Push and Pull in Relational Professional Networks

JONCZYK, Claudia D. | LEE, Yonghoon G | GALUNIC, Charles D. | BENSAOU, Ben M.

You are an auditor, consultant or lawyer, and you have just been promoted to a management role. Congratulations! But, wait, don’t get too carried away – what will this new and more responsible role mean in terms of your relationships within the workplace? Who comes into focus and who fades out, and how do you identify high-quality new contacts?

Role transitions and promotions are pervasive in organizational life, and there is extensive literature on how people navigate these changes. They include studies that recognize the profound changes individuals may experience, such as personal strains and turnover, identity and role changes, and performance impacts. Among these important consequences are changes to social relations. While scholars have previously acknowledged this issue, empirical research on relational changes during role transitions is scarce. Yet as service professionals gain responsibility and become lynchpins in firms, they must acquire strategic awareness, develop client relations and locate resources efficiently. Clearly, their emerging workplace networks will play an important role.

Claudia D. Jonczyk, Yonghoon G. Lee, Charles D. Galunic and Ben M. Bensaou examined who is lost and who is gained in service professionals’ networks following a promotion. The data consisted of newly promoted professionals in three professional service firms in the US and Europe, and the changes in contacts they experienced in their first 18 months in the new role. The researchers evaluated how professionals experience the pull of cohesion and the push toward efficiency during such transitions, and across network levels. Overall, they found that both forces matter, at times independently and at times interactively.

For the question of who do you want to get close with, having a sparse network—in which your contacts do not share relationships with each other, but only share relationships with you—positively influenced the accumulation of “highly-trusted” -- in other words, competent and reliable – contacts, because such a network helps to identify who are these competent contracts. However, it had no effect on the accrual of strong, cohesive new contacts. A strong feeling of trust that allows you to be more vulnerable in social relationships is better cultivated by one-on-one interactions than by having a better second-hand knowledge about others at your workplace.

Then, the question remains in who do you keep. The holistic impression of role transitions is that they are experienced as a compromise between the inertial pull of cohesion and the drive for efficiency, but always situated in concrete social relations. In this regard, hanging on to high-ranking contacts during a transition to management may be particularly important as it signals the social circle to which the professionals ultimately aspire. Hanging onto those who provide multiple of resources, including professional advice, innovative ideas, friendships, and social supports, is also important. You also want to make sure that you keep the highly trusted contacts—regardless whether they are competent or they are trustworthy so that you can be more vulnerable to them.

These should be something people might expect at first-sight. However, the researchers did not stop here and found an interesting twist. When these newly promoted professionals have many competent contacts who also share relationships with each other, they are more likely to keep only the most competent contacts and lose those are less competent (but might still be competent on an absolute sense, though). They seem to value efficiency; since a dense cluster of competent contacts is more likely to provide similar kind of information or skills, newly promoted professionals want to keep their touch with these contacts, but do not want to overspend their time and energy. Only few, or perhaps even one, competent person is enough.

This is not the case for those who are trustworthy. Newly promoted professionals value cohesion more than efficiency; they keep relationships with trustworthy contacts more so when these contacts also share close relationships together. This means that these professionals want to keep their gang—the support group they can fall back on when things go rough.

The high-level of pressure experienced in these jobs may entail demands both for efficiency and cohesion. You want to be more practical in choosing who you want to keep relationships for competence. Yet, you also want that comfort of being a part of a strong gang who would go extra miles in rough times. These pressures should be particularly salient you are facing the transition to roles that ask for greater responsibilities. On that note, aren’t these pressures exist in anytime and in any job? Perhaps, the study also speaks to more general situation.

LEE, Yonghoon G

Assistant Professor