Written by Alex Laverty and Chris Wysocki
“You ever feel like you’re living in an airport?”
The rite of passage of spending the night in terminal a la Tom Hanks style is a common but unenjoyable cost of doing consulting business. In 2014, one of us had the pleasure of making their overnight stay in Chicago’s O’Hare airport. Fortunately, 500,000 miles have since passed without suffering a second night using a suitcase as a pillow.
This has been part luck, part proficiency in the art of travel hacking: finding the best routes with the best equipment at the lowest cost to the client. In the days before Google Flights revolutionized trip planning, this process was time-intensive and spread across multiple websites. Regardless of method, time was always considered the most important variable. If the flight arrived in the destination city with enough time for a full night’s sleep or with enough time to make client meetings, that would qualify as a success.
One of the biggest factors, as was learned on that chilly evening inside O’Hare’s Terminal 2, was which airport would serve as the connection. While airlines may one day move away from the hub and spoke approach of flight operations, it remains the norm today. This model works on a feeder network of flights by one airline into their hub, providing connections to the rest of the network. Airlines can then fill larger airplanes, rather than point-to-point flights between two airports that may lack the demand to make a flight between the two airports profitable. This means that a flight from Fresno, California to Burbank, 209 miles to the south, routes through Phoenix or San Francisco, adding 659 miles, 102 minutes in the air, and over 2 hours for the layover.
When navigating the globe, an analysis of the network doesn’t just apply to customer satisfaction, but also the bottom line of businesses. The rise of the superconnectors from the Middle East (Qatar Airways, Eithad, and Emirates) show how their central positioning along the European-Asian air corridor can make for a successful business model.
While all businesses know that understanding their network is crucial for success, most industries cannot rely on geography to provide such obvious insights into how to position corridors that help facilitate the transmission of information, cargo, or equipment. At CrossLead, we build tools that allow organizations to find these human-based routes through their internal network.
Our network analysis provides insights into individuals or teams that serve as connecting hubs between different parts of an organization. We call these individuals Bridgers. In our Network Map, Bridgers lie along a proportionally high number of shortest paths between employees carrying organizational info (If you’d like to nerd out on terms like ‘shortest paths’ and ‘betweenness centrality’, click here).
These people, much like airport hubs, leverage a network that is dispersed over multiple teams and serve as an information link between these teams.
We can use an airline’s flight routes to illustrate the impact that Bridgers can have on end users, in this case customers. Throughout aviation history, Chicago’s O’Hare has been a common bridge between flights from East Coast of the United States to the West Coast. If we analyzed the network using the CrossLead Platform, we would expect to see Chicago represented as a Bridger. This would make sense based on Chicago’s geographic centrality – however there might be circumstances that our tool would show Newark, Denver, or Washington’s Dulles as better Bridgers based on filters of total flight times, departure times, and seasonal weather.
Still, navigating domestic airport ‘pairs’ is relatively simple: You’ll fly from or to one of an airline’s domestic hubs and then onwards. The network becomes more complicated when you expand it globally. The same occurs when businesses begin to scale beyond the point at which the CEO knows everyone who works for her. At CrossLead, we find this normally occurs around the 100 employee mark for fast growth organizations.
Anyone who has traveled from Washington, D.C. to Singapore has found themselves choosing between connections as varied as Abu Dhabi, Doha, Dubai, Frankfurt, Paris, Istanbul, Incheon, Narita and London’s Heathrow. Fast growth startups, and large enterprises face the same (or more) number of options when it comes to ensuring their internal network stays as aligned, agile, and adaptable as when the company began.
While these insights are taken for granted by even the most novice of travel planners, few tools exist to provide businesses insights into information flows within organizations to help them make better decisions. Too often, we see companies make choices on organizational design, operational structure, and business processes that fail to account for the Bridgers in their organization. These individuals are often undervalued and their connectivity is unrecognized on any org chart, despite the fact that they have a disproportionate impact on the business.
One of our early enterprise clients, a large California-based manufacturing firm, conducted a CrossLead Organizational Diagnostic to understand their organizational network before making personnel decisions. The results surprised their leadership. As it turned out, there was only one individual who served as a Bridger between two of their go-to-market teams. These two teams must move in lockstep for their strategy to succeed, yet only one individual was intimately familiar with both of their activities: an independent contractor, who the organization planned on letting go at the end of the month.
Replacing the knowledge and experience of teammates is hard, but commonly done. Effective job descriptions and candidate screening can help get the right skills in the right roles. However, it is much more difficult to replicate the relationships that an employee had within his or her network. Recreating these ties is not as simple as effective sourcing; it requires a substantial amount of time and investment, even for high-performing employees. Just as time was crucial to my trip planning, this is time most organizations do not have the luxury to spend. All too often, employers underestimate the impact an employee departure will have on the organization’s network. If the employee is a Bridger, the cost of transition is even more painful.
Bridgers rarely stick out on a typical org chart but are invaluable interconnected assets to an organization that leaders would do well to leverage. Our enterprise users find where the network may be strong or blocked allowing them to design their operations and communications through the CrossLead Platform. While airline travelers may accept the occasional bad layover, many of our clients rather prefer to exploit their connections in their organization for growth and adaptability – especially if that means avoiding sleeping in airport terminals!
Alex is the Deployment Strategist at CrossLead, focused on ensuring client success through product and feature rollouts of our Platform.
Having lived most of his life abroad, from Eastern Europe to South Africa, Alex is passionate about the effectiveness of CrossLead in building trust and common purpose in global organizations. Prior to joining CrossLead, Alex worked for Apple, facilitating training and communication programs that benefited its retail operations in the Los Angeles Area.
Alex holds a Master’s of African Studies from UCLA and a Master’s of Public Diplomacy from the University of Southern California. He received his BA in International Studies with a concentration in Political Science and African Studies from the University of California, San Diego.
Chris is a member of the Analytics Team, where he analyzes organizational performance data and communication networks. Previously, Chris worked in the Treasury Consulting Group at PNC Financial Services.
Chris graduated from Carnegie Mellon University with a degree in Economics and Statistics while competing on Carnegie Mellon’s Varsity Swim Team.