Connector roles

Having been well indoctrinated by David Allen (Getting Things Done), Stephen Covey, Time Management International, et al, at the end of each month I review what has happened in the way of meetings, ideas, books/articles recommended, and do something with them: file, trash …
February 2011 has proved a rich picking on many fronts. As I do the cull among the reminders to myself to pick up library books, and buy milk I find

a) Approaches from individuals in South Africa, India, Namibia, Saudi Arabia, Finland- all interested in organization design training
b) Contacts from people wanting to enter the field of organization design – Frieda, Emily, Laura, Helle, Tiffany (why all women?)
c) Several book and article recommendations:
d) A host of ideas to mull over related to new ways of thinking about organizations most captured cryptically in my Daytimer in a way that leaves me struggling to remember more of the context e.g. the collectively circled three words "serendipity, spontaneity, sublety",
e) Notes of meetings I've attended (I now find I have 8 standing meetings a week, each of an hour) and during the month I've run three workshops with an average of 12 people each, additionally I've met one to one with over 30 people, and made first time phone contacts with several others.
f) Notes about meetings I've attended e.g. why is 'reset' the word of the moment?
g) Many, many actions arising from the meetings that I need to do something with or about.

As I was doing the review I was wondering – again – about knowledge workers and how to measure their performance. Reviewing my month it confirms for me that one of my key roles is 'connector'. I know that I, like other change agent connectors, bring value to the organization. For example, this month,

  • I discovered that several sets of people are more or less independently working on space utilization measurement and I put them in touch with each other, potentially saving duplication of effort.
  • I suggested that we have should one website called Workplace Transformation rather than several different ones called Hoteling, Teleworking, with a view to making it easier for users to share and find content.
  • I saw that some people anxious about rejecting the drive to telework and linked them to the inclusiveness work going on so they had a forum for making their voice heard thereby maintaining employee motivation and satisfaction.

But I am still wondering how to prove the value of this work to the organization (not that I've been asked to) because in a results only work environment I must be able to show results in a way that satisfies the differing interpretations of productivity and performance.

With this in mind I started to look more closely at the 'connector' role first popularized in Malcolm Gladwell's book The Tipping Point. He states – rather obviously – that connectors "know lots of people" but looking again at this chapter the actions he says connectors take are many of those that I take.

Looking further, in a white paper I found Innovation Roles: The People You Need for Successful Innovation
the authors taking both Gladwell's notions of connection and "Andrew Hargadon's view that "a key element of innovation is building bridges to connect distant worlds-industries beyond your own-to generate new products/services and building networks to connect people to create and distribute the new offering." (How Breakthroughs Happen) suggest that connectors have five characteristics each explained in more detail in their paper. They:

  • Are a mile wide and an inch deep.
  • Are one degree separated.
  • Build networks.
  • Jump the tracks.
  • Skyscrape

Continuing the search I found Making Sense of Leadership. In this, the authors talk about "The Measured Connector:" "The phrase that summarizes the stance of the measured connector is "Get Together and Take Time to Focus on This." The key descriptors of the measured connector are:

Reinforces what's important and establishes a few simple rules
Calmly influences complex change activity through focused reassurance
Connects people and agendas
Focuses on connectivity"

As they describe it: the heart and soul of the measured connector role

"is an affirming and appreciative presence in organizational life. These leaders deeply value the creation of a shared understanding of purpose through collective sensemaking, believing that interconnectedness is extremely important. They think and feel systemically, thus combining a reflectiveness with an awareness of when action is necessary. They seek to bring disparate people together for a clear purpose, and value the synergy that results from this. Collaboration is therefore a key concern. "

So on a roll now I read Leon Benjamin's blog in which he proposes a new organizational role of a 'super connector' defined as a network not a person, but staffed by people with connector skills, whose sole responsibility is to create the same levels of connectivity, collaboration and productivity achieved by open source movements, conversational software and social media platforms.

It's a very interesting article concluding that "the Super Connector – can bring about profound measurable organisational benefits in revenue, productivity and the cost base" which he discusses further in a second article

So from these various sources, I now have some clues, pointers and ideas on how to prove the value of an individual connector role. My next step is to interrogate the academic journals and see what their take is on connector roles in organizations. In the next few days I hope to have a method for measuring my connector role productivity and results. Any further lines of enquiry on this would be welcome.