How did I do? It's a common question from Gen Y and younger employees to their bosses and peers. These pragmatic people want feedback on their performance in real time and know how to get it using social networking tools such as Twitter and Facebook.
Instead of waiting months for a formal review from their bosses, they're asking people in their online networks to help them learn how to improve right away. Perhaps to the chagrin of training professionals, these social networkers have figured out how to shorten the learn and do loop and are surging ahead using tools that are part of their daily lives.
Most Facebook users are 18 to 24 years old and make up just over half the site's 200 million members; however, that picture is changing. Facebook statistics show that the number of 35- to 54-year-old users logging in during the first six months of 2009 grew 276 percent. And the number of users in that age bracket doubles every two months.
Twitter, a free social networking and microblogging service popular for short text-based posts, is also expanding. In March 2009, Nielsen.com ranked Twitter as the fastest-growing site in the member communities category for February 2009, with a growth rate of 1,382 percent.
As the use of social media spreads to a wider pool of users, so does its potential to update many work practices, including performance reviews.
Using networking software for
performance feedback seems to be an idea that should have come to training and HR departments a long time ago. But according to Marcia Conner, co-author of Creating a Learning Culture and a social media analyst and commentator for Pistachio Consulting, this is a grassroots movement. "Organizations aren't choosing this. Employees are using social media to work around existing systems."
Some supplier companies, such as Accenture and Rypple, are catching on to the fact that employees go to trusted friends and advisors to get what they consider "real" feedback. So suppliers have designed tools that make it quick and easy to collect input from the bottom up.
Rypple positions its products to fill gaps in formal performance management systems that focus on performance scores and calculate compensation, but don't deal with development. With Rypple software you can import contacts from Outlook, Gmail, and other lists, and query them on your performance. A typical question might be, "What did you find useful about my presentation and what can I do to improve it?"
Twitter, which facilitates short, real-time communication via computer or phone, was not designed as a feedback tool, but many people use it that way. Twitter networks are popular at industry conferences where you will see attendees "tweeting" feedback to presenters and sharing their reviews of sessions with everyone on the network.
"Wikis are being used with great success to move performance reviews beyond monologues," says Conner. Performance review forms, posted by managers or HR on company wikis, are available for input from many sources and are open for all contributors to see.
Wiki technologies also help streamline the review process. Many include workflow tools that automatically remind people to do their part.
Still, there is a fear factor at work. Social media connects people to a vast community (some call it a collective brain) inside and outside the company. And it fits seamlessly into daily work routines that involve computers and cell phones.
But bosses who see employees frequently checking for LinkedIn updates may wonder, "Is it really work?" Some employers prohibit the use of social media, fearing that employees may be "Twittering away company secrets," says Conner.
Companies that are skittish about using mass market networking tools such as Twitter or Facebook can install microsharing systems that only employees may access. Companies are using these tools to make regular checks on what people are learning and how they are progressing toward their objectives. Employees share their measureable goals with a group of people selected to provide input. They may also ask members of the group for help.
Organizations that promote open cultures are more likely to use social media than those that feel the need to control and monitor performance from the top down. "But policy makers come around when they use the tools themselves," says Conner. They see the potential for fostering new ways of working that encourage informal learning.
Some tech companies already use networking among employees to improve products and processes. At Google, software engineers use an electronic peer review system to vet their code before it's published and to locate other engineers who have attained reviewer status. This helps reduce bugs and increase code quality, but it also provides useful performance feedback to the engineers, according to one.
The value of a collaborative platform for performance reviews is readily apparent to David Nour, social networking strategist and author of Relationship Economics. "Most performance reviews are myopic, giving you one or two perspectives at best," he says. But to use feedback effectively from a broad base requires it to be linked to evaluations and development.
"All it takes to use social media is a pulse," he says. "Using it as a business tool requires a plan for being more intentional in the relationships you choose."
Conner suggests that microsharing of regular updates encourages people to reflect on what they're doing and learning and makes them mindful of sharing with people they work with or serve.
"Performance reviews have been an event, not a reflective process," she says. "Social networking tools make it more mindful."