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Social Technology Sparks Agility for Small Business
 

Social Technology Sparks Agility for Small Business

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Five Ways to Spark Small Business Agility With Social Technology ...

Five Ways to Spark Small Business Agility With Social Technology

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 operational fabric?

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.

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    Social Technology Sparks Agility for Small Business Social Technology Sparks Agility for Small Business Document Transcript

    • White Paper Five Ways to Spark Small Business Agility With Social Technology
    • White Paper n 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 business agility. Executive Summary 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 operational fabric? Aligning Agility With the Reality of Employee Learning and Development 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 2 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 Informal Advice from peers Work groups Task Forces Internal Content Formal Google Searches External Classes Brainstorming Reviews Goals Succession Learning Compensation Professional Organizations Informal coaching Mentorship Talking to Partners Trade Journals Industry Articles 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, and contributions. 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 technology can: ƒƒ Create relationship leverage to tap into the power of their entire people network to find creative and innovative solutions to key challenges ƒƒ Gain insights into key connections and relationships that really drive how work gets done in the organization ƒƒ Harness the power of collective intelligence to enhance formal learning and development, and scale informal learning across the organization ƒƒ Increase business velocity with “flash” coordination of experts and resources ƒƒ Find new ways to inspire and engage the workforce Five Keys of How People-Centric Technology Supports Small Business Agility 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 3
    • White Paper n 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 departments. 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. 4
    • 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 intelligence. 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 customer companies. 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 5
    • White Paper n 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 coordination.” 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. 6
    • 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. 7
    • White Paper n 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 8 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 co-workers. 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. Conclusion 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. 9
    • White Paper n Five Ways To Spark Small Business Agility With Social Technology Saba enables organizations to build a transformative workplace where they can leverage their people networks to become more competitive through innovation, speed, agility, and trust. © 2013 Saba Software, Inc. All rights reserved. Saba, the Saba logo, and the marks relating to Saba products and services referenced herein are either trademarks or registered trademarks of Saba 10 Software, Inc. or its affiliates. All other trademarks are the property of their respective owners. Saba | 2400 Bridge Parkway | Redwood Shores | CA 94065-1166 USA | (+1) 877.SABA.101 or (+1) 650.779.2791 | www.saba.com wp_2/13