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The power of social capital

March 19, 2015 David Vaughn

Unlike other forms of capital (i.e. human, financial, physical, etc.), social capital refers to productive connections between people. It’s not formed out of a self-serving agenda, but rather a genuine interest in joining together to accomplish a goal. The basic currency is trust and the interesting thing is: The more social capital you give, the more social capital you collect. And it can have a profound impact on your organizational leadership.

The most common type of social capital is bonding between neighbors. An example is when a neighbor asks for a favor. It could be as simple as “Would you come over to watch my son while I make a quick trip to the grocery store?” And the answer is almost always: “Sure, how can I help?”

The second is when a bridge is formed between friends. This form is called bridging social capital. An example here is when a friend asks a second friend to do a favor for a third friend. Over time, a bridge is often formed between friend number 1 and friend number 3.

The third is the link that’s formed when people are drawn together for a common cause or imperative. This form is called linking social capital. These can be formed between people pulling together to do something as humble as a community project, to as heroic as we saw in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombings.

So you may ask, “What does this mean to me and my organization?”

Well, we believe that organizations that thrive on the developing, accumulating, and deploying social capital will be more competitive than those that don’t. Shelby Hunt, marketing professor at the University of Michigan has developed his Resource-Advantage Theory that reinforces this idea. In the context of organizations, cube-mates become “neighbors” that say “yes” when approached to help out on a project. They make time.

These “neighbors” then form teams that come together to accomplish a project that otherwise would meander over time through the process of unproductive meetings. Departments become “communities” that foster bridge building between “neighborhoods.” These groups are not concerned about what they are giving up, but rather what there is to gain when they collectively answer the question: “What can we do together better, than apart?”

An organization that runs on social capital and is made up of “neighbors” and “friends” can do great things. Problem solving takes on the fever of community organizing when the imperative is much bigger than just doing your job.

And when that happens, you and your organization can do anything.

So, what are you doing to grow your social capital?

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