Enterprise social networks (ESNs) and intranets often struggle to demonstrate value to leaders. However a common valuable use of digital channels which should be articulated more frequently is how they enable and support Employee Resource Groups (ERGs).
ERGs promote diversity, allowing groups of employees to help each other and the company they work for. This post explores this topic in more detail, and also suggests some key good practices.
What are ERGs?
Employee Resource Groups, sometimes called Employee Affinity Groups or just plain Employee Networks, are groups and communities of individuals within organisations who are usually under-represented in some capacity or other. The ERG provides mutual support, a focus for activities and a voice which not only helps both the individuals within the group but also supports the organisation as a whole.
Traditional areas for ERGs are:
- Gender (specifically women)
- Ethnic groups
- Military veterans
- Religious groups
Organisations tend to officially recognise and support these groups as they help to promote diversity and inclusion. Companies are proud to display information about them, for example:
There are even surveys showing which companies are leading in supporting ERGs.
Why support ERGs?
Organisations don’t support and fund ERGs just because it is the right thing to do or because it makes a good PR story. They also support these groups for solid commercial reasons. ERGs help:
- Support diversity and inclusion which helps get the best people into leadership positions and attracts new talent
- Increases engagement and loyalty among employees in these groups, helping to reduce employee turnover and increase productivity
- Appeal to different groups of customers with similar interests
- Establish powerful networks which help organisations achieve their aims for example in stimulating innovation, providing specific guidance, sharing knowledge, developing a collaborative culture and supporting personal development
There are numerous examples of the advantages of ERGs, which have been published. Here are two good reports, both a little old, but both demonstrate the value. Warning – both links go through to the PDF.
ERGs come of age: The evolution of Employee Resource Groups (2011 report from William Mercer – link goes straight to PDF)
Employee Resource Groups that drive business value (2010 Jennifer Brown Consulting report sponsored by CISCO – link goes straight to PDF)
How do social networks and intranets support ERGs?
Intranets and enterprise social networks have an obvious role to play in supporting ERGs. These can be from anything to helping things along to being a fundamental enabler. Intranets and ESNs can:
- Provide a community site template to co-ordinate interaction and facilitate discussion between different members of the ERG, particularly in organisations with dispersed locations
- Provide information about the network and its activities to individuals who are considering joining
- Provide resources and information to members in a far more efficient way than other methods of communication
- Provide tools and a place to enable new ERGs get off the ground more quickly and with far less effort
- Ensure transparency about the group and its activities to the rest of the organisation
- Identify members of the group so others are aware of their membership and their positive contribution to the community
Who’s using the intranet or ESN to support ERGs?
Many organisations are supporting ERGs using their internal digital channels. For example every single company in Stonewall’s latest report on the top 100 employers in the UK who support LGBT employees has a relevant ERG, and 90% of these networks are actively maintaining an area of the intranet.
Other examples include:
- Boehringer Ingelheim Pharmaceuticals inter-generational group NxGen, aimed at helping the company’s four generations of employee work together, used Yammer to keep the group active and vibrant
- The Women in Sanofi Pasteur (WiSP) group used Yammer to raise awareness of gender balance and its link to commercial performance at Sanofi-Pasteur. This created a vibrant group with 2,500 members in 55 countries, which even had a men’s sub-group. WiSP has not only prompted policy changes at the company but also won a prize for its contribution to the equality agenda.
- Employee Resource Groups were among the early adopters on CORE, the firm’s Jive-based internal social network.
Different practices are going to vary from organisation to organisation and group to group, but here are some headline observations.
Have a policy on ERGs
It’s critical to have a well thought out policy on Employee Resource Groups and what is allowed and what isn’t. This needs to be driven by your HR function.
For example some organisations may not allow individual religious groups and most will avoid any group that is vaguely political. What can or can’t become an ERG is a potentially very emotive issue so there needs to be a robust policy in place which provides clarity and manages expectations.
Ensure the process for forming ERG community spaces follows the policy
Of course it goes without saying that the process for approving any community site to support an ERG must follow the central policy. You don’t want a process which may result in the creation of ERGs which are not officially approved.
Although the tendency on enterprise social networks is for self-regulation and very light touch governance, the process on forming ERGs or similar group needs to be a tighter. You should also make sure the policy and processes are clearly displayed on the company intranet.
Support community managers
ERG sites need community managers to succeed. Ensure they are supported through training, clear rules, resources, the chance to network with other community managers and if possible some form of measurement.
Potentially ERGs could be some of your social network or intranet’s most active groups, so work with the community manager in question to help them succeed.
Leverage existing ERGs on new networks
If you’re launching a new social network, existing ERGs are an obvious choice for early adopters to either pilot or kick things off.
Report on success
Employee Resource Groups benefit organisations. Enterprise social networks can fundamentally enable ERGs.
Include success stories about your ERGs in your management reporting and general communications to help emphasise the value of your social platform in its contribution to the firm’s goals around diversity.
Was there anything I missed out? Please let me know! I’d love to hear your experiences and stories about how you’ve used an intranet or ESN to support Employee Resource Groups in your organisation.