Sunday, 21 September 2008

Strategies for Web 2.0 and HR

We are in the middle of writing our report for the CIPD on Web 2 and HR, which, as well as helping HR specialists understand what is going on in this space, has to help them develop policies and strategies to take advantage of these new social media. With this aim in mind, I've been reading a veritable rash of articles,books, blogs and the like aimed at advising companies on Web 2 and their dealings with customers. Two of the best of these are by Charlotte Li and Josh Bernoff(2008) Groundswell: winning in a world transformed by social technologies, Bostong: Harvard Business School Press and Amy Schuen (2008) Web 2.0: a strategy guide, CA:OReilly Media.

I'll say a little more in a later post about the second, but having just finished reading the first one I'm happy with my practitioner hat on to recommend it to HR colleagues or students seeking to implement or talk about implementing Web 2 into organizations.

The basic thesis of Groundswell is simple enough, though perhaps written in an over-evangelisitic tone befitting of US consultants from the American technology and media sector. It is simply this: that the democrastising features of the social web is enabling the ever growing numbers of people who use such technologies to 'get the things they need from each other instead of from companies' (p. x), which is a phenomenon that organizations can observe but can't control. Like most such publications, they invoke a form of social contagion, resulting in a widespread groundswell through emotional, behavioural and ideational processes. Brands and employer brands, are increasingly in the hands of customers and employees, and those 'on the street' who have the potential to influence these people. Correspondingly they are increasingly out of the control of companies, conventional marketing departments, public relations, communications and HR departments.

So far, nothing much new here, apart from some dramatic illustrations of these phenomonon. But in later chapters they begin to sketch out some 'hardish' data on these developments, a form of analysis they call 'social technolographics' that helps segment potential customers (and employees). Thus, they usefully distinguish creators (of content), critics (of others content), collectors (of content), joiners (who follow fashion), spectators (who consume content) and inactives (which formed 41% of Americans and 53% of Europeans in 2007). Like all forms of segmentation, the power of such analysis allows organizations to target their product offerings more effectively, using one of more of five strategies for addressing the external customer problem with Web 2. These strategies easily translate into strategies for HR to deal with internal customer 'problems', including engagement, employer branding, knowledge sharing and knowledge creation, based on a four stage analysis of people (what are employees ready for), objectives (what are your people management goals in introducing Web 2), strategy (how do you want your relationship with employees to change) and technology (what applications should you build).
The five strategies they identify are:
  • Listening to understand employees through digital research
  • Talking to employees by spreading digital messages
  • Energizing by building on the enthusiasm of key employees and using the power of word of mouth to spread the message/medium
  • Supporting employees by setting up tools to help them support each other, and
  • Embracing employees into the design of new product and HR process design and implementation
Each of these strategies is discussed in turn using case illustrations to show how organizations are using social media rather than simply relying on conventional market research techniques of surveying and focus groups and communications techniques. For example, listening is illustrated by continuously tapping into the different ways in which customers use social media to voice their opinions (volume as well as quantity), including customer blogs, rating reviews, social bookmarking and tagging, and discussion forums on community websites. Talking, by contrast is illustrated through the use of posting viral videos, enaging in social networking sites and user-generated content sites, joining the blogosphere to write manager blogs and creating online communities to listen as well as shout.

While the authors have a chapter on relating to employees, it is easy to apply the five strategies to HR and people management. Moreover, as the authors predict in their final chapter, 'groundswell' technologies are 'exploding' since they are cheap and easy to create and improve. They also draw on powerful social networking effects for their adoption, the key message of Amy Schuen's book, which I'll review in a later post.

Thursday, 18 September 2008

Reflections on the CIPD Harrogate Conference

A few further thoughts on the CIPD Annual Conference at Harrogate. Of all the sessions I attended, perhaps the two most useful for me were on the CIPD's 'Shaping the Future' programme and Jack Phillips workshop on Measuring HR and Determining Return on Investment.

