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Network Structure Theory

Mutisya  studied management in both his undergraduate  and  graduate degrees. His career objec- tive encompassed leading a financial services firm in the CEO position. Over the past ten years since comple- tion of his MBa, Mutisya held vari- ous supervisory positions with incre- mentally greater and greater respon- sibilities from a senior investment analyst, branch manager, regional manager, and operations director. Finally in February 2016, he scored his big career break.

Mutisya answered the invitation of a head hunter and underwent   a month-long grueling interview pro- cess to head a mid-tier East african bank based  in  nairobi. By april, he commenced his role in the chief executive’s suit. Whilst holding introductory meetings with various bank departments, he noticed perva- sive low employee motivation cutting across most teams. utilising the investigative tools he learned in busi- ness school, Mutisya followed up his observations with a quantitative staff perceptions survey that touched on job satisfaction, organisation com- mitment, organisation trust, and intention to quit.

His fears proved warranted as staff job satisfaction, organisation commitment, and organisation trust showed a stunningly low aggregate score from the employees perspec- tive. Furthermore, employee inten- tion to quit registered alarmingly high. Mutisya knew from his edu- cation that such disquieting morale would lead to low work performance amongst employees, that would then devastate the bank profits  in the   coming  quarters.

Concerned that    low earnings could alarm investors, he brought in a consulting firm to hold focus groups with employees to uncover the root of his organisation’s problems

Following the consultants’ exhaustive review, Mutisya learned that the previous CEO failed misera- bly in her internal communications. Whilst she was brilliant at external public relations that saw multitudes of new investors put their capital in the bank, she neglected communicat- ing with employees. Making matters worse, the Board of Directors failed to communicate the reason for the former chief executive’s departure, or their strategy in bringing in a replacement. Therefore, employees felt confused as to whether the bank faced capital challenges, legal risks, or a cash crunch or just a simple career progression for the previous and incumbent leader. Therefore, motivation plummeted and employ- ees sought alternative employment arrangements.


“No news”

Many executives presume that providing  limited   information to employees actually helps keep employees happy by restating com- mon, but incorrect cliché, “no news is good news”. However, such illog- ical sentiment results in exactly the opposite outcome.  Employees

always hold acute interest in know- ing and understanding the goings on, future, and strategy at their places of work.

Knowledge of their organisations helps employees reduce stress and feelings of vulnerability. Some com- panies in East africa understand that management should commu- nicate, but erroneously misunder- stand that any communication will suffice. Management stories pro

viding  advice  on  how  employees

can sit ergonomically in their chairs, or words of the day, or “happy new month” communications provide no tangible useful information at all and can actually sink morale worse than no messaging at all.


When executives fail to com- municate with adequate depth and frequency, they leave the door open for others within the organisation to step forward and fill the gaps in communication with rumours and conjecture.


Informal  communication

The best and brightest non-man- agers usually do not informally communicate in place of executives in such instances, but rather the company gossipers. Since Mutisya uncovered a massive communica- tions failure within the firm, he must go a step further and uncover which employees supply the other workers with gossip information to fill the gap. When employees feel worse about where they work, they do not work as hard, and such behaviour results in lower company perfor- mance. Therefore, such power in the hands of an inappropriate communi- cator is dangerous to the success of your firm.

So he must first map out each of the employees per departments and represent them with a dot as shown below by the blue dots with the chief executive’s office in the top center with three employees,

then human resources in the top left with five staff, and so forth throughout each department repre- sented below:

renowned organisational behaviour scientist ron Burt  out of the famed university of Chicago refers to such communication map- ping as network structure theory. It presents a powerful tool for leaders to control the appropriate flow of information and improve company performance.

next, Mutisya needs to do another short open ended survey of his staff. Each employee should receive a paper with three questions on it and each question followed by adequate lines underneath for them to write their answers. Question one should state: which three employ- ees most frequently talk to you? Question two: who are your favou- rite three people to talk to within the organisation? Finally, question three: who are the best three com- municators within the organisation?


Organisation  stability

Mutisya needs to distinguish between the most frequent com- municators who employees actually like versus those that are deemed irritating. If the frequent talkers do not also feature on the favourite talkers list, then those exist as irri- tants and often those who spread gossip. Then Mutisya must ascertain whether those on the favourite com- municators list gain their referent power that people like them through humour and telling jokes or by com- plaining, with the latter representing a threat to organisational stability.

