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    One discusson, three platforms, twenty peeps

    Ok, so that was a bad title, this is really just a little story of how some social media tools facilitated some fantastic dialog and ongoing discussion on real business and Human Resources issues.

    Last Friday night Shauna and I did a HR Happy Hour Show about Tattoos, Piercings, and Diversity in the workplace. The show was really a discussion on company culture, and how culture is developed and perpetuated in the workplace.  It was a really fun show, and I encourage you to listen to the archive here:

     Also since there is no live show tonight, this should give you your HR Happy Hour fix until next week.

    The next morning, Saturday, the culture discussion continued on Twitter among myself, The HR Maven, and Tammi Colson. We kicked around the idea of culture being a top-down, leadership driven construct versus the notion of company culture really begin driven and enforced so to speak by employees themselves. It was a pretty interesting exchange to have early on a Saturday morning, but definitely very interesting and informative

    On Tuesday I blogged here about Technology and Company Culture, mostly riffing the conversation from the show and form the impromptu Twitter chat on Saturday morning. The basic question I asked was can the application of collaboration technology actually drive a change in company culture.  There was some excellent comments and discussion on the post.

    And of course the debate carried over to Twitter on Tuesday night, where Beth Carvin, Kevin Grossman, Robin Schooling and I debated the whole Technology and culture issue some more.

    So by my count the final tally was one radio show with about ten active participants, one blog post with about eight commenters, and two separate twitter chats involving five more people.

    All great discussions, all happening in 'off hours' (heck on Tuesday night I was grilling ribeyes and having a beer during the chat), and all enabled by various social media tools.

    And by the way, just some of the 'titles' represented in the various discussions - CEO, VP of HR, HR Director, and VP of Marketing among others. Look the titles don't really mean all that much to me, but I mention them to underscore the point that social media in general and Twitter in particular is not all about inane blather about what people had for lunch.

    I probably learned more about company culture in the last few days, from this diverse group of people that I had in the last five years.


    Trust in Social Networks

    I recently read a paper that studied a major organization's use of collaboration technologies (wikis, internal forums, and blogs) indicated the most commonly stated barrier to employee participation in knowledge sharing using online platforms is the fear that one's contributions were not going to be seen as relevant, important, or accurate.

    If we accept that these fears are true barriers, then we must try and examine what causes them, and adopt strategies to mitigate them.

    Why might an employee 'fear' contributing to an internal collaboration platform, or social network? Some potential reasons:

    1. Confusion - I don't know what the heck to post on here anyway

    2. Uncertainty - I'm not sure if this is even right information

    3. Lack of confidence - I don't think anyone would care about this

    4. Doubt - Can I even find important information here?

    5. Pride - I really should know this answer myself, I can't ask such a dumb question


    It seems that a lack of trust is the underlying cause of these issues.  But there are really two kinds of trust that factor in here, and it is important to understand the difference.Flickr - Salty Grease

    One - I trust that you know what you are talking about

    When I read your posts, comments, and answers to submitted questions, I have belief in your expertise and authority.  If I rely on your information to help make important decisions, I won't get burned.

    Two - I trust that you won't make me look foolish for asking questions or posting information that is incorrect

    Communities need a balance of those providing information with those seeking information. Seeking information in online collaboration platforms frequently involves explicit posting of questions, or leaving comments asking for more information or clarification on posted content. In an open, company-wide system this can certainly be intimidating for many employees that would prefer the 'protection' of phone calls or e-mails when seeking information.

    Both types of trust have to be in place in an organization for a collaboration platform to take hold, grow, and thrive as an imortant resource.

    So what steps can an organization take to help instill this trust, and enable participation in light of the barriers described above?

    1. Confusion - I don't know what the heck to post on here anyway

    Set some clear guidelines about what kinds of content are meant to be posted on the platform. Enlist some early 'power users' or champions to help seed content of the type and format that (at least initially) the platform is intended for.  Be very firm and clear about what content the organization deems inappropriate for the platform.

    2. Uncertainty - I'm not sure if this is even right information

    Encourage employees to share first, and question themselves seconds.  Let the community members themselves help guide newer, or less confident employees.  An environment where members comment, modify, and otherwise help to shape content is the key. Give employees the freedom to contribute 'part' of the answer, and not feel pressure to know everything on  given topic.

    3. Lack of confidence - I don't think anyone would care about this

    This is where a strong feedback loop inside the community is important. When it becomes a standard practice for others to comment on, enhance, and promote or rate contributions, you can start to mitigate the feeling of 'why would anyone care what I post'.

    4. Doubt - Can I even find important information here?

    Employees will only consult the community if they have success in finding either the information they seek directly, or a way to easily locate and connect with other members of the community likely to possess the needed expertise to help solve their issues.

    5. Pride - I really should know this answer myself, I can't ask such a dumb question

    Here is where Trust in the organization is really critical. Employees have to feel that content contributions can be made and questions asked in a 'safe' environment. That is not to say that incorrect or irrelevant information should be allowed to remain intact, but that criticism or comments be made in a positive and respectful manner. It is similar to a student that is reluctant to ask a question of the instructor in front of the entire class, but instead approaches the instructor privately, after class to ask the question.  Sure, the student may feel more comfortable, but the rest of the students do not get the benefit of both the question and the answer.  Better still, one of the other students may have had the answer for her in the first place.

