5 questions on the future of HR

Posted: August 14, 2013 by Matthew Hanwell in Human Resources, Social Media, Technology

I was recently invited by Andre Souza to share my views on the future of HR and the impact of social media in his Brazilian blog….

See http://www.andresouza.blog.br

Here is what I had to say….

1) Mathew, having worked for over 20 years in HR and seeing the future that is coming in the workplace with social media & big data, what are the changes HR should be promoting in the organizations and in their own role?

In my 20 year of working with HR, I have seen many things remain unchanged! Buzzwords, trends tend to come and go, technology has advanced, however I see many of the things that HR do remaining unchanged also in the future, they may be performed differently, but essentially they are the same activities; for example employee record keeping, used to be paper based, stored in filing cabinets, now it’s web based Self Service, stored in a database – these are typically the hygiene tasks, need to be done, must be done well, but don’t add strategic value to an organization. HR doesn’t always receive the praise it deserves for providing these ‘utility’ services day in, day out.

In addition to the ‘utilities’, HR has also delivered business partnership, talent management, Leadership development, and so on, which I believe have made a more strategic contribution to the organization.

Looking to the future, I see huge opportunity for HR to drive organizational development, to influence the culture, driving new ways of working and encouraging new levels of collaboration, with the goal of significant improvements in employee engagement, ultimately leading to improved business performance.  

By understanding and embracing the very things social media tools enable, then taking the lead to create the conditions where these can flourish, HR can transform an organization and improve how work is performed.  With Big Data, again HR has the opportunity to embrace the concepts and gain new people related insights that will be able to predict future business outcomes. 

Overall, and regardless of technological advances and capabilities I would propose that HR promote and drive openness, transparency, invite participation and encourage interactions and in doing so will see new levels of employee engagement. 

2) If everyone is using different social media tools to connect through Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, Pinterest & Twitter, what are the reasons that explain that Social Media is still not fully used by organizations yet – especially internally?

Amazing numbers of us are using the social media tools you have listed (and many more), and finding great value in our personal lives from sharing and connecting with people and on topics we care about.  It is our own personal choice as to which tools we use, there is no one instructing us to do so, although there will be peer pressure from friends, and in general it will be more about where our friends are and how we connect with them than about a specific tool. The usage is also completely personal, we choose what we update, what we share, who we follow, what we tweet, re-tweet, post and so on. There will always be a wide variety of uses, form a young teenager sharing the latest info on their favourite boy band, to experienced professional sharing detail information regarding a particular technical detail. This is us collectively demonstrating social behaviour.

The challenge, and I believe one of the main reason social media is not fully utilised within organization is that organizations need things to be organized! To have a given set of tools, to mandate that we do things in certain ways, to have established way of working – you document things in Word, make presentations in PowerPoint and communicate using email. Organizations typically provide the tools needed to perform the work, in what is thought to be the most efficient and scalable way. Organizations don’t have the volume of users to reach a critical mass adoption in the same way that happens on the internet, and since they pay licenses for the tools they want these to be used. There is little or no personal choice in what to use or how to use it.

In my opinion, the fear of losing control over the tools and ways of working is another factor that prevents organizations from allowing the use of social media internally. Another common mistake is even when they embrace social media tools, unfortunately they then try to mandate the use, not understanding the social behaviour and culture required for these tools to be fully utilised.

An organizations culture ultimately will either have or create the conditions where social media will flourish on a large scale, or will suppress it. 

3) What do you see as the key tendencies in the organizations & in the work environment in the coming years?

There are many influences that are shaping the future of organizations and work. Technological advances, BYOD (Bring Your Own Device), Big Data, Cloud, Social Media, Mobility, and perhaps most importantly a generation of people entering the workplace who have grown up in this “digital age”. This generation only know having a mobile phone, being continuously connected to the Internet, and to their friends, having near real time feeds of the latest news, having  all knowledge is available online (just google it), where there is an app for everything, you just have to find it and where sharing and collaborating are the norms not the exceptions.

Organizations that will be successful in the future will be able to embrace these technological advances, and meet the expectations of the ‘digital age’ generation.  I believe these organizations will be less hierarchical, far more networked, open and transparent.

Leadership is and will change, from command and control, issuing orders, and controlling through ‘reporting to’ lines to where leaders invite participation from all the people within their organization (from strategy to customer service), interact and have dialog with people, not broadcast and remain remote. Leaders will be able to amplify their messages through their own use of social media, and have the opportunity to demonstrate the behaviours that they typically ask their employees to exhibit. 

4) You mention in some of your speeches in conferences & events that there are still companies that fear the potential lack of productivity of employees using Social Media in the workplace. The dilemma for some companies is still control or not control. Should this be their main concern? Which benefits could companies have by using Social Media? What are the best practices you have been seeing in this field?

In my opinion there has been fear of any new communication technology being introduced to the workplace. When Telephones (Landlines) were first introduced, there was the fear that employees would spend all day on the telephone speaking with their friends. When email was first introduced the was a fear that inappropriate emails would be sent to the executives of the company, although they were often the last to use email. And when Internet browsers were introduced, the fear was that people would spend all day browsing the web, and accessing inappropriate content.  Today how many of us can do our jobs without a phone, email and a browser?  I do wonder what is the productivity impact of billions of corporate emails that are sent/received each day?

I believe that the same is true for the social media tools we speak of today, in the future they will be woven into the fabric of our work, and be essential to how we get our work done.

There are clearly areas of work where it is not appropriate for people to have continuous access to social media. However in my experience the use of social media to connect people with each other, to people who share the same profession interests, to share knowledge and experience can only enhance productivity, and in particular in knowledge based roles that many of us have.
There are concerns related to security and control, however I would question how much control companies have in reality, even of their own brand and marketing.  In my opinion the potential benefits far outweigh the risks.

5) Finally, many organizations are still maintaining the structures that worked in the industrial age; traditional managers are struggling to cope in this new era of collaboration, openness, transparency, How organizations, executives & leaders can adapt to this new era – and specially for the new generation that already grew up in this collaborative and open environment?

It took a long time to develop and establish the structures of the industrial age that we see in organizations today. They are well established, and no doubt have contributed to the business success that organizations have enjoyed. Fredrick Taylor (the father of scientific management) would recognise many of the structures, processes, and way of working that exists in companies today, although he died in 1915! Given the social, economic and spectacular technological progress in the last 100 years isn’t is about time the way we organize work also developed?

The question maybe, to what extents and where are these industrial process still appropriate in tomorrow’s organization? These practices and ways of working may still be appropriate in a manufacturing context, but so many of us are now working in ‘knowledge work’ not physically producing products.

With regards to how leaders and executives need to adapt, I have often used the analogy of swimming, you can’t learn to swim without them getting wet! Some people have a fear of water, others don’t understand the benefits, it takes time to learn to swim, and it can be frightening.  I would encourage Leaders to take the first steps, by using social media themselves, perhaps have a reverse mentor – a younger person coach them on what to use, how to use and what to expect. Start small, experiment, learn, and experience the benefits.  Be open, invite participation, encourage dialog and I believe you will experience new levels of engagement. Be Social!

Organizations are made up of people, people who share a common purpose; in an environment that is open, invites people to participate, enables them to collaborate, share, and contribute will be a more social business.

  1. Matthew Hanwell says:

    Interesting post on the future of HR: http://www.workforce.com/articles/20179-what-is-the-future-of-hr#!

    “Is the HR profession moving fast enough to capture the opportunities in emerging trends?”

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