Translation of social ideas into the language of HR and Organizational Development is the big challenge!

As we are having again another Google Hangout session on the HR topic this Wednesday (see this Facebook and/or this Google event) I just wanted to share with you my views on how I see the appreciation of Enterprise 2.0 within the HR sphere. Actually these notes of mine are the English answers I have given to Marco Minghetti of “Il sole 24 ore” in the preparation to the Social Business Forum 2012. But as Italian is not everybody’s first language I am happy to share this with you.


Enterprise 2.0 (McAfee); Management 2.0 (Hamel); Social Organization (Bradley/McDonald): which is the best definition for the new model of 2.0 organization in the “social business era”? How important is the idea of “community” in this new model?

The key idea of the future organizational model is certainly turning around Gary Hamel’s systemic perceptions of a changing environment for the enterprises and the need to adapt fast and effectively to it. From this point of view the “2.0” or “social business” way just determines a new mean to help resolving these new challenges.

For playing the 2.0 game communities are certainly a central part. Bradley/McDonald explain the surplus of digitally enabled communities to socially construct the adaption of the organization. They are describing a roadmap to successfully set in place a new form of organization that is more effective in changing to environmental factors because of the use of social technology.

Last but not least McAfee defined the principles of how those social technologies are working and how they are generating value.

Summarizing – none of these definitions are intended to define the “2.0 organization in the social business era” because it’s not the technology that defines a new culture – but that is an enabler for organizational change as well as a mean for organize in a more adaptive way. If we question which of the definitions helps best to advance the discussion and the adoption to these practices, then I would point to Gary Hamel. Because to advance the topic towards the next level it is important to acknowledge the organizational development perspective for the topic.

The new “social” mindset for 2.0 organization requires a brand new set of managerial principles: openness, co-creation, collaboration… Which are the most important? And how you define them?

Personally I do not believe that “social” is defining the needed “managerial principles” but the overall increasing complexity and globally changing nature of business. Enterprises are complex adaptive systems and “social technology” is a way to answer the business demands in a new and more effective way.

Therefore – the nature of business requires already a more open, adaptive and collaborative way of organizing and coordinating the value generation in the enterprise. For this I like to return to Hamel’s “21st management challenges”:

  • To advance organizations from a deadlocked state you need unconventional ideas and a corporate environment where those ideas get heard (democracy of ideas)
  • To move forward you need to turn “ordinary employees into extraordinary innovators (amplify human imagination)
  • To avoid getting stuck we need a decision making process that is more directed by market principle than hierarchical allocation issues (dynamically reallocate resources)
  • To generate a new surplus in terms of efficiency and efficacy we need to harvest the positive benefits of an open and collaborative environment (aggregate collective wisdom)

The installation of “social technology” enforces this demand – as it supports openness and collaboration as well as it needs openness and collaboration to realize its added value (network effects).

Which kind of leadership does a 2.0 organization need?

I would like to cite five attributes mentioned in a essay by Russ Roberts and Paul Hirsch in a pre-social-age-book on the future of HR management by Loosey/Meisinger/Ulrich in 2005:

“Highly successful leaders posses five key attributes: 1. They are driven by a strong, personal vision of effective leadership. 2. They lay out a vision of success and engage others in the process of how to achieve it. 3. They are firmly rooted in the values and behaviors required of them. 4. They muster the courage to do what’s right and necessary. 5. They are modest, servant leaders dedicated to enabling their people to succeed.”

All of these characteristics are perfectly applying to the needed managerial principals of a “social technology enabled” organization – maybe paired with the appreciation that social technology is the enabler for the effective implementation of these principles.

The HR managers are often indicated as the most hostile to management 2.0. Is it true? And why?

I would not say that they are hostile to new ways of management and the advancements to make the organization more effective. Especially as those ideas are being discussed within the HR and OD sphere already quite some time – and even before the age of social. But the HR is mostly disconnected to the beliefs and appreciations of the social technology as a mean for cultural change and change enabler.

The reasons for this is also related to the way of discussing the potentials of Enterprise 2.0 and Social Business as the new savior for the future of the enterprise. I think HR has already been involved in to many technology based approaches to advance the enterprise to a more collaborative and adaptive state (look at the Human Capital Management, E-Learning and Groupware approaches) but that failed to achieve the promised results.

