Guidance & How To, Leadership, People & Culture

What future for HR?

…… Part of The Basics series. First published in May 2013 ……

 Call to action for HR professionals

This is part three of a three-part series on the theme of “Is HR the missing player we are waiting for in the digital workplace?”

  1. What’s different when HR co-leads the digital workplace?
  2. Why is HR late in social collaboration?
  3. What future for HR?

Shouldn’t HR be co-leading DW initiatives?

In fact, HR professionals should be leading the evolution towards more agile, collaborative ways of working. After all, the essence of the HR role is people. Today that means preparing people and organizations for an uncertain future. Collaboration and agility are skills both people and organizations must acquire.

I would expect to see HR as a co-leader in DW initiatives but this is not the case. Over the last 7 years of annual research about intranets and digital workplaces the HR presence in intranet and digital workplace strategy and decision-making is low, and worse still, is not growing.

  • In 30 percent of organizations, HR is one of the intranet/digital workplace co-owners, usually alongside Communication and IT. Thirty percent is not high. (Data from 2010 through 2012 with no significant evolution over 3 years.)
  • In 60 percent of organizations, HR is a member of the decision-making steering committee. Given the role of HR in organizations, I would have expected HR to participate in decision-making in 100 percent of organizations! (Data from 2007 through 2010, again with no significant evolution.)

I’ve met many HR people in my 15 years of consulting with large organizations. Rarely have I met HR professionals co-leading digital workplace initiatives, however two do stand out:

  • 2001: The new Nokia HR Vice President who started the Jazz Café “Ask HR” inside the Nokia intranet over 12 years ago. It was an open discussion forum where the workforce could ask HR questions and get answers. I was working with the intranet team on strategy and the HR VP was the executive sponsor of the project.
  • 2008: The HR Director of ERDF, energy distribution organization of EDF, who was the sponsor of the new ERDF intranet and with whom I worked to define the strategy. Always available for guidance and feedback, his visible support gave the new intranet the necessary speed and energy to come to life rapidly.

There are of course many more in the world. I  mention the two HR professionals who, over my 15 years of advising organizations, have influenced me personally in my work.

5 ways to co-lead and make a difference

HR has a strong role to play and I propose five specific calls to action.

1. Get involved in digital workplace decision-making.

Play a co-leadership role in whatever intranet/digital workplace decision-making forum exists in your organization. Bring your unique HR “people expertise” to the table. If any function in the organization should be supporting the needs of the people, it should be HR.

Use your influence on senior management to help them understand the business value social collaboration can bring.

2. Research the front lines and focus on what people need today.

Work with Communication (who is probably a key player in the digital workplace strategy) and identify key profiles of workers. Interview them, find out how they work and what they need.

As an HR professional, you or part of your HR network, are in touch with people in the field, on front lines, in offices, on the road. Identify groups, teams and communities that already exist and have pain points that can be eased by social collaborative tools. Work with IT to set up pilots, let them spread by word-of-mouth. However, be sure to be ready to scale up when appropriate.

3. Work with IT and Legal to understand and mitigate the risks of internal social media.

Risks are more or less great depending on how regulated your industry is. Do some research, find companies similar to yours and see what they are doing.

Balance the “if we do” against the “if we don’t”. Take seriously the risk that if you don’t have an internal social strategy, employees will find other ways to do what they need and want to do.

4. Let expertise and voices emerge.

Do not fear loss of control by letting people describe themselves in the directory or in rich profiles. I’ve heard many anecdotes illustrating the value and minimal risks involved. One risk often cited is that people will say they are experts when they are not. That’s easily corrected by the “crowd effect” when people discover the “expert” is unable to assume the role in real life. An immense value I’ve often seen is that people can enter their previous job experiences. This has often led to the organization finding people who used to work for their clients or partners and using them to establish new links with other companies.

5. Encourage leaders, at all levels.

New leadership is needed at all levels in an organization. Encourage people to take initiatives. Think about how you can encourage freedom within a framework. There must be a minimal framework for people to be able to work together. Work towards making it as light as possible. Place responsibilities at the lowest levels of accountability. Remember that the crowd will self-regulate when people step out of line, which in fact, practically never happens when there is accountability and recognition.

HR talks back

I received feedback which I’ll soon be sharing in a post “HR talks back” and would love to have more. I’d like to hear stories from proactive HR teams around the world about how they are helping prepare their people and organizations for the future. Please get in touch here or by email.

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Reminder of data context: For purposes of this series of articles about HR, I focused on the 15 organizations represented by HR professionals in the digital workplace survey of Q3 of 2012 that served as the basis for “Digital Workplace Trends 2013”. This sampling of 15 organizations is representative of the full survey population in terms of range in size of workforce, wide variety of different industries, different international footprints and a mix of “desk-office” and “floor-field” organizations. The only difference between these 15 organizations and the others is that the participating organization was represented by an HR professional rather than a Communication or IT professional (who make up the large majority of the survey respondents). All survey respondents are key digital workplace players in their own organizations and, given their participation in the survey, I have worked on the assumption that HR co-leads digital workplace initiatives in these 15 organizations.