Why HR, Comms and IT should be really excited about the social web ….

… but probably aren’t.

Many moons ago when I was lost in one of the many twists and turns in my BBC “career” my father suggested asked if there wasn’t someone in HR that I could speak to. I am sorry to say that I laughed out loud. Yes there were some notable exceptions but most of my experience of HR departments had been of people who saw themselves as maintainers of order rather than enablers of staff. People who made up rules and made sure I stuck to them, rather than people who had my long term career interests at heart.

Likewise communications departments seem to see themselves more as “managing” communication on behalf of senior management than enabling communication within their organisations. And of course when it to comes to IT they have sadly been the ones who have picked up on the motivations of the other two and come to represent control of risk rather than enabling the business. Of course I have made some sweeping generalisations in the last two paragraphs but I don’t believe I am dreadfully wide of the mark in describing many, if not most, organisations.

The sad thing is of course that it doesn’t have to be this way. As I said before I have known some very notable exceptions and good people have always found ways to go against the tide and do the right things. But from many processing stuff, conforming to norms and doing what is expected of them is the most that they can aspire to and of course having turned these corporate functions into commodities they are now being offshored or outsourced in their droves.

So why should people in these organisational functions be excited about the social web? Because people are starting to do it for themselves. Increasingly staff are using web-based tools to perform some of the functions that have ostensibly been the responsibility of these departments. They are writing CV’s and finding jobs for themselves, even within the existing organisations, using Linkedin; they are using social sites like Facebook or blogs to communicate with each other; and they are increasingly using flexible tools such as Google Documents and calendar to provide basic platforms for working together. They are showing imagination, energy and a willingness to do with it takes to get their jobs done. These are qualities that organisations keep telling us they want their staff to have.

This energy should be seen as something that can be tapped into and enhanced. Use these people as models of how to get things done, learn from them and encourage others to copy them. If necessary bring some of the tools in-house or work out how to make them easily accessible and secure but be prepared to see this change in behaviours as an opportunity and not as a threat. HR, Comms and IT professionals who manage to do this will add real value to their business and the people who work in them. They will be transformed from gate keepers to enablers and they will more likely to have their jobs in three years time!

21 thoughts on “Why HR, Comms and IT should be really excited about the social web ….”

  1. This is so true. This web revolution is about people. It should be the real HR function to both be people and work with others. Lets hope a few more humans step up to the challengeto help us all.I say this now having left the corporate fold 🙂

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  2. Speaking as someone in Comms, this is really what I’ve been excited about for sometime now, possibly because I don’t have 20 or even 10 years in the business.Now things really are changing as our internal comms dept is now called workforce and field enablement – sure there is still the exec comms element in there but my role and beliefs are being played out across the business now as we provide the platforms and means for people & communities to communicate directly to each other.On the flip side, although many people have been wishing for this sort of empowerment or whatever, some have realised that they have finally got what they wanted but aren’t doing it, they are often asking when Communications is going set up a website for them or organise their meeting.. dream on sunshine.

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  3. The names are changing (again), but can these corporate functions and departments deliver the trust required for regular people to use these things effectively? Isn’t that when they may be truly empowered?These networking tools are fantastic, but if the provider is not trusted they may be left unused. Being told to dream on, may not help ;-)I was lucky in my own BBC career in that I did have faith in my personnel and internal comms colleagues (or was I truly duped?), it was just layers and layers of management that usually led us all on a merry dance.Being a trusted, corporate enabler is no mean balancing feat, whatever tools are at you disposal.I found this on an IBMer’s public LinkedIn profile – “The Workforce and Field Enablement project defines the process and structure to enable employees and sellers on brand image, business strategies and key sales plays.” It’s just about getting people to talk honestly to each other, isn’t it? I’m so not in the corporate fold anymore.

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  4. Fully agree Euan! Although as someone who works in Comms I would say that this mentality is not restricted to these departments. There can be a lot of scepticism in the general workforce about social tools and ‘connectedness’, despite encouragement by Comms depts. People are wary of being seen to use forums, wikis and blogs, particularly at the moment, in case they are seen as being too far away from the traditional understanding of ‘work’. This can be very frustrating for the people who do realise that it is in the context of social interactions that things get done! I suppose this stems from senior management who create this mentality by measuring activity rather than achievements.

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  5. Great post, relevant, and something that has been much on my mind recently.Unfortunately these ‘good people’ tend to be the ones that are being let go of right now, and if it’s not them then it’s the relatively recently appointed teams of enterprise social/knowledge management people who support this mentality that are.The recession is causing an inevitable reflex… it’s what happens to these ‘good people’ next that will shape business of the future.

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  6. In general I agreeBut to stick up for the other side for a minute@Tim – I share a doc or sheet with you on google or ZohoOops @Ruperts PIA (personally Identifiable info) is on it.Who does the perp walk -Me or my boss?Think about it ……Patriat, HIPAA, CA Disclosure, Euro Safe Harbour, BASEL etc etc.That is why there is often some resistance …

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  7. I agree that this isn’t easy Elliot but pretending it isn’t happening or trying to ban it are two high risk strategies compared to working with it, learning about and helping people understand how to “do the right thing”

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  8. The opportunities are there for the taking.Those opportunities have been coming / apparent for a while now, and that they are more and more apparent sharpens issues that were there even before the web’s capabilities began penetrating the corporate / enterprise environment. Ignoring them and / or only fiddling at the edges won’t make the issues go away either.Great post, thanks !

