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Driving performance through social technologies

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Social technologies can deliver and demonstrate engagement around training- and work-related issues, providing a clear link to improved performance. Cofacio's Sim Stewart explains...

In previous articles we've explored the rationale for social search being a suitable technology to use in L&D and asked how this might look in practice. In this third installment we look at how social technologies can deliver return on investment (ROI), and how we can set up a framework to demonstrate this.
Probably the first question to ask ourselves is why measure ROI, is it really necessary when we are talking about social learning? In response to this my answer would be yes, without a doubt; arguments to the contrary lack business understanding. We cannot expect business leaders to buy into unproven ideas with the same endeavour as those that are backed up by results.
"Social technologies provide the opportunity for informal social learning to become accountable, and training vendors and practitioners that answer the ROI question, stand to win out over those that choose to ignore it."
There's a well known saying in advertising that states 'I know half my advertising works, I just don't know which half', I suspect many CEOs might say something similar about their training programmes and internal communication tools. That said, in the advertising world it's a saying that's rapidly becoming obsolete due to the digitalisation of media. In the last 10 years Google has grown to reach annual revenues of $30bn, largely through paid search because it works and it's accountable. Social technologies provide the opportunity for informal social learning to become accountable, and training vendors and practitioners that answer the ROI question, stand to win out over those that choose to ignore it.
As we know, informal and social learning has been going on forever, whether it be over the phone, during a coffee break or through management get togethers, it's not new. What is new though, is that now we have tools to allow people to engage in social learning, independently of distance and hierarchy, which are secure and measurable. It's worth highlighting security as important, many advocates of using free tools often forget that much of what happens internally in organisations is extremely sensitive information. We should expect senior management to be wary about staff discussing new product launches, commercial weaknesses and marketing plans, on free to use platforms that don’t meet the highest industry security standards.
With regards measuring and making the impact of social learning accountable, the first task is to identify the objectives. Once these are established we can go about identifying how best to track progress towards those goals. If we look at standard business objectives then the principle measures would be performance-related, including increased productivity, reduced costs associated with staff turnover, better quality, greater innovation and improved organisational advocacy.
So how do we link social learning to these performance targets? Research suggests the answer is engagement. In the first article we discussed the idea that in order for people to learn effectively they need to be engaged, and studies suggests that engagement is also key for productive working. The UK Government's 2009 MacLeod Review into employee engagement (MacLeod and Clarke 2009), argues that by driving engagement we can impact on all of the performance measures mentioned above. This is backed up by independent research by organisations such as Gallup Consulting, who looked at organisations, and work by HR Solutions, who investigated the link between engagement and performance at the individual level. Therefore, if we can deliver engagement around training and work-related processes and challenges through social technologies such as social search, we can demonstrate effectiveness and quantifiable ROI.
So what is engagement and how do we demonstrate it? Taking the CIPD's definition (Creating an Engaged Workforce, January 2010), employee engagement is being positively present during the performance of work by willingly contributing intellectual effort, experiencing positive emotions and meaningful connections to others. Thus, an engaged employee is someone who thinks hard about their work, feels positive when they do a good job and discusses work-related matters and improvements with those around them. Present measurement methods involve surveys, which are also used to justify training success. However, social technologies allow us to move one step on from this, providing us clear insights into people's behaviour and participation over a period of time, and allowing us to understand not only the individuals view of themselves and their contribution, but also the view that is help of them by their colleagues.
Going further, if we split engagement into three types we can see how these individual elements can be measured through analysing the information exchanges across a social technology platform. The first is intellectual engagement, how hard does the employee think about their work and how they could improve - measurable by looking at the quality of responses or challenges raised and the depth of detail to which employees take these. Second is affectional engagement, how positively people see their role in the organisation - sentiment analysis can be used here to review mood or level of positivity of the participants. Finally, there's social engagement, how much do people like to discuss work-related issues and look for solutions. To give clarity on this we can look at frequency measures on participation.
 
"social technologies present an opportunity to demonstrate engagement around training, and for that training to be a demonstrable spark in increasing engagement around business challenges and processes."
Concluding, it seems apparent that social technologies present an opportunity to demonstrate engagement around training, and for that training to be a demonstrable spark in increasing engagement around business challenges and processes. Training, when harnessed with social search, can give people the opportunity to voice their opinions, find support from fellow workers, engage with management, and gain a greater sense of purpose through helping others. Providing a clear step towards improved individual, and organisational performance.

Simeon Stewart is co-founder of Cofacio. Previous to Cofacio he spent eight years working in digital media for companies such as News International and Microsoft. He holds an MSc in Business Economics from The University of Wales and is a fellow of the RSA. Simeon runs an interview blog on informal learning and social technology at http://thehelpengine.com/blog and tweets at twitter.com/cofacio

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