HR, Twitter and Osama bin Laden

Yeah – I’m going to write about this.  I just finished watching Zero Dark Thirty on the plane, and I’m thinking back to that day.  I remember landing in the Chicago airport, booting up my phone and checking Twitter.  Scrolling through the feed, one caught my eye: “bin Laden is down.”  The tweet was more than a couple hours old at that point, but I noticed it came from a friend of mine in India.  I then proceeded straight to the United lounge where I was in absolute disbelief – they had some random Court TV channel on or something.  I asked everyone to change channels to CNN saying something like, “Guys, bin Laden is down, we need some news.”  I got blank stares and a, “Who are you and what are you smoking?”  By the time I left the club, everyone was hanging out next to the TV’s, it had finally made US media more than 4 hours after the event.

There are all sorts of Twitter analogies I love.  I love that Twitter can figure out the mood of the country every single day (probably every single minute) based on keywords.  I know that we don’t all use Twitter (hey, I’m totally a late adopter and I still barely use it to this day), but this post is really about social media and the pulse of your organization.  Hopefully you have something running whether it’s Sharepoint, SFDC Chatter, Jive or anything else.  The question is, “are you listening?”

Speed:
There are all sorts of stories these days about customers who don’t go to the vendor customer service call center, but tweet problems on-line.  Service organizations are starting to get pretty good at monitoring Twitter and responding to people to fix problems.  I’m not saying that your HR service center needs to allow tickets to come in fiat social media, but when there is a thread about how bad the health insurance is, or that managers are not listening to employees, do you find out about that first, or does someone else bring it to your attention 3 days later?  You have the ability to get a view into the problem before it explodes into something bigger that execs are now worried about, but you have to be listening in the first place.  Seriously, do you want to bring it to your exec that there is a problem, or do you want your exec to bring it to you?

Mass Collaboration:
You can’t get this on email.  Even if you are using large distribution lists, most of the people on those lists ignore those emails.  Take it from me – I’m one of them.  You can get really interesting ideas out there, but if it’s in an email thread where the content is not managed, it’s not owned by the enterprise.  Social collaboration forums not only allow mass storage of insights, but they do it in perpetuity (until someone cleans up or archives).  If we’re all sitting in front of the news waiting 4 hours to get it, that’s pretty slow and we’re dependent on the distribution channel to tell us what’s important.  If we take to the user owned collaboration forums, we get to filter insights in real time.

Engagement:
Back to this idea of pissed off employees – there doesn’t always have to be a thread about something that is upsetting any group of people.  How cool would it be if you could create an algorithm that gives you a measure of employee engagement on a daily basis (ok, maybe weekly).  Apologies to the vendors who sell engagement surveys, but if you could put together an algorithm that gave you engagement, split it up on dimensions of level, job families, pay grades, organization, you’d have a pretty powerful tool.  You might complain that you don’t have specific actions, but I’d disagree.  What is the use of an engagement survey that gives you a report every year?  Just like the crap about performance management not being meaningful, if it’s a year later, it’s too late.  On a weekly basis, you could dig into what comments are causing lower engagement scores, deal with them in the specific populations, create engagement and solutions before things escalate.

Talent Management:
I wrote about this years ago, but I think it might actually be time.  I’m totally intrigued by the idea that you can get rid of your entire competency model and just use social media.  LinkedIn is getting closer, but it’s nowhere near perfect.  I don’t want anyone tagging me with skills.  What I do want is for HR to figure out what I’m good at by looking at my social media posts inside the corporate firewall.  If I post about HR Analytics and 20 people respond, that gives HR an idea that I might be interested in the subject.  If someone posts a question about HR Analytics and I respond, and I also get 20 “likes” for my answer, I might have some expertise.  As you aggregate all the social data over time, create a taxonomy to apply against business conversations, and apply all that data against employees, you have a pretty good idea of what people are thinking about and what they are good at.

I’ll acknowledge that listening is only part of the solution – much of the other part is figuring out how to listen, what to listen to, and how to decipher what you are hearing.  There is a lot of static out there and you need good tools to get good insights back.  I also don’t know how far off social listening is for HR, but hopefully this gets us thinking.  It’s something we need to do as our organizations get more diverse globally, disconnected geographically, and technologically savvy.  Conversations are moving to social, and we have an opportunity.  Let’s grab it.

Meaningful Experiences in Web 2.0

I’ve complained about information overload before.  As we get into lists and networks and blogs, and microblogs, we subject ourselves to information from increasingly diverse sources.  Some of these are annoying sources that we wish we didn’t have anything to do with (your nephew’s farmville updates on Facebook), while others are truly valuable if you could just keep up with them (that HR analyst that has 50 posts per day on Twitter).

I’ve also written before that I think that the value I provide will never be on Twitter – I honestly just can’t stay on top of it that often considering the work that I do for clients.  However, I do feel that I can provide value to my readership with longer, more thoughtful pieces like this on a more mainstream and “traditional” blog.  Personally, I basically have 4 sources of information and the same 4 sources that I use to connect with the Web 2.0 world.  These are this blog, systematicHR, Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.  The first two I use every day, the last two I use very little.

The point of this is that I have decided that it’s impossible to have any sort of a meaningful experience if I’m spread too thin across 10 different networks.  Yes, I’m registered on all sorts of social media accounts that I never check.

As an employee, you need to determine what the method is going to be right for you (facebook once a day? twittter 50 times a day?)  You also need to figure out what your goals are for participation.  Is it about career?  Is it about networking? Getting on the cutting edge?  Is it about increasing your own personal effectiveness or a team’s effectiveness?

