Social HR

This blog post was written as a follow up to the CIPD Manchester Branch’s conference/unconference on Social HR, held at Lancashire County Cricket Club on 16 October 2014.


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I like to think I’ve always been a pragmatic kind of HR practitioner. I’m most definitely not one for chasing after the latest trendy thinking or jumping on the next bandwagon leaving the station. What I do believe in, wholeheartedly, is organisations trying to do the best people stuff they can with the resources and restrictions that they’ve got.

So what about all this “social HR” stuff then – where does that fit in?

Well – and I freely admit this may just be my ignorance – I’m not even 100% sure what “social HR” really means. I know what I take it to mean, but as Katrina Collier and Mervyn Dinnen argued in the recruitment stream, you can probably just drop the “social”.

To me, doing social HR just means taking advantage of the advances in technology and thinking brought to us as part of the Internet age. It’s still doing people stuff that was and is commonly regarded as good practice – but using the technology and new ideas to take it a step further. It’s not really revolutionary. It’s a mindset: it’s knowing what is available, what it can do and – if (and only if) it works for your organisation – using it.

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In his opening keynote, Perry Timms spoke of the four “crucibles” of social HR as being:

  • Hiring
  • Engaging
  • Learning
  • Working

Doing each of these as well as possible has been critical to every generalist role I’ve ever done. I’ve applied traditional models of doing them throughout my career. But in the same way that the computer ultimately replaced the typewriter because it could do more things better, when we think of social HR, I believe we are just looking at ways of using the tools we have at our disposal to improve what we do. The difference is that the “tools” in question are more likely to be software or in the cloud than a physical piece of hardware.

In the Haiku Deck that I put together to stimulate conversation in the “social HR” stream that Perry, James Pike and I led, I shared a few words that I associate with the term which – to be fair – are not always words one would use about “traditional” HR models:

  • Sharing
  • Fun
  • Immediate
  • Purposeful
  • Mobile

To me these are the areas where “doing HR socially” should be different from the old models. The discussions we had were wide-ranging and interesting as people warmed to the “unconference” format and shared their thoughts, fears, experiences and questions. We did live demonstrations of products we use regularly – the main ones being Twitter, Evernote and Storify – as well as looking at sites like Glassdoor and pondering what this meant for HR and organisations. I was struck by how positive everyone in the group was about the prospects of using social tactics – yes, even the employment lawyers (!) – and just how eager people were to discuss how they could develop what they do on a daily basis with social technology.

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I know some people dismiss “social HR” as a fad, a passing nonsense. Others call it the Emperor’s new clothes. I say it’s none of those. It’s about HR moving with the times. I’m not sure we do need to talk about “social HR” – although I do see that it’s a useful shorthand to describe “doing things a bit differently” – it’s just HR to me. That’s why I was a bit perturbed (albeit still slightly flattered… well, I am human!) to see myself described as a “social media expert” in the publicity material for the day. I don’t believe I am – I’m an HR person who does social. I don’t know everything there is to know about the subject – I’ve only just scratched the surface. Having a Twitter account, a blog and a working knowledge of Storify all help me do my job better and improve the people stuff I’m able to help my organisation do.

On the evidence of the enthusiasm and engagement I saw on 14 October – and the fantastic feedback I’ve heard both on the day and since – there are a lot of other HR professionals out there who will be joining me in that self-improving, organisation-developing and (hopefully) HR-credibility-increasing journey. Whatever we call it.

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One comment on “Social HR
  1. Sarah Storm says:

    Enjoyed this Tim. You make me wish that I’d been there. Don’t undervalue yourself – my sense is that there are still plenty of HR professionals who don’t use Twitter professionally, don’t blog and have never heard of Storify. Would you agree? Would love to get more people involved without imagining that social media is the panacea for HR.

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