Social Capital: A USP for the organizations

In today’s work environment, it has become increasingly important to reestablish meaningful connections among teams and individuals.

To imbibe a spirit of livelihood in any organization, ‘Social Capital’ should be mandated. Arijit Pal Choudhury, Managing Director, Head of HR & Corporate communications., Nomura discusses the importance 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 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 periods of virtual working have brought it yet in front of our minds. 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.

Essentially, 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 and information, collaboration, engagement, attrition, and organizational performance.

As companies look at what is important for their people in a hybrid work environment, building social capital should be a stated priority. They should work towards creating structures, and policies and more importantly, creating culture moments that foster social connections and magnify 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, by giving or receiving a missing piece of information? Have you ever heard a new joiner say that when they started coming to the office and meeting their colleagues, they felt more connected? Have you ever thought that an in-person meeting with a client has helped you crack 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 growth. It shows up in the form of expertise or 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 cultivate acquaintances and goodwill that 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 also facilitates learning, creativity, and innovation, while fostering a psychologically safe and inclusive workplace. All this leads to higher employee retention and greater productivity.

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, checking in on colleagues, and sponsoring others, leaders can amplify social capital.

I know 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.

On access, organizations should provide avenues 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, sports or hobby clubs, cross-functional project teams, or 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 fostering 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, surrounding yourself with a diverse network requires some extra effort. Companies must recognize and address this because social capital grows exponentially when the ties among groups of diverse people are as strong as the ties among groups of similar 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 easily. This is a great starting point, but it will lead to the formation of homogenous groups.

Homogenous groups are not bad, but they can lead to silos and a lack of diverse views. Mapping out your organization will help you identify homogeneous groups and connectors. Connectors are people who can mobilize and influence others. They bring people together to make things happen and come up with new ideas.

Building social capital must not be left to chance and it cannot be directed or legislated. Stocks of social capital like trust, norms, respect, and inclusion are self-reinforcing and cumulative. Successful collaboration in one initiative leads to connections and trust that facilitate future endeavors.

Organizations should take conscious steps toward facilitating such 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.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ET Edge Insights, its management, or its members

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