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OWNER'S MANUAL

Are You Using Social Media as a Management Crutch?

A new study reveals that managers think connecting online is a great way to build company culture. Employees aren't so sure.

Think social media tools are helping you better connect with and engage your employees?

You're certainly not alone--but you're wrong.

According to the findings of a survey conducted by Deloitte, 41% of the executives participating in the study believe social networking helps build and maintain workplace culture.

Unfortunately, only 21% of their employees agree.

"The fundamentals of culture-building--phone calls, personal messages, and face-to-face interaction--have not really changed," says Punit Renjen**, Chairman of the Board of Deloitte. "Social media is a useful tool, but not when it's used as a crutch that allows leaders to appear to be accessible... when really, they are not."

The Disconnects...

Business leaders and employees also see the effect of social media on workplace culture differently: 45% of executives feel it has a positive effect while only 27% of employees feel the same way. And 38% of executives feel social media allows for increased management transparency; only 17% of employees agree.

In short, while you might think using Twitter and Facebook to communicate with your employees helps them feel more engaged--and feel you are more open and accessible--you're wrong.

Sure, tweeting and sharing is convenient, but in the eyes of your employees, it's far from effective.

In fact, if your use of social media has taken the place of some of your "face time," the opposite is probably true.

"As a leader, whether of a large company or a small business, never forget that serving customers and taking care of employees is your core duty," Punit says. "If you find yourself not spending an inordinate amount of time around those two tasks, you're doing something wrong."

"The basics of building a culture have not changed," Punit continues. "Social media is an important tool, especially for Generation Y. But if you want to build an exceptional culture, the time-tested norms still apply."

...And More Disconnects

Employees and executives also disagree on the impact of tangible and intangible factors on workplace culture. Executives rank tangibles like competitive compensation (62%) and financial performance (65%) as the top factors that influence culture. Employees say intangibles like regular and candid compensation (50%) and access to management (47%) rank higher than compensation (33%) and financial performance (24%).

It should come as no surprise that executives rate their organizations more highly in terms of a positive workplace culture than employees do.

Exceptional Organizations

"It's often easier," Punit says, "to focus on tangible elements of strategy: customer demands and requirements, what your competitors are doing, what your response should be... where you are going and how you will get there. Exceptional organizations strive for something larger than the core profit motive; the mission of the organization is larger than just generating exceptional bottom-line results. Exceptional organizations are based on a belief system that is simple, uncompromisingly leader-led, and embedded in the company structure."

Your business, even if you're the only employee, has a belief system, however poorly defined.

As a result your business has a culture, one that is based on the example you set.

Your belief system is something you'll never be able to communicate and embed solely through social media.

You might think you can--but you can't.

"An exceptional organization sustains over time," Punit says. "You may generate exceptional performance... but that doesn't make you an exceptional organization. When as a small business owner you move away from what made you successful--doing a great job for customers, mentoring and developing employees, having a goal larger than the core profit motive... when you move away from those core practices, you can't sustain as an organization, let alone be successful."

"That's the beauty of business," he says. "It's really simple... but it's also really difficult."

** The same day I talked to Punit I also spoke with one of the top 20 most recognized athletes in the world. (Pretty cool day.) I told my wife, who before switching careers was the Director of Finance for a Fortune 500 company, about both conversations.  She was way more impressed by the fact I had talked to the Chairman of the Board of Deloitte.

Come to think of it, so am I.

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Last updated: Jun 18, 2012

JEFF HADEN | Columnist

Jeff Haden learned much of what he knows about business and technology as he worked his way up in the manufacturing industry. Everything else he picks up from ghostwriting books for some of the smartest leaders he knows in business.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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