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Relationships not Commodities
(Employee Referral.4)

(April 28, 2006) In his own words, Jeff Hunter is a:

... "contrarian entrepreneurial innovation information junkie" in that I have spent most of my career starting and running small companies. Since 1992 I have not recieved a paycheck from a company with more than 100 employees. And as my regular readers will likely recognize, I have never been a fan of corporate America. So it was more than a bit of a shock to my friends and family when I told them that I was "going corporate", not only because that didn't seem to be in my DNA but also because I have a family to feed and my off-the-wall approach to creative problem solving didn't seem to be a big company's cup of tea. Frankly, even I was perplexed about my decision to join EA. It felt like the right thing to do, but any further examination of the situation always ended in "Are you nuts?" (Working at EA)

A recruiting poet, he notes that:

In our virtual time it is easy to forget that we find ourselves as much through the buildings we occupy as through the relationships we keep. We may be LinkedIn to a thousand people, but we are only truly connected to a relatively few of those individuals, and that connection often began in a building. ...When we recruit we build. We tell people that they will participate in creating something, and through that creation they will lay the foundation for those yet to arrive. This is how we build in the most obvious sense. There is another way we build that is more ephemeral, but in a way, far more important. As recruiters we build through the brands we create. Brands are structures for shelter and attraction. They are convenient shorthand to describe the richness of the experience that we wish our future employees to inhabit. (Buildings That Stand)

Over time, his thoughts hatch like well incubated eggs. In "What do we want from our social networks", he makes three key points about the consequence of social networking tools (our summary):

  1. The existence of relationships is replacing the meaning of relationships. The fact that you and I have connected in some way seems to be more important than just how we have connected, or what the relationship means to each of us.
  2. The value of relationships is decreasing. When anyone can send you a LinkedIn invitation and propose a relationship based simply on their knowledge of your existence, the relationship is necessarily without meaning or value.
  3. The opportunity for real relationships may be decreasing.

Where else but in Silicon Valley would you find a serial entrepreneur taking a break in a post as an HR Executive? Hunter is always multitasking and simplifying. His insights drip from the pages of Talentism. He's writing about the experience of living at the heart of the planet's innovation engine.

Where we come from, good relationships begin with the assumption that you give away value. In our early years, we were warned about people who formed relationships exclusively for a purpose. Predators. Relationships are a rich and often troubling facet of existence that can't easily be boiled down to a single purpose. The ones that are that straightforward are as disposable as Kleenex.

In the responses to our questions about referral programs, we see a disappointing design flaw. Relationships, as Jeff notes, are becoming commodities. What matters is the end, not the intimacy. What matters is finding the candidate, not developing the relationship.

Of all the systems we've looked at, only H3 offers a way to track the value of ongoing relationships. In the other systems, the point is to broadcast out through a network. Is it really the case that a network is either a web of intimate relationships or a data mining opportunity? It certainly feels like that sometimes.

Jeff's very smart idea is that it's time to take stock:

I believe that a network only has value to the extent that you put value into it. The constant barrage of "hey, I've got a pulse, let's have drinks!" emails is also part of my network, and that part is starting to become more of a cost than a simple distraction. We must all struggle with the thought: in our need to gain more relationships are we actually decreasing our ability to have relationships at all? It may be that the opportunity for real relationships (relationships that are interesting and dependable and valuable when you need them to be) is decreasing because we spend so much time pursuing relationships that will never have any of those qualities.

Let's help move referral systems towards these ends.

 John Sumser . - .  Permalink . - . Today's Bugler

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