According to Starbucks’ Howard Schultz, “The currency of leadership is transparency.” From publishing pay information to inviting all employees to every meeting, many organizations strive to become more and more transparent to both employees and the public. But transparency does not have to be as radical as sharing how salaries are calculated. A more sustainable yet progressive demonstration is the endorsement and inclusion of social media into a company’s human capital management strategy.
Just Say No…to Policy
Mandating how employees use their personal social media accounts does not translate into sound human resources management. Just as an employer should not dictate how employees spend their time off, it should not tell someone what he may or may not share online. In fact, the National Labor Relations Board has been steadily cracking down on strict workplace social media policies. Instead, a company should make clear its formal stance and provide guidelines on how employees may best represent the company on the web. In it’s corporate (and public) blog, Adidas encourages open communication and informs employees to “tell the world about your work and share your passion.”
Encourage Best Practices
Lead by example. CEOs, directors, and managers who actively use social media influence their employees to do the same. Their affirmation also promotes transparency. Though many executives have not yet embraced social media, they should at minimum, have a professional online profile that is accurate, up-to-date, and sets the standard for others. For example, LinkedIn provides a modern day business card and resume wrapped into one convenient package and serves as an effective networking tool that can lead to new business opportunities.
Be a Coach
Teach employees how to use social media effectively. Include “Social Media 101” as a topic in new employee training programs. Gloria Burke, Chief Knowledge Officer and Global Practice Portfolio Leader of Unified Social Business at Unisys, says, “Offering such training creates a team of advocates who are equipped to represent their employer online . . . you’re empowering them to be more confident and effective in what they’re sharing.” Additionally, designate official company social media ambassadors to mentor associates on how to establish or enhance their personal online brand.
Whether or not an organization formally endorses social media, tools to facilitate communication among staff members should be implemented to encourage teamwork and increase productivity. Both Salesforce and Microsoft offer enterprise social networks as features within their products. In 2011, Nationwide launched Spot, a social intranet built on Yammer and SharePoint. Today, nearly all of its 36,000 employees are more engaged, better connected, and have access to the expertise they need to get their work done, resulting in an annual savings of $1.5 million.
As a result of the growing influence of social media, employees have become a much more valuable marketing resource. Each time a press release is circulated, a new blog post is published, or a key event is publicized, everyone should be informed, and suggested tweets should be shared. The aforementioned ambassadors may also serve as key brand promoters within the firm and with customers. If employees are too busy to keep up with Twitter, then offer support to post and retweet on their behalf. Applications like Hootsuite make it easy by allowing users to schedule activity for multiple accounts.
An obvious motivation for formalizing an organization’s social media program is to avoid public relations disasters. But, more importantly, it inspires transparency. If a company embraces employee participation in social networks, then it need not worry about what employees discuss on the web. Instead, workers will feel empowered to contribute to the organization’s success via the online community.
In a past issue of The Economist, an article suggested that workers would be better off if they did less and thought more. The author observed that today’s business environment has too many distractions and disruptions, and speculated that a major component of what’s keeping us all busy (and distracted) is social media.
Before technological advancements moved from a steady cadence to an all-out gallop, most managers had secretaries to handle their daily minutiae, which gave them a lot of time to think. Nowadays, secretaries — like rotary phones and vinyl records — have become nostalgic relics. One of the consequences of a hyper-connected world is that managers do their own typing and answer their own phones.
The technology revolution has been both a help and a hindrance in balancing our work schedules. In addition to participating in meetings, attending to projects, and strategizing, most modern day workers juggle phone calls, text and instant messages, and emails as a part of their daily (and often nightly) routines. The workday is supposed to be our most professionally creative time, but it’s hard to be creative when we are bombarded by a steady stream of distractions, oftentimes leaving the actual work to be completed during off-hours when we should be focused on our families, hobbies, and other personal pursuits.
While social media has opened up unprecedented possibilities for expanding our access to all kinds of people, it is also a major culprit for why so many of us feel so overwhelmed. According to the Pew Internet & American Life Project, as of 2013, almost 72% of online US adults used social networking sites, up from a mere 8% in early 2005. This dramatic increase no doubt reflects the influence of social media gurus who preach that the more you are connected and the more you share, then the more your profile will rise, the more followers you’ll gain, and the more likes you will earn! If they’re not engaged, people fear missing out, not being on the leading edge, not being the first to know. However, for most of us, all this engagement can be overwhelming, leaving no time for what is becoming the lost art of thinking.
Not so long ago, most employers prohibited workers from browsing the web. Now, we encourage employees to retweet and post on behalf of our firms so much so that we have integrated this activity into our marketing plans. And, more and more, bring-your-own-device policies mean people are connected to work 24/7.
In considering solutions to reduce our sense of being overwhelmed and for bringing thought and reflection back to the workplace, I am not advocating that employees stop using social media. In fact, I’m campaigning for both coworkers and friends to adopt and embrace it. After all, social media is one of the defining technologies of our time. However, like any technology, it can be overused. No, what I am suggesting is that we schedule “digital detoxes.” It’s really quite simple and takes just a bit of planning.
As companies continue to embrace the web as a valid resource for connectivity, my hope is that they also will hold onto the values of thinking and reflection. While they exhort workers to leverage the power of social media, they should also encourage them to step away and put down the device regularly in order to focus, single-task, or maybe do a little thinking. This can only lead to a more enriched and balanced corporate culture.
Thinking is still an important business activity. If each of us would devote just one hour a week and unplug during normal working hours, consider how much more thinking we would do—approximately 55 million hours of thinking per week in the U.S. alone.
This post was originally published September 3, 2013, on the Optimity Advisors Blog