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Under the influence

Published: Tuesday, March 11, 2014 11:20 a.m. CDT

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What do you call that pesky co-worker who will never leave you alone?

You know who I mean — Jim in the next cubicle who has to tell you every detail of “The Bachelor” episode you didn’t see the night before, as he tries to convince you that Juan Pablo is a jerk and definitely should give the final rose to Nikki, or the gal who corners you in the coffee room to expound at great length about why the real jerk is Jim because he wastes everyone’s time with his stupid comments on “The Bachelor,” and besides, everyone knows Juan Pablo should give the final rose to Clare.

If you call these people “pests,” I would certainly agree. Or, I would have agreed with you, before I read “Office ‘Influencers’ Are in High Demand,” a recent Rachel Feintzeig article in The Wall Street Journal.

According to Ms. Feintzeig, influencers are employees who are “well-connected and trusted by their peers.”

And here’s the interesting part — because of their ability to sway co-workers, these pesky colleagues are not only being identified; they’re actually being rewarded. Yes, influencers are getting “more money, promotions and opportunities to rub shoulders with top executives” (at least until they drive the top executives crazy with their nonstop chatter and are sent back down to the bottom of the org chart, where they can continue rubbing us the wrong way).

The reason for the new corporate love of influencers? It’s the rise of social media, which has “highlighted the importance of networks,” encouraging companies to “capitalize on the power players lurking in their workforces.”

In other words, your bosses don’t want to stifle the influencers. They want to use them to peddle the party line.

In order to identify the influencers among us, management does what it does best. It outsources the effort to consulting firms. WorkWise LLC is one such firm identified in the article. It has “helped Fortune 500 firms identify influencers and often focuses on how to retain them.”

Another firm that “helps companies map their networks” is Syndio Social.

Checking the company’s website — hey, Feintzeig is not the only reporter around here — I found a rather alarming example of one of the tools Syndio Social provides to managers. It’s a graphic “Dashboard” that instantly tells executives who is on their side and who is not.

(I’m not here to influence the Syndio Social folks, but may I suggest that in a future iteration, consider adding a feature that allows CEOs to double-click on a person or department not onboard with the latest brainstorm, instantly firing that entity. Or, if management is sufficiently forward-thinking, the program could ignite ejection devices under the doubting employees’ desk chairs.)

Now, that’s the way to build consensus.

There is, however, at least one person who questions the concept. Jerry Davis, a management professor at the University of Michigan’s Stephen M. Ross School of Business, suggests “companies could be rewarding the wrong thing if they put too much stock in the hubs of their social networks.”

He’s right, of course. Imagine you have two employees. One is a nerd, who keeps his nose to the grindstone, grinding out work, and the other is a node, who spends all her time as a social butterfly, flitting from one cube to another, spreading gossip and whatever other nonsense comes in — and out — of her brain. Do you reward the nerd because he is so productive, or do you reward the node who is hardly working because she is so busy being a busybody?

It’s a decision I will leave to you, you influencer, you, but let’s close with the case of a certified influencer, Andrea Bredow, who was discovered by Syndio Social at a Chicago company. Bredow describes herself as “an extrovert through and through,” who “likes to stop by co-workers desks and plan group outings.”

“It’s just my personality,” says the influential Ms. Bredow, and I’m sure that’s true. If it were up to me, employees like this should immediately be promoted ... to another job ... at another company ... where they can plan group outings in the Nome, Alaska branch.

They will do a bang-up job influencing the polar bears. As for the rest of us, we can enjoy the peace and quiet.

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