Why you need to unblock Facebook: Performance management and social media

At Cognology I talk to a LOT of Australian companies about best practice performance management. These conversations include the 250+ organisations using our talent management software. But they also cover a broad range of Australian HR professionals, consultants and executives.

Through these conversations, I get a good feel for the performance issues that are keeping leaders awake at night. And one of the biggest concerns I’m hearing today is about social media use (especially Facebook).

There’s a real concern about the amount of wasted employee time that’s spent on Facebook. Execs are concerned about the bottom line impact of the 22 hours each week that the average Australian spends on social media.

Banning social media has never been less effective

At the same time, I’m seeing widespread concern from HR leaders that banning social media is less and less effective.

Ten years ago blocking websites may have worked. Today if an employee wants to look at Facebook, they have a wide choice of devices. And most of these devices are owned by the employee.

Even if you ban social media, research shows that about 40% of employees will end up on Facebook during work hours. If they can’t use Facebook on their work computers, they’ll use their phone, laptop, or any other device they have.

Why Facebook isn’t the CAUSE of your productivity problem

I think there’s much more to the “Facebook is costing us millions in lost productivity” story. In the hundreds of business I’ve worked with, I’m yet to see an example where Facebook is the real cause of the productivity problem.

More typically, social media use problems are a symptom of deeper issues in how you measure and manage performance. In my experience:

“Facebook is costing us millions in lost productivity” usually translates to “we don’t know how to hold our employees to account for their output”.

The solution is to focus on managing output, not monitoring input

Facebook (and every other form of social media) are real and present distractions in the work environment. They’re not going away any time soon.

To be an effective worker today you have to be effective at dealing with these distractions (and many others). Delivering results regardless of distraction is a critical skill for the future of work.

Few managers would disagree with the importance of delivering results on time and on budget. And when you really dive in, all roles have results and output. Results might mean delivering projects on time, or delivering high quality content, or high client satisfaction.

Moving from measuring input to managing output

The key step in making the transition to managing output is to define well-specified goals and competencies. Real performance accountability means agreeing these goals and competencies with every employee. And it means regularly holding every employee to account for delivering on this agreement. Real performance accountability makes Facebook use irrelevant

The beauty of goals and behavioural competencies is that you can manage to these, rather than worrying about whether people are spending time on Facebook.

My own experience with this is that this transition can be quite liberating. All of a sudden you don’t have to watch people to make sure you are getting value. You just look at the value you’re getting as the goals you’ve set are achieved.

So if you think you’ve got a problem with Facebook, start thinking about how you can make the transition from monitoring input to managing output. Managing for output requires more work upfront and more hard conversations. But it also gives you the power to dramatically increase productivity, hit goals and reduce day-to-day management overhead. Sounds like a great deal to me!

How are you addressing social media use in your workforce? I’d love to hear your thoughts. Jump into the comments below and let’s start the conversation.

Image credit: Spencer E Holtaway Under licence CC BY-ND 2.0

My experience using enterprise social technology

We have been using our own enterprise social technology internally now for some time.  I’d like to share just one of the many experiences.  In part I’m doing this to help illustrate the benefit of enterprise social technology.  It helps answer the question of why someone would want to use it.  I’m also sharing the experience to shed some light on the technology for those who are wondering what it’s all about.

Cognology Wall screenshot

There are a myriad of uses for social tech in the organisation … this is just one.

A wall or news feed makes so much sense.  We are social beings, we operate under social constructs.  It helps to be able to see things that are happening across a group or wider group.  Having used our wall quite a bit I couldn’t go back to pre-wall.  For example, one of the uses of the Wall is to recognise others.  As a manager I find this one of the most powerful and positive tools in my kit bag.  When someone does something that deserves recognition, it’s wonderful to be able to put a thank you note on a wall so others can see.  And it’s such a buzz when you see team members giving each other recognition.

