In the Loop, or Just Loopy?
[Cartoon courtesy of Grantland Cartoons]
Corporate Facebooks or Myspaces aren't for everyone--at least not for those of us who don't want status updates from our colleagues on whether they should have a sandwich, burger, or Thai food for lunch. But even if the thought of corporate social networking sites gives you a headache, there's no denying there's talent management gains to be had by tapping into the social networks housed within your company--even if it's just through simple collaborative platforms. The question is whether it's better to have large, wide-tent networks (maybe even one large, umbrella collaborative space for everyone), or whether small, highly-segmented networks are more helpful? Two major goals of corporate social networking are, first, to foster information sharing for greater productivity and innovation, and second, to aid your talent management efforts, making it easier to spot high-potentials and conduct succession planning.
On the collaborative front, the case for small, specialized groups is relevance. Why would a group of IT employees working on a piece of internal infrastructure that will be helpful to the whole company when complete, but a bore to everyone in the meantime, want to share their platform with those uninvolved in the design process? Sure, they could get some interesting suggestions from colleagues who can never remember where the on/off button to their computer is located, but they also could be inundated with well-intentioned, though ignorant, queries questioning the expense of the project (not understanding just how expensive such projects can be) and offering ideas that a non-IT expert wouldn't realize are impossible to implement. At the same time, opening the collaborative networking platform to a larger pool of employees may yield brilliance from seeming stupidity. The worker who persists in using the collaborative platform to chat about his angst regarding use of the expense reporting system may have a good point. Is there a way to make the new IT infrastructure benefit the online system for submitting expenses? It might be nothing more than complaints from a colleague who's slow-on-the-electronic-uptake, but it also might be the inspiration needed to create a better IT system.
Similarly, on a career development level, these highly-niched employees could benefit from interacting with colleagues from other business functions. If they want to move up to management some day, they'll need those contacts--even if those contacts bore them with elementary questions and suggestions. As a talent manager, trainers and human resources can benefit by the greater exposure given to the IT designers. That will presumably make identifying high potentials a little easier, with more suggestions, maybe even from across the company, trickling in about star performers observed through open, collaborative work processes.
But the case for limiting social network platforms to specialized groups is boosted by the presence of corporate affinity groups, such as those dedicated to the advancement of African-American, Hispanic, and female employees. Keeping social networks devoted exclusively to exchanges and collaboration between people within these groups provides a safe haven for informal mentoring to occur, and gives talent managers organized pools of these employees to draw from for selection into development programs. Instead of opening an electronic social networking platform to a larger swath of workers (including those not members of the affinity group), it might be better to host Second Life meet-and-greet "cocktail" events between each affinity group and the executive board, or maybe even do a physical world networking breakfast between affinity group and executives. When it comes to a potentially vulnerable subset of employees, in other words, a more tightly controlled environment for collaboration and information sharing could be the best option.
Last, I wonder whether it's useful to give employees, or maybe just their managers, the tools to create corporate social networks themselves without having to first seek approval from the company? Is that what you do at your company? I tend to think it would be best to give them this freedom so the information sharing potential of the technology can be used on-demand. Allowing work groups to set up their own networks independently and with ease, for instance, would make it possible for a manager to ask her employees to brainstorm electronically for a week before a meeting. They could get initial thoughts out of the way, and maybe refined, so the physical meeting could be devoted to narrowing down suggestions for business process improvement (or business process glitch salvage operations) to the best two or three. When time is of the essence, the employee who thinks the annual conference could be improved by giving attendees the freedom to bring along pets and children, and providing them with dog runs on the tradeshow floor, probably needs to be reined in ahead of time.
What's your thought on the creation, organization, monitoring, and talent management uses of corporate social networks? What's working and not working about your company's networks?
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