Employer Branding

How Social Collaboration Can Benefit Your Business

What is social collaboration and learning? How can organisations benefit from using these? To find out I’ve had a chat with James Tyer who is the Global Lead of Social Collaboration Lead at Kellogg Company.

You can listen to the podcast interview on iTunes and SoundCloud (embed below) or read a summary below. Questions by yours truly, answers by James.

You are a Global Lead of Social Collaboration, what does that involve?

Over the course of my career, I got more and more interested in how I could help people learn from each other through connection and networks than writing formal courses for them. Of course there is always a need for the formal but I got far more interested in the social and the informal. So I was employed by Kellogg Company a year ago to make a specific piece of social technology, in this case it’s Microsoft’s Yammer, successful globally. It requires quite a change in company culture, and I was lucky enough to be hired under a group that is all about the future of IT at Kellogg.

Why do companies need social collaboration and learning?

Well lots of companies have pretty outdated business models. They tend to be structured very hierarchically, focus on command and control. We’re going back to Frederick Taylor, and Henry Ford, and management making the decisions and everyone else doing the work who are kind of cogs in the machine that just did one thing. But as the world’s got more complex, and especially the amount of information that’s available to everyone, companies are starting to realise, “Well, how do we tap in to this more networked way of thinking?” You can be more networked, you can be more agile, you can respond to consumer demands, industry market demands, and employees. And it tends to be that if you focus on specifically the behaviours and culture that make social collaboration, and social is in quotes, collaboration has to be social, that’s the term that we use. If you put these things in place, then you tend to have a more engaged work place. It’s more of a community feeling. There’s more transparency from leadership. There’s more accountability as well, and that can lead to greater innovation as ideas are shared more freely and people have more ownership of those ideas and, of course, workers can be more productive because a lot of the politics and organisational process that gets in the way of their work, slowly gets removed.

How can you implement this?

Well I think that first thing that everyone has to do, is do some kind of cultural assessment. We talk about the technology. The technology firms talk about their technology, but really, and the technology firms might not like this too much, but all of it does the same thing. They do some bits better than others, but you’re really dealing with the culture. So understand the culture. How are employee connections made? What is leadership like? What is the command process like? How are decisions made? All of those kind of things, and once you have a good understanding of that, you can also probably have a really good understanding of how the business actually works.

And once you get that far, you can actually start finding used cases, and I find the way that you have to approach this is it’s one conversation at a time. It’s maybe one person. It might be five people that you just have a conversation about what do they find frustrating. What are they hoping to achieve? What are their business goals? And then see if you can find a way to use some of the technology to help that. Very importantly, you have to find some leadership engagement.

What’s Working Out Loud?

Actually, well, a lot of what makes organisations and the culture of organisations the way they are, are the assumptions we carry about what people are doing, and what they are thinking, and what they’re working on. So Working Out Loud is a way of getting out of your head and into a place where other people can see what you’re doing.

Another way of calling it is ‘narrating you work,’ and there’s some great people that speak about it. I urge anyone listening to go look up John Stepper, Simon Terry, or Jane Bozarth, who has an awesome book called Show Your Work as well. And what they say is if you share what you’re working on, whether it’s in a draft, or it’s an idea, or if it’s, I don’t know, a photo, it could be anything, then others in your organisation will see what you’re doing and you can accomplish a number of things. First is a lot more ideas. People will share their ideas, they’ll give you your feedback, all of those kind of things, so, from there, you can get new products, new services and all that kind of stuff. You can avoid repeating the wheel.

LinkedIn or internal employee profiles?

That’s a difficult question. It’s a bit of a jump, but if I’m thinking that I’m working out loud, I’m putting some of what I’m doing internally externally into my networks and hopefully bring some value to them, so people can learn from me, just as I do from others. I think something that your LinkedIn profile, which is outward facing and internal facing, because anyone can go and see it. Why would you spend a lot of time completing an internal intranet profile, when you can have a much more active, live LinkedIn profile, or about me, or a blog site, or, doesn’t have to be LinkedIn, of course. Why would you spend all this time with this internal only facing thing, when there’s something much more open and transparent for everyone to see?

What’s the best tech?

I don’t think any one technology is better than the other. It’s the behaviours, like habit building, the personal knowledge management that really help. And it depends on where your industry is, it depends on where the people are. For me, I find Twitter is one of the most helpful for my learning networks. Although, you have to remind yourself when you get in to some of them that you’re talking to people that probably think very similarly to you as you get in to these networks. You want to have a diverse array of opinions, if you can get them.

So Facebook might be great for something, the internal social networks, Yammer, Jive. I’ve forgotten all the others. There are so many now. All of them can work for you. But you have to build your own networks too. So it takes time to get in to them and to show that you’re valuable to them and also, you have to meet the people where they are.

What do the next 3 years have in store?

Well, the one I see happening directly because I have to use Yammer, is we seem to be going back to big enterprise suites again as Microsoft pushes Office 365 and a lot of the HR systems and other systems are a sales force and so forth, are trying to bring everything back in to the one big thing again, and it’s actually a shame because, I think it’s David Weinberger that said that we want small things kind of loosely connected with people as those connections. So you can have a number of different networks but it’s all about the people and as the technology gets more, the cognitive load that it places on you gets more, so it’ll be interesting to see what happens and whether some of the smaller companies, with specific offerings will actually get bigger traction.

Analytics is going to be one. Internal social analytics, I think, are going to get bigger, and in the learning space, of course, learning analytics as well. We haven’t talked too much about the formal learning space, but just because of where I sit. And I think just more good examples of what’s happening, and especially, I think, through mobile as well. I think that’s something that’s not looked at hugely, so far, even though most of us probably access all of our social stuff on our phones these days.

Follow James on Twitter @jimbobtyer and connect with him on LinkedIn where he also publishes articles. Read the full version of this interview at Link Humans.

By Jörgen Sundberg

Founder of Undercover Recruiter & CEO of Link Humans, home of The Employer Brand Index.