This content is part of the Essential Guide: Coverage of the 2013 HR Technology Conference
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HR leaders embracing enterprise social technology bit by bit

At the HR Technology Conference, Lisa Rowan said while enterprise social technology is siloed today, social will eventually be ubiquitous.

In a session called "HR's Role in Social and Collaboration," held during the 2013 HR Technology Conference, Lisa Rowan predicted enterprise social technology will become so ingrained in the future that such discussions will seem strange.

"In a few years, we'll be saying, 'What were we talking about?' It'll just be how things are done," said Rowan, research vice president of human resources (HR) and talent management services at IDC, an analyst firm based in Framingham, Mass.

But today, that's only the case for a minority of companies, and most HR leaders are actively seeking guidance on the particulars of social. For instance, who should own a social collaboration platform? And how should a collaboration space be regulated? Rowan addressed these and other frequently asked questions with the crowd, and provided data showing how the policies in place today around enterprise social technology are expected to change.

Siloed social systems thrive in pockets

Rowan first presented an enterprise social maturity model with three stages: "It's scary," "It has its place," and "It's how things are done." A poll of the crowd revealed the majority were in the second stage, while just a few were in stages one and three.

In accordance with the silos of the second stage, Rowan said the areas where social is used most frequently today is recruiting, and to a lesser degree, performance management and learning. While IDC data indicated 80% of organizations have enterprise social networks installed, Rowan said they're often separated by function, and 30% have more than one deployed. "It's a proliferation without a homogenization," Rowan said.

One audience member who identified his company as being in the third stage, said the move from multiple to a single collaboration platform was a key component of institutionalizing social. Once an organization reaches stage three, Rowan said the term "social" fades into the background as socially enabled processes become the new norm.

But once a company adopts a single platform, the question of ownership pops up. According to an IDC survey of HR executives conducted earlier this year, HR is more often working alongside a line-of-business leader -- either in a lead or supporting role -- than acting as sole owner. That is, if it's involved at all. "Around 40% really have very little involvement in collaboration across the enterprise," Rowan said.

Over the next 12 to 18 months, approximately half of respondents said no change in ownership was planned. But the remaining half said HR's participation would either increase or become a major role, which was good news to Rowan.

"My personal opinion is I think HR should perhaps not be the sole owner, but be a major owner in collaboration in the organization," she said.

Focus more on executive buy-in and less on oversight

Rowan repeatedly stressed the importance of getting executive buy-in for social initiatives. "People will follow the leader," she said. "If they don't see senior managers at the top involved, then they won't feel as though it's sanctioned."

And according to IDC's HR executives survey, those leaders' interest in enterprise social technology is on the rise. Although social was ranked least important when stacked up against analytics, mobile and cloud, interest increased from the 2012 to 2013 surveys. In comparison, interest in analytics -- the top priority both years -- remained flat.

Rowan also addressed governance, a top concern for many HR managers.

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"Sometimes I get asked, 'Do we need to have a social policy?' I don't think so," she said. "You probably already have a [social media policy], and it's the same thing. You might throw a few more words in there, [but] that's all you need."

HR executives also worry about inappropriate use of enterprise social networks, but this concern is often overblown, according to both users and experts. Rowan used the example of a social collaboration platform deployment at Home Depot. After the system had been in use for a period of time, managers found that "the groups became self-policing," according to Rowan. "The behavior just isn't tolerated, so you really don't have to worry."

Rowan also applauded Home Depot for allowing "folks to gripe a little bit," which she said helps the collaboration space "feel real." It also can enable managers to address employee concerns before they take a larger toll on workforce engagement. For instance, Rowan said Home Depot originally prohibited employees from wearing shorts after Labor Day. While this was reasonable in cooler areas, employees in warmer climates were displeased, and took to the collaboration platform to sound off. As a result of the comments, management changed the policy.

Allowing negative feedback also has another important benefit. Jarret Pazahanick, an SAP HCM and SuccessFactors consultant who volunteered his opinion from the audience, pointed out that letting employees voice concerns internally is preferable to seeing those complaints on external social media sites such as Glassdoor, where they could tarnish an employer's reputation.

Emma Snider is the associate editor for SearchFinancialApplications. Follow her on Twitter @emmajs24 and the site @SearchFinApps.

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