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    Do you need a Corporate Social Network?

    Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn all have seen dramatic growth in the last year.  The chances are extremely high that your employees are already engaged on one or more of these networks.  And the chances are also high that your employees are interacting and engaging with each other on these platforms, during the 'normal' work day.

    That is not necessarily a bad thing.Flickr - Zach Klein

    In fact you could make the argument that staff engaging each other on these networks is really no different than them e-mailing each other, or talking on the phone. But there is a difference.  Corporate e-mail and phone networks are essentially 'private', no one outside the organization can get in, the data and networks are secured and likely archived.  Companies don't usually have to worry about inappropriate content or embarrassing revelations on the internal e-mail network.  Contrast that with stories like this one - Virgin Atlantic Facebook scandal.

    But the truth is that many (if not most) of your employees are going to continue to engage on social networks.  As a company you have a few options available to address this situation:

    1. Don't do anything, treat employees like adults, and manage performance and performance alone.

    Whatever mechanism and tools employees use don't really matter, only results matter. Whatever information, learnings, and discourse take place on external social networks remains 'in the ether' so to speak.

    2. Block employees from accessing Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and the like from the office

    Estimates vary on the number of companies that block social networking sites.  Last year the firm Challenger Gray & Christmas released a study claiming 25% of companies were blocking Facebook. Blocking these sites addresses your immediate concerns (time wasting, inappropriate content, etc.), but may spawn a new set of problems (employee dissatisfaction, Gen Y employees leaving, disconnecting staff from their networks that actually help them with their job duties).  But if you feel like you have a problem that blocking these sites will solve, chances are you have more serious employee relations and performance issues.

    3. Allow access to external social networks, but set and enforce guidelines as to their appropriate use

    So you realize that staff are on these networks, and while you may not be ok with that, you understand it, and define and enforce guidelines for their use. Many organizations are going down this route, it is a more pragmatic approach that attempts to balance corporate and legal concerns with employee satisfaction.  There are lots of examples in this area, a good one from the Higher Ed space is from DePaul University.

    4. Develop or deploy a Corporate or Internal Social Network for your employees

    This option recognizes the utility and attractiveness of social networking to your employees and attempts to harness that power and energy to drive increased productivity, knowledge management, and community building.  If you are not familiar with corporate social networks, the simplest way to explain one would be 'Facebook for just your employees'. But that kind of description is certainly incomplete and possibly misleading. 

    Most corporate social network platforms start with the employee profile, a way for the employee to indicate personal and professional information about themselves. This profile information enables staff to 'find' each other, based on tags or keywords.  This facilitates making connections with the right people for supporting a new project or initiative where specific skills are needed.

    In addition to the profile, these platforms usually possess some type of collaboration tools, like blogs, forums and wikis to promote information sharing, discussions, and the development of a sustainable corporate knowledge repository. There typically is the ability for employees to upload and share content such as documents, images, and video. Also, chat and integrated IM may be included.

    These platforms can be developed from widely available open source platforms, be licensed from one of many vendors in the spaces and deployed as a subscription-based service, or licensed and installed on the company's own servers and then deployed to employees.

    This market is crowded, so I will hold off to another post getting into the details and vendor profiles, but I will say that it is an emerging market and one that deserves attention. But for a company that really wants to capture the value and promise of social networking to drive business results, the internal social network may just be the way to go.




    Trying out Rypple

    Heard of Rypple?

    Until a few days I hadn't either until I read this post, from the HR Capitalist blog.  After reading the post, and checking out some other press and buzz on Rypple, I applied for the Beta program and thanks to David Priemer at Rypple, I was quickly invited to participate.

    Why was I so intrigued?  Well, Rypple has a great concept, it enables anyone to solicit fast, meaningful, and anonymous performance feedback on literally any topic.

    The process is straightforward and intuitive. Ask a question, enter three attributes or criteria to be assessed, and invite folks to provide feedback.  Responders are not required to give their name or e-mail address, so the responses are assured to be anonymous.

    For my test, I decided to use Rypple for a quick, mid-course evaluation for the students to rate my performance as an Instructor.  Rypple lets you pose a topic or question for feedback and then indicate three criteria, or attributes that are to be evaluated.  You can re-use these same attributes or tags on further feedback requests, enabling you to get a view over time of your performance against a key measure like 'Creativity' or 'Leadership'.

    So for my test, I asked all the class members to respond to the following question:

    How do you feel the Leveraging Technology class is doing in these three areas?

    The three categories or attributes I asked to be evaluated on were challenging, interesting, and relevant. Respondents can also enter free form text responses to 'What you like' and 'What can be improved'.

    I sent out the request for feedback on a Sunday morning, and within 10 minutes I already had received feedback.  Within an hour or so, I hade received feedback from six students, and three or four more gave their feedback in the next day or so. Most of the feedback was really solid, and I immediately noticed a theme in the responses, something I need to improve in the second half of class.

    So about ten students gave precise, informative, anonymous feedback in a day or two, and the entire process took me about 15 minutes to set up, and each student no more than three or four minutes to respond.

    My other alternatives to soliciting this kind of feedback would be to use a tool like Survey Monkey (good, but certainly takes more time to create and administer), or the survey tool in my Course Management System (not that good, and I would waste time figuring it out since I've never used it).

    The advantages of Rypple - ease of setup, anonymity, sheer speed of the feedback loop, cost (free).

    The shortcomings of Rypple - not easy to get summary information, no ability to export feedback into another tool or system for further analysis. 

    But honestly, Rypple seems designed for one thing, simple and fast performance feedback, and it does that one thing very well.

