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What’s the role of HR in building a social business?

So your company is trying to be more social, leveraging new ways of communicating to break down barriers to collaboration and information sharing. Great, but what role does HR play in that process?

That’s what David Kiron of the MIT Management Review recently asked Jeff Schick, the vice president of social software at IBM, in the course of a lengthy interview. The long conversation about IBM’s efforts to build a more social business and put all its social technology to use internally, dug into not only what specific tech tools IBM employs, but also questions of the culture of sharing that successful implementation of these tools demands.

“It’s not all about the technology. I think culture plays a huge dimension in how successful organizations are in transforming themselves into a social business,” said Schick. “This stuff is so easy to use that it’s not about what button to click to post a blog, but how do you create a vibrant community?” The interview goes on to touch on how IBM uses social “ambassadors” and gamification to encourage participation in its social communities, as well as offering heavy users the chance to win donations to charities of their choice by creating content.

But it also touches on the interesting and under-discussed question of whether HR should get involved in mandating or refereeing participation in an organization’s social tools, comparing different approaches used in different countries. Schick says:

As I travel around the planet, the role of human resources and what you can ask an employee to do or not do is subtly different. For instance, I spent time recently in Germany, and more than a healthy amount of discussion with clients was about, “Gee, there’s a workmen’s council in your organization, made up of different workers from different areas of the company. And as you make policy on employees and what they can do or cannot do, or tools that they can use and cannot use, the workmen’s council plays an instrumental role in whether or not they’ll permit that.” A group like that works hand in hand with human resources on changes that would take place in the organization.

An example is that we’re rolling out social software at Bosch in Germany; and working with HR and workmen’s council. So we ask, what should be our policy in asking an employee to fill out their profile? Can the company mandate it? Or is that not permissible? Have you established a set of business conduct guidelines that talk about the ethical aspects of being an employee, the way you need to behave, the way you would conduct yourself in terms of business, including blogging and responding to questions in Facebook?

So human resources does take an active role in describing and creating policy around leveraging social, both inside an organization as well as outside the organization. And this has become such a popular discussion with us that we actually publish our Social Computing Guidelines right on, so people can understand the policy that we hold our employees accountable to.

Laying out what’s acceptable and what’s off limites when it comes to social technologies seems like a fairly inevitable responsibility of risk averse, legalistic HR.

But is social something HR can mandate or, like forced “fun” activities, is the whole cultural point of these tools lost when you require people to participate?

Image courtesy of Flickr user Brandon Giesbrecht

3 Responses to “What’s the role of HR in building a social business?”

  1. HR shouldn’t be policing or mandating content for internal social applications. It’s bad enough the time it takes for LOB managers to enter their menial data inputs into talent management systems, let alone the hundreds of hours it takes to enter data into empty social collaboration software. That should be organic, not mandated.

  2. David Smooke

    Its great to see a company as large as IBM understand what I heard from @ThatDrew of NextWeb at a BusinessWire Panel last week, IT STARTS WITH CULTURE. Social Media just reflects the company culture you are practicing.

    With that said, HR has the great challenge of regulating and embracing social media as a tool to display company culture.

    This article describes the big picture well, but here are some hands on social media tips for HR practitioners:

    “How Social Media Changes HR”
    “Social Media Management for HR”
    “HR: You Can’t Do Your Job without Facebook”

  3. mijori23

    The networking savvy people will need no encouragement. For the rest of them, HR can make it clear that active participants will be recognized for their contributions towards social performance reviews. These can be determined through content and member metrics which are features of most enterprise social platforms. Completing profiles can count towards these reviews.

    Another thing that will drive people towards collaboration will be how much happier and more productive people are who feel fulfilled sharing and doing things they know well with new people that share their sames interests.