Social media at work: Is social media destroying productivity?

Some might say social media can help productivity at work. For many people though, it’s just another way to kill time. Great infographic below from Learnstuff.com that illustrates this.

The Art of HR: Building Social Networks

I studied two organizations this summer who renovated their buildings to specifically accommodate relationship building. Their central cores were filled with tables and couches for small or large gatherings. They both had a Starbucks inside the building (if there was ever an incentive to get me to work at a different company, that would be it) and strongly encouraged relationship building in meetings and interactions. The HR leaders at one of these organizations had a large cubicle for office space, not a segregated office hidden behind guards (also known as Executive Assistants). This leader admitted their social aspects were still a work in progress, but judging by my short visit, they seemed to be way ahead of other companies.

Social networking has evolved in various formats, using technological advances to allow people to communicate with their network in unique ways. These networks have infiltrated our workforce and have created numerous fluid dynamics in our workforce. Avid social networkers can now create a portfolio of jobs, without relying on one single employer. Charles Handy predicted this “portfolio life” more than twenty years ago. Handy argued that our society would see a rise of part-time and contracted work as people built portfolios of expertise. The collection of this expertise would form a ‘shamrock’ type of organization. Handy argued that a growing segment of the population would not work for a sole company, but rather contract out their services. Handy was mostly correct in his predictions, but even he probably did not foresee the explosion and extent of the technology and networks that would make this possible.

In today’s networked economy, when a person needs a realtor for example, they will look to their social network first, and will most likely give their business to someone in their social network, or someone recommended by their social network. Likewise for a plumber, interior decorator, photographer or bookkeeper. No amount of advertising can replace the recommendation of a friend. Corporations spend millions of dollars each year attempting to create campaigns that will encourage people to share the advertisements with their friends. “Check this out…” on a status update is the Holy Grail of advertisement, for better or for worse.

If I know five people who work at Company X and despise their jobs, my view of that organization will be tainted. I will probably not want to work there, nor will I purchase their products or services. But if I know five people who work at Company Z who love their jobs and speak very highly of their company, then I will want to work there. I will also be more likely to purchase their products or services. Employees are ambassadors for their organizations, whether they know it or not. The organization’s perceived value in a social network is only as good as the collective sum of the perceptions of their own individual value in that social network. As one HR leader described this to me, “good news begets good news. When you are a successful organization, people come to you.” This HR leader was quite proud of the fact that his organization spends very little on recruitment advertising but still receive more than 80,000 unsolicited applications each year.

The power of social networking remains elusive to most organizations and conquering this elusiveness will be the key to many organizations’ success globally in the 21st Century. Some organizations (including one of the ones I studied) are merging their communications departments into their HR department. They have realized that there is no such thing as internal and external communications anymore, and that they have untapped communications power in their employees. I foresee this convergence at many other organizations in the near future.

HR leaders must also be able to train leaders on how to effectively navigate the informal social network within the organization. Social competencies are extremely important, and helping employees increase their social acumen is as important as any other competency that trainers can train for. Social acumen is essential to innovation, and requires a unique blend of tact, perseverance, skills and internal alliances. To teach this, HR must first set an example for the rest of the organization by building its own internal social networks. Effective leadership in this area will be required of 21st Century HR Professionals, and we ignore this area to the detriment of our entire profession.

Handy, C. (1989). The age of unreason. Boston: Harvard Business School Press.

Book Review: Rapid Realignment

Alignment is one of those intuitive things that is easy to write about but much harder to practice. Of course HR, Finance, Communications, Operations, and Sales should be aligned towards the same goals/directions. No one is going to argue they should not be. But many organizations are full of silo-ed departments that are not aligned, and that creates numerous difficulties for them as these departments pull the organization in varied directions simultaneously. George Labovitz and Victor Rosansky recently published a book specifically on the subject of realignment. In Rapid Realignment: How to Quickly Integrate People, Processes, and Strategy for Unbeatable Performance, Labovitz and Rosansky build on their previous best-selling work and provide many practical ways for leaders to realign their organizations.

