April 11, 2010 at 4:06pm
Whirlpool Corporation has a very sophisticated talent management process, using traditional talent pool tools such as the 9-Box to rate and calibrate top talent. The 9-Box is a matrix that many organizations use to evaluate the talent pool. The x axis of the 9-Box assesses leadership performance and the y axis assesses leadership potential. Employees are assessed by a committee or group as to where they fall on the matrix of high to low potential and high to low performance. The rating is based on the assessment by a group of more senior leaders based on hierarchical interaction. In my experience, the 9-box process tends to identify and assess the “usual suspects” of leaders that are on the short list of high potentials as assessed by the senior leaders. One problem is that senior leaders only have snippets of observation and often miss novel or renegade leaders that are held in high esteem by their peers. The 9-Box was made famous by GE and is seen by many talent managers as the preeminent talent assessment tool. We began to postulate additional ways to identify top talent, especially in a world of social networks. To test our theory, we conducted research on the social networks in twenty of our top strategic areas. Our findings were startling compared to the top talent rated by our traditional means. There was little correlation between those individuals who rated as central to the social clusters, the knowledge brokers, and those rated as top talents through the 9-Box. It made us curious about identifying talent and why those who seem to not only make things work, but who simulate social interactions against key strategic issues, are not more represented in the talent management results. Social networks may not replace 9-Box or other traditional methods but it does provide another lens to talent.
Whirlpool is a hundred-year-old company that markets and sells appliances throughout the world with 70,000 employees. It is the world’s largest appliance company with sales of $18B. In the last ten years, Whirlpool has survived the war for talent by adopting leading edge tools and disciplines in talent management. Yet, even with such advanced talent systems, Whirlpool found that a continuous flow of adequate talent is an ongoing strategic issue.
The trigger was an experiment we conducted in a leadership development workshop. Our hypothesis was that if the 9-Box is the primary tool in any organization to assess leaders, it misses real-time performance of some leaders as perceived by their peers and subordinates. Inherent in the hypothesis is that a 360-degree tool that observes leader performance by a crowd of people who work with the leader in real time in every imaginable context, often outside the eyes of most senior evaluators, is an additional talent assessment that sheds new light on talent in organizations. This 360-degree tool can be elicited from social network assessments. We were seeing increasing importance of social networks in the workplace and wondered if we could carve out a unit of analysis that was not hierarchical or identified by an organization chart. As part of the strategic planning process, we asked the executive committee to identify the top twenty pressing problems of the enterprise and to assign a multi-level, cross function and regional team to address the problem. Examples of the perennial problems included: Creating a fabric care blue ocean; First launch value creation; Post-launch value creation; Regional business unit competitive gaming; Global Water Business Strategy; Attracting and developing top talent; China strategy 2008–2012; Home improvement sector blue ocean; Consumables business growth; Advancing supplier relationships; Cash generation/Next Gen; Material cost productivity; Freight and warehousing global strategy; Total lean enterprise upgrade. We designed a leadership development workshop/work-out to address these pressing problems. Some of the teams had worked together and had a history; some of the teams were newly formed for this event. For the existing teams there were varying levels of performance from needs-improving to take the strategy to the next level. Our criteria were that many of the team would have day-to-day accountability for the problems and that some leaders, who were outside the problem, were also assigned. We looked at global problem solving teams assigned to the twenty top strategic issues in our company, and we wanted to see what a sociogram or social network map would show us about how work really gets accomplished. A sociogram is a graphic representation of all of the links a person has within a context. It is created by asking the people in a social network a series of questions about who and how they interact with everyone else in the network. The sociogram consists of dots that are people and lines that are the interactions. Often the length to the line will convey the quality of a relationship, the direction of the line will convey the direction of communication and dots that have a significant number of lines leading to them are often knowledge brokers within a social network. Links in the social network are based on the amount of time, emotional intensity, mutual confiding and reciprocity. Depending on how social network information is collected, it can also show aspects of the relationship that include: quality of the interaction, the flow of information, the introduction of a new idea and how it migrates through a group. The sociograms quickly surface the knowledge brokers—individuals who are the glue that holds a social network together. Knowledge brokers can usually get to anyone in an average size network in two to three steps. They also represent the fragility of the network; if they would leave, a hole would be created. In most cases, knowledge brokers are good, but there are times when they are hoarders of information or power brokers. In this case, we postulated they were knowledge brokers and wondered how they were rated in the talent pool 9-Box. Our hypothesis is that most of the knowledge brokers were not rated high the 9-Box, if they were considered at all. By contrast, the sociogram on the right is the post launch teams. What stands out more than anything is that the cells that launch products are not communicating with one another? Before the teams came to the workshop, we sent a questionnaire to them with twenty questions. The survey and sociogram was conducted and completed by Raytheon. The questions included items about who you connected with the most, if that connection was good or a strained relationship, who you share new ideas or innovation with, and how long you have known these people. It took two to three weeks for Raytheon to process the questionnaire. On the first day of the workshop, the team was exposed to their sociogram with the help of an expert in this field, Holly Raider from The University of Chicago. In almost every case, the teams were intrigued with their sociogram and found new learning about how they relate. For example, the Freight and Warehouse team is divided into three locations. There were very few connections across locations. They worked in building silos. This was a new insight to them and they spent considerable time resolving. The post launch team, as shown above, realized they did not share best practices. As a result, they set up a best practice sharing form for all post launch teams. They also insured that incumbent team members join new teams to impart tribal knowledge. What we saw was something far more intriguing. We conducted the analysis on twenty teams and over 500 senior leaders, and we started to see a view of talent not seen before. This study was insufficient to give us key “peer reviewed” results but it did show us promise. We asked the head of the talent pool system to compare who was ranked at the top of the 9-Box with our list of key knowledge brokers. We found very little overlap. We found that many of the key knowledge brokers (good ones) or nodes in each social network rarely showed up on official talent pool lists of top talents.
