The Loop

Networking for Intellectual Capital

Filed under: Communication

The term "intellectual capital" has been bandied about for quite some time now. But have you ever really thought about where the intellectual capital in your company originates? In some instances, you may have home-grown capital – ideas that develop from in-house innovation.

But many times, intellectual capital is bought and paid for via the experience of new hires. For example, whenever you seek out candidates for new positions, you may look for certain areas of expertise that you don't currently have in-house. So basically, you're recruiting for experience acquired in other positions at other companies. Hence, our collective intellectual capital is often derived from training that other companies, even direct competitors, provide their employees.

But just because a company provides a good training ground, it doesn't mean it's a great place to work. For example, sometimes "trial by fire," or being "thrown into the deep end of the pool" helps people learn quickly via the sink or swim method. Frequently, talented employees rise to the top in these situations because they are self-motivated and adapt quickly. But the winners in the battle for intellectual capital aren't always the trainers – they're the companies that successfully attract and retain the best and the brightest from all facets of their industry.

Where do you find such talent? Look no further than your own hallowed walls. That's because your best and brightest may well have worked for or trained with other talented workers in previous positions. While many human resource departments pay out a bonus to current employees for a referral that results in a new hire, that promise may seem too far down the road to create incentive.

But now we live in a digital age where the former colleagues of today's top talent are no further than a click away via social media websites. By connecting with employees you work with, you'll have access to an entire network of potential new hires. However, today's social media offers more opportunity than simply recruiting. By encouraging your employees to reach out to peers and past colleagues at other companies, you may be able to tap external expertise without actually having to hire and pay for it.

The conversations and forums available through social media outlets such as LinkedIn and Twitter enable your employees to ask questions, engage in discussions, and even brainstorm for ideas and solutions to challenges your company may face. Simple questions and requests for thoughts are posted every day via these mediums, generating far more "intellectual capital" in a much shorter timeframe than you could probably garner in-house.

So the next time an employee makes a suggestion based on experience at a prior company, ask for specifics. Follow up with questions like, "What vendor did you use?" and "Can you find out from a former colleague?" Instead of policing social media usage during the workday, encourage employees to use it appropriately to help make them more productive, more quickly.

And who knows? If someone's former colleague enjoys the dialogue and learning about your company's objectives – not to mention your open policy for collaborating with talent outside the company – you may find a greater pool of interested and qualified applicants when you recruit for new positions. Hiring managers, pleased with suggestions from employee networks, may contact those individuals directly when seeking new talent, or even create a new position based on what a particular candidate can bring to the table.

Better yet, this type of open communication and networking permits ongoing exposure to external talent to get a feel for whether that person would be a good fit within your organization – something you generally do not know ahead of time with most new hires.

So before you ban or limit social media interactions at work, consider the value of incorporating work-related communications instead. One note of caution, however. Be sure to train your employees to understand the difference between sharing ideas and sharing proprietary company information.

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