The book is broad in scope, and touches on numerous organizational issues such as social media, continuous quality improvement, culture, employee engagement, strategic planning and many more. Each of the aforementioned topics could be a book in themselves, and that broad scope dilutes its usefulness a bit. The authors do cite a number of case study stories, and I loved those. These short anecdotal stories bolster their thoughts and research by providing pragmatic examples of continuous alignment. I just wish they would have expanded those more as we could have learned much from the alignment efforts of the companies they researched.

I especially enjoyed the social media chapter and their thoughts on how companies can bolster their vertical and horizontal alignment by harnessing the power of social media. It was a thought-provoking, engaging, and well-written chapter on the subject. They did not just rehash what we already know about social media and provided some depth to the ongoing conversation of what organizations should actually do with these advancing social technologies. A leader can’t simply decree “Thou shalt align” to his organization and expect it to magically align. Rather, leaders must engage in continuous conversations throughout the organization. Social media has given leaders powerful tools to do that more effectively, but t has also made organizational communication more slippery to understand. The examples they cite from WalMart and PWC really help readers understand how some companies are using social media technology to align their organizations.

Overall, I did enjoy the book, and it is an extremely useful tool for a leader to align his or her strategies. Advanced leaders may read this and then look for more detailed or deeper information on specific topics to further bolster those strategies. That is fine, since we have to start from somewhere. Labovitz and Rosansky provide that starting point and definitely provide a useful contribution to the literature on alignment.

Note: I have no affiliation with the authors and purchased this book myself.

Labovitz, G. & Rosansky, V. (2012). Rapid Realignment: How to Quickly Integrate People, Processes, and Strategy for Unbeatable Performance. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Book Review: UnMarketing. Stop Marketing. Start Engaging.

First off, I am definitely not qualified to review a book on social media. I’m still learning a lot, make lots of mistakes and am still trying to figure it out along with everyone else. So I’m approaching this review from the perspective of a business leader looking to learn more about how best to embark into online social networking endeavours. And UnMarketing: Stop Marketing. Start Engaging is well worth the read

Scott Stratten has a witty, sarcastic and self-depreciating writing style. His anecdotes, statistics, and witty footnotes are part Donald Miller and part Malcolm Gladwell. The cover of UnMarketing even caught my eye. Anyone who blatantly makes up fake praise (one review is from the “famous author who hasn’t read this book”), for his own marketing book has to have something interesting to say, which is why I bought it.

On the way to work every day, I pass a hair salon with a cheap billboard out front that says “become our fan on Facebook”. Ummm, why the heck would I do that? (it’s a boring drive, and I do wonder that every time I see it). Stratten explains why marketing strategies like that are useless, but most importantly, gives real life stories of how companies have successfully journeyed into the world of online social media.

Stratten repeatedly emphasizes that social media is a reciprocal agreement between people. It can’t be faked. It has to be genuine…just like leadership does. Strip the marketing terms out of this book, and you have a great core of advice on how leaders successfully network themselves within organizations. This networking is necessary, and requires genuine, authentic time invested by the leader. Relationships can’t be outsourced or delegated, no matter how hard leaders try. Your employees are already talking about your company on Facebook, or at the local pub. Why not find a way to harness that energy, learn from them, and better your company? Stratten shows you how to do that using the plethora of tools available in 2011, but also helps readers deepen their understanding of the relationships involved in/through social media.

Most of all, Stratten lives his stuff. I always get amused by people who promote themselves as social media “experts” but only have 39 Twitter followers and a pre-1995 website for their company. Social media isn’t something you can read about. To call yourself a true expert, you have to live it and have something credible to say. Stratten gets that. He has successfully done everything he writes about in this book, and that gives him a lot of credibility in my mind.

I highly recommend this book for any business leader looking at ways to better use his marketing dollars, and who wants to build a stronger social fabric within his/her organization.