The CIPD's Shaping the Future agenda, which you can find details of on their website, is an ambitious set of a dozen or so action research projects intended to help members learn more about the links between people management and high performance. As they stress, this is a research programme and a development programme, based on the premise that you only ever learn about something by trying to change it. For us, this is an excellent fit with our work as we run a number of action-research based masters programmes and are about to begin a major knowledge networking and action research programme of our own with senior HR professionals.

The second session on measuring HR directly played into our project for the the Scottish Government/ESRC on measuring human capital and its links with public value. Jack Phillips work has been influential in this field for some years but this is the first time I have come across him face-to-face. Personally engaging in a low key kind of way, he was the consumate HR professional, both in his presentation and in being 'content rich'. For anyone considering a project on measuring human capital, I strongly recommend an examination of his well-research and rigorous methodology - beginning with a look at his ROI website and attending one of his seminars.

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

CIPD Annual Conference and Web 2.0

I chaired a highly enjoyable interactive session at the CIPD Annual Conference at Harrogate yesterday, during which we took the chance to gain feedback from around fifty-five members about the relevance of this topic for their jobs and organizations. This cannot be described as a representative sample in any statistical sense, but provided us with an indication of the high level of interest in Web 2, but relatively low levels of understanding of its potential. This contrast was even more marked at a presentation we did at Olympia in June for the CIPDs software and recruitment event, where well over a hundred people packed into a space that could only seat sixty or so.

The session comprised of three purposefully short but highly informative presentations by three industry speakers on different aspects of Web 2 and its application to HR. These were followed by questions and break out groups to discuss key some of the key issues raised by the presentations and by our research for the CIPD. Andrew Unsworth, Head of E-Government at Edinburgh City Council, began with some evidence on the Virtual Generation and how it is and would affect models of organizational learning in his organization. This generational driver is one of the most important in getting HR to think seriously about how to incorporate these social media into their communications and ways of working, a point taken up in the following presentation by Tom McCabe, Head of Human Capital in IBM's North East Europe Consulting Division. IBM is a highly sophisticated user of the complete family of Web 2 media and a serious experimenter, which was demonstrated by a short video of how they are using Second Life as an induction and conference tool. He also explained how they used wikis, blogs and their in-house version of LinkedIn to create and share knowledge in the organization. For me, however, one of the most interesting applications was the Jam, where thousand of IBMers collaborate online to generate ideas for the company and to share their views. This demonstrated the power of Web 2.0 to reach parts that surveys can't reach, in ways they can't reach, which shows how employee voice can be surfaced and acted upon. Finally, Andy Hyatt, who leads Web 2.0 for Hodes, a recruitment and HR consulting firm, drilled deeper into the potential of social media for recruitment and selection. He provided a number of examples of how organizations are using interactive online media to connect with potential recruits, including passive candidates, which were topics of immediate interest to many of the audience.

Following questions of clarification, we posed five questions to the audience, which they discussed in groups. In true Web 2 spirit, they were also given the opportunity to discuss any other questions they thought to be more relevant. Our questions were of the type: what are the implications for knowledge sharing and collaboration, surfacing employee voice, etc in your organization. Also, what are the implications/ dangers for loss of control over the corporate message and/ or brand. We gained two strong impressions from participating in the groups and listening to the feedback from them. The first was that our questions weren't particularly relevant to them at this stage in their understanding; most participants were at a level of finding out about the basics of these new technologies. The second was that many were still pre-occupied with the dangers of open/democratic communications, and with the damaging impact on brands.

As Martyn Sloman from the CIPD suggested, these impressions were similar to those he gained during the early years of e-learning. Most HR professionals have not been in the vanguard of adopting new technologies in businesses, which was evidenced by the lack of interest in technological issues on their website - technology and HR ranked 400 and something on the list of important issues for them, some distance below many of the traditional 'tea and toilet' issues.

