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Creating a Social Intranet where Employees can Learn, Plan and Do

This post is the introduction to a new three part “Learn, Plan and Do” series that explores the use of social technologies to take your intranet to the next level, to create a social intranet. But hopefully you will find that it goes even further.. to not only create a social intranet, but to also introduce your employees to an integrated social experience.

Special note: Proud to say that this post made Ragan’s HR Communicator on March 17, 2011. Thank you everyone for your tweets, retweets and comments. The Social Workplace only truly exhibits the essence of social media when you contribute to it. Thank you!

Introducing the Social Intranet

Social media has generated a flurry of organizational buzzwords and catch phrases — collaboration, enterprise 2.0, knowledge share, cloud computing, community, online reputation, social CRM, crowd sourcing… and the list goes on and on. One of the phrases that you hear more and more frequently is actually one that has been around for quite some time: employee engagement. (And one that is very near and dear to my heart.) With this renewed focus on engagement, organizations are now assessing how they can leverage social technologies to engage their most important audience, employees. And where better than your company intranet? The corporate intranet is (or should be) the hub of all employee activity and transactions; where employees go to manage money, career, life events, and health. Taking your intranet to the next level means to not only stop pushing static content, but to also use social technologies to enhance the every day activities and transactions necessary for employees to learn, plan and do their jobs; thereby making them more efficient, engaged and productive: a social intranet.

Social Intranet (sō’shəl) • (ĭn’trə-nĕt’) An intranet that utilizes social technologies to enhance the every day activities and transactions necessary for employees to learn, plan and do their jobs thereby making them more engaged and productive.

Build Your Intranet into a Social Experience

If you take a look at this year’s Intranet Design Annual of 2011, you’ll find that a common best practice among the companies found in the Top 10 (disclosure: Verizon is one of them) is that they aren’t just creating an environment where information is simply pushed to employees. Instead, they all look to create not just a portal, but an experience.

Your old, standard intranet is one-way communication. A social intranet is two-way communication.

But converting your old Sharepoint “document library” into a social intranet is not an easy task. Most organizations encounter many hurdles due to lukewarm executive support, insufficient platform infrastructure, or poor adoption rate. And in most situations, these barriers often result in muddled efforts that produce disjointed experiences and misguided relevancy. Intranet portals that simply direct or redirect your workforce to different systems don’t resonate with and don’t provide relevancy to your employees, and consequently, they won’t use it.  An integrated social intranet that presents not only a dashboard of who employees are and what they need to do, but also provides the social tools to help them do it, is much more compelling and useful.

When Big Words Mean Simple Things

While it might sound impressive to use fancy schmancy social media buzzwords, overusing them in your business justification can sometimes hurt your social media strategy more than help it.  Even the most progressive executives, especially ones who aren’t involved in social media, can become a little trepidatious of investing in new technologies without having proof that it’s going to stick. And if that wasn’t bad enough, being “social” doesn’t always bode well in organizational settings because the word “social” easily becomes synonymous with being “unproductive.”

It’s times like these that you should take a step back and reconfigure your approach — and how you think about it. When you’re passionate about enterprise social technologies, it’s easy to allow four and five syllable words to overcome you. Have you ever tried to explain enterprise social media to someone using the phrases “increasing employee engagement,” “enabling collaboration and knowledge share,” or “building enterprise community” only to have that person look back at you with a blank stare? When it comes to the corporate intranet, step outside of the usual buzzwords to really identify the purpose of a social intranet and what it will provide for your organization and your employees. Take out the big words. Simplify. Use the words that are in your business imperatives or priorities. And, more importantly, ask yourself, what do these words mean to the employee?

For example:

  • Communication, Knowledge Share = a place where employees can LEARN
  • Collaboration, Community = a virtual water cooler for employees to come together and PLAN
  • Crowd-sourcing, Contribution = a way for employees to provide input & participate so they can DO

What an Unproductive Employee is Costing You

  • $20 – 35%** = $7 / hr
  • $7 / hr x 40/hr work week = $280 week
  • $280 x 50 weeks*** = $14,000
  • $14,000 x 1,000 (# emp) = $14 million
** 100% – %65 = 35% unproductivity
*** 52 wks per year. 2 wks vacation assumed.

The ROI of a Social Intranet

There’s that word again … ROI. Productivity doesn’t come without a price tag, and creating an integrated social experience on your intranet is NOT going to be an easy task. In all likelihood, it’s going to be quite laborious and will require commitment from many cross organizational teams. There isn’t a single executive who won’t ask for the return on investing what will inevitably amount to considerable capital expense and cost in resources. So, take a look at what an unproductive employee is costing you. A 2009 white paper entitled The High Cost of Doing Nothing, from The Ken Blanchard Companies states that “most senior executives have assessed that their workforce is operating at only 60% to 65% of their potential.” If you use the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ 2009 National Compensation Survey‘s median hourly wage of $20.00*, that means a company of 1,000 employees is losing upwards of $14 million a year.

If you spent $3 million dollars on creating a social intranet that increased efficiency and productivity by 30% in your organization, your return is close to $10 million dollars.

Beyond the dollars and cents, your true reward is a lot less tangible. It’s in the response you will receive from your employees — the increased engagement and productivity — because, afterall, an intranet can’t be social without the very people who breathe life in to it.

* Exact figure of $20.90 was rounded down for simplicity sake.

Read the next post in the Learn, Plan and Do series, “Knowledge Management: Creating a Social Intranet Where Your Employees can Learn.”

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Elizabeth is a strategic communications leader with nearly 20 years experience in both internal and external communications. She is a passionate advocate for developing communications that foster a stronger relationship between the organization and its employees. She is a global keynote speaker on employee engagement and HR communications. Elizabeth is a certified professional in Employer Brand through Universum Global's Employer Branding Academy.

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