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Micah Fairchild The Overhyped HR Application—Part 1: Social HCM Technology

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Uncovering Whether Social HCM Applications Live Up to Their Hype

You can't deny the incredible growth that social media has had over the past several years; and according to Forrester Research that trend is only set to continue (growing at a compound annual rate of 34%). For quite some time as well, the HR world has been playing around with the idea of how to leverage those social technologies to the benefit of organizations worldwide. From the first uses of social media to amplify recruiting efforts to today's efforts to wrangle the ever-elusive topic of effective performance management, social HR applications have promised the future of the workforce—replete with constant collaboration and fully engaged employees. Yet, for all the promises that HR or HCM social software brings, efficacy questions still loom large. Namely, do the benefits of Social HCM measure up to the hype? In some ways the answer to this question is an unequivocal affirmative (e.g. tools like blogs and wikis serve an undeniably useful purpose in policy creation and/or communication); but for many areas, it's our stance that the hype rather than reality has controlled the conversation—a problem that we take serious issue with. So, piece by piece we're going to look at the Social HCM landscape and see which areas are overhyped and which are not.

1) Social Recruiting Applications

From the broad-based recruitment capabilities of social networks such as Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn to the more specialized functionalities to be found from applications such as Jobvite, Jobs2Web (acquired by SuccessFactors and now owned by SAP), and Avature; it would appear as though social recruiting has all but gone mainstream. As Gartner's latest HCM HypeCycle report highlights though, "While the ATS [Applicant Tracking System] market is now mature, the social recruitment market is not". Indeed, as the firm's Thomas Otter points out, "the [social networking] tools to manage the many interactions and to optimize the candidate experience are still relatively new". Even so, organizations are coming out in droves to somehow leverage this social HR technology to effectively compete in the war on talent. You can see the appeal too; for both applicants and companies.

For one, acquiring talent is not the same game that it used to be; and businesses have to work harder than ever before to convey their specific EVP (Employment Value Proposition) to prospective employees. Likewise, the consumerization of the workforce has pushed an incredible amount of would-be staffers in the direction of searching for (and applying to) jobs through newer channels like social. In fact, according to recent Jobvite research, 64% of companies said they have hired through social media and 55% plan to invest even more in it this year—a uniquely positive sign given the fact that fully 89% of job-seekers are using social media in their search. In the end though, the war on talent rather than the advent of these social technologies is what will truly solidify social recruiting's place at the HR table. Qualified workers (especially in knowledge-based economies) are becoming increasingly difficult to find—a fact that makes social recruiting not only a necessity but also about as far from over-hyped as you can get.

2) Social Learning Applications

With an ever-increasing bounty of potential HR software solutions from learning specialist vendors such as Element K and Blackboard; to the open-source option of applications such as Moodle and Docebo; on up to the full-fledged HCM software suites from Cornerstone OnDemand and SumTotal, social learning technologies have witnessed one of the largest growth markets within the HR software industry over the past decade. In large part this social learning boon is a by-product of the increased understanding of the need to tap into the collective knowledge that employees' house; and in many ways has simply followed suit from the success that the more mature social offerings of the CRM (Customer Relationship Management) industry have fostered. As Gartner's Jeff Freyermuth explains, "[social learning] software…acknowledges the importance of social networks and the need to access the expertise of colleagues and different communities".

The question is though, whether the quest for social learning technologies truly reflects organizational needs? For instance, is collaboration always needed to reach learning outcomes? Can all topics that necessitate learning truly benefit from peer-to-peer interaction? More importantly, are all an organization's learners inclined to develop through social channels? Of course the answer to these questions is an unequivocal negative; and at no point should social learning exist as the be-all-end-all of the employee development world. That said, the benefits of these social tools are impressive, especially when one considers the fact that hallmarks of this approach are digestible content and continuous improvement—both factors that contribute to the highly sought-after element of engagement in the learning material. As such, though this social HR technology has seen an inordinate amount of attention as of late, I have to admit that the benefits live up to the hype. Just don't make it the only weapon in your learning and development arsenal.

3) Social Performance Management Applications

Of all the social HR technologies on the market, few raise as many eyebrows as social performance—especially from me. As you might recall from one of my earlier posts on the acquisition of Rypple, I'm reticent to believe that social performance management could be anything more than a glorified Generation-Y attraction incentive. That said, with this past month's acquisition of the social performance management software vendor Sonar6 by Cornerstone OnDemand, it's hard to deny that the HR technology market is reacting to some sense of customer sentiment. Add to that this past week's op-ed from's John Wookey about why a social HCM model (particularly for performance management) is needed and I'll admit that my resolve isn't as strong as it used to be. The fact is, as Wookey opines, "Given the history of how these [performance management] systems were developed and designed, the reality is that we need to fundamentally rethink their purpose". I couldn't agree more, but unfortunately it appears as though the pendulum has swung completely away from top-down historical performance management to a bottom-up approach with social. Neither of these approaches is flawless and a more balanced approach would be far more likely to elicit the type of results that organizations are after. As such, while I may be softening a bit, I still have to call this one like I see it…overhyped.

Bottom Line for Social HCM Hype?

As Gartner's Thomas Otter puts it, "Social software capabilities are impacting HCM systems today…[but]…the bigger business impact of social software in the HR context will be on the organization's culture". This, in a nutshell, is the crux of the social HR technology issue. There can be no doubt of the tangible benefits that social recruiting, learning, and in some cases performance management can deliver for businesses; however, there can also be no denying that social technologies represent a paradigm shift that few established companies are truly ready to fully commit to. Indeed, while benefits can certainly be gained by deploying these social HR applications, savvy organizations will seek to stack those prospective gains up against probable push back—understanding that the greatest influencer on technology uptake is organizational culture. Given these factors, I would have to recommend a measured approach—taking realistic stock of how any of these social HR technologies could positively impact the organization; and deploying those applications in concert with established strategies rather than relying on them as a sole approach. End

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According to recent Jobvite research, 64% of companies said they've hired through social media and 55% plan to invest even more in it this year—a uniquely positive sign given the fact that fully 89% of job-seekers are using social media in their search.


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