Recognizing Social Capital

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Social capital seems to be one of those terms that’s easy to spot, but difficult to quantify; yet it’s an essential element of the people value in the triple bottom line. How does the triple bottom line business leader recognize and build social capital?

Within the business, social capital will manifest itself as what some may refer to as “esprit de corps”: a sense of commitment to cause. We’ve all had moments wherein we’ve been part of a team that’s committed to getting some big project done and the atmosphere is charged with productive energy. You know the scene: It’s close to midnight, everyone is working extremely hard, and yet it seems like moments ago everyone was sipping their day’s first cup of coffee. Time just flies when we’re having fun!

This sense of comradery, or esprit de corps, is a manifestation of social capital. When there’s a lot of it, we humans can do some pretty awesome things; when it’s low, it’s amazing how savage we can become. Social capital will manifest itself in other ways as well.

Each of us – at one level or another – is part of a community of persons. Whether it’s our family, an extended family, a group of friends, a faith-based community – you get the picture – each of us has felt what it means to have a sense of community with others.

Business leaders need to be cognizant of the things that build community, within the organization and among those who make the business possible: suppliers, customers, the local community etc. Failing to pay attention to the business’s community can spell disaster for the business leader. A triple bottom line business will likely refer to this notion as “stakeholder engagement” and it manifests itself at multiple levels and intensities.

One somewhat puzzling dimension of social capital is whether it can be accurately measured, and if so, the extent to which an investment in social capital can be converted into profits (e.g., can we measure return on investment?). In other words, can social capital be commodified?

If you’re interested in reading a reflection on this idea, click here to access an article I posted in LinkedIn about measuring social capital.

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