How HR is using social media to its advantage

The ongoing increase in the use of social media within HR functions has been particularly evident this month. Jon Ingham returns from sessions on Web 2.0 within HR at Enterprise 2.0 conferences in Milan and Boston.

In Milan, the focus was very much on collaboration, with Stefano Sedda, HR and organisation director from Meridiana Airlines, talking about the need for everyone in the company to be able to collaborate in their work whenever and wherever they want.

Lynda Tyler-Cagni, who was previously global head of HR at luxury goods retailer Ermenegildo Zegna, also talked about collaboration and related this to an existing effort to get people working together around the needs of the company’s customers.

Tyler-Cagni emphasised the role that HR can play in building collaborative enterprises, whether this be through social media based or face-to-face approaches, and suggested “it’s a train which has already left the station – so HR needs to get on board quick!”.

Ermenegildo Zegna has also been using social media to support HR activities, specifically within social learning, which has helped everyone access the required development, but has also contributed towards ongoing social collaboration too.

In Boston, the focus was more on this learning 2.0/social learning area.

Mary Wools, learning technologies director at restaurant operator Yum! Brands, talked about the value of integrated learning management systems and collaboration platforms that may not provide all the functionality of best-of-breed systems, but ensure everyone is learning and collaborating in the same space.

Nick Howe, vice-president of Hitachi Data Systems’ HDS Academy, said increasing needs for immediacy and virtualisation mean traditional training is often too static. There is a need to “take the knowledge of someone today and get it into someone’s brain tomorrow”. And this means a lot of existing learning technologies are no longer fit for purpose.

The key requirement for Howe is breaking down silos and developing trust. As long as someone is a nameless, faceless entity, there is always going to be a lack of trust. But people do trust the “guys in the next cube” – someone they can lean over and ask questions to. And in today’s world, the “next cube” can be 5,000 miles away. The value of the new learning and collaboration platforms is that they turn content creators and others into real people, enabling social learning to take place.

Supporting these points, Gina Minks, senior programme manager for social media at IT giant EMC, said training is a wonderful solution for problems which have been solved before, but that learning and collaboration need to be used for new issues.

Dan Pontefract, senior director, leading and development, at Canadian telecoms company Telus, said it is no longer possible to determine ahead of time what the business will need to learn, so formal approaches such as corporate universities belong in the past.

Telus sees learning as a continuous, connected, collaborative process. To facilitate this process, Telus is introducing internal social networks and YouTube-type video sharing systems. And it is trying to change its instructors into “wiki gardeners”: guardians of the formal, informal and social learning experience.

I thought a good example of this shift was the way Telus has changed its induction from a three-day class into a series of short, virtual instructor-led sessions supported by chat, wiki and discussion forums before, during and after the training. There is also a scavenger hunt in which participants are asked to find information about Telus in a social way. The next step will be the introduction of virtual worlds into this mix.

I thought these presentations all provided great examples of HR leveraging the new opportunities provided by social media technologies to meet growing business needs for speed and collaboration, and by doing this, transform their own impacts within their organisations too.

Jon Ingham has two blogs: Social Advantage and Strategic HCM.

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