Many global corporations have laboratories located in several or more countries. Laboratory managers can benefit greatly by establishing a corporate intranet social networking site or utilizing an already existing one. A corporate intranet social networking site can enhance the speed of communications and enable discussion of projects and other work in a less formal way that could enhance flexibility and creativity. A corporate social networking site can enable topics to be discussed and options reviewed before decisions are made.
Input can come from surprising sources. For example, plant engineers could provide their opinions on challenges in taking a new process from early-stage research to pilot and commercial production. This input could come months or more before a project has reached a stage when plant engineers are added to the project team.
Think FaceBook or LinkedIn on a corporate Intranet and focused on company R&D and business topics. The software isn’t the challenge. Rather it is defining your objectives and strategy. Managers need to decide what they want to accomplish using corporate networking sites to enable employees to interact. Employees at smaller organizations may interact sufficiently using more traditional means than social networking technology. However, employees of large firms, often with laboratories and other facilities scattered across the globe may not have other effective means for employees to interact.
However, before establishing a corporate social networking site, managers should consider several factors.
Lab managers should have a clearly defined purpose and strategy for introducing internal social networking. The technology is probably the easy part. More critical are approaches to encourage free and open discussions that are closed down when decisions are made. Endless questions or revisiting decisions can lead to “paralysis by analysis.” Overly frequent reconsideration of previously made decisions can weaken team spirit and cooperation among staff members. So can discussions that become overly critical or personal. The employer is responsible for discussions that are harassing or discriminatory unless offensive posts are quickly removed from the site. So someone from the human resources department should be given the responsibility of moderating discussions?
Managers need to be able to assess whether the social network is providing value – sufficient value to justify the expense. Means of assessing the usefulness of a corporate social network include the number of page views, active users, the number of questions posted and the number of responses made. Employee ratings of the usefulness of the social network discussions and content can also be useful.
Fit with corporate culture
Managers also need to determine whether social networking fits the corporate culture. Without a cooperative culture of sharing, trust and mutual cooperation, a social network may be little used. An overly competitive corporate culture can make people reluctant to share their ideas and opinions.
Social networks should complement the way staff members already work. For example, don’t expect social networking to substantially replace the telephone or e-mail. Social networking should provide an additional means of communication, not a replacement for other communication methods.
Staff members have to want to spend time on the social networking site. Particularly in the beginning managers may need to provide interesting content to encourage staff members to do so. Updates on company events, and news of technology developments and accomplishments can encourage employees to keep coming back for more.
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