Some years ago the organization I was working for introduced a social tool/chat element to the customer relationship management (CRM) platform we had been using for some time. I have to admit I thought it a ridiculous "fad" idea and saw little value in it–pah! Facebook for CRM, what a waste of time. Nobody will use this and who wanted to "chat" when we had dedicated instant messaging (IM), email, and phones, not to mention "opportunity" and customer records we could add information to with multiple fields and notes? It was an ongoing battle to get core sales personnel—never mind more peripheral stakeholders—to use what they already had.
Well, I was wrong—so very, very wrong. This single, simple, cross-platform enterprise "social" tool transformed the way I (and the vast majority of others) viewed and used the CRM. It took a few months to pervade the many stakeholders and some held out longer on principle but eventually its value was irrefutable, and the adoption and usefulness drove uptake and inclusion. The provider of the solution articulated the social tool’s benefits under four headings:
- Drive productivity
- Accelerate innovation
- Share knowledge
- Take action anywhere
All the above are benefits that would serve every EQMS platform I can think of. The question isn’t whether vendors will do it but when. In fact some have already started and have something to show.
A Relevant Feed Is Essential
What immediately stood out to me in this work-driven social tool was that my feed rarely contained fluff. Absent were the inane pictures of meals and game requests of course! My feed only contained professional and relevant communications though pictures of tradeshow booths and internal events plus congratulatory posts on achievements, which frankly, were really great to see. The feed was quick to skim and easy to dive into detail either to consume or engage and contribute where possible. The freedom to elect to follow certain colleagues and those who had a similar role in other geographies kept it streamlined. Yes, we are talking about a LinkedIn or dare I say it; Facebook for quality management across the organization but focused on my organization and contributed to by all disciplines therein.
This "window" on conversations, where professionals within my organization were exchanging all manner of observations, suggestions, and files (slideshows and training material, etc.) related to an issue anywhere on the spectrum, from a major issue to success, became invaluable. As mentioned, we are starting to see this appear in vendor offerings for Enterprise Quality Management Software (EQMS) and Environment, Health and Safety (EHS) and sustainability solutions (more than one recently) and it has significant value at the time of the post and beyond.
Objects or Records Are (Often) at the Center of EQMS Social Interactions
The difference between the true social network and the internal quality-based version is that records or objects are at its core. Thus, an internal audit finding, a non-conformance, a corrective action or root cause analysis outcome would serve as the record or object to which contributors attach comments, discuss and share or simply consume the information (exchanged). There is still the option to simply post pertinent information or questions to followers but typically these tend to be restricted to specific groups.
Targeted and Logged Contributions
Using @ (mention) and # (hashtag / trend) are keys to success. Drawing a colleague into a discussion on a particular topic by commenting on a non-conformance for example would be as easy as posting to the record “Hey, @janedoe have you seen anything like this over at your location @AllNonConformities?” Jane is then notified and can respond, as can members of the group @AllNonConformities. This is a conversation I might see on my feed because we are members of the group @AllNonConformities, because I follow Jane specifically, or (and very importantly) because I was notified of the non-conformity due to a rule in the EQMS and consumed the record and the associated commentary/discussion. Important to note here is that all this activity likely currently occurs in email and phone conversations. Neither of these are open discussions typically and by open, I mean all those with appropriate access to the original record in the first instance. With the social aspect initiated we now have an informal log of what was posted.
Using the # for trends takes getting used to but can really pay off. For example, when posting a discussion or investigative outcome using #rootcause allows others to search and view or see this trend or specific collection of feed posts. Informal exchanges and information flowing freely but searchable with general or specific terms. An exchange between two experts perhaps that can now be consumed and utilized by many others in the organization.
So the value is in the exchanges themselves; the ongoing narrative (primarily informal) as it pertains to the formal management of the issue in the record or attached to the object itself is the benefit. Asking experts in a large organization for technical insight informally is one great example of knowledge sharing that isn’t truly facilitated by current tools. The key, however, is that this is informal and comments should not be considered explicitly verified as a result.
Posts and Contributions Persist Beyond Employee Tenure
Most conversations related to issues other than the formal outcome, like the whys in a 5-Why, for example, and the final root cause get lost, because they are actual conversations between individuals. It is plausible that capturing the formal outcome and the question answers can be supplemented with a post to the social component by one party. Why would one do this you might ask? The answer is simple. The form of reasoning has value as does the actual exchange to get there. This can be used for insight months or days later – perhaps even years, but this is often lost for anyone other than those in the conversation, email chain, or on the conference call.
As people move up and on beyond our organization, their email accounts and formal documentation will persist but emails especially are difficult to interrogate or even get access to in many cases. Eventually they will be deleted. In the case of this ongoing exchange in the social media toolset in an EQMS accounts will be disabled as people leave but their contributions will persist. They exist in the same way as they did originally and can be searched and consumed long after the event.
There is a grand caveat in the use of social in the context of our EQMS or any other discipline – the same that we should be employing in all our social network interactions. The posts persist, remaining for all time and are open to a wide number of followers both now an in the future. This does mean that even though informal exchanges, we must all adhere to good governance considerations. Another important consideration is that posts are not validated and information therein constitutes opinion unless otherwise stated and supported.
It is likely that we will see an increase in the use of social tools as part of our EQMS, EHS, or sustainability solution over the next few years as those currently innovating are copied. It is reassuring that the workforce now requires little or no training to get value from it due to the overlap in the personal arena, but a usage policy is a very good idea to protect all parties. The net benefit of unfettered collaboration, persisted knowledge, and openly shared exchanges as they relate to all manner of events, challenges, and formal records outside of one-to-one or one-to-few existing mechanisms is currently under-exploited.
Categories: Enterprise Quality Management System (EQMS)