The world is not small for everyone
In this blog entry I will discuss the problem many employees face in solving all kinds of job relate task because of limited connectedness. The focus is on a specific group of employees, namely young inexperienced ones and minorities.
I find this topic particular interesting, since we students will be these young and inexperienced employees one day. The discussion is mainly based on the paper “ The world is not small for everyone: inequity in searching for knowledge in organizations “ by Sigh et al. The notion of “small world” is the theory that anyone on the planet can be connected to any other person on the planet through a chain of acquaintances that has no more than five intermediaries. This theory can also be reflected onto a corporation and its employees. This is an interesting theory in the field of organisational behaviour, as it explain to some extend why minorities and young employees deliver an inferior performance than their colleagues.
Why is it that some individuals are at disadvantage when it comes to searching for information or help in an organization? The paper mentions two main reasons, periphery status and homophily. First, the periphery status reflects the position of the employee in the corporate network. Being on the periphery is the opposite of being in the core. The people on the periphery are mostly minorities or young and inexperienced. They are poorly connected and don’t know anyone in the organization. Second, these employees engage in homophilous search. This means that they contact colleagues like themselves, already in the periphery of the network, with as little knowledge as themselves.
Why is it important to understand this problem? The periphery status and the effect of homophily will make it very hard for these employees to gather information in the organization. This will result negatively on their work performance. Moreover, it will affect their career progression and pay.
Sigh et al. found statistical evidence for all of the above mentioned claims about the peripheral status and homophily. They measured in their study how many connections it takes an employee with a problem to find another employee in the organization, who can provide the correct solution to that problem. The idea behind this is that, the shorter the chain, the better connected this individual is. The study showed that employees from a minority group or ones with short job tenure had significantly longer chains. Furthermore, they found that employees are more likely to select intermediaries with whom they share a characteristic, which supports the homopihly argument.
For a company to preform well it needs all of its employees to be highly productive. However, many employees face constraints by their peripheral status and the effect of homphily. It is important for managers to understand and tackle these problems. One solution could be to have a flat hierarchical structure. This would enable people of the periphery to connect more easily to ones on the core of the organisational structure.
Singh, J., Hansen, M. & Podolny, J.M. (2010). The world is not small for everyone: inequity in searching for knowledge in organizations, Management Science, Vol.56, No.9, p.1415-1438.