I recently wrote this article for HRO Today (Global) and I thought I’d include it here as well. Any thoughts?
What’s the Role of Social Outsourcing?
Attending HRO Summit Europe in 2010, I was interested to see that, other than the ongoing display of the Twitter back channel, there was little conversation and almost nothing in speakers’ presentations about social media. I found this odd because I see social media as one of the main influences on the HR function at this point in time. The omission got me thinking about the opportunities for, and threats arising from, using social media within an outsourcing environment.
The use of social media within business is not just about introducing new technology; it involves a new social approach and culture too. It necessitates a new mindset – one which is less focused on broadcasting information from a company to its employees, and instead is more committed to enabling productive conversation between all the people that the company employs. And it requires a shift in focus from the efficiency and effectiveness of individual transactions to the quality of relationships between these people too.
Taking recruitment first of all, the move to social media focuses on more than just seeing these platforms as another advertising or sourcing opportunity (for example simply seeing Linkedin as the world’s largest jobs board). The greatest benefits of social recruiting come from changing the whole paradigm of recruitment from one in which an organisation looks for people when it has a particular need to a more proactive stance in which it seeks to build relationships with key talent who might be valuable employees at a later point in time. The approach is based upon getting company representatives and potential recruits talking with each other. And the key people that these candidates will want to talk to are not recruiters but the people working in the relevant business area.
And in learning and development, the move to social learning prioritises the role of individuals sharing and collaborating together to support their own learning, often by using an enterprise-wide social collaboration (termed ‘enterprise 2.0’) system. This learning can be supported, where appropriate, by learning professionals orchestrating and shaping conversation and acting as ‘wiki gardeners’: pruning the content that employees have provided.
So social media implies significant change in the roles of these and other HR professionals. And to make these changed roles work, the existing requirements for these professionals to be in touch with the business, to understand what is going on and to be able to interject intelligently become more important than ever.
But what is the role of an outsourcing provider in this? There clearly are opportunities for outsourcers to make good use of these tools, for example by using them to improve dialogue about the outsourced service with client staff in charge of the outsourcing contract, and with users of the outsourced service too. Outsourcing firms can also use social media to improve the way they are managing their client relationships (an approach which is being termed ‘social CRM’). Another key opportunity for some firms will be in providing the technology that clients will use to conduct and enable the conversations between their staff.
But how will employees of outsourcing providers seek to intervene in the sorts of conversations that I described above when they are yet another step removed from what most of these conversations are going to be about?
And how will providers manage the cultural, procedural and contractual challenges of moving from an environment which priorities efficiency about all else to one which balances this with a focus on relationships – on proactively seeking to spend time with employees to improve trust and the quality of conversation rather than always looking to push this down to the place of the least transaction cost (usually to employee self-service or a low skilled call centre operator with little understanding of the particular business context).
I am still not clear what the answers to these questions should be, or even whether there will ever be good answers.
It is certainly true that social media helps to bring different groups together. One of the main reasons that social technology is being implemented in so many businesses now is to help them cope with the increasingly virtual, dispersed and contingent nature of their organisations. These social tools help people communicate together more effectively, especially when they can no longer see each other face-to-face. So social media may help integrate outsourcing providers within a more loosely defined organisation – one based on stretched-out boundaries and including more diverse groups of people operating within them.
But the other way of looking at this is to note that social media involves more than just growing the number of people who are connected together. It also focuses on building deeper relationships and more powerful conversations within a particular social unit, whether this is a team; a community of practice; some other form of network or community; the whole organisation; or part of the organisation and the outside world.
Whatever this social unit is, outsourcing providers are often going to find themselves outside of it. The threat to outsourcing is that just as social media enables organisations to build tighter social units; it will also lead to increasing isolation and marginalisation of those left outside of these.
- Consulting - Research - Speaking - Training - Writing
- Strategy - Talent - Engagement - Change and OD
- Contact me to create more value for your business
- jon [dot] ingham [at] strategic [dash] hcm [dot] com