Three Insights on the Power of Social Capital

Jennifer Merluzzi

To get ahead, you’ll need to manage who you know.

Tapping into your connections more strategically can help you generate value from the people around you, explained Jennifer Merluzzi, PhD ’10, assistant professor of strategic management and public policy at George Washington University. Understanding how to leverage these networks is a predictor of career success, including salary and retention, according to her research.

She presented her findings at Booth Women Connect Conference 2018, in a talk titled “Social Capital and Networks: Leadership in ‘Who You Know.’” Read her insights:

Invest in building meaningful social capital.

It’s simple to see why learning new skills can help advance your career, but understanding how you’ll derive value from building networks is more complex, Merluzzi told the audience. “At their core, networks help explain why certain people perform better than others,” she said. It’s not just about racking up connections on LinkedIn. “How you are positioned within those connections matters,” she explained.

Know when to tap into a closed network . . .

Merluzzi highlighted two main types of networks: a closed network and a brokerage network. Moving within a closed network in the workplace means that everyone you associate with is part of the same team or the same clique. It can feel insular at times, but can be crucial as well. “In closed networks, information moves really quickly, reputation really matters, and trust emerges quickly,” she explained. Forming relationships across a closed network can help you move ahead during a fast-paced project or get a business off the ground if you’re working as part of a small, tight team.

. . . And when to take advantage of a brokerage network.

On the other hand, brokerage networks help you make connections between groups and tap into far-flung resources that may be in different departments or outside of your company. Brokerage networks help give you access to information earlier, expose you to diverse ideas, and increase the propensity for what social network scholars call “productive accidents.” Tapping into a far-reaching network like this can be good when you need to jump into a new position quickly or tap into a network during a job search, she added.

The most successful people utilize both types of networks in order to maximize their social capital, according to Merluzzi’s research with Ronald S. Burt, Hobart W. Williams Professor of Sociology and Strategy at Chicago Booth. “The best way to manage a career is to oscillate back and forth,” she added.

Booth Women Connect Conference is organized by the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. The 2018 event brought together more than 1,100 professionals for an extraordinary day of bold ideas, spirited discussion, practical insights, and impactful networking. Join us for the next annual conference on November 1, 2019.

—By Alina Dizik

Read More Articles from Booth Women Connect Conference »