Social Media Tools

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.

3 questions for adding a social perspective to your performance analysis


Where exactly do social media technologies fit into current instructional design models?  My answer might surprise you, but it goes back to the performance analysis even before the decision to develop any instruction was made.  Even before determining if there is a skill deficiency in the performer, instructional designers, human resources leaders, and IT leaders should consider the potential for social media tools to improve collaboration and find the information employees need in order to perform. You see, in Mager & Pipe's Performance Analysis Flow diagram under the heading "Can we apply fast fixes?", there is already a decision box for "Are resources for the performer adequate?"  When thinking of solving performance problems and preventing them from occurring in the future, its useful for designers to realize the potential for social media tools to serve as a resource for performers.  Social media tools can serve as repositories of information for the performers, and not just learning assets maintained by the designers or the training department.  Tools such as wikis, forums, collaborative work spaces, and blogs can be implemented and "moderated" or "maintained" by an instructional designer or other resource for accuracy.

Assuming learners require more resources to perform, you should be asking yourself three key questions upon reaching this decision point in the flow diagram:

  1. Where are the resources required by the performers located?
  2. Can social media technology enable performer(s) to acquire the resources?
  3. Is this a "fast fix" my corporate culture would embrace?

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.

Social media access and device flexibility growing as HR tools

Cisco published a report recently with broad implications for Human Resources leaders that should be required reading for anyone in the profession. Of particular interest is Chapter 2 of their report “The Cisco Connected World Technology Report”, which summarizes key findings on “the challenges companies face in an increasingly mobile and security risk-prone world.” The study looked at employed end users in non-IT jobs, and college students between the ages of 18 – 29 years of age, and among other objectives sought to better understand the attitudes of this population with regard to issues such as “device flexibility” and “social media access” at work. We’ve been teaching companies to advance their human resources and IT policies to leverage the benefits of social tools employees are accustomed to using at home―in the workplace.

This study by an industry giant validates much of what we have been teaching. There are lessons here for Human Resources leaders, as well as for Recruiters and Talent Management or Acquisition teams in these findings. That being said, I’d like to draw your attention to a few of the findings that I see will only grow in significance for HR pros during the coming years―

  • Relative to End Users (33%) own experiences, a considerably larger proportion of College Students (64%) plan to ask prospective employers about their policy around social media and the use of personal devices in the workplace.
  • About one-third of Students anticipate that flexibility, social media access or freedom to use personal devices at work will be more important than salary when accepting a job offer in the future.
  • About 4 in 10 (41%) End Users recall that their company used a flexible device policy to attract new employees at the time they were hired.
  • Over 1 in 4 (29%) College Students from the total sample, driven by those in Mexico and China, believe they would not join a company that did not allow their employees to access social media during work hours with company-issued devices.

Can you spot the trends in these findings? In our humble opinion, these trends provide clues as to the expectations of the generation now entering the workforce and replacing retiring baby boomers. For instance, this generation relies heavily on their personal learning network (PLN) and engages with this network via social media tools they have readily accessible at home ―and they expect to be able to tap into these resources at work. Is there room in your organization’s social media policies for this up and coming talent to access their PLN within boundaries permissible and aligned with your goals? If not, are the accommodations that could be made in your policy to balance the risk of social media usage by this population with the potential rewards to your company for allowing these actions? How can you supplement your current employee development plans with stretch development goals that encourage this population to reach out to his or her PLN for help? This is one way you could leverage their PLN to accelerate the employee’s growth without you having to invest additional training dollars or resources.

Human Resources leaders who covet that proverbial seat-at-the-table should ensure their social media policies aren’t limiting the potential benefits of social media use at their organizations to the marketing and sales teams. Much as we teach college students to prepare for an upcoming interview, Human Resources leaders should be coaching their talent acquisition teams to answer the following questions they are sure to face during interviews in the very near future― “What is your policy on employees accessing social media sites?” and “Do your policies allow for me to connect to the company’s network using my personal phone, iPad, laptop, etc.?” or “Can I access me personal email on the company’s issued device?”. Organizations that aren’t prepared to answer these questions might very well see themselves losing the proverbial war for talent or even worse―getting heckled for their poor preparation on these issues in one of today’s public and very social online forums!

Ready to talk about social media?

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.