Return on investment

ROI is a magic code word in business.  It stands for the ruthless bean-counters who ask one simple question in response to any proposal.  What will I gain if I do it?

As I and others have written, EMC is investing in social media, both externally and internally.  While it’s easy to quantify that investment, defining the return can be a bit harder.  How do you measure the brand perception among decision makers?  Among potential new hires?  Among employees?  Or, from my standpoint, how do you know if your workforce is more engaged, more involved, and more connected?

I’d like to share a story from last week.  I received an email in the morning asking if I’d be willing to participate in a half-hour conference call with Polly Pearson and a few others.  The subject was nothing I thought I’d be able to contribute on; she was in the middle of planning an event dedicated to the 2008 Distinguished Engineers and Fellows at EMC’s annual Innovation Conference.  Since I haven’t been involved in this conference I wasn’t sure what help I would be, but I said I’d participate.

That afternoon, I was on the phone with Polly and a couple other people from Engineering.  It turns out she had some ideas for the event and wanted to run them by people from a product development background.  It turned into a 30-minute brainstorming session and a chance for some great unfiltered information flow between a wide variety of individuals.  I hope she left with some good feedback.

The cost for this meeting was fairly low: a half-hour of time on the phone.  But she would not have met any of the people on the call were it not for EMC’s investment in building a more connected workforce.  How do you measure that ROI?

Taking it a step further, think of the benefit this had for the people from Engineering who were on the call.  It was the last meeting of the week for me, and it sent me home in a great mood.  People want to be listened to, and love being asked questions.  Talk about feeling valued! But I would never have been on that call except for the investment I put forth into staying active and visible online, including this blog and my activity on our internal platform.  I have invested quite a bit, and again have trouble defining any dollar value for the return.

But the return is real.  It’s as real as the investment.  If you’re counting dollars at your company and wondering how to justify it, just imagine hearing stories like this on a regular basis.  Imagine it not just for event-planning but product design, marketing campaigns, and business policies.  Imagine your workforce feeling that engaged (see this post for an advanced review of a book on the subject which talks about EMC’s efforts in the area).  And if you’re looking at your individual effort and wondering how you can justify adding this sort of activity to your work week, try to imagine how it feels to be involved in activities like this and wonder why you’d be willing to settle for letting other people have all the fun.