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Rethinking how work works.

Organizations can only be as creative and innovative as their own employees. A smarter enterprise can share more knowledge through a social “workforce design.”

Any organization’s most valuable asset isn’t its infrastructure or technology, but its employees.

Most leaders agree on that. The real value of an enterprise is the people whose knowledge drives innovation and leads to discoveries. But the key to success is using a system that lets employees share that knowledge across an enterprise, so that any employee can answer any question, or find the solution to any problem.

A smarter “workforce design” uses technology to ensure that employees feel inspired to work creatively and efficiently, and to grow in their fields—making these employees and their companies more valuable to themselves and their customers. Here’s a look at how a smarter workforce leads to bigger results through identification, engagement and collaboration.

Learn how to become a social business:

Identification.

To recruit hundreds of specialized employees— fast—this company used a social platform to study itself.

Determining the right candidates by their values.

To grow a workforce, a company needs to determine what it values most. And to recruit talent that fits its culture, it can learn job candidates’ values through their social behavior, the same way it can learn about its customers. Regeneron develops medicines used to treat serious illnesses. When it recently launched a collaboration with Sanofi to develop medicine, the company suddenly needed to hire 350 employees, mostly in research and development, to meet its deadline. The challenge was finding them. The enormous demand for the skills of top scientists encourages these candidates to work with their employers for extensive periods—often for more than a decade, as they fulfill specific projects.

Working with the platform IBM Kenexa, Regeneron began to study its own culture. Regeneron used Kenexa to help it define the core values its scientists brought to their work, and found that its employees’ greatest emphasis was on discovery, innovation, pushing the envelope.

“The light bulb Kenexa helped us turn on was the importance of our culture in attracting and retaining good people,”

— Ross Grossman, Regeneron’s vice president of human resources.

Having determined its employment brand based on those values, Regeneron created the right recruiting and management tools to attract like-minded talent to its team. The results were soon felt: Regeneron achieved a turnover rate two-thirds lower than the industry average, and grew its employee base by 50 percent. With this additional brain-power in place, Regeneron met its Sanofi deadline ahead of schedule. And Science magazine recently voted Regeneron the best pharmaceutical company to work for.

Finding the right candidates means identifying the right traits.

Replacing an employee can cost a company as much as 30 percent of the departing employee’s annual salary.

Engagement.

The outdoor-merchandise chain reinvigorated its workforce by identifying what it values most.

When every employee is the smartest employee.

The key to success doesn’t have to lie in particular products or services, especially when success is woven into the culture of an energized, motivated workforce. That was the case with Cabela’s, the outdoor-merchandise retail chain—but it took the company some work to identify that workforce culture. When a new CEO realized that Cabela’s could only grow by determining its optimal combination of the employees’ talent, skill and cultural fit, Cabela used the IBM Kenexa platform to study its own culture and engage its employees, by asking them about their own ideas and attitudes.

The study’s results would inspire any company: many employees view working with Cabela’s not as a job but a mission. One employee said, “I was born to work here.” Through the Kenexa study, a core group of five values emerged and became the company’s “value proposition,” shared with the entire workforce through a “field guide,” team workshops defining the existing culture, and a repository of success stories. Cabela’s also used Kenexa to generate an internal recruitment campaign, communicating the newly identified Cabela’s brand to employees who could then reach out to like-minded job candidates.

“We have seen success in not only our business metrics, but also our retention and employee engagement,”

- Charles Baldwin, a Cabela’s executive.

Within a year of launching the Kenexa technology, that rejuvenation showed in Cabela’s shareholder return, which had risen by more than 10 percent over the past five years. The effects of employee engagement are measurable: the top half of Cabela’s stores, ranked by engagement, saw 9.3 percent higher sales per labor hour—translating to millions of dollars in annual sales—than stores ranked in the bottom half.

The top half of Cabela’s stores, ranked by engagement, saw 9.3 percent higher sales per labor hour than stores ranked in the bottom half.

Collaboration.

A company launches a global cement brand after building an employee social network.

The social network is the new production line.

In today’s knowledge economy, the organizations with the real competitive edge are the ones whose employees have the best tools to exchange knowledge and information. These forward-thinking companies increasingly see the social network not as a casual recreational tool, but as a collaboration platform that lets employees share their knowledge and expertise internally. When Cemex, a $15 billion global building materials company, built an internal social network to evolve its corporate culture, one of the first visible outcomes was that it launched its first global brand of concrete in a third of the anticipated time.

Given that it employs more than 40,000 people in nearly 50 countries, Cemex had to overcome barriers of language, time zones and disparate work cultures to launch this product. Cemex built an internal social network called Shift based on IBM Connections, an industry-leading enterprise social software solution with capabilities such as activities, embedded experience, social analytics, discussion forums, blogs and global communities. Shift enabled employees to work together to solve local problems with global talent. Employees used real-time collaboration and interaction to test and prioritize ideas and encourage staffers to innovate.

“But it’s not the numbers that define this success—we see a marked increase in global collaboration and best practices sharing, as well as in the creation of more than 2,400 communities to bring people with common interests and goals together.”

— Gilberto Garcia, Cemex’s head of innovation.

Cemex has obtained business benefits from the power of social business. A network that launched with a few hundred users in April 2010 has grown today to more than 40,000 memberships. Building a social network gave this global company the agility of a small business.

The real value of a social network in a workplace isn’t what people know—it’s what knowledge they can share.