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Journal Article

When people build networks that hinder their performance: Structural holes, cognitive style, and the dynamics of person-network fit

Academy of Management Journal
Human resources management/organizational behavior; Strategy and general management
networks, structural holes, brokerage, innovation, cognitive style, person-network fit, field experiment
Extant research shows that individual cognitive style affects whether employees benefit most from a brokering or a dense network. But do people build the network structure in which they perform best? We address this question by advancing a novel 2-stage explanatory model that explicitly disentangles the network formation process from its performance effects. We hypothesize that Adaptors (i.e., individuals inclined to focus on implementable solutions through commonly accepted and well-defined approaches) perform best when their network spans structural holes. Yet, these same individuals systematically forego opportunities to build relations across structural holes. By contrast, Innovators (i.e., individuals inclined to focus on envisioning creative solutions that break away with established approaches) draw no or even negative performance returns from structural holes. Nevertheless, their inclination is to build ever-new bridging relations. We test and find support for this counterintuitive hypothesis through a randomized longitudinal field experiment enabling us to disentangle empirically both stages of our theorized process model. Our findings help illuminate why people may build networks that hurt their performance, shed a new light on the role of individual cognitive style in shaping network advantage, and bear concrete implications for organizations aiming to leverage networks to enhance employees’ performance.
With permission of the Academy of Management