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  9. @Euan – I agree – But where organizations are worried is what is “out of sight”Let me add another (true) example.@Tim is having a thorny problem he is working on for a customer, and says to me ‘Elliot I have this ….”(let me assume he is an American in the US)I take a look at it and go to my wiser co-worker, hey Irena look at this ….Guess what -Let us assume that Tim’s customer is a branch of, or a supplier to the US DoDI am Canadian, my friend Irena is an immigrant to Canada but still a **Bulgarian** nationalUnder United States Trade law – as soon as myself or Irena took a look at that problem – Tim’s company is a “deemed exporter” to both Canada and Bulgaria (a “listed” country!! right up there with Iran and North Korea)As such under the US trade Laws, they could fine or blacklist his company, and his client! From any business with DoD, possibly even look at espionage as well.In fact – as a Canadian company – lets assume I am legally importing some cell phone chips or something from the US for use or resale in Canada only.I show my friend Irena;Boom, by US trade law it is *automatically* a “Deemed Re-Export” to Bulgaria.In other words, I could then be guilty of “exporting” listed or controlled items to a listed country.Note; (I don’t work for a company that imports or exports! – The info came from a US trade law seminar I attended regarding SaaS)So caution in how & what data gets exposed to the world is called for. Look how much cost and damage from a laptop stolen out of a car, or backup tapes fallen off a truck in the last year or so!Regards,Elliot

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  10. Yep and the best way to communicate such complex and “unmanageable” risks is to use social tools within the firewall to discuss what is risky and why! Otherwise you could always have a meeting or send a memo ……;-)

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  11. Elliot – your post is a typical 1 in a million risk reason for why things are not done when there are 999,000 reasons why they should. The ability of big organisations to foresee improbable risk is a key factor in why so many of them fail to capitalise on their scale.I was quite lucky when I was at the BBC as there was a cool old silver-haired guy from HR who I could always talk to, although his name escapes me 😉

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  12. @Andy – I was playing devils advocate – the “other side” I blog, I have Wiki’s running for my folks etc etc.There is also 1 in a million risk that TJX would have 87 Million credit card numbers stolen1 in a million that the VA would have a contractor laptop stolen with how many personal individuals details?How many companies have had to “disclose” under california disclosure rules?Having a flood or your building burn down may also be 1 in a million, but it still keeps senior security execs up at night!

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  13. Euan,Couldn’t agree more. All but one HR department I have experienced have been instruments of the status quo, essentially backing the directives of management.One of the great ironies is that HR is often the place where business puts learning & development or organisational performance functions – these functions are usually neutered to death in HR. So much for learning and enhancing organisational performance!As to web/enterprise 2.0, where HR sees itself as an instrument of managment and control, there will be little chance of empowering staff and their networks to make work easier, more fulfilling, and more productive for staff!

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  14. Great reflection on some of the ways in which social media is changing the way we work and the way we connect with others.My take on the HR perspective, having spoken to many in that function, is that there is a general frustration at being bogged down with so much transactional work. This leaves little time in which to build HR as a truly strategic asset to the business. Clearly this is a generalisation, but anything that removes some of the daily grind and allows more time and space for thoughtful development of strategic HR is seen as a good thing. I can’t speak for those in the Comms role, but I assume the same applies for them.That said, there are risks and that raises fears. I believe this is an area where time and education are the elements that will ultimately transform the way businesses use the growing range of available tools for connecting people. The sooner HR can take the initiative and actively encourages the use of these tools, (and also highlights the risks involved and ways to deal with them), the sooner the organisation will benefit.Of course, the rider to all of this is whether management will allow HR the remit to do this fully. A half-baked effort thwarted by the management team will just make the whole process tougher. Perhaps, in some organisations, the education process needs to start at the top?

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  15. I agree totally about the need for education – and in fact this is what I spend a lot of my time doing. The reason for this post was that at the moment I tend to get to the people who are already interested on social media and what it can do for them but it is the line managers and HR and comms folks that need help. Even if they don’t embrace social media themselves they will increasingly be managing people who do.Thanks for dropping by!

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  16. Hi Euan This is a great post.I have come to this discussion late but it is so relevant to what I am doing right now that I wanted to comment. As someone with many business years behind them when I talk about social networking, using social media etc in my networks generally I almost always come up against comments about the reasons ( perceived or otherwise) for not engaging in the workplace and often the barriers ( real) to being able to do so. I am currently demonstrating ( through a private wiki) why a blog and Twitter ( as examples) could be good for promoting and raising awareness of a new business just to get the conversation started. The interesting thing is recently I have been asked to speak to groups of business people about my own experiences. Maybe my own story will help illustrate the possibilities – I hope so! I am member of the CIPD the professional body for HR folks in the UK and this is a hot topic in their online forums. It is not likely to change overnight but maybe there are rays of light

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  17. Glad the post resonated with you Jackie and I agree things are gradually getting easier. Though given that I first got involved in this stuff eight years ago I am way past the stage of expecting overnight change!

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  18. You’re right it is time to call the behaviour what it is and say it is unacceptable.I’ve written on this topic before here – we need to stop bullying behaviour in the young. If we accept it until they’re 30 then try to change it then it is too late.

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  19. This so true. I think what is even more dangerous is when organisational institutions with a vested interest in maintaining the status quo appear to embrace social media only so they can better control how they're used and lock them down. Controlling content creators through approval boards and committees: "A committee is a cul-de-sac down which ideas are lured and then quietly strangled." Sir Barnett Cocks

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