Every CIO can agree that it's essential to keep the data network up. If it goes down, then so does the business—and potentially the CIO's career. Understanding and optimizing the network are key components of every successful CIO's role from their first day on the job to their last.
Similarly, every successful CIO is responsible for a human network. IT staffers share information—business intelligence, strategic direction, client requests, errors and bugs—and convert it into value for ITs customers. The modes of transmittal are sometimes technological (email, IM, wikis, etc.), but the movement is all human-driven, and the content is highly dependent on the interaction between people, teams and departments. However, most CIOs rarely think about their people in network terms or apply the significant knowledge that exists in IT about networks to human beings. In this article, well look at what networks have to teach us about talent, and how CIOs can optimize their essential human networks.
The CIOs Human Network
Every organization consists of multiple, enmeshed, complex and constantly evolving webs of relationships that people activate in order to solve problems, gain expertise, make decisions and discover the next big thing.
Just as junk in leads to junk out in data networks, the wrong connections or wrong inputs (incorrect information, faulty assumptions, inadequate understanding, or miscommunications) can damage ITs reputation, relationships and deliverables. If teams aren't sharing the right information or if staffers don't have the expertise to analyze the data properly, they can hurt project success rates, systems availability and virtually anything else IT provides.
Usually, CIOs address people issues through the guidance of their HR departments, which lead them through activities like talent reviews and performance appraisal systems, and their PMOs, which assist with project reviews, skilling, and methodologies. However, these approaches miss something thats so familiar to CIOs that its surprising: the network.
Studies in network behavior—conducted over 30+ years by experts such as corporate anthropologist Dr. Karen Stephenson—confirm that human networks can suffer from the same vulnerabilities as IT networks, such as single points of failure (SPOFs) and weak links. Remedies for human networks resemble IT network fixes:
Single points of failure: Protect against SPOFs by building redundancies into a system. Make sure there are multiple people who hold critical organizational and technological knowledge, and who can fulfill mission-critical roles, make decisions on the fly and solve problems.
Weak links: Shore up weak links. If any transaction relies on only one person, its at risk. Just like in an IT network, a human network needs backups in case of failure.
The science of networks also provides an additional tool for managing human networks: critical connectors—pthe hubs, gatekeepers and pulsetakers. These three power roles have immense influence within a network, although people often dont know they exist.
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