The buzz over social media has reached deafening proportions. But behind the glitzy façade of Facebook and Twitter—and a near obsession over consumer facing strategies—there’s a growing realization that social networking can pay enormous dividends within an organization. Not only can it help employees connect and collaborate more effectively, it can take knowledge sharing to a new level.
Among the organizations sold on this concept: the United State Food and Drug Administration (FDA). In 2009, it formalized a mentoring program, now called the Open Learning Network, which allows approximately 4,500 people to connect across the federal agency’s Office of Regulatory Affairs. It handles imports, inspections, and enforcement policy globally. Using a variety of tools, including threaded discussions, messaging, task lists, polls and learning resources, employees are able to share information and expertise like never before.
“We were looking to develop people’s knowledge and keep it institutionalized within the organization,” explains Brooke Mullican, a training specialist in the Division of Human Resources Development at the FDA. “We needed a system that could provide asynchronous capabilities and span geographic boundaries. We realized that in the digital age we had to move beyond face-to-face interaction.”
The system, powered by Triple Creek software, is taking the FDA to a new level of connectedness. It has helped the agency break down silos, improve productivity, and boost employee retention. It’s allowing staff to connect to technical information, practical expertise, and human knowledge in a way that simply wasn’t imaginable only a few short years ago.
The ability for a social networking system to connect people to the data, information and knowledge they require is a powerful thing. Social networking applications can break down hierarchies and radically redefine interactions. “The technology is also a huge driver of change management,” Mullican points out.
The FDA initially considered building its own online system. A committee, consisting mostly of senior level managers, weighed an approach that would have plugged into Excel spreadsheets and an Access database. However, the team quickly realized a DIY approach wasn’t robust enough for the organization’s needs and building an internal system would have taken two years or more, Mullican notes.
Once the FDA settled on the Triple Creek system in August 2010, it began building the foundation for sophisticated social interaction. The development team worked with the U.S. Office of Personnel Management to identify 100 mission critical competencies for its employees. Today, the underpinnings of the social network are based heavily on these competencies.