There is an interesting situation in the work place these days caused by the social networking sites.
The baby-boomer generation would socialise through associations and clubs after work or in the evenings. Associations like Round Table, Jaycees, Lions, etc. thrived on people’s need to be connected and to belong. Pubs and clubs also drew people to their establishments as a way to connect with like minded people. The internet has created a whole new window for people to connect with one another. From major sites like Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, etc. to privately held smaller sites that bring a small group together, they all provide the opportunity to connect in a different way. The trouble is, the current generation see these as normal ways to communicate and stay in touch. They have never really known a time when this was not available to them. So they think of something and send a short message to their friend or colleague. The fact that they are at work does not even enter their heads. Is this wrong? At first glance it could be considered as using company time for personal use and not for work. But recent research has shown that this assumption is not correct in every case. This generation who know no different, also use it to solve problems, get ideas or simply as a way to take a break. For example, an employee has a problem with a piece of software. He sends a note to a friend who is a wiz with technology, asking how to deal with the problem. His friend answers and the employee moves past his stumbling block. Another example, an employee is given a task, she wants ideas and so send a message out on the “Wall” of all her friends asking how they would tackle it. A friend comes back with an idea that really opens her mind to opportunities and she implements it. Maybe an employee has been working on a task and needs a break. She decides to email her friend and check if she is ok. Two or three messages are exchanged and she feels revitalised and ready to get back into work. Is this not better than disturbing the person at the next desk? Or maybe the employee is worrying about his Mom who was going to the Doctor this morning and it is playing on his mind. He sees Mom come on line and messages for an update. Having got the results of the Doctors visit, he is now able to focus more on the job. You see, there are times when the connections are valuable and even powerfully useful to the individual and the organisation. But with the mindset that any communication on these mediums during work time is abuse of employers times, opportunities are lost and performance is actually reduced. Before you start screaming about all the people that abuse it, I acknowledge that and appreciate the concerns. However, I also think there needs to be a balance. I actively encourage two of my people to spend 30 minutes a day on sites like LinkedIn because there is a lot of value in getting connected to the right people. We all know that most business is about relationships and connections. Here on the desk is the portal to loads of connections for free. Those connections also bring ideas, sales, opportunities to collaborate, and the list goes on. As leaders we need to check our mindsets and consider if we are taking too narrow a view or too wide a view on issues relating to social and business networking sites. Instead of trying to disconnect, maybe we need to be actively encouraging the right level of connecting. I went into a company recently where people would actively ask each other if they knew anybody that had knowledge on a specific subject. I was amazed at the responses. “I will ask my friends in the chat room tonight.” “I will stick a question on the Wall and see who responds and then connect them to you.” “I think my neighbour knows the guy from XYZ company. I will check LinkedIn and see if they are connected and get back to you.” We really need to consider how we are approaching this and learn how to tap into the connections that are available to us. Most importantly we need to ensure that people are disciplined on how they use it. Here again, we need to encourage good practice without limiting opportunities. So this month I am asking:
There are a lot of rules about some of these sites and so it is wise to consider your approach carefully. There are good books that can give you advice and even guide you. One of my mentors has recently written one on how to get the best out of LinkedIn and it is probably the most structured one I have read. But there are others. Are you taking time to learn about how all this technology (a lot of it free) is available to benefit your organisation?