Using Social Capital as a leadership principle for sustainability


We are delighted to present the one more exclusive article of Erik Korsvik Østergaard, the influential global thought-leader and speaker, author of the acclaimed book, The Responsive Leader. Enjoy the reading:

By Erik Korsvik Østergaard

CSR is not only applicable in the context of your organization, and on the outside of the walls. Corporate Social Responsibility is equally as much needed inside your organization, to target and focus your mindset with regards to activities on leadership, engagement, culture, dialogue, psychological safety, and trust: You should strive to create an organization, where people want to show up; an organization that focuses on the relationships between all employees regardless of merits and authority.

Understanding and nurturing your internal relationships and network is a major element in building an organization that is both resilient and can attract, develop, and retain the right people. This is the core of CSR inside the organization, and the reason for it to be a part of the human sustainability agenda.

Can you measure internal social capital?

One measurement of the success of your activities on this is the so-called social capital:

“Social capital is a form of economic and cultural capital in which

  • social networks are central;
  • transactions are marked by reciprocity, trust, and cooperation;
  • and market agents produce goods and services not mainly for themselves, but for a common good.”

(Wikipedia on Social Capital)

Robert Putnam defines social capital as “connections among individuals – social networks and the norms of reciprocity and trustworthiness that arise from them.”

Social capital can and should be monitored frequently, for instance via bi-weekly ad-hoc chats, structured interviews, company surveys, a weekly smile-o-meter, or via an organizational network analysis. The organizational network analysis (ONA) provides insight into the real networks and relationships, and from that you can get an understanding of the silos, the key influencers, the kind of relationships between employees (professional or personal), and where you are vulnerable.

The classic, old-school way of having an annual company-wide questionnaire with +100 questions MUST be replaced with something with much higher frequency and very few questions: Weekly, with less than 5 questions. In this way you get either visual representation or a continuous dialogue which qualifies and quantifies the unmeasurable social capital in near-real-time, which in turn paves the way for reflection and double loop learning. This will pivot your approach to how you lead.

Social capital, leadership, and internal CSR

The social capital is both a premise and a result for modern cultures, and should be nurtured as such, feeding energy and investment into networking, relationships, and sense-making.

By getting an understanding of what makes the social capital grow, you have the possibility to nurture it, either via your own habits and behavior, or by encouraging behavior regarding interpersonal dialogue and collaboration in your team. Examples are collaboration exercises, understanding trust via credibility and character as described by Stephen Covey, psychological safety as described by Amy Edmondson, building relationships, working with EQ and strength-based development, or pure communication skills. I have seen leaders set up goals for learning and mastering these skills as part of their own growth, and for the team that they are part of. This is very powerful.

As your mastery of how to strengthen the social capital grows, you will start to take responsibility for it as part of your bottom line, on par with measuring value as described in the previous article: How do you Measure the Impact of your Purpose ? and with economic health. I have seen numerous leaders measuring their success by measuring what effect they have on the social capital.

By this you are creating sustainability with in your teams and business units. People are seen as people, not resources. You establish a grown mindset instead of a fixed one. It is win-win, not zero-sum. You will get higher retention, higher happiness at work, and less sick days. The numbers support it.

This responsibility – for social capital, for value creation, and for economic health – is a genuine and wholesome leadership skill. It is corporate social responsibility in its purest form.

(About the Author: Erik Korsvik Østergaard, Author of The Responsive Leader & Partner at Bloch&Østergaard)

Copy Right/Conditions: India CSR Network does not permit other websites/agency to copy or reproduce or reprint the above article in any form/means.

Disclaimer: The views expressed by the author in this feature are entirely his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of India CSR Network and its Editor.

Also Read:

The Modern Leader Must Be a Social Visionary 

How do you Measure the Impact of your Purpose ?

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