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The Impact of Social Networking in Talent Management

Lew Platt, the former CEO of HP, believes that some of the best experts in the business already work for you. They’re your long-time employees, top performers, and innovators. Unlocking their expertise in a systematic way could have a significant impact on your business. Imagine giving every employee direct access to the industry and institutional knowledge of your most senior people, or having your top performers train and mentor new employees.

This being so, it should come as no surprise then that research shows informal learning accounts for over 80% of the learning that takes place in organizations. As organizations realize the potential of informal learning, more and more they are looking for ways to help harness this power and align those results with tangible business goals and strategies.

Enter social networking. Sites like Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter have gone mainstream, and it’s now surprising when you don’t find someone on a Google search. These types of tools and technologies pave the way for your organization to facilitate knowledge sharing, collaboration, and learning activities that directly impact organizational initiatives.

This article will look at considerations for incorporating social networking into your organization’s talent management function, from initial strategy and implementation to optimization.

What’s It Good for?
It’s critically important to understand why your organization wants to adopt social networking and to define your strategic business goals. It’s very likely that either as a company or individually, employees already use social networking sites and tools to connect with colleagues, whether it’s a dedicated LinkedIn, Yahoo! Group, Facebook, an internal forum or knowledge base, a dedicated enterprise social network, or—most likely—some combination of all of these. As a talent management professional, you need to determine how to leverage social networking to facilitate employee learning and development, and improve employee and management performance.

When it comes to any technology initiatives, the plan is the single most important ingredient to ensuring effective use of the technology after implementation. The technology itself is just an enabler and without a well thought-out plan that considers the company culture, business objectives, and how to implement the technology, then the technology will fall short of whatever expectations might exist. As you get started, consider aspects of your corporate culture, privacy and information governance policies, which can be factors to ultimate success.

Less Is More
While the impact could be substantial, so is the undertaking. Once you’ve confirmed the objectives for the project, define the scope – what’s in and what’s out? It’s important to clearly define your objectives and seek achievable—and visible—short-term wins. This will allow you to have a clear purpose, communicate that effectively to your audience, and speed your deployment. An overly ambitious scope will slow down deployment, confuse users, and hinder adoption.

The Best of What’s Around
One of the biggest considerations is whether to bring on new, standalong social networking tools to achieve your objectives, or use existing systems, whether those are internal business systems, or third-party sites, like Facebook or LinkedIn.

The challenge with any new application is adoption, whether it’s a financial package or a social network. More than any other application, social networks (by definition) adhere to Metcalfe's law that states that the value of a network is proportional to the square of the number of connected users of the system. In other words, the more people using the social network, the more valuable it becomes. Unfortunately, an “if you build it, they will come” mentality will probably end badly.

Existing, popular social networks may be a good alternative but can pose security issues for many organizations who want to use networks to enable discovery of proprietary and confidential information. There may also be resistance from employees who don’t wish to expose their personal network to colleagues. They may also not be the right solution if you’re thinking about extending “formal” classroom—and online-based learning with a social networking component, as many organizations are. By using the emerging social networking capabilities in your existing corporate talent or learning management system, it allows you to leverage the underlying data and security model inherent in those systems. For example, the Plateau Talent Gateway, a social networking and collaboration portal, uses an employee’s standard talent profile as the basis for his or her social identity, and allows social activity to integrate with the employee’s talent management “To do” list and learning objectives.

Implementation: the Devil in the Details
We’ve already alluded to some of the concerns and requirements that large, global enterprises face in their adoption of social networking. While, ideally, a social networking service is easy and intuitive for end-users, the implementation is bound to present complex choices regarding both people and technology policies. On the people side, questions of ownership, stewardship and access will inevitably arise (Who can start a discussion? How can you ensure questions are answered? Can our contractor contribute to a discussion thread?). From a technology perspective, the standard privacy and governance policies apply, which project champions and leaders often work closely with the IT department to address. And while using the social networking extension of an existing talent or learning management system may reduce time and risk, it won’t eliminate it.

It’s also worth considering your roll-out. Beta testing your approach with a small population—such as a single department—is a good way to get feedback and work out any kinks. Start with a group that’s likely to be heavy users. Not only will you get quality feedback, but you’ll create advocates within the organizations that can help your initiative go viral. It may also be helpful to identify community managers and leaders and get their buy in early on.

You’ll also need to think about training and support. Do you need to train anyone, such as administrators? How will you support this initiative? Will you have a help desk, rely on self-help, or both?

Manage = Measure
Management guru Peter Drucker is credited with say, “if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.” You should determine early on how you will measure the value of social networking and collaboration in your organization.

Social networking ROI measures are still evolving, but there are methods that you can use to determine your progress and collaboration, because they are intrinsically abstract when compared with hard quantitative measures.

Here are some example success measures to consider:

• Participation (number of visitors, % of employees or % of “learners” involved)
• Number of discussion threads or comments to a post
• Employee satisfaction (based on survey data)

Social networking adoption is highly relative from organization to organization. Understanding the metrics that matter to you will be highly dependent on the objectives you set at the outset.

About the Author(s)

Jeff Kristick is senior vice president of marketing at Plateau Systems, Ltd. (www.plateau.com), a provider of Talent Management Systems.