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  • HR Tech 2012: It’s all about Social

    With Day 1 of HR Tech in the books and Day 2 lifting off, I’ll offer a few reflections on HR Tech 2012.

    What really jumps out at this show is that Social is hitting HR in a big way. There are speaking tracks on Social HCM. There are new Social HCM startups. HR incumbents are touting their new social wares. Everywhere you walk, you hear the word “social”.

    This is a natural, perhaps inevitable development for both HCM and enterprise social. The two were really made for each other: Enterprise social is all about unlocking the value of employees, and so is HR.

    But as a social software guy, I’m struck by how nascent the social vibe at HR Tech feels.

    The speaker sessions on Social HCM are still covering the basics: What is social? Why do it? Who owns it? How do you mitigate the risks? It’s still Social 101 time in the HR community.

    The vendors claim to have it all worked out, but there too it’s still early days. The startups are still providing standalone point solutions. Some of them are nice, but it’s hard to see them getting serious traction in the enterprise. Established players are bolting social onto their product suites, but it’s not clear that they’ve thought a whole lot about the integration between “core” HCM and Social.

    If there’s one thing we’ve learned in the enterprise social software business, it’s that social succeeds when it’s integrated into the flow of work. That applies to Social HCM as well. Social HCM is more than Social plus HCM. You’ve got to integrate the transactional elements of traditional HCM into the social capabilities and vice-versa. The goal must be an integrated experience in which the social mission furthers the HCM mission and vice-versa.

    There are a lot of great minds walking around this show who understand HR, Social, and the relationship between the two: Sameer Patel, Yvette Cameron, Marcia Conner, Jim Lundy. These folks see the future of Social HCM. If you get a chance to spend time with them, take it.

    I predict that the Social HCM category is going to get sophisticated in a hurry. This is going to be fun.

    Info-Tech Recognizes Socialtext Yet Again for Innovation in Social Collaboration

    We’re excited to share the news that Info-Tech Research Group’s latest Collaboration Platforms Vendor Landscape lists Socialtext as an ‘Innovator,’ exemplifying our stance as a definite and future leader when it comes to facilitating business processes to get work done efficiently.

    “The collaboration landscape is rapidly evolving and companies must continually evaluate currently deployed solutions against the innovative products being served up by major vendors in this space,” said Ben Dickie, Research Analyst, Info-Tech Research Group.

    Info-Tech’s latest report assesses vendors by the strength of their offering and enterprise strategy. We received a value index score of 90, which ranked us second of the eleven other vendors listed! Our strongest accreditation was for having a strong feature set, attractive price point and a vast deployment option. Our social tagging, activity feeds, and advanced expert search options were recognized as specific strengths in the platform.

    At Socialtext, we strive to integrate with other aspects of business, and this is precisely what we want to hear moving forward into new markets. The measurable benefits, quantified by the increase in employee productivity, have allowed us to grow as we are coming to understand that any business can benefit from collaborative platforms.

    In this day and age, effective workforce collaboration is critical for any business of any size. We are looking forward to maintaining our innovative approach and ensuring a custom fit with each of our customers. WIth a strategic push into social HCM (Human Capital Management) partnered with Peoplefluent, we are eager to venture into this new and exciting space, and provide the tools needed for effective onboarding and job trainging with a social twist.

    This means continuing to update our features and no doubt staying ahead of the technology curve!

    Watch Firing Line with Bill Kutik: The Social Enterprise and HR Featuring Charles Jones of Bedford Funding

    Join us on Thursday, October 4, 2012 at 10am PT/1pm ET for a must listen to Charles Jones, Founding Partner of Bedford Funding (owners of Socialtext, Peoplefluent and Aquire) share his insights on the latest episode of Firing Line with Bill Kutik.

    The Firing Line is the first video series created exclusively around HR Technology trends and issues. The upcoming 30-minute show – The Social Enterprise and HRwill also feature Jim Lundy, leading Social Media Analyst and Founder of Aragon Research.

    The discussion will include:

    • How will social media technologies change HR?
    • How can enterprise business take full advantage of social media to achieve demonstrable ROI?
    • What effect will Generation X and Generation Y have on the adoption curve of social media within the enterprise?
    • How does social media directly affect the recruiting process?
    • How does the proliferation of mobile devices intersect with managed social strategies?

