Six ways social media technologies can accelerate large-scale change

Six Ways Social Media Technologies Can Accelerate Large-Scale Change


January 2012

Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, instant messaging, video conferencing, web meetings: These and many other collaboration and social media platforms are now an everyday part of people’s lives around the world. They are also finding their way into enterprise communications and management strategies. But are these social media applications and technologies ready for an even greater challenge—helping companies and government agencies successfully navigate major business change programs?

Companies struggle to be successful with such initiatives. According to numerous studies, anywhere from 50 percent to 80 percent of change programs do not live up to expectations. Although the reasons for failure vary, many can be traced to the difficulty with managing multiple talent and organizational elements effectively across a global enterprise—creating a shared vision, gaining buy-in across locations and levels, dealing with expectations and handling the day-to-day upheavals inherent in change. Accenture believes that these challenges are well suited to the capabilities of social media and collaboration tools.

Based on numerous experiences with corporations and government agencies that have successfully pioneered social media solutions, Accenture has identified six ways in which collaboration tools and social media technologies, properly planned and implemented, can support more rapid and predictable management of large-scale change.

1. Building a collaborative culture
Executives know that achieving success at major business transformation requires more than simply telling everyone about the new ways things are going to be done. Acceptance of change—processes, services, working relationships, policies and more—can be accelerated across the organization through the real-time sharing of experiences. Social networking and collaboration applications are extremely effective ways of bringing employees together to perform new processes and to share experiences—both the successes and the temporary setbacks. People with common interests or related roles can form communities to learn from and support one another.

Social media can also help in cases where creating a more collaborative culture is one of the major objectives of the change initiative. This has been the case with the United States Transportation Command, or USTRANSCOM. Because of new responsibilities the Command had been given across the entire U.S. Department of Defense supply chain—from factory to point of delivery—executives sought to change the structure and culture of USTRANSCOM from a “command and control” emphasis to one that encouraged staff to interact directly with executives and supported the kinds of collaboration that can lead to innovation.

USTRANSCOM launched several social media initiatives including an executive blog and a Q&A blog hosted on the Command’s intranet, as well as a public presence on Facebook and Twitter. The executive blog (which has been recognized by the U.S. Department of Defense as a best practice) enables executives to hear from staff directly, without having messages filtered through intermediate management levels. These social media programs—which quickly generated more than 5 million impressions—have flattened the organizational hierarchy and driven positive culture shifts, as measured by an annual staff survey. The collaboration and networking platforms are empowering employees, customers and partners to be active participants in the global conversation of the Command. The Command’s Facebook presence was also recognized by “Government on Facebook”—which highlights best-practice use of Facebook by government organizations—for its coverage marking the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks in the United States.

2. Establishing more effective two-way communication
Social media tools provide an effective communications medium—for the core change program teams and across the organization as a whole—as a large-scale change initiative proceeds. In addition, by monitoring and participating in online discussions, managers can more readily see where any misunderstandings or “pain points” exist across the enterprise and take steps to address them.

For example, one global resources company recently established a presence on Yammer, a secure and enterprise-strength social network that enables coworkers to communicate and share information with one another. Seventy percent of the company’s team members signed up for Yammer after its initial launch and 25 groups were created to discuss work-related issues. Today, about 2,000 messages are posted each month.

Participation by leadership in social media-based collaboration platforms is essential. Collaboration tools can actually undermine change effectiveness if they merely cause confusion and discontent to multiply across social networking sites. Management must establish a mechanism for delivering the “voice of truth”—an authoritative, trusted and believable source of information. This reinforces the idea that social media can be used by employees not only to voice ideas and concerns but also to get accurate and credible answers regarding the company’s change effort.

3. Creating more engaging learning experiences
Social media applications can be extremely effective ways to deliver personalized learning experiences related to a change initiative, not just general broadcasts of information. In our experience, organizations have used these innovative collaboration platforms in a variety of ways to encourage effective workforce enablement, including:

  • Videocasts with short learning segments delivered before a new enterprise system goes live.

  • Live web meetings and telepresence solutions that bring together dispersed teams for a common learning experience.

  • User-generated content platforms such as YouTube, which allow staff members to provide short video or audio training segments relevant to the change program.

4. Sharing current practices through a knowledge network
“Learning” refers to more than just the formal offerings that are designed and delivered from a central group. Also critical are the knowledge networks that can be formed quickly using applications such as Twitter, Yammer and Facebook. These networks can help employees get information about processes or technologies, share innovative practices and receive answers in timely ways. One North American bank, for example, has established a dynamic communication and collaboration tool for employees to help locate people, content and expertise and to centralize and share knowledge. By the end of the first two months of the new tool’s introduction, more than 5,000 users had joined, creating close to 100 personal blogs and more than 400 communities.

5. Improving employee involvement and engagement
One of the critical success factors for managing large-scale change programs is engaging employees in the change—helping them to feel ownership in the initiative and tapping into their energy to resolve issues and advance the business.

Social media and collaboration solutions allow information to flow in multiple directions rather than just from the top down. For example, using wikis and microblogs—applications for sharing short bursts of information in Twitter-like fashion—organizations can “crowdsource” ideas and involve employees more directly in the change program. Organizations can build greater internal loyalty by actively soliciting continuous feedback on issues related to the change.

One US bank initiated a major change program to improve the customer experience as a means of gaining market share. The bank leveraged a crowdsourcing tool to tap into its workforce for ideas about how to improve customer service. In the first use of the tool, more than 250 employees submitted 50 separate ideas resulting in seven high-quality innovations for the company—many of which resulted in programs that have generated value for the bank.

6. Assessing progress more regularly and effectively
How do organizations know whether they are making progress on a large-scale change program from an employee perspective? Enterprises sometimes have difficulty measuring progress, but social media applications can help by providing near real-time feedback about how well a program is going. Assessments can be supported in at least two ways: by providing a platform for nearly instantaneous survey-based feedback, which can supplement more comprehensive measurement exercises; and by conducting facilitated online feedback sessions. With social media tools, decision makers have timely information about employees’ understanding and acceptance of the change program.

Conclusion: Small steps that add up to big value
Social media is an important addition to a traditional change management program, one that can dramatically increase the acceptance of change and advance an organization more predictably toward its business goals. Collaboration and social media tools can reduce the time an organization needs to navigate large-scale change programs and deliver a better change experience from the employee’s perspective; this, in turn, builds a foundation for employees to be more continuously change capable in the future.

Carefully managed, social media and collaboration tools provide a powerful platform that can help enterprises successfully manage large-scale change.

About the authors
Mohsin Ghafoor is a senior manager specializing in Talent & Organization solutions within the Accenture Resources group.

Trinity Martin is a senior manager specializing in Talent & Organization solutions within the Accenture Communications, Media and Technology group.

Elizabeth S. Choo, an Accenture Talent & Organization consultant, also contributed to this article.


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Six ways social media technologies can accelerate large-scale change 
Social media technologies are helping people communicate in new ways. Now they are also helping enterprises successfully navigate major business change programs.
social media, change management
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