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Employee social networks: A platform for ‘paying it forward’

Employee Social Networks: a platform for ‘paying it forward’

A recent 'pay it forward' act at my local Starbucks got me thinking about the power of Enterprise Social Networks (ESNs)
A recent 'pay it forward' act at my local Starbucks got me thinking about the power of Enterprise Social Networks (ESNs)
Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images

I visited my local Starbucks drive-thru the other day. I was ready to pay for my regular Friday treat of a Venti soy chai latte and blueberry oatmeal. When I pulled up to the checkout window, I expected to be greeted with an arctic blast of winter’s last attempt at wrath. Instead, I was greeted with a warm gesture.

The lady in front of me had treated my treat! You can imagine how pleasantly surprised I was at such an unexpected act of kindness. And after the shock of it all waned into genuine appreciation (and a huge smile), I told the barista that I’d like to pay it forward for the next person. So, I did. And it felt good.

In a previous article, I encouraged organizations to harness the power of digital communications to begin speaking the language of today’s growing workforce. Enterprise Social Networks, or ESNs, are a great platform where an organization’s internal voice can be heard, defined and shared amongst employees.

That voice, in turn, is amplified via external social channels to influence customer and consumer behavior. Imagine the power an ESN can bring to your employees and the value it can add to your business if it was seen as a platform for paying it forward? Let’s explore three key reasons why this is possible.

Reason #1: People really do want to help others
Believe it or not, it’s true. In a world where it seems like asking others to help often equates to scraping your nails across a chalkboard, science may have proven that helping others actually increases happiness. On the Action for Happiness website, it states:

“While it has long been assumed that giving also leads to greater happiness this has only recently started to be scientifically proven. For example, when participants in a study did five new acts of kindness on one day per week over a six-week period (even if each act was small), they experienced an increase in well-being… Scientists are reconsidering the idea of the 'selfish gene' and are exploring the evolution of altruism, cooperation, compassion and kindness…If people are altruistic, they are more likely to be liked and so build social connections and stronger and more supportive social networks, which leads to increased feelings of happiness and wellbeing.”

What does this mean for big business? Ultimately, happy employees are productive employees. In turn, productive employees innovate, develop and deliver more frequently and consistently. Forbes contributor, Erika Anderson, shared a Gallup formula that captures this theory perfectly:

Per-person productivity =
Talent x (Relationship +Right Expectation + Recognition/Reward)

You’ll find employees helping one another in ESNs pretty much all day, every day. On the surface, it may ‘appear’ that they’re spending valuable time on a make-shift external social channel like Facebook or Google+. Dig deeper and you’ll discover that, in fact, a company’s more progressive ideas are surfacing within ESNs at a much greater pace than traditional brainstorming and collaboration methods.

The team over at Officevibe seems to have figured out and fine-tuned this fabulous formula and are now partnering with a few big name companies like Microsoft, Best Buy, Oracle, and P&G to make the magic happen for employees and companies globally. Collaboration is just people helping other people succeed. ESNs empower companies with the means to create this success any way, at any time and from anywhere in the world.

Reason #2: Leaders would help more if they weren’t so busy, well…leading
According to John Hall, Co-founder and CEO of Influence & Co., in his Forbes piece 10 Ways To Help Others That Will Lead You To Success, “Helping others should be a natural extension of every business leader’s responsibilities. Unfortunately, it doesn’t come as easy as you would think.

As leaders, we often get too caught up in operations or our own problems to give people the help they need.” Here’s where ESNs shine. Imagine being able to show busy leaders a way to connect more closely with their employees, how to recognize great ideas and performance from their staff, and help guide their teams’ tasks more efficiently, without adding additional responsibility to their already tedious schedules? All of this – and more – can happen when you work like a network within an ESN.

As an alternative to sending lengthy emails, holding long meetings and writing long recognition speeches, leaders and managers need only to hop into the ESN, latch onto a great real-time collaboration thread, and engage in conversation with his or her team. Praise those doing well, offer valuable insight and direction to further the discussion, and invite them to tag or mention you at any time to stay connected to their ideas. Now, managers can be a central part of the journey versus a distant observer. Small efforts like this by leaders go a long way with employees and an ESN makes this a seamless experience.

Reason #3: ‘Paying it forward’ pays off in the end
Author Bruce Kasanoff, in his piece How Helping Others Can Boost Your Own Career, drives home the bonus benefits of helping others on the job. He says, “…the more people you help, the better your career will go. You'll enjoy a reputation as a positive, helpful and accomplished professional.” He continues, “I want to be crystal-clear. It's not ‘I help you, then you help me.’ It's ‘I help you, I make a positive difference, and good things happen to me because I make a difference.’” This philosophy is more implicit vice explicit in an ESN success. While the underlying objective of helping others succeed in the workplace should come from a genuine, altruistic place within each employee, the reality is: most people sow good seeds to reap some benefit, whether intrinsic or extrinsic in nature. The amazing thing an ESN adds to this equation is it offers employees unlimited opportunities to pay it forward. Producing for others while actively gleaning from them for your own work objectives is an ongoing exchange offering great rewards and individual ROI.

By the time I finished my Venti soy chai latte, I’d already received 5 responses to my call for help in my company’s ESN, Yammer. I was able to knock out 2 deliverables within less than an hour that might’ve normally taken me a few hours to complete. How’s that for paying it forward?