Engaging Next Generation Workforce

I’m here reporting from IBM ConnectEd 2015 (@IBMConnect) in Orlando, Florida. Earlier, I posted on my experience on Monday at the Women’s Executive Lunch, hosted by Katrina Troughton (@KatyTroughton), Vice President, Smarter Workforce Solutions at IBM. Thanks again to everyone involved.

Later on Monday, I attended a panel titled “Creating the Next Gen Workforce through Engaging Employee Experiences,” which featured Christopher Crummey (@ccrummey), World Wide Director of Sales, Social Business & Exceptional Digital Experience at IBM; David Hogan, Manager, eBusiness Marketing at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Tennessee; Geoff Englemeyer (@G_Engelmeyer), Director, Corporate Communications Technology at AT&T; Kelly Perry, Senior Business Process Analyst, The Sherwin-Williams Company; and Rodrigo Castro, National Manager Applications, Caixa Economica Federal.

This panel was of particular interest to me, as the topic had a great deal of overlap with subjects covered in my book, The Social Employee (McGraw-Hill, 2013), coauthored by Mark Burgess (@MNBurgess). Specifically, the panel addressed the intersection of technology and humanity. The discussion around increasing employee engagement in the workplace reminds me of the old saying, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.” Providing employees with social engagement platforms is one thing, but creating buy-in around those tools is quite another.

And so, these panelists were asked what their companies had done to make their collaboration and social networking solutions appealing to their workforce. Each panelist had their own unique way of framing the issue, but ultimately they all agreed that it came down to the why. Companies can’t just show up one day, drop a training manual on their employees’ desks and say, “Here, read up. We expect you to be doing all of this by next week.” Such an approach is abrupt, overly forceful, and devoid of any meaningful context. Even worse, it sets unrealistic expectations (more on that in a moment).

An organization’s main priority in building social adoption in the next-gen workforce is mastering the why by demonstrating the value of social processes. Marketers have known this secret for years: Sell the solution the tool offers, not the tool itself. Sell the sizzle, not the steak. And as we at Blue Focus Marketing (@BlueFocus) have been saying for years, there’s a lot of sizzle when it comes to social processes. For true engagement, employees must understand the benefits first. They need to have a reason to join social platforms. They need to believe—ideally through a skilled demonstration—that these tools can improve their workflow and access to resources.

In The Social Employee (@SocialEmployee), we saw how several Fortune 100 companies like IBM and AT&T took this concept and ran with it, developing the “WWHW Wheel” (what, why, how, when) to track employee buy-in by monitoring the kinds of questions they were asking. So it was good to see this panel put so much emphasis not only on this concept, but also on the idea of gamification through incentives and badges. Indeed, with the badge system, some of the panelists joked that employees would complain any time they earned a badge and the company failed to deliver it. It may not sound like it would mean much, but it creates a fun competition among employees trying to outrank each other with their social achievements.

The other benefit of the badge system is that it sets more realistic expectations about adoption. Rather than treating social engagement as a one-week, learn-it-and-you’re-done process, badges show that social adoption is ongoing, that there’s always a way to level up, always something else to learn. And as I walk through the halls of the IBM ConnectED conference, I can’t help but feel the same way. While collaboration and social networking tools—as well as driving employee engagement using these tools—have come a long way in a relatively short period of time, there’s still so much more we can do … and this space continues to evolve with new technologies like cloud, mobile, social and analytics.

And so, we push onward.

You can contact Cheryl Burgess on Twitter at @CKBurgess.

This post was previously published on IBM’s Social Business Insights Blog.

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