Software company Salesforce.com has developed a cutting-edge approach to navigating the modern workplace's social media environment. The organization has embraced the transparent and often disruptive nature of social media, harnessing new tools to connect and engage with employees.

"I've always been a bit of a disrupter in HR," admitted Monika Fahlbusch, senior vice president of employee success at Salesforce.com, during a session at the Great Place to Work conference. But now, she said, the time has come to discuss how HR professionals must change their workplace perspectives and practices.

"We need to pay attention to what employees hook into in the work environment. The world has changed so dramatically with the social revolution, so we need to reflect what that means to us in our company," she added.

As a leader in cloud technology, leaders at Salesforce hope to send a message to their growing employee base that "you're joining a company that focuses on innovation and speed and on being a great place to work," explained Fahlbusch.

Whatever employers celebrate, that will be the message employees hook into. Since Salesforce.com aims for technological creativity and progress, it's only natural that the company has encouraged social discussion and cohesion through virtual tools.

"Social is not just Facebook and Twitter and not just for social's sake. Social is a reality that's arming your employees with a voice, and they will use it loudly, so we have to pay attention," she continued.

Fahlbusch outlined five key areas where Salesforce.com has connected with employees through social technology:

 

Be disruptive

Since technology and world realities are changing so rapidly, it's important to get ahead, said Fahlbusch. She insists on making sure that all employees know where their company is headed. All 10,000 employees at Salesforce.com are encouraged to attend strategic and leadership team level meetings.

"We want to have full transparency," she explained. The firm uses a company product called Chatter to create a feed for executive meetings and stream them live via video, so all offsite employees can view and participate.

Chatter "works like Facebook for work. It's a social tool that lives solely inside the organization and solely for business purposes," said Fahlbusch.

During meetings, TV screens are set up around the meeting room to display employees' comments. People can join the conversation from anywhere in the world - they can ask questions and point out aspects of a strategy that they like.

"It's a great way to share our voice as we grow," said Fahlbusch, emphasizing that "disruption is not chaos." The company is careful not to overload employees with surveys or Chatter discussion groups, and it has consolidated groups in the past so that the conversation and information stay centralized.

Even the company's goal-setting process ensures transparency and drives progress. It uses a dynamic social tool that displays company goals in real time. If a goal changes, everyone in the company knows about it.

 

Immediate feedback

"Employees don't want to know how they're doing in a year or six months, they want to know their progress in real time," explained Fahlbusch.

The company uses Work.com as a "different way to manage HR time altogether," she said. By providing real-time conversations and feedback to employees, the feed-based look and feel of the social platform enables employees to provide peer recognition.

Best of all, "it kills the dreaded performance review," she continued. The traditional and laborious performance review process becomes a quick, effective platform for feedback by managing the crowd. Managers can view each employee's progress toward their goals and the recognition they have received from others.

Fahlbusch believes that pooled thoughts from an entire population present a more complete view of the employee, rather than having feedback come from a single manager.

This year, the feedback reviews had a 92% completion rate, up from 64% last year.

 

Airing of grievances

Salesforce even has a Chatter group for the airing of grievances. The public group is not anonymous and employees' names are attached to their comments, so they are accountable for their opinions. But the group is meant to be transparent and freeing, allowing employees to complain, gripe and say what's on their mind.

"It provides a cathartic experience for employees to just spit it out," Fahlbusch said. "Oftentimes the group does the work [of a] grief counselor or redirects [the conversation] for us."

For example, one employee had complained that the vending machines were out of Diet Coke, to which a peer wrote back, "First World problems." As HR director, Fahlbusch is careful not to control the conversation, but she uses the quantity of comments to determine which issues require leadership's attention.

If a particular employee expresses opinions passionately on a certain issue, she often will reach out to listen to their views over coffee. She believes the tool fosters trust because it shows employees that leadership respects their opinions and holds true to the promise of transparency.

She believes that all great HR departments allow and encourage people to be people, which means creating a "work environment where employees can bring their full self to work. I call that allowing them to be human," she said.

 

Treat employees like family

"We allow and encourage our employees to be on Facebook at work. In fact, 60% of employees we hire come from an employee referral," explained Fahlbusch. Since the company trusts its associates, it doesn't assume that the time employees spend on Facebook is wasted - they could be connecting with a potential new hire.

After Hurricane Sandy devastated the East Coast, employees built a Chatter group at their own initiative to communicate with affected employees who lost power and to find a way to help their colleagues. So far, employees have donated $350,000 to a fund for community cleanup and to aid employees and their families affected by the storm.

 

Share organizational vision

Salesforce.com holds its employees accountable to understanding and fully representing its clients. The company also strongly believes in giving back to the community, which it demonstrates through its 1/1/1 model. The company leverages 1% of employee time and 1% of its technology products and 1% of its equity to the Salesforce.com Foundation, which is on track to donate $100 million in grants to community projects.

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