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Blueprint for Igniting a Social Workplace

I feel so very fortunate to have attended Impact 99 this week – an HR Summit intently focused on igniting a social workplace.  Putting aside the inspirational hosts, terrific participants, and enthralling presenters, I’ve just spent the last hour looking over my notes, the tweets, and the speaker presentations, and what I really can’t get over is how many actionable, practical ideas I came away with.

It goes without saying that the audience at this event was filled with people who already feel that social and digital technologies (as Courtney Shelton Hunt  of Social Media in Organizations insisted we call them in her closing keynote) have the potential to drastically improve the way that we collaborate, communicate and learn within organizations. But I bet I’m not the only one whose enthusiasm often outpaces a clear vision of how to introduce and implement these technologies in our workplaces.

There were big ideas at Impact 99- and I love big ideas- but what I love more is coming away not only  inspired by those ideas, but motivated by real-world examples and lessons learned. As I read my (very poorly typed) notes, I see that the thoughts and comments that resonated with me most serve as a blueprint for those of us who want to know:

 “How can I start the use of social technologies in my organization?”

1.  How to Plan It

Jamie Notter, author of Humanize: How People-Centric Organizations Succeed in a Social World, used his opening keynote to discuss the potential impact of social media on leadership within organizations. His basic premise was that social technologies have the potential to more effectively tackle two chronic organizational problems: agility and engagement. But it was during Q&A that he uttered the sentence that I am still thinking about; when asked:

“We all agree that social has potential. But how do you get your CEO on board?”

Jaime’s response was:

“Proceed until apprehended…”

How great is that? I think those are practically tattoo-worthy words. He went on to advocate that we need not plan a full-on, all fronts battle. Rather, pick one process, and start there. That is some very practical advice.

2.  How to Speak About It

The next part of my blueprint came from Alan Lepofsky, speaking about the future of work, and later about enterprise collaboration. Alan had a very grounded, practical take on what social in the workplace should be about: getting work done.  Alan implored us never to describe social and digital technologies as being “just like Facebook or Twitter for organizations”.

No matter where we start when incorporating social and digital technologies into our workplaces, at some point we’re all going to have to “pitch it”, to a CEO, a Department lead, or someone else in a position to say ‘no’. To me, Alan’s insistence on referring to these technologies as ‘business tools’, and focusing on how they can integrate with existing systems and tools to enhance productivity and focus communications, reflects a real need for business leaders to hear any proposal to jump on the social bandwagon in their own language. If the return on investment in these technologies is part of the lexicon we use to discuss them, we most certainly stand a better chance at actually getting a ‘yes’ when we propose utilizing them.

3.  How to Handle Objections

The last piece of the blueprint came via Sunayna Tuteja from TD Bank. Sunayna was an extremely engaging speaker who related the impressive story of TD Bank’s adoption of social technology. A massive global bank, TD used social in part to foster dialogue amongst employees after explosive growth. Sunayna acknowledged that in an industry which tends to be conservative and risk-averse (insert snarky financial collapse joke here, but remember that TD is Canadian), social was a tough sell. After putting together a list of all the reasons for and against implementing social, you can guess which side dwarfed the other. But TD pushed forward and ended up with a successful program. Sunayna’s tips?

“Face risks head on, think big, start small, scale fast.”

She also made an eye-opening point that piloting social in a small, safe, group just doesn’t represent reality (the potential positives, or the negatives). We need to jump in with two feet …hopefully after communicating to our employees about expectations, and then treating them like the adults they are: trustworthy, but responsible for any gross violations of those expectations.


If you get starry-eyed thinking about the ways that social and digital technologies could make your workplace a more efficient, collaborative, engaged organization, but you’re not sure how to get the ball rolling:

  1. Pick a process and start there. Proceed until apprehended.
  2. Don’t tell your CEO that “It’s just like Facebook for work”. Talk about the ROI of social business tools
  3. Know that there will always be reasons for organizations to fear social. Acknowledge and face risks, but do it anyway.

Thanks to Pam Ross and Christine McLeod for a terrific experience!

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