Employees are one of the ingredients that organizations require in order to succeed. But in every recipe, just one bad ingredient can ruin the end result, and the same is true in business, making it essential for companies to not only hire the right staff and train them well, but also give them the best tools to be able to excel at their jobs.
While humans have always been social creatures, the past years have seen this behavior revved up as technology helps facilitate social processes. Nowadays, we don't have to get up from our desks, or even pick up a phone, to interact with our colleague who sits at the other end of the office, or, in an increasingly virtual world, working remotely, even in another country.
While social networks like Facebook are allowing people to interact with their friends around the globe, organizations are challenged with providing similar systems that allow similar collaborative interactions between staff but within a safe and secure environment.
At last week's IBM Connect, senior leaders from PepsiCo, Performance Bicycle, and Sika explained how partnering with IBM allows them to provide essential tools for knowledge-sharing, both among staff members and even with their customers.
PepsiCo connects its employees
Fostering a culture of collaboration within the workplace sounds like an easy task for small organizations. When you're sitting across the room from your colleague, it doesn't require a lot of effort to bounce ideas off each other, ask questions, and even engage in social conversations.
But when a company is a multinational giant with employees across the world, bringing the same level of collaboration becomes a task that requires thought. This was the case for PepsiCo, the multinational food and beverage corporation. "We needed to do a better job in sharing knowledge and connecting employees to each other," explained Fern Johnson, senior director for the company's global collaboration program.
The company's vision was clear-the leaders wanted to reinvent the way employees worked by creating the right virtual environment where the company's thousands of employees could communicate, share their expertise, and bounce ideas off each other. Some years ago PepsiCo started working on an internal social network-PEPnet. Johnson noted that the project got the green light from technology leaders in 2010 and the company kicked off a 1,000-employee pilot intended to learn more about how employees would use the platform and how it would help the business.
The platform, built on IBM's Social Business Platform, allows PepsiCo to provide content to its employees in one secure location. For example, employees can learn by reading success stories about their peers, or explore real business examples and even mock business scenarios.
But beyond providing content, PEPnet is providing staff with the opportunity to interact and collaborate on projects, and the company is seeing business results. For example, the labeling process that involves a number of people across the organization and previously required some 20 hours of work per label has now been slashed to four hours. As Johnson noted, employees are able to use assets which would normally not be shared, leading to increased productivity since employees can ask questions and get answers quickly.
PEPnet has been extended to more than 20,000 users and Johnson said this is expected to continue growing and reach 100,000 people in the future.
Performance Bicycles shares employees' passion and expertise
Today's customers do a lot of research before pulling the trigger and making a purchase. This means that employees need to be well informed and able to add to the information that customers already have or risk losing them to a competitor.
Performance Bicycles faced this same reality. "Our customers are passionate about cycling," explained Carol Wentworth, the company's senior vice president of marketing. "They are involved and knowledgeable, but also want employees who are [also involved and knowledgeable.]"
The brand was competing against smaller bike shops, which are geared to create very personalized experiences for their customers, sharing the information that customers require and tailoring messaging to individual's needs. "We needed to demonstrate knowledge both online and in stores," Wentworth explained.
While the company already had very knowledgeable workers who, like customers, were very passionate about cycling, there was a problem. "The expertise was there but it was scattered [across the organization] so we needed to bring it together," Wentworth said.
The company needed to find a way to tap into this expertise and provide it to customers. Collaborating with IBM, Performance Bicycles launched a learning center, an online solution that allows customers to engage with their peers as well as the organization's experts. Further, the resource-laden site provides access to more than 200 articles and 400-plus videos about cycling. "Our goal is to be acknowledged as the leading authority on cycling," Wentworth explained. She noted that the site provides instant access to content about the exact bicycle a customer is looking for. "It helps customers learn about products and experience the expertise of our employees."
But it was not just customers who benefitted. Employees were also able to learn a lot from the information provided by their peers, and this has translated into increased customer satisfaction. "One of the highest drivers of loyalty and satisfaction is product knowledge," Wentworth explained. In fact, an internal survey has shown that the score that represents how customers rate employees' knowledge jumped by 22 percent in just seven months.
Sika secures social collaboration
Employee collaboration definitely benefits organizations, but there are obvious concerns about privacy and data security. With rarely a week going by without hearing of a new security breach, it's no wonder that organizations are concerned about the information shared by their employees, even if they are being cautious.
Switzerland-based chemical company Sika expressed this concern over keeping customer information private. "Employees were sharing documents and business challenges on social media because there was no other place," explained Christian Frey, the company's head of market and competitive intelligence.
Rather than stop employees from sharing information, the company recognized that there was an opportunity in providing them with a secure place to collaborate. Sika leveraged IBM's SmartCloud for Social Business to create a modern collaboration platform that was flexible and cost-effective.
Although the project started as a small 80-person pilot, it has now been extended to several thousand users and Frey said all employees with a PC connection will be able to use the platform by the end of 2014.
One of the main benefits of the platform is that it brings together employees from different offices across the 80-plus countries where Sika operates. For example, best practices from the U.S. office were emulated by an employee in Jordan, who shared his success on the platform, where the information was seen by another employee in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
"We needed to shift the way we work," Frey stressed. Further, giving employees the tools to collaborate socially helps the organization retain the communications within a secure environment and reduce the risk of information leaks or theft, even when interactions are extended to external partners who collaborate with internal staff.