Network performance is the single most important characteristic of successful employees

It’s getting close to year’s end, and I am getting a bunch of deferred reading done. One piece that I have had cached since the summer finally made it to the top of my Readability stack. One factoid jumped out of this article by Matt Charlet:

The ability to do our work better based on the input of others, and to make others’ work better based on our contribution, is increasingly seen as the single most important characteristic of successful employees.

Ten years ago, 78% of an employee’s impact on functional or business unit performance came from their individual task performance and only 22% came from network performance. Today, the breakdown is 51% task performance, 49% network performance. A pretty even split.

I am done with the mythos of great leaders, grand strategies, or the imposition of top-down cultural change. I trust in the small amplification of socialized effort, through ten dozen interactions between work colleagues over the days, weeks, and months, and the ecology of our chaotic connections leading to emergent order.I think business leaders and HR departments do not understand this shift, or the fact that this shift is accelerating, so that in a year or two 75% of a peoples’ value will be based on their network performance, their ability to contribute to and accept from others. We will have to totally rethink performance measurement. It may in some sense be unmeasurable, but at the very least it should be some sort of distributed valuation based on all those who benefit from a person’s participation in work activities, weighted by the closeness and frequency of interaction. Today, it is madness to default to a single individual — the supervisor — to assess a person’s performance, if it ever made sense at all.

I have a saying, almost a motto, actually:

I am made better by the sum of my connections, and so are my connections.

There is a recursive elegance to the image of the company as a mesh of dozens, hundreds, or thousands of sets of people engaged in working socially, and by each being slightly more attuned to the needs and abilities of their connections the sets become more productive. This spreads to scenes — like all the developers in the company who might benefit from innovations that one set has nurtured, or all the folks in the London office, perhaps — and that can spread to the larger world of the entire enterprise.

In the spirit of the holidays, I offer this almost-a-prayer from William James, about how the small things can add up, in the interstices of the network:

I am done with great things and big things, great institutions and big success, and I am for those tiny, invisible molecular moral forces that work from individual to individual, creeping through the crannies of the world like so many rootlets, or like the capillary oozing of water, yet which if you give them time, will rend the hardest monuments of man’s pride.

So, I am done with the mythos of great leaders, grand strategies, or the imposition of top-down cultural change. I trust in the small amplification of socialized effort, through ten dozen interactions between work colleagues over the days, weeks, and months, and the ecology of our chaotic connections leading to emergent order.

Relevant Analyst
Stowe Boyd

Stowe Boyd

Lead analyst, future of work Gigaom Research and stoweboyd.com

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