Professional Development

Revealing the intricacies of workplace networks

How one local company helps organizations uncover hidden talent

By Nate Garvis and Tom Wiese — with Kolina Cicero

If you have ever had the opportunity to meet Studio/E member Vikas Narula, even in passing, you likely remember it. He’s a community member you want to know not just because he’s nice to be around, but because he has fascinating insight into how connections and relationships work.

Vikas is co-founder of Keyhubs, a Minneapolis-based company that helps organizations unveil the tapestry of workplace relationships. Throughout his 15 years working in startups, Vikas saw dysfunction in spite of success but couldn’t identify the reason for the disconnect between hierarchy and the rest of the organization. After going back to business school he learned about the power of informal networks, and, eager to apply the concept where he was working, he looked for tools and services. When he didn’t find what he was looking for, he decided to build his own. With the support and counsel from fellow student and co-founder Ron Dees (who Vikas has since bought out — amicably, of course), the duo launched Keyhubs, a software program that maps out the truth in company cultures.

Living into his desire to love and be loved, it’s no wonder interactions with Vikas are interwoven with kindness and compassion. We sat down with him to learn what happens when you understand company culture, why we should bring the L word to work and how to diversify our networks.

Studio/E: How can leaders uncover their organization’s internal culture?
Really get to know and talk to people at all levels of the organization, especially lower levels. Care about them as human beings — they’re the ones that will tell you what’s going on.

Studio/E: What’s the roadblock you see organizations facing?
There’s often a heavy reliance on hierarchy, which creates distortions in perception, especially the higher up you go. Everyone’s incentivized to manage up because their livelihood hinges on it. The higher up you go, the harder it becomes to differentiate who’s making a positive impact versus not, or who’s a cornerstone of the culture.

Studio/E: What kind of information can be revealed?
You find out who cultural pillars are, or someone who garners a lot of influence, which is not necessarily the formal leaders. You find out who trusts whom, who inspires others, who affects people positively or negatively. You can also identify divides that may exist hierarchically and how teams interact with others. All of these factors contribute to the cultural experience of everyone there.

Studio/E: How do you bring love to work?
When I think about love, I think about being in love with the work you’re doing and the clients you’re working with. If you’re not loving it, switch it up. Love is the greatest force and the more we honor it, the more it flourishes in our life. Love is a powerful remedy but it doesn’t exist on its own. It grows when it flows — when there’s an exchange.

Studio/E: Keyhubs is a connection company. What role do networks play in your world?
I operate in an open network — I don’t go to an office and surround myself with the same people every day. I connect and build relationships with people of all different backgrounds: entrepreneurs, consultants, artists, musicians. This has opened up my world in a way that I didn’t know was possible. I get to spend time with interesting kindred spirits and that just compounds the love and joy.

Studio/E: How can we diversify our networks?
Be intentional about connecting with people who look and think differently than you. It’s hard to find time and energy to do it but there’s immense value in it. Here are ways to do it:

  1. Join an association. Find something that piques your interest but is different from your day-to-day routine. Maybe you’re a scientist but you’re curious about basket weaving. Make a point of getting into something new.
  2. Take classes. Minneapolis Community Technical College and St. Paul College are the most diverse colleges in Minnesota. Take a class and get to know your classmates. The goal of open networks is to expose yourself to people who are different, and if you can forge a genuine friendship … that’s the ultimate goal. That’s when there’s true understanding, learning and appreciation for the value that diversity brings you. It’s an exchange that’s unlike anything else I’ve ever experienced.
  3. Dine out differently. Eat at restaurants and go to coffee shops in neighborhoods where people look different from you. It starts with exposure. Out of exposure comes connection and out of connection comes friendship. Go just a little bit out your comfort zone (it doesn’t have to be the frightening zone) and then it’ll become comfortable. Do it again and before you know it, you’re connecting with people you’ve never imagined and they’re giving you insight into life and providing you with stories that enrich you. It can lead to opportunities, even business opportunities. Do it for yourself. It may seem trivial, but it’s potent.

Vikas saw an issue — untapped internal cultures overshadowed by hierarchy — and turned to who and what he knew to build a solution. Looking to what you already have at hand (we call this Current Means) is a great first-step when pursuing an idea. And Vikas is proof of that.

More about Vikas

Name: Vikas Narula, creator and co-founder, Keyhubs
Headquarters: Minneapolis
Inception: 2008
Employees: 6, including part-time and contractors
Description: A human connection company
Vikas’ Desire: To love and be loved and inspire others to do the same.
Studio/E Competency: Current Means

Nate Garvis and Tom Wiese are founding partners of Studio/E. They are both Senior Fellows at the Lewis Institute’s Social Innovation Lab at Babson College, as well as co-owners of Earn Influence, a consulting firm that helps its cool clients profitably travel into the unknown with clarity and confidence.