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Micah Fairchild Social HR Applications: HR Processes That Make This Trend Tick

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Social HR Continues to Grapple With Misunderstood Processes

Much ado has been made about “social HR" for the past several years; and if the latest industry M&A activity (e.g. IBM’s buyout of Kenexa) and analyst commentary is any indication, that trend is only set to continue. Still, the jury remains a bit hung when you get down to pavement level for organizations. Need proof? Then look no further than recent Ventana Research benchmarking surveys which found that while 58% of businesses “now allow open social collaboration across the enterprise” 39% still “explicitly deny people the opportunity to interact using this technology”. So why is this?

From our perspective, the disconnect we’re witnessing comes down to a fundamental misunderstanding about what Social HR really is, how it’s defined, and the processes where it can be fully utilized. See, for many organizations it’s still about trust, as HR is still in the bowels of “policing” social media rather than embracing its potential. In fact, SHRM’s recent study (An Examination of How Social Media Is Embedded in Business Strategy and Operations) spent a sizeable amount of space detailing the policies that organizations are using to keep social media usage in check (with 56% of those documents including “right to monitor and enforce” statements). And while a certain amount of credence should be given to having measures in place to prevent social media abuse, that approach in isolation fails to recognize the true benefits that fully leveraging the social wave can bring staff and the enterprise. To remedy that, we’ve identified specific business and HR processes that define social HR—in essence hoping to bring further understanding to a trend that’s growing but is far from fully utilized as of yet.

  • Social Recruiting
    Easily one of the more well-known aspects of social HR is recruitment, even for businesses that have strict policies against social media usage at work, utilizing social applications to attract, engage and recruit job candidates is a fairly well-accepted strategy. That said, it’s also one of the least understood. For instance, when we take a look at the processes that are part and parcel with social HR, we find that the bulk of utilization falls into the realm of vacancy broadcasting—an important but far-too-basic use of these trending social technologies. Yes, sourcing is incredibly important and social outreach and prospecting (for both active and passive candidates) is undeniably critical, but the true power of social recruitment lies in candidate relationship management or CRM (the other CRM next to Customer Relationship Management) and referrals. More specifically, by developing relationships with candidate pools across social networks, communities of practice can be both created and nurtured around explicit skillsets. In turn, hiring managers can then gauge the levels of those skills of people—potentially even developing them further. Social referrals on the other hand (i.e. employees making referrals using their social networks) are equally important simply due to the fact that current employees know the workplace better than anyone else, can serve as trusted brand ambassadors, and can connect their social networks to find more catered matches. While numerous providers (e.g. Jobvite, BraveNewTalent, and even LinkedIn to an extent) can offer these more advanced capabilities, Gartner’s Thomas Otter suggests first looking at the capabilities that your current Applicant Tracking System (ATS) provides in order to ensure that functionalities aren’t already present.
  • Social Onboarding
    Tangentially-related to recruitment is the HR process of onboarding—the business process (as Gartner defines it) “[executed] from the point at which a job applicant has accepted an offer of employment to the point at which the new employee is productive in his or her job”. Clearly though, that definition has numerous elements wrapped up in it; and leading onboarding applications such as SilkRoad’s RedCarpet are capturing the myriad factors (both social and not) necessary for success. First off, interview data should be automatically cascaded to onboarding documents; as should competencies/skills be extracted from LinkedIn profiles and the like. Additionally, electronic forms should be present for employees to complete elements (including via mobile devices) such as open enrollment, I-9s, taxes, emergency contacts, etc. with updates being sent to HR, Payroll, and Finance systems. Part and parcel with these forms is also the ability for built-in workflows to automatically notify organizational resources for equipment delivery, service provisioning, and compliance activities that need to be completed. Still, perhaps the biggest attraction to the process of onboarding (and consequently its most social aspect) is the capability to acclimate new hires to the organization’s culture. While this can be accomplished in a number of ways, leading providers are offering personalized employee portals for delivering organizational communications, orientation materials, and training opportunities—leveraging built-in tools for new hires to connect with colleagues and get questions answered asynchronously outside of formal settings.

