5 Takeaways from GE’s internal social networking efforts

I just finished reading a great interview with Ron Utterbeck from GE, covering the company’s internal social networking efforts and am once again amazed at how this technology is revolutionizing how we work.  GE is using it to consolidate a mish mash of collaboration tools its people were already using and with great results.  Believe it or not, guess what?  Your people are also using these tools to connect, chat, exchange ideas, share files and eliminate road blocks to their productivity - whether or not you approve of them doing so!  Don’t believe me?  Get with the program! There are quite a few takeaways from this interview, but five that I feel bear stressing.

1.        Have a goal. 

Deploying an internal social networking tool, like any strategic technology investment, should have at its core the solution of a problem or the achievement of a goal.  This tidbit cannot be stressed enough.  And we’re not talking SMART goals here as we do with our training programs, or goals of meeting a specific ROI target as a result of the initiative.  You need goals that stretch the capabilities of what your people can achieve collaboratively by using the technology as opposed to continuing to operate as you have been.  If the tool doesn't help your people achieve stretch goals, its value proposition will diminish in the eyes of your users and usage will drop.

2.       Brand it.

Although this didn't really come up in the interview with Ron, branding the tool will give it a personality and the right branding could spell success or failure.  The branding should be aligned with your goals for the social network, as well as the values you wish to promote throughout your culture with the tool.  Want to increase collaboration and improve employee engagement?  Heck, launch a contest and have cross-functional teams of employees develop the brand for you!  What better way to engender them to it and give them a stake in its success.

3.       Start small, launch fast.

Organizations at times have a tendency to treat internal products and services as they do their client facing ones in the sense that it doesn't get rolled out until it’s perfect, polished, and has undergone numerous rounds of quality control reviews.  Only then do they see the light of day.  Yet, in this instance, getting it out there and gathering input should be the priority.  The main reason- the organization has no way of knowing beforehand how its users will use the network, and which features will gain prominent use in the network.  It’s important to get it out there, and track what works and what doesn't, and based on user requests for functionality develop and improve on the platform’s capabilities.

4.       Let users drive the evolution of it. 

Social networks should evolve iteratively based on users’ demands on the network and the value gained from prioritizing certain improvements over others.  Or, as Orwell would have it- All improvements are equal but some improvements are more equal than others.  There is no way that management can anticipate the many ways its people will use the network, and should therefore allow the growth and evolution of the platform to be driven by feedback from its users.  Notice how GE launched with a small group of power users and provided easy to use feedback mechanisms to learn what was working and what users wanted to see.

5.       Training is essential.

Being a highly collaborative team of instructional designers, we couldn't help but notice GE’s emphasis on training their people on using good judgment when using the network.  It might be tempting to cut the proverbial corner and deploy an internal social network without it- but be familiar with the risks and liability you are exposing yourself to by doing this.  You can expect inappropriate information to be shared for all to see, maybe even confidential business plans without this crucial component of the rollout.  Is this really a risk you are willing to take?  We don’t recommend it, and encourage you to contact us for a brief conversation about your training needs for the project.

"We believe social media and online communities can be a great way for GE employees to share expertise and perspectives with their family, friends, colleagues, customers or potential employees around the globe or down the street. But it’s important to know what should or should not be shared. We teach them the basics and how to use good judgment."  -Ron Utterbeck

Internal social networks can be a blessing for your corporate culture.  GE is realizing tremendous benefits from its ability to leverage the company’s collective knowledge and so can you.  Developed and deployed properly, your business stands to gain insights about your employees, your products, and your customers that you would have never gleaned otherwise.  This knowledge can become an incredible business driver, and can give you a competitive advantage in your market.

Alex Santos
Alex is a co-founder and Managing Member of Collabor8 Learning, LLC, an instructional design and performance management consultancy. His firm collaborates with organizations to enhance the way they develop  and train their people. To learn more about Collabor8 Learning, click here.

Alex can be reached at 786-512-1069, or via Twitter@collabor8alex.

Too many chiefs, not enough Indians

Recent posts have asked whether companies should designate a Chief Collaboration Officer, and who within the enterprise should assume the role of Chief Collaboration Officer.  I've never been one hung-up on job titles, and don't see a need to find someone to assign the title of Chief Collaboration Officer.  What's next- a Chief Social Officer? A Chief Teamwork Officer? A Chief Engagement Officer?  Anyone for a Chief Culture Officer? Collaboration is the competitive advantage of the decade if you can learn to harness it, but just like teamwork before it, harnessing it's power is going to take a cultural shift in the organization that should not rest on the shoulders of any one chief, but on the shoulders of everyone.  In the case of collaboration, the heads of human resources and IT should enable it by implementing the right people policies coupled with the right technological infrastructure for the organization.  But like many enterprise-wide initiatives, the cultural shift in mindset should be communicated and modeled by the leaders of the organization and reinforced throughout by mid-management ranks.


More than assigning an individual the job of championing collaboration, companies should recognize that this cultural shift requires all hands on deck.  HR policies and IT solutions should be put in place that enable people to collaborate effortlessly with one another-especially when workflows and business processes are identified that can be improved or accelerated by social technologies.  In these situations, baseline measures on the efficiency of the business process should be taken to then compare once social initiatives are put into place.  Barriers to collaboration should be removed, and individuals who excel at collaborative behaviors should be rewarded and celebrated.

While I agree with Jane Hart and others that point out that a Chief Learning Officer is at times ideally positioned to take over the collaboration lead, I'd much rather see a leader emerge from the organization.  This individual should be a role-model for others in the enterprise, one who others look to for direction on how best to excel at their roles.  Additionally, this organic leader should champion the organization's social tools of choice, and articulate to others how to best use them.

By not taking a top-down approach, this individual will from the offset have more credibility than any head of learning, IT, HR, or other chief within the firm.  More structure and hierarchy are not how to achieve a more collaborative enterprise.  Social enterprise technology is unleashing a powerful wave of decentralization that will transform and disrupt traditional business hierarchies, and this revolution will be led from the ground up.

Alex Santos
Alex is a co-founder and Managing Member of Collabor8 Learning, LLC, an instructional design and performance management consultancy. His firm collaborates with organizations to enhance the way they develop  and train their people. To learn more about Collabor8 Learning, click here.

Alex can be reached at 786-512-1069, or via Twitter@collabor8alex.