Every Employee Involved2013-09-19
The skepticism, risk-aversion and ignorance that held companies back from embracing digital and social media is fading. Senior leaders are taking responsibility for their companies’ digital strategies, according to a McKinsey & Company report. That’s good news, since leadership’s failure to pay attention to digital is most often cited as the reason initiatives fail.
The C-suite’s discovery that digital pays is producing some great customer-focused innovations. Of the five digital trends McKinsey covers in its study, however, one of the most important still hasn’t fired executives’ imaginations. “Companies have been slower to adopt digital approaches to engaging their own employees, suppliers, and external partners,” the study says.
The same executives who are now charging into the customer-facing digital future are the same ones who shrug off questions about lifting restrictions to employee access to social channels. I heard the CEO of a large institution dismiss the question as an IT decision. Besides, he said, it’s mostly younger people who use these channels and we can’t have them wasting time on Facebook when they should be working.
Both McKinsey and Deloitte have issued studies and reports detailing how employees using social software both inside and outside the company can solve problems and find information faster, improving productivity by 20 to 25%.
Employees are also increasingly the face of the company. Most of your staff probably includes their employer in their social network profiles. Any of their connections can find out whom they work for and ask questions. The answers they give become part of your brand (assuming you subscribe to the notion that “brand” is the embodiment of all of your customers’ experiences with the company).
Customer service issues can be solved and reputations salvaged by employees who don’t work in customer service. A FedEx employee who helped me find a lost package after I tweeted my frustration turned out not to be a customer service rep. He worked in media relations and followed me on Twitter because I tweet about media-related topics. (I was also contacted by an employee communications rep from UPS who suggested her company would work harder for me.)
The concept of every employee involved extends beyond the digital realm. In most organizations, only official spokespeople can give statements to the press, but crisis expert Gerald Baron pointed out in a recent post that an update to the public communication policy under the U.S. National Response Framework now lets any worker talk to the press, as long as they confine their remarks to their own work; only leadership can address policy and incident management operations.
Why the change? According to Baron, a media narrative emerged in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, with workers on the beach telling reporters they weren’t allowed to say anything. By empowering employees to talk about their jobs during a crisis, “this policy effectively took away the media’s metanarrative about restricting access.” Any policy confining comment to official spokespersons now “only runs the serious risk of accusations of lack of transparency, of trying to manipulate the news, or less than full disclosure. Such is our world.”
The federal policy update is consistent with the findings of an Altimeter Group study dating back to 2011 found that the companies experiencing social media crises shared a couple overarching characteristics: no policy to provide employees with guardrails for their company-related online engagement and no social media training.
If the world of customer engagement has changed, so has the world of work. The reality today is simple:
Every Employee Involved
Involved in customer service. Involved in shaping the company’s reputation. Involved in solving problems. Involved in conversations with suppliers and partners. Involved in answering questions from the press, from friends and family, from the weak connections in their networks.
Every. Employee. Involved.
Despite the ever-increasing number of tales of companies that are engaging their frontline staff in conversations with customers and others, many leaders will blanch at the idea. They will point out that employees are not trustworthy. They trash their bosses on Facebook, leak company-confidential information to gossip sites, and put the firm at risk by ignoring regulatory rules.
As Christopher S. Penn tweeted a few years back:
Building trust between leadership and frontline employees has to be a top company priority in the days of every employee involved. That will require a lot of work, since engagement levels are at historic lows. A recent Weber Shandwick study found that only 35% of U.K. employees feel valued and more than a third would leave their jobs tomorrow for something better if they could. (And leaders are surprised when employees don’t behave like fully-committed ambassadors of their companies?)
Training is another priority. Avoiding mistakes and embarrassments hinges on employees knowing the rules (which means well-considered policies are also not optional).
That training goes beyond all-hands materials that will raise employees’ comfort level when responding to a question from a friend on Facebook. According to the McKinsey report, companies are concerned about “finding the talent their companies need to realize their digital goals.”
Technical, functional, and business skills are all critical for digital programs. We have seen some companies begin emulating the high-tech practice of “acqui-hiring” (that is, acquiring small companies largely for their employees rather than their products). But finding and hiring talent is only part of the solution; no matter where the talent comes from, development and retention are equally important in a sellers’ market.
Most companies don’t know what they’re looking for in their hiring, even if they think they do. My colleagues Richard Binhammer and Mark Dollins and I have identified 34 digital and social media competencies, and listed the requirements for each one at each of three levels: entry-level, intermediate, and strategic. Few organizations (if any) are getting that granular when looking for specialists to fill jobs needed to realize their digital goals. Nor are they training to ensure the right people have the right competencies at the right level.
(You can get more information on social and digital competencies in our white paper.)
Every Employee Involved will also require new thinking from staff functions like Human Resources and Employee Communications. Managers and supervisors will need to understand their role in helping their reports integrate social interactions into the performance of their jobs. IT will need to ensure network security with employees routinely visiting sites over which they have no control.
Make no mistake. Companies that work toward Every Employee Involved will win. Those that continue to restrict interaction with various stakeholder groups to designated individuals will lose.
For decades, companies have said that employees are their greatest assets. The time has come to walk that talk. As Gerald Baron says, such is our world.