  • Social Learning
    With very few exceptions, social HR processes for learning (albeit often informal and not technology-based) have existed for decades. In large part, this is because development professionals have long-recognized that learning is a continuous effort that often occurs outside of the classroom with social interaction serving as the driving force for knowledge uptake. Social Learning applications however, have now broadened this scope—allowing social networks to be leveraged for expertise access, communities of practice (CoP), and collaboration. Further, with consumerized technologies beginning to play an ever-increasing role in the workplace, mobile devices are being leveraged to deliver smaller, more digestible, and just-in-time learning experiences. As well, aside from the capabilities for establishing learning profiles to reflect expertise and/or interests, the processes for these social learning platforms include empowering learners to create, share, and rate content that is particularly valuable; informally organize around specific topics; and identify what, how, and with whom information is being shared—fostering engagement and deconstructing knowledge silos. Still, while the benefits of social learning applications are easily quantifiable, organizational uptake is far from mainstream. The good news though is that nearly all talent management vendors within the HR industry have added these capabilities to their offerings. Granted, some are decidedly more advanced than others, but businesses considering adoption should be able to easily find a solution from Element K, SkillSoft, Blackboard, Expertus, Meridian, or any number of larger vendors such as Conerstone OnDemand, SumTotal, Saba, or the newly formed Oracle/Taleo and SAP/SuccessFactors.

  • Collaboration
    While the above areas of Social HR are certainly important, perhaps no other area has received as much attention as that of collaboration. In large part this is the case simply due to the size and scope of what HR collaboration encompasses. Indeed, from the private/internal social networks that tools such as Yammer and Chatter cater to for both communication and collaboration; to the real-time performance management capabilities that applications such as and Sonar6 provide; to the peer recognition feature sets available from the likes of Globoforce, leveraging social tools for collaborative activities is a huge area.

    One of the tools seeing the most deployment growth is blogs and, according to Gartner research, an increasing number of businesses are beginning to utilize these applications as well as wikis in both internal and external ways. For instance, wikis can be leveraged to communicate and collaborate on policies—crowdsourcing ideas from employees that not only help in the creation of guiding documents but also aid in driving acceptance. Blogs on the other hand are being utilized for (among other things) communicate pieces of the organizational culture to prospective candidates on issues ranging from company successes to corporate values.

    Still, the social fabric that is being increasingly woven into HR processes goes beyond policies and communicating EVP. For instance, collaboration activities in tools like Bitrix24 include activity streams that allow users to stay informed about areas, people, files, etc. that pertain specifically to them—providing discussion threads which are directly attached to each element in the stream so as to foster instant public and private feedback and interaction. Adding to that, tools like Chatter group items onto a “social dashboard”—enabling both employees and managers to document, share, and collaborate on explicit performance goals. This social performance aspect in turn leads to reward and recognition tools such as Achievers which allows organizations to socially identify and publicize the accomplishments of employees. It should be noted though that, while we’ve identified numerous different tools that can capture these collaborative elements, the market shifts that have been occurring as of late have prompted a number of vendors to begin offering each of the above-listed capabilities. As such, it’s not necessarily a wise decision to immediately discount your current provider before looking into whether collaborative feature sets are available.

Defining Social HR: Some Concluding Thoughts

Clearly, looking at the wide swath of social HR applications above, implementing a social strategy is a huge undertaking. And while there can be no doubt that adapting to social HR will mean changes in processes and procedures, the larger issue is one of organizational culture. As evidenced in the section on collaboration, nearly the whole of HR work is rapidly evolving into a social endeavor; and from our perspective at least, this is a good thing. After all, there are very few functional business areas that face both inward and outward and have to deal with both branding and engagement. The question for businesses considering deploying a social HR strategy then becomes how they plan on handling the influx of new demands that come with these new processes. End

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The disconnect we’re witnessing comes down to a fundamental misunderstanding about what Social HR really is, how it’s defined, and the processes where it can be fully utilized.


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