Whether they're building rockets, smartphones, microprocessors or cars, large organizations are under extreme pressure in today’s competitive environment. They are struggling to get the most from their people, generate more innovative ideas than their competitors, become more efficient and effective and -- of course -- bring their products to market faster than anyone else.
Within this landscape, the recent social business technologies have been recognized for their ability to drive productivity. McKinsey estimates employee productivity can be increased 25 percent through adoption of social technologies and establishing a "networked enterprise."
But little has been said about the unintended, long-term benefit of adopting an innovative social platform -- the ability to connect employee's work to the bigger business strategy.
Employee engagement is becoming a buzzword in many enterprises today. According to the talent research firm Bersin, 79 percent of businesses are very worried about engagement and Gallup research shows that only 13 percent of employees are highly engaged at work.
I believe this problem stems in part from how organizations approach the delivery of vital products and programs which are core to their business. Many executives forget that building products and managing projects has always been an inherently social process. Humans have a fundamental desire to feel connected to one another when they work and to know their work makes a significant contribution.
Employee Engagement: Discrete Tasks vs. Collective Mission
When I began my career as a psychologist, I saw first-hand that an individual’s motivation and subsequent discretionary effort had a strong correlation to whether or not they felt their work was important. Looking back at the evolution of our workforce from the dawn of the assembly line to time and motion studies, organizations have been looking for ways to increase productivity by focusing their people on becoming experts in discrete tasks. It’s as if we’ve asked employees to wear blinders for fear they might become distracted by any activity which isn’t directly related to their immediate task.
Something happens when people are reduced to mere tasks -- they ultimately care less about the results.
When used to its fullest potential, social business technologies can be incredibly powerful for pulling employees out of their existing silos and providing the Big Picture around the entire product management and product delivery process. Social apps have the ability to connect the right people to the right work and creating “purposeful collaboration.”
This is the antithesis of a blast email sent to hundreds of people across a division or organization. Rather, it’s about empowering each person to see the connection between the business strategy and their individual work.
An amazing thing happens when each person has a view into all stakeholders related to product delivery -- both inside and outside the organization including customers, partners, vendors and suppliers. With this insight, employees are not only able to make smarter decisions, they are also more engaged in their work because they see it in context of a common goal. Microsoft’s research indicates companies with "socially engaged" employees are 18 percent more productive and experience 51 percent lower staff turnover. In this way, the socially connected enterprise fosters stronger employee engagement.
The Cultural Shift with Social Technologies
Social business technologies can be instrumental in reversing the trend of focusing only on tasks because they can provide the Big Picture for every employee, often in a highly visual format. Organizations that use social applications to provide a broader context for each person associated with a project or product create better performing teams because each contributor now has a common vision. Social technologies can bring people deeply into the planning process, extending product innovation beyond the development team to include all stakeholders in the product-delivery cycle, from concept to launch
Using social apps to foster a sense of inclusion for employees is more than just deploying a piece of software. It represents a significant cultural shift at the organization. It’s about changing from a mindset where any extraneous information beyond the task itself represents the potential for distraction, to a more enlightened perspective where employees can be not only trusted with these insights, but encouraged to seek them out.