these connections by proactively sharing the knowledge. Over time, these connections deepened and there was wider acknowledgement of Ben’s technical expertise. By way of contributing to the network, Ben, enhanced the domain knowledge of the network members and consequently that of the organization.

When we compare these two work styles, a part of this can be attributed to individuals and their own personal characteristics. But it is a wider challenge for the organization as their personality differences will always be there – we can’t have identical personalities at work, isn’t it?

The question then arises, what organization can do to harness the Stars in organization capability building? I have put together 3 areas where organizations can conceptualize interventions:

  1. Network contributions
    All high potentials have the depth of knowledge and perhaps that’s why they are also acknowledged as high potentials when they apply this knowledge at work and perform. The difference however is whether this specialized knowledge is disseminated widely or is it closely held? While it’s a common practice to have formal knowledge sharing session in teams/ functions, it mustn’t stop there. Organizations must identify the Stars, map their informal network, and nudge them to share the right knowledge within their network. This will strengthen their position of expertise and high potential while also continuously building upon the existing organizational knowledge. Network members who have learnt technical concepts from an acknowledged Star, are more likely to apply them at work!!
  • Assimilation of Expert in the right network
    Organizations will have a few high potentials, like Adi in our earlier example, who don’t have a wide internal network. Now, what can organizations do to harness their knowledge?

    The assimilation of such high potentials into larger and relevant networks can address this possible block in knowledge dissemination. Such high potentials, when paired with individuals with wide informal network, can benefit by accessing connections from different parts of the organization. For example, if Adi is paired with Ben, such that, Adi can access Ben’s network, then Adi will benefit by sharing the knowledge and also possibly grow own network. This pairing mechanism is win-win for all. For Adi, the network as grown, for Ben, the network has learnt something new and for the organization, the knowledge is disseminated.
  • Formal Communities of Practice
    Communities of Practice (CoP), skill disciplines and COEs have existed for long and have also matured over time. CoPs act as custodians of skills specific knowledge and take variety of interventions in skill building and knowledge dissemination. Organizations however need to transition into peer-to-peer learning and facilitate learning in the “flow of work” such that the expert knowledge and high potential employees are accessible to address immediate work challenges. Within CoPs, there will be multiple special interest groups that have naturally formed by way of knowledge exchange. Organizations must identify Stars who are part of such informal groups and harnessing their knowledge to enhance organizational capabilities.

Organizations are a web of relationships where employees interact and develop a pattern of relationship. Employees connect with others, sometimes as technical experts, buddies or live wires in the team, leaders who inspire, close friends who can advise on personal and professional matters.

Informal networks, when harnessed, can diffuse the right message, and build organizational capabilities in a more effective manner than the formal and traditional channels. By leveraging Stars and supporting their “collaborative contributions”, organizations can build their capabilities and accelerate learning.

How is your organization harnessing the Star employees?

References

Li, Y., Li, N., Li, C., & Li, J. (2020). The Boon and bane of creative “stars”: A social network exploration of how and when team creativity is (and is not) driven by a star teammate. Academy of Management Journal, 63(2), 613–635.