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Who really runs your company? Keyhubs can help you find out

Those of you who aren't solo entrepreneurs-- take a look at your company. Do you know who the most influential people are? The ones who shape opinion, lead teams, and provide cohesion across divisions?

Chances are they're not who you think.

The informal social networks that exist within companies are often mentioned in business schools, and complicated academic models exist for mapping them. But a local company, Keyhubs, is the first to bring this insight to the workplace, to facilitate real, strategic changes within an organization.

Keyhubs founder Vikas Narula first encountered the power of the corporate social network in business school at Duke University. A professor did an experiment in which he tracked the social networks among members of the class, and all the students were captivated.

"It resonated with me because I'd had experience in the corporate world and I could see the truth of what the experiment showed," says Narula. "When I graduated, I wanted to apply that knowledge, so I looked for a software tool that was easy, cost-effective, and intuitive. I didn't find one, so I built it instead."

The result is a software program that delves deep into a corporate structure and ignores org charts. Clients are finding that influential employees are sometimes far from the executive level, and that reaching out to these individuals can increase the success of corporate initiatives, make teams work better, and inform downsizing efforts.

Keyhubs consultants derive these rich mines of information with one simple tactic: they simply ask.

Probing Networks--Including Facebook

After meeting with company executives, Narula and his consultants create short surveys that are tailored to an organization, asking questions like: "Who contributes the most to you getting your work done?" The responses are anonymous, which help to ensure honest answers, Narula believes.

Keyhubs can also dig into online social media and emails if necessary to get contextual data. For instance, a search of all employee Facebook accounts will let the software map friend networks, and emails can give clues as to friendships by looking at how often informal jokes or messages are swapped between employees.

The system may sound a little Big Brother, but employees don't need to fret about their personal lives getting searched for telling details that can be used against them later, Narula says. Even the top executives at a company are prevented from getting the names of survey respondents and online social media results.

Although most companies request "positive" information, Keyhubs can also identify individuals who cause stress within a company or are resistant to change. For that data to be shared, though, a CEO has to be prepared for some potentially ugly truths.

"We may have to tell the CEO that he or she is the major stressor for employees," says Narula. "Not all leaders are open to the kind of self-reflection that comes from that."

All the Power May Not Be at the Top

Usually, the software and surveys identify several influencers--either negative or positive--and Narula is still fascinated by how these networks evolve and function. Looking at an example from the Keyhubs site, he traced a graphical representation of an organization's structure of influencers and pointed out how a client had two very dominant influencers, but that they were at opposite ends of the org chart. One was a top executive, and the other was at the lowest level in terms of hierarchy.

Sometimes, just one person is at the heart of a company, and it's not always the CEO. "It's not uncommon to find a single major influencer, who has that kind of power because of their personality or work style," says Narula. "They make people feel good about what they're doing, and about the company. But managers might not realize that person is so important, and how many people they actually reach."

Lack of recognition can create serious issues, he adds. For example, a recent Keyhubs client found out that a major influencer had been let go during a downsizing round. The loss created negative impacts throughout the company, reducing collaboration and employee buy-in on certain projects.

"Really, the results can be fascinating," says Narula. "We're always intrigued by what we find."

Surprises and Confirmations

Clients are equally captivated.

Sabes Jewish Community Center turned to Keyhubs when the organization was trying to improve the workplace culture and found that the right messages weren't trickling down the way that executives wanted, according to Stuart Wachs, Sabes' CEO.

"There were misperceptions and misunderstandings at various levels, and we didn't know why," he says. After turning to Keyhubs, Sabes found the information that it sought. Wachs notes: "We assumed that we knew who the key influencers were, but we had to acknowledge that those at the top, including myself, could easily be wrong."

When he received the results of employee surveys, Wachs found some of the information was surprising, but was gratified to see that some individuals who were suspected to be key influencers did, indeed, hold that spot.

"There were some people that we would never have guessed had such an influence," he says. "Then, there were people we thought were bridge builders who, unfortunately, were negatively impacting us."

Sabes will be using the data to determine work teams, rather than relying on their old models. For example, when launching a wellness initiative, the organization would normally have just brought in HR and other key executives, Wachs says, but now they'll look at who's identified as a risk taker or innovator and include that person as well.  

Who Are the Real Mentors?

Another client, Boston Scientific, brought Keyhubs in to analyze a single team of 30 people, notes Sanjeev Pandya, Manager of LATITUDE Systems Evaluation at the company. He was interested in learning who was seen as a role model and who was trusted as an information source.

Although most of the results were in line with what Pandya had suspected, he was surprised to find that a few individuals were seen as mentors, although they didn't have a formal mentorship role. With that information, Pandya could encourage managers to put them into mentor positions that would impact the team in a positive way.

"The dynamics within the team were very interesting, and there was a good deal that we didn't expect," he says. "But with this insight, we'll be able to run the team in a way that makes sense and draws on those dynamics."

Gaining Traction

Although Keyhubs started as a pet project, Narula fully launched the company in June 2008, and it's been growing steadily since then, garnering clients like Thrivent Financial, University of Minnesota Physicians, Loyola University of New Orleans, The University of Utah, Accenture, and Citibank.

Narula expects that are more clients recognize the power that can come from seeing informal networks, Keyhubs will keep thriving. He believes the model can work for many other situations, too, and the company is in talks with a non-profit to see if Keyhubs could be used to reduce bullying in schools.

"There are many applications for this, and we're only just starting," he says.

Elizabeth Millard is Innovation and Jobs Editor of The Line.

Photos of Keyhubs founder Vikas Narula, displaying "knowledge network" charts that the company generates, by Bill Kelley. Third image of knowledge network courtesy of Keyhubs.
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