“If everyone is moving forward together, then success takes care of itself.”  Henry Ford

In the corporate world where deadlines are rampant, constant innovation is indispensable, workloads are mounting, and financial pressures are omnipresent, it’s no wonder the employees of many organisations feel as though they are disconnected from one another. Many employees have become disenfranchised or disengaged and as a consequence, it has led to poor business results and lost opportunities. In late 2010, the Corporate Leadership Council released its quarterly engagement trends report. Results indicated that only 22% of employees planned on staying in their current positions. Supplementing the point, 21.6% of all employees surveyed described themselves as highly disengaged. As a consequence and according to Gallup Management Journal, this disengaged and disconnected culture (in US-based organisations) is costing $300b per year in lost revenues alone. Is there a remedy for such calamitous organisational health? One budding approach that may help unify your team, your business unit and your organization to ultimately enrich and enhance your corporate culture, such that all employees feel as though they are moving forward as a connected group, is through the deployment and utilisation of an internal enterprise-wide micro-blogging platform.

How Micro-Blogging Came To Be

It was back in 1985 when communications researcher Friedhelm Hillebrand of Germany sat at a typewriter, tapping out words on a sheet of paper, trying to establish the ideal number of characters for a new point-to-point message service for cellular mobile telephones. He and his colleagues were devising a text-based communication system that would soon become ubiquitously known as texting. That magic number of characters became 160 and is now used pervasively across most mobile telephone devices for instant text messaging. The problem for any organisation, however, was that texting typically involved person-to-person exchanges and therefore wasn’t open to the entire spectrum of employees. Thus, in 1988, Jarkko Oikarinen of Finland developed IRC (Instant Relay Chat) after toying with the idea of distributed chatting through status messages using computers and internet protocol. Flash ahead in time to 2006 and the concept of IRC and person-to-person texting was significantly enhanced by Odeo Company General Manager Evan Williams and programmer Jack Dorsi of the United States, to become an open, internet-based, 140 character messaging, collaboration and status update service we now know as Twitter. This was the beginning of a new term; micro-blogging. PC Magazine defines micro-blogging as follows:
A blog that contains brief entries about the activities of an individual or company. Created to keep friends, colleagues and customers up-to-date, small images may be included as well as brief audio and video clips.

Moving Towards a Culture of Sharing

Inside organisations, however, there is a dichotomous attitude at play. On the one hand, there are many employees utilising Twitter (or external micro-blogging) to connect, learn, share and inspire with external friends, family and even colleagues; on the other, organisations haven’t yet grasped how this invaluable technique might actually help with its internal culture, its objectives, and ultimately its business results. According to research published by McKinsey and Company in December, 2010, only 13% of companies felt as though micro-blogging was actually enhancing company culture. The encouraging sign, however, is that this sentiment is up from the 2009 data point of 10%. It’s incumbent upon senior leaders in the organisation to accurately and appropriately understand the tangible benefits of an internal micro-blogging service for its employees. If executives believe that Twitter or micro-blogging is either a waste of time or simply a fun outlet, they are missing the point entirely. This mindset might actually cause further damage concerning the number of disengaged employees that are on the rise inside today’s organisations. Micro-blogging, quite simply, should be thought of as a method in which organisations might flatten its hierarchy, increase the number and quality of relationships between employees, and speed up the exchange of knowledge, ideas and information within the business. Micro-blogging can also help mitigate missing connections between the field worker, the front line, the individual contributor, the manager, the director, the VP and the executive suite. By gaining access to peers that one might not otherwise know, the flow of organisational information and knowledge speeds up at a fraction of the time and cost. Micro-blogging, therefore, is truly humanising the pulse of the organisation yet driving business benefit. It’s a running commentary of what might have previously been discussed at the water cooler, the lunch table, or in the classroom; only now, the entire organisation has access to the dialogue and can take advantage both by listening and by contributing back.

Exchanging Ideas; Improving Culture, Knowledge and Networks

Employees typically have a voice when they are in team, project or manager-subordinate meetings. Occasionally, they might chime in when attending town halls, classroom sessions, and all-hands meetings. When micro-blogging is brought to fruition inside the organization, safely tucked within the corporate firewalls, the connection can be extremely powerful. Senior leaders have the ability to listen in and get a stronger sense of what is going on in the company be it related to employee opinions, ideas, issues, or opportunities. Employees not only can connect and be part of the dialogue; they can read the opinions and ideas of their peers as well as senior executives. “Micro-blogging isn’t an elephant sitting in the room,” says Bert Sandie, Senior Director of Technical Excellence at Electronic Arts. “It’s something that epitomises tangible business value through the informal exchange of ideas and knowledge leading to improved results.” Micro-blogging, by virtue of its definition, has an additional benefit. The actual micro-blog entries are short, concise and succinct. Most enterprise micro-blogging platforms limit the updates to 160 characters or less, similar to texting. This brevity forces everyone in the organisation to carefully think through their update or their response. Furthermore, due to the fact micro-blogging technology is an enterprise controlled application itself, (whether hosted internally or on the cloud) employees must log into the system, thus there is no chance for anonymity. In terms of increasing the engagement level and culture of an organisation, micro-blogging can provide several benefits, including:
  • Greater understanding of what is actually going on in the organisation across teams or projects
  • Personalizing and demystifying the aura of senior leaders
  • Seeking opinion and exploring options before decisions are made
  • Driving engagement and the feeling that everyone’s opinion is important
  • Increasing social status of employees in business related matters
  • Providing information that is timely through non-formal use
  • Building trust amongst senior leaders and front-line workers in open, transparent ways
  • Weak chance of disrupting already established workflows

Risks and Pitfalls

Enterprise micro-blogging can be viewed by employees and leaders as simply one more tool or one more task they need to make time for. Employees might already be suffering from information overload having to send, receive and process too many pieces of information through multiple channels. If micro-blogging is not introduced and positioned as a way in which to help save time, improve existing work processes, and to increase engagement within the organisation, it will undoubtedly be negatively viewed by employees. Jun Zhang, Jane Cody and Yuling Wu of Pitney Bowes introduced the “noise-to-value paradox” in 2010 as a possible impediment to micro-blogging adoption. If employees are unable to appropriately filter or make sense of various micro-blog streams, they may abandon the application due to a lack of context and full understanding. From a technology perspective, an organisation will have to decide whether to host the micro-blogging platform within its own firewall, or utilise the service of a hosted provider. The latter may cause some concern from the vantage point of the Chief Security Office. Furthermore, if the service is not accompanied by an enterprise-wide guideline and learning plan, some employees may not fully understand the security implications of what they share. Anything an organisation does to encourage intelligent and appropriate use of internal micro-blogging may help to counter security and ethical threats.

In Summary

Henry Ford obviously did not experience micro-blogging inside of the automobile company he helped to build. If still alive, he unquestionably would agree that micro-blogging helps increase bottom-line success through improved collaboration, engagement and a corresponding connected culture.  If everyone is in fact moving forward together, micro-blogging can be a useful tool and behaviour to assist with the end goal of becoming successful as united organisation. Originally published to EFMD Global Focus magazine.


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