Expert: Social Networking Can Help Motivate Performance

By Rebecca R. Hastings, SPHR Jul 28, 2009

Most performance management systems are as different as night and day from the behavior of great managers, Marcus Buckingham recently told a group of Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) members. That’s why he suggested organizations consider using social networking to reinvent the performance management experience.

Speaking during a July 24, 2009, SHRM webcast, “The Performance Multiplier: Using the Principles of Social Networking to Re-Invent Performance Management,” the strengths management guru, author and consultant said most performance management systems do the opposite of what great managers do.

Buckingham, who authored First, Break All the Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently (Simon and Schuster, 1999), said great managers:

  • Have frequent conversations with their people in real time.
  • Focus on the strengths of individual employees.
  • Are future-focused.
  • Are good at connecting people.

“The best teams are well-rounded because the people in the teams aren’t,” Buckingham said. That’s why he suggests that managers identify an employee’s strengths and weaknesses, then work to mitigate their weaknesses and use their strengths to drive performance. “The fastest way to go from point A (personality) to point B (performance) is rarely a straight line; it is always the path of least resistance, which is sometimes a straight line.”

Buckingham said most performance appraisals are:

  • Infrequent, generally conducted once or twice a year. “And about 24 hours before they are due, the manager and employee dive into the tool to fill it out,” he stated.
  • Standardized rather than focused on the individual. In other words, the company defines a list of qualities or behaviors to which the employee is compared, he said, rather than looking at how to leverage what each employee brings to the organization.
  • Retrospective, not future-focused. “They tend to look back and rate you on the basis of what you just did,” he said. “It’s like weighing a pig; no matter how much you weigh the pig, it won’t get any fatter.”
  • Isolating. “No one is allowed to see it; it’s not transparent,” according to Buckingham.

In a nutshell, performance appraisals “seem to fly almost directly in the face of the behaviors of great managers” and “are founded on very different principles,” he said.

That’s why Buckingham and his team decided to create a performance management system to mirror what great managers do.

How Does Social Networking Fit In?

Given the overwhelming growth of social networks such as Facebook and Twitterand their increasing acceptance by those in the 35 to 55 age rangesocial networking seemed like a logical place for Buckingham’s firm to start.

He said social networks like Facebook work well because they:

  • Enable positive self-presentation.People don’t go on social networks to connect, he said; they do so because the sites allow the individual to “put their best self out there.”
  • Are safe.“People can say whether they like a comment or not, but there is no ultimate arbiter who is going to come in and judge you for it,” Buckingham said.
  • Are sticky.“You want to keep coming back on,” he said, because such sites are dynamic, with a continual flow of information on “people who are doing stuff and feeling stuff and posting pictures.”
  • Are simple. You don’t need a tutorial to get started, he said.

Buckingham wondered what would happen if these principles were used to design a work-based social networking system that would attract employees to say voluntarily, “Here’s what I’m doing and feeling and working on.”

Ideally, such a system would serve the manager and the employee, allow for “super-global” and “super-local” interactions, and serve as a performance driver and a performance evaluator, he said.

“If you are going to redesign a performance management system, it has to serve the manager,” Buckingham said. “What are my people doing and thinking, how are they feeling, how are they connecting? Managers want to know that in real time.”

But employees have to want to go on the system all the time to say what they are doing, thinking and feeling, he said. “People clearly are willing to do it all the time in their social networking; they will do it every day,” he said. The question is: Will they do so at work?

For a work-based social networking system to mirror sites like Facebook, however, individuals would need to be able to connect locally, with one or two individuals in their network, or to reach out to everyone at once.

Though Buckingham concluded that such a site can be used as a performance driver, he said it can’t be used as an employee evaluator because it violates one of the principles of social networkingsafety. “As soon as employees know their manager will be there rating them, they stop going on,” he said.

That’s why he recommends that organizations maintain a separate performance evaluation system even if they do create a social networking system.

A Working System

Buckingham provided webcast participants with a quick glimpse into a system his organization created with Accenture. The system asks new users to answer a really simple question such as “When are you in your zone? List three activities that make you so focused you lose track of time.”

Users are asked things like “what are you paid to do?” and “what do you love to do?”

Once employees are done answering these basic questions, the system turns the information into a home page that looks like a Facebook page, he said, except that it includes space for the company to add information as well.

A built-in “performance pod” is designed for employees to enter the site at least weekly to say what they are going to be working on that week and what they plan to do that week to drive the performance of the team. “Then there are little buttons on the right that give you the opportunity to indicate how that activity is going to make you feel,” Buckingham said.

Information on employee feelings is important and useful, he said.

“When people couldn’t indicate their feelings, they didn’t want to come back on,” Buckingham said. It is useful because it provides managers with a way to have a “real-time, real-life conversation about what’s working and what’s not working” for their employee, he said.

An “accolades tab” built into the system gives employees an opportunity to praise others, he said, and is far more popular than the “successes tab” employees can use to describe their own achievements.

The system even includes a way for individuals to compare themselves to others on their team to see how they relate to one another. “People who are very different from each other can look at each other’s sections to find ways to connect,” he said.

The system can also create opportunities for employees to learn from each other.

“If you want to have a learning organization, you need to have learning people,” Buckingham said. That’s why the learning and development section, which he says “marries YouTube and Facebook,” allows employees the opportunity to post articles, videos and other things they are absorbing. Users can then see what their colleagues are thinking and reading, he added. “You get this kind of natural, organic learning where you learn from people you respect.”

And respect is the name of the game within Accenture’s systemat least so faraccording to Buckingham. “With thousands of people using it at Accenture, there hasn’t been one example of people spreading negativity,” which he attributes to the photos that accompany each comment a user posts. “Mostly people have been posting incredibly supportive stuffproductive workplace stuff.”

As for the performance evaluation component, Buckingham suggests keeping it separate.

“What you are looking to create is a world where people have a chance to show the best of themselves,” Buckingham concluded. “You want a place that’s simple, that people want to come back and visit, and that is safe. If it’s useful, people will keep using it; if it’s not, they won’t.”

Rebecca R. Hastings, SPHR, is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

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