Social business: The rights, responsibilities and cultural impact

Social collaboration platforms in the enterprise are giving employees more power and more perks. But in return, they’re going to have to be on their best behaviour.


Computers don’t collaborate — humans do — and it’s really company culture that will experience the most profound transformation as communication of every sort is funneled into a unified system.

With multiple channels open in a single place, employees with varying backgrounds, skillsets and quite simply, different personal preferences, will be able to choose how they collaborate.

This is a right that hasn’t existed for very long. In the not-so-distant past, we were limited to a telephone and a corporate e-mail system. But just as educators came to realize that students learn (and thus, achieve more) in different ways, enterprises have learned they need to give employees a larger toolbox of collaboration tools and let them pick their favourite.

Collaboration starts with a conversation, and the latter takes many forms in a social media platform: activity streams and forums, video conferencing, telephony and instant messaging, among others.  There are plenty of options here. But who is choosing what form of communication? That’s an important thing for a company to know.

Many have put it down to age: older workers are simply more comfortable with older technology, they say.

Not necessarily true, counters Alan Lepofsky, vice-president and principal analyst of collaboration software at Constellation Research Inc. In a recent Jan. 31 titled ‘Why Social? Why Now?’ he cautioned against such presumptions.

Companies can and should perform analytics on the use of their social business platform to gauge its appeal, a form of internal sentiment analysis, said Lepofsky.

Hear, hear. Empirical evidence easily trumps presumption, and analytics will tell you a lot more than that your millenials enjoy instant messaging while the old guard prefers phone calls. In fact, the results may surprise you.

Or you can always just talk to your employees. The low-tech approach still works surprisingly well. As Lepofsky put it, the key to a successful roll-out of a social media platform is “engagement.”

Engagement is listening to the people who work for you, asking them how they can be more productive and collaborative using social media, he added. But a healthy workplace is, once again, integral to the success of your strategy: “Does your culture promote creativity? Does your culture accept multiple viewpoints?” he asked his audience.

Along with this right to choose how to collaborate, or at least make their preferences known to higher-ups, employees should get the most personally relevant content through social platforms, Lepofsky said. He acknowledged the anxiety that can come from following activity streams every day, which are a backbone of the system.

To avoid the problem of information overload, which is bad for the business as well as the individual, the most relevant data should flow to the right people, he said. In doing so, the business gains agility. As for the hapless employee frantically monitoring daily activity streams, Lepofsky tells them not to sweat it too much.

“Don’t feel like you have to keep up. Choose a couple times [a day], dive in, find out what’s important. Don’t get overwhelmed, don’t get scared. If you miss something, it will bubble back up.”

Missing something? Bubbling back up? Sounds like it’s time to talk about responsibility, which I think is an important element of social business that gets overlooked. Having a single place through which all communications pass (and are recorded in some form or other) is going to make the new workplace far more transparent.

Everyone has a role to play in an enterprise, and social media will offer-real time information on how well they’re doing their job.

Case in point: one of the reasons hospitals (including the Ottawa Hospital here in Canada) are adopting social business platforms is because of the potentially lethal results of a page that goes unanswered, a face-to-face conversation that’s forgotten, or an e-mail that is dumped into a junk folder. One person can screw up, and another person can die.

A unified system of communication can not only prevent these disasters, but if something bad does happen, there won’t be any dispersion of responsibility. Going back along the social media chain, the hospital will find the broken link and act accordingly.

This is just one extreme example, but the same holds true for any large organization. Social business is going to keep us all honest.

Learn more by downloading our white paper, ‘How to Transform Your Company Into a Social Businesss — Seven Steps to Success,’ from Frost & Sullivan.

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