HR’s Critical Role In Social Business Transformation

HR’s Critical Role In Social Business Transformation

Early in my career, I was never a fan of HR. I always thought of it as the Principal’s office – a place where I spent a lot of time in elementary school, middle school and yes, even a little in high school. After all, when a call came in from HR, usually someone was written up, put on probation and even terminated.

But when I think about how social media has affected the workplace today and of course maturing in my career, my view of HR has changed quite a bit. HR or OD (Organizational Development) plays a critical role to the success of social business transformation for many reasons. They have the ear of company leadership.  They interact with employees at all levels and in every job function. They understand the structures of each organization they support. They are the facilitators of many organizational changes and have clear insight into the challenges that face each of their constituents.  And the truth is, they have been doing change management for years. If anyone can steer an organization to be more social, HR can and should be leading the way.

However, company leadership must view HR as a strategic business partner. Not just the group to call when a particular employee needs to be disciplined, for a quick update on the latest benefits package or to check in on all the open job requisitions.  They need to be actively involved in each part of the business. And at the same time, HR must be proactive and get involved in strategic decision-making and not just take orders.

I belong to a group on Facebook called Innovative HR made up entirely of HR professionals. I asked the following question to the group:

How important is HR as a job function (and strategic partner) to social business transformation (to become a more social organization)? Here is what they had to say:

Rob Garcia, VP of Product from UpMo:

HR plays a indispensable role in transforming any organization into a social enterprise. Think about it: HR is, in essence, about people, relationships and employee/company goal alignment.  Social enables employees to build stronger relationships across the organization, collaborate more efficiently and stay engaged.  Perfect match, don’t you think? I predict HR leaders and teams that embrace social and deploy it in a meaningful way will give their organizations competitive advantage in attracting, hiring, and keeping talent.

Pam Ross, Business Consultant and Organizer of Impact99:

HR is absolutely critical to social business transformation. HR needs to partner with all other functions, especially marketing, to ensure that everyone is aligned on the promises they are making to customers, and that their employees are ready to deliver on them.

It’s HR’s role to develop people practices – from training, to internal communications, to implementation of internal social networks – that prepare and mobilize everyone to be “social”. HR helps with the organizational change part of social business transformation, making sure that people understand the goals of the change, why it is important, and providing coaching to leaders who are having difficulty. Some great things HR can do to help include: writing guidelines that speak their employee’s language, providing internal communications and training on social media for internal and external social networks, and even implementing programs like cross-generational mentoring that leverage Gen Y’s social-savvy and build engagement across the company.

The most successful HR practitioners understand the marketing, customer service, and operations side of the business deeply. Only then can they provide the expertise regarding what the people need to prepare for any change initiative.

I do have to say, though, that I don’t think all HR professionals have fully realized how important social business is, now and in the future. It’s not until they have their first employee relations case due to harassment over social media, or a marketing campaign goes wrong, forcing them to react, that they realize that social business is not just a “marketing” program.

Andy Jankowski, Founder of Enterprise Strategies:

It’s imperative. Without HR support social business can only go so far or last so long. In order for social business transformation to take hold people have to change the way they are currently working. There needs to be a motivation for this change to occur. Namely, HR and Talent Management processes need to promote and reward this new way of working. Without HR’s support people will revert back to what is comfortable and what has been rewarded in the past. Being social is human nature. Unfortunately, not being social is too. Here’s an off the cuff example: Would your HR organization support and encourage or turn a blind eye to this type of enterprise social initiative?

Christine McLeod, Founder of Impact99 HR Conference:

In an ideal world, creating positive employee experience would be entrenched in every fiber of every leader and every employee. The reality is that HR is the “keeper of the flame” of culture and has the ability to help architect some of those experiences. Because HR leaders should be waking up every morning, planting their feet on the ground and saying “Today, what can I do to create the conditions ripe for activated brain cells in my organization?”

Whatever employee engagement survey method you choose, they all essentially dig into these questions:

1. Do I have the tools to do my job?

2. Do I have the right information when i need it?

3. Do I have a friend at work?

4. Do I feel like the organization is supportive of my success?

5. I know what is expected of me.

These questions and more lend themselves very well to a new kind of workplace, where the organization isn’t just DOING more social, they ARE BEING more social- in the tools and processes they put in place they make it EASIER for people to access information, add value to each other, get to know each other beyond “what they do” to “who they are”.

At times Human Resources has not been very human, nor very resourceful. I believe the time has come, our moment to change that- and become more strategic, ARCHITECTS OF DYNAMIC EMPLOYEE EXPERIENCES.

Yvonne LaRose, OD Management Consultant:

HR is the necessary interface between what attracts a person to a company and the reality of being there. And once inside the organization, HR is the place where the bumps that create the distractions and lost time and productivity can get ironed out. Around 2004-06, many recruiters in one niche site found it quite appropriate to make disparaging remarks about the uselessness of HR, that they were the meeting doughnut-getters. HR is more than the subservient pick occupation.

