Power to the People – Enhancing Employee Engagement

3 02 2011

The professor at odds with our tech-savy world I mentioned in the last post, refuses to keep up with his e-mail, checking it only two or three times a week.  As a student in this position it’s difficult to describe the frustration felt after waiting four days with no response, and this lack of accessibility makes him seem much more intimidating to approach in person.  If you’re reading this post then you of course have e-mail, but where will you and your company be in 2014 when 20% of business users are using social networking as their primary form of communication instead of e-mail – according to Gartner Inc.

Much of the workforce has traditionally rallied around the water cooler, swapping gossip and seeking answers.  However, if the water cooler’s current population doesn’t know the answer, usually the next place we turn for help is a superior.  But what if that superior is stuck in meetings all day?   What if the employee decides to continue wrestling with problem rather than asking for help, wasting hours if not an entire day?  What can social media do that your water cooler isn’t already doing?  Many businesses are turning to social media to strengthen or enrich corporate culture and improve communications by engaging employees.  Additionally, by providing and/or monitoring social media sites, companies are given the tools to observe and influence employees and their thoughts on, or disposition towards the company.  Though many do not believe a company’s internal reputation to be as important as their external reputation, a positive internal reputation is often reflected in some part externally.

Professional networks are becoming an increasingly important tool when it comes to decision making.  Those professionals with a larger network are more likely to gather opinions from that online network and read blogs as beginning steps in their decision process. Similarly many companies are realizing that social media as a collaboration tool is almost as revolutionary as the Internet itself.  A survey of Tennessee communication professionals reveals that 90 percent of respondents agree that social media is vital in any communications plan, moreover, 79 percent said it’s changing how organizations and their employees communicate – by providing an opportunity for open dialogue.  The collaborating pool isn’t limited to just an office building either, it would allow input from home as well as input from other branches, even overseas.  If employees participate in, or in some cases follow, the company’s communications through social media like blogging, forums, or wikis it empowers employees to not only understand but own the company’s objectives and goals.  By giving a person a voice allowing them to be heard, and thus adding weight to their opinion, it gives that person a vested interest in the company.

Social media can also benefit the company through relationship building.  While it’s not the highest ranked aspect of employee needs, co-worker chemistry – or a friendly environment – is often cited as a driving force of increased employee productivity and satisfaction.  According to a survey by TNS Employee Insights when ranking employee needs, collaboration opportunities and co-worker relationships rank just after job satisfaction and the manager/boss relationship.  Co-workers connecting with each other using social media allows for richer relationships to develop in the work place.  In turn these deeper connections encourage loyalty and trust between employees and the employer as well.

One of the biggest problems implementing and sustaining a program is getting employees to incorporate it into their lives or workday.  Companies bring their employees to these sites, and encourage their use in several different ways.  Very important to the success of any social media program or initiative is the full support of and engagement by the CEO and any other executives.  Only employees should be given the choice to participate, anyone in a leadership position should be required to participate if there is to be any value in the medium you hope to develop.  Equally important is the need for the employee to understand the purpose behind a social media program.  They need to know this is a place to turn to for answers.  If the employer is equally engaged with the employee through social media you can expect 2 things.  First, it shortens the distance to those in a leadership position, allowing entry-level employees a level of access to executives rarely seen, encouraging trust and credibility.  Second, social media helps to disrupt the traditional top-down flow of information, as long as those in power use the application for two-way dialogue and not for simply mega-phoning their own goals.

Many companies are hesitant to relinquish their one way flow of information, worried about hearing or seeing anything negative written about them, but if you’re not made aware of a problem how can you fix it?  People understand that solutions aren’t immediate, and they’re forgiving. As long as you convey that you are actively working towards a solution – hopefully with employee input – there’s really nothing to lose from negative comments, only positive results to be gained.  Perhaps one the of the best reasons to start using these materials is the fact that employees entering the work force are already aware of and comfortable using these collaborative social media tools.  However, before implementing any sort of program you must first decide your intended outcome, then you can deduce how technology, or which technology, can get you there.

Sabre, a company that runs much of the world’s airline flight reservation systems, is considered a leader and pioneer in employee networking.  With 10,000 employees spread across the globe Sabre sought to unify its diverse employee base by creating its own social media intranet.  Named SabreTown, it had all the basic features of Facebook – a profile page with details, photo albums – and additionally they created adjoining blogs, forums, and a Q&A page.  One of the most unique aspects of SabreTown is its relevance engine (similar to Google’s PageRank), which allows a user to send out a question and the system then determines the 15 most relevant employees (based on their biography, title, as well as any information they’ve entered into Sabretown: blogs, comments, Q&As, etc.) to send the question to.  The only thing more impressive than the all-inclusive system Sabre created, was the results they were able to generate:  60% of all questions are answered within an hour; each question receives an average of nine responses; and while 65% of the company was on SabreTown within three months of launch – today more than 90% of the company is active.  Many question the ROI capabilities of social media programs but SabreTown has already led to more than $150,000 dollars in direct savings.  Realizing the potential for gold, Sabre developed a software solution for other companies based on SabreTown, called Cubeless.  It’s currently in its pilot stage at American Express.

If you’re still not convinced that social media could be an asset to your company or organization, try copying this post directly into Microsoft Word and autocorrecting (or swapping) “Employee Communication Systems” in place of “social media.”  If you think I’m pulling your leg, think again.  Many feel the moniker social media isn’t business friendly – even Sabre shies away from such terms fearing they may alienate older users.  Instead they suggest to worry less about defining your application or solution, and instead focus only on what you will name it and what it will do for you.

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