Five Ways to Spark Small Business Agility With Social Technology
Five Ways to Spark Small Business
Agility With Social Technology
Five Ways To Spark Small Business Agility With Social Technology
The ability for small and medium-size businesses to move faster
than larger competitors is a key advantage. This requires business
agility, which depends heavily on building an environment that
fosters communication, connection, and employee development.
That’s why many innovative small-business executives are
realizing the value of introducing social collaboration technology
into their operations.
Today, new cloud-based social technology designed for business
use — or, people-centric technology — makes it easy for small
and medium-size businesses to incrementally develop social
collaboration into their operations and tap into the power of
their people networks. With a more empowered workforce, a
small business gains the agility it needs to navigate through the
challenges it faces in its ongoing growth.
This paper describes how people-centric technology significantly
advances small business’s learning and management practices,
and discusses five ways the technology can be used to build
Agility gives small and medium-size businesses an advantage
when competing against larger, more established enterprises,
and it’s an essential component for ongoing growth and success.
As small businesses fight for market share, brand recognition,
aggressive revenue increases, and investor confidence, their
ability to quickly adapt to the obstacles and challenges that pop
up in their path to growth can make all the difference.
But where does agility come from? Or more importantly, how can
small businesses make agility a constant, tangible part of their
Aligning Agility With the Reality of Employee Learning
Small businesses have always valued human capacity, knowing
that any meaningful organizational agility will be based on
employees’ talents, knowledge, and skills — not to mention their
enthusiasm and dedication. The range of capabilities possible
through people, and the resulting business agility, is enormous.
People can always learn more, sharpen or develop new skills,
and become increasingly motivated. However, until the recent
introduction of social technology designed for the workplace,
small businesses have been limited in their ability to develop and
track their employees’ knowledge, skills, and contributions.
Traditionally, to support employee development, small businesses
have relied on transaction-focused — rather than people-centric
— software or manual processes. The emphasis has been
on data management and documentation of the business’s
formal employee development programs — such as classes,
performance reviews, and goal setting. But in reality, the majority
of learning and knowledge transfer happens informally, in a
decentralized fashion out of the business’s sight and control.
That’s the focus of social technology designed for the workplace
— to not only track, but also to foster the employee actions and
interactions that build competencies.
In fact, studies have shown that up to 80% of most peoplerelated processes are happening outside of a small business’s
traditional management and training programs. For example,
think about how employees actually gain knowledge: While a
small percentage may come from periodic, formal training classes
offered by the business, the majority is derived from common,
ongoing practices such as informal coaching and mentoring,
external classes, web searches, partner communications, and
many other avenues (see Figure 1).
Figure 1: 80/20 Rule of People Processes
Advice from peers
Talking to Partners
Leveraging Personal Networks
Small businesses should view this 80% of activity as favorable,
and highly valuable. It’s good that it exists, but it needs to be
harnessed and tracked. That’s what social technology, referred to
as people-centric technology in a business setting, does.
With people-centric technology, small businesses can now
gain complete visibility and influence over the full range of
how employees develop and apply their skills. The technology
revolutionizes how employees learn, develop, and contribute to
the company. It also creates a culture of engagement, where
employees feel and act more like business owners than workers,
where they’re attracted and stimulated by their learning, progress,
People-centric technology gives a structure to otherwise informal
and unmonitored employee learning and communications
activities. That in turn yields two highly beneficial results. One, it
makes the activities more effective by publishing them: They’re
no longer “siloed” or limited to a group or department or facility,
and instead are formatted and made available to every employee
right on screen. Two, it makes it possible for the activities to be
captured, and inform the business: With much greater insight
into any employee’s talent, skills, knowledge, and engagement,
management can quickly identify and apply the right employees’
skills to meet shifting business needs and opportunities.
Built for the New World of Work
Considering how networking communications has taken hold in
society, and how technology and globalization have created an
anytime-anywhere work culture, in the near future it will be hard to
imagine a business operating without people-centric technology.
Employees expect certain technology to support their work.
Today, for example, it’s Windows, or other operating systems.
Tomorrow, with social networking as a communications standard,
the absence of people-centric technology in a workplace will be
as conspicuous as the absence of Windows today.
