Learning from HBR: Making corporate social network collaboration successful

Corporate social network

Corporate social network: The key is in listening and engaging with the employees.

Collaboration in professional corporate organizations, starts with a small banter. It could be as mundane and simple as talking about, what you have in your lunch box or sharing it with your team members over lunch.

But before we get into this, a quick look at what the research and statistics say about social media and its usage can help steer this discussion.

The usage of social media across the globe by people of all ages has tripled in the last 3-4 years. All of this increased usage has been more towards the consumer social media systems like Facebook, Twitter as well as Word press and so on.

Worldwide statistics from Statista as well as Global web index show, as of Jan 2016:

The world population is about – 7.3 billion;

Out of which:

The internet users are about – 3.14 billion;

Within that,

the active social media users are about – 2.3 billion.

With all this popularity and acceptance among people from all walks of life for consumer social media, it has not translated well into the usage of corporate social network nor has it found its strong footing among employees and leaders within global corporate multinational organizations and in small workplaces.

The obvious question is: Why the corporate social network lacks the participation and lively zest found in consumer social media systems? And what can be done about it?

I happen to read a recent article from HBR on why “Why no one uses the corporate social network?”.  Interesting as the title, it is true most of the time. As I read through the article, I began to gather my thoughts and drew a couple of insights from the great examples provided there. My sincere thanks to Charlene Li for highlighting the examples in the article.  Charlene Li, is the founder and CEO of the Altimeter group.

The HBR article showcases a study and a survey conducted in 2014 by the Altimeter group on more than 55 global companies.The usage of corporate social network among organizations,  does not strike a chord nor has any agreeable similarities that the usage of social media systems (both professional and casual) has among the masses.  Leave alone collaboration, even social interaction, sharing and employee advocacy has challenges.

To know more on how “Collaboration” can happen in social media,

Please read our blog post – “Social media collaboration: A synergy in the making at workplaces”.

What is a Corporate social network?

A Corporate social network is the same as an Enterprise social network or a social collaboration software.  They are a combined bundle of software, exclusively meant for all kinds of social interaction. This includes: community forums, discussion, chat, hubs and collaborative groups within corporate organizations.

The latter term ‘enterprise social networking’ is used by software vendors in this market space for convenience purposes.

A Corporate social network involves the use of the internal corporate intranets or custom made software solutions by its employees within the company network. Employees can share information, interact and collaborate with other colleagues across business units and also at times with other business partners.

Examples include: SharePoint, Yammer, Chatter, IBM connections, Jive, Slack, and Social Chorus etc. to name a few.

There are many productive business impacts.

Collaborative insights leading to successive iteration of ideas and there by innovation is one of the biggest positive impact.

There are recent claims from some organizations that they want to completely do away with emails.  In this milieu of things, emails have taken the biggest brunt. It is reported that, employees spend unproductive time browsing and replying to emails. Corporate social networks can help companies make that move with much ease.

Usage of corporate social network – Survey results

The survey results, point to some interesting results.

Usage of corporate social network graph

Source: Altimeter Group survey of 55 companies.

The percentages on the usage of collaboration platform software and the Enterprise social network are not so bright with just about 36 % and 20 %. These two constitute the two biggest chunks among the lot.

What is interesting to note is the ‘No plans to deploy’ intention across the software in all the organizations, is quite high. The rest is self-explanatory.

There will be implementations in the coming years only if the adoption rates are better. There are chances that it might takeoff but then, much depends on how the employees and leaders plan to sustain it in the long run.

Issues and challenges surrounding the corporate social network

issues in corporate social network
Issues in corporate social network

Many enterprise social network software vendors have promised a rosy picture of a well -connected employee wide corporate social network in the past.  A seemingly good picture of a  well-connected enterprise with all employees sharing knowledge and expertise, solving critical problems and collaborating together for innovation with hierarchies breaking down, is nice to have. But this picture is far from reality.

There are failed implementations across organizations as well as lack of commitment and not able to see the real results of such an investment.

To understand the challenges for using social media in organizations,

Please read our blog post: “The promise of collaboration – Using social media in organizations”

Charlene Li, thorough her research, says that the Leadership of the organization is the single most important factor in driving engagement of corporate social network in big organizations across the globe. If the leaders don’t see anything in it worth their time, employees won’t either.

There is an irony in this story. It is a fine balance between how much information to give in and how much to hold.  In a high strung, result oriented environment, the emphasis is on productivity and getting the work done. This shifts the cause from sharing vital information and expertise to more towards holding the information.

Interestingly, Charlene, points out at the situation of management command and control.  It is part of the hierarchical structure in almost all corporate organizations.  Senior management would find themselves losing the power structure, if they close the distance between them and the employees.  By engaging in social network interaction, the gap closes and they risk  status quo and authority.

The Wikipedia on Enterprise social networking has stated many issues impacting the adoption of corporate social network in many big organizations.  The notable among them are: Transparency, Perception, Privacy and Security issues.

However, there are solutions and natural leeway that leaders and employees can start looking into. They can take productive and constructive steps in their organizations, using the corporate social network to their advantage.

Ways for Corporate social network to flourish

Here are some of the ways that leaders and employees can latch on to.

1.Improving the perception on ROI (Return on investment):

The following has been an evergreen question within the corporate circles: What are benefits of using social media in an organizations? In fact, it is a very common search term.

A further drill down on the question is “Can the benefits be quantifiable?”

The common benefits cited are:  Employee community building, sharing of knowledge and information and employee branding within the organizations.

