May 9, 2011

Should Employees Be Incented to Use Social Technologies?

In 1989, Warren Bennis predicted the following:

“Given the nature and constancy of change and the transnational challenges facing business leadership, the key to making the right choices will come from understanding and embodying the leadership qualities necessary to succeed in the volatile and mercurial global economy.”

One of the key leadership qualities that should be demonstrated by leaders in 2011 and beyond is collaboration.

I define collaboration as the act of being continuous, authentic, receptive and enriching in all aspects of work life. In addition, through synchronous and asynchronous behaviours using physical and virtual means, it is how all employees, regardless of title or rank, engage and explore with one another before executing.

Social collaboration technologies such as internal instances of blogging, micro-blogging, video sharing, discussion forums, idea sharing, wikis, and so on are all key aspects of being collaborative.

The problem with collaboration in terms of being a unifying quality and behaviour for an organization is that not everyone is doing it.

Which brings me to the question, “Should employees be incented to use social technologies?”

There are two arguments to this question, one favouring incentives and one against.

Yes – We Should Incent Employees

Employees at any level are traditionally conditioned to perform tasks as a part of their formally established quarterly or yearly objectives. When those objectives have been written on a piece of paper or entered into an electronic performance development software tool, they typically align to personal, team and/or organization metrics and targets.

Although much has been discussed about performance appraisal systems and processes (see LinkedIn group “Can a good performance management system (PMS) drive employee engagement?” for some interesting views) the fact of the matter is employees are accustomed to performing objectives that have been written down with some form of target set as the benchmark. If said employee achieves the objective and thus the target, they have complied and, depending on the company, are compensated as part of their base pay or there are additional remuneration incentives. (ie. a financial bonus) If the employee potentially overachieves on those objectives, and the targets, they potentially receive additional compensation benefits for their efforts.

To mitigate the 90-9-1 paradox and to universally enact the behaviour of collaboration within an organization, targets should be established that incent the employee to utilize social collaboration technologies as a key aspect of collaboration. Those incentives can include setting targets for the number of comments on internal blog posts, new blog posts itself, micro-blogging entries, video-sharing additions, ratings, network/colleague additions (see You Are the Collective Wisdom of Both Strong and Weak Ties), and other actions that foster the spirit of engaging and exploring with others before execution begins.

If an employee achieves the targets previously established, they are compensated at the 100% value rate. If the employee overachieves, he/she is further rewarded with additional compensation, be it money, gifts, recognition points, etc.

The incentive model accomplishes a few key points:

  • It raises the profile of collaboration & social technologies to be on par with other performance development goals, objectives and actions in the organization
  • Humans behave differently when incentives are on the table; rather than passively waiting for employees to collaborate or use social technologies, putting financial rewards on the table will expedite adoption
  • If objectives are in fact cascaded top-down in your organization, you will have immediate adoption from senior leaders causing a ripple-effect of collaboration and adoption (ironic, perhaps, but it could kick-start adoption)

No – We Should Not Incent Employees

The point of collaboration is to connect people to people and people to content, as well as ensuring healthy doses of dialogue and debate around ideas, issues and information that leads to business results.

If financial or recognition based incentives are the only way in which employees (including leaders) are motivated to collaborate with one another using social technologies, you’ve got yourself an unhealthy and un-collaborative culture to begin with.

By providing rewards for the number of blog posts, micro-blog entries, comments, ratings, and increases in network breadth through the utilization of social technologies, your organization may simply see a track race of useless additions and entries for purposes of so-called collaboration. There undoubtedly will be individuals (be it leaders or employees) whom will look at the objective as an exercise in quantity not quality. It will become a statistical farce not an actual organizational engagement principle.

Incenting employees to collaborate might potentially cause a few issues, including:

  • Noise – employees contributing dialogue, opinion and content due to the issued target which in turn causes too much noise for all employees to effectively process
  • Dishonesty – to reach a target (and thus a financial bonus) the employee might not be truthful (whether positive or negative) and thus contribute just for the sake of collaborating
  • Competition – as opposed to using social technologies to enact collaborative behaviour, it may turn ugly and become a competition amongst employees

And You?

Where do you sit? Are you in favour of incenting employees to better utilize social technologies as a way to become more collaborative, or, are you against it?

One thing is for certain and that’s Bennis was certainly on to something predicting leaders of tomorrow needed to demonstrate qualities that help drive success in the new economy. To me, collaboration is one of the top qualities required of leaders and employees today.

Should we incent people to do so?

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