Your Untapped Goldmine

7 Oct
2010
Gold coins

Employees are your untapped goldmine

This post was reposted from the Attensity blog for the purpose of retaining it as part of my blogging portfolio.

Here’s one resource you are probably not using to its 100% capacity: your employees. And I don’t mean it in the run-em-into-the-ground-work-around-the-clock kind of way. What I mean is that you are probably not leveraging their knowledge, their passion and enthusiasm or their social capital well enough. How do I know that? Because very few companies actually do this, and most of the rest do not really appreciate that their employees have a value above and beyond what they were hired to do. Think about it: with the advent of social media, your employees, as much as your customers, define your brand. If you even partially understand the impact that the social revolution has had on the way we do business and relate to each other as individuals, you certainly know that you no longer have control of your brand – your customers do (and that includes customers and non-customers as well). This reality has hit home for most; however, what hasn’t hit home with the same force, is the realization that your employees have just as much, if not more in some situations, impact on how your brand is perceived in social media. I’m not only referring to what employees are saying, but even more so what employees are not saying. Are your employees your own brand advocates? Are your employees effective in the frontlines working with customers to build a better product?

Recently, I’ve read some great articles by Mitch Lieberman and Michael Fauschette about the value of the social employee, and felt inspired to write about it here. Also, following on the heels of our Social Customer whitepaper, I wanted to explore this less-talked about aspect of the social business.

Chances are, even if you don’t have official social media practitioners in your organization, many of your employees are probably active in social media. Even if they aren’t, at some point, each employee that you hire will be from the Facebook generation. Why should you care? Because the low hanging fruit of creating social media buzz is tapping into our employees’ voices to tell the story of your brand. But you want the story to feel energized, right? That can only happen when your employees are energized and empowered. Employees have always been the face of your company, social media or not; just now they have a lot more touchpoints with the “outside world”. When people go to an event or a local bar, they meet employees that work at your company. If they are genuinely excited about what they do, it will show, and others will have a positive impression of your brand. However, the inverse is also true. If your employee is not happy about where she is, feels stifled and uncreative, the same energy will be transferred. With social media, each employee’s excitement (or lack thereof) has the opportunity to get amplified faster than you can say “amplify”. Excited employees share excitement with others; energy is contagious! So empower your employees to be these buzz agents and share what they do with others. Buzzing employees are just part of the equation though. Are your employees empowered to work with your customers to get feedback and implement it into product decisions, and to work with customers to create a product that actually works for them? Are the employees energized enough when providing customer service to turn a bad experience into a positive one? Are they empowered to resolve a customer issue on behalf of the company without going through five levels of approval?

Empowerment is one of those fuzzy concepts that makes some (including me) roll their eyes. Ugh, let’s just get it over with and sit around the fire, hold hands, and sing kumbaya. But bear with me… What in the world is empowerment and how do I know when I see it? I can’t tell you what it means to you, but here’s what  it means to me: when someone is empowered, his interests become most closely aligned with the objectives of the whole (company, country); the empowered person can take actions in the best interests of the company, taking pride in work he does because he feels like she can effect change. Most importantly how do I cultivate empowerment in my employees? Here are some quick “gimmes” that are common-sense; however, keep in mind that common sense is anything but common:

  1. As Maslow posits in his famous “Hierarchy of Needs”, after you take care of food and shelter, people pursue self-actualization. By giving your employees interesting work that challenges and leverages their strengths and interests, you can feed this need.
  2. No red tape! Social media moves at the speed of light – you blink, and your “hot” news is yesterday’s news. Unlike yesterday’s paradigm, the social business must work faster to keep up with the social customer. Employees rarely (if ever) have the ability to wait for red tape to lift and for bureaucracies to work through their cycles in order to make a move.
  3. In order to act in #2, there must be trust between the company and the employee. An empowered employee has been given the mandate to act, because there’s inherent trust in his ability to do the right thing. This right thing can take many forms: representing the company accurately on a social network, respecting other salespeople’s territories, going above and beyond the call of duty, and in every way doing the right thing for clients, partners and the ecosystem.
  4. An empowered employee takes risks. Because business moves so fast, constant experimentation is necessary to stay on the cutting edge. Of course you will do things that are tried-and-true; however, there must be room for experimentation. Without experimentation, there’s no innovation. Without innovation, you will eventually be outperformed and out-innovated by your competitors. However, you shouldn’t take risks for the sake of taking risks — make sure you have a solid business reason, and your risks are calculated.
  5. Related to #4, you need to be OK with failing fast, and learn to be good at it. Yes, failing fast and well (you fail well when you learn something and become better) is a skill like any other. When you fail, you need to examine why it didn’t work, share your learnings, and move on to something bigger and better, all the while remembering not to make the same mistakes. Think of it this way: the faster you fail, the faster you can succeed with something else.
  6. For all of the above, you need a flatter organization and reporting structure. Social media and internal collaboration tools are bringing employees of all “ranks” closer together and onto the same page. The flatter things are, the more buy-in people have, and typically the amount of red tape is reduced. Michael Fauschette mentions this in his “Social Employee Manifesto” by saying that employees need mentors, and not bosses.
  7. Related to #6, the organization should be structured (or rather unstructured) fluidly, to encourage project-based collaboration and ability to co-work ad collaborate with other employees, based on skillsets, with the goal of solving a particular business problem.
  8. With things moving so fast, your skills need to remain on the cutting edge. This is why winning organizations that empower their employees recognize the need for personal and professional development.
  9. In the age of social media, as personal and professional brands blend and merge, it’s important that while growing your corporate brand, your employees are also able to build their personal brands.
  10. Check-in more often than during the yearly review. For many, it’s the only time that each employee sits down with his manager to  evaluate performance and career progression vs. expectations. However, it’s important to ensure that everyone is on the same page, as well as have a consistent, open and honest conversation about the employee’s level of satisfaction. Do not wait until the employee leaves and takes his social capital with him to find out that something isn’t working.

As you explore how to socialize your business and empower your employees, here’s another great resource and yet another source of inspiration for this article. During the Enterprise 2.0 Conference in Boston last week, I heard Bevin Hernandez‘s keynote speaking about employee engagement with a purpose among. She astutely developed the framework of employee engagement styles across 4 quadrants defined by 2 axis: Purpose and Engagement. Those with high purpose and high engagement – those are your social media rockstars. Those with high purpose and low engagement prefer to work on their own, but could use some encouragement sharing their work in social channels and with other employees. Those with high engagement and low purpose – the social butterflies – already use social channels, but they could use a little more direction. Low engagement and low purpose employees are a bit tougher to move to one of the other quadrants, but it could be done — otherwise, it’s probably not  a great fit. Take a minute to check out Bevin’s slides – it will be 10 minutes well spent. This is a worthwhile exercise to undertake to understand how you can mentor and coach your employees to purpose-driven social media rockstardom.

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