Link your employees Featured

7:00pm EDT February 23, 2009
Kris Addington
Senior consultant
Watson Wyatt WorldwideIn the midst of corporate downsizings and a tough economy, executives are looking for ways to keep employees motivated, focused and productive, but they don’t have the luxury of spending a fortune to get there. Leading-edge companies are successfully leveraging collaboration and social media technologies to keep their employees connected, productive and engaged.

“Creating connections between employees and business units fosters collaboration and increases productivity, group problem solving and knowledge transfer,” say Susan Sanders and Kris Addington, senior consultants for Watson Wyatt Worldwide.

Smart Business spoke with Sanders and Addington about how companies can drive employee engagement and productivity through interactive strategies.

How can social networks benefit companies?

Addington: Collaboration tools are a great way to bring geographically disparate groups of employees together to share knowledge and ideas toward a common goal. Online discussion groups, internal blogs, collaboration sites and profile pages allow employees to join in the company conversation and are an effective way to leverage intellectual capital. Social networks, such as internal ‘Facebooks,’ bring people with similar interests and issues together and make it easier for employees to track down internal experts.

Sanders: When they’re more connected to the company, they’re more connected to their job. That’s what leads to increased retention and higher productivity. Also, it’s important to recognize that millenials expect companies to have these capabilities, so when we start to recover from the current economic situation, socially networked companies will be in a better position to compete for their talent.

Which strategies are most effective?

Sanders: There isn’t a one-size-fits-all best solution. Instead, organizations need to develop social networking strategies that support current business objectives and provide solutions to business issues.

For example, if there’s an important business need to foster knowledge sharing, a portal with collaboration and document sharing capabilities may be the best way to use social media. Or, if there is a desire to open lines of communication between executives and their work force, blogs and discussion forums are great ways to create two-way conversations. Organizations that use the bandwagon approach in an effort to appear state of the art generally don’t see great results.

Addington: I agree; it’s essential that social networking tools support specific business goals. Successful strategies also take culture and user readiness into consideration and have a change management plan in place to help ensure adoption, including communications, pilot programs and training.

How can employers implement strategies cost effectively?

Sanders: Developing social media doesn’t usually demand a significant capital investment. Many organizations leverage existing technology platforms, such as SharePoint. Also, you don’t have to do everything at once. Our advice is, ‘Think big, start small, scale up’ — implement in phases based on top business priorities.

Addington: Starting small can mean piloting social networks or collaboration sites within a single community before committing to a companywide rollout.
The pilot will determine the most effective ways to engage participants and identify the most beneficial information to foster change. Or, start with a wiki of company acronyms or an online employee directory, where employees can add their bios and search on co-workers’ backgrounds. These tactics cost relatively little, but measure the interactive readiness of the employee population before executives commit to a larger investment.

How can executives overcome the fear that social networking will distract employees and lead to negative conversations?

Addington: There are several steps you can take to minimize negative results. Establishing a clear set of communication guidelines will remind employees that any business-related communication is expected to be professional and respectful. Reserve the right to remove comments and content that are deemed offensive. Reward online activity that fosters knowledge sharing and collaboration.

Sanders: From what we have seen with organizations effectively using social media, the benefits of social networks far outweigh the potential negatives. Employees are having conversations offline and online regardless of whether or not the organization provides the channel. With social networks, executives can listen to — and be a part of — that conversation.

SUSAN SANDERS is a senior consultant for intranet portals and collaboration at Watson Wyatt Worldwide. Reach her at (415)733-4255 or susan.sanders@watsonwyatt.com.

KRIS ADDINGTON is a senior communications consultant for Watson Wyatt Worldwide. Reach her at (415) 733-4141 or kris.addington@watsonwyatt.com.