Yeah – I’m going to write about this. I just finished watching Zero Dark Thirty on the plane, and I’m thinking back to that day. I remember landing in the Chicago airport, booting up my phone and checking Twitter. Scrolling through the feed, one caught my eye: “bin Laden is down.” The tweet was more than a couple hours old at that point, but I noticed it came from a friend of mine in India. I then proceeded straight to the United lounge where I was in absolute disbelief – they had some random Court TV channel on or something. I asked everyone to change channels to CNN saying something like, “Guys, bin Laden is down, we need some news.” I got blank stares and a, “Who are you and what are you smoking?” By the time I left the club, everyone was hanging out next to the TV’s, it had finally made US media more than 4 hours after the event.
There are all sorts of Twitter analogies I love. I love that Twitter can figure out the mood of the country every single day (probably every single minute) based on keywords. I know that we don’t all use Twitter (hey, I’m totally a late adopter and I still barely use it to this day), but this post is really about social media and the pulse of your organization. Hopefully you have something running whether it’s Sharepoint, SFDC Chatter, Jive or anything else. The question is, “are you listening?”
There are all sorts of stories these days about customers who don’t go to the vendor customer service call center, but tweet problems on-line. Service organizations are starting to get pretty good at monitoring Twitter and responding to people to fix problems. I’m not saying that your HR service center needs to allow tickets to come in fiat social media, but when there is a thread about how bad the health insurance is, or that managers are not listening to employees, do you find out about that first, or does someone else bring it to your attention 3 days later? You have the ability to get a view into the problem before it explodes into something bigger that execs are now worried about, but you have to be listening in the first place. Seriously, do you want to bring it to your exec that there is a problem, or do you want your exec to bring it to you?
You can’t get this on email. Even if you are using large distribution lists, most of the people on those lists ignore those emails. Take it from me – I’m one of them. You can get really interesting ideas out there, but if it’s in an email thread where the content is not managed, it’s not owned by the enterprise. Social collaboration forums not only allow mass storage of insights, but they do it in perpetuity (until someone cleans up or archives). If we’re all sitting in front of the news waiting 4 hours to get it, that’s pretty slow and we’re dependent on the distribution channel to tell us what’s important. If we take to the user owned collaboration forums, we get to filter insights in real time.
Back to this idea of pissed off employees – there doesn’t always have to be a thread about something that is upsetting any group of people. How cool would it be if you could create an algorithm that gives you a measure of employee engagement on a daily basis (ok, maybe weekly). Apologies to the vendors who sell engagement surveys, but if you could put together an algorithm that gave you engagement, split it up on dimensions of level, job families, pay grades, organization, you’d have a pretty powerful tool. You might complain that you don’t have specific actions, but I’d disagree. What is the use of an engagement survey that gives you a report every year? Just like the crap about performance management not being meaningful, if it’s a year later, it’s too late. On a weekly basis, you could dig into what comments are causing lower engagement scores, deal with them in the specific populations, create engagement and solutions before things escalate.
I wrote about this years ago, but I think it might actually be time. I’m totally intrigued by the idea that you can get rid of your entire competency model and just use social media. LinkedIn is getting closer, but it’s nowhere near perfect. I don’t want anyone tagging me with skills. What I do want is for HR to figure out what I’m good at by looking at my social media posts inside the corporate firewall. If I post about HR Analytics and 20 people respond, that gives HR an idea that I might be interested in the subject. If someone posts a question about HR Analytics and I respond, and I also get 20 “likes” for my answer, I might have some expertise. As you aggregate all the social data over time, create a taxonomy to apply against business conversations, and apply all that data against employees, you have a pretty good idea of what people are thinking about and what they are good at.
I’ll acknowledge that listening is only part of the solution – much of the other part is figuring out how to listen, what to listen to, and how to decipher what you are hearing. There is a lot of static out there and you need good tools to get good insights back. I also don’t know how far off social listening is for HR, but hopefully this gets us thinking. It’s something we need to do as our organizations get more diverse globally, disconnected geographically, and technologically savvy. Conversations are moving to social, and we have an opportunity. Let’s grab it.