Benefits and outcomes realisation for using social media in government

Decades of psycho-social research on team work suggests that effective teams have both strong task-based behaviour as well as good social cohesion.

A high-performance team works together to achieve mutual goals, recognizes that each member is accountable and committed to achieving team goals, communicates effectively with each other, shares the joy of achievement and the pain of not meeting goals, shares information, helps each other, and recognizes that the success of the group is dependent upon each individual [1].

Without both the factors of task and social cohesion a team tends not to be as effective.

Many government agencies I’ve worked with over the last two decades, though, struggle with the idea that being social has a business benefit. Taylorist management practices in particular only focus on those things that are measurable and directly associated with the task rather than understanding whether or not social interaction is of benefit to the task at hand. The result is seen in some managers who believe that their employees need to be busy and not wasting time (where wasting time equals socialising). Particularly, this attitude has impacted on the adoption of social media within the enterprise because networking with peers and colleagues through Facebook, for example, is believed to be time-wasting and of very little actual value to “busy work”. Recent MIT research, however, is challenging this idea [2].

MIT research shows that 40% of creative teams productivity is directly explained by the amount of communication they have with others to discover, gather, and internalise information. In other MIT studies, research shows that employees with the most extensive digital networks are 7% more productive than their colleagues. Furthermore, those with the most cohesive face-to-face networks are 30% more productive. This is a vital consideration to make given the recent 7% productivity divident that was imposed on Federal Government Agencies in November 2012.

This reinforces similar research by Aral, Brynjolfsson & Van Alstyne [3] that highlights the importance of these networks because they “strongly influence information diffusion … and access to novel information”. Availability of these networks, their research shows, is a highly significant predictor of worker productivity.

Since information does not diffuse randomly in organisations, but rather reflects the nature and structure of human relationships, providing the right tools that support human social relationships, communication and interaction, will provide a significant outcome for government.

How can you realise the benefits from social media?

  1. Policy — agencies need strong policies in plain-English that reinforce the Public Service Code of conduct on how to behave when using social media to represent their agency, reach out to subject matter experts outside the agency, or to just interact with stakeholders internally
  2. Governance — roles and responsibilities need to be clear and transparent
  3. Process — a transparent process that puts people’s roles into context helps create clarity and set expectations
  4. Awareness — increase knowledge as to what items you have available in your social media toolkit and what they are used for
  5. Business Intelligence — it’s important to know what content is being talked about, used, links shared, in order to know what is of value, and by its omission, what information/knowledge is going unnoticed
  6. Embrace mobile — people use tools because they are easy and convenient (which typically means on their mobile phone), but if you lock them away and make the barrier to participation high then no one will use them.
  7. Set goals — implementation isn’t just about doing an IT project, but how adoption goals and strategies will be incorporated into business-as-usual. Just because you build it doesn’t mean they will come.
  8. Find an implementation partner who understands your business — Zen Ex Machina’s Partners have been working with government agencies for nearly two decades. They know your business and how to implement these project in collaboration with you, your stakeholders and your staff.

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1. Bulleit, B. 2006. Effectively managing team conflict. Cary, NC: Global Knowledge Training LLC.

2. Pentland, A. 2009. How Social Networks Network Best. Harvard Business Review, Feb, p 37.

3. Aral, Brynjolfsson & Van Alstyne. 2007. Productivity Effects of Information Diffusion in Networks.

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