For HR, social business must not start with techology adoption

Summary : whatever some say, HR are most of all helpless when they face the many social and 2.0 projects that blossom in the workplace. The potential of such projects is obvious too them, as well as the role they have to play in. But nothing, or so little, changes over time. In fact there’s a huge difference between a social HR approach and make HR fit into a social mould they did not choose, at the occasion of the adoption of tool they’re asked to serve instead of using it. For HR, the start of social is not facilitating general logics but to conduct a reflection on their job that will end with many possible tools, not only a social network.

HR and social ! A very complicated love story that often ends with an “Me neither I love you” statement. In the end and whatever we’d love to say, the situation did not improved that much these last years, the last counter-examples being trees hiding an everyday denser forest.

So, what’s HR being expected to do most of times ?

– take the lead over the global social project. But, not even mentioning this is supposed to be a cross-function project, we should admit that if they did not do so naturally, at their own initiative, there me be deeper reasons we should try to understand before parachuting them in a role they’re obviously uncomfortable with.

– use the famous social network that’s being rolled-out. Why not but this is not a way to deal with their own challenges. That’s only seeing as any other department and trying to find out for what purpose they should use a new shiny tool. Maybe be useful for the HR dept. as such, as an entity willing to optimize its work but has no impact on the HR function per se.

– use the social network for their own benefit because, without any fuss, with all the information it contains and the new possibilities it offers it me be useful to change the way HR are done.

Sadly, the story always ends in the same way : actual tool adoption by HR seldom happens or stays under artificial respiration.

Why ? Because the problem is take from the wrong end.


Let’s make things clear. HR have a big role to play in social business projects. Sometimes as contributors, a role they’re often assigned, sometimes as users, providers or enablers.

– contributors : that means using social tools for internal collaboration purposes within the department, sometimes for internal communication purposes only.

– users : that means making the most of the activity on the tool for HR purposes. That’s relying on data and relationship analysis to detect profiles, talents and needs and reconcile both to improve the match between internal resources and needs what is one of their key role. That may also be using sentiment analysis to measure the internal climate, anticipate resignation waves of will to change position etc. That’s also using interactions, votes ect. to do social performance management. Non exhaustive list.

– Providers : that means providing the HR offer through a socialized media. That’s mainly about social learning.

– Enablers : that’s about the indispensable action of HR to make new ways of working possible, what should be the purpose of any project of this kind. As a matter fact, it’s all about changing the way knowledge and people can be mobilized the context of day to day work and the way knowledge is improved and shared. This kind of change can’t happen if, on the other hand, HR practices are not consistent with the new model. That’s not the massive use of social networks that will make HR more effective if they do not make the system coherent with what is expected to emerge. It would be illusory to believe that HR will to that under pressure just because it’s needed to make a tool useful. On the contrary, the opposite can be true : seeing HR facilitating a new model because they know this model is the future and they decided to do their part of the job as “business partners”. When HR do not play this enablement role, social will stay disconnected from work. A situation many experience every day.

So, what’s wrong in what looks like a must-happen love story.

The misunderstanding between social and HR is easy to understand. Except in the case of visionary and clear-sighted HRs that boards do not confine to administration and personnel roles, the encounter of HR and social happens this way : HR are being asked to fit in the 2.0 mould in the context of a technology project. What raises two issues :

– as I said above, HR won’t try to fit in mould upon request because they need to ensure the compliance of the mould toward legal and social risk. This is not not trivial at all and need to be deeply analyzed before doing anything on a whim.

– when things happen this way, HR are not asked to contribute with their levers to the emergence of a more competitive organization but to make people use a tool. That’s a first mistake because they’re put at risk with very little to win for them. The second mistake is that the tool in question is often a social network. I don’t mean this is pointless but making the whole HR problematic fit into a generalist tool often cause dissatisfaction. Either it needs side-applications to play the role HR would like, either social HR will find its place in dedicated socialized HR tools, HR running away from a too standard platform that does not meet their needs. This is a more than emerging trend in the learning field already and that’s only the beginning. It’s also interesting to see that in some cases the people in charge of the social network initiative complain about HR’s reluctance to join while HR, at the same time, are working with their favorite HR vendor on social learning platforms, coopting etc. This is, in some ways, logic : in this case HR get their own challenge well but want a dedicated approach instead of getting drown in a catch-all approach that will only make their life more complicated.

Conclusion: for HR the starting point is neither the choice or the adoption of a technology, unlike what is often seen. The starting point should be a reflection on new ways to hire, engage, manage careers, train, learn, make the right people and information available at the right time, measure the impact of social activities on business and make the most of unstructured data to built reliable indicators that meet their needs and the context of today’s work. In short, provide the right resources at the right place in nearly real time.

Then it will be time to think about tools in a logic of convergence with all the social platforms deployed in the company.

If you’re interested in this topic, it will be the subject of my talk at the HR Tech Europe conference that will take place in Amsterdam the next 25th and 26th of october. This year, the conference will host a social enterprise track and my presentation will be about saying to HR that if social is a requirement in the future of business, it should start, in their case, with a reflection on their own business logics and processes rather than a counter-naturel approach made necessary by a tool being rolled-out that force them to face unknown and unmastered situation. The whole making them adopt a self-defense attitude in reaction. So that should be considered more than a HR than an IT matter, unless we’d like to see the same story again and again.

In short HR 2.0 are the HR of a responsive, learning and adaptive organization, not the HR that use social tools. HR 2.0 is not the same than HR using social media.

By the way, your feedback would be very welcome in order to enrich or illustrate my speech. Comments are welcome !


Head of People and Business Delivery @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler
Head of People and Business Delivery @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler

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