The best communicator category stands to test whether any of the senior managers, human resources, or communications staff appears as they should. If no senior legitimate figures exist in employee responses, then Mutisya’s leadership team lacks the ability to inspire the workers.

He should then draw connector lines between most frequent talkers as shown below:

So, the graphic besides delin- eates red lines representing frequent communication points between employees, clustered in departments, represented by the blue dots. Most executives assume that they possess the greatest power in the organi- sation. However, research shows that employees with communication power by controlling the flow of information hold the largest sway over workplace success since they impact the moods and motivations of the entire workforce. So instead of Mutisya, the CEO, in the top mid- dle of the above graphic holding the most power, instead, which employ- ees do you believe to hold the most power and influence at the bank?
you likely correctly guessed the above two circled employees.   The

above two individuals hold consid- erable sway over other staff due to their strong communication linkag- es. If the two individuals share humour, then Mutisya has little to worry about. But if they incessantly complain or gossip, then he needs to consider quick action.



Many executives harbour miscon- ceptions that allowing an employee the opportunity to vent and voice frustration will actually calm the individual by “getting it all out of their system”. However, recent research shows that such complain- ing actually emboldens them. The articulation of complaints to fellow staff and favourable feedback about their rants reinforces their thinking. Then it also poisons those employ- ees around them. If Mutisya’s staff function as a cohesive unit, there is an inherently greater risk of demo- tivation if a complainer or gossiper exists. Less cohesive staff who do not really like each other much will be less moved by a member who complains and gossips. So staff cohesion should feature prominently in human resources surveys.

Organisations may deal with gos- sipers in the following ways. If a com- pany’s leader withholds information, then employees will fill in the blanks with their own stories. adequate amounts of official communications so that employees remain up-to-date on company happenings and strate- gy helps reduce employee stress and fear thus reducing office gossip, but also boosts the executive’s leadership power.

Executives can investigate the effectiveness of internal communica- tions by surveying employees quar- terly, specifically on communica- tions. In surveys, do not ask simple yes or no questions. ask questions where employees may rate the com- munication effectiveness on a scale of 1 to 7. Then ask open ended

questions: “what did you find particularly useful in our communi- cations during the past quarter”, etc. additionally, managers can warn gossipers informally or formally, reassign their work duties, or fire them outright. In Mutisya’s exam- ple, he cannot wait and see if the sit- uation changes. He must take action now. Executives must take internal

office  communications  seriously.

a helpful analogy for remember- ing what to do to avoid the above pitfalls comes in the comparison between a cypress tree and a mango tree. Think about whether your style of management resembles a mango tree or a cypress tree, which would you choose? you may think of the functionality of each tree. Mango trees may generate extra cash from the mango fruit. alternatively, cypress tree sap may have medicinal value. But, do not think of the utility that the trees’ produce.

Think instead of the tree as a metaphor.


What physical characteristics define each type of tree? a cypress tree stands tall and narrow in diameter while a mango tree remains shorter and wider. Then think of what grows underneath each type of tree. Ever notice what grows under a mango tree? nothing really, except occa- sional mushrooms. Cypress trees, in comparison, allow enough light to reach down to its base and other plants may grow. regarding internal company communications, cypress tree-style management works better in the office. Managers often begin to hoard information and communi- cations in their departments as they progress up the corporate ladder.


Mango tree

Picture the mango tree and its con- sumption of all light that would shine down to its base. as a man- ager, think of light as a symbol and do not consume and dominate all communications to all the employees


that you supervise. as you notice from mango trees, only dwarfed plants grow underneath.

Likewise, you do not want your employees underneath you to grow like mushrooms. not only should you not consume all communica- tions, but you must also provide adequate communication to your staff as discussed above.


Similar to the cypress tree, you should allow those under your pur- view to grow and flourish. you should desire for your employees to succeed and thrive.

If your employees succeed, then your department and firm meets higher targets. Therefore it is not reccommended to control all the information coming to your depart- ment. Certainly manage the infor- mation, but do not dominate it and withhold the information, or light as an example, from reaching your staff.

Practically, if you notice an opportunity for training, encourage employee attendance. If top manage- ment sends out a strategic announce- ment, let your employees know about it. If a major client desires a meeting with your department, bring along some of your employees so they also gain exposure and learn.

In summary, do not fear to inform your staff. Proper substantial com- munication builds up employees and prevents the pitfalls of staff guessing, gossipers reigning, and worker moti- vation dropping off a cliff. utilise the above tools to track your progress and exercise cypress tree-style  management