HR is where the private matters that are impacting the work environment can be used to provide resources instead of taking away work time to do so. It’s the planning and development space that makes certain there are no workforce gaps and vacancies (especially during seasonal peak demands). HR is the site of first stop when the legal issues arise and need to be parsed to the right person to handle the issue impacting the parties and the work.

It seems I’m hitting a theme here. Strategic is definitely the right word to use with regard to HR. It’s the mediator for the people side of the equation as well as the productivity and business side of the picture.

Elizabeth Lupfer, HR Manager at Verizon and founder of The Social Workplace

When a company looks to implement social technologies within its business it’s easy to become distracted by shiny, new buzzwords and tools such as Yammer, Sharepoint, and gamification. But those are just delivery channels. The essence of social is bigger than just how a company brings collaboration to its employees. Rather, if you’re truly looking to effectively implement social your purpose should be based on the individuals who are the key ingredient: employees.

Social within a business may have began with Marketing and IT, but we’ve reached a point where it’s clear that Human Resources is the GLUE in making social programs relevant and adoptable to employees.

I’ve always believed the key to a social workplace is to bridge company needs with those of your employees, and HR is critical in understanding the needs of your employees so that social tools enable them to be productive, communicative, and engaged in their daily work life.

Your roadmap to accomplishing this is the employee life cycle.

To merge business and employee needs, you need to fully vet the employee life cycle for your company and you cannot accomplish this without HR. Whether your employees are onboarding, developing or growing their talent, maintaining status quo, or separating, they are all somewhere within that employee life cycle and have unique needs. What involving HR and basing social programs on the employee life cycle provides:

  • Connect with real work goals and processes
  • Focus on improving performance
  • Involve people who have the power to take action regarding these goals
  • Balance employee actions with business context
  • Increase employee capacity, productivity and recognition
  • Focus on learning about learning, in settings that are collaborative and relevant

 Bottom line: Involving HR ensures that you’re giving your social programs a RELEVANT PURPOSE for your employees.

Many marketers believe that ‘marketing’ as a job function is the driving force of social business adoption and transformation.  They confuse it with social media or social media marketing. Others, like the #e20 crowd believe that IT is the fundamental driver of social business; and in some cases involving technology adoption, this may very well be the case. However, social business transformation requires the collective effort of every organization internally, and I believe that Human Resources is the enabler.

Image: Big Stock Human Resources

About Michael Brito

Michael Brito has been making things happen online since 1996 with a legit hustle. He gets mad when the 49ers lose, really mad. Feel free to follow him on Twitter.

  • Adi

    As Jack Welch said, HR are quite probably the most important people in any organisation.  Sadly though many seem to focus solely on the ‘principles office’ type tasks rather than on managing talent, driving culture and ensuring cross department projects work smoothly.

  • Marty Thompson

    Good stuff, Michael. Over the last few years, many companies, including many large ones, have not been investing in top HR talent. Blame it on the economy, as potential employees to a large extent become commodities. We see the symptoms of this disease, for example, when alledgedly top notch firms don’t bother to respond to all employment inquiries, perform half baked interviews, chase the best talent, and insult them with low salaries. Part of this reality is in fact due to the lack of investment in top HR talent. What I find most alarming is the notion that just because companies can “get away with it”, they fail to understand that this behavior may indeed come back to haunt them. Enter social media, the magic elixir of restoring human goodness. I would propose that all the bells and whistles of the social age won’t save them from some future HR/PR karmic degradation, and I believe in the social magic!
    We need to start framing the conversation around restoring such transgressions, while concurrently pushing the possibilities of social business. Thanks for helping to make this happen.

  • Anonymous

    Great article, Michael.  As a global HR leader I couldn’t agree more with the need for HR to be actively involved in social business transformation.  This is especially true in global organizations where productivity can be enhanced greatly by getting to know co-workers better and maintaining social relationships.  Social networks have helped me build stronger relationships with the people I work with around the world which in turn makes collaboration easier – especially in difficult situations.  HR at Text100 has also played a key role in the execution of global training programs to build the digital skill sets of our people and in looking for ways to deliver information in social ways rather than just one more email.  It is an evolution for certain, and one we are continuing to shape.

  • Danny Blair

    It all went horribly wrong when the Personnel Department morphed overnight into the Human Resources Department….exterminate, exterminate, exterminate.


  • Susan Emerick

    Great post Michael, At IBM our HR team has been an essential partner in our social business transformation. We collaborate on many fronts such as, employee segmentation, skills development, education & training programs, employee engagement guidelines & compliance standards and more.

  • Chen Lavonia

    Great article, Michael. As a global HR leader I couldn’t agree more
    with the need for HR to be actively involved in social business