Talent Practices: Leveraging the Power of Collaboration

  One of my favorite quotes comes from Rob Cross in his book The Hidden Power of Social Networks, ” Research has consistently shown that whom you know has a significant impact on what you come to know, because relationships are critical for obtaining information, solving problems, and learning how to do your work.”  That, is a powerful statement about social networking . . .echoed in this comic selection from “Zits.” As I said in my earlier post, we have just finished a piece of research designed to explore in what ways can organizations leverage the power of collaboration across the talent processes.  Social networking itself is not new, what is new is the impact of Web 2.0 technology on collaborative behavior.  In this post, I wanted to offer just an ‘appetizer’ of insight from that research and talk about it in the context of the current economic issues.

We surveyed over 75 organizations, and overall we found that:

  • Social networks are an important component of an organization’s core talent processes . . . While social networking was important to the successful execution of all talent processes, they are considered critical for engagement, on-boarding — transitioning — and off-boarding, and leadership development. 
  • Furthermore, respondents believe that networking is important for all levels of the organization, but particularly so for senior executives.  As Michael Watkins so often points out in this book, The First 90 Days, no leader, no matter how capable, can do it all.  Leaders need networks that are constantly being refreshed and renewed to be successful.
  • Finally, despite the fact that social networking is not a new behavior pattern, our respondents indicated that they don’t think they are as effective as they could be at leveraging the power of collaboration.  Their organizations may be leveraging the technique and/or tools in selective ways or within functions — creating pockets of excellence.  But overall, many organizations are still experimenting with collaboration tools. 

So, in what ways are companies leveraging the power of social networking across the talent processes?  Let me share just a sampling of what we’ve learned:

  • Recruitment: Of all the talent processes, this is the area that has seen the most visible change as a result of social networking and web 2.0 tools.  While I find networking sites like LinkedIn and Facebook interesting, I am far more intrigued by sites like “Beyond.com” and “Jibe.”  Before the recession we were seeing the emergence of ‘talent brokerage.’  But the recession has accelerated a new approach to employment –‘gigonomics,’ the act of being employed on a ‘gig’ basis.  Social networking tools allow active communities to form around project based work creating a new type of long term employment experience.  Social networking sites like Jibe, on the other hand, is interesting in that it uses social networking to create transparency around an organization’s culture, allowing potential employees to find a ‘great fit.’ 
  • On-boarding/Transitions/Off-boarding: As the recession deepens and we see talent moved in/out/ and around the organization, effectively managing the employee life cycle becomes more important.  Social networking can become a key tool to enabling that process.  Given the short tenure of senior leaders these days, robust on-boarding and transition management becomes a strategic intervention with real impact on organizational performance.  What if you can speed time to effective performance by 3 to 6 months for a Senior Leader through accelerated on-boarding? In a tough economy where performance runways are short, time matters.  Finally, many of us have had to say ‘good-by’ to talented people as organizations are reforming themselves.  Off-boarding with care and keeping connected through social networks is an effective way to ‘keep your talent close’ in anticipation of future opportunities.  Over time, more of our talent will move in and out of our organization on a project or ‘gig’ basis.  Keeping talent networked with us through their employee life cycle, will be an important enabler for organizational agility.  So who does this well?  Look to companies like Baxter,  Capital One, and Johnson & Johnson who have Leaders Transition Programs.  Consulting firms, not surprisingly, have the most interesting approach to employee life cycle management by leveraging 2.0 tools to keep alumni connected — E & Y and Deloitte, for example. 
  • Employee Engagement: At any time, particularly in tough economic times, employee engagement is a key enabler to organizational performance, now and in the future.  As organizations have cut their way to survival, they may have already lost their most important asset — employee hearts, minds, and hands.  An effective internal social network is the glue that binds the organization together, keep talent engaged, and facilitates transformation.  As organizations fight for precious customer revenue, engaged employees can provide that point of competitive advantage.  My favorite example of good old fashioned social networking comes from Ford Motor Company . . .clearly a company fighting for survival.  As they introduced the new product line-up for this year, they invited all of their HQ employees down to ‘test drive’ the products . . . hoping that they would ‘activate the purchasing power of their social networks.’  What a simple but powerful way to engage, inspire, and enable employees. 
  • Training and Development:  As I prepare my my thoughts for the Winter Professional Development Consortium this week, I am convinced that social networking will have the most profound impact on this talent process.  New social tools will change the fundamental role of the CLO.  We will transition from being ‘content enablers to context enablers’.  These tools will enable employees to access the information they need when and where it is needed — through instant messaging tools, blogs, wiki’s, expertise locators, and so on.  Employees will be able to zero in on the specific information they need to solve problems, perform specific tasks, or quickly update skills.  Our role will be less about creating information/skill content, and more about enabling the context for employess to access information/skill when and where they need it . . . pulling it together quickly and easily to create knowledge. . . experimenting with it. . .creating repeatable transparent processes.  Responsibility for learning will shift to where it belongs . . . with the employee. 

Social networking is real work.  It is not unusual for leaders to think of social networking as a supplemental acticity, something that augments ‘real work’ or ‘personal development.’  For those organizations that actively use social networking and associated tools to share information, cooperatively develop insights or event collectively create product(s) it has become a fundamental work process that adds value to the organization. 

As your organization takes its own unique journey, where do you think it will engage first?  How is your organization harnessing the power of collaboration?