Dancing at the employee engagement disco

Phil Wainewright Profile picture for user pwainewright November 13, 2013
In a connected enterprise, how do you engage employees productively? Google, Salesforce, Workday, Cornerstone, Appirio share their views.

We hear a lot of talk about how the ingress of millennials into the workforce will force enterprises to adopt vast swathes of social collaboration. Euan Semple's take on this, quoted in a recent piece by my colleague Dennis Howlett, was a refreshing alternative perspective:

Even if you have internal social platforms what is the right way to connect with staff? Maybe they are already active and already have extensive networks. Isn't this potentially the worst case scenario of looking like a Dad dancing at a disco?

With that quote ringing in my ears, I attended last night's EuroCloud UK meeting on Employee engagement in the connected enterprise with eager anticipation.

To some extent the clue was in the title, with its emphasis on the connected enterprise. There was a lot of talk about millennials, but irrespective of the age of employees, if the enterprise is connected then, as Semple hints in the quote above, its employees are inevitably engaged in social interactions of some kind. Cloud integrator Appirio had assembled four leading cloud vendors — Salesforce.com, Workday, Cornerstone Ondemand and Google — to present their views on what being connected means for employee engagement.

Social intelligence

Salesforce.com's Simon Day —  whose very modern job title is social collaboration architect — presented on the concept of social intelligence (not, as some may suspect, a contradiction in terms, but a data analytics proposition). Using the parallel of Amazon's shopping recommendations engine, he asked us to imagine the outcome if it were possible to connect and analyze workplace data about connections, likes, follows and topics between people, ideas and 'artefacts' — not only documents and files but any object, from processes to calendar events.

"If you throw a lot of algorithms at this, you get the experts, the influencers and if you're smart enough you can surface these people and the rest of the community can endorse them.

"You get the bottom-up machine intelligence and the top-down endorsements from the people themselves."

The trick of course is to get all that data into a single pot where it can be analyzed —  and as an attendee later commented to me, in sufficient quantities to be statistically meaningful, so perhaps less useful in a small business unless aggregated with others. Anyhow, as Day went on to explain, the interaction between people and algorithms filters the machine results to make them more accurate and useful, to the point where the system's 'social intelligence' begins to help people be more productive:

"Imagine in the workplace that you're new and you have to find your way around. If you have an interface that's simple enough and recommendations that are full frontal and central, then people can involve themselves much more quickly ...

"If you do this stuff and people see that there is a benefit for them and it happens very quickly, then your change [in engagement] is concomitantly easier."

Four engagement pillars

David Keene, Google Enterprise head of marketing in UK and Ireland, spoke about four pillars of employee engagement enabled by the enormous capabilities we now have to connect people, things and processes:

  • Being able to do your work anytime, anyplace, using connected mobile devices
  • The ability to work in the cloud on the same thing at the same time ("high velocity collaboration")
  • Real-time messaging and video communication. Internally, Google uses video rather than voice calls, he said: "We communicate where we can see people, where we can see body language."
  • Bridging siloes within and between organizations,

The enabling technologies started out in the consumer market, and Google Enterprise adds functionality such as authentication, service level management, provisioning and policy management that allows employees to wrok seamlessly regardless of their device. He summarized:

"At Google we believe we're literally on the cusp of a massive change in the way we do business."

Social tools will eventually become part of the infrastructure providing context to people as they perform their work, he added:

"Working's about achieving stuff. To me this is about the computing moving from a demand model to an assist model where it can push things to you in context."

Social evolution

Workday's VP alliances EMEA Jeff Pulver recounted his personal journey from compiling mix tapes for his 1970s-era Sony Walkman to discovering Spotify with its community and social features:

"There's very similar changes going on in enterprise software ... What we're able to do now is really focus on those employees and deliver a phenomenal experience to [them]. You've got the ability for the employee to be completely empowered to make decisions."

Michael Baker, RVP client success at Cornerstone Ondemand described how talent management has evolved from a series of occasional one-time touch points, such as annual review or a training event, to a continuous process of engagement:

"Now you can continually engage with your employee through the lifecycle of their employment with you."

Social technology allows employees to learn on the job — in one example, Virgin Media store managers participated in a discussion group where they were able to share best practice for increasing Sunday sales.

"Where are your people spending their time today? If I serve learning at that point, that learning is going to be so much more impactful."

It's important not to introduce social just for its own sake but to have specific, measurable goals in mind, he added:

"It's not about Facebook in the workplace. It's about how you allow your employees to connect and collaborate effectively. Look for specific projects where it will work and measure the success of that."

Change management

Appirio's senior change consultant John Dalton underlined the importance of engaging desire for change in order to succeed when introducing new practices. Even millennials want to know why you're disrupting their work:

"Desire to change is key — what's in it for your users? ...

"Millennials are open to change but they're not open to uncontrolled change."

The overall message was that engagement is happening but that introducing new processes to an organization, just like any other change, has to be purposeful. Any attempt to impose engagement processes without proper explanation and change management ends up as awkwardly as that moment when Dad takes to the disco dancefloor.

Disclosure: Salesforce.com and Workday are diginomica premium partners. The author serves as chair of EuroCloud UK. Last night's event was sponsored by Appirio and hosted at Google's London offices.

Photo credit: © Jérôme SALORT - Fotolia.com

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