People-centric technology is aligned with how people have
always networked in the workplace, and with the technology they
use today to network. The remainder of this paper discusses
how small-business executives and employees today can rely
on people-centric technology to support five key areas that
drive meaningful business agility. Businesses that use this new
Create relationship leverage to tap into the power of
their entire people network to find creative and innovative
solutions to key challenges
Gain insights into key connections and relationships that
really drive how work gets done in the organization
Harness the power of collective intelligence to enhance
formal learning and development, and scale informal learning
across the organization
Increase business velocity with “flash” coordination of
experts and resources
Find new ways to inspire and engage the workforce
Five Keys of How People-Centric
Technology Supports Small
In terms of functionality, people-centric technology generally
reflects other social networking technology. It offers employees a
personal profile, with the ability to connect or follow co-workers
as well as interact with customers and employees of partner
organizations. It also provides access to groups, meetings, and
team information, and can offer several tools for developing and
tracking plans, managing goals, performing research, and more.
To support adoption, small businesses can venture into the use
of people-centric technology incrementally, giving staff access
to certain pieces of functionality. This also makes the technology
accommodating to any budget.
Following are five examples demonstrating how small businesses
today are using people-centric technology to support agility.
Each example highlights how employees can derive more benefit
from functionality within people-centric technology compared to
traditional staff management or training approaches.
Key #1 — Create Relationship Leverage
Why should “brainstorming” be limited to a meeting time, in a
conference room with a whiteboard, with a select few individuals
(and usually the people who already work together on a daily
basis and therefore share similar knowledge and perspectives)? It
shouldn’t. That won’t drive much innovation, or feed into business
agility. People-centric technology takes the activity commonly
referred to as brainstorming in traditional business settings and
transforms it into what it should be: An anytime, ongoing activity
open to all employees, and even partners and customers, to
address any topic, need, question, or even a hunch.
By tapping into the power of the people network — taking only
minutes in most cases — employees can quickly generate and
fine-tune new ideas and innovation, or get answers to a pressing
question, from co-workers they’ve never spoken with before.
Creating this type of relationship leverage can happen in two
ways: Direct contact to an expert, and via crowdsourcing. It
begins with easy access to people information via profile pages.
Figure 2 shows a typical people-centric technology profile
page of an employee. The technology gives any employee the
ability to view any profile in the network. While a profile page
will provide formal information of any employee — for example,
organization information such as position, direct reports, location
— it also provides a great deal of valuable “informal” information
— what groups an employee belongs to, video channels the
Five Ways To Spark Small Business Agility With Social Technology
employee accesses, and, perhaps most telling, the listing of key
contributions the employee has made. The profile is dynamic —
it’s updated every time the employee adds a new document, or
creates a new group, or even just participates in a discussion.
Information on profile pages, and in shared documents and
discussions, enables employees to find co-workers who have
expertise in a particular area, as well as groups addressing
specific topics or fields. This wouldn’t be possible, or would be
extremely difficult and time-consuming, without people-centric
technology. Following fast identification of experts and groups,
an employee can simply post any idea, question, or challenge to
the expert and to the group and receive back answers, as well as
stimulate insightful discussions that drive even deeper insight into
solutions or idea development.
This type of ad hoc communication seeds innovation,
encouraging staff to share thoughts or ask questions — to
anyone — with the goal of making some type of business
improvement, or overcoming a challenge. For example, a
leading provider of biomedical devices needed to improve
sales performance of a team largely consisting of “millennials”
without extensive experience. After implementing people-centric
technology, the company was able to quickly develop a social
community with a focus on ways to improve performance.
In addition to fostering peer-to-peer knowledge share, the
community gave sales staff access to and connection with
company experts. The company credited the technology with an
increase in sales, as well as a sharp reduction in turnover.
Key #2 — Gaining Insights Into How Work Gets Done
Many small businesses are welcoming a new way of analyzing
organizational structure. They’re less concerned with
organizational hierarchy — who reports to who and why — and
Figure 2: Relationship Leverage
more focused on the “wirearchy” of the organization — how
work really is getting accomplished, by who, and how people
and groups connect with one another. People-centric technology
uncovers that information, with real-time graphic visualizations,
revealing a much more valuable picture of the organization.
People-centric technology digs much deeper than org charts.
It can display several social graphs that uncover the dynamic
network analysis, or DNA, of any individual across the network
— in other words, how dynamic the employee is across the
company. Graphs can quickly surface key information about
how work is executed at the individual level and department
or group level. For example, a small business can quickly
see which individuals act as key hubs or connectors of other
individuals; what groups work well together; or which individuals
have connections and influence across different regions or
With these insights a small business can more confidently
determine the best, or right, individuals to assign to any particular
challenge or objective.
Figure 3 demonstrates how just one of these graphic
visualizations, influence analysis, can be useful. Through the
graph, a small business can immediately determine how
connected and influential any staff member is across the
organization, broken out by location. The blue bar shows the
number of people in the company who follow the employee, and
the green bar shows the number of people in the company that
the employee follows. This provides insight into how connected
and influential people are with other departments, or with the
company’s other geographic regions; this insight can be beneficial
when selecting people to work on specific projects that require
those types of connections.
