Enterprise Social Network

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, alex@collabor8learning.com or via Twitter@collabor8alex.

Give your people a face

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You have utilized team building exercises, company picnics and outings, trained your managers to provide praise, spent a lot of money on corporate retreats and still you sense some disengagement within the troops. Frustrating isn't it? Not even the company's intranet or online employee directory has truly "connected" everyone. You might even say you have "Facebook envy" at how quickly the public social networking site has managed to connect and keep so many folks engaged in such short order. Why is that? Finding ways for employees to connect and remain connected is always a challenge, its what we call engaged in the HR business.  Keeping them connected when they don’t interact frequently is even more challenging. One modern way to create better connections is to provide each employee a user profile that facilitates and personalizes these connections. Think of it as putting the Human back in your human resources. Their user profile can contain their name, photo, position or title, contact info, office they work in, responsibilities, area of expertise, blogs, or anything else you deem necessary to strengthen these connections.  This alone is a step above and beyond the old Excel spreadsheets with everyone's telephone extension and email address … it allows for two fellow employees who don’t really know each other to feel like they know more about their teammate than in olden days. But let's face it, this alone won't do it.

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[caption id="attachment_438" align="alignleft" width="150" caption="User Profile sample"][/caption]

What keeps people connected and primed to remain engaged is the ability to stay up-to-date with what their peers are doing, what they're working on, etc. relatively quickly. This is the addiction to social media in a nutshell! This technology is enabling CNN's "24-hour news cycle" at the personal communications level. Online directories are relatively static, except for when the admin goes in to remove names and contact information of those that have left the firm. User profiles are dynamic, self-administered, and engaging by their very nature.

What business reasons would you justify implementing user profiles vs. online directories:

  • First and foremost, to push the onus of maintaining updated information to the employee, and away from HR or IT's hands; decentralization and democratization of the data.
  • To establish a place for employees to engage with like-minded peers, not simply look each other up.
  • To allow employees to "connect", "like", or "follow" their peers regardless of geographical or professional boundaries.
  • To search for shared expertise, favorite bookmarks, common interests or ideas; a virtual suggestion box or water-cooler.
  • To reduce on-boarding time for new hires.

Many of the lessons of the past few years that apply to the rise of social media platforms port over well to enterprise social networks, and should not be overlooked. Additionally, many users have become accustomed to using these profiles in their personal lives, and will be expecting to leverage the technology in their professional endeavors. Can you think of some of the other benefits that implementing user profiles would have for your organization?

-Steven Hornak

Steven 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 their people. To learn more about Collabor8 Learning, click here.

Steven can be reached at 305-791-1764, steve@collabor8learning.com or via Twitter @smhornak.-

Accelerate your business

So... you took a long, hard look at the reasons Why you want to try out social technology and one of your goals is to accelerate some portion or process of your business. It could be as simple as you have a very short time frame in which to roll out a new product or service, and have to find a way to do it faster without losing the quality your customers have come to expect. Some examples of projects or goals that could be accelerated include:

  • You are introducing a new and very large software application,
  • Your intranet is stale and your web development team is buried and can’t get to it to keep it fresh enough for it to be valuable to your team,
  • A large policy document needs a rewrite and you need it done quickly, or
  • You need to document a business process or system.

Rather than going with traditional development options for a project like this, let’s take a look at how one particular Web 2.0 technology can help you achieve your business goal faster than going with a traditional business response.

A Wiki, named after the traditional Hawaiian word for "fast", is an option you can use to meet any of the goals of projects like this in a very short period of time. A Wiki is a web document created by and editable by more than one person, typically powered by one of many Wiki software platforms available on the market. Access controls and rules can be easily imposed on contributors. How could a Wiki accelerate the rollout of a very large software application?

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Traditionally, a technical writer, trainer, or engineer is assigned the task of developing the documentation required to serve the population of end-users that will likely have to use this new and very large software application-bottlenecking the implementation of the system until it is ready. Rather than going this traditional route, a Wiki can be used to democratize the process. What do I mean? Well, rather than have an individual of small group of individuals develop this documentation -a Wiki would allow for contributions to the documentation to be made by ALL of the members of the roll-out team, up to and including end-users! Every developer on the project and every end-user would be able to contribute to the document, much as you are able to edit articles in Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia that is arguably the largest and most popular Wiki project on the planet.

From a Human Resources perspective, a Wiki has many benefits as well.

