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San Jose Sharks win over employees with social software

For the San Jose Sharks, employee morale and back-end integration factored heavily into choosing an enterprise social network tool but, as SearchCIO discovers, every company has its own reason for upping its ESN game.

When the results of an employee engagement survey came in, the San Jose Sharks hockey club realized its employees were low on team spirit. The survey showed employees felt disconnected from the company; email and a physical bulletin board in a cramped pantry weren't cutting it.

The feeling of disconnection was exacerbated by the fact that the Sharks family was spread far and wide. In addition to its employees at the SAP Center in San Jose, Sharks Sports & Entertainment Inc. also includes the Worcester Sharks, an American hockey league franchise based in Worcester, Massachusetts, as well as employees at several other locations in northern California.

As part of a broader employee engagement strategy, the franchise wanted a social software platform that would keep employees updated and foster a sense of community, said Fiona Giuffre, the company's vice president of people. Additionally, the San Jose Sharks' marketing team wanted the ability to collaborate with business partners and associates.

The franchise, which is owned partially by German software company SAP, was using a SAP-affiliated human capital management system before the SAP investment: cloud-based SuccessFactors. The decision was made to go with SAP Jam, a cloud-based social software platform that incorporates elements of the SuccessFactors platform. With the enterprise social network (ESN) tool choice made, the platform was launched in late March, and the question then became how to get employees to use it.

Gamification brings Millennials into the fold

The Sharks offered workshops in Jam, showing how the platform could be used to stay current on hockey operations, employee activities and annual performance reviews, Giuffre said. The organization also set up work groups, as well as groups for things like the internal softball and basketball teams.

"Also, when we went live, we made it fun for employees," Giuffre said.

The Sharks created scavenger hunts and offered prizes, like iPads, for successful completion of challenges. Employees were encouraged to use their own, informal pictures instead of corporate headshots as their profile pictures, adding a personal touch to the platform.

With the gamification elements, use of the platform has taken off, Guiffre said. "I don't think gamification works at every company, but we're entertainment, and we have a lot of Millennials." The scavenger hunts, health and wellness groups, and other personal touches engage Sharks' employees while also providing a frictionless way to keep them in the loop on company strategy.

"A lot of our broader communications ... aren't flooding email anymore," Guiffre said. As important, the networking tool is improving the franchises' customer service by allowing employees to offer their own suggestions on merchandise and fan festivals to provide a better experience to hockey fans.

ESN to get work done, reduce email

Rob KoplowitzRob Koplowitz

Rob Koplowitz, vice president and principal analyst at Cambridge, Massachusetts-based consultancy Forrester Research, said the decision to find an ESN platform that is compatible with existing back-end systems makes a lot of sense. "Jam is becoming more highly integrated with back-end SAP processes, [and social platforms] are all about extending the process and getting work done," he said.

Additionally, ESN platforms definitely help break down geographical and organizational boundaries, Koplowitz said. "There are whole parts of the company where expertise is located, and [employees] can't find it," he said. Again, much of the value of these platforms comes from using social to forge connections among employees who might not otherwise connect, and coordinate activities across the organization, he said.

This certainly rang true for Buffalo, New York-based Superior Group. The global outsourcing firm had reached its limit with the company's existing intranet in 2011 and wondered whether it was worth the trouble to maintain.

"We have employees all over the world [and] wanted some way to bring them together using modern technology," said Frank Gullo, director of digital and mobile strategy.

The company also wanted to find a way to better engage and train employees while reducing email usage and network file usage.

"We wanted a platform for employees to help grow their skills," Gullo said. That meant implementing a platform with content management capability that could handle, for example, the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) documents the firm adheres to and employee training records.

Moving away from email as a corporate communication tool is actually a smart goal, according to Forrester's Koplowitz. An enterprise social networking tool increases the value of corporate communication by connecting the communique with the company's knowledge base, as Superior Group wanted to do with its ISO documents and some companies have done with employee onboarding, he said. At companies using ESNs, for example, the onboarding process happens faster and goes more smoothly.

"It's not true for all communications," Koplowitz cautioned, noting that some information will still need to remain private, and a zero-email initiative may not work.

In part 2, Superior Group's Gullo explains how the company selected a platform and drove employee adoption; plus, two more ESN case studies and the perspective of a social software contrarian.

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