Measuring Influence inside the Enterprise, is there a point?

Influence Scores are a hot topic these days, yet still as contentious as ever. Aside from the companies whose business is measuring influence, the general consensus seems to be that it’s a bit of a bogus science, and yet a whole industry is building up around it. As I’ve already discussed in a number of blog posts I’m not a big believer in the value of assigning an influence score, however I’m not going to regurgitate past arguments in this post. What I wanted to discuss here is the notion of influence scoring inside the enterprise which is, I believe, a very different proposition than consumer influence. I’m also not planning to argue the validity of the techniques and approaches that might be applied for assigning an influence score. What I am interested in discussing is a few simple questions:

  • What does it even mean?
  • How would it be used?
  • What’s the potential implication on corporate culture?

What does it even mean? To be honest, I’ve really no idea :) I’ve spent quite a bit of time over the years looking at how social systems can be used to measure expertise, and this is a measurement I totally get. It’s easy to understand how social signals contribute to an expertise score, especially if careful consideration is given into choosing which signals are measured and the weight they are given. The business value is also very clear and there are many scenarios where being able to find the right person to help with a very specific problem can save the business a lot of time and money.

Inside the enterprise “scoring for expertise” is actually a complex process which never assigns a single score on a person (even for a specific topic). Instead it normally takes the form of “people search”, or even better “people recommendations” where inside the context of a business application multi-dimensional queries (the complexity of which is hidden from the end-user) can be issued to the expertise system and very accurate contextually relevant ranked results returned.

Influence on the other hand has me totally stumped. I can relate to influence scoring in a consumer scenario where you want to influence someone to buy your product irrespective of how they do it (celebrity, expertise, manipulation, coercion). However, within the enterprise I’d like to think that expertise becomes the critical consideration, with someone’s popularity an irrelevence.

As an aside, this ability to align an expertise result (score/rank) to the specific scenario (question/problem) is the single greatest advantage of expertise systems over influence scoring, as discussed in this post.

How would it be used? This is where I come up blank as it’s not even clear to me; (1) why you would want to know an influencer (excluding organizational hierarchy which doesn’t need any influence scoring in the social sense), (2) what is an influencer and, (3) how would you want it calculated? I’m speculating that when people think of influence within the enterprise, they likely mean the combination of expertise and reputation; which from an expertise perspective is one and the same thing since any good expertise algorithm already includes reputation through social signals such as:

  • How people interact with you? passive, active, bidirectional, unidirectional, …
  • How they respond to your content? follow, comment, like, …
  • How they recognize your contribution? tagging, recommending, …

What’s the potential implication on corporate culture? As we all know from the consumer social media, influence scoring engines are prone to gaming and incentivize behaviours that are likely to be sub-optimal within the enterprise. Any system that labels someone with a number value and compares their number with their peers is going to drive gaming. And just wait until this number starts to impact an employee’s yearly review and salary increase, then we will see gaming taking on a whole new intensity. This is the second reason why I prefer the expertise system approach, because it doesn’t score any individual in isolation but instead ranks people’s likelihood to match a specific request for help. This gives you the benefit of being able to leverage skills across your organization, but it doesn’t create this competitive scoring system that I suspect could make for a less than healthy social environment in the workplace.

If you have any thoughts you would like to share on the topic, I would love to hear them :-)

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8 Responses to “Measuring Influence inside the Enterprise, is there a point?”

  1. I agree with your reservations about measuring influence within the enterprise, but if IBM introduced such a measure I would probably check out my score on the first day (and I expect I would not be the only one)

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  2. I know. No matter how much we intellectually know that these scores are irrelevant we still want to see our own score, as long as its a good one :-) Not sure if its our self-involvement or competitive streak.

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  3. Hi Marie,

    Influence scoring engines are a joke with a gamed algorithm = vanity score period

    I agree when people think of influence within the enterprise, they likely mean combination of expertise and reputation

    So if you’re getting repeatedly acknowledgments from colleagues and customers about your superb expertise and reputation you ask your boss for a promotion and if he/she is smart they will do.

    Or you can ask your HR / HCM people who are probably too busy calculating other KPI’s and figuring out ways to factor in badges and BS Klout, Kred, Peer Index scores ;)

    PS – I don’t need no stink in badges ;-)

    @sardire

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  4. Hi Marie:

    Social networks are self-organizing systems, but there are important patterns that emerge from the nature of the social acts that can be identified. Despite there are random factors and the type of patterns presented in most of scientific papers are based on graph theory and tend to be very simple compared with the reality (and hence maybe this is one of the reasons they are not taken seriously) it is the only way, as an abstraction, to understand agent behaviour. Pattern recognition is critical to align process type (from structured to unstructured), knowledge domain (simple to chaotic) and network type (central to loosely coupled). In order words, to infer trends and help humans to interact better regarding the role they play in the process ecosystem.

    The importance of measuring influence in the enterprise is critical because it helps managers to identify if people left the company or are put in the wrong place due to a restructuring effort information, and knowledge simply do not flow. In other words operations will not run properly. There are many ways to measure it like for example degree centrality (and exist others among with the challenges of what is the best measure ), but this kind of metrics are related with discovering the key players in social networks.

    I explore more deeply the concept in this post: http://ultrabpm.wordpress.com/2013/03/25/social-network-analysis-part-two/

    Best

    Alberto

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    • Alberto, I’m not arguing against Social Network Analysis, quite the contrary. I believe SNA provides critical insight to the business as many of my posts attest. l totally agree with you on that. SNA can help you find out who is having an impact on whom but thats not the same as generating influence scores. l just don’t believe that influence SCORING is valuable.

      And thanks for sharing your posts, great stuff! :)

      Like

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