Headquartered in Stockholm, AB Electrolux is a global leader in household and professional appliances, selling more than 40 million products to customers in around 150 markets every year. Brands include Frigidaire, AEG and Molteni, as well as many known only in local markets. In 2012, Electrolux had 60,000 employees working in 60 countries and sales of SEK110 billion.
Enhancing employee engagement
Every global enterprise faces the challenge of ensuring that employees separated by geography, time zones and culture feel engaged and connected with the corporate entity. Otherwise, their productivity and job satisfaction could suffer.
With many thousands of employees spread over dozens of countries, Electrolux faced this issue, particularly vexing for a company whose success depends on developing innovative products and bringing them to market quickly. Employees isolated in their geographies or departments could find it difficult to locate experts or knowledge elsewhere in the company. Without proper tools for communication, collaboration and networking, Electrolux could fail to maximize the potential of its collective brain power.
Electrolux had an intranet, but it lacked interactivity. The company used it mainly for pushing out corporate news to staff from the top down. As an example, a message from the chief executive officer (CEO) seemed more like a pronouncement than opening a conversation. Still, the organization evaluated managers by their ability to foster engagement with their teams.
“Electrolux has a philosophy of engagement, but we weren’t leveraging online tools,” says Ralf Larsson, director of online engagement and development at Electrolux. “From a leadership point of view, we recognized the importance of having a connected organization.” A key idea was that crowd sourcing, soliciting ideas from employees through an informal and interactive process, could improve everything from product development to everyday business processes.
Networking staff with IBM Connections software
This led Electrolux on a journey toward social business. The plan was to enhance the intranet with Web 2.0 networking capabilities that would create a sense of employee belonging while improving collective knowledge sharing, productivity and product innovation.
The initiative began with a trial of potential solutions. Working with IBM Premier Business Partner Infoware Solutions, an expert in software development and collaboration technology, IT and business executives at Electrolux assessed the functionality, usability and technical capabilities of three platforms. Key requirements included the following:
Providing support for interactive, multi-way communications, where staff could easily initiate discussions, comment on others’ ideas and feel more involved
Facilitating the creation of searchable content such as profiles that would enable staff to locate knowledge and experts based on their skills and interests
Delivering networking capabilities that provide interesting ways to share, collaborate and participate in work-related communities and virtual events
Supplying support for mobile access on various devices and operating systems
Providing integration potential with the existing IT infrastructure
IBM Connections software won the trial because it closely matched these criteria. Of special note is its ability to help employees create a social network of colleagues and subject matter experts and then tap that network to further business goals. Key features include searchable profiles, file sharing, communities of interest, blogs, wikis, and the ability to share news, links and status across the network at any time. This makes it easy to discuss ideas, locate experts, work collaboratively, plan and track project tasks and more, whether from the desktop or a mobile device. The IBM product also offers strong integration capabilities with back-end software, including Microsoft SharePoint software, which the company uses for project management.
Electrolux launched the intranet powered by Connections V3.01 software in early 2012, including a video of the CEO demonstrating blogs and other collaborative features. This strong buy-in from top management is contributing to the success of the social strategy. Over the first few months, some 40 percent of employees actively began using Connections software, logging in from desktop PCs as well as from mobile devices.
The usage statistics are impressive. The intranet is home to more than 100 information portals managed by 450 editors and accessed by 9,000 users daily and 15,000 monthly. With more than 1,100 collaboration spaces with 8,500 members and 179 communities with 4,500 members, Electrolux employees are engaged with management and their peers in new ways. In a survey, users who found business value in Connections software felt highly positive about their jobs and the company in general.
“IBM Connections has helped to put collaboration on the Electrolux agenda,” says Ulf Stider, sales manager at Infoware Solutions. The company’s commitment to social business is evident from its plans to upgrade to the latest version, Connections V4.5 software, in the coming months. Especially welcome will be advanced integration capabilities and new mobile applications for the iOS and Android operating systems as well as BlackBerry devices.
Engaging employees in a social network
Although it’s still early in the social business journey, Electrolux has realized many business benefits.
For example, employee engagement with management is much improved, as is corporate transparency. Take the formerly static message from the CEO. Today, when the CEO posts a status update to product strategies, employees feel free to comment. “In the past, I wouldn’t dream of picking up the phone to speak with the CEO,” says Larsson. “But now I can comment on his posts. He knows who I am and my thoughts, and he can ask me to elaborate. When everyone has this capability, it’s really powerful.”
Another example relates to internal communications when Electrolux had to relocate an office. What could have been disruptive went smoothly after the human resources (HR) and legal teams created an online community to share information about the relocation with affected employees. They felt more comfortable with the process when able to post questions and voice concerns.
HR and line managers also use the social platform in employee on-boarding, showing new hires how to create profiles, blog and join communities. This helps them feel comfortable in their roles and become productive more quickly.
The social platform improved product innovation as well. In October 2012, Electrolux hosted a Global Innovation Challenge on the intranet, a three-day crowd-sourcing event attended by some 30 percent of the white-collar workforce. Staff responding to product-development topics online generated 3,500 ideas and 10,000 comments. The event resulted in three new products being added to the pipeline.
These and other social interactions help users connect to Electrolux experts who might be outside their regular circle of colleagues. Whether from searchable profiles, blogs, wikis, forums or communities, social networking improves knowledge sharing and helps employees succeed in their jobs. As Larsson says, “With social business, we’re becoming smarter, better connected and more competitive.”