Transforming into a social business is a pretty big concept with several pieces and there is a lot of debate around what those pieces should be. However, most will agree that there is an internal communications component of becoming a social business. When you look at how social media is being used to improve internal communications, you can start to separate those who are providing lip service to the social business transformation to those that are serious. This also extends far beyond becoming a “social” business and using social technology. The real questions I believe we should be asking are: how can technology be used to increase the speed of knowledge transfer, to influence the culture of working together, and to improve internal business processes.
I’ve worked for several large organizations and one thing was true in every one of them. There are huge information silos between different divisions, different offices, and even within departments. These information silos can be very costly for organizations. The cost impact can range from not knowing the internal expertise available to having multiple departments working on similar initiatives and spending money for outside consultants to do the same projects as well as having employees who do not even know they exist. For many companies, the quickest way to break down silos is to leverage an internal social network.
The biggest opportunity for mid-size and enterprise organizations is to create an internal social network. The primary goal of the social network is to improve communications and the transparency of those communications. One of the biggest hurdles for large organizations is to stop the turf war between different groups. Internal turf wars are a huge waste of resources and can cost companies millions in wasted effort. While an internal social network won’t stop the turf war, it can absolutely help people develop better relationships.
This is important. Don’t tell employees to use your internal social network purely for business communications. Encourage employees to share posts related to things they are interested in, photos of their kids if they would like, and anything else that will help employees know more about who they are out of the office. This is what will help to break through some of the turf wars. People who like each other as human beings are more likely to communicate with each other when there is a potentially heated issue that needs to be discussed. It also can help to create relationships through all ranks in the organization. Leadership needs to be a part of this type of sharing too. They need to show employees that they are actual human beings, not just their boss or a member of the executive team. Just imagine the power of knowing the CEO is a huge runner as a point of hallway conversation for other employees, or that she has a daughter the same age, or that he also is a foster home for rescue dogs? Getting employees to share what happens outside of the office helps people connect around areas of common interest. If the only thing your internal social network does is provide a forum for sharing things employees get excited about outside of work, it will still be a huge win for the organization.
If your internal social network is a broadcast channel to communicate with employees, you are doing it wrong. This is an opportunity to build connectivity between employees, rather than another HR portal for dissemination of information.
One of the biggest challenges in large organizations is employees simply understanding what other people are working on. There seems to be this veil of secrecy for projects until they are complete, rather than open sharing about what is in the works. This is a huge missed opportunity because there are several benefits of increasing sharing earlier in projects. First, it is highly possible that another team is working on something that could benefit from a project another department has in the works. Second, it’s also possible that teams are working on similar initiatives and that money could be saved for outside consultants if they simply worked together, even if their goals for the projects are different. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen groups working on a small piece of something that could turn into pure awesome if they simply combined forces to solve the greater problem instead of just the piece that impacts their team. Create an area where employees share status updates on the projects they are working on and the progress they have made. Allow them to invite cross-functional teams for projects and invite collaborators. Allow people to subscribe to updates and ask to join a project team. Allow employees to list the types of projects that could impact their role or department and provide a stream of updates based on that list of interests. If companies can use their social network for information sharing and collaboration around the actual work it can create huge efficiencies for getting the work done.
This is the age old problem in large companies, we have internal expertise yet we continually hire consultants to do jobs another employee could do. Why does this happen? Most likely it isn’t because an employee is trying to stick it to the man and spend unnecessary money. More likely it is because the employee responsible for getting a project done has no idea the talent exists in house. Trust me, most employees would love to save that budget money for something else, if they knew there was a competent internal resource that could help them get the job done.
Your employee social network can help solve this problem too! Provide employees with a searchable area where they can list their professional experience and talents. Also make sure they can list how many years experience they have in each area. Then when someone is looking for someone with a specific skill set they can search the database to see who could potentially help with the project, provide guidance on some good outsourced talent to hire, or even just act as an internal consultant for a project they want to get done this year.
If you want to take it a step further, allow employees to list skills they are simply passionate about. Then when a team has a project they don’t have the budget to hire external resources to complete, they might be able to find an internal employee who is really passionate about the subject matter or area of expertise they can tap to help. Just imagine the employee talent development that could happen if I was really passionate about SEO and studied SEO in my free time, but it wasn’t part of my actual job at the company. Then someone else in the company gave me the opportunity to spread my wings with helping the company with SEO efforts. As an employee, I would be ecstatic and have the ability to do a project involving something I’m excited about. As the employee who needed help I could get help with a project I couldn’t fund otherwise and possibly find someone to hire into my department down the road. For the company, I’d be able to identify internal talent and provide employees with the opportunity to expand the talents they are “perceived” to have based on job title. If that isn’t a win-win-win, I don’t know what is!
This is a pretty big one and honestly, I could write an entire post about it, but let’s start the conversation here. Every company has opportunities in the market place they don’t have time and resources to pursue. Every company has a wealth of talent and knowledge internally that goes untapped. Just imagine for a second that employees were able to propose projects they want to work on and what talents they could bring to a cross-functional team. For example, there is a huge opportunity in mobile, but the company doesn’t have the resources to fully explore the opportunities. But we have an employee who is really passionate about mobile technology and really understands the landscape. He/She could propose a project to explore how the company could expand into mobile. He/She could post “positions” they would need to fully explore the opportunity and make a business case. Other employees could apply for these positions on the team to explore the possibility provided they could still complete their other job responsibilities. An executive could sponsor the project and provide credibility to its potential opportunity. The manager’s of these employees could approve them to dedicate a small amount of their time provided it didn’t impact other job responsibilities. In essence, as an employee I could single-handedly create a internal task force to explore new markets and new opportunities for our company. If it’s good enough, my project could be sponsored by an executive and I could get a little recognition if we are able to do it well. I could recruit other employees with expertise I don’t have to make sure all bases are covered for the exploration project.
Wow! Just imagine how much faster your company could move on market opportunities in this type of environment. At the freaking speed of light! It could truly transform how opportunities are researched and pursued. Instead of requiring an executive to light the fire, it would create an environment that recognizes that employees have the best ideas. It would be even more amazing if executives had a budget just for these types of projects so they could “fund” them and create an internal start-up community. Let’s just put it this way, this could, in fact, change the world.