The Benefits of Social Media – Employee Engagement

Working for the BC Public Service over the last two and a half years, I’ve seen firsthand how a cultural shift towards the use of social media has improved employee engagement.  Social media is a communication channel that allows an employee’s voice be heard across traditional organizational and hierarchical boundaries. When an employee’s voice and effort is freed from the confines of an org chart (i.e., their structured working unit) they widen their circle of influence and increase their effectiveness.

One of the great examples I have on how social media increases employee engagement comes from a discussion forum on our main intranet site. An analyst posted a story about how people in organization can become resistant to change and often do things only because that is the way they’ve always done it. The post was great, but what I appreciated even more was that the head of the public sector was the first person to comment on it. He supported her story and suggested what we could learn from it. When employees see that kind of support from senior leadership, they know they are listened to and they can make a difference.

Social media enables collaboration that reaches across traditional boundaries within the public service. From asking simple questions to starting a movement, technologies such as blogging and microblogging enable communities of people to come together to resolve problems and  share knowledge. Employees announce they are starting a new project and ask others for help or contribute their energy or area of expertise. Sometimes we find those projects have already been completed in other areas of government. Why re-invent the wheel! Social media enables lightning-fast problem solving and reduces duplication of effort by connecting 30,000 problem solvers into one pool. Social media increases transparency, knowledge sharing and effective communication across working groups, branches, divisions and ministries.

An engaged workforce is force to be reckoned with. When people are contributing to what they think is important with people who support them, transformation takes place, seas are crossed, and mountains are moved.

The Why of Social Media (part 2)

When thinking about citizen and employee engagement and how we can all work together to address complex issues such as climate change, homelessness and healthcare, to name a few, consider what motivates people and how we can enable them to do what they do best: contribute.

Understanding human motivation is the foundation of improving citizen and employee engagement. Why do people like to use social media? (Recapping from last post.) People want …

  1. To contribute
  2. To be part of something larger than themselves
  3. To make the world a better place

This is not so say I’m a pollyanna. I understand that some people (maybe 5%?) do not have other people’s interest at heart. I understand that social media is used to develop and spread maleware, viruses and spam, for example. Social media can be used to waste corporate time and to organize organized crime. But the majority of people (say 95%) want to help make the world a better place. In fact, when given the opportunity, most people are passionate about making a difference.

Hundreds of examples are out there, from Wikipedia to Linux, InnoCentive to Threadless, blogs to flash mobs, Ushahidi to a multitude of open source/open data applications that benefit citizens. People contribute to these projects because they are passionate about what they are contributing and understand the value of sharing their effort and expertise to a worthwhile cause they believe in.

When you wake up in the morning and you know that you are contributing to something worthwhile that makes a difference, you wake up with enthusiasm and a smile.

I worked for years in the private sector before coming to the public sector. What impressed me about working for in the BC Public Service was that I could make a difference. I took to heart the Oath of Service, especially the part: “Act with integrity, putting the interests of the public and the public service above my own personal interest.”

I was struck by the fact that we are all working for a common cause: to provide value to the citizens of BC. The vision of the Office of the Chief Information Officer (OCIO) has evolved over time, but when I started we were all pulling in the same direction to:

  1. Enable better business outcomes for the citizens of BC
  2. Reduce carbon emissions
  3. Support an anticipated smaller workforce due to demographics (retirements)

In October, 2010, the BC Government released Citizens @ the Centre: Government 2.0 which provided an updated strategy for transformation and technology for the BC Public Service and is centred on three shifts:

  1. Citizen Participation
  2. Service Innovation (citizen-centric)
  3. Business Innovation

Citizens @ the Centre is exciting because this is strategy not just for the OCIO, but for all of the BC Public Service put out by the Deputy Minister’s Council for Transformation and Technology.

The Why of Social Media (part 1)

Yesterday in at the Advanced Learning Institutes Social Media in Government Conference in Vancouver, I talked about the why of social media. I’ve based my thoughts on Simon Sinek’s golden circle (see TED Talk) of 3 concentric rings of why, how and what. Simon talks about the importance of why in marketing products. (The why motivates people to buy). Most companies start with the what and then move to the how. For example, a car manufacturer’s what: We sell great cars. Their how: We have leather seats, mp3 players, sportscar suspension, and great gas mileage. Most companies don’t even have a why. Profit is not a why; it is a result.

Sinek uses Apple as an example of a company that starts with why. Apple’s why (‘why’ is always a belief): We believe in doing things differently. We believe in challenging the status quo. Their how: We challenge the status quo by making products that are easy to use, beautifully designed, and user friendly. Their what: We make great computers. Want to buy one? Compelling.

Social media is the same way. Whether you are thinking about engaging customers, citizens or employees, start with the why. The why for social media is that people want:

  1. To contribute
  2. To be part of something bigger than themselves
  3. To make the world a better place

The how is Social media. Sharing authentically and passionately about what matters (to the person sharing).

The what is blogging, microblogging, tweets, status updates, uploading video and photos.

The golden circle for social media looks like this:

Golden Circle for Social Media