    Join us to watch three leading HR thought leaders discuss these and many other issues critical to every HR leadership team.

    Register here.

    We Need Your Vote! No, Not for President…for the Constellation Research Supernova Awards!

    Two of our fantastic customers have been named semifinalists for the prestigious Constellation SuperNova Awards: Rupert Atterbury Thomas of Southeastern Railway and Industrial Mold & Machine’s Larry Housel. Both were selected in the “Future of Work” category which analyzes the technological, demographical and cultural forces challenging the traditional paradigm of work.

    Southeastern Railway and Industrial Mold and Machine are both using Socialtext to disrupt two very traditional industries: train transportation and manufacturing. Each leverage our social collaboration technologies to improve workflow processes and bridge the age gap between multiple generations of employees. By simplifying the ability to share expertise, ideas and corporate data, we have helped these companies remove knowledge silos that traditionally hampered the ability to respond to change and serve its customers efficiently.

    Constellation hand-picked a group of global market makers to judge the 2012 SuperNova Awards. The judges evaluated all applications using a point system and a score of 75 was set as this year’s benchmark for advancement to the semifinalist round. The judges sought out applications that accomplished true disruptions or demonstrated innovative adoptions of disruptive technology and created an engaged, empowered, and efficient workforce.

    Winners will be selected based 70% on public voting and 30% on judges. Your vote counts, so be sure to help support these two great thought leaders in their accomplishment!

    Don’t wait until Election Day. Vote today!

    Why Social Trumps Email: Reply to Alan Lepofsky

    I just had a fascinating Twitter exchange with my colleague and good friend Alan Lepofsky.

    I had tweeted: “Reason #71 why I hate email: I start my day playing catch-up.”

    Alan replied: “And does the same thing not happen in social software? At least in email its all in one place.”

    And I thought to myself: No, Alan, It’s really no the same thing.

    I can see where Alan is coming from. He has argued eloquently that shifting correspondence from email to activity streams doesn’t really accomplish anything. Of course on some level Alan’s right: Messages are messages, whether they come through email or an activity stream.

    But there’s a huge, fundamental, monumental difference between email and activity streams: Posts to an activity stream are usually public inside the enterprise. (Or at least posted to a group.)

    The transparent nature of the activity stream changes everything. When I reply to a post in an activity stream (a “Signal” in Socialtext-ese), I’m not only writing for the person to whose Signal I’m replying. I’m writing for everyone who has access to that conversation thread.

    That’s a totally different mindset. When I go through my emails, it’s a series of updates–usually reactive–to individuals: Don’t do this, that is approved, can’t make this meeting, missed you at that conference. When i go through Signals, it’s an opportunity to model, to muse, to question, to inspire in a uniquely public and transparent way: This is how we should think about this, help me understand that, I’m making this a personal priority, let’s celebrate the awesome job she did on that.

    So maybe it’s just my Meyers-Briggs type but no, I don’t feel like I’m playing catch-up on Signals. There’s work waiting for me there, to be sure, but it’s work that adds to my energy, rather than taking it away.

    Why I’m Excited About the Future

    As you may have heard from our recent press announcement, I have the honor and privilege of assuming leadership of Socialtext as its new General Manager and Chief Customer Officer.

    I step into the role with tremendous optimism and confidence. We are truly at a turning point in the industry. The capital markets are validating enterprise social in a major way. The major analysts estimate a market size of $4-6 billion by 2016. Enterprise customers are no longer asking what, whether, or why. They’re asking how.

    Socialtext is getting back in the driver’s seat. Our recent strategic investment from Bedford Funding, puts us in a financial position to drive this next phase of the industry’s growth. We’re hiring aggressively. Do you know anyone awesome? Please send them our way. Most importantly, our customers are bringing Socialtext in the flow of work as never before. Here are just a few recent deployments on which I’ve been engaged:

    • In May, Southeastern Railway launched their social intranet “Workmate”, powered by Socialtext. 4,000 employees have access to real-time conversations and data feeds about train status, emergency procedures, key contacts, and breaking news that will affect service during this summer’s Olympic Games.
    • In June, the Office of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) launched HUDConnect to over 9,000 employees, becoming the first cabinet-level agency to launch enterprise social software agency-wide.
    • In July, McKesson measured a 30-50% improvement in key customer care metrics (response time, cases closed, customer sat) following deployment of Socialtext to employees, VARs, and customers

    Something tells me this new job is gonna be fun…

    Social Software Governance Explained

    There’s a lot of needless angst out there about social software governance.

