Very cool research study I just learned about in a WSJ blog. FIT researchers’ Ronaldo Menezes and Ben Collingsworth tracked emails between employees during Enron’s shakedown. They examined nearly 517,000 emails sent by 150 senior managers during the last year and a half of Enron. They found that there was a spike in email exchange one month prior to the Fortune 500 company’s collapse. They learned that “the number of active email ‘cliques’ — defined as a group in which every member has direct email contact with each other — surged to 800 from about 100.” Due to privacy laws, they could not dig deeper but this research demonstrates that companies may have a built-in early warning system that might be worth noting. The research is covered in New Scientist.
Early warning systems are very important to detecting clear and present danger that can impact reputations. It would be interesting to determine whether customer service teams have spikes in their emails before a problem unfolds publicly or whether some other company functions (compliance, safety) are chatting more than usual.
Reputations are so vulnerable today that any chance of capturing a problem is worth investigating and testing further. I imagine that Enron top managers had alot to talk about prior to its demise. As we all know, it is often too late by then.