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Who owns your team members’ networks?

Yesterday I posted some thoughts on the potential power an employer has from leveraging a team member’s talent network. I went so far as to suggest that  a “visionary” firm of the future would see this as a great opportunity to attract and retain team members who embraced this idea. Not everyone agrees with this.  team_networking_shutterstock_156560102

After reading my post a friend of mine mentioned that he’d heard there had been a bunch of legal cases to determine who owns an employees professional contacts so I Googled the phrase “who owns an employees LinkedIn contacts” I got 51.3 million results in 0.47 seconds!

It seems the matter is far from a settled issue and now that the lawyers are involved there’s no doubt they will benefit from the question even though neither employer nor employee are likely to.  When I was at University I took a handful of law classes and recall being told that the law ultimately catches up with social norms and expectations but that can be quite a slow process because it requires that new precedents be established.

I was taught that a long time ago. A time, I dare say, when social norms moved along at a much slower pace than they do today. My guess is therefore that the law is going to fall further and further behind.

In my view an employer has way more upside by hiring people who are active in social networking AND who see their professional network as an essential part of the personal IP toolkit that they bring to the table. It may well be that in the future employers would do well to ask questions like “Who in your network do you believe would be able to help you progress in this job?” The answer to this question might be more important than “tell me about your experience and skills.”

Today most young people do not see their next job as a career. They see it as a gig – i.e. part of the process of personal development through gaining experience and expanding their network. The talented ones who stay for any length of time will be the ones who feel they are getting traction on that journey together with the less talented ones who really don’t care as long as they’re being paid.

Here is the rub. If you don’t create a culture that embraces the expectation of today’s younger employees you will lose the talented ones pretty quickly and will be left with the rest. AND just as importantly, the talented ones will let their network of equally talented people know how they feel about your culture. That in turn will drive the downward spiral in talent even harder.

Just a thought.

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