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Social Media Can Be the Opposite of a Time-Suck

That’s the conclusion of researchers at McKinsey. They released a study in July that suggests use of social media internally can actually improve the productivity of knowledge workers by 25%. That’s a big deal. These are your highest paid workers. And to think, many people discourage social media because they don’t want their employees “wasting time.” Granted, the researchers are not suggesting that viewing photos of cute kittens will increase productivity. Use of social technologies internally needs to improve communication and collaboration. Interestingly, one way that happens is by reducing the time people spend on email. From the authors of the study:

We estimate that “interaction workers,” (managers, professionals, sales people, and others whose work requires frequent interpersonal interactions, independent judgment, and access to knowledge) spend 28% of their workdays answering, writing, or responding to email. They also spend another 19% of the time trying to track down information (including searching through their own e-mail files) and 14% collaborating with co-workers. (And these are your most expensive employees, and the ones you count on to do more than routine work; they’re supposed to be innovating, figuring out how to improve business processes, and generally building you a better mousetrap — not wading through e-mail.)

Using social technologies to replace some of our email communication can (a) increase the number of people involved in the communication, which helps you find more information, and (b) make those conversations searchable by everyone, rather than keeping them locked up in hard drives and email inboxes. Of course, the authors quickly point out that this is easier said than done:

Naturally, there is also a catch: to capture this value, companies will have to do a lot more than buy some enterprise social technology. To get the improvement in knowledge worker productivity, organizations need robust and widespread participation by all sorts of employees…. Sometimes this means the company’s workflows need to change, sometimes the social tools must be adapted to workflows, and in many cases, both workflows and technologies will have to be adjusted…. Participation, in turn, depends on having an environment of openness, information sharing, and trust — the sort of culture that many organizations have not yet established.

Yes, there’s the rub. Social media is running at the speed of light. Many of us are following that trail and the farther we get down the path, the more we look around at our existing organizational cultures and processes and realize how behind we are. In the McKinsey study, they point specifically to cultures that embrace sharing, openness, and trust. In Humanize, we cover those as well, but we expand that to cover things like inclusion, collaboration, experimentation, and learning. The point is, our society is making huge advances in the areas of knowledge, collaboration, and leveraging data. We are building ourselves huge superhighways to take us into the future. Then our organizations pull into the fast lane driving Model Ts. The successful companies will figure this out and start doing something about it.

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