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. (see Collaboration Cycle for more details) 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. A previous entry entitled “The 90-9-1 Collaboration Paradox – Organizations Should Aim to Reverse It” goes further into describing this irony.

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?

12 Replies to “Should Employees Be Incented to Use Social Technologies?”

  1. The biggest obstacle to adoption within our organization has been the limited time that colleagues have for spending on the thoughtful reflection and discussion that makes our use of Yammer valuable. they’re incentivized by the discussion but unable to devote time to it.

    I think the most meaningful way to incentivize engagement would be to set aside time within an employee’s workplan/workday for reflective posting and discussion on Yammer.

    For example, at a previous organization where I worked, when we were onboarding new employees, we set aside 20 minutes at the end of every day for journaling on what they had learned that day. At the end of three months, the new employees gave presentations highlighting their learning process. This was really a meaningful exercise for both the new employees and for us as their trainers/supervisors to understand what they perceived as the most memorable portions of their learning. It helped us reform our training process to focus on the essential topics.

    I think setting aside that time (whether it’s ten minutes a day or ten minutes a week) is a valuable gesture to an employee that you value their opportunities to think, reflect and contribute.

  2. Hi Don

    Personally, I am in the non-incentivised part of the debate. Social collaboration tools have to be “in the flow” of work, and therefore should make sense to the firm and employees – and rewards if any, should be psychological (leaderboards, thank you badges) than monetary.

    I believe that every employee wants to be recognised as an expert and tools like this facilitate this. If collaboration is productive then we’ll need lesser times for meetings, coming to Kelly’s points above 🙂

  3. I agree with Kelly and Gautam about having no employee incentives to collaborate. It should become a part of the work flow. As much as, we’d like to think that money is a key motivator; it’d do us good to pay attention to the employees intrinsic needs as well. More often than not, people are motivated by team recognition and appreciation.

    We don’t need no stinkin’ badges: deals with these key points. We are social beings and don’t need extrinsic rewards to communicate and collaborate.

  4. From a blog post I wrote in February…

    “Corporate culture needs to change. Organisations need to develop reward and recognition policies that encourage employees to actively participate in social business, as consumers and as contributors.”

    I believe that incentives need to be developed. Collaboration and the use of social tools can produce invaluable corporate assets. Employees are provided incentives to produce assets, why not for information / knowledge assets? I agree with Gautam that collaboration has to be “in the flow” of work, but that does not mean that we cannot change the flow (where necessary) to accommodate incentives.

  5. I’m for not offering incentives. I recall Dan Pink’s book Drive where he explains that motivation research demonstrates that Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose are the driving forces of knowledge workers in today’s economy – not money (not sure about recognition). He also talks about money acting as a disincentive, just as you mention in your argument for not giving incentives.

    I think it’s important to be very strategic about the the incentives you give employees for their collaboration activities. It may be enough that the top management folks are modeling collaborative behavior without putting in a whole reward system for collaboration.

    Great post Dan. I do like your definition of collaboration.


  6. Fantastic post Dan and great comments from the authors above. I agree with the majority thus far and am strongly against incentivising employees for their social contributions.

    I believe that in order for social collaboration to have value in an enterprise the contributions need be authentic. Incenting people to comment, post, rank and rate will as you said Dan create nothing but noise for other contrubutors who are demonstrating authentic and real collaborative behaviours.

    As an example, I recently joined an organization that possesses a multitude of internal social tools that in themself incent me to contribute behind the firewall. It was a little overwhelming at first to have gone from no enterprise backed social tools to an environment that is a social learners paradise. Four weeks into my new role, I have been quite cautious with my participation and interactions within these channels. For me its less about quantity and more about delivering meaningful and genuine contribution. You only get one shot at establishing a credible digital presence and I am taking my time to ensure I make a great first impression (as hard as it is to hold back!)

  7. Fantastic dialogue everyone. Thanks for your opinions.

    I wonder if some form of informal recognition might be more suitable than formal incentives? For example, perhaps a wall board of recent comments could be erected, or an internal acknowledgement system could be utilized giving away gift cards, or a points mechanism that adds up various contributions and the “top ten” contributors (by category) could be displayed.

    Upon further thinking and your comments, I’m now firmly in the ‘don’t incent’ camp. Thanks for proving that social learning works too.

  8. I’m a no on incentives for the very reasons you posted. I’m a yes on non-monetary, reputation-based incentives similar to the system in eBay for sellers and linkedin answers for frequent contributors. Help me build my “social street cred” [read: feed my ego or sense of altruism] in the organization as an incentive.

  9. What Mike D. said … and Alfie Kohn’s “Punished By Rewards” is a seminal primer on the *deep matter* of incentives.

    That said, we live in an era where incentives of all sort surround us. But offering incentives is / can be in general counter to the culture you are likely to want to build for sustained high performance (at least in my belief system).

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