Manageable Guides

Expert views on topics relevant to all leaders and teams.

Martin Kilduff is a professor at UCL School of Management. In his research, he focusses on the importance of social network connections between people and the ways those connections help or hinder in their job performance, career, and their lives more generally.

Hi I'm Martin Kilduff, and I'm a Professor at the UCL School of Management here in London. I've focused on the importance of social network connections between people and the ways that those connections can sometimes even hurt people in their career, in their job performance and in their lives more generally. I'm Martin Kilduff and this is my Manageable Guide to social network brokerage.

So what does social network brokerage mean? Social network brokerage means connecting across people who are otherwise disconnected - people in groups who otherwise won't find each other. That's the brokerage: it's bringing, if you like, people together or connecting across people who are separated and looking for those ideas, those connections that are important in organisational life as well as in everyday life.

So, within this general activity of brokerage, there are different types of behaviours and different types of brokerage. One is this bridging brokerage that involves spotting opportunities across the social space, knowledge communities, who are not in touch with each other and synthesising that knowledge, moving it across the divisions within the organisation for the benefit of the organisation, and the people involved. But there's also joining together brokerage, bringing people together for project completion, who otherwise are not able to spot the opportunities to collaborate. And then finally, there is go-between brokerage, which involves going back and forth between groups who are separated for whatever reason - mutual intelligibility, hostility or lack of trust- and trying to coordinate their activities for the benefit often of third parties, as well as the individuals or groups concerned.

How does the manager who's excellent at doing these types of brokerage actually benefit the organisation? So with the bridging brokerage, why is that important? Well, what we know, in modern organisations, despite the efforts to reduce bureaucracy, there remain these knowledge silos. I mean, the fact is, people like their routines, they like to hang out with people just like themselves. There's a very strong tendency in organisational life for people to carry on each day in their established patterns of behaviour. And what this means is that knowledge becomes quite sticky, it gets more and more specialised, more and more taken for granted and expressed in shorthand. And so, these knowledge silos grow up and, and quite valuable knowledge is therefore if you like, hidden in the organisation. So, the bridging broker, who uncovers these troves of knowledge treasure, and brings them to the attention of other groups, who can really benefit from that knowledge, well, that broker is doing the organisation a great service.

The joining broker brings people together for project completion. I think it's much easier to understand how that type of brokerage is benefiting the organisation because projects depend upon the people who are on the project team. It's a real skill trying to figure out who should be on that team and it's not always obvious who those people should be. There might be people who know each other, or there might be people who don't know each other, but to spot the people who have the skills, who are going to collaborate and synthesise and work well together, that's a brokerage skill, a very important one.

Finally, the go-between broker, how is that broker going to benefit the organisation? Well, if that broker doesn't engage in going back and forth between those groups who are separated, who might be hostile, who lack trust, there's going to be no connection. There's going to be no coordination. And it's coordination really, that the modern organisation requires. So only a percentage of people actually engage in the brokerage that is available to them.

So who are those people? That's something that I and some of my colleagues have been trying to understand. One of the important things we've discovered is that those people have a very distinctive personality orientation, and it goes by the name of high self-monitoring. What it means is, some people, unlike others, are very conscious of the social situations in which they find themselves. They're there, they are alert to the attitudes and behaviours that those different situations require that are appropriate.

On the other hand, there are what are called the low self-monitors, rather than their attention being directed outwardly, to different social situations. Their attention is directed inwardly, to their own priorities, their own thoughts, their own values, so they are very principled. But what that means in practice is that they tend to avoid different groups and tend to hang out with people much like themselves, who reinforce their own attitudes and beliefs. This means they don't engage in brokerage.

So how do you go about detecting whether you're a high or a low self-monitor? Well, there's a handy online test you can find, which is called the Self-Monitoring Inventory. It's an 18 item, true-false survey. One of the most predictive items on that inventory is actually, I would probably be a good actor. Some of the work that was done initially by Mark Snyder at the University of Minnesota psychology department, was to indeed, check to see if professional actors scored very highly on, on self-monitoring. And of course they do because they can take on these different roles. They can move into different situations, and plausibly portrayed themselves as those different characters in ways that seem very real, very authentic.

