Over the past 10 years I have been involved in projects where we used e-mail based social network analysis and a “virtual mirroring process” to let employees learn about FrancescaGrippatheir own communication behavior tracked through e-mail analysis. Through a process of open dialog, employees are provided with a unique opportunity to constantly discuss group dynamics and leadership behavior that are usually taken for granted. This process is essential to nurture the creation of communities where clients and employees participate in a process of knowledge co-creation.

Human resource managers could use this method to design and develop feedback sessions to discuss how communication patterns can improve the dyadic relationships between employees and supervisors  Here is a brief description of three case studies conducted with large multinational organizations who use email as their primary communication channel.

Improving customer satisfaction

In 2012 we had the opportunity to work with a large consulting company to help them assess the impact of their team’s online communication on customer satisfaction. Employees were engaged in monthly virtual mirroring sessions where they observed their own communication patterns, their response time, their position in the social network, and discussed in plenary and individual sessions possible implications.

We looked at who was interacting with whom, the average complexity of the vocabulary used, as well as the responsiveness of employees to customers’ e-mails. Our analysis indicated that customer satisfaction, measured via the NPS indicator, was higher when employees were more responsive, used a simpler language, and when they were embedded in less centralized communication networks.

Predicting managerial turnover

In another study, we collected 18 months of e-mails and analyzed the communication behavior of 866 managers, out of which 111 left a large global service company. The goal was to compare the communication behavior of managers who voluntarily quit their job and managers who decide to stay. By computing social network metrics, such as betweenness and closeness centrality, and content analysis indicators, such as emotionality and complexity of the language used, we were able to predict the emergence of managers’ disengagement and turnover.

We found that managers who quit their job had less engaged conversations and modified their communication behavior 5 months before leaving, by increasing their degree of connectivity with others and using a more articulated and complex language in their emails. This study illustrated how online communication behaviors, specifically via e-mail, can be used to predict emotional disengagement resulting from a psychological shock.

Detecting the most creative people in your organization

Can you use email-network analysis to recognize different types of creative individuals and innovators in your organization? To address this question, we analyzed the email archive of 2000 members of the R&D department of a US multinational company.

We compared “award-oriented innovators” with a control group and with the innovators motivated by publications and patents. Award-oriented innovators, who are mainly concerned with internal recognition, were much more central in the email networks, received more messages, exchanged emails with a higher number of contacts, and acted as information brokers connecting with other units and external organizations. This can be explained by the need to be active “showcasing” their invention to a broad audience, connecting with stakeholders outside of their units to earn recognition. Managers can use a method similar to the one described in our study to identify employees with specific intrapreneurship traits and support them via resources that can bolster creativity and innovation.

Posted by Francesca Grippa, Faculty

Dr. Grippa is Teaching Professor and Faculty Director for the Global and Social Enterprise portfolio, which includes the MS in Commerce and Economic Development, MS in Global Studies and International Relations, MS in Nonprofit Management, BS in Finance and Accounting Management, and BS in Management. She teaches courses such as Business Strategy, New Venture Creation and Principles of Management at the College of Professional Studies.

To read more about this research, click on the following articles:

  • Gloor P., Fronzetti Colladon A., Grippa, F. (2020) The digital footprint of innovators: using E-Mail to detect the most creative people in your organization, Journal of Business Research, Elsevier, Volume 114, June 2020, Pages 254-264, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jbusres.2020.04.025
  • Gloor, P. A., Colladon, A. F., Grippa, F., & Giacomelli, G. (2017). Forecasting managerial turnover through e-mail based social network analysis. Computers in Human Behavior, 71, 343-352. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chb.2017.02.017
  • Gloor, P., Colladon, A. F., Giacomelli, G., Saran, T., & Grippa, F. (2017). The impact of virtual mirroring on customer satisfaction. Journal of Business Research, Vol. 75, pages 67-76. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jbusres.2017.02.010