However, given the interest shown by the numbers of people that have turned up at these events on these new social media, we remain encouraged that the HR function is beginning to 'get it', an impression supported by many of the comments from participants in the room

Friday, 12 September 2008

A Final Thought from BAM: Two to Track on Leadership

The developmental papers at the British Academy of Management are always interesting because of the short presentations and long discussions, a format used in many conference nowadays.

I attended a few sessions on leadership to learn something for our research projects and was delighted to come across two pieces of work in progress that deserve a wider audience - which I'm sure they will get when they're more complete. One was on the popular topic of Authentic Leadership (based on Goffee and Jones's work) by Jane Turner from Northumbria. She has only recently moved into academia from practice, which was reflected in the practitioner-oriented nature of her excellent presentation. Authentic leadership focuses on being true to others and true to yourself, and she described work she was doing with a group of senior leaders to try to get them to get to grips with this concept and turn it on themsevles. The mode of action research and her results were of great interest to the audience, though there were some unresolved questions over what to do about the insightful reflections she had generated among her group of leaders. The notion of authenticity links both our work on strategic HR leadership and our work on employer branding; I'm certainly going to read more on this and look forward to seeing Jane's work in the future.

Gareth Edwards from the Leadership Foundation presented an excellent joint paper with Birgit Schyne from Portsmouth Business School on emotions and implicit leadership theory. This notion is a highly attractive one to me because it helps explain why leadership is becoming such an important topic. In a recent post on the NHS, I raised the issue of 'does leadership matter'? The objective evidence suggests it is not all that important to performance in many contexts but has become something of an industry. However, many of us in attitude surveys and in our everyday discussions about work raise the issue of leadership as an important one, because we hold implicit theories of what leaders should do and how they should behave, based on our individual and cultural belief sets. In other words, leadership can be thought of more as a phenomena created by followers to help them make sense of organizational life and performance, and because we need to attribute cause and blame to complex organizational problems (attribution). The paper raised two questions: how do emotional reactions to the same leader vary among followers and to what extent are these reactions shaped by the implicit leadership theories. Gareth and Birgit produced a very useful framework for explaining how follower characteristics and implicit leadership theories will cause employees to see the same leader differently and to generate different emotions reactions to him/her, which they hope to test in a laboratory setting. Again, I look forward to reading more because it helps us make sense of some results we are unearthing in out branding project for the NHS in Scotland. Leadership really seems to matter to employees perhaps because they expect it to make a signicant difference in this world of celebrity, which places incredible pressure on senior managers who are often unable to fulfil these expectations. This may be because of the difficult constraints they operate under (especially in political organizations such as the NHS) and simply because different people expect different things of the same leader. A no-win situation for mangers? Which might explain why leaders recruit in their own image and engage in emotion shaping culture management/employer branding/leadership branding programmes?

Two to Read for HR Specialists in Airlines and Healthcare

I enjoyed my first visit to the British Academy on Management (BAM) since 2001 (see previous post). Two papers in the HR stream particularly caught my attention. The first was a presentation by Greg Bamber, who is now at Monash, on a new book written with American and European colleagues (including colleagues from Glasgow - Judy Pate and Phil Beaumont) entitled 'Up in the Air: how airlines can improve performance by engaging their employees', Cornell University Press (januray 2009). The second was a paper presented by Paula Hyde and Claire Harris on 'Expectations and Performance in Healthcare', which is based on the study they, and others from Manchester Business School, undertook for the Department of Health and the CIPD on HR in the NHS in England.

The material on the airlines was very well researched and well argued, with some useful frameworks for understanding the relationships between commitment strategies and unionisation. The authors have done an interesting job in mapping out the changes in HR strategies over time of the low cost and legacy airlines, showing that being low cost and good at HR isn't incompatible. For example, South West Airlines has a positive relationship with unions, employees high commitment strategies and was the most profitable airline in the industry last year. Greg quoted a senior airline official from one of the pilots associations, which went along the lines of 'Why is it that other airlines don't get it'? It is clear that some don't and have developed other consistent strategies of low cost and low commitment HR/anti-union stance, which also have been successful. The problem children seem to be those airlines that, to borrow from Michael Porter's phrase, are 'stuck in the middle', neither making one decision or another. While this is an appealing analogy, it only takes us so far. Reminiscent of criticisms of Porter's boxology, life isn't quite so simple and if everyone followed the same strategy, where's the competitive advantage in that?

