Becoming a social business is not simply about using a new class of tools. It is about using internal and external networks and relationships to best effect, maximising productivity and developing an agile, resilient culture to improve all aspects of the organisation’s operations. Encouraging the adoption of new tools is part of the story, and often a challenge, but it is not enough. Relationships, culture, leadership, trust, knowledge sharing and collaborative methods are all just as important and these are areas where HR professionals should have a key role to play. But, on the whole, HR is often part of the cultural problem in organisations, not always part of the solution. Instead of leaving this all to IT or marketing functions, HR should be taking the lead in organisational transformation.

We have spent over a decade encouraging the adoption of social tools inside business, and now these tools and platforms are becoming mainstream. But they cannot have the impact we hope for unless accompanied by changes to the way companies are structured and managed, and this has implications for the way we think about HR.

First, and most obviously, humans are not resources. They can be productive or unproductive depending on how you engage with them, constructive or resistant depending on whether they feel you respect them. In corporates, they often ‘do what they are told’ without giving much of themselves, but  invest their creativity and productivity outside work in things that matter to them. We have gone too far with the idea of people as resources to be managed in the Taylorist sense, with process taking predence over people’s own initiative, and waiting to be told what to do.

For HR, the problem begins right up front with the recruiting dans macabre, as my colleague Justin from Somewhere puts it. Instead of harvesting barely truthful CVs that convey nothing of the passion, identity or values of an individual, and then filtering and selecting them against limited job role criteria, we need to find new ways to engage people that might want to work in our firms. Once on board, new hires are often given sub-par corporate tools (laptop, phone, etc) and a desk and told to get on with it, rather than being socialised into the firm and its networks.

Do we really think the current way of working is the most productive we can be? I very much doubt it.

There are plenty of new approaches to how we organise work inside companies, and ideally HR should be at the forefront of exploring and testing them.

>You may also be interested to read our research report on The Barriers to Digital Transformation which includes our latest thinking on organisational structures and agile attributes.

Holacracy is one very popular method right now, which draws on the ideas of Sociocracy to create a system of linked circles where people have a very clear task focus and the role of the process is simply to remove tensions or barriers that get in the way of work being done. This approach is being tried in Zappos and Medium, and is being hailed as a system for managing without managers. Conventional management is an extremely expensive way to orchestrate labour, and so alternatives such as this are of interest to firms who want to focus on value creation and lose some of the ‘cruft’ that surrounds the work that needs to get done.

In a world where productivity is now non-linear – small teams can produce outsized value, but we recognise that an individual’s productivity is ‘bursty’ rather than constant – we need to think harder about creating the conditions in which talent can thrive.

Instead, HR often seems content to busy itself with buying outdated HR management software that barely even optimises past practice, let alone provides a basis for the future. Benefits, procedures, monitoring and reporting are perhaps necessary but certainly not sufficient, and if we are to improve the way companies do business then I think we need to set HR’s targets and goals much higher if the discipline is to have a key role in the new world of work.

This talk, given last year at the HR Tech Europe event in Amsterdam, provides some thoughts on what this means and how HR might approach the challenge:

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