Every business wants to improve collaboration; after all who doesn’t want employees to work together in smarter, more effective ways to help achieve company goals? When you launch a social business initiative, however, saying you want to improve collaboration won’t cut it. Improving collaboration in itself is not typically a company goal. You need to ask yourself, What is the outcome we need to achieve?

At some point down the road, you will need to show a return on your investment, and the phrase “Improve collaboration” might seem hard to benchmark, measure and tie to company results -- it is like trying to boil the ocean. It’s just too wide, undefined and may not seem immediately relevant.

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So why does collaboration matter? How will more effective, ongoing employee collaboration ultimately help a company? Now that I have been using social business software and managing a community to improve employee collaboration over the last year, I can credibly say that improved employee collaboration does help a company achieve its goals -- you just need to be clear about what your goals are and design your community with these goals in mind.

Set Measurable Business Goals

The first step towards a successful community is laying down measurable business goals beyond adoption numbers. It sounds intimidating, but if you think about the tangible cues of what would be happening, it’s pretty easy. One highly recommended way you can set your measurable business goals is to start with your company strategy. For a real life, public example, I googled “company strategy,” and the first to pop up is Kellogg’s. If you take a peek they have two goals:

  1. Expand cereal. This goal talks about building the brand. So as an example, an employee community might use the community for sharing and discussing the brand with a goal of improving the number of employees who feel comfortable and knowledgeable about Kellogg’s cereal, and how they will get distributors and consumers to recognize the brand.
  2. Expand snacks. This goal talks about product innovation. A goal for the community might be to generate 100 new snack food ideas each quarter and discuss how to vet ideas and bring new snacks to market.

Another way to envision success is to consider what’s not working today and make reversing those realities your objectives. Maybe it takes too long to respond to RFPs, or it’s really difficult to find the right experts, or the flow of information between company divisions slows down, bringing products to market. Whatever your business challenges may be, most likely your employees are the ones who have the knowledge and skills to address the issues, but they need to be better connected. When you define your targets, you need to be clear, so instead of saying we want to “find stuff faster,” instead you should get more specific, such as “our goal is to reduce the time to respond to RFPs by 20%.” Now record your benchmarks so you will know when you are starting to reach your goals.

Measure Against Objectives

Once your community objectives are defined and adoption is headed in the right direction, it’s time to begin measuring the community against its objectives. The objectives with numerical targets are easy, but for those that are more broadly defined, ask your audience about the community’s value. In short, carefully worded surveys can help you collect the metrics you need. For instance, based on the expand-cereal strategy, you might ask employees if they feel more knowledgeable talking about Kellogg’s brand as a result of the community.

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Correlate Community to Business Outcomes

Lastly, when the intended population feels the community is working well, then you can begin to correlate community to business outcomes. For example, can you correlate ideas on snack food in the community to the number of successful new products? Do divisions that use the community and report being able to find expertise faster perform better than divisions with less active community use? Are you launching products faster than before? All of your carefully defined objectives and quantifiable results will allow you to say you improved collaboration, and say exactly what that tangibly meant for your business and all its stakeholders.

Disclaimer: The views expressed on this post are my own and don’t reflect the views of my employer.

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