Harvard Business Review

Increase Your Company's Productivity With Social Media


Posted on Harvard Business Review: September 26, 2011 2:11 PM

A growing number of companies talk about the benefits of adopting web 2.0 tools inside the organization, but the list is short for companies that are using them for increased business results.

Unisys, the 138-year old tech firm, has quickly made “going social” part of its culture. Here’s how they did it, and how they’re using social media tools to become more agile, to share knowledge, and to increase the speed of innovation.

One of the biggest barriers to social collaboration is a disconnect between aspirations to become collaborative and the reality of being a closed organization. Unisys CEO Ed Coleman addressed this through leading by example. He became an early adopter of social computing tools to communicate with employees, and in the process became a role model for adoption among his senior executive team, as well as the employee population.

Gloria Burke, Director of Knowledge Strategy & Governance, along with co-directors John Knab and Rajiv Prasad, launched Inside Unisys, a social network internal to the firm. Coleman began blogging and soon his senior executives encouraged their teams to do so as well. Employees are automatically alerted to blog postings and microblog postings on the newsfeeds on Inside Unisys. Over time, Unisys sales people began using Inside Unisys to share information about recent wins as well as share lessons in losses.

Creating a social knowledge-sharing environment is not the responsibility of one department. “People support what they help to build,” says Burke. “And, once it is built, they have a stake in its success.” She set up an advisory council with senior leaders from across the company — business units, HR, IT, legal, finance, marketing, and more — to create a shared vision on how “going social” would improve employee and organizational productivity.

To be really useful, social media has to improve the daily work of employees. Knowledge workers spend anywhere from 15%-35% of each day just searching for the right information, according to this IDC report.

So when Unisys launched “My Site” to allow employees to build their personal credentials and network of colleagues, they built a feature called “Ask Me About” that allows Unisys employees to locate experts across the organization by creating hashtags for their skills and key topics they want to collaborate on with other employees. So far, in the first 18 months, 15,000 Unisys employees world-wide (out of 23,000) have built profiles and created hashtags describing their expertise.

Senior executives studied the early adopters and tracked adoption rates in monthly meetings. These rates were then compared against the well-known Rogers Adoption Curve of Innovation classifying adopters of innovations into five categories based upon their willingness to try new ideas. The key: start with innovators and early adopters and others will follow as they see experience the benefits of using social media in their work.

Social media literacy is fast becoming a necessary skill. Knowing what to share and how to share will be a critical skill for the 2020 workplace. Many companies have now developed policies or guidelines on social media use, but Unisys went further, integrating social media literacy training into all employee training, starting with their new hire orientation program. The goal: mandatory social media training along with annual re-fresher courses so employees know what and how to share on Inside Unisys as well as on external social networking sites such as Linkedin and Facebook.

Done right, social tools can resolve longstanding issues of knowledge loss and inefficiency. To harness the productive power of social tools in your company, make sure you have the following eight elements in place as you roll out social network for your company:

1. Strategy: Be sure there is buy-in and engagement from senior executives who are willing to lead by example.
2. Alignment: Get involvement from stakeholder groups across the company.
3. Technology: Determine the right mix of tools and technologies.
4. Pilot: Identify pilot groups like Unisys did with the sales team.
5. Governance: Establish guidelines for governance.
6. Communications: Develop a communications plan.
7. Metrics: Identify hard business metrics like increasing speed to innovation or speed for winning new business.
8. Implementation: Create process for enterprise wide implementation new skills needed for success like social media literacy.

(For more, see this infographic on implementing social learning.)

Once your program is up and running, be sure to profile early successes in using social media to increase productivity. Employees need to be able to answer the “so what” of social media.

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