Do Powerful People Perceive their Social Networks More Accurately?

December 19, 2018

Key Takeaways

Managers who perceive networks accurately are better at their jobs.

Gatton’s management department has been studying social networks for about a dozen years. In fact, the department has created the LINKS Center for Social Network Analysis, which is devoted to the study and optimization of social networks in organizations. In the last five years, their internationally recognized conference has trained more than 1,000 people in the study of social networks.

“Navigating social networks is one of the most fundamental human adaptations,” said management professor Steve Borgatti. “We are built to politic. It's as ancient as the hills.”

Borgatti, explained that since organizations are often such complicated places, it becomes necessary to study how managers perceive the networks around them –and particularly, how accurately they do so. “It’s more than the organizational chart and what unit you're in. There really are a lot of informal relations, and that's how things get done.”

One of the LINKS Center’s research projects looked at a company that manufactures espresso machines. “We had to ask each person about everybody else's relationships, which isn't easy to get people to do.” By thoroughly assessing every individuals’ perceptions of one another, they were able to conclude that managers who perceive networks accurately are better at their jobs.

Organizations are made up of people who must collaborate to get things done. And the “soft stuff” – understanding, relating and forming positive working relationships –really determines how efficiently work is accomplished.

Borgatti and his team are in the business of making that soft stuff a little bit harder. They do this by mapping it, constructing metrics, and using quantitative and objective data to explore how people can assess the networks around the more accurately.  

“You know, when you're a manager, you've always got a budget available. You've got the finances, and you can see where you are with that,” said Borgatti. “What you can't do is see where you are on the social side, which is actually the more important side. So this (study) is going to provide the manager with that spreadsheet, that dashboard on the social side as well as the financial.”

Individuals’ Power and their Social Network Accuracy: A Situated Cognition Perspective

Authors:

Steve Borgatti, Professor of Marketing & Paul Chellgren Endowed Chair, Gatton College of Business and Economics at the University of Kentucky

Dan Brass, J. Henning Hilliard Professor of Innovation Management Chair, Department of Management, Gatton College of Business and Economics at the University of Kentucky

Joe Labianca, Gatton Chaired Professor of Management, Gatton College of Business and Economics at the University of Kentucky

Patrizia Vecchi, Olin Business School, Washington University 

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