There’s some legitimate concerns that people may have about this though.  They are reasonable concerns and need to be addressed.  The three key ones are:

  1. The potential to waste time.
  2. Inappropriate comments.
  3. Replacing face to face interactions.
The potential to waste time

You may wonder whether a wall creates a social love fest.  A frenzy of recognition and other posts.  It doesn’t.  It’s rare to see the same person giving recognition more than once a fortnight.  My experience is that recognition has been given sparingly, where it deserved to be.  If it were given for even the slightest thing, for the sake of it, I believe it would quickly lose its benefit.

The wall hasn’t magically created a perfect working world.  Not every situation and person that truly deserved some recognition, received it.  I think the truth is that people are just busy working and don’t always think to do it.  But there is more recognition, a lot more.  And it’s much more visible.

Inappropriate comments

When many HR people think of social tech, they are probably thinking of sites like Facebook and Twitter.  Let’s face it, we’ve all read news stories about their inappropriate use.

The question is whether we should sacrifice the benefits of enterprise social technology to protect our organisations against potential misuse.  My experience is that I haven’t seen any misuse at all.  But I’ve read the news stories like everyone else and I know it can and will happen.  So do we avoid social tech?  I believe that would be crazy.  That would be like saying no to the introduction of computers into the organisation in the 80s and 90s because of their potential for misuse.

The real question should be how can we minimise the possibility of misuse and protect people from it.  The answer is that people, managers and HR should be given control over information sharing and visibility.  And of course, appropriate policies are needed.  But those policies are needed now regardless of whether you have enterprise social technology.

It’s counterintuitive, but I believe enterprise social technology helps protect organisations and their people.  This is better explained by pointing out what happens if an organisation doesn’t implement social tech.  People will eventually find their own social solutions which organisations won’t have any control over.

Replacing face to face interactions

From a leadership perspective face to face conversations are the shiznit.  Great progress has been made in recent years getting leaders to have one-on-one conversations.  Anything that threatens to undo all this progress is going to be received with some caution.

2 people in a discussion

So does a wall replace face to face interactions?  No it doesn’t.  It enhances them and makes new things possible.  Here’s three ways it does this.

If you’re a manager, ask yourself how often you see team members recognising other team members in front of others.  It happens, but infrequently.  To make things worse, you most likely won’t be there in the moment it happens.  You probably won’t hear about it.  The wall improves both of these problems.  For reasons explained below, recognition is more frequent.  Everyone doesn’t have to be there in the moment either.  If you aren’t there, you’ll still see it, you won’t miss out.

How does a wall increase the frequency of recognition?  The answer is something called the gift economy.  In short it means this.  Joe gives recognition to Sally.  This makes Sally more likely to recognise Joe some time down the track when he deserves it.  In my experience it also makes it more likely that Sally will think to recognise someone else.

The wall also gives people a greater reach.  Visibility is not just restricted to one or two people.  Recognition is not just heard by those in the verbal vicinity.  People across a wider group get to see things they previously couldn’t.

A couple of posts ago I wrote about the new world of work and the need for HR to be part of the change.  I’d love to hear your thoughts on enterprise social technology.

Is HR resisting social technology?

I believe social and HR technology is helping to bring about a new world of work.  But is HR itself getting in the way of this happening?

Sometimes it doesn’t take that long for big change to occur.  When personal computers started to arrive in corporate life during the late 80s and early 90s secretaries and typists were commonplace.  It wasn’t uncommon for a manager to draft a communication, send it to a secretary, who would then type it up and send it back for review before sending.  Amongst other benefits, inexpensive and usable personal computers provided a great opportunity for organisations to save time and money by getting managers to type their own communications.  PCs were implemented at a rapid pace along with organisational edicts for managers to do their own typing.

Vintage typist

Despite the obvious advantage of using computers to draft, edit and produce communications, many managers were highly resistant to the change.  Computers were things they didn’t understand.  What you don’t understand, you fear.  But by the end of the 90s you would be hard pressed to find secretaries typing communications anywhere.  Today it only survives in limited areas like law firms who seem to love dictation as a form of creating a communication.

I believe the vast majority of managers who were resistant to the change that occurred in the late 80s and early 90s would not want to go back to the way things were.  They wouldn’t want to wait for a secretary to type something.  Nor would they want to be without the easy way to get their ideas into a document, then edit and perfect them before communicating.

