Is one side effect of strict corporate policies against social software usage to reduce the level of talent available via new applicants? When a “no Twittering” sign is posted over HR’s door, are the applicants that step out of line more valuable on average than those that stay? I think so.
If there’s a study on this I’d like to see it, because I think phrasing the question this way gets around problems with common arguments for enterprises to embrace social software. And if there hasn’t been such a study, here’s your PhD thesis: Test whether the employee lifetime value (ELTV; see here and here) of employees that highly value use of social technology at work is randomly distributed (null hypothesis) or skewed (alternate hypothesis). By social technology, I’m talking about examples such as allowing external blogging on non-confidential work-related topics, permitting Twittering from work, responsiveness to a suggestion to use an internal microblogging tool such as Yammer, or encouragement of Facebook-like profiles that go beyond HR database fields.
Note that this is a different argument for considering social software than I’ve seen before. The usual arguments (and their weaknesses) are as follows:
- Gen Y’ers won’t want to work at your company if you don’t let them use the tools they want to: This argument is OK, but has a few flaws. First, it sounds like a coddling argument to executives that probably aren’t inclined to hire employees unwilling to circumscribe their personal behaviors for the sake of the company, or to hire employees that may also buck authority in other areas, such as how they dress, working hours, or what projects they get to work on. Second, it limits the argument to one age group. Actually, many Gen X’ers and boomers are also into social technology. Third, it doesn’t promise better workers, just younger ones (and it’s doubtful everyone under 30 will walk away – particularly in a down economy).
- Social technologies, properly applied, are a more effective way to get work done: That may be true. If this argument is accepted with just anecdotal or logical proof, great. But if not, ROI for social software is notoriously difficult to prove.
I’m not arguing here that social software tools make one more productive. I’m arguing that the kind of people that are into social software are more likely to be top employees.
This study would take a few years to do, and I’m impatient, so here’s my guess: filtering out employees that value the use of social software introduces selection bias that decreases the overall productivity of the workforce. That may be because of an employee’s use of the tools themselves, but it may just be that those kinds of people tend to be more aggressive, thoughtful, collaborative, curious, cutting edge, or possess other characteristics that make one a better employee. If that’s true, even if the technology itself has no appreciable benefit, it could be worthwhile to allow it to prevent devaluing the applicant pool.
Of course, executives are also worried about the potential business costs and risks of allowing these technologies, which is difficult to measure. But my argument is that the estimate of those costs can be weighed against the opportunity cost of more talented employees rather than against just the benefits of the technology itself as is normally done.
I welcome any pointers to research of this type or thoughts on how this line of reasoning might lift the level of conversation about permitting enterprise social software and social media.
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