But what about some behaviours? Well, there are different types of behaviours. Well, if, in a social setting, when you walk in the room, you gravitate towards the people you already know, and spend the whole evening with them, and leave without actually having made any new connections, then the likelihood is you're a low self-monitor. You like to celebrate, reinforce, rehearse those feelings, those attitudes, those behaviours that are important to you, that identify who you are. If you're a high self-monitor, then you move from group to group, you are looking for opportunities to express yourself in different ways. So one of the questions that comes up when I talk about self-monitoring and brokerages, you know, is personality destiny? I mean, okay, so I filled out that inventory. Guess what, I'm a low self-monitor. Is it sort of doom then to be stuck in a social group forever, with no possibility of gaining these benefits that I've talked about?

Well, no, I don't believe this at all. And I've published with some other people, a whole review of research that suggests that personality can change. This is at the forefront of personality research, actually. And some of my colleagues in the organisational behaviour realm have been surprised by how much work there is suggesting that personality changes, and we can change it. That is true for self-monitoring as well. We can do a lot of difficult things as human beings: we can learn calculus, even though we're not very good at mathematics, and so on. We can learn foreign languages and we can certainly learn to change too.

If we are a low self-monitor you can learn to go around the social situation, the party or whatever it is, and introduce ourselves and try to elicit some information from those people we're talking to, rather than immediately launch into some story about ourselves - we can learn to do this. I'm not saying it's easy. But then often, things that are beneficial and helpful, may not be particularly easy, it can be a challenge. It's a challenge to learn, if you like how to be a social person that can bring you the benefits and bring your organisation the benefits of brokerage.

Now, if you're a high self-monitor, you might be sitting there quite happy by what I've just said, you know, you're the king or queen of the universe, in the lap of the gods. But there are drawbacks to being a high self-monitor. It's rather stressful, if you think about it. I mean, the low self-monitor knows who he or she is, they just express it. And if you like it fine, if you don't like it tough. The high self-monitor has to assess in each social situation, what sort of person should I try to be in this situation? Well, that's stressful. So then, indeed, we have some research that suggests that the stress level is higher for high self-monitors.

They are also very much motivated to make social interactions successful for themselves and for their interlocutors, for the people they're talking to. And it can also lead the high self-monitor to agree. We talked about projects that could take agreeing to be on all sorts of projects and teams that are not in their interest. In other words, they take on too many tasks, because they find it difficult to say no. They are trying, they're motivated to say yes, and then they get overloaded. So the low self-monitors have some advantages in being able to define pretty clearly what it is they want to do and quite clearly things they don't want to do. The high self monitor, because of this motivation, and talent, to inveigle themselves into different social groups, and they're motivated to make those interactions successful, take on too many things. That can really burden them, and then they're faced potentially with not being able to achieve success in the ways that may be helpful in their careers. So both can learn to change and to add to their repertoire of skills, some of the abilities of the other personality orientation.

Just to summarise the main gist of what I've been saying: there are these three types of brokerage, the bridging, brokerage, the joining brokerage, that go between brokerage and those types of brokerage can bring benefits to organisations. But I should also emphasise, perhaps this is something important from and I can conclude on this, which is that as a manager, your engagement in these types of brokerage helps and facilitates the work of the organisations, yes, but it also helps you in your career.

It brings benefits to you because it shows your value to the organisation in ways that aren't defined in your job description, that are outside, if you like, the narrow silo of your organisational role, but very valuable for the organisation. The organisation's typically, in what we find in our research, reward and value that activity, which helps coordinate the work of organisations in ways that otherwise doesn't happen. So as a manager, look for opportunities to engage in brokerage because it benefits the organisation but it also benefits you. I'm Martin Kilduff and this is my Manageable Guide to social network brokerage.