    I can understand the angst when you’re talking about public-facing social software deployments. There are very tricky questions about monitoring and moderation. Getting the answers wrong can lead to very public missteps.

    Internal social software is a different story. The governance just ain’t that complicated. Successful internal deployments follow a principle I call the “Ownership Principle”.

    Ownership Principle: IT owns the technology and content owners own the content.

    Sounds obvious, right? IT should focus on central maintenance of the solution—making sure that the technology is running smoothly and supporting other business units and functions in their use of the system. All content decisions, however, should be left to the individuals and business units who are affected by that content. The Marketing Team drives decisions about marketing content, the HR team defines the process for posting HR content, and so on.

    In practice, this means you should implement a kind of state/federal model of governance, in which IT and HR provide central infrastructure (technology, training, and support), and champions in the business drive content and collaboration around their local business needs.

    At the central (“federal”) level, there are three main steps you can take to make sure you’ve covered the bases from a policy and process standpoint.

    • Post rules and guidelines where all users can see them. (Many companies post these on the login screen.) Consult your Legal Department to come up with suitable language.
    • Make sure that your Core Leadership Team (see above) contains representation from the different business units, so that you have clear lines of sight into the different content areas
    • Train your HelpDesk on how to assign and manage permissions, so that they are able to assign the appropriate levels of administrative control to local champions.

    Once you’ve put these central measures in place, you should leave the substantive governance questions up to the individual business units or use case champions (“states”):

    • Who can post content? For some use cases (e.g., project team collaboration) you will want to encourage all team members to participate. For others (e.g., posting HR policies) the champions will want to restrict contribution to a select few. You should leave these decisions up to the local champions.
    • Who can add users? Here again, the answer should be left up to local champions. Sales and Marketing should be decide who can add users to the Sales and Marketing Groups. Leaders of the Women’s Initiative should be allowed to decide whether the Women’s Initiative Group will be self-join or private. IT’s job is just to make sure that these local decisions are centrally supported by your Socialtext configuration.
    • Who will monitor content? By now you can probably guess the answer: The local champions are responsible for their content. For some use cases (e.g., HR and Legal conversations) this may require strict supervision of the content. Other Groups (e.g., Marathon Runners) will see no such need.

    One final piece of advice on governance: Relax. In our experience, governance concerns loom much larger in theory than in practice. This is not social media on the consumer web where users can post content anonymously. Because authors know that their content is attributed to them, their posts are respectful and appropriate.

    Enterprise 2.0: It’s not just for knowledge workers anymore

    One of the familiar refrains in the halls of Enterprise 2.0 is that social software’s primary value is for knowledge workers or knowledge-intensive industries. This now gets repeated so often that most people don’t even question its truth.

    Like so many orthodoxies, this one’s due for a re-think.

    The whole notion of a knowledge worker or a knowledge industry is confused. It suggests that there’s a certain class of workers who problem-solve and innovate for a living, and another class of workers that don’t. But that’s just not the case. An assembly-line worker who thinks about how to reduce the failure rate of brake systems rolling off the assembly line is a knowledge worker, at least in my book. A consultant who reads bullet points from a deck that someone else has written is not exactly doing knowledge work. Knowledge is a characteristic of how the work gets done, not of the work itself.

    If you don’t believe me, just compare the cappuccino you get at a world-class cafe like Lovers and Madmen in Philadelphia to what they sling down the street at McDonald’s. Both were made by baristas, but only one was made by a knowledge worker.