The HR in the NHS study is the culmination of three years 'hard labour' for a multi-author research project for the CIPD and Department of Health. For any HR manager in healthcare, this research is an essential read. Claire and Paula's paper provided some excellent data on HR strategies, psychological contracting and HR outcomes. They have also developed a very useful model bringing these issues together, which is both rigorous and relevant (the theme of the conference) to academics and practioners in healthcare. However, they may want to think about how the issue of public value might be incorporated into their model (see earlier post from work we are doing on human capital and public value) and on the notion of valued expectations in psychological contracting, which I discussed in our book on corporate reputations, branding and HR.

This is definitely one to read for my colleagues and students working in the NHS in Scotland.

See Hyde, P., Boaden, R., Marchington, M.P., Claire Harris, Paul Sparrow, Sarah Pass, Carroll, M. & Penny Cortvriend (2008) 'The process of engagement and alignment: Improving health through human resource management', Department of Health, Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development.

Blogging's Contribution to HR

James Hayton’s recent post on his Threee blog referring to the apparent stalling of social networking and James Richards work on blogging has got me thinking more and more about the contribution of this type of social media to people management and HR. So when the second of these two excellent HR bloggers brought our attention to a new book on the topic by Jill Walker Rettberg, an American academic teaching at the University of Bergen, I had to dash off to Amazon and buy it. En route to the British Academy of Management (BAM) annual conference in Harrogate, where I met some new friends from Australia (hello Naomi, Sandra and Elisabeth) and some old friends (hello Stuart and Anne Claire) who were interested in this topic, I read this short but excellent publication. In a field where it is difficult to find good writing that is both rigorous for scholars and relevant to practitioners - the theme of the BAM conference - this book is certainly one that will repay readers seeking to understand some of the serious conversations on Web 2 and get practical advice on how to blog. Not many attempt and clear the double hurdle of rigour and relevance but she does so admirably.

James Hayton rightly questioned the perhaps modish nature of social networking with his reference to a survey published in Mashable (see earlier blog) showing the dissatisfaction and lack of penetration among 18-65 year olds worldwide, while James Richards has focused on the extent and potential of blogging for employee voice in his work on organizational misbehaviour. Both of these academics raise important questions which has caused us to revise our thinking for the CIPD research Web 2. Jill Walker Rettenberg’s book addresses these issues head on. On social networking, she quotes a statistic that shows its potential among the ‘V-gen’. Facebook was originally developed for US college students and has now achieved over 90% penetration, a fact that was supported by the recent work on social networking at the AOM conference, which I reported on in an earlier blog. So while social networking may show signs of running out of steam among older generations, it seems to have become the norm among young, educated people, a fact not lost on some organizations and universities looking to recruit them.

Like James Richards, however, blogging is Rettberg’s preferred social medium and it is on the application and potential of this phenomenon that she scores heavily because her book works at different levels; it is also beautifully written. For anyone wanting to either begin to blog or improve their blogging potential, this book is a godsend (I’ll certainly use many of her ideas on how to make a blog more interesting and widely read); for any serious scholar interested in new digital media or any HR manager wishing to understand the potential of blogging in their own organization, it is a genuine ‘ eye-opener’. Unlike me, she has not come to this topic late, having researched and blogged in the field for most of this decade, so she shows a real mastery of her topic.

