Social Media Week: Developing social collaboration

Jon Ingham continues his exclusive series of articles for on social media and HR.

I have already written about HR 2.0 – the use of social media to change HR processes. But there are opportunities for HR teams to use social media to change their organisations too. These are probably more significant opportunities – the impact of making the whole business more effective or more productive is normally going to be much greater than the impact from any improvement to an HR process alone.

The main opportunities are to make businesses more social – for example, by developing social collaboration (people working together more effectively), social innovation (creating ideas by bringing people with diverse perspectives together) or social learning (learning of the entire social unit rather than just learning socially or informally).

Most HR departments know that focusing on technology to achieve people focused change is a bad idea. After all, we have been down that road before, for example with e-learning. When this new technology became available, we tended to move training over to the new technology whether it was suitable or not. The result? A lot of unused e-learning courses.  

HR has since learnt to focus more on outcomes – on the need to create more capable employees – and this has led us towards more blended approaches to learning, including e-learning, but also formal training, informal learning and so on.

There has recently been a move within the IT sector to thinking about the environment created by social technology. For example, technology thinker Stowe Boyd writes about the ‘Social Business’ which he defines as ‘a much more agile and adaptive way of thinking about social and collective action within business, and managing in a very different way than we were even a few years ago’.  This is about ‘socialising the business, not adoption of web 2.0’.

Activities supporting the Social Business tend to focus on things like flattening hierarchies, giving people more autonomy and setting up networks and communities. 

We also know (from Dave Ulrich and others) that to be strategic, we need to focus on outcomes (like social collaboration) rather than activities (the processes which can be changed or supported through the use of social media).

So rather than using these terms, I tend to talk about the ‘Competitive Society’ – a collection of teams and communities which provide an organisation with valuable social capital (connections, relationships and conversations) and the potential for competitive advantage. 

In the same way that employee capability can be supported by e-learning together with other approaches, the Competitive Society can be developed by social media but also by a range of real-world activities as well (for example, by effective leadership and line management, HR, organisation design and development, workplace design, etc). 

And just as a blended approach to learning integrates e-learning with other approaches, the greatest social benefits probably come from integrating digital with real-world activities.

Of course, a change in focus from social media to social collaboration does not guarantee valuable results. HR teams still need to ensure that social collaboration is going to benefit a business. But in most organisations, there are huge opportunities for improvement in this area.

Organisations put lots of effort into managing people, but often get little benefits in terms of increased human capital. But at least they are trying to increase it. Very few organisations do much to manage relationships between their employees so it should be no surprise that social capital is often much less well developed. 

This means that there are usually clear opportunities to use social media, integrated with real-world activities, to increase it.

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