    There is, however, a fundamental difference between activities that are more routinized and those which are more bespoke. Doing warehouse pick-and-pack for the latest James Patterson thriller is a routinized activity. Sourcing a clean copy of Russell and Whitehead’s 3-volume Principia Mathematica is bespoke. Soliciting $10 donations over the phone is routinized; soliciting $5 million donations is bespoke. Building the prototype of a new car model is bespoke; building the 100,000th instance of that same car is routinized.

    Routinized and bespoke activities require different types of supporting tools. Routinized activities require process tools to run the activity at scale as efficiently as possible, with as little variation as possible. Bespoke activities require a toolkit, a basket of techniques, tools, tips, tricks, and experts upon which a practitioner can draw to meet the needs of the moment.

    In the early days of Enterprise 2.0 (mid-2000s) enterprise social software was good at toolkit-style functionality. Blogs and wikis gave people useful frameworks and reference materials for doing bespoke tasks. But there wasn’t much functionality for businesses that run a lot of routinized process.

    These early tools appealed to high-end consultancies, law firms, PR agencies, and tech startups, which lean towards more bespoke activities. I suspect that’s where people first got the idea that enterprise social software was for “knowledge workers.”

    But social software has changed, and changed fast. In the past year, business has started to embrace social software for more routinized processes as well.

    The combination of activity streams, robust APIs, and mobile means that social software now integrates with–and improves–industrial-strength process. In London, for example, Southeastern Railway is using social software to automatically alert railway staff when trains are delayed–and to enable those staff to collaborate in real time to get the trains back on track (sorry…couldn’t resist the pun). In Ohio, Industrial Perfection Mold and Machine uses social software on shop floor iPads to regulate and improve the manufacturing process.

    Which type of activity should your business try to optimize? My answer: Both.

    Every business runs on a combination of routinized and bespoke activities. Running the trains in and out of London may routinized, but when a train breaks down the work becomes very bespoke. Tier 1 customer support is routinized; Tier 2-3 customer support is bespoke.

    What businesses really need is an integrated combination of the two: Stream-based tools for routinized activity and wiki-based toolkits for the bespoke stuff.

    To borrow a line from the Anita Bryant of my youth: “Social software. It’s not just for knowledge workers anymore.”

    Turning Serendipity into Probability

    I’m going to take a swipe at another cherished social software notion: Serendipity. We should ban that word from the social software lexicon. It’s misleading and it makes enterprise social software seem about as relevant to the business as the plastic mistletoe hanging at the office Holiday party: Something amazing could happen, but it probably won’t.

    The idea behind serendipity is that social software enables colleagues who have shared or complementary interests and expertise to discover each other and collaborate. It’s serendipitous because, hey, who knew that Theresa in Tucscon was a certified blackbelt in Six Sigma, the very methodology that Victor is trying to implement in Virginia?

    It’s true that social software teases out those kinds of hidden connections. But when social software is implemented properly, there’s nothing serendipitous about it.

    Imagine Victor in Virginia works for a 10,000-employee defense contractor that has successfully implemented an enterprise socials software tool as its social intranet. If he goes to that intranet and asks who can help him with a Six Sigma implementation, he is almost guaranteed to get five, ten, maybe twenty responses. While Victor may not know who will respond, he can be reasonably confident that someone will. So from Victor’s standpoint, there’s a high probability that asking the question will get the kind of responses he’s looking for.

    It’s simple mathematics. Consider the following statistical fact. For any two people, there is a very low probability (roughly 1/365) that they share the same birthday. And when two people discover they have the same birthday, it’s serendipity. But if you fill a room with just 57 people selected at random, there’s a 99% chance that some two people in that room will share the same birthday. That’s probability.

    Victor and Theresa may be surprised to discover that they share an interest in six sigma. That’s serendipitous. But we should not be at all surprised that Victor got the response he needed. The odds were quite high. From the moment Victor posted his question, he was almost guaranteed to get a response. That’s probability.

    The point is that social software doesn’t enable serendipity; it transforms serendipity into probability. Serendipity is when Victor happens to sit next to Theresa on the red-eye to London and discovers that they’re both interested in Six Sigma. It’s a random event, neither reliable, nor repeatable, nor scalable.

    But when Theresa is first to respond to Victor’s company-wide post looking for Six Sigma expertise, that’s probability. It worked, we knew it would work, and the fact that it worked this time makes it even more likely that it will work next time.

