Employers’ lack of media savvy is stifling innovation

social media

A resistance to change and a lack of social media savvy amongst senior leaders is holding organisations back from fostering cultures of openness, collaboration and innovation in their organisations. Social media is driving us headlong into an age of mass collaboration and mass transparency, and if employers don’t embrace this with open arms they will find themselves on the back foot argues the CIPD. Jonny Gifford, research adviser at the Chartered HR and development professional body, comments: “For organisations to thrive, employees must be given the opportunity to discuss how their organisations can innovate and feed their views upwards, as well as having the freedom to blow the whistle about genuine issues at work.

According to a new study conducted for the CIPD by Silverman Research on the current landscape of social media and employee voice, social media presents employers with the opportunity to truly engage their staff in shaping the future direction of their organisations. Not only does it give employees an open channel through which to feed views upwards, but it also enables greater collaboration and knowledge sharing between employees at all levels, which is how new ideas and innovation prosper. What’s more, social media interactions give organisations access to a unique blend of qualitative and quantitative data that can drive greater employee and customer insight.

The report follows that of worrying evidence of a deterioration in employee voice, recorded by the CIPD’s quarterly Employee Outlook last month, and highlights that traditional employee surveys designed to give employees a voice can actually distract many leaders from listening and acting on employees’ true ideas and concerns.

The new research concludes that the biggest barrier preventing employers from embracing social media as a channel for employee voice is inaction and resistance to change amongst leaders. It found senior leaders often lack understanding of how social media works and the power of the data it can generate. In particular, it argues that too much weight is given to the potential perils associated with a more open approach, while the benefits of more traditional systems are overrated. This prevents leaders from driving the cultural shift required in moving from a top-down hierarchical culture to a transparent culture that fosters openness, honesty, collaboration and innovation. Meanwhile, employees in some organisations that have been slow to embrace social media have taken matters into their own hands by forming unofficial channels of communication between fellow colleagues and external audiences.

Added Gifford: “Social media won’t always be the most appropriate channel for discussing issues, but employers must wake up to the fact that they can’t ignore it. Employee voice expressed through social media is much more influential because it is more likely to be heard. In comparison, employee surveys are ‘voice without muscle’. Social media affects even organisations that have been slow in the uptake, whether they realise it or not or whether they like it or not, so employers must start designing their own future in employee voice before it designs them.

“Our research suggests that the risks associated with inaction are far greater than those associated with embracing social media as a channel for employee voice. We need to remain alive to some of the potential risks of social media – for example, will it make organisations more susceptible to group think and social herding, which aren’t always conducive to organisational growth and success? But employers should also be thinking hard about the opportunity social media gives them to simultaneously collect opinions and facilitate discussion about genuine opinions and ideas, and to analyse the data in rich and meaningful ways.”

The current landscape of social media and employee voice is being launched today at the annual Voice and Value conference being held at the London School of Economics.

by Sara Bean