New lessons are emerging for executives striving to harness the power of social media in the cause of wider employee participation. Clearly, there’s more to success than just investing heavily in the latest Enterprise 2.0 technology platforms.
Large-scale engagement of the workforce requires, first and foremost, a firm grasp of organizational culture and its social dynamics, a psychological understanding of what triggers new behavior, a determination by management to loosen if not relinquish its traditional top-down approach, and an ability to demonstrate how digital activities complement offline or other real-world events.
Four ways to drive change
Here we present four specific approaches to the creation of what we call digital “hives”—electronic hubs bristling with collective activity and designed to solve a particular problem or set of problems, to drive new habits, and to encourage organizational change (exhibit). Digital tools to facilitate networking and collaboration propel these “horizontal” cascades, which at their best can weave new patterns of engagement across geographic and other organizational boundaries. In this way, they make it possible to have new conversations around problem solving, unlock previously tacit knowledge, and speed up execution.
Digital hives facilitate a collective approach to problem solving
1. Engaging the workforce in better strategy
Best practice in the formulation of strategy and in organizational change has long been to craft a “story” at the top and then to cascade it through lower echelons of the organization. […] Employees on the shop or office floor often feel like passive recipients.
That’s beginning to change, though, thanks to social technologies.
There are still relatively few social strategy-development processes, but the tools are getting more powerful, and the scale and scope of such efforts are more impressive.
Using the “management hackathon” concept—an integrated multistage platform that allows participants to discuss ideas, express opinions, and contribute expertise collectively —a successful consumer-goods company recently involved its entire organization in an open-source strategy process.
This effort started with an organization-wide online discussion about risks to the company’s growth engine from higher input costs, stagnant industry growth, and a growing competitive threat from imitators to certain products and the business model. These risks then formed the basis for a bottom-up process that spawned over a thousand new strategic insights using a combination of in-person meetings and workshops as well as online channels.
2. Connecting silos with a social chain
One of the biggest organizational challenges is to break siloed behavior and get employees talking to one another and cooperating across intracompany boundaries.
One promising social-technology experiment we’ve observed is what we call the “social chain”: a digital platform that links everyone working in a particular value chain inside a company.
The social chain allows employees to work “out loud” online by sharing how they do things. It also encourages people who were previously isolated in part of the chain to identify areas where they depend on others and to tackle problems or bottlenecks collaboratively. Chain leaders can monitor these conversations and inject their own insights when appropriate.
To push people into the hive, managers discouraged communication through meetings and e-mail.
3. Enlisting key customers to improve the proposition
Thanks to the power of social technologies, a company that mobilizes such people can solicit specific ideas for improving its customer proposition and demonstrate its client-centricity more broadly.[…]
Or a company might create social “mystery shoppers” who follow internal conversations anonymously and comment on them.
4. Uniting a dispersed sales force to drive higher sales
These reps traditionally had spent several weeks at a time on the road, rarely checking in with the head office and therefore operating in a feedback and knowledge vacuum. Inevitably, they had become disconnected from the organization, and performance suffered.
Staff at the center collected ideas based on intelligence gleaned from the calls and e-mails of the sales reps themselves and from district managers familiar with current issues in the beverage trade. The company also analyzed customer data highlighting pockets of fiercer-than-normal competition or SKUs that were selling particularly well. Such insights were then shared with reps and agents, who each received two or three personalized SMS messages a day. Managers could further use this rudimentary social platform to communicate with the sales force by, for example, congratulating teams when they hit milestones and generally celebrating success. The company also created a call-center “leaderboard” allowing executives to track the agents most responsive to the new information at their disposal. The executives then freed up time for these “early adopters” to coach their peers, provide feedback, and strengthen the system with additional insights.
A new mind-set for senior managers
Leading while letting go
Creating these hives requires a delicate balancing act—not least a willingness by top managers to let go. Managers should not be afraid to commit themselves explicitly to acting on the results of these initiatives and should encourage unrestrained participation, however unpredictable the consequences.
The growing use of social tools to drive employee engagement provides particular opportunities for senior executives to improve role modeling. When people reflect on their behavior, they tend to rely on their own often sketchy perceptions and faulty memories. With many digital technologies, however, people can now track their behavioral footprint—for example, by analyzing conversational threads in microblogs .
Becoming more responsive
Mobilizing a crowd requires companies to anticipate the crowd’s expectations. Executives can maintain pace and encourage deeper engagement only through transparent feedback and rapid follow-up.
Unleashing collective intelligence through a hive will be more successful if managers think ahead and develop an agile, scrum-like response capability outpacing that of smaller offline programs.
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