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News: senior leaders must engage with social media to foster open culture

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22nd Mar 2013
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Organisations are being held back from building cultures of openness, collaboration and innovation due to a resistance to change and a lack of social media knowledge among senior leaders.

This is according to new research from the CIPD on the landscape of social media and employee voice, launched today at the annual Voice and Value conference at the London School of Economics.

Conducted by Silverman Research, the research found that social media allows employers to engage their staff in shaping the organisation’s future direction – it offers an open channel to feed views upwards as well as greater collaboration and knowledge sharing between employees at all levels. Social media also gives businesses access to both qualitative and quantitative data to drive employee and customer insight.

The report follows the CIPD’s quarterly Employee Outlook survey last month, which revealed a deterioration in employee voice.

According to the research, the biggest barrier preventing employees from embracing social media as an employee is inaction and resistance to change among leaders. It found that senior leaders often lack understanding of the uses of social media and the insight it can deliver, as well as over-valuing the potential downsides of using a more open, collaboration approach to employee insight.

These reasons prevent leaders from pursuing the cultural shift needed to move from a top-down hierarchical culture to a transparent culture characterised by openness, honesty and innovation. Frustrated employees in some organisations have formed unofficial channels of communication between colleagues and external audiences.

This research comes as no surprise. Part of it may be driven by employee perception of social media as modern, innovative and more suitable to collaborative processes. Employers must take note of employee attitudes to different processes – using pen and paper in an electronic world could, for example, be viewed with disdain even if the latter method is able to achieve positive results.

Jonny Gifford, research adviser at the CIPD, comments: “For organisations to thrive, employees must be given the opportunity to discuss how their organisations can innovate and feed their views upwards, as well as having the freedom to blow the whistle about genuine issues at work. Social media won’t always be the most appropriate channel for discussing issues, but employers must wake up to the fact that they can’t ignore it. Employee voice expressed through social media is much more influential because it is more likely to be heard.”

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