Monday, December 1, 2008

Trust, Employee Engagement and Social Collaboration

I want to connect the dots on a controversial topic: How can organizations build TRUST using social networks for collaboration among employees?

Before I dive into the topic let me tell you how I became engaged in social web 2.0.

My first official step into the social web 2.0 world was last year when we launched TrendsCast - one of the first corporate-wide blogs at Wachovia dedicated to discuss the impact of emerging technologies to the marketing strategy of the organization. The blogger is quite verse in the matter of writing blogs and I just enjoyed reading the articles instead of writing them.

All good, but nothing too exciting since I lead emerging trends for the bank and it‘s part of my job to drive transformational change using emerging technologies.

Later on this year, looking at the growing significance of this emerging trend and the opportunity for marketing organizations to leverage the power of online communities, I decided to immerse myself into the online social world. First, in April I invited Google to participate in our Emerging Trends forum. The second step was to engage and grow my LinkedIn network. I have been watching my 3rd degree “proximity” network growing everyday. By the way, I like to use the phrase “degree of proximity” rather than the more traditional definition of “degree of separation”. Most recently we launched our corporate presence on Twitter and in order to personally learn more about the dynamics of the community, I opened my own Twitter profile under Curiosidad.

Through my participation on Twitter I began to think about the differences and similarities on how I participate in corporate communities versus external communities. At the same time, my colleague the Director Enterprise and Web Services posted a blog about crossing the lines that divide home and work, personal and professional, private and public world.
I became extremely intrigued by topic and couple of weeks ago I launched a study to research the following questions:

What is the perceived danger in crossing the lines that divide home and work, personal and professional, private and public world?

How can organizations build trust using social networks for collaboration among employees?
The potential for tools like social networks, blogs, and wikis for collaboration, communication, and information sharing are rarely questioned, but all require one key ingredient: people’s participation. Yet, while many businesses of all shapes and sizes have begun adopting such technology for business uses, driving user adoption can be a challenge. With literally hundreds of millions of users on the broader internet, garnering the participation of even a fraction of a percent is more than enough to create a vibrant social network, blog, or wiki-style crowd sourced database.

Trust, first and foremost, is paramount to employee engagement in social Web 2.0 communities. Employees may be deterred simply out of fear that what one does or says on an internal network or tool may later come back to haunt them.

Moreover, employees may be less concerned that the manner of their participation will be judged, but even that their participation itself would be judged. Most managers within the company view blog’s participation as distracting and having a negative impact to employee’s productivity. Web 2.0 tools are sometimes considered childish distractions instead of valuable technology, and thus employees may believe that their reputation within the company could suffer as a result of their active participation. Thus, a lack of trust that one’s participation will not harm one’s career aspirations is a key inhibitor to employee participation

Many people, though, are disturbed or uncomfortable with the blending of the professional and personal spheres. Increasingly, people are facing the precarious decision of whether or not to accept a coworker’s – or worse, a boss’—friend request on Facebook or MySpace. Some people often fail to release the amount of personal information that is available on their profile, and who is really paying attention. Even others, who may be more careful about the type and amount of information they put on their profile, cannot control what others within their network post on their message board or wall. As a result, both Facebook and MySpace (though to a lesser extent) have enacted new privacy settings that allow users to customize who is able to see what information on their profile. Some have complained, however, that these settings are cumbersome and difficult to use, and are both insufficient and underused.

While one might think that this might be an argument in favor of an internal business network, some may see it as a step in the wrong direction. Employees who are trying to keep business separate from the other parts of their life might perceive this as yet another potential intrusion as opposed to an opportunity to distinguish the two realms. Others might refrain from participating simply because they do not want another social network to have to update and check regularly.

The blending of the personal and professional is already having implications in the workplace, beyond just companies tracking employees’ profiles and policies on using these tools in the workspace. Both the authenticity that is so conducive to engagement in these tools and the persistent availability and connectedness they provide have real world consequences. Perhaps most notably, the social dynamics of the workplace has the potential to change significantly (and is already changing in many places, one could argue) as a result of the ability instant message leaders carry on conversations in a much less formal fashion than would be normal in, perhaps, an email. These informal conversations can lead to a greater comfort in approaching leaders, more candid responses, and a “horizontalization” of social dynamics.

Trust, Relevance and Authenticity are the drivers of engagement in social networks. Social collaboration tools are connecting people that otherwise will never connect and while this is happening a new behavioral trend for increasingly blurred lines separating home and work, personal and professional, private and public is emerging!

A version of this blog was posted last week to TrendsCast internal blog.

1 comment:

Stephen said...

Nice blog and keep it up, gal. :D