    I encourage you to check it out - Rypple.



    Google Reader Envy

    Do you ever open up Google Reader (or whatever feed reader you use) and see those 'new item' alerts Flickr - Ucumarifor all your favorite blogs, or the blogs of your competitors (assuming you are tracking them and you should be)?

    And then did you ever think to yourself, 'Oh Crap, everyone has new content today, and I spent all weekend watching football, barbecuing, and otherwise goofing off and I didn't write a new post for everyone to read when they got to the office on Monday?'

    Then you try to make a rationalization that you were busy with your kid's birthday party, your house is for sale and someone wanted to see it, and you have about five other 'side' projects going on that are competing for your time. But still, you look at that feed reader, see your blog, and see a big fat zero for new content.

    So, what do you do?  Slap together a half-hearted post just to get something, anything out there? Well, sure sometimes you do just that.  But today, I am not going to resort to that cowards way out.  No, I will do something ever lower, rather that even try to create some compelling, original content, I will simply link out to a few of those 'new items' that were in my Google Reader this morning and made me feel so inadequate.  Since I did not come up with anything interesting for you to read, try some of these posts, from some obviously more 'together' and dedicated bloggers. Enjoy!

    From the HR Maven - HR in Higher Education

    From HR Thoughts - 'Blitzing' your way up the career ladder

    From Michael Specht - the critical need for Succession Planning

    From the Human Capitalist - Has Google's Recruiting Model lost its luster?

    From systematicHR - Should your Applicant Tracking System be more like a CRM?

    From the Taleo Talent Management blog - Why do most boards have no HR types?

    And finally, one non-HR related item in my Reader today.

    The Baseball Prospectus blog takes a break from baseball to note - soccer player Kaka set to earn $37M per season with Manchester City

    So there you have it, a sampling of the 250 or so 'new' items in my reader this morning. Since I did not produce any meaningful content this weekend, at least these folks did.

    Back with some new, compelling HR Tech content tomorrow, (I promise).





    Performance Management Tech - Part I

    In my HR Technology class this quarter, we are fortunate to get the chance to use a 'real' Performance Management system, courtesy of Halogen Software.

    Before class this week, only one out of sixteen students had ever 'touched' an automated performance management system before.  Since these systems are so critical in supporting numerous crucial enterprise management functions (goal setting and alignment, pay-for-performance, potential RIF, support for development plans and succession plans, to name a few), the opportunity for students to test, examine, and offer comments on a real enterprise-strength performance management system is incredibly valuable.

    After running through the basics of configuring a performance appraisal process, we jumped in to have the students complete a self-appraisal, and once submitted, move on to a manager's appraisal of a direct report. 

    As 'live' software exercises go, it went really well, one or two minor glitches (one resolved by a student) and overall the students were really impressed and energized with the activity. 

    Of the many features we discussed in class, the one that generated the most excitement was the 'Comment Helper'.  This tool, common in many performance management solutions, provides the manager with some sample comment text to support a particular performance rating of a competency.  For example, if the manager assigns a 'Below Expectations' rating for the competency of 'Decision Making', the comment helper will default in a comment like "Joe frequently fails to make a decision in a timely manner, causing delays and errors".  Halogen also offers a neat tool called 'Nuance', which allows the manager to simply click an 'Up' arrow to make the comment slightly more positive, or a 'Down' arrow to make the comment more negative.  After the 'suggested' comments are filled in, the manager can revise them further as desired.  Better still, the 'Up' arrow is colored green, and the 'Down' arrow is red.  The students really enjoyed experimenting with this feature, and one student indicated this ability would make him much more likely to author more detailed, meaningful feedback when writing appraisals, avoiding the 'blank page syndrome'.

    The point?  A relatively simple technology feature like the comment helper can really go a long way towards helping managers in a critical business activity, giving accurate and relevant feedback to employees. Technology is not always the answer to business problems, but sometimes it really can be.

    Once again, many thanks to Halogen, especially Connie Costigan, Brent Eyre, and Maggie Patterson.

    If you find yourself in the market for Talent Management solutions, you really should give them a call (or an e-mail, or a Tweet).





    HR and New Technology - follow up

    A quick follow up to the HR and New Technology post from earlier this week.  A point I should have made originally, in fact. Here it is:

    If HR does not start learning, trying, embracing some of these new Technologies (Twitter, Yammer, YouTube, Facebook all the usual suspects), they will take root in the organization anyway, HR won't know what the heck happened, and jump back into classic 'regulate, monitor, make a policy so we don't get sued' mode.

    Months ago I 'claimed' the Yammer domain for my organization.  I invited two or three HR colleagues (who are pretty tech savvy) and tried to get some interest and momentum in the tool.  But nothing happened.  Could not get the HR folks to see the value (or even attempt to see the value) in a tool that allows micorblogging, threaded discussion, image and file sharing, groups formation etc.  In a 'perfect' world, HR would lead the drive to adopt these types of tools in the wider organization.

    Today, out of nowhere, I noticed a flurry of activity on our Yammer network.  It appears like one class of students have decided to sign up for Yammer and create a group to facilitate collaboration and information sharing. This could have just as easily been a faculty or administrative department, the specifics don't really matter.  What matters is that the organization did it on its own.

    And what happens if this group discovers Yammer to be a great tool and spreads the word to the wider organization?  Maybe they'll get some kind of recognition or be recognized as 'innovators'.

    Exactly he kind of PR that most HR departments really need.  That's ok, keep processing the forms, keep folks paperwork up to date, and try not to get noticed.

    Rant off.