Harnessing the power of Social Capital should be the key imperative for organisations, especially in the new normal. Arijit Pal Choudhury, Managing Director, Head of HR & Corporate Communications, Nomura Services, India, discusses the significance for organizations to focus on building social capital and its business case.
Q1. As organizations rejig their talent imperatives in new ways of working, social capital is gaining unprecedented prominence. What is your take on it?
Any organization is equally great as its people. To be great enough, people rely on their abilities and the strength of their relationships at work. When people know and trust each other, things get done faster. Teams are more productive and people perform with commitment and creativity. These benefits of relationships are essentially what we call as social capital—the glue that holds organizations together.
While the concept of social capital has been around for more than a century, the pandemic and prolonged virtual working have made us more aware of it. Watercooler conversations have vanished, corridor chats on weekend plans have reduced and the chances of walking up to a colleague for informal interactions have dwindled.
Furthermore, informal networks have shrunk, leading to a significant depletion of social capital. This has brought about a greater appreciation of the impact social capital has on the flow of knowledge & information, collaboration, engagement, attrition, and organizational performance.
As companies look at what is crucial for their people in a hybrid work environment, building social capital should be a stated priority. They should work towards creating structures & policies and more importantly, creating culture moments that foster social connections and magnifies the strength of employee networks.
Q2. What is the business case for cultivating social capital?
Have you ever found yourself at the right place, at the right time, giving or receiving critical information? Have you ever heard a new joiner say that they felt more connected when they started coming to office and meeting their colleagues? Have you ever experienced that an in-person meeting with a client helped you close a deal more easily? If your answer to any of these questions is a YES, then you know there is a business case for cultivating social capital.
Social capital works subliminally to fuel organization’s growth. It shows up in the form of expertise or an advice, just talking it out with someone, or when someone pitches in with much-needed support when they didn’t have to. These serendipitous interactions go a long way in facilitating cooperation and collaboration.
Social capital is the lubricant that allows different sections of the organization to work together with minimal friction, building camaraderie and creating a happier, more committed workforce. It further facilitates learning, creativity, and innovation, while fostering a psychologically safe and inclusive workplace. All of this leads to higher employee retention, greater productivity and better employer branding.
Q3. How can organizations improve their social capital in the emerging business model?
Research by McKinsey shows that the three vital elements for building social capital are – Motivation, Access, and Ability.
Leaders must make deliberate efforts to motivate people to network. By demonstrating the benefits of networking, regular checking with colleagues and sponsoring others, leaders can amplify social capital.
I know of leaders who keep their virtual rooms open for people to walk in as they would when in the office. That’s a great way of leveraging technology to add social capital.
Organizations should provide platforms for people to connect. These can be in the form of leaders facilitating conversations unrelated to work, hybrid events followed by networking sessions, brown bag learning sessions, collaborative spaces within the office, technology that enables virtual interactions, cross-functional project teams, or even working in sprint groups.
The last vital element for social capital is ability. As human beings, everyone has the natural ability to connect. Helping out a colleague in need, showing genuine care for others, sponsoring someone or building trust by always keeping your word, are some simple things we can do to forge genuine connections.
While the ability to connect may come naturally to us, surrounding yourself with a diverse network requires some extra effort. Companies must recognize and address this because social capital grows exponentially with the strength of ties among groups of diverse people.
Q4. As we focus on building social capital, what should organizations take care of?
Social capital gets built naturally through similarities and likenesses. People with shared interests or common backgrounds connect much more easily. This is an excellent starting point, but it will lead to the formation of homogenous groups which may potentially result in the formation of multiple siloed groups. Mapping out various networks in the organization can help us understand various formal and informal groups it has, identify the people who can be conduit between different groups and can get various groups together, enable flow of information and influence to make things happen.
Building social capital cannot be left to chance, especially in the new ways of working. Organizations should consciously work towards creating multiplier effect of trust, norms, respect, and inclusion- the fundamental building blocks of social capital. Successful collaboration in one initiative strengthens connections and trust that facilitates future endeavours. Organizations should facilitate successful collaboration across diverse groups. While doing so, keeping the organizational context (of risks, level of engagement, channels of communication, etc.) in mind will deliver superior results for the organizations.