    In conclusion, organizations considering adopting tools for collaboration, or evaluating why their current projects are stagnant, need to take a very close look at these barriers to participation to see if they are present.  Selecting and deploying a tool is part of the solution, but creating and supporting an open, trusting environment to ensure its success is another matter entirely.

    What methods might an organization use to encourage open participation in online employee communities?


    Carnival Time - Training Time Style

    The latest edition of the often imitated, never bettered Carnival of HR is up at the Training Time blog.

    Lots of great contributions as usual, some of my favorites this time are:

    Your HR Guy advises not to underestimate your social media connections

    The HR Bartender on why some people get desperate when faced with failure.

    and Sakib Khan, of HR with Sakib Khan, on how Google Wave can improve collaboration and HR.

    And thanks to Training Time for including my post on the conditions necessary for collaboration environments to thrive - Care to Share

    Great job as usual on the Carnival and happy reading!



    Can Technology Change Culture?

    On the last HR Happy Hour show we talked quite a bit about organizational culture, and how culture influences the acceptance of 'alternative' appearance and attitude.

    The culture discussion carried on via Twitter the next day as well, and since I have to put a Technology spin on things, it led me to this question:

    Can the application of technology, specifically technologies designed to increase employee communication and enhance collaboration actually change culture?Flickr - Pinheiro

    Or does an organization's shared culture and their norms drive what technologies are adopted and how these technologies are used?

    If you take the position that culture, values, mission and organizational priorities drive the design, content, and implementation of technology, then only those companies that already possess an open, transparent, and collaborative culture stand to benefit from the application of the literally hundreds of new technolgoy solutions meant to help foster these objectives.

    But if you believe in the power of these tools, then potentially even the most closed, insular, and hierarchical companies can see benefits in their implementation.

    So the question is, can collaboration and 'social' technology transform company culture?


    Nowhere to hide from technology

    Two weeks ago while driving through the countryside of Central Pennsylvania, USA  I happened to pull off the highway for a dinner stop in a sort of run-of-the-mill little town, the kind of little town that anyone that drives the major interstate highways in the US has seen hundreds of times.

    A gas station, a couple of fast food restaurants, and a hint that if I carried on just a bit further down the access road maybe some small houses or trailers, and beyond that I'd bet farms and the sort of vast nothingness typical of large sections of middle America. 

    Definitely the kind of place to stop, refuel, maybe grab a bite to eat, and put in the rearview and instantly forget.

    When I walked in to the McDonald's for the mandatory road tip junk food dinner, I ran smack into this:


    The only way for job seekers to apply for a job in this little McDonalds in the middle of nowhere was via this online kiosk system. Now it could be that this particular McDonalds has the pulse of the local candidate pool, and is well aware that their target applicant is tech savvy, and will have no problems navigating the online process so moving to an online method is an intelligent strategy.

    Or more likely the regional or corporate office has decided that an online process is more efficient, less expensive, and results in more actionable intelligence for those in McDonalds management.

    But to the job seeker who walks into that McDonalds in hopes of landing a job, the motivations behind the decision to go to an automated process don't really matter.  They are forced to accept this, and either comply with the process if they want to be considered, or head on down the road to the Arby's and try their luck there. 

    And for (mostly) part-time jobs filled by teenagers and students this is probably perfectly acceptable. The staff on duty when I walked in did not have much to say about the online application kiosk, I am sure they thought is was strange that someone was even asking about it.

    To me the lesson that I take from the online job application kiosk for a tiny McDonalds in a tiny town in Nowhereville, USA is this one:

    You can't hide anymore from technology if you want to particpate in the modern economy.  This has many levels:

    The job seeker in this McDonalds had better know how to type on a keyboard, and follow basic computer commands.

    The college grad trying to break in to finance, marketing, IT, or HR had better have a solid LinkedIn profile, familiarity and skills searching for jobs online, and the ability to demonstrate technical acumen once they join the workforce.

    The HR professional trying to find ways to reduce costs and improve administrative processes better be very familiar with the capabilities of their HRIS (if they have one) or with the latest developments in the HR Technology marketplace (if they don't).

    The recruiter that needs to find, engage, and ultimately hire the best talent for their positions better know how to source, and engage potential candidates with increasingly sophisticated multi-media tools, better be on social networks and adept on how to best leverage them to meet their recruiting objectives.

    And the HR leader in the position of having to continually justify expenditure and prove return on HR programs had better have access to and understand analytical tools to effectively measure the business outcomes of their efforts.

    These are just a few examples, I am sure there are many more, but the key point is, no matter where you find yourself on the scale, from entry level job-seeker in rural Pennsylvania, to VP of HR at a Fortune 500 firm, you can't get away from the technology.

    Heck, even your Mom is on Facebook.