Change ManagementWhy Social?
02 November 2016

Why social tools are indispensable in your organisation

In May, the renowned management consulting firm McKinsey published its social tools survey. The results are unanimous: social tools improve your work environment and help your organisation advance. They make everything possible; quicker replies to customers, more transparent communications, easier collaboration, more flexible working, and increased competitivity. A previous survey by McKinsey even indicated that social media technologies increase productivity by 10%. In this article, three Embrace experts use specific examples to explain their views on the results of the McKinsey survey.

The experts: Koen, Esmée and Remco, are all specialists in social tools

Drawing on their different professional experiences, they are going to throw some light on the results of the social tools survey. Koen is lead consultant in implementing the social intranet at the municipality of Rotterdam, Esmée is a social business advisor, and Remco is a product manager.

First things first: what are social tools?

Let me begin with an explanation of the term social tools; what are they? McKinsey uses social tools as a global term for all digital technologies that simplify collaboration. These are technologies used for social interaction, and to create, improve, and share content. This includes such tools as internal social media, the digital workplace, collaboration tools and the social intranet.

Features of social technologies

According to McKinsey, the latest collaboration technologies feature the following features:

  • cloud-based;
  • designed for real-time interaction;
  • users can search for conversations;
  • provide a distinctive user experience;
  • integration with other business applications, such as file sharing and social media.

According to respondents, the features with the most significant benefits are:

  • Communication free of time constraints.
  • The ability to work together within specific groups.
  • Device-independent availability.

The respondents believe that the three features listed above will have the most influence on the way organisations work.

Social tools improve internal communication

One of the most important conclusions of the survey is the ability of social tools to improve internal communication. How does this work in practice? Koen gives an example:

‘Currently, email is the standard form of communication within organisations. If you send an email, with ten colleagues in CC, two people might answer with a personal email and the other eight click on ‘respond to all’, resulting in unclear email conversations circulating the organisation without a proper structure. The social intranet brings information together, so everyone can see what’s going on at a glance. For example, you see a timeline of all new posts from the groups you’re a member of. It makes everything very efficient and clear.’

McKinsey even expects social tools to replace email as a standard channel of written communication because these tools create searchable content as a result of collaboration:

‘Because they create searchable content as a by-product of collaboration, the new-generation tools could even begin to replace email as the default channel of written communication.’  McKinsey Global Survey, 2016

Social tools hand-in-hand with digitisation

The survey showed that social tools are more integrated into daily activities and more business processes are digitised in companies which use collaboration technologies.

Koen explains, ‘Implementing a social tool is more likely to succeed if you associate the tool with other digital and non-digital processes within your organisation. It immediately becomes ‘part of the work’. The benefits are immediately clear. For example, 80% of questions from citizens can be answered by the customer contact department using FAQs, manuals and knowledge at hand. The remaining 20% are answered by sourcing additional knowledge from within the organisation, which in practice takes 90 minutes because of all the calls needed to find the right answer. Using social technologies allows questions to be answered within ten minutes. That is the power of social tools.’

Social tools are changing the way we work

Management guru Tom Peters had his finger on the pulse when he said,

‘Innovation comes only from readily and seamlessly sharing information, rather than hoarding it’. Innovation in the way we work is exactly what respondents are expecting from social tools over the next three years:

  1. Employees can communicate more often with people in other teams, jobs and departments (66%)
  2. Daily work will become more and more project-based, rather than being based on teams or jobs (48%)
  3. More teams will manage themselves (40%)

Trend watcher Marcel Bullinga even predicts that all office workers will be on flexi-time within 10 years. Each task will be fulfilled from a different workplace; a self-driving car, a desk in a coworking centre, working from home, or occasionally in the office. Work will no longer be carried out from a building, but from the community you are part of. Trend watcher Yuri van Geest also expects major changes in corporate cultures: top-down communication and other structures will disappear, while risk limitation will become a thing of the past. Successful companies have an open and transparent corporate culture, where employees are encouraged to fail to get initiatives off the ground. These companies have a culture of short feedback loops, where getting on with the job reigns supreme, and strategic plans are limited to the next 12 months.

Social tools may lead to fundamental changes in organisations

The survey revealed that social tools influence the flow of information within an organisation, thus changing the way of working and eventually resulting in the organisation adopting a new model. Where organisations are currently increasingly asked to operate with more agility, social tools help organisations experiment with new organisational models that are more project-based or autonomous, and where hierarchies are increasingly being abolished.

‘What’s more, some executives report greater benefits – decreased costs and increased productivity, for example – if they digitise and use social tools in a given process. Several benefits are greater still if the company uses data collected from social interactions among employees and with customers.’  McKinsey Global Survey, 2016

Implementing social tools improves communication and collaboration between employees, partners and customers. Using social tools in all kinds of processes, such as customer contact, can help reduce costs and increase productivity. Koen’s previous example showed that money was saved by shortening the lead time of a process. One way of increasing productivity is by getting the right people with the right knowledge involved at the right time. The benefits are further increased by collecting data on conversations between employees and customers.

10% higher productivity thanks to social technologies

A previous study by McKinsey revealed that social technologies increase the productivity of knowledge workers (those who mainly work with knowledge and information) by 20 to 25%. We believe that this estimate is slightly optimistic, and that 13% is a more realistic figure. When a social intranet is implemented, we notice that organisations need time to buy in to the new way of working. As shown in the graph below, the main reason for productivity increasing is the time saved on:

  • reading and replying to emails;
  • searching and collecting information;
  • internal communication and collaboration;
  • job-specific
  • productivity-enhancing social tools

Koen’s examples show how time can be saved in practice.

Social software; a means to an end

Following the survey, Remco would like to say that social software only really works if your organisation is open to it and there is a change of corporate culture taking place:

‘A social tool is not a magic wand. An organisation must be ready for it, and prepared to work hard. Social tools can only succeed if a cultural change is underway. This implies that the organisation must shape changes in behaviour, and change and design processes in accordance with social tools. Another important element is the exemplary role of management; they must be at the forefront of change and act as its ambassadors. Implementing social tools isn’t an end in itself. The organisation must have an idea about where and how social tools can help.’

How do I get started?

There are a number of things to do before implementing social software. According to Esmée,

‘You start by listing all the digital processes within your organisation. Make an overview of this list, and analyse the unnecessary things and what can be combined. Ask colleagues about the digital processes that cause bottlenecks, or which can be speeded up. Choose two or three of these processes, and redesign them with social intranet/tools. Make a baseline measurement, and measure again after six months to measure the contribution made by social tools; that’s your business case! Use this as a basis for further activities. Create a digital workplace where internal and external digital tools and social tools are used. In other words, integrate everything in one single place. This coherence is what gives you advantages in both use and competitiveness.’

Future vision

Esmée thinks that social tools will become part of the digital workplace in the future: ‘This workplace will become the place where employees make contact with colleagues, business relations and customers, as well as business processes and all the information needed to work effectively. The more connectivity between all the different social tools, the more synergy and consequent higher profits. Decisions are made faster, because all the information and expertise of colleagues and other stakeholders are on hand immediately. As a result, ‘time-to-market’ is reduced and a company’s competitive position improves.’

According to Remco, social tools and the working environment will therefore be inextricably linked in the future.

Conclusion: social software is an indispensable resource when setting up a future-proof organisation.