I’m always astounded by two facts: first, how few employees feel engaged with their organizations; and second, the number one reason people leave a job is their manager. Ok, I’m astounded by one more fact: 75% of the companies on the Fortune 500 from 25 years ago aren’t on the list any more.
Said another way, a smaller percentage of managers are inspiring their employees to achieve greatness than those who aren’t – by a long shot. It’s the tough reality. That’s what makes The Social Employee by Cheryl Burgess and Mark Burgess such an interesting book to read. (In open disclosure, my colleague Jeremy Hartman and I were asked to contribute a chapter on Cisco to the book.)
When I read how companies like Southwest Airlines, IBM and DOMO invest in social media to drive their employees to the priorities of the business, a light bulb when off in my head: there is a galactic difference between alignment and engagement,
- Alignment is driven by “what” you need to do;
- Engagement is based more on understanding “why” something is important to do.
Unless you satisfy the “why” you won’t get to the “what” as fast or as effectively. This is a mindset for managing, and social media technologies were built to help managers practice the art of engagement. Now I know many managers believe they don’t have the time or skills, or the ROI analysis. But the “social employee” is inevitable in my opinion for one simple reason: Your employees are already using text messaging, instant messaging and group chats every time you host a quarterly all-hands or annual kick-off meeting. Just ask them.
As humans, we are intrinsically curious and innately social. If a team doesn’t feel like they are hearing from their manager “why” something is important to prioritize, they will go to the next best source – their colleagues. At Cisco, we encourage employees to leverage text messaging, instant messaging and group chats during major company announcements or events. We firmly believe (and our metrics concur) that these social technologies foster understanding and confidence around what management is prioritizing with the goal of enabling teams to move faster.
Here are three easy ways to get started with your own “social employee”:
- Use polls during your meetings. Ask your employees to answer questions about your key messages or announcements. It is an easy and simple (and anonymous) way for you and your team to take advantage of a standard feature of web conference software like WebEx.
- Ask for questions via instant messaging. It’s always hard during meetings to get good and diverse questions, and instant messaging is a way to capture your virtual audience if you aren’t always in the same room together. Questions are the key to helping employees understand the “why.”
- Set up a group chat with your management team and your team. Even when John Chambers is speaking at Cisco, we always have a group of managers on a group chat ready to answer questions about the topic for audiences. We put senior management directly on the keyboards to make sure the team can focus questions to the right subject matter expert and keep the conversation as “real” as possible.
Speed of execution is the new currency of differentiation – that’s why CEOs are so interested in collaboration. The social employee is another arrow in the quiver of managers to keep the team moving in the right direction as fast as possible. As managers, we’ll be challenged to “own” more of the “why”, but social media is exceptionally effective at sorting out what’s important and what’s not. You may find yourself answering better and tougher questions, but you’ll be cutting to the heart of the matter faster – and isn’t that the whole point of engagement?
Let me know your ideas in the comments!