“The Power of Six Degrees” recently re-ran on the Science Channel here in the U.S. The basic premise of 6 degrees was that you can connect yourself to any other person in the world, not matter how remote, with only 6 steps. What the show revealed was that in choosing that 6 step path, it is important how you direct each step. In other words, 6 degrees is not a random act, but should be quite premeditated. When applying this to business and HR, it is not the number 6 that is important, but the hubs and how they are used. In fact, 6 degrees seems outrageously far in a business sense and would in fact be quite wasteful.
The Network: In the business world, if you are trying to find a source of information, the most direct way is not usually the mass e-mail that everyone ignores. The hope is that you have some sort of sense regarding the organization and you have a network of people that you can use as guides. 6 degrees works quite well in these cases where (for example) a technology salesperson needs to find out about what enhancements will go into the next release. She might contact her manager, who puts her in touch with the marketing manager, who then refers her to the analyst working on product enhancements.
The Digital Network: However, when one talks about global businesses with multiple business units and countries, a technology sales person in the U.S. may not have a reasonable and obvious connection to a construction project manager in Japan. In this case, your global network needs to help bring organizations and people together. The employee directory is nice, but simply not enough – it does not tell anyone how they are connected by interests, competencies, or any other business commonality. While I certainly realize that we’re not looking for direct matches, we should be striving to identify the hubs – people who can direct traffic because they either know a lot of people, or know people who know a lot of people.
I’d suggest that even in the most complex of business environments, you are striving to keep your hops to no more than 2-3 degrees of separation. Any more than that and you just have lots of wasted energy as people fail at finding collaboration opportunities. Somewhere approaching 4-6 degrees of separation and you actually have silos of thinking, people who have gotten tired of looking for people with common interests who go out and develop their own thing concurrently with others in the same organization.
I think that the moniker of “Talent Management” is about over. Unfortunately, the job HR has of helping businesses collaborating through connecting people’s competencies and interests seems to fall nowhere else at the moment. Still, 6 degrees (or less) is about connecting people attributes in an efficient manner and belongs somewhere in HR.