It is now coming up to a year since I consciously decided to infiltrate the underground HR social media scene in a bid to help me truly understand what drove these seemingly normal people to spend endless hours providing insight, help and expertise to people they had never met before across the virtual world. Over the coming months, and gaining the trust of many of them I met online and in person, I found that these people led normal lives, undertook jobs like you and I but ultimately lived in a reality cut off from that of the vast majority of HR professionals in workplaces across this country.
Prior to my undercover work on the HR social front I had been just another professional in mainstream society, working inside the walls of a variety of our biggest household brands. In those places the social space was looked upon often as a place that was subversive to the internal mechanics of the organization. Its democratic and authentic nature was at odds with a carefully orchestrated internal communications machine and a belief system where the power trickled down unquestionably from the CEO at the top of endless hierarchical control and command organisations. In some instances, the in-house legal departments viewed the social space as a threat to the whole regulatory model put in place with a view that it must be resisted or operating licences would be in danger. As for its place in generations of workplaces, HR was in situ to stop “bad things happening” and the social space was viewed as a bad thing to many.
In some organisations, technology alone was mistaken as social. Take for example the company intranet, all sharepoint and static. A place where managers could go and find out how restrictive their organization had become down the years and HR policy people would thus become mere content editors. In moments of organizational enlightenment, some trials of social collaboration tools such as Yammer and Jive sought to bring light where e-mail darkness reined. These were quickly suppressed as they a) didn’t possess a blind copy functionality to show their bosses how good they were covertly and b) the gamification element meant that the more activity drove a democratic points system that didn’t go down well in the parts of the organisation where the carpet was shaggier and the books were leather clad. Finally, some CEOs would consider blogging but only if it was ghost written by the HR Director or Communications person ☹
But if that is the traditional view of social inside our waning established order, what of those who drifted out of the mainstream and into this other space?
Firstly, despite lots of chattering and tweets and a reach from Auckland to Austin via Acton, there are in fact only 23 HR people recognized as being worthy of constant mention if repititive beauty parades of the social space are to be believed. Breakthrough bloggers and tweeters don’t exist or aren’t stepping forward enough to breakthrough the subliminal pecking order that politely exists.
Secondly, I found that despite the differences there are remarkable similarities between the 2 worlds – in both recruiters remain fixated on wars for talent and shout out relevance despite evidence to the contrary, the learning mob suffer constantly from their own existential funk inside business whilst confusing the hell out of their audience with the language used and the reward people would like to get involved but can’t get past their own introversion. The average compensation and benefits blogger has 241 blog drafts in their saved documents I was led to believe.
Sadly there are few occasions where both worlds collide under 1 roof, but they might as well be on different planets. Picture the scene. A conference is taking place in a plush London hotel. In one corner is the thankful mainstream HR person, grateful to their boss for finding some sheckles down the back of the budget sofa to send them off for the day as part of their correctional “development plan” to fix their underwhelming knowledge on social recruiting. They are truly excited about learning what might be happening in this new and evolving space. They call it learning best practice and they will devour the most meagre of outputs on offer as a result to take back to a typically change resistant organisation. However, sitting literally feet from them are the social HR mob, tweeting their journey to the conference all morning, taking photos of an empty stage with a witty caption for their followers and ultimately looking for their next innovation fix. Nothing short of a Vulcan mind-melding assessment toolkit case study or the conference offers nothing for them and their large library of clever things from HR that never went anywhere. They’ve probably written a blog about the keynote presentation findings before the speaker finishes his first slide.
Despite being charming, bright, passionate and giving people, who took me under their wing and helped me grow professionally, my growing concern a year in is that these two worlds I inhabit are still operating in distinct and separate universes from each other. For those of us who want professional relevance and reach to be accelerated there has to be some introspection from social HR about what we are doing to pull in people to the conversation and to define its remarkable importance to our ongoing learning and effectiveness. The challenge now has got to be about building bridges between mainstream organizational HR people starved of the time and impetus to dive in and be pulled towards them by a social scene that stops taking itself too seriously at times and asking itself why it exists ? Is it to be categorized on the peripheries of weekend pastimes such as medieval jousting or being squashed by large ladies or is there a more honorable ambition to help take the profession on a worthwhile journey to make collaboration part of our DNA ?
Our current HR space is still beset by silos. I think those I’ve met in the social space, more than any, get that and want to drive change. Talking to a small legion of bright engaged people online every day may feel as illusory as the environment the mainstream HR folks have established as their world orders crumble around them. I think it’s up to the social space to blink first and expand the conversation rather than go round in ever decreasing circles.
Until next time. Let’s help take the big conversation mainstream.