Employee Engagement Should Be a Social Business Goal

By Ethan Yarbrough posted 12-13-2010 18:11


I am convinced that social business technology can be a major part of a company’s efforts to increase employee engagement.

The connections seem very clear to me.

4 Key Engagement Principles

Terrence Seamon, a Training & Organization Development consultant, posted a video to David Zinger’s Employee Engagement Network illustrating some of the key points in Dick Axelrod’s book Terms of Engagement. He included a list four engagement principles. 

Here are those 4 principles and ways I think you could use social business technology to achieve them.

  1. Widen circle of involvement – Closed systems fail. You have to consistently reintroduce energy to keep the system working and producing. It’s why our bodies need us to eat. And our companies are no different. If your employees are supposed to solve problems – and do that both quickly and accurately -- they need inputs from as many people as possible. From more than just the people they can see from their desk. But you need a system that keeps a broad spectrum of employees informed and up-to-date about what projects are underway and what problems need solving. Giving each employee a dashboard page on a socially-enabled intranet and including on that dashboard an activity stream or micro-blogging application like Yammer or can help. It gives people a view into what’s happening, and it also increases the likelihood that relevant information will flow to people who need it without their having to search for it.
  2. Connect people to each other – I told a story on the Allyis blog about Steven, one of our employees, who was in desperate need of a Microsoft Silverlight expert to help him solve a client problem. His only option at the time was to send a global email to the company asking for help and then to hope someone answered his electronic message in a bottle. He should not have had to do that. If our SharePoint intranet at that time had a profile system in place that allowed all employees to tag themselves according to their areas of skill, then Steven could simply have searched on “Silverlight” and found everyone in the company who was a potential resource to him. Better yet, if Steven was filling out his profile and added the tag “Silverlight” to his skills area, the system could push to him the names and contact info other Silverlight experts and offer him the opportunity to add them to his “friends” network.
  3. Create communities for action – Marcia Blenko of Bain & Company has reported that environments where work can get done efficiently and decisions can be made quickly are more engaging environments. But for work and decisions to happen quickly there has to be good communication. And for there to be good communication there has to be trust. And before you can have trust, you have to have relationships. So helping your employees build relationships with each other leads to them making better and faster decisions on behalf of the company. You know that’s true in the conference room, it’s also true of employees’ online interactions with each other. Using social tools to allow employees to build both communities of practice and communities of shared interest. That can lead to relationships. Relationships can increase the likelihood of trust. That trust can support more honest and frequent communication. And so decisions may happen faster and be better and that’s engaging.
  4. Promote fairness – At my company we hold an annual employee awards ceremony to acknowledge employee contributions. Employees nominate each other and an awards committee made up of managers and team leads debates the merits of each nominee and picks the winners in several categories. We make every effort to make it fair and yet a couple of employees this year posted to our management feedback forum that they think the process is unfair – some of the same people are nominated from one year to the next, some people are nominated in more than one category, some project teams are not represented at all. Our feedback forum is on our SharePoint Intranet and its public. So the debate occurring around this topic is also public. Giving employees a forum in which they can ask questions directly of senior management is empowering to them and promotes fairness. Having the conversation about employees’ ideas in the open without restriction for who can participate is more fair and a socially-enabled enterprise software platform gives us that opportunity. As a manager, I won’t agree with everyone. But I want the ability to acknowledge everyones’ ideas and to validate them even if I don’t agree. And beyond that, I want the rest of the employee community to see me acknowledge and validate. That demonstrates that this is an environment of fairness in a way that wouldn’t be possible through email. Finally, carrying out these conversations on a platform like SharePoint means the content is preserved and visible to people who join the team in the future. They can read through it to learn about our decisions and will see that employee input is welcomed. It wouldn’t be nearly as possible to show them that if this conversation had gone on in emails between me and the two employees who brought up the issue.

Employee Engagement Is a Bottom Line Issue

Most often when I hear talk of social business technology, the primary goal is stated to be improved collaboration.  Employee engagement, if it’s mentioned at all, is cast as a by-product. But I think engagement can and should be considered a first level goal of this technology. The fact is that employee engagement is “a bottom-line issue”.  So says Richard Eppel, President of Strategic Momentum, in this short video by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). Surveys have shown, Eppel points out, “that organizations that have a focus on engagement and empowering employees have about 26% higher productivity per employee and about 13% more shareholder value gets returned for the company than companies that don’t focus on that.”

Given that the conditions that lead to engagement are so directly supported by elements of social business technology and given that improved engagement delivers such a direct benefit to the financial health of a company, shouldn’t companies interested in better engagement be aggressively investigating social technologies? I think they should be.

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