Key Innovations & Timeline
We are just starting to remodel our leadership and talent model to include social networks as a key development mechanism. We need more concrete data to make the adjustments to our process but we are in the process of comparing the talent pool results to the sociogram results. We believe that both tools will be important but at this stage, we are in the beginning phases of designing sociograms into our talent process. The head of Human Resources and the heads of training are working to develop the structure and processes that will use social networking as a way to identify experiences, feedback, mentoring, training and development. At present, we are also researching to see how sociograms are used in leadership development. Many definitions of leadership center on the ability to influence a group. Networks are based on social influence and therefore, may be at the heart of leadership. For example, there are four key types of social networks in organizations: Communication, Task, Friendship, Advice or Mentoring. There is also some research that suggests that looking at social networks in the context of leadership development can help organizations with their talent pool: Smith (2006) found that individuals who engaged in behaviors leading to the creating of bonding types of social capital experienced higher levels of organization commitment and job satisfaction as well as higher performance ratings. Burt (2005) found that individuals who span more holes between networks receive better performance ratings, higher salaries, and larger bonuses, and find better jobs, faster. They are based on getting better information, better timing and better referrals. Spanning social networks provides individuals with a vision of options that would otherwise be unseen (Burt, 2005).
Challenges & Solutions
We need internal mechanisms, or more cost effective ways to create the sociograms. We used an external source to create the ordinal studies but outsourcing is an expensive alternative. There are many challenges in conducting the sociograms. While the expense and newness of the field for leadership development present challenges, there are more intangible ethical issues. For example, in one of our sociograms, there were people that no one identified as a partner. They were an island on the chart. We chose not to show the names on the overall chart but gave each person their feedback individually so as not to embarrass anyone. We also had to do some detective work to figure out if the knowledge broker was good or bad for the team. In one case, we found that the person was a knowledge hoarder. We did this through a series of interviews, not as scientific as the sociogram. Additionally, if we decide to use the sociogram in leadership development, we will need trained coaches. We will also need to decide how the individual data is managed, who sees it and what it means. We are also conducting a literature search to see what the research tells us about social networks in identification and development of talent.
Benefits & Metrics
Using a peer review or crowd sourcing lens in addition to the traditional top-down lens would provide an alternative to assessing talent. In addition to a 9-Box rating and feedback, individuals could receive sociogram feedback about how they were rated by their social network and the role they play in the network. The network could rate their contribution, much the way a supervisor rates a subordinate’s performance.
The lesson is to experiment in unconventional spaces with new tools and to re-assess and ask what it means for the conventional tools you are using. Another lesson is to sometimes let new ideas percolate and see where they lead you.
Nancy Tennant, Tamara Patrick-Whirlpool, Kimberly Thompson-Whirlpool, Holly Raider—University of Chicago
Materials: Sociograms http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sociogram 9-Box http://hrweb.mit.edu/system/files/9-Box+Grid_0.pdf Resources: Raytheon Social Network Analysis: http://www.raytheon.com/businesses/stellent/groups/rps/documents/content... Key References Social capital and intentional change; exploring the role of social networks on individual change efforts. M. L. Smith. The Journal of Management Development. 2006. Vol. 25, Iss.7; pg 718. A Role Based perspective on leadership as a network of relationships. A.G. Sheard, A.P. Kakabadse. The Journal of Management Development. Bradford. 2007. Vol. 26, Iss.4: pg. 331. Burt, R.S. (2005). Brokerage and Closure: An Introduction to Social Capital. Oxford University Press, New York, NY. Higgins M.C. and Kram, K. E. 2001. Re-conceptualizing mentoring at work: A developmental network perspective. Academy of Management Review, Vol .26, pp 264-88.