Social? Human? Relationship? 3 ways to think about your employees’ value  

By Deanna Cioppa 


Employee Value

The Brief
If there’s one thing business writing is full of, it’s jargon. (You could argue something else, but that’s probably not fit to write about here.) When it comes to talking about networking, terms like human capital, social capital and relationship capital are tossed around almost interchangeably. But while all three are about people and, arguably, relationships, they’re not quite the same thing. Below, we endeavor to differentiate the three, just to help get you through your next meeting without sounding like a fool.

1. Human Capital.

This largely economic term is used to evaluate an employee’s skill set, in other words, the value of that worker’s labor to his company and the economy as a whole. It was coined by economist Theodore Schultz in the middle of the 20th century, with one of its primary takeaways being that like any other capital, human capital could be invested in—through education, training, benefits, etc.—to increase its returns.

2. Social capital. 

While definitions vary on this relatively old-timey term (it appears in a 1916 book on community education), as discussed by Robert Putnam in his bestselling 2000 book Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community, social capital is the collection of links, bonds and shared societal norms held among individuals and groups which allow them to work cooperatively. Think of it as community trust. It’s closely aligned to relationship capital (see below) but more broadly applicable across business, family and community life.

3. Relationship capital.

This term describes the web of connections, both internal and external to their current company, that most accomplished professionals have cultivated and developed throughout their career, which can be leveraged by an organization to drive innovation, business development, revenue generation. Relationship capital draws from both social and human capital, in that it connects the value of an organization’s employee not just to her labor input but also to the kinds of links she has previously forged, which can be based on familial, community or professional connections.

Here at RelSci, we believe relationship capital should live at the top of any organization’s list of bizdev strategies. Utilizing your company’s collective contact list can yield the kinds of opportunities for sales leads, talent and board member recruitment and partnerships that cold-calling and business card exchanges simply can’t. Interested in learning more? Click here to download our white paper. 

Deanna Cioppa is a freelance writer who has written for AARP, ESPN The Magazine and Fodor’s. She is a frequent contributor to this blog.

RelSci is a technology solutions company that helps create competitive advantage for organizations through a crucial yet vastly underutilized asset: relationship capital with influential decision makers.


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