Friday, 16 July 2010

Andrew McAfee on HR Happy Hour: close but no dice


   I don’t manage to make many HR Happy Hours (actually just the TRU London one – for obvious reasons), but I do listen to the archives (and I know Steve Boese listens to Talking HR too).

But I had to catch tonight’s show: Enterprise 2.0 and HR, with Andrew McAfee.  As you may know, I’ve recently been posting on HR 2.0 here, and attended this year’s Enterprise 2.0 conference in Boston, which included a keynote from McAfee.

Of course, all of this meant that I found a lot of the show to be a bit of a repeat.  More importantly than this, I also felt that it largely missed the point.

McAfee described the changes in web 2.0 technology, the growing impact of millenials, and the need to manage knowledge by finding and locating experts etc (“If only HP knew what HP knows, we’d be three times as productive”).

To me, none of these factors are as important as the socialisation of the workforce.  Creating an environment where people know each other, trust each other and can work together effectively because there’s a social context behind what they do.  This is partly about understanding the strong and weak ties McAfee mentioned.  But it’s much more about the subject of Mark Bennett’s tweet (“I think *capturing* "know-how" is not as effective as having those who have the "know-how" *collaborate* with others”).  It’s about creating relationships between people and influencing their conversations, not just linking people up to experts.

This is why not just Enterprise 2.0, but Enterprise 2.0 and HR is such a hugely important topic.  If we see Enterprise 2.0 as something that’s about technology (or in McAfee’s term, not not about technology), then HR’s role is limited mostly to adoption.  Actually, that’s still a really important role, but not as important as a strategic planning one.

HR’s role isn’t increased that much if we just focus on ties.  OK, a human search engine may be more powerful than a traditional one, but it’s still not going to lead to much of an advantage.

But if we think about socialisation, then HR’s got to be firmly in charge of the agenda.  We’re the people who understand how people can be brought together to collaborate effectively.  And we can use some of our existing tools such as team and leadership development, organisation design, culture change etc to produce a more social workforce too.

By the way, the impacts of doing this are much greater than ‘making people feel good’ which was McAfee’s summary of the benefits for HR leaders.  Relationships can create competitive advantage.  This is the real 2.0 opportunity – for business and particularly HR.


Also see these posts on the Enterprise 2.0 conference on Social Advantage:


and on social learning and HR 2.0 on Strategic HCM:


then there’s:


I’m proposing to present at the next Enterprise 2.0 conference in San Francisco:


Have a look at some of the links – they should keep you busy!



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  • jon [dot] ingham [at] social [dash] advantage [dot] com



  1. Thanks Jon for listening in and for writing about the show. There was so much potential ground to cover, and I do think if we had more time, or a more organized host - we would have talked about the importance of socialization and expertise location more. I hinted at getting there after reading Mark's tweet on the show, but really did not steer the conversation around sufficiently. I would love to do a follow up on this with you and perhaps a practitioner or two from some of the successful organizations that have done much already with Enterprise 2.0. It is an important and interesting topic and more discussions about it inside the HR Community are needed. Thanks again!

  2. Thanks Steve, I didn't mean any criticism of you / the show, which I do love and almost always listen to (eventually) - especially as it's just * SO * much more popular than Talking HR. Or of Andrew McAfee who deserves full credit for inventing a field I'm still starting out in. But I think you know that I'll say when I disagree with something, and I do think technology, millenials and knowledge are completely the wrong starting points for 2.0.

    Why not come to Santa Clara and do a live show with me and others from there?

    (I did get a press pass last time.)

  3. Interesting post, Jon. Wanted to pick up on this statement . . .
    But if we think about socialisation, then HR’s got to be firmly in charge of the agenda. We’re the people who understand how people can be brought together to collaborate effectively.
    Isn't socialisation in this sense something that is organic and that grows at an individual and team level (bottom up)? I agree HR can provide tools that can enable this but I'm not sure HR can be in charge of this agenda other than enabling managers to enable their teams

  4. Thanks Martin. There are a couple of things here. Firstly, bottom up.

    I'm a bit fan of emergence. After all, I called my business Strategic Dynamics after a Ralph Stacey book on emergent OD approaches.

    But I also believe emergent outcomes can be planned. I still have to post on Claire Flanagan's session in Boston but I liked her comment about some people say you can't plan for something going viral - but nothing will go viral if you don't plan well.

    And HR can plan for better social relationships across the workforce. It can use team based HR approaches but also leadership, workplace design, social network analysis and yes, even enterprise 2.0 to enable socialisation.

    So yes, socialisation needs to be bottom-up, but it can be led top-down too. See this post too:

    Then there's the 'in charge' piece. Maybe I chose my words badly here.

    I certainly don't believe HR can be responsible for creating the the social relationships between people working in an organisation. But I think they can be accountable for the quality of these relationships across the whole organisation.

    They may not manage them directly, but they can enable and I'd like to see them taking accountability for the results of this.

  5. Jon, really appreciate your response, which I agree with. Like you, I'm intersted in the role of HR here and you expand on what this role might look like. HR can be an enabler for a truly social business and there are tools to help make this happen. The HR function also needs to do unto itself what it can do for the business, so an opportunity for HR teams to lead by example!


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