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Social Learning Implications for Leadership

Sadhan Bhattacharya, of global medical devices company Smiths Medical, on the use of social media for organizational learning


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Social learning is no new thing but given the proliferation of social networking tools it is being hotly debated, says Smiths Medical’s Sadhan Bhattacharya. Interestingly, some of the old-guard organizations (GE and IBM among others) along with their more contemporary and networked peers are embracing social media use enterprise wide. Though, an even greater number of corporates and their leaders are staunch nay-sayers!

Microsoft’s global survey of 10,000 respondents from 38 countries, published in May 2013, identifies some interesting observations on enterprise social use. It provides valuable insights for today’s leadership in organizations. 


  • Impact on Productivity: Most notably in China, India, Turkey, Mexico and Russia respondents felt that the use of social tools has improved their productivity at work. On average 70% of these countries respondents agreed social media ‘greatly to somewhat increased’ productivity, outstripping the overall survey average of 46%


  • Social tools at work resulted in higher order collaboration among the employees.

Despite the above, the respondents also had some critical concerns when it came to organizational perception of social tools at workplace.

  • Disclosure of sensitive information: In Japan, where social tools are not as widely used, respondents claim that their employers have a lower fear of disclosure. In contrast, in India where social tools are relatively more encouraged by employers, the survey revealed that employees often get into trouble for using these tools at work.


  • Workplace distractions: Respondents claim their employers view such tools as workplace distraction.


  • Concerns with workplace productivity: Respondents claimed that their employers view enterprise social tools having productivity impact rather than influencing efficiency at work.

Given these apparent concerns, is the glass half-filled or half-empty? Various socio-economic and political developments have established beyond doubt the power of social tools such as Facebook, Twitter and their peers. As has been amply evidenced and documented by the Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street movements?


  • Revealing organizational proprietary information is a sensitive matter, however such behavior is more of an attitudinal and values issue rather than an outcome of use of social networking. Moreover, a disgruntled employee has possibly many other avenues to affect such damage.
  • Organizations across the globe face sub-optimal employee engagement and productivity through various workplace behaviors such as gossiping, politicking and absenteeism among many others. Informal chats and water-cooler discussions are major learning sources and help shape organizational culture and help change management initiatives.
  • Studies and surveys have established the role of social media tools in the workplace in fostering collaboration and innovation. These platforms harness the power of collective intelligence and help unlock tacit knowledge that might be residing in employees head.

Business Application

The rise of social networking tools has been transformational in many ways and this trend is going to intensify further. Smart organizations are already reaping benefits with these innovations. With this backdrop, organizational leadership is assuming a new format. As author and founder of Altimeter Group, Charlene Li claims in her book ‘Open Leadership’ social technology can transform the way leaders lead their organizations.

The key is to educate your employees on technology, implementing certain codes of behavior rather than regulating these tools. A tentative road map in adopting enterprise social tools might be:


  • Engage and Educate your employees regarding right use of such platforms
  • Create Champions in your organizations who will take the initiative and create the critical mass and momentum for your initiatives
  • Start small, Scale up
  • Integrate with mainstream learning platforms to drive sustainability of interventions
  • Showcase early wins!

Gartner projected that by 2018 almost half of all organizations will have Facebook-like enterprise tools. Such disruptive change is demands a new leadership approach that is more open on collaboration and collective intelligence.

About the Author: Sadhan Bhattacharya is a work-place learning professional with strong roots in business development space. His interest in organizational capability building through continuous individual and organizational learning makes him a business enabler. He currently heads the L&D function in greater India region of Smiths Medical, a global medical devices company

Microsoft survey on enterprise social use and perceptions



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