Another way to use influence analysis is shown in Figure 4. This
visualization enables a company to see employees in terms of
the strength of their connections and activity. Figure 4 shows the
connections of Emily He, displayed by the yellow dot. The size of
dots and connecting lines of all displayed employees indicates the
quantitative strength of connections.
By seeing clearly the company’s best “connectors” of activity,
or who are the “hubs” of activity and communications, influence
analysis can be can be very helpful in several ways. For example,
it can reveal how cross-functional teams are truly organized and
how team members are interacting. It is also extremely beneficial
in identifying company leaders — not just with a hierarchical,
title-based view, but with an additional dimension showing the
strength of the individual’s connections across the company.
Key #3 — Collective Intelligence for Improved Learning
Today, much of learning happens virally from collective
intelligence. More so than in the public domain, that’s especially
the case in the workplace where employees share a common
focus and purpose. People-centric technology greatly facilitates
any small business’s ability to build significant levels of collective
Figure 3: Influence Analysis
Consider the challenges faced by too many learning departments.
Budgets are limited as are the number of curriculum developers
and instructors for any topic. This means only a subset of desired
classes can be offered, and those classes offer limited enrollment.
In contrast, people-centric technology offers not only a much
more effective, but a much more realistic way to fuel employees’
ability for ongoing learning. Instead of relying on an instructor
to impart knowledge to a finite number of other employees at
one point in time, people-centric technology lets the expert
share knowledge through the social network, for example via a
document or video. Now, that “training” is available to everyone
at any time. Questions can be posted and then answered and,
again, everyone who is interested in the topic can benefit from
the discussion. The social network makes available the expertise,
particular skills, knowledge, and creative thinking of every
employee. This collective intelligence isn’t confined by space or
time. It’s always on, growing, and ready for any employee to tap
into or to make a contribution.
Figure 4: Dynamic Network Analysis
Employees can drive collective intelligence on a peer-to-peer
basis, or by creating and joining topical groups, or groups
associated with online or in-room classes as a means to derive
ongoing value from the class after its completion. For example, a
leading South American financial services provider used peoplecentric technology to support its formal, instructor-led training
(ILT) as well as offer network-based learning opportunities. The
company posted a catalog of all ILT and online trainings on its
network, making classes available to its employees as well as
employees of its partners and customers. To create ongoing
learning from the classes, the company created several social
communities for class attendees. Now their training team of three
employees has created a network of people and content that
supports the learning needs of their 1,000 co-workers, 2,000
employees of partner organizations, and 100,000 employees of
Figure 5 shows a typical group page in people-centric technology,
and the wealth of content available through groups. In addition
to distinct learning channels — such as channels to access
videos or PDF documents — a group page can provide
Five Ways To Spark Small Business Agility With Social Technology
Figure 5: Leveraging Collective Intelligence
announcements, opportunities to start or join discussions, search
functionality to find experts, and the ability to provide comments
and ratings on classes or other instructional material.
Key #4 — Meeting Goals With Flash Coordination
When discussing the progress of a project, it’s common for
managers to tell their employees to ask and reach out for help
Figure 6: Goals Management and Alignment
when they need it. But managers aren’t always able to make
the correct sources of help readily available. This is particularly
problematic for an employee tasked with addressing a pressing,
critical business need.
People-centric technology completely changes this conversation.
With people-centric technology, when an objective is at hand
both management and staff know they have the power to align
people to it — to find and coordinate
the right people and information to
react quickly. Asking and reaching out
for help is simply a matter of tapping
into the power of the people network,
and quickly assigning and aligning
tasks and information with “flash
First, as seen in Figure 6, people-centric
technology helps employees keep their
objectives front and center. Employees
can post goals on their profiles
with specific measurements and a
timeframe. That keeps employees
consistently cognizant of their progress
in meeting their goals in the course of
their everyday work.
But more importantly, people-centric technology helps employees
actually achieve goals — and directly impact company
productivity — with the ability to find co-workers who can
contribute valuable insight and skills.
As Figure 7 shows, an employee can begin pursuing goals by
finding experts for assistance using category-based searches.
For example, if the goal is to improve customer satisfaction by
15%, as shown in Figure 6, the employee can select “customer
service” from a list of categories. In return, the system will provide
names of staff members who have that category reflected in their
profile, an indication of having some expertise or experience in
that area. The employee can contact that expert for support. But
they can also find additional support by reviewing the expert’s
profile — looking for people, entities, and information that can
support the goal, such as classes the expert has attended,
who the expert follows, or, perhaps most useful, the expert’s
group memberships. Odds are that other members of these
groups have similar or overlapping goals, so working together
just makes sense. (In addition to supporting these types of
searches, a people-centric solution also can make intelligent
recommendations — based on an employee’s network activity —
Figure 7: Enabling Flash Coordination
of people, content, and ideas that can help the employee improve
performance or achieve goals.)
