HR: The unwanted link in Social Business

Lee Bryant today relaunched a short but thought-provoking piece  by Niall Cook that inspired this post. It’s titled HR: The missing link in social business. It definitely deserves a quick read so If you don’t want to have it spoiled, please stop here and pay Niall’s blog a visit.

For those of you without much time I’ll quote the conclusion below:

The fact is that every successful use of enterprise social networking I have seen has recognised that people are what makes it work … It is my view that HR should own this part of the process.

… sustained and consistent internal and external use of social technologies requires good internal communication, change management and training, often all things that fall under the HR umbrella.

In short, HR represents the voice of the employee when it comes to corporate social networking, in the same way that marketing represents the voice of the customer when it comes to social media.

And that’s why I believe HR has a key role to play in understanding and applying social technologies to support and change organisational culture.

Let me split this in two.

I’ve spent the last seven years repeating how the Social Enterprise is about people and change. Change applied to processes, personal culture, organizational behaviors and targeted engagement of employees on meaningful business problems. Well beyond the hype still on the market, these few points makes all the difference in the world in terms of:

  • A totally different kind of project centered on co-design, bottom-up participation, iterative refinement, inclusion of specific professional needs
  • An enlarged cross-departmental buy-in of the major internal functions (including HR, IT, Internal Communication, R&D, Lines of Business)
  • An impact on business processes through collaboration based exception handling
  • Appropriate KPIs and metrics rewarding knowledge sharing, openness and transparency
  • Brand new and currently rare competencies mixing organization, business, economics, change management expertise
  • Governance dynamics, mechanisms and organisms equipped to support and scale internal communities

Is all this critical? Yes. Is it new in organizational terms? Yes again. Is it HR’s reserved ground? Unfortunately I don’t think so.

This is simply not happening in quite all the companies I’ve worked with and I’m not sure why. It could be for the transactional focus rooted in the 19th century most HR managers and HR processes still have. It could be because they feel treated by a limitless freedom and transparency. It could be because most HR managers are not that used to social media and cannot easily figure out how to apply them in an enterprise context.

Even if HR should clearly be a key actor and enabler in Social Business, it hasn’t ever been until now. Some numbers could be more credible than my own limited perception.

According to the MIT the areas driving Social Business projects are below:

Not surprisingly HR comes after any other “meaningful” department with the only exception of Operations. And what about the most active functions? Here’s the picture McKinsey published recently:

Do you see HR somewhere? Exactly my point.

Conclusions

All those involved with collaborative projects understand the fundamental role HR should have in nurturing bottom-up participation, new management models and a culture of openness… But is this ever going to happen? Human Resources are already a co-stakeholder in the most mature initiatives but rarely the owner or the main driver.

Is it HR a missing or a unwanted link in Social Busienss? I’d like to hear the voice of HR managers.

Emanuele Quintarelli

Social media enthusiast and Social Business Leader in EY. Research, reports and reflections about the introduction of web 2.0 inside the enterprise.

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