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Social business for a global workforce

The emerging workforce is more than ready for social tools that will empower them to transcend hierarchical barriers and collaborate globally

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What can a cement company tell us about ? When one of the world's largest suppliers of building materials needed to innovate quickly, it adopted a web-based collaboration tool that made it easy for employees in all business units and geographies to share and develop ideas. The impact was immediate, with new products reaching the marketplace in record time.

An early adopter of the current generation of social business tools, CEMEX has become a textbook case of business leadership enabled by social technology. Most notably, senior management made a commitment to change traditional practices by opening its deliberations and decision-making to viewpoints and voices that had historically been barely audible. Based in Mexico, and with plants operating around the world, the company was able to engage its by tapping employees' passion for sustainable building solutions and their readiness to share expertise in local building practices.

Global workforce tend to include a high proportion of young people for whom social tools have long been essential to their personal lives. Industry research shows that it is this younger generation that is well conditioned to work and operates in a more socially-connected world. Young workers and especially the millennial generation today are primed for a work culture that empowers innovation, collaboration and creativity. This emerging workforce is more than ready for social tools that will empower them to collaborate globally, transcend hierarchical barriers, and make meaningful contributions to their work as well as personal lives.

When we talk of India, social business is yet to be fully demystified in the country. There is a growing need to connect networks of people to create business value that should result in a more engaged, transparent and nimble work environment. This is reflected when we look at India's leading paints manufacturing company, Asian Paints. Asian Paints, which had more than 100 offices in India alone, with 700-plus salespeople and managers, wanted to become a leading decorative paints company in the world. To achieve such growth, collaboration and communication is required through collective knowledge, and experience of its employees. After a study was conducted, it was seen that collaboration does happen through phone but there was no single, consolidated platform where business leaders could share their expertise and innovative ideas and employees could talk of their challenges.

The company went ahead and adopted a social collaboration software that supplied it with the required social networking features. The idea was to connect people across the organisation with one another and the CEO blog, company user profile contest, communities of interest and one-click widgets among other things. This is finally doing the trick for the company where employees across the globe can now transact and engage with one another to jump-start collaboration.

With India becoming the top three fastest growing Internet markets in the world (Source: Assocham and Comscore), social technology is permeating into businesses like never before. This is an excellent time for small and medium businesses as well as the established ones to push their traditional boundaries and limitations, and innovate and collaborate more productively to create tangible business values.

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The world is shrinking and with each day, more and more businesses are going glocal. In such organisations, projects are globally distributed to optimise worldwide talent, workloads and time zones. Work is pulled apart into components and assembled in innovative ways to best meet clients' requirements. Intensive collaboration is the only way one can excel at this work and deliver the outcomes necessary to meet and exceed the clients' business goals.

What's the next game changer? We have found that social technology does not achieve our goals, and in turn, our clients' goals if it is just an add-on to business as usual. Deployment needs to be organic and intrinsic to key business processes - everything from resource assignment to key performance indicator selection to protocols for client interlocks.

One rapidly developing area of social business that is now changing the game involves new technology for social listening and the use of analytics. You may have heard how global brands increasingly deploy social analytics to find out what consumers are saying about their new products or advertising campaigns.

The potential for social listening within an enterprise is intriguing. An organisation may need to predict uptake on a new benefit offering, for example. It can start by listening to what employees are saying online - people frequently go to digital communities for advice on tools and procedures. Without being intrusive, an organisation can mine text data (aggregated anonymously), find trouble spots such as confusing explanations or onerous sign-off requirements, and respond appropriately to eliminate unnecessary complexity. Real-time social technology like this can improve employee engagement while reducing the need for time-consuming (and belated) employee surveys.

In talking about social business and the global workforce, I have not even touched on the digital dynamics between an organisation and its customers. That is a discussion for another time.

Let me just say that the social connection between customers and workforce is intrinsic, and could not be more essential. Today customers require a digitally empowered workforce to deliver solutions at the fast pace. Effective social business practices extending inside and outside the organisation are the best way to succeed in this emerging global marketplace.

Suhas Bhide
General Manager, Global Delivery, India, IBM

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