Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Web 2.0 and HR: Groundswell or Hype?

We are really pleased to see our research report for the Chartered Institute and Personnel Development (CIPD) out today. In that report we posit a rosy future for Web 2.0 and Enterprise 2.0 in changing HR's business model - for three main reasons. The first is to connect with the (overhyped) generation Y, or as we prefer, the V-generation, which is a more sophisticated and useful demographic category. The second is the potential (and problems) these social media hold for leveraging genuine employee voice (over more traditional top down surveys, etc). The third is the potential for increased innovation, collaboration, knowledge sharing and networking, which is probably the number one argument in our judgement. The report sets these out in some detail, provides ten short case illustrations (longer versions are available on the CIPD website) and outlines four future scenarios for organisations.

So in this fast moving world, we were very interested in an excellent article in the Economist on the potential for social networking to impact the kind of networking that is necessary to build social capital (see Primates on Facebook, Economist, Feb 28th-March 6th, pps 88-89). This article cites two views on the investment in grooming that is necessary to develop social networks. One is based on established research by Dunbar that argues the power of the brain limits the size of effective size of social networks that anyone can usefully develop to around 150 (the Dunbar number). More recent work by Marsden at Harvard found that even if people can develop wide networks, they only have significant discussions with a handful of these people, and this handful is on a downward trend according to subsequent research. So the Economist commissioned Facebook's resident sociologist to do some work on online networks. He found that the average number of 'friends' was around 120 with a side variation (women have more than men), but the number of active online friends was about seven. Online social networking doesn't seem to increase the core network but the more casual contacts.

The conclusion the Economist artilce draws from this is plus ca change, that what social networking sites have done is to allow us to 'broadcast' or advertise ourselves more. I'm more inclined to take a different perspective, but one that needs researched. And this is based on the paradox noted by earlier work on the relationship between social networks and innovation. To simplify the argument, \Mark Granovetter some years ago argued that closely networked people tended to think alike - like attracts like - which is not a good recipe for new ideas and knowledge creation in organisations. So what was necessary was more casual networks to introduce diversity and new ideas into organisations for innovation. Is this what online social networking helps us do? Or is there an innovation paradox at work - loose networks may be good for knowledge creation, but tight networks may be necessary for knowledge dissemination? If so, how can organisations resolve this dilemma?


Unknown said...

Its good to see that more and more organization (and their HR) are accepting Web 2.0 as enabler tool. While it is still a long ways, bloggers like you will surely bring a change in the way HR thinks.

If someone want to know in a simple way what We 2.0 is, they may refer this post of mine:


Unknown said...

Blogs are so informative where we get lots of information on any topic. Nice job keep it up!!

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