Social Networking

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.

Is negativity poisoning your company culture's well?

I recently went to a dinner at the South Florida chapter of the American Society of Training and Development (So. Fla. ASTD) that featured a speaker from O.C. Tanner speaking on The Carrot Principal. O.C. Tanner participated in research that focused on what employees want. More than money, more than job security they want recognition and praise. I have to say this was one of the best presentations I have been to in a while.


But really, people want praise? To me this seems obvious. I think the real question that we need to ask is: Do people know how to give praise? It seems simple but people are far better at giving criticism than praise. So many reality shows seem to prove this point.

Why are we so negative? We all have heard since Sunday school that you attract more bees with honey than vinegar, yet it seems human nature prefers to spread the vinegar. So how do we get our organization past that natural behavior and promote honey? There is only one way to overcome this natural behavior and that is through creating a corporate culture that only allows the positive to flow. These are often forced early in the process as people move from the taste of vinegar to honey but once it gains adoption it works well. A positive environment creates positive employees which translates in to increased employee satisfaction which is what employees want.

There seems to be an exception to this negative trend and that is within a social network.  Negativity is the exception rather than the rule and people are far more likely to give a “great idea” or a “+1” to someone online.  Have you noticed how difficult it is to "dislike" or give someone a "-1" on a public social network?  So what does this say about human nature?  We tend to be negative face to face or in groups but when provided some separation from others we tend to be more positive.  A much different psychology is in play.  As the corporate world and the online network converge we will need to find new ways to promote a more positive work environment and give employees that feeling of worth.  The social network might just be the way.  In this environment people are more likely to support coworkers and join in on a discussion with valuable comments.  In turn people who use social networks are more likely to feel that their input is valued and their comments noticed, respected and affirmed.

-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 , or via Twitter @smhornak.-

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.

Two steps forward, one step back

I remember back in the day the anguish at receiving my FREE hundredth AOL CD-ROM in the mail. As if my mailbox didn’t already have enough junk in it. Back in the day, what a great repository of content AOL was. After about my 20th CD-ROM in the mail, I actually made the switch from CompuServe to the AOL network which was growing in ubiquity. The anguish was in seeing how insanely great the AOL walled-garden of content was, yet how troubling that their databases weren’t intelligent enough to know that as a subscriber- I did not need another annoying CD-ROM in my mailbox!

Then came the big worldwide-open WWW, and these pay-for-access walled gardens quickly lost their appeal in favor of a more open ‘net. Everything was going to be out in the open, our content, our music, our photos, ourselves and even the architectural diagrams and maps to our military bases. Huh, you say? A funny thing happened along the way to our new open and more transparent lives. MySpace, Facebook, and many of the publicly available social networks came around and taught us the dangers of putting ourselves on the web so completely. Something similar is happening to many organizations today, as they realize that “putting it all out there” isn’t such a bright idea. This “one step back” is the realization that you must engage openly in this new frontier, but that when we all have an opportunity to share bits and bytes of our organizations with the outside world-we mustn’t do so with reckless abandon.

This brings me back to the walled gardens, not the old AOLs, but the new social walled gardens of content being rolled-out by leading companies. Leading organizations are replacing their aging intranets with more robust and collaborative social networks and content repositories. In effect, they’re leveraging the brainpower of their people in more intelligent ways than their competitors in the market. These organizations are outsmarting the competition by inserting all of the best that working socially has to offer, while maintaining the control and security that their data and the business requires. I’d say- that’s one smart step back!


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

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