In a book of only 160 pages she explores fully the potential and problems of blogging. On the plus side, she outlines bloggers potential to democratise society (and the workplace) by creating a ‘modern public sphere’. To quote one famous press critic, ‘the power of the press is huge if you own one’; blogging now allows everyone to own a press. On the downside, she invokes the worries of both Plato and Jurgen Habermas, a modern social philosopher, to explain the dangers involved in having too many writers and readers because such a groundswell can result in a ‘ lacks authority and, ultimately, a lack of control’ (p48). Both of these perspectives on blogging are evident in our case research and in other research on Web 2 and HR. Some organisations, such as Microsoft, Google, IBM and UK government departments, see the potential for unearthing authentic employee voice through blogging and actively do all they can to encourage employees to blog; they also learn to with the consequences of the occasional and usually in the process rant. We recently made this point to the CIPD’s policy and research committee, which seemed to take this on board for their ‘Shaping the Future’ programme. However, most organisations want to control employee blogging or even ban it altogether (such as the UK armed forces but, interestingly, not their US equivalents). These organisations see significant threats to their authority to be sole authors of the official corporate story and brand identity, so that they attempt to control blogging through a range of mechanisms, ranging from banning employee blogs outright to bringing them behind the firewalls, having policies on what and what can’t be said if you want to keep your jobs, by having the communications departments monitor and respond to employee blogs or by creating corporate blogs or their own.

Walker Rettberg makes the point in her conclusions that the future of blogging lies not only in a form of direct participation by facilitating often unheard voices, providing a basis for participation in issues that truly matter to people, and in the power of a read-write web to collaborate and learn together, but also in an important form of indirect or implicit participation that is grounded in social networking theory. This kind of theorising, probably best known for the work of Mark Granovetter, points to the importance of ‘weak ties’. When we set up strong ties with colleagues, according to Granovetter, we are less likely to learn from them because we share with them common perspectives and common knowledge (we are likely to know and understand what they know and understand). By establishing lots of weak ties, however, we tap into perspectives and knowledge we are much less likely to know about. Thus social networking, outside of our Facebook friends or immediate contacts, is the best way of increasing our absorptive capacity for new knowledge, the sine qua non for innovation. Blogging, more than social networking sites, helps us do this by establishing more weak ties. At a deeper level, it allows organizations such as Google, Flickr and You Tube to harness our collective intelligence by mapping our IP addresses and use them to make recommendations on what might be of interest to us in the same way that Amazon does with books. It is not to difficult to imagine a situation in which the new attitude survey is replaced by software that maps our IP addresses and offers us tailored employee value propositions or knowledge. Indeed some of that future is with us already, with companies such as IBM mapping the social networks of their internal bloggers/networkers to create organizational structures around naturally occurring communities of practice rather than top down imposed structures that do not reflect hoe people interact.

See Jill Walker Rettberg (2008) Blogging, Polity Press, Cambridge:UK

Sunday, 7 September 2008

The Future of Social Networking and Blogging

We're putting together an article for People Management on Web 2.0 and HR as part of our project for the CIPD. Just in case anyone missed them, there were two very interesting posts in links to other blogs on this site last week. One of these focused on the mixed picture on social networking by James Hayton's Threee blog. He referred to an article in Mashable on September 3rd, referring to a report from Synovate, which showed that 58% of 18-65 year olds world-wide had no clue about social networking. To quote from the article:

'The survey of more than 13,000 people in 17 developed nations also asked if users were losing interest in social networks. According to the report, 36% said “yes,” with interest fading fastest in Japan, Slovakia, and Canada, with 45% of US users supposedly losing their appetite for social networking'

However, the article also points out that this survey leaves out teenagers who are the biggest users, and that provides optimism for providers in this space. Moreover, even in countries where internet penetration is high, such as the US and UK, less than 30% of internet users use social networking, which is evidence either of potential markets or lack of interest.

James raises an important question in his post: Does this suggest a lack of future for social networking? A discussion among academics at the recent Academy of Management event thought not, and we agree. However, social networking is only one aspect of Web 2, and for HR, we believe other social media have greater potential impact, including blogs, which is where the next post by James Richards in useful. Aside from his site and his own research, he has pointed to a new book on blogging which has just come out. It's called simply 'Blogging'. Written by Jill Walker Rettberg from the University of Bergen, it looks like an interesting piece of research into this field. She also has a good blog. I'm off to read it and report back.