The great thing about information overload is there is a solution,  While information overload is problematic for just about everyone, the problem is also the solution.  If you have many choices about where to go for information, then you have a more manageable environment.  People need to apply their time spent in networks with more thoughtfulness.

This is actually where it gets tricky.  We as an HR organization can help employees decipher what type of participation they should be having based on their habits and goals.  However, determining the overall set of Web 2.0 technologies to deploy within our organizations that will support the many types of interactions that are possible while not limiting the possibilities is a tight rope to walk.  The organization has to determine what the best methods are without restricting too many modes where people will find meaningful experiences.

You might automatically say that microblogging will never happen, but what about microblogging the town hall for people who could not attend the event live?  How about the opportunities to constantly update the project team in the week right before a major implementation go-live?  Based on the goals of employees, the goals of the organization and the culture that you operate in, there probably is a good answer for a set of Web 2.0 technologies you should deploy.  The answer however, is less around how you want employees to collaborate, and more about how you create meaningful experiences for those employees.  Without meaningful experiences, a collaboration environment never takes off.

Immediacy without Details

I’ll have to be honest – I’m having a really hard time with some of the new technology.  I’m supposed to be a technologist and be up on all the latest stuff.  But I find myself at odds with some of the theory and philosophy.  There seems to be an emerging sense of immediacy and generality emerging in communications that I don’t like, and this blog is one that seems to be in the middle of it.  You see, over the last few years (for multiple reasons including my own commitment to writing), systematicHR has suffered from a gradually declining readership, from a rather amazing peak of 20k unique hits per day to around 5k now, the audience has gone off to things like twitter for news.

I don’t blame twitter one bit.  I use twitter because it’s the fastest and most efficient way to cull through a hundred ideas to pick up what I might be interested in.  You decide you like and trust certain people and you read their tweets and go on to read the links they have decided to put out there.  I’m not one of the people who will go out and tweet though since the most successful people are literally putting out hundreds of tweets a day.  I don’t have the time or interest in transitioning systematicHR from the blogoshphere to twitter.

However, there is a deeply engrained philosophical problem here too.  While my readership drops, twitter really can’t function without blogs like mine.  Without me and many other bloggers, the guys on twitter just don’t have much to write about.  A one sentence blurb might be an interesting thought, but does not convey any depth that the reader is eventually looking for.  This idea of immediacy without details is good and bad.

We love managers who will actually look at their dashboards occasionally.  We want them to be able to pick up the overall direction of process and HR statistics.  We want them to be able to quickly diagnose and understand what they should be thinking about.  To be honest, the dashboard is spectacular, but we can’t forget that our managers are not HR experts.  In the deployed HR service delviery model, we also have HR business partners that are out in the field with our managers, theoretically coaching them and presenting the context that the data sits in.  Without this context, managers understand generalities of direction, but not the full meaning that the dashboard is presenting to them, and certainly the should not be expected to know how to act.

We always seem to deploy HR technologies with simplicity in mind, and this is absolutely the right approach.  Just like twitter, we want high engagement and high activity.  But we must also remember that as with twitter, there is also another side with context, detail and more depth.  HR technologies are not the source of all information, but more of a reference point.  We provide data, and sometimes we provide process, but we don’t provide explanations that come from our service delivery partners.  No matter what we do, we are not the full solution, and any technologies we deploy must be augmented if we expect our customers to have a complete understanding of HR.

Getting on the Non-Social-Media Bandwagon

A friend of mine was recently telling me about taking his son and son’s friends to a movie.  At the end, rather that talking to each other , they all got on their cell phones and started texting each other and friends who were not there about the movie.  It was described to me as one of those revealing moments where my friend realized that the way we communicate is changing in such a fundamental way, and the reach of our communications is so broad real time, that the very fabric of our social existence morphs every few seconds.

We all seem to be waiting to experience the “greatness” that is coming with the implementations of HR social medias.  The possibilities abound and the theories are tremendous.  At the same time, we’ve all experienced the realities of the downside.  Anyone who has a iPhone or Blackberry understands the incredible portability and ubiquitosity ((I reserve the right to make up new words whenever I want to)) of facebook and twitter.  I myself recently posted on the systematicHR twitter page that I felt like missing 5 minutes of feeds pushed me out of the HR loop.  There really is that much going on, and some HR thought leaders are literally pushing out hundreds of tweets a day.

Social medias have the wild possibility of changing the way we live our lives, they literally change the landscape and timeline of our social existence on a minute by minute basis.  Some find these to be fascinating times, and I think they are.  But treating them without some reservations might just get us into trouble.

We’ve all also sat in restaurants with people and found first hand what incredible conversation stoppers social medias on our portable devices can be.  Kids are starting to have trouble doing homework because they can’t turn off the messaging out of facebook.  Heck – not even in restaurants or at home in personal situations, in half of the meetings I go to, someone is sneaking peeks at their blackberry under the table and doing e-mails or facebook updates.

Real time communications are a beautiful thing.  I firmly believe that the transformation in how we work and interact with broader spheres than was not possible a few short years ago will bring tremendous advances in innovation and service models.  But we have also been proceeding down the path that these social medias will self govern – people will moderate the community’s “bad behavior.”  The problem is that in everyday life, we have seen that “bad behavior” permeates every event and activity.  We simply can’t help ourselves and our physical, face to face interactions seem to be suffering.  How do you encourage this and govern it at the same time?

Thoughts?