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At Lockheed Martin, Social Networking Fills Key Workforce Needs While Improving Efficiency and Lowering Costs

March 11, 2010
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While the idea of social media at work makes some companies anxious—more than half of large employers prohibit access to them—Lockheed Martin Corp. saw potential in the media, if done right.

In the fourth quarter of 2009, employees across the organization began receiving invitations. The links didn’t take them to Facebook or LinkedIn, though. Rather, the e-mail asked them to join an internal social network called Unity. Think of it as LinkedIn behind the company’s firewall and with tools tailored to its needs.

Lockheed Martin, which reported 2009 sales of $45.2 billion, employs about 140,000 people worldwide. “Just trying to get collaboration across that enterprise is a daunting task,” says Tom Vitale, Unity’s program manager. “Unity is one of the attempts to foster collaboration across the enterprise and to get information sharing not only between those business areas, but across them.”

In addition to basics such as profiles, Unity’s tools include blogs, wikis, file-sharing, tags, discussion forums, social bookmarking and updates that stream via Really Simple Syndication to let employees know about one another’s online activities. Much of the information is searchable and remains available even if a person leaves the company.

Unity seeks to address two issues that are common in organizations today: knowledge-sharing to anticipate baby boomers’ shifting retirement plans, and attitudes about communication tools among Millennials, the youngest generation in the workforce.

“We, like many other companies out there, have a workforce demographic where people will be retiring in the next five to 10 years,” Vitale says. “This was also an attempt to have a mechanism to capture that tacit knowledge internally so it could be passed along.” At Lockheed Martin, 60 percent of its employees identify as baby boomers, the generation born between 1946 and 1964.

Whether boomers are actually going to retire remains a matter of debate. Americans 55 years and older are projected to make up about one-quarter of the labor force in 2018, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

But for the millions of baby boomers who may have been thinking about retirement, the market meltdown of 2008 and the ongoing recession sent a message: not now. More than half of all working adults ages 50 to 64 say they may delay their retirement, according to a recent survey by the Pew Research Center’s Social & Demographic Trends Project. Sixteen percent say they expect they will never stop working.

With those eligible to retire working longer, Lockheed Martin managers emphasize that Unity is about more than trying to retain knowledge of workers who may be separating.

“What’s driving this is how people work,” says Patrice Jackson, senior program manager for information sharing and collaboration services. “People are working differently.”

That’s especially true at firms hiring Millennials, who are accustomed to using Twitter and Facebook, says Michael Chui, a senior fellow at the McKinsey Global Institute. “If you talk to many HR executives hiring young college graduates—the ‘Net generation’—oftentimes you hear, ‘Why can’t I have the same kind of tools at work that I have at home?’ ” Chui says.

At Lockheed Martin, Jackson credits Unity with helping the corporation become more efficient and more innovative. Employees find the right people with the right knowledge faster, thanks to Unity’s search feature, Jackson says. Knowledge isn’t trapped in e-mails only accessible to recipients.

For example, the corporation’s logistics professionals created a “proposal tool kit” that explained best practices and helped colleagues build proposals. The result: Logistics doubled its business within three years. Jackson concedes that she can’t provide a cause-and-effect relationship, but she believes Unity-fueled collaboration played a major role.

For her own team, Jackson uses a blog to update her staff about routine matters like project due dates. She saved so much time that her team meets twice a month now instead of four times.

“They get an RSS feed when I’ve posted to my blog, and then in the meetings we’re able to focus more on the work that they’re doing rather than worry about the general stuff—the noise—that gets in the way of work,” Jackson says.

“It’s really about time, cost and quality,” she says. “How can you deliver something faster, reduce the cost and increase the quality? Unity allows us to connect on all of those.”

Lockheed Martin, the top defense contractor to the U.S. government by sales, was an early adopter of corporate social networking. Unity began in the company’s Information Systems & Global Services unit in 2007. By comparison, when the talent management association Human Capital Institute surveyed its members that same year, only 3 percent were using or planned to use corporate social networking tools.

After making changes based on feedback from other business units, the company began to roll out Unity across the enterprise in the fourth quarter of 2009. Users can create personal or team “spaces,” which are similar to profiles or groups. About 150 spaces are created each week, Vitale says, with the company hoping to increase that rate in the coming year and see it translate into more wikis and blogs.

“I can post a topic: ‘Hey, I’m working on XYZ program and have the following challenge.’ Other people can see that and, if they have the knowledge, can reply back on it,” Vitale says. “That’s how we’re hoping to get that sort of cross-pollination.”

Allan Schweyer, a principal at the Center for Human Capital Innovation, says a corporate social network that has been popularized across a workforce, not just a specific demographic or group, provides a forum for informal discussion and knowledge transfer. “It gives a real solid network for asking questions and getting answers and being able to search quickly on the skills and knowledge you need for information or to build a project team,” says Schweyer, author of Talent Management Systems.

Unity has also spurred mentoring. Lockheed Martin Fellows, a distinction the company gives to its top tier of scientists and technologists, connect through a community housed on Unity. Junior employees began posting questions to the fellows, which led to mentoring program between the fellows and “rising stars,” Jackson says.

With the majority of its business coming from the U.S. Department of Defense and other federal government agencies, Lockheed Martin knew that ensuring the security of the information exchanged through Unity had to be a top priority. So the system allows the company to provide levels of access, based on the user.

“We did a lot of work and a lot of focus on ensuring that the tools hit both sides,” says communications manager Trent Flood, “that it provided the kind of collaboration that the corporation needed but also did it in such a way that we felt very comfortable that the information would be highly secured.”

Workforce Management Online, March 2010 -- Register Now!

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