    What’s that you say? My distinction between serendipity and probability is mere semantics? Maybe, but words matter. Companies and their leaders only take social software seriously when they see it as part of mainstream business process. Mainstream business process is all about repeatability and scalability.

    Imagine the response you’ll get if you tell your CEO, “We’re implementing a system to make serendipitous connections among staff members.” I can hear your CEO yawning from here.

    Now imagine telling your CEO, “We’re implementing a system to ensure that all staff get the help they need, when they need it, from knowledgable colleagues across the company.” That CEO conversation just got a whole lot more interesting.

    So let’s get serious about making business process social, and leave serendipity to the mistletoe.

    Social Training for Social Software

    Socialtext active usage is way, way up–over 300% so far this year. There are many reasons for the growth, but in this post I’ll focus on one specific factor: our training approach.

    Some time ago, I had one of those forehead-smacking “Ah-Hah” moments about the way we were trying to train customers to use Socialtext: Traditional IT training doesn’t work for social software. Social software requires social training.

    When I talk about social training, I’m not talking about charm school, or teaching your collie how to play nice with the local poodles. I’m talking about a unique method of teaching employees to use social software at work.

    In traditional training, you interact with technology. In social training, you interact with other people by means of technology. The technology becomes a medium, like a telephone or a videoconference room, rather than the object of your interaction, like an MRI machine or a Boeing 777.

    Suppose you were trying to train someone who had never seen a telephone before. You could teach them how to dial, how to put someone on hold, how to work the mute button. But until they actually make a call and speak to another human being, they won’t get the point. And that’s exactly what happens when you use traditional training methods for social tools: they learn how to push the buttons, but they don’t get the point.

    Embracing a social approach for Socialtext training caused us to radically rethink the way we introduce new users to the system. In a Socialtext training, you don’t get told all the features of the system. You don’t walk through hypothetical use cases. You don’t get to sit back and watch a trainer walk through a system demo.

    Instead, you interact with your colleagues, in real time, using Socialtext. We cram lots of users on a conference call at the same time. Everyone logs in to the system.  We walk participants through basic functions like creating a profile, tagging themselves, posting Signals, editing workspace pages. We encourage them to ask questions–then answer questions that others have asked. We encourage them to tag not only themselves, but also their colleagues. We noodge everyone to upload a profile photo. We kibbitz, we cajole, we encourage people to step outside their comfort zones.

    The results are amazing. We can jump-start an implementation within a couple weeks, and engage even the most skeptical, change-resistant employees within an organization in a very short time. (Did I mention that active usage is up by more than 300%?)

    Why does social training work? Four simple reasons:

    • It creates a social dynamic from the start. The worst failure a social software tool can make is the sin of “crickets”: a user tries to engage the community and there’s no immediate reply. By getting many users on the system all at the same time, we guarantee that each of those users is experiencing a vibrant, active community at scale.
    • It answers the “why” question. For most business users, the big question in social software isn’t the “how”. The mechanics of social software are simple. Users don’t need a training course to know that they tag their profiles by clicking the “Add Tag” button, or post a Signal by clicking “Post”. However, many users do need help in understanding *why* they would want to tag a profile or post a signal. For those users, the whole thing suddenly makes sense when they see their colleagues tagging and posting in real time, and in response to each other.
    • It scales. The ideal size for a training session is anywhere between 25 and 100 simultaneous participants. They don’t have to be in a room together. In fact, it’s almost better when they’re *not* in a room together. That way the software becomes their exclusive mode of interaction.
    • It’s fun. When these trainings go well, they’re more like cocktail parties than training sessions. People meet new people, discuss interesting topics, and crack jokes all in the course of the hour. Many participants comment that it’s the most fun they’ve ever had at a training.

    So whether you’re using Socialtext or some other social software tool…give social training a try. The results will delight you. More important, they’ll delight your users.

    About This Blog

    Weblog on gaining business results from social software.

    On this blog, Socialtext staffers and customers explore how companies can gain the most business value from their use of enterprise social software, including microblogging, social networking, filtered activity streams, widget-based dashboards, blogs and wikis.

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