THE BLOG
04/27/2015 03:53 pm ET Updated Jun 27, 2015

Digital Fluency, Social Enterprise and Why They are Important for HR

Technology, especially social media, has dramatically changed the way people communicate in recent years, and what I call "digital fluency" has become the business literacy of the 21st century. Digital fluency is the ability to use social and mobile technology to communicate, collaborate and connect with people.

In HR, most recruiters have already realized the necessity of social media for sharing jobs, getting employee referrals and even building a pool of potential talent. For other HR professionals, digital fluency is also essential because it provides us with tools to communicate more effectively internally, enhance learning and connect employees, all ultimately developing stronger culture and engagement. I've found great examples of digital fluency having a positive impact on HR and culture through the use of social enterprise technology.

Improving Communication
Communication has long been identified as one of the most critical challenges in organizations. It affects alignment, engagement and productivity. In an increasingly knowledge-focused world, information sharing is becoming a huge issue, as workers store masses of tacit knowledge in their heads, creating duplication of efforts, difficulty finding information, and ultimately frustration and loss of productivity. As organizations grow, silos tend to grow as well, separating departments, locations, people and knowledge.

Combine these factors with the fact that most corporate communication functions in one way. A leader sends an email out, posts a memo or presents at a Town Hall meeting. While there may be an opportunity for people to ask questions or comment, this tends to be rare in many organizations. A 2012 Harvard Business Review article called communication "The Silent Killer of Big Companies" and cited engaging employees in two-way dialogue as key to improving this predicament. Social Enterprise technology provides an opportunity for HR to enhance communication and combat these communication issues.

McKinsey's report on The Social Economy cites that employees spend almost 20 per cent of their work time - 1.8 hours every day - searching for information or trying to track down colleagues who have information that can help them. The challenge of finding the information you need, when you need it causes productivity loss and can lead to poor decision making when employees can't find the right information in a timely manner. There is a great opportunity for information sharing with social enterprise technology. In fact, McKinsey also reports that organizations have the potential to increase worker productivity by 20 to 25 per cent when using Enterprise Social.

At Ogilvy Insurance, Mila Araujo, Director of Personal Lines insurance, was seeing this frustrating loss of productivity on a regular basis, by watercooler discussions, long email threads and being asked the same questions multiple times. She implemented Yammer's social enterprise software as a solution. After training to her team to treat Yammer as a private boardroom or think-tank for sharing answers, she asked employees to posts their questions on Yammer so that everyone could participate in knowledge sharing and the answer would be documented. Answers are tagged with searchable topics so they are easy to find. Mila now directs employees to Yammer to find their answers there first. It didn't take long for people to adopt the tool once they realized it would help them get their work done efficiently, and it has had a huge impact on their productivity and ability to serve their clients quickly and effectively.

With offices in Toronto and Montreal and multiple departments, silos had begun to impact connection at Ogilvy. Employees are encouraged to share sales successes, customer concerns and other feedback on Yammer. In Mila's words, "From a Management perspective, it has increased response to ideas, allowed implementation of solutions and inspired new campaigns. What used to take weeks to go from the idea to realization now happens in days if not hours. The collaboration has broken down silos and strengthened the team dynamic, not only within the department, but across the company. People feel included and invested in the projects and campaigns and that makes all the difference." These findings are not unique to Ogilvy. Yammer's Business Value survey showed that 68 per cent of users agree that Enterprise Social improves collaboration across remote locations.

Enhancing Learning
Self directed and informal learning are critical to employee development. We have known for years that formal, classroom-based training has little impact, with studies showing that it only contributes 10 per cent of actual development. Social Enterprise technology like Microsoft's Yammer allows employees to learn socially - sharing and consuming the content they find helpful or most interesting.

As part of the learning programs I work with my clients on, we integrate Yammer to share curated content related to the more formal sessions and trends from coaching and peer learning sessions. One of the interesting benefits of this is that those who tend to be more introverted often feel more comfortable sharing their thoughts online rather than in person, so Yammer has given them a place where they feel comfortable adding comments and sharing.

In many retail organizations, the learning function is decentralized, with responsibility for training in each store location. In one such organization, Yammer was integrated into the training of these field-based specialists. During their "Train the Trainer" session, they used Yammer to post "Parking Lot" questions (not directly related to the topic at hand that will need to be answered later). They encouraged people to post their questions and answered them on Yammer at the end of each day. Afterwards, Yammer provided a place to communicate about training materials, share learning practices and answer any questions that popped up.

Connecting Employees
In an increasingly global and digital world, connection to one another and our organization is increasingly difficult to achieve, despite its importance. Traditional tools like email don't provide the same richness as a social enterprise network, which includes profiles that show colleagues' photos, interests and expertise as well as status updates. In fact, in a recent study by Yammer, they found that 83 per cent of enterprise social users feel better connected to their team. It also found that 80 per cent of Enterprise Social users report they are more informed about what is happening inside their organization than before having the solution.

In one large financial organization, employees are often working across different offices on projects. They use their social enterprise network to virtually "meet" people before they have an initial project call. Yammer's profiles include expertise, interests and family information, allowing employees to find common ground to break the ice with as they start working together. In doing this, relationships are built quickly even across geography and function.

Geoff Webb, a Global Sourcing Strategist at AON Hewitt RPO, has found Yammer extremely helpful to connect remote workers. They use their Yammer network to share what they're working on, project updates and where they're working. On National Walking Day, employees were encouraged to take a 30 minute walk and post pictures from it on Yammer, sharing their neighbourhood and connecting people across geography. Although team members rarely see each other in person, they feel connected personally and professionally.

Getting Started
If you are getting started with enterprise social software, it is important to have a strong engagement strategy and purpose behind it. What happens often is that the rollout of social enterprise technology is an IT project, with HR brought in at the outset to help with communication. Social technology is about relationships, transparency and trust; Human Resources' insights and expertise in these things is essential to developing an effective plan and seeing the technology adopted more widely. According to Gartner, "the sad fact is that 80 per cent of social business efforts will not achieve their intended benefits due to inadequate leadership and overemphasis on technology." Strong, digitally fluent HR and engagement expertise involved at the onset can help to turn this tide.