01/24/2013 04:24 pm ET Updated Mar 26, 2013

Speed Your Company's Social Transformation, From Inside Out

"If HP only knew what HP knows," former HP executive Lew Platt once famously said. Now that enterprise social software can spur company-wide, transparent sharing and collaboration, there's no excuse. In fact, providing employees with easy and obvious ways to learn faster together and from each other is proving to be one of the most successful approaches for companies to stay competitive and spur employee esprit de corps.

That discovery wouldn't surprise Teresa Amabile, author of The Progress Principle. She found that employees become higher performing and happier when they experienced regular, small wins and were authentically affirmed by their bosses.

"Human communities depend upon diversity of talent, not a singular conception of ability."~ Sir Ken Robinson

Since social software tools speed idea sharing throughout an organization, they multiply opportunities for employees to get things done better together, hone skills and receive wider recognition. In so doing, the company culture becomes more open, productive and tight-knit. Smart firms are viewing their employees as ardent, articulate and connected internal and external ambassadors of their personal and company brand. In so doing companies optimize and retain their top talent.

"Many ideas grow better when transplanted into another mind than in the one where they sprung up."~ Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.

Canadian telecommunication corporation TELUS started its social transformation by establishing a "Learning 2.0' system that encouraged continuous, iterative shared learning and collaboration among their 35,000 team members in different countries. Their tools ranged from TELUS Buzz, a microblogging platform of updates and questions to their version of an internal YouTube channel. TELUS senior director and head of learning and collaboration, Dan Pontefract, believes such measures reinforce TELUS' "future is friendly" credo.

"In a time of drastic change, it is the learners who inherit the future. The learned find themselves equipped to live in a world that no longer exists."~ Eric Hoffer

These changes are tied to two key business metrics: increased employee satisfaction scores and their customers' likelihood to recommend them to others. This reflects a shift from a 'Command and Control' leadership to f 'Cultivate and Coordinate'" according Jacob Morgan, author of The Collaborative Organization. Pontefract calls it a shift to a "flat army."

"Intelligence will become more and more collective; innovation and order will become more and more bottom up."~ Matt Ridley

BASF, a multinational chemical corporation, made a major move towards social by creating Connect.BASF, "a comprehensive internal online network for employees to share knowledge, collaborate, and unify the company," according to Social Business by Design co-author and chief strategy officer at The Dachis Group, Dion Hinchcliffe. Says Hinccliffe, "It includes, "employee profiles, status updates, communities of interest, searching and tagging capabilities, blogs, forums, bookmarks, file sharing, and wikis." While the company hoped to increase worker efficiency and company value, Hinchcliffe knew that would only happen if employees were motivated to participate. That's why BASF focused on showing employees specific ways they could perform their jobs better, using the tools.

"We tend to focus on snapshots of isolated parts of the system, and wonder why our deepest problems never get solved yet sometimes we are able to solve a deep problem because what I don't know is what the person to my left or right does." ~ Peter Senge

Suggests Hinchliffe, "If self-awareness is the key to individual renewal, think of this process as the ultimate example of group self help."

"Collaborative cultures accelerate the evolution of ideas, because they nurture cross pollination. Competitive cultures slow down the rate of evolution by locking their ideas away." ~ David Hodgson

One of IBM' newest social initiatives is IBM Voices. "It is intended to efficiently capture and share employee and customer insights in real time and in context of a particular business topic" according their director of enterprise social programs, Ethan McCarty. it is a dashboard where employees can more swiftly discover the latest news and thinking on topics most relevant to them via the aggregation of internal and external social streams that are represented on that dashboard.

That's important for enterprise to encourage and capture the value of employees as company ambassadors. Observes McCarty, "We are all experiencing the convergence of organizational brand & culture with personal identity that is unprecedented -- and the organizations that will win in this era of greater data transparency, permanence, velocity and discoverability will be those that can attract and retain people who improve company culture by embodying the company's character."

"Those that regularly come into contact with people having diverse interests and viewpoints are more likely to come up with innovative ideas."~ Steven Johnson

Imagine your firm combining the social systems we've just described with 3M's initiative to retool its corporate campus to bring social analytics into every discussion. A stronger, interconnected way of doing business starts to crystalize. Mike Edelhart, CEO of The Tomorrow Project, Pivot Conference and Social Week discovered that "3M employees are being encouraged to use this data in every interaction. Social effectiveness is now part of employee compensation and hiring evaluations."

As 3M's social media leader, Greg Gerick told Jason Compton, "We're very tribal, and we like to huddle around a table and solve problems. That gives us two huge advantages: Our culture is collaborative, and we have the mind-set of integrating the voice of the customer."

More pervasively powerful than solo social media marketing, such bold initiatives for transforming whole enterprises, from the inside out, into social organization will have far more pervasive effects on us as workers and as consumers. Key is how well we, as workers, can participate in the design, use and benefits of a holistic approach to staying competitive, as companies and as individuals.

"Because I helped to wind the clock, I come to hear it strike."~ William Butler Yeats

The more that we, as the new "social workers" can see and successfully suggest holistic models for adoption in our own company, the greater the chance that we can use our best talents with others, and choose to stay at a firm, doing meaningful work together. That recognition circles us back to the beginning of this column where we cited Teresa Amabile's recommended path for a company to ensure that employees are high-performing and happy with their bosses and peers, and find their work meaningful.