Social collaboration can have a significant effect on learning and development strategy. Just ask Santa Clara, California-based Evans Analytical Group, or EAG, a high-tech analytical services company serving Fortune100 and Fortune500 companies across the globe.
According to survey data performed before implementation of the company’s first corporate university in 2010 — another round of surveys was conducted six months after social tool implementation in 2013 — about 14 percent of EAG’s knowledge workers’ time was spent duplicating information such as forwarding emails or phone calls to confirm if fax/email/text messages were received, and managing spam emails or unsolicited time-wasting phone calls (Figure 1).
These activities are important, but employees can find the right information faster using frameworks such as networked learning — personal-directed or accidental-and-serendipitous — an individual, disciplined process by which we make sense of information, observations and ideas. In the past, personal-directed learning may have involved keeping a journal, writing letters or having conversations. These delivery systems are still valid, but with digital media, employees can add context by categorizing, commenting on or even remixing information. They also can store information for easy retrieval.
Finding information also can be more effective and efficient through social networks. Twitter, LinkedIn or the company intranet lets employees find and collaborate with subject matter experts faster, gather knowledge and contribute to the information discourse. But it starts with change management.
EAG’s 800 employees are extrinsically motivated to use social networks by tying their active involvement to performance appraisals, and intrinsically motivated by displaying the employee's activity level on the intranet and through various talent management systems. For instance, the company displays a winner each week based on their activity in social tools (Editor's note: The author works for EAG).
The Value in Being Social
At EAG, the ROI for social media is driven byreducing wasted time. There is also a significant performance benefit. More than 90 percent of the company’s learning is not supported by formal instruction, and opportunities to use social media at work are plentiful. Not only is there less wasted time on the job, but that time can also go into learning, both personal and networked.
One of EAG University’s long-term strategic goals is to connect its globally dispersed employee base, many of who came to the organization as part of an acquisition — EAG has completed 27 mergers and acquisitions in seven years. There are multiple social collaboration channels, but EAG University’s steering committee, the Learning Governance Council, chose to focus on blogs and wikis as the top two social tools.
Blogs act as a kind of glue between individual interactions and a way to map a personal learning journey, encourage dialogue and help employees relate to a wider audience. Blogs also can provide peer feedback but require discipline. Bloggers need aggressive and regular change management, and a blogging culture requires constant management endorsement, encouragement and support.
After a thorough partner selection process, in 2011 EAG chose Chatter by Salesforce as its enterprise/social collaboration tool. Learner adoption was strong. The rate of usage went from 5 percent in the first month to 95 percent in the eighth month. But while there was some initial executive buy-in, management leaders were concerned that people would be swamped with Chatter posts, that the system would only work if everyone used it — and they didn’t think everyone would — or that people would post inappropriate content.
Further, EAG adopted an aggressive change-management strategy using multiple change-management processes such as training videos, tutorials and FAQs to guide employee behavior. Results were monitored through individual interviews, surveys and by gathering feedback from the steering committee.
Some of the more prominent change management initiatives included:
CEO endorsement: At every company wide speech the CEO delivered, EAG University and its initiatives were mentioned and social collaboration was openly endorsed. Employees were encouraged to inquire about the social learning initiatives from their leaders, managers or their learning team. This helped generate curiosity and prepare employees for the Chatter rollout.
Branding: With executive buy-in, learning leaders began to aggressively involve employees, managers, marketing, business unit leaders, directors and other executives in the social collaboration branding process to create the social learning and collaboration logo and statement. Coffee mugs, shirts, pens and USB sticks bearing the logo were distributed among employees to help with change management efforts as well.
A social collaboration toolkit: “EAGU Launch Meeting Leader’s Guide” helped guide leaders across the organization in this change management effort. The steering committee was responsible for distributing the Launch toolkit and administering change management efforts at their lab locations. The process took two months to complete. Business unit managers were trained at each site but given the autonomy to guide change management efforts as they deemed fit.
An introduction video and FAQ: Numerous virtual meetings with managers, directors and other executives helped learners use, navigate and accept Chatter usage, understand its benefits and have their questions answered. For instance, a sample email message to EAG managers and directors would welcome employees to EAG University’s Chatter and clearly communicate its goal to help them maximize their innovation, engagement, productivity and performance.
Chatter also enabled social collaboration via chat to provide social connectivity globally in real time. Learners could log into the site and follow anybody in the company, which facilitated the transfer of information and saved time — a range of 25 to 57 percent.
However, EAG learned that Chatter lacks the technological advancements of Facebook or Twitter. Further, tracking learner chats is inconvenient and email notifications are not highly customizable.
The ROI for Interactions
One of the most challenging things about EAG’s social learning journey was measuring social metrics and sensibly reporting data back to senior leaders. Group analysis in 2012-13 conducted that process.
Two test groups were chosen. Group A took collaborated via wikis and blogs. Group B learners took a self-paced online course where they had to exchange information and answer questions through Chatter. Both groups included learners across two different business divisions. Each group received a 12-question survey three weeks after the course. The goal was to test learners’ knowledge retention as well as gather feedback on the training they received. Learners had to score a minimum of 80 percent to pass.
Both Group A (Figure 2) and Group B (Figure 3) yielded similar average scores across both units. The average score difference between senior, midlevel and junior staff could be from a host of factors such as culture, location and work schedules. The score difference is beyond the scope of this research, but results highlight the similarities between both business unit test scores.
Learning leaders observed that the learning methodologies had a small but insignificant effect on test results. But 97 percent of learners responded favorably when asked if they would recommend this type of social collaboration moving forward, versus only 26 percent of learners who remained indifferent.
EAG found both social tools are equally successful. The high level of adoption is indicative of a culture in which employees are engaged and interested in collaborating socially. This can be increased by tying employee performance appraisal to social connectivity.
The executive team supported this new way to help employees connect, learn and be social. Then-CEO Harry Davoody and then-CFO Christine Russell both commended and complimented the efficiency and effectiveness of the social connectivity and mode of collaboration — and that it saved them time.
“The social collaboration tools — blogs, wikis, chatter will help take learning and quality at EAG to the next level, that we need to grow in this business,” Davoody said.Filed under: Learning Delivery