If someone offered you a corporate training and learning tool that would have high engagement, foster connection and improve communication among your employees, and spark collaboration and cooperation among and between teams, would you use it?

If you’re like a growing number of offices and corporations in the US, that collaboration tool is already in your employees’ hands: a social collaboration platform, such as Slack or Yammer. For most organizations, the issue is not finding an enterprise social media tool or teaching employees how to use it—it’s “creating the right environment for knowledge to flow easily,” according to Mark Britz, The eLearning Guild’s senior manager for event programming.

Britz suggests that social media tools are an ideal way to build community, increase collaboration, and promote sharing in an organization. These outcomes are baked into the tools: “This is what enterprise social media just is,” Britz said. The roadblocks are systems, behaviors, and beliefs—in a word, culture.

Build community from the top down

In some offices, colleagues might meet up for casual conversation in a break room or near the coffee machine. But what if your organization is large or dispersed among multiple locations—or includes team members who work remotely? A social collaboration tool—and a corporate culture that encourages appropriate social networking—can help everyone feel like part of the community. And a feeling of belonging and closer ties among employees translates to better teamwork and a more productive organization.

Simply having the tool available isn’t enough, though. If employees get the message from their higher-ups that social engagement or even collaboration on the social platforms is a poor use of their time, they won’t participate. If a “share your work” discussion group is ignored by managers, it will wither. When employees realize that ideas shared on the social platform are never discussed or adopted, they will find other outlets for their creative problem-solving. Managers have to let employees know that engaging on social platforms to collaborate or share resources is not only allowed, it’s encouraged. The best way to do that is to lead by example.

“Our research shows that leadership participation is crucial for collaboration. Leaders know they should engage with employees, especially via digital and social channels. But they don’t, and they offer a string of common excuses,” Charlene Li wrote in Harvard Business Review. She also offers the following solutions:

  • Managers should “listen at scale,” soliciting comments and feedback from employees, and asking what they’re hearing from customers. It’s essential to respond, too. When employees feel heard, collaboration and employee buy-in skyrocket.
  • Share relevant information by reaching out to employees with tips, suggestions, or accolades for a job well done. Sharing these widely on a social platform reinforces an “open-door” policy that lets employees know that managers and executives are paying attention to their needs and notice their work.
  • Conduct meaningful dialog with a variety of stakeholders. Too many executive teams solicit input from the same few voices, leaving most employees out in the cold. Putting out a sincere request for mid-level manager and employee input—whether it’s a call for comments about a proposed policy or a request for suggestions to help solve a problem—can surface innovative ideas and solutions while also reinforcing the ideals of community-building and collaboration.

Britz emphasizes that leaders at all levels, but especially managers, need to lead the change; occasional posts by C-suite executives won’t change culture. “For most workers, especially in larger organizations, their leaders are a level down and close to their work and how their performance is measured; managers are key,” Britz said. “If managers engage in more open and transparent practices, it’s a greater signal to employees that this direction is acceptable.”

The ultimate digital support

Mark Britz will present "Social is the Ultimate Performance Support" at The eLearning Guild’s Digital Support Solutions Spotlight on April 3, 2019. Other sessions will describe using email, augmented reality, and mobile coaching to provide digital support to employees and learners. Register today!