The promise of social media in the corporate context is inclusion—inclusive, consensual decision-making, not tacit acknowledgment. There’s a difference.
I was privy to a conversation with an individual at a particular organization who left for a time and then returned:
Senior leader: “I think you left because you felt like you weren’t appreciated for what you did.”
Colleague: “No, I wanted to be included—I wanted to be consulted as a respected member of the decision-making team for my experience and expertise.”
Employee recognition vs. inclusion
The difference is less than subtle. We have paltry look-alikes for inclusion at most organizations that travel under the name of employee recognition and rewards. Employees are recognized and praised at various award ceremonies and in company newsletter write-ups, often with some sort of modest financial reward attached to it. These awards are sometimes named after the organization itself—the Company B Award—in an attempt heighten their importance.
But this is not inclusion, and in some cases amounts to little more than a condescending pat on the back. Reward and recognition programs may result in some emotional connection and have some transitory effect on employee motivation. But in the long run—taken on their own—they send the wrong message. Employees gain satisfaction and motivation from the work they do—from the work itself—and from the value their contribution brings to to the organization.
The gift of employee feedback
Motivation and engagement result when senior leadership actively listens to employee feedback, demonstrating that they not only appreciate them (which costs them nothing) but value their contribution and opinion as a trusted partner in the decision-making process (which costs a lot). Establishing a trusted partnership costs more in the short-term, in the time and effort it takes to reach a consensus of opinion, but the payoff is invaluable in the long-term; namely, motivated and engaged employees who actively contribute to the bottom line.
This is where social media comes in. Social media communication channels can help bridge this gap between employee appreciation and employee inclusion.
A word on employee-sponsored social media efforts
And let me say this unequivocally: Social media efforts work best when sponsored by executive leaders as part of an overall commitment to inclusive decision-making and transparency. Some organizations accomplish a great deal with bottom-up social media initiatives, deploying listening tools like Radian6 to monitor online conversations and advance important charitable causes. These social media efforts may even bring bottom-line value to the organization, as they respond in real time to negative chatter on social media channels. Negative customer perception may be dispelled and adverse impact on sales may be averted through personal social media interaction, and the number of calls coming in to call centers can be reduced.
But overall these employee-led initiatives result in pockets of social media activity, rather than widespread adoption across the enterprise. There is no consensual decision-making model in place because the effort was not sponsored by C-level leadership. In fact, at some of these organizations, C-level executives wouldn’t go near social media channels with a ten-foot pole. Participation remains bifurcated at these companies, and a hydra-headed organization emerges where social media is encouraged in some quarters but not all. Ask yourself what message employees receive about social media in the absence of real C-suite endorsement.
Do I think employees who kick-start social media efforts at an organization can ladder-up to something more strategic? Yes, I do.
But it’s like the tail trying to wag the dog: Without C-suite commitment to inclusion social media efforts do not ring true and do not result in cultural change.
Without cultural change an organization’s social media efforts amount to little more than employee appreciation.
Employee appreciation—2,4,6,8 whom do we appreciate? Oy—spare us.