Saturday, April 10, 2010

Using social networks to improve HR

Do you twitter? Do you have a Facebook page? a MySpace page? How about a linked in profile? If you are like a lot of people you answered yes to engaging in at least 2 or 3 of the above social networking activities. Now we have all read news articles online or in print that speak to how closely companies monitor employee's social networking involvement. As a matter of fact just today on Yahoo Finance I linked to an article titled "6 career killing Facebook mistakes." This got me thinking, I have never read or seen one article which doesn't have a similar death-knell headline for how HR seems to view social networking. Now I am sure there are articles and countless examples of companies which have embraced social networking, but for the most part the articles I read are about how participation in social networking can get you fired and in some cases if you do it the right way, get you hired. But what about the areas of HR between hiring and firing? Can social networks actually make an organization better? Below is a list of arguments as to why companies should be mining the social networks of their employee's not policing them.

1) It can promote communication within the organization. Often times company structures limit the interactions between employee's of different departments, however people from different departments may have social relationships which promote or facilitate corporate communication. In HR there is a lot of buzz about people known as boundary spanners who have social skills that allow them to bridge gaps in organizational knowledge, just by being social. These boundary spanners exist and are important... I propose that social networking sites are ready built boundary spanner's. In so much as interoffice communication between two departments may be limited, this "superoffice" (my term) communication is boundless.

2) Information can be passed around quickly. We all know that Twitter got its start as a way to pass information around in 140 characters. Does anybody remember when Twitter went mainstream in 2008 after the journalist/UC Berkley student in Egypt went missing the guy twittered that they had been black bagged (arrested) with his phone in his pocket. Within a few hours his family, friends, and local congressman back in the States knew and were diplomatically getting him released (here). The fact information moves that quickly is not new, people trying to harness the power of the information is not new. HR in your company using the power and speed of social networking to do something besides share news or policy... may not be new to some, but it doesn't seem like an optimized use of the power or speed of online social networks.

3) Evaluation of corporate culture. If your company is like most, it has a mix of seasoned veterans and new energetic new hires. However the ways of old and beliefs of youth often clash within a company's culture. If you continually see disparaging posts against the experienced veterans by the young hires in your company, there is a high likelihood that your company culture could be changing or that your culture is resistant to change. Reciprocally if the old veterans are tweeting and posting against their frustrations with the new hires, there may be cultural conflicts, or maybe problems in the hiring process. In any event HR departments should read the posts, follow the tweets, and consider them to be the barometer of corporate culture.

4) Identifying weaknesses in HR programs, policy and effects. If you are able to read the posts and the tweets and see the pictures of your employees you are getting unprecedented access to true corporate capital. If the tweets are negative about the organization or about how people are dreading the upcoming training or how pointless the performance review process is, you have more valuable information than you are ever going to receive from a formalized 360-Feedback program. Based on the information you can respond to the comments by changing the way you do things. If training is universally panned, you should update the training. If performance reviews seem meaningless, determine a way to change them and give them meaning. If your employees are posting and tweeting about how awful the company is to work for, well then there is a bigger and more serious problem going on and HR should be prepared to address that.

5) Recruiting, headhunting and hiring. Obviously corporate recruiters have found linked in. I am pretty sure the high priced consultant/recruiters have figured out a secret though, disgruntled employees looking to ship to another company may be posting away "anonymously" in blogs. Just because he or she may hate their current job, it doesn't mean they won't love their next one, especially if they tell you exactly how to make the next job better for them...

For better or worse social networking is here to stay. Companies should embrace the benefits beyond the showroom floor and begin to use the unprecedented look into the lives of employees to improve operations. I provided 5 ways that it can be done, how many more exist?

1 comment:

  1. Number one on your list is why I enjoy my company's use of Yammer - more than once I've seen silos crossed and information shared that most likely would never have happened in a large organization spread around the globe.

    Let's hear it for the "superoffice" as you termed it!