Practice Makes Perfect: Does It Work?

Phoenix-based medical device company Ulthera Inc. is integrating all five modules of SilkRoad’s talent management suite into a single sign on. The company will launch the rebranded social component, Point, to optimize engagement among its corporate employees and field representatives, said Stacie Mallen, the firm’s vice president of human resources.

Mallen said the company’s goal for the platform is to give employees the ability to have conversations about performance management, learning or employee benefits. “We’re hoping that creates a simulation of social media behavior in employees, where using the tool becomes enjoyable and viral,” she said.

IOD Inc., a health information management company based in Green Bay, Wis., launched Yammer for some of its employees in January and plans to roll it out for the entire employee population by the end of the year, said Carol Runyan, the company’s director of learning and development.

Previously, employees relied on their immediate supervisors to get certain kinds of information, Runyan said. With Yammer, employees can get answers from anyone across the company.

For example, an employee in the company’s release of information group posted a question on the platform about a specific statute. “This employee got the information from another employee from the coding business line in about 25 minutes so that she could use the information right away to do her job,” Runyan said.

These kinds of tools expedite collaboration, particularly when sharing, editing and adding documents. Giving every employee access to documents in a centralized location allows for more efficient collaboration, Runyan said.

IOD measures collaboration by Yammer’s adoption rates, and by its own standards for effectiveness and efficiency in collaboration efforts among groups using the tool for specific business purposes. Runyan called the impact significant: “Even as young as our network is … we started to realize the business value almost immediately.”

Ramar Foods International, a family-run business in Pittsburg, Calif., that manufactures specialty Asian food and tropical ice cream for grocery stores, restaurants and other distributors, launched its use of Podio in 2011. P.J. Quesada, the company’s vice president of marketing, said the tool has been successful in breaking down communication styles between three generations of employees.

Prior to adoption, he said he would send emails to the company’s older employees, and instead of responding they would walk over to his office to talk. Employees in a somewhat younger age group — 35 to 55 — wouldn’t come by, but call in response to an email. Younger employees would almost always respond by email. “We had barriers of communication between generations, which ultimately was a barrier to innovation.”

Initially Podio was used primarily to track graphic design projects at Ramar, but then workers began to use it to collaborate on differing sales techniques with the company’s customer relationship management system integrated into it. The tool is now being rolled out to additional departments.

“Most of the response among all generations has been very positive; everyone got tired of reading very long email threads,” Quesada said. “With Podio, information comes to people in a logical thread that is clear and easy to understand.”

Decisions at the company are being made faster. Quesada said what was once a 100-step product development collaboration process has been shortened from an average of 12 months to five.

Telus International Inc., a Vancouver-based telecommunications firm, uses collaboration tools in many functions throughout the company, said Dan Pontefract, its director of learning and collaboration.

Telus’ Collaboration House is used for lunch-and-learns, new employee induction and onboarding, and various learning programs and meetings. With Collaboration House, employees can have live synchronous dialogue as an avatar. “We also have a gamification strategy, whether live or asynchronous, where we can teach people in what we call an interactive learning opportunity, leadership or what it’s like to be in a corporate store or onsite at a customer site or in a call center,” Pontefract said.

The company also uses Jam, which Pontefract said allows Telus to unite certain social tools — wikis, blogs, video sharing and discussion forums — into a singular tool.

Further, Telus uses products that allow employees to hold Web presentations through Cisco WebEx as well as instant messaging. The company also has a social intranet that enables employees to discuss and rank articles posted by the corporate office.

Pontefract said maximizing the use of collaboration technologies has increased employee connectivity and productivity as well as engagement. As Telus slowly increased the implementation of its various collaborative tools, he said engagement increased from 53 percent in 2008 to 80 percent in 2012. Customer satisfaction also increased, from 62 percent in 2009 to 74 percent in 2012.

Still, simply using such tools isn’t enough. No matter how extensively an organization is connected through technology, its culture already must be aligned with the idea of an open and collaborative environment.

“For organizations just looking at this from a technology perspective — trying to dump a bunch of tools within an organization — no tool is going to upset the apple cart of a culture of fear,” Pontefract said. “It starts with culture, leadership and behavior.”

Survey Says: Collaboration Technologies Work