Don’t leave social media out of the productivity debate

Hardworking executives may have been surprised at research last year that found Australian leaders lagging on many of the key management indicators correlated with productivity.

Among the gaps highlighted by an Ernst & Young reportwas a deficiency in people-management capability, particularly with respect to instilling a “talent mindset” across business.

The report, called Productivity Pulse, showed that managers were underutilising the existing skills of employees, and they also lacked the skills needed for innovation.

What was less clear was that managers understood the links between innovation, technology, and digital and social engagement.

Social media was cited as contributing to a time-wasting culture in Australia that diminishes productivity to the collective tune of $87 billion a year.

But is restricting social media the solution? In doing so, leaders might grab back 15 minutes a day from each employee – a considerable amount of time in leading companies.

I don’t agree with the idea, however. While there is nothing wrong with this per se, in the wrong hands such measures create a focus on inputs rather than outputs. That might be appropriate in manufacturing environment for example, but not companies where success is based on intellectual capital.

The big risk is they prolong a widget-focused leadership mindset that will not equip managers to deal with the complexity required to thrive in the digital and social age.

By now, many leaders know that eight new people are coming online each second, that the majority use social and mobile to connect and collaborate and that our personal and professional lives are increasingly blurred.

Many employers ban social media even though there is a significant body of research to suggest it drives engagement, a key element of productivity.

It’s well recognised, for example, that young professionals value internet-connected mobility over pay, and it’s the skill-set (and mindset) of these digital natives that employers need.

A recent Cisco study found companies that embrace social media during business hours are more attractive to job applicants in the highly competitive talent pool.

It’s tempting, but wrong, to think about social networking as a concession to Millennials (also called Gen Y) – employees under 33.

Employees currently spend as much as 20% of their time at work looking for information and McKinsey & Co believes productivity could be increased by as much as 25% by social technologies that increase collaboration.

For one thing, social networking creates searchable content and connections that allow employees to access the right information and people within and across enterprises fast.

This highlights why a 15-minutes-no-more-social attitude is troubling; as connectivity grows exponentially it will become a liability.

Employee wellbeing is high on the list of factors believed to increase individual productivity, but the role of social media in driving wellbeing was not investigated.

In future, I believe productivity measures will take into the account the impacts of the connected ‘digital and social ecosystem’ on motivation.

The value of digital to productivity means measuring direct contributions from pure online businesses but also the indirect activity of mixed businesses, including the use of social media for engagement, sales and customer service.

This article first appeared in Leading Company

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