  1. Engagement. Besides accelerating your project, by involving more of your employees and giving them “skin in the  game”, you get more engagement from a greater number of your employees,
  2. Cohesiveness/ Teamwork. A tenet that distinguishes a group of people from a team is a shared goal or objective. By making everyone responsible for the document, you are going to get a more cohesive team.
  3. Quality. Again, making everyone responsible for the quality of the document spreads out the responsibility from a few to the many. This has the effect of community policing to ensure the company is putting its best foot forward, and generally increases the quality of the output.

Can you think of some of the other benefits that implementing a Wiki would have for your organization?

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, alex@collabor8learning.com or via Twitter@collabor8alex.

Social networks, not always a Field of Dreams

Many organizations are implementing policies to manage employee interaction with social media in the work place.  However, leading organizations are implementing their own social platforms.  These platforms feature the same communication tools that the big social websites offer, connecting person to person.   But these organizations are using them to increase the type and quality of communications among employees via internal Blogs, Wikis and through sharing documents and information.   But the real secret to their success lies in their execution. The predecessor to the enterprise social network was the intranet.  The difference between today’s technology and yesterday’s intranet was in the complexity for the user.  The corporate intranet was far more complex to use and required a much steeper learning curve.  Because of this complexity many had difficulty properly executing and maintaining its use.  Employees were often forced to use it.  Many, due to its shortcomings came to rely on email to serve as there document share, their data collection and communication tool.

So how does an organization ensure proper execution of their new social platform?  First you have to realize that today’s social platform is not like yesterdays complicated intranet.  Your employees already engage on social networks.  They are all, whether there a public or an enterprise social network, user friendly.  There is no better example of their ease of use than the growth in the number of grandparents who are connecting online with their kids and grandkids.

Believing that execution is easy would be shortsighted.  It’s not without it’s own challenges.  As an organization implements theirs they need to make certain that it’s done correctly.  It does take a change in the thinking of the employee and many are reluctant to change their emailing ways.  That old adage of “If you build it they will come” does not hold true without good relevant content.  Content is what drives social media.   Don't make the mistake of launching a bare social network.  A core group of supportive users will develop the initial content enabling a larger roll out.  Driving and developing this early content is where proper execution lies and it can easily fail.  A controlled roll-out within an organization so that the platform develops naturally, with guidance, is the best plan for success.

Through proper execution the platform will take off within your organization.   It will deliver an increase in the quality of communications and idea sharing that cannot be measured in dollars.  As Jef Vandecruys, Global Project Leader Digital Connection said:

“It is important to measure the actual implementation of social media in projects.  It’s not just the theory that matters; the true value is in the execution.  The very first KPI of 'social' is not about monetary value, it’s measuring the evolutions in the internal knowledge.”

M-Learning down the mobile road

As learning and development professionals, we look to utilize any every medium that delivers learning and improvement.  Over the years we have utilized formal classroom training, on-the-job training, self-directed training and of course e-learning and electronic performance support systems (EPSS).  Now technological advances are bringing us  the newest trend in learning is M-Learning.

M-Learning or Mobile learning means delivering your learning initiatives on any device, anywhere, anytime.

As an organization you have many things that you need to communicate.  Some require formal classroom training (i.e. compliance, OSHA, Federal Regulations…) but there are also a lot of topics that can be delivered less formally, through other means.  But it does include formal learning.  M-Learning does not always mean formal learning.  Some examples are:

  • E-learning - E-learning can and should be accessible by all mobile devices in your IT environment.
  • Classroom training - When you deliver formal classroom training, you may elect to record the session and re-purpose it to the organization as a podcast.
  • OJT – On-the-job training, or "Learning- by-doing" and receiving feedback and performance coaching as you learn. Note that this option is limited to jobs and situations where making mistakes is not costly or dangerous.
  • Podcasts – Your training department can create periodic podcasts to cover various topics that pertain to your organization.
  • Blogs, Wikis, Tweets – There are endless ways to communicate what your employees need to know.  Organized appropriately and integrated into natural workflows, they can be powerful tools.

We are all different and want to learn on our own terms, in ways that best appeal to us, and using whichever medium we are most comfortable with learning.  While it is important for your learning and development people to create some core content it is equally important to foster learning at all levels from all levels.  Unleash the power of your organization and get them teaching each other and making all of that learning possible on a mobile learning platform, where all the participants can interact.