But these are not digestible and sometime unacceptable considering the result oriented, profit driven and productivity driven organizations.  The perception of corporate social network takes a beating within the leadership team.

Infact, owing to this, many software vendors have re-branded their products as ‘social collaboration’ software. The key is in the word ‘collaboration’.  The word ‘collaboration’ makes sense for decision makers, as it rings bells and takes them closer to the profitability and productivity at the end of the day.

This requires a separate post. But for now,

please do read our blog post: “Benefits of using social media in the workplaces”.

From Work Monkey Labs perspective, we have summarized the below benefits, which is quantifiable and can help manage the perception.

  1. Collaborative Innovation and knowledge generation.
  2. Integrating collective decisions and wisdom.
  3. Providing most valuable “Context” to information.

2. Lending a listening ear:

The essence of collaboration is a shared understanding among people. Managers and Leaders need to listen to their employees. There are numerous outlets through review and feedback sessions but this concept of lending a listening ear goes beyond this.

It involves sharing a feedback loop on an immediate pertinent problem right there at the very moment leading to corrective actions. Very often, the pains and process blocks are experienced as a fire-fighting scenarios by employee who work are live on the field or in live scenarios, supporting customers or selling products to them.

Example: A CEO of a leading Fortune 100 organization was with the sales and support people to solve a server shutdown scenario for a high profile customer. The mere presence of the CEO with them on a rare occasion had motivated the support team to work on the weekends, round the clock, to rectify the situation, so as to minimize business impact for the customer.

The customer was happy and in the process the team earned accolades. It so happened that the CEO and the entire support team were on the same corporate social network platform exchanging information.

3.Only if everybody knows what each one knows:

The statement “Only if the company knows what each employee knows” was made by a famous CEO of a Fortune 100 company some years back.  Obviously, the person was mentioning about managing knowledge and sharing information within the company.

Managing knowledge the old way has gone. Employees have known and have experienced that managing knowledge repositories in databases is cumbersome, time consuming and has not helped them much.  Now it is expertise sharing.  Expertise sharing finds its rightful place in corporate social networks.

Instead of sharing just knowledge, it would be better to share the context around it.

Please read our blog post on: ‘Expertise sharing’

In-fact, many professional consulting companies like Accenture have incorporated such knowledge management strategies within their organization.

4.Engagement and interaction to gain trust:

Leaders can share selective information at the right time and at the right place genuinely. Leaders can entrust the job to a group of corporate social network evangelists to take things forward and spread it in the right spirit.

In the past and even currently, we see emails doing the circulation within the company intranet on ‘the latest company alerts and strategy’. The same would fetch a lot of interaction and instant feedback from employees and leaders, if done within the corporate social network.

This could also be a conduit towards ‘open door policy’ for receiving feedback. This could also be an opportunity for the employees and the leaders to be in touch. This action gains trust among employees.

Trust builds, when employees see that their feedback is being recorded and suitable actions are taken.

5.Strengthening the network structure and cognitive triggers:

From a social network standpoint, technology is only good as long as it gets used. And that’s how far it gets. The underlying behavior of the employees and the way the corporate networks are structured also play an important role.

Like mind attracts only another like mind. It is true. If the cognitive ability and experience levels of the employees are at the same level, they would feel free and will not hesitate to interact and share. Having different corporate social networks for different business units would make sense in the long run.

6.Handling Privacy and security issues:

Privacy and security issues are a big concern when using social networks within the organization. There could be a breach, if vital information is not safe guarded.  The irony stands out here again. Even though information sharing is encouraged, there is a fine balance between how much to give out and how much to hold on.

There is a sense of moral responsibility on the part of all employees when using the corporate social network.

Leaving behind: What I would like to say

A sip of coffee
A sip of coffee

Meaningful collaborations and interactions over the corporate social network will happen only if all the employees share the same giving culture. The global multinational organization is a melting pot of multiple work cultures, all fused and working together.

Finding out how people share information is a challenge. Finding a common thread that connects across all cultures is something of a task for proponents and evangelists of corporate social network.

It would be nice to talk about Adam Grant’s book at this juncture. His book “Give and take” is ground breaking and well received by professionals all over the world.

When you give, you receive. This is the new mantra. He talks about effective strategies on how to handle all the giving scenarios. His “5 minute favor” gesture in organizations can be practiced by everybody, whether you are a leader or an employee at your workplace. If you have time, please have that book in your reading list.

Coming back to my point mentioned earlier in this post, yes, collaborations happen over the lunch box or it can even be at the water cooler. Perhaps, this calls for a separate post.

Having said that, trust is the single biggest motivator for collaborations in the corporate world. Only when you trust the other person or group, people would like to share important details.

The onus for fostering the right culture and the right environment lies with the leadership team. Having great technology and software is only secondary.  More than the technology or the social media, it is the behavior of the underlying social network that is more important.

Where there is trust and reciprocity, there is meaningful collaboration and corporate social networks can flourish.

For further resources on this subject, please find below.

  1. Why no one uses the corporate social network – HBR

Image source: Pixabay

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Ramkumar Yaragarla

I am 43 years old. Founder, Loving dad and Husband. Worked as an IT Business analyst and program manager in several Fortune 100 companies.Alumnus at the University of Warwick, UK. I love the WWW and write on Social aspects of information, Social collaboration, Digital Sociology, Digital Humanities and Work life balance. I enjoy playing on the beach with my 9 year old daughter. I am open to your suggestions and comments.
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