By joining a group found through a search or recommendation,
an employee can take advantage of a vast amount of functionality
to generate support in meeting their goal: Send a chat or
message to the whole group asking for advice, insight, or
support; join in topical discussions that relate to the objective;
review posted ideas; and research all contributions that have
been made to the group by other members, such as links
to related information, videos, courses, or trainings. Group
members can also take advantage of the convenience of online
conferencing to quickly and easily share and discuss audio, video,
documents, and other information.
Flash coordination builds business velocity, which is essential
when problems need to be addressed immediately. This was
recently demonstrated by a leading personal computer security
company using people-centric technology. Its customers were
becoming increasingly frustrated with delays in getting problems
fixed. Seeing that a slow, cumbersome process between
customer service and engineering was causing the delays,
company management issued directives to employees in both
departments to explore and find process
improvements. With people-centric technology
in place, the company’s employees were able to
create and take advantage of online customer
service/engineering networking groups, utilizing
various discussion and learning functionality.
They also used the technology to assess the
extent of the problems and plan improvements
with online conferencing and screen sharing. In
a short time, the company not only increased
customer service speed and satisfaction, but
also made quality improvements to its products.
Five Ways To Spark Small Business Agility With Social Technology
Key #5 — Inspire and Engage Employees
Praise and recognition is a dollars-and-cents proposition:
It inspires and engages employees, which in turn boosts
productivity. Functionality in people-centric technology ensures
that recognition is captured and can be used in performance
reviews to the benefit of employees and managers.
Similar to a Klout social networking score, people-centric
technology can provide a people quotient score — a numerical
“snapshot” indication of how much impact and influence an
employee has on the organization (for example, a range from
0 to 100). The score, which can be posted on an employee’s
home page and made visible to all co-workers, is derived from an
algorithm that measures an employee’s activity — for example,
connections to others, number of groups joined, number of
contributions such as documents, videos, or participation in
discussions. But more importantly, in terms of recognition the
score also reflects an employee’s impact by considering how
much the employee’s content is consumed by co-workers,
or how well it’s rated. A small business can also factor other
measures into the score, such as past performance review
ratings, success in meeting objectives, or indicators of expertise
such as certifications earned. As a supplemental measurement
in a performance review, a people quotient score can provide an
objective, holistic view of the employee.
Another way to capture recognition with people-centric
technology is with impressions. At any time, a co-worker can
use the system to post a public comment on an employee
with specific or general praise. The co-worker can also post an
accompanying badge — an icon representing the type of praise,
such as dependable, creative, or productive. While impressions
are made public to all staff, constructive criticism can be provided
in an accompanying private posting. Impressions can support
employees and managers in a performance review: Employees
are ensured that managers get a view of how others feel about
their work, while managers can gain insight from praise and
criticisms that can give focus to strengths and weaknesses, and
help shape objectives.
A leading biomedical firm, cited earlier for its ability to help
sales staff improve performance by leveraging relationships
with people-centric technology, also took advantage of people
quotient scores and impressions. In addition to helping the
younger, less experienced sales staff improve productivity, the
company wanted to inspire sales personnel with merit-based
career development opportunities. Incorporating the people
quotient score and the impressions functionality into its peoplecentric technology, the company was able to encourage
Figure 8: Leaving An Impression
employees to become more engaged in the company. Knowing
that their activity would be “officially” recognized and rewarded
via the people quotient score and impressions, employees readily
began to join more groups, make contributions, and follow more
The firm also relied on people-centric technology to engage
employees by launching a rewards program based on
gamification. The technology was programmed to award points
to employees for certain activities — such as giving or getting
an impression, creating a group, or making other contributions.
Top contributors were recognized on a leader board and given a
financial reward on a periodic basis.
What employee doesn’t want to go home at night feeling
genuinely happy that their efforts are meaningful, that they’re
making progress, and that they’re excited about returning to
work tomorrow? There are three “bottom lines” to people-centric
technology: It helps staff become more productive and effective.
It helps small businesses grow despite all the twists, turns, and
bumps in the road. And, equally important, it makes work much
more engaging and satisfying.
People-centric technology requires change, but it’s a change
toward what actually works, and what’s in the best interests of
employer and employees. All too often, the business world talks
about creating fun workplaces and teamwork, but doesn’t deliver.
With people-centric technology, a small business can deliver
on those promises, with great financial results no matter what
challenges it faces.