HR and Social Business – Kindred Spirits?

In large companies, employees and the HR department have a conflicted relationship. On the one hand, HR is a good place that deals with salaries, vacation slips and promotions. On the other, it is a bad place that tells you things you don’t want to hear, organizes appraisals, and produces time-consuming bureaucracy.

But whatever comes out of the HR department, it always affects me personally and aims in some way to relate my human qualities to my role as an employee within an organization. The primary objective of any HR department is to bring people, their roles and relationships as employees, and the aims of the organization into harmony with one another.

And this is exactly why the interests of HR correspond almost 100 percent with the aims of a social business.

The idea that social business and HR are kindred spirits therefore makes perfect sense. Indeed, on closer inspection the overlap between the two areas is so glaring that HR departments would be well advised to champion the idea of social business within their company. You could even go so far as to say that social tools should set up permanent residence in the HR department – just as the accounting department has its financial programs, distribution its CRM systems, purchasing its procurement software, and engineers their CAD applications.

An HR department adopting a social business model can create a wealth of synergies:

Attractive working environments: In view of the noticeable and ubiquitous lack of highly qualified employees, businesses everywhere are now courting Generation Y – otherwise known as digital natives. For them, the e-mail era is a distant memory; they shifted their private lives to Facebook long ago. Employers who offer an infrastructure and working culture that appeal to these lifestyles will therefore be far more attractive to this group. There is no question that this is a matter for HR.

Knowledge transfer and further training: By their very nature, social tools are the tools of knowledge management. Things like social networks, wikis, blogs, professional profiles, and bookmarks primarily serve to pass on information and assist learning. Ensuring these two processes happen as effectively as possible has always be the responsibility of HR. Social tools can provide clear advantages in this endeavor. For example, they can help transfer knowledge during employee onboarding – such as during company takeovers – or when training global workforces.

Human capital: HR is also tasked with acquiring a deep understanding of each employee’s value to the company and with making the best possible use of it. Existing tools for this seem almost prehistoric when compared to the profiling functions used in a social business. What is more, combining these functions with analysis tools makes it possible to get a much more comprehensive measure of human capital than with more conventional methods, such as twice yearly appraisals.

Change management: There is no question that implementing changes within an organization is one of the main competences of an HR department. Indeed, you could say that HR is constantly managing change. Social business offers excellent tools for this process. Plus, becoming a social business is in itself an extensive change process, which overcomes silo and departmental thinking, flattens hierarchies, creates new roles and responsibilities, and changes a company’s working culture. For this transformation to succeed, HR professionals must be involved.

Global workforce: Global interdependencies have vastly increased the complexity of administrative HR tasks. Social tools are already indispensable for managing a global workforce and for actively using knowledge spread around the world. Once again, HR is responsible for making this happen.

This list of advantages could go on and on. However, the message will prove fruitless if HR departments fail to grasp the huge opportunity that social business presents. By becoming a driving force behind the transformation to a social business, HR staff can markedly increase their own value within an organization.

HR departments already have everything they need to make this happen: an assigned role within the organization, a central position with links to all company divisions, the legal expertise, the social competences and, perhaps most importantly, a direct line to the executive floor.

If HR takes up this opportunity, it will also have to redefine its own role. Here again, the social business model and the great value it places on relationships can provide a useful guide. The HR departments of the future will no longer focus on efficiently managing people as resources. Rather, they will have to be much more concerned with helping to create networks inside and outside the organization. Human resource management is set to become human relationship management.

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