Employers that Reject Social Technologies Risk Losing Employees


We often hear that companies will have to lighten up and let employees use social technologies at work if they want to attract millennials to replace retiring employees. Yet some managers resist this idea, adopting an attitude of "If they want to collaborate, they can use what we use now." (That'd be e-mail at most companies.) There seems to be some suspicion that employee recruitment is just another of the hard-to-prove benefits trotted out by vendors of collaboration tools.


And yes, it is often mentioned by vendors, but that doesn't mean it's not a valid point. Some companies are clearly already seeing social technologies' positive impact on their recruitment and retention efforts, based on comments of executives participating in a Future of Workplace Communications webcast hosted by Viocorp. Another participant, "Implementing Enterprise 2.0" author Ross Dawson, was kind enough to compile the comments of executives from Deloitte Australia, Intel Australia and Microsoft on his Trends in the Living Networks blog.


Nicky Wakefield, who runs Deloitte Australia's Human Capital practice, says his company has found a strong correlation between use of microblogging platform Yammer and staff retention. Over half of the company's 4,600 employees use it and have sent more than 24,000 messages. Last month I shared thoughts from Capgemini consultant Sebastian Schaefer, who blogged about the benefits enjoyed by Capgemini thanks to its use of Yammer. Opening communications helps Capgemini organize information in new ways and also to discover value in unexpected places, Schaefer wrote.


Wakefield mentions Yammer's ability to help leverage existing employees' connections to recruit new workers and also to bring new employees up to speed more quickly, a benefit also mentioned by Booz Allen Hamilton's Walton Smith in an earlier discussion of BAH's Hello.bah.com, an intranet that employs blogs, forums and other social tools. Interestingly, Wakefield said BAH's older employees appeared to like the tools just as much as their younger colleagues.


Social tools also shake up the traditional command-and-control hierarchy in place at many organizations, says Wakefield, noting that Deloitte Australia's CEO is one of the most enthusiastic Yammer users. This kind of fundamental organizational shift will challenge companies to tweak not just their technology architectures but also their underlying business processes, a change that many may resist.


Mobility is an important piece of the social puzzle for Intel Australia, notes Phil Cronin, the company's general manager. He says:


Young people expect to be connected, and will demand connectivity and inclusion when they join the workforce. Australia has close to full employment - the ability to attract talent will depend on what you can offer people in how they connect. Mapping what people who are 18 years old today and seeing what will attract them. Will have to address entirely different mindsets from those coming into workplace. They will demand mobility.


Proving that even newer tools are coming down the pike, both Cronin and Oscar Trimboli, head of the Information Workers group at Microsoft, mention the growing importance of video in the workplace. (I guess to be more accurate, it's newer uses of a pretty old technology.) Though neither Cronin nor Trimboli mention specific applications for video, IT Business Edge blogger Mike Vizard has written about video's potential to redefine knowledge transfer.


This can all sound pretty intimidating to companies just beginning to explore social technologies. It's important to remember you don't have to throw good, old-fashioned governance out the window. In fact, doing so would be a horrible idea. Wakefield mentions Intel Australia has a social media steering committee to set policies. It's a safe bet its policies are probably pretty lightweight, however, given his comment about " trusting the people in the organization." He says:


The fear of most company directors around social media is very high. Most of the fears or examples of things going wrong in social media apply as much to e-mail.


I agree with Wakefield. In fact, the transparency afforded by social technologies may help companies with their compliance efforts, as I wrote several months back. Think about it: Are problematic behaviors like disclosure of company secrets or sexually suggestive remarks more likely to occur in private communications channels like e-mail or in public ones like blogs or wikis?