August 23, 2013

Redefining the Social Employee

social3Back in the day, and by day I’m referring to PI (pre-Internet), the social employee was someone who knew how to network, to dialogue and to get things done without the aid of online systems or tools.

Remember Sally?

She knew everyone and anyone who she met in the elevator. In the cafeteria there wasn’t a day that went by where there wasn’t a throng of peers hovering around her, deep in conversation about company-related dialogue. She truly was a people person.

How about Darryl?

If you needed some form of company intelligence, insight into current practices or simply a name to get something you needed done, Darryl seemed to know everyone at the company. He was the connector, or as I like to say, the interlocutor. The more Darryls there were at the company, the more successful your company was.

These days, with the advent of collaboration platforms, remote work styles and the quest to define an external digital DNA at sites like LinkedIn, BranchOut or Quora, the social employee has taken on a diversified definition. And if he or she hasn’t, well, the word anachronistic comes to mind.

The default action of “social employees” can no longer simply be to network in a physical way. Sure, this will remain important; however, no matter who you are in the corporate hierarchy, everyone needs to augment the physical with the virtual. The social employees of today and tomorrow must take into consideration their abilities to actually be “social” when physical means may be dwindling.

Let’s look at a couple of examples.

Janice is a vice president of R&D at a company that has grown from 10,000 to 20,000 employees during the past three years. The company’s headquarters, where she works, has seen a population increase of 10 percent whereas the other eight employee sites are up anywhere from 20 percent to 135 percent. Even though she is the VP of R&D and is at company headquarters, it behooves Janice to increase her social employee credibility with those who may be working outside of headquarters. What knowledge, insight, experience or ideas might these virtual employees bring to her portfolio that she might not tap into if she defaulted to her normal face-to-face way in which to network? Janice cannot rest on the laurels of her jovial personality that people at headquarters might see on a daily basis to further her performance. She must consciously sort out how she is going to augment her social employee intelligence to not only help her own cause, but to demonstrate to the organization that as a VP, leadership styles can in fact change and that her “social employee” status is going to include all forms of digital relationship building.

Fu-Xing is a project leader. He gets rotated from project to project at the pharmaceutical company he works for. Typically, his projects have been made up of employees working at three of the local offices, but the next two projects he is slated for in Q3 and Q4 involve a much larger scope, team and geographical array of employees. In fact, one of the projects consists of two teams and a total of 30 employees whom he has never met face-to-face and who work in other time zones. Fu-Xing has always conducted his project meetings face-to-face and any follow-up has normally consisted of physical jaunts to the desk of team members. Fu-Xing, as a social employee, now has to incorporate into his project leader role other attributes such as discussion forums, online polls, Web conferencing, micro-blogging, team wikis and even blogging to help facilitate the goals of the team. He no longer can rest on the laurels of his previous project management and collaboration style.SOCIAL_word

The new social organization has an itch and that itch ought to be scratched as soon as possible. The employees of today and tomorrow (inclusive of leaders) must be aware of both their face-to-face and digital social employee intelligence.

The social employee is rising. Beware of the tide.

<originally posted to Chief Learning Officer>

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