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Growing Business

Internal Drive

Enterprise social networks give employees new opportunities to collaborate and engage.

by Celeste Tillson

November 2014

No serious executive today can ignore social media. Facebook has more than 1.19 billion subscribers. The average American social media user reports spending almost 3.2 hours a day consuming and sharing posts or tweets. This explosion of social media has left executives with little choice but to develop new strategies and procedures to accommodate this tidal wave. The C-suite recognized social media’s value as a critical vehicle for connecting with external audiences.

But what about leveraging these same technologies for internal benefit? According to Patrick Harper, CIO at OpenText—an enterprise information management company based in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada—we’re not there yet.

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“Most CIOs and other top executives tend to think of social networks only as a way to provide customer service, market their products, or raise their company’s profile,” says Harper. “They may be missing the opportunity to use internal social networks to better connect employees and help them communicate with each other.”

Recruiting and Retention

What keeps CEOs up at night? According to the PwC 16th Annual Global CEO Survey, more than half are concerned about a shortage of key skills. And in an era of intense competition, they’re worried about retaining the skilled people they have.

According to Reggie Bradford, senior vice president of product development at Oracle, traditional resume-based recruitment procedures are not reaching the candidates most enterprises need. “Think about the methods today of finding the right employees—especially in a large organization, but even in small or midsize ones,” says Bradford. “Typically, word of mouth and peer recommendations generate the best leads.”

Studies show that these are indeed the two best ways to fill open positions. About 42 percent of open positions are filled by internal candidates, and approximately 24.5 percent of hires come from employee referrals. “Most companies—for cost as well as for cultural reasons—find better employees through opportunities found inside the company,” Bradford says.

The challenge is adding internal sourcing capabilities to existing recruitment process and building systems that enforce standard procedures. But an active, well-managed internal social network can help organize employees into communities of interest, simplifying recruitment efforts and allowing HR to target employee profiles to meet specific business needs.

“We have posted job openings on our internal social platform, and people have changed jobs and professions within the company. This has enabled us to maximize the skill set we have internally,” says Francesco Bovoli, vice president for program management and infrastructure at Workshare, an enterprise collaboration company headquartered in London, England. “We find that having such an open, social environment also helps to breed a culture of creativity, with employees being able to exchange ideas and discuss work freely.”

Collaborative Appeal

Indeed, deploying an internal social network may in itself help attract new talent. “Imagine that you just graduated from college and you have the choice between two organizations,” says Jacob Morgan, author of The Future of Work (Wiley, 2014). “One has a collaborative social network where you can connect with other employees. The other gives you a legacy system where you get 250 e-mails a day. You’ll probably choose the company that’s more progressive and seems to care more about employees.”

This is particularly true for younger employees. As digital natives (the generational group born with smartphones in hand) flood the workforce, they’ll expect the same level of social capabilities that they have outside of business.

Collaboration is generally accepted as a best business practice. But too often it’s only encouraged inside specific departments, or within high-profile cross-functional teams. Yet collaboration has never been more important—or more challenging, given the continued growth of geographically distributed teams, remote workers, and telework. (In 2013, there were more than 3.3 million telecommuting workers in the United States alone.)

Internal social networks allow you to leverage flexible work environments, and that’s something employees, especially millennials, really care about.”–Jacob Morgan, author of The Future of Work

A thriving internal social network helps encourage collaboration within the context of these workforce changes. “Internal social networks allow you to leverage flexible work environments, and that’s something employees, especially millennials, really care about.” Morgan says. “So executives need to ask themselves, ‘What is the best way to keep people all over the world up to date on conversations?’”

Engaging Employees

But collaboration extends beyond specific project work done by geographically distant teams. A familiar, easy-to-use, and readily available enterprise social network—especially one used by upper management—is also effective at fostering employee engagement. Whether sharing tips on business procedures or debating the company’s favorite lunch spots, an internal social network can bring a new dimension to interaction, transparency, and esprit de corps to an organization.

Indeed, an employee engagement study by APCO Worldwide and Gagen MacDonald found that 91 percent of employees whose companies had good internal social media planned to stay at their companies, compared to 74 percent of those whose companies did not make good use of internal social media. And 86 percent said they’d recommend their companies to prospective employees, compared to just 51 percent at companies without robust internal social media.

Similarly, the recent State of the American Workplace report from Gallup showed that employees who are engaged with their work are more productive and more likely to stay with the company longer. That same study also demonstrated that businesses with lower turnover are more profitable. So deploying an internal social network can have a meaningful impact on the bottom line by increasing employee engagement, and thus reducing turnover—which lowers recruiting costs and increases productivity at the same time.

“People in the executive suite will get interested in the fact that employee engagement has been connected to customer loyalty and to retention, and that they can save money in recruitment and related areas,” predicts Cris Wildermuth, professor of organizational performance at Drake University.

Building Knowledge

If the best hires come from the ranks of current employees, shouldn’t employee learning and education be part of any corporate recruitment plan? On paper it is. Corporations spend more than US$60 billion annually on employee development—a number that’s leading executives for some of those corporations to question what return they’re getting on that investment.

Managers in some organizations are looking to the enterprise social network as a better way to educate employees and prepare them for future career opportunities in the organization. In a study of 109 communications professionals, 76 percent said that “improving knowledge” was the main reason for introducing an internal social network into the business. Over half felt that their organization was getting effective results from the internal social media in their organization.

91%

Percentage of employees who plan to stay with a company with good internal social media practices. (Source: Unleashing the Power of Social Media Within Your Organization, Apco Worldwide)


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Mark Bennett, director of collaborative products strategy at Oracle, believes that internal social networks provide a great antidote to more-formal learning management systems, which he believes are on the decline. “We’re making more space for informal systems, replacing methods of simply transferring knowledge from point A to point B,” he says. “We are seeing that internal social networks can actually change an organization for the better when used within the context of doing the jobs. That informal knowledge constantly grows and improves, and it lets learners evolve and refine their knowledge because it allows for feedback and response.”

Enterprise social networks take learning into a new era by offering everything from CEO podcasts on corporate strategies to how-to videos to blogs. And where formal classes still take place, notifications and sign-ups can be simplified and classes can be offered in person, via videoconference, and on demand on desktops and mobile devices. Participants can then use internal social networks to engage with the teacher and other students before, during, and after each session. And encouraging users to post their own how-to videos and audiocasts further distributes knowledge that would otherwise be stuck in the employee’s head.

Just as important, an internal social network can prevent you from losing valuable institutional knowledge. “With an internal social network, you can say, ‘Here’s the group around the projects I’ve been working on. Look it over, and if you have any questions, post it to the group. The key players will help you out,’” Morgan says.

Seeing the Big Picture

Perhaps the biggest benefit of an internal social network is the wide-angle view it can provide, both to upper executives and rank-and-file employees. “If you’re working on something, you can see the effect your work is having,” Morgan says.

“People feel their jobs are more meaningful when those jobs are more holistic and less tied to the very specific,” Wildermuth adds. An internal social network can help them see how their work fits into the big picture.

That big-picture view benefits the C-suite as well. “Executives can get a much better sense of what the pulse of the organization is,” Morgan says. “They can see what groups are forming, and what conversations are happening. They can get a sense—at scale—of how employees feel about the organization. That was never possible before.”

  • Creating a Successful Internal Social Network
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