I have heard these words uttered countless times by groups of folks looking for someone to send a stray ball back into play. Recently, the outpouring of help to Haiti has got me thinking about how social media is lowering the barriers for providing assistance at a micro level (“a little help”). It allows everyone to be a part of the solution, no matter the size/type of the contribution – crutches, blood, clothing, food, cash, etc. Last week, my daughter asked me why people are still going to Haiti. I gave her a typical canned response of how aid works and why we help; but at a fundamental level – not to get all spiritual on you – I think we are reinstating our humanity.
Outside of providing aid in times of need, it is becoming more common for folks to deliver help on a continuous basis. No matter what you call it – aid, collaboration, help, assistance/mentoring – it all stems from a basic human need to help others achieve something; either a connection to a perspective client/hire/recruiter, feedback to improve a processes/work task, or research to provide clarity on fuzzy and difficult to comprehend concepts. Whether individuals are doing it for recognition or some altruistic reason, it comes down to the same cause and action. Life is difficult and we all need a helping hand. Some people believe in recycled karma while others believe that it is mandated from on high and you are compelled to be a good Samaritan (In Judaism the term Mitzvah has morphed from a commandment to an act of kindness).
So how do you get a little help with the aid of social media? As opposed to the 1st generation of collaboration technologies (Sharepoint, eRooms, Documentum) which dealt more with the process of sharing and providing restrictions on access, this next generation of tools (SocialText, Yammer, Zanby, Telligent) have more of an emphasis on collaboration and lowering the barrier in providing assistance to achieve common goals.
Oftentimes, help needs to be a conscious and consequently intermittent effort. Companies who not only talk the talk but walk the walk when it comes to innovation and collaboration (i.e. Apple, Google, Toyota, Microsoft, http://bit.ly/aPrPNS) understand that this is key to their culture and collaboration tools need to enable this activity continuously with little/no effort on behalf of the participants that engage and champion these technologies. In the near future, corporation will transition from typically onetime help oriented events, like employee reviews, to continuous engagement around assistance. Imagine progress reviews done continuously, much like how consumer oriented social media outlets continually rank members.
As we progress from the honeymoon phase with social media to a better understanding of the fundamental shifts in work, measurement and innovation, this key enabler will become more entrenched in product offerings. I would wager the more they enable this basic need the more easily adopted and effective they will be over time. Having worked with several large corporations as a consultant, I know firsthand that employee morale can be both a motivator and detractor. With greater levels of transparency and flatter architecture, an employee’s self worth is not only tied to their title and compensation but more often than not their influence and perception among their peers. Lowering the barriers to collaboration and providing assistance leads to engagement and better performance. Whether you believe in karma or not, a shift is occurring in how companies innovate, remain competitive, and retain employees and it all come down to “a little help”.