Social technology is changing the world today.  And talent management technology is becoming increasingly more important in organisations.  Now we are starting to see the two combined.  It makes great sense, we are social beings.  We operate in a social way, even at work.  We aren’t automatons.

So is HR resistant to social technology in the workplace?  Undoubtedly many are.  This is understandable though.  Social technology is relatively young.  Many people still believe that Twitter is used by people who want to tell everyone inane things about their cat and what it does all day.  Add to that the potential legal issues of using social technology.  For example, bullying via social technology.  It’s understandable that HR would be resistant.

The change is happening though and won’t be stopped.  Not for any other reason that the new world of work is just too compelling.

Combining social and talent management technology makes a lot of sense.  HR can elevate its importance in the organisation by embracing it and driving its adoption in the workplace. If HR doesn’t do this, someone else in the organisation will.

Just like the managers of the late 80s and early 90s, I don’t believe HR will want to go back to the old world in ten years time.  People talk about removing organisational silos meaning departments and teams that don’t communicate.  I think we have something more problematic.  We have individual personal silos.  The new world doesn’t have those silos.  People, their work, needs and achievements are more visible to others.  Once you’ve reached this new world, would you want to go back?  I don’t think HR will want to go back.

To be human is to be social.

Today we rescue the working world from tyranny

Organisations can be tyrannical places in a sense.  Very different to the world we live in outside work.  In the morning we arrive at work and step into an older hierarchical world.  At the end of the day we leave work and step back into our democratic lives – for those of us who live in a democracy.  But are we on the brink of a new world of work?

Tyranny is a pretty strong word.  I’m certainly not using it in the same sense experienced by many people in the world who still suffer under tyrannical rule and have little if any freedom.  I mean the way that some managers can exercise power or control within the organisation.  There’s an old world nature about it.  Organisations can be very hierarchical, bureaucratic and pretty dreary for many.

Managers are in positions of power.  They can hire and fire.  Anyone beneath a manager in the hierarchy is subordinate to that person.  The manager can control that person (to an extent).  This is necessary to organise a group of people to achieve something, but the question is a degree of control versus lead.

I believe a new type of workplace is emerging.  You can see it in the tech startups for example. Their people are more like partners in a sense.  The culture of equity in these organisations is testament to this.  A local example is Shoes of Prey.  It only takes a little familiarity with their blog to understand that working at Shoes of Prey is different.

In the new world of work organisations rely less on hierarchical power and more on leadership and partnership.  This change has been happening for some time now to be sure.  Picture work now compared to the 50s for example.  The big difference though is that in the new world people may still need to be organised to achieve things, but by having more visibility and understanding for what each is doing, they need less control.  They can have more autonomy in the way about which they achieve things.  People can be more like collaborators.  Technology is making this possible.

Step into a government department and you might wonder if this new world could ever possibly happen though.  They can be the very embodiment of bureaucracy and control.  Is the new world a possibility for all or just for those who work in the likes of the tech startup?  Some days I think this is possible, some days not.

History gives us some hope though.  This sort of thing has happened in the past.  There are a number of examples, but perhaps one stands out amongst the others.  In the 6th century BCE, the Greeks brought about a new world with democracy. At the time you could have been forgiven for thinking this not possible – the Athenians lived under tyrannical rule.  So how did it happen?  Was it high minded thinking by great individuals?  Will it take this sort of effort to bring about a new world of work and can this happen now?

Picture of Cleisthenes

The answer is that democracy and the new world came about in part because one man named Cleisthenes saw an opportunity to gain power over rivals by giving the people rights and a say in things.  He may have been high minded as well, but the point is that this isn’t a requirement.  To say that the people gravitated towards Cleisthenes is an understatement.

In our day, organisations like the tech startups and others are our Cleisthenes.  If talented people gravitate towards new world organisations, which they surely are, great change can occur.

How long can the old world organisations last, if talent gravitates towards the places where they can be their best?

For our part, we want to help make the new world possible in 2013.