The Shadow Knows

Missing Links

Although the process can be effective, mappers have to be careful. If you don't get a 100 percent response to your surveys, you risk creating an incomplete network map that lacks important links, warns Darr. Even if everyone completes the survey, answers may intentionally be inaccurate. Some employees may inflate their actual importance in the network. Others may fear the answers will be used against them. This is especially likely if layoffs are anticipated because the surveys may be seen as tools for deciding who is expendable.

Shadow organizations are less important in highly structured environments, such as assembly lines, than in so-called knowledge organizations, such as customer service related work or new-product-development operations. However, they're just as important in small organizations as in large ones. And, because groups larger than a few hundred can't be mapped very well, small businesses have the advantage of being able to map their entire company, Krebs notes.

One problem with mapping entrepreneurial companies is they're often dominated by the founders. These individuals, who may require all important information and decisions to go through them, can become bottlenecks rather than networking facilitators, say network mappers. The personal style of an overcontrolling founder may be the first casualty of a network mapping project.

And that's not the only cost. Consultants such as Krebs may charge $5,000 or more to map a small company, including administering surveys, analyzing results and following up. But as tools become polished and more companies try social network analysis, costs should drop. The Internet's rise has increased appreciation of the value of networks, and, as more workers become knowledge workers, managing their knowledge through social networks also gets a higher profile.

As important as internal networks are, it may be more valuable to apply similar tactics to understanding external networks such as your customers, suppliers and partners. Spotting a gap between two unconnected groups--known as a structural hole--can help entre-preneurs make companies run better. "Spanning structural holes," observes Krebs, "is how an entrepreneur creates opportunity."

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This article was originally published in the January 2000 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: The Shadow Knows.

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