Lowe's seeks to attract future workers with social tools

Enterprise social collaboration will be a must with next generation of workers

At home improvement store Lowe's, executives don't just focus on their current employees. They're casting an eye toward the people they'll be hiring months or even years from now.

Andrew Carusone, Lowe's director of Integrated Workforce Experience, is trying to make sure they're ready.

To do that, he's pulling in enterprise-level social collaboration tools and fostering an atmosphere where employees at the nationwide retailer can work together, have open dialogs and share information.

"The people we're going to hire today and in the future are home right now doing their homework on Facebook," said Carusone, speaking Tuesday at the Enterprise 2.0 conference in Boston. "You call that cheating. They call that collaborating. We need to be ready so they can bring their life to work -- not their work, their life."

The emphasis on collaboration tools at work will be critical. "If we can't do that, the best and the brightest will go work for the competition and they will bury us," Carusone said. "And that is called retirement."

Lowe's uses IBM Connections social networking software in its enterprise. The company has 275,000 active users on Connections, with 10,000 communities. The company has three people working full time as community managers.

In the beginning, social tools, for both the consumer and the enterprise, were fun to play around with. People wanted to try out blogs, wikis and online communities.

Today, Carusone said companies need to get serious about using social collaboration tools in the workplace.

"The novelty of the technology is starting to fade off into the background, and now we can think about how to really use it," he said. "This is going to have a fundamental impact on the way employee strategy is formulated in the company. If we make this work, it's going to fundamentally change the way we embrace our workforce and the way we hire and train employees."

One of the challenges that companies will have to address are the demands of Generation C, where the "C" stands for "connected." Unlike their older counterparts -- the Gen Xers and baby boomers - this generation of workers, composed of people under the age of 24 -- have grown up with computers, the Internet and social networking, Carusone said.

They not only expect to use social tools in the workplace, Carusone said they'll demand it. If they aren't given enterprise-level social tools, they'll use consumer tools like instant messaging, Facebook and LinkedIn.

"They're the connected generation," he added. "It's a completely different animal than what we've ever had... This has all changed the narrative of how people work."

For instance, some companies were excited to have executives and employees blogging. Now companies are moving toward hosting communities and forums, creating more of a dialogue instead of a one-way information stream.

A blog or an FAQ, according to Carusone, is one person addressing a community. "It's saying, 'Look, we already know what you're going to ask,' " he added. "It cuts off dialogue... A forum is the sweet spot. It's people asking questions and participating and answering each other. It's active listening."

At Lowe's, that's an old dynamic that the company is in the process of changing.

"What's important is that your enterprise lives in your employees," Carusone said. "They have to perform to make our experience come alive, so they have to have a seat at the table."

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin, on Google+ or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed. Her email address is sgaudin@computerworld.com.

See more by Sharon Gaudin on Computerworld.com.

Read more about enterprise web 2.0/collaboration in Computerworld's Enterprise Web 2.0/Collaboration Topic Center.

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