In parts the social technology also brings disruption towards the function of HR – as social networks bring transparency towards the company’s capabilities. So for finding the right staff member for my next project I do not need to ask HR anymore, but can eventually look into the tag cloud of competencies in the corporate social network to identify the right person. Therefore social technology also redefines the scope of HR which makes is menacing.

Social learning, Internal communication, change management: which are the HR processes more involved in the transformation of the “hierarchical” companies in “social organizations”?

The journey towards the new form of organization enabled by social technology is an evolutionary process – starting with enabling peers to understand the benefits of social technology, involving continuously more people into the socially enabled interaction and collaboration and eventually redefining the way of working and helping people to adapt to the new way of working. Therefore all of the mentioned task are important at different stages of the transformational process. And the order of the above mentioned terms shows IMHO already the right sequence.

Do you know some real success stories of new HR processes and tools consistent with the new 2.0 management model ?

As I am not taking in account the examples of social business technology and projects selling companies like IBM or CSC (because of their need to set an example of social business practice) as well as not the medium-sized company examples like in Germany Synaxon or Westerflex (because of their more entrepreneurial organization structure) I do not know of any success story yet. This is also difficult as most of the E20/Social Business initiative are just at the evolutionary stage of mastering the adoption curve and have not yet a transformational impact on the company.

But there are examples where the appreciation of the project and its effects on the organization are understood by HR and OD departments. For example in companies like Deutsche Telekom, Continental AG, Robert Bosch but also St. Germain or Alcatel-Lucent the E20 initiatives are supported by the HR department – with a clear scope on the transformational impact.

So – I think that for most of the matured projects (with the key characteristic of having overcome the tipping point and being perceived as a new way to solve business relevant communication and collaboration challenges) HR will not miss giving the initiatives a second look and get involved within the next 12 month.

What about the ROI of an HR Department organized in a 2.0 way?

While most of the HR people have not yet taken the first step in taking any appreciation of the change enabling role of the E20 project, it is even quite more challenging to talk about the ROI of an HR 2.0 approach. As with all ROI related discussions it is important to have a business purpose first in order not to talk about a bubble generation. So disassembling HR to its key functions brings up the following three general purposes:

  • Finding the right staff by employer branding and recruitment processes – social practices can enhanced both the employer branding as well as the recruitment process by the power of the masses. The key focus is on having the co-workers positioning and promoting the enterprise within their personal social networks as well as making their capabilities and competencies more accurately accessible throughout the activity tracking and tagging in internal social networks. This supports the reach and authenticity of the employer brand as well as a better performance in finding the right people. It even increases the corporate (and therefore HR!) performance on the secondary (network effects related) level as it involves the individual into the participatory process of a socially constructed corporate reality.
  • Helping to equip the human resources with the right capabilities and competences by training and development – social initiatives are fostering the informal learning processes by micro-contents being shared and spread all over the internal social network as well as collaborative documentation efforts giving corporate knowledge at one’s fingertip. With the successful implementation of corporate knowledge environments and adhoc knowledge sharing about insights from business processes and activities the need for top-down organized training and personal knowledge as well as skill development lessens. This leads to cost reduction but also disruption that needs to be accepted by HR.
  • Aligning the individual talent development with leadership and culture visions – The last but not least HR purpose is to build the corporate community as a positive as well as forward thinking and challenges taking group of people. As social networks increase the connections within the company, bring transparency to business activities and support the “we”-feeling amongst the staff, it helps to develop towards a more empathic culture within the corporation. And this is set up much more sustainable than any onetime corporate event or corporate identification program.

So closing these reflections leaves out to say that the big challenge for the social business initiatives is to translate the social ideas into the language of HR and Organizational Development as these are the parties to get involved during the maturity stage of the E20 initiative. And both parties are perfectly equipped with visions for new forms of organization but are missing effective tools and means to implement these – and social technology represents these means.


Original published athttp://marcominghetti.nova100.ilsole24ore.com/2012/05/hr-20-lopinione-di-thierry-de-ballon.html


  1. Kiran Adatia says:

    Great information about business management, HR and Organisation development. Many businesses ignore the importance of HR and its impact on the success or failure of an organisation. Great post Bjoern …way to go 🙂