Saturday 2 April 2011

HR as “Human Relationships”: Creating Value through People Management and the Social Network


   The CIPD has still got some away to go in its development before I feel very comfortable paying my fees each Summer, but recent developments show it’s moving in the right direction.  The new website is a vast improvement and I like the new monthly People Management too.  It could do with just a couple more articles still, but those that this edition includes are pretty good.


The Social Network

I particularly like the article ‘Organisational Learning: The Social Network’ from Alexander Fliaster, whose session at HRD2011 this week promises to be one of the conference’s best.

Fliaster argues that innovation needs to be developed through networks of friendship and collaboration (also see my recent post on teams plus networks and communities vs individuals or listen to my recent webinar):

“Companies have to pay particular attention to facilitating friendships that create bridges across organisational ­structural holes and therefore are particularly conducive to knowledge creation. Regular meetings between departments, teams that cross functional and geographic borders, job rotation, off-site conferences, as well as training workshops at which people from various organisational silos come together, can contribute to building ties across the structural holes.

Corporate HR can create more and better conditions for informal contacts among employees by giving them a chance to meet one another and deepen collegial relationships. Social events such as the Christmas party or sports and recreation facilities cannot, of course, make an employee like a colleague and build an emotionally intense friendship. But they can create opportunities for people to run into one another in an atmosphere free from workload and time pressure and start to talk to one another. Training focused on social skills is also of critical importance.

Collaborative relationships with smart and creative colleagues enrich the knowledge and strengthen the cognitive abilities of individuals, increasing work performance. HR managers who still hang on to the individualistic view of creative performance should start to rethink.”


I think this is all absolutely correct, though I also suggest that social collaboration has multiple benefits beyond just innovation (all organisational strategies are ultimately social as far as I can see otherwise they’re unlikely to be ‘organisational’ - vs just a group of individuals - at all).

And I’d have liked to have seen more suggestions for HR developing collaboration beyond organising meetings and social events.  Christmas parties are important but they’re not what I would seize on to develop better connection, or my own strategic role!


On My Agenda (Charlie Johnston, Cisco – pictured)

Some of these are provided in this article on Cisco’s recent focus on business collaboration:

“Our global chief executive, John Chamber, took all the global directors off-site to San Francisco and shared the direction of the organisation for the next five years, as well as the fundamental shift we would see towards Web 2.0 collaboration, says Johnston. “He said this would be the biggest shift that the company would ever have to make, and that we as leaders would need to step up to this new reality – we would need to embrace this technology and lead differently, and he would need to lead differently too.

This heralded a move away from autocratic leadership toward collaborative decision-making, from functions and silos in isolated country branches to cross-departmental, global teamworking. One result is that employees now spend half their time working from home, while over 40 per cent are located in a different city to their manager. On the ground in the UK, Johnston was instrumental in changes that saw leaders hoicked out of their private offices and put into new open-plan environments. The majority of employees could now wear whatever they liked to work and some could even turn up whenever they wanted – a move that caused some leaders to leave the business, in search of more traditional organisations. Those left behind were eager to enter a new world of collaborative leadership, but weren’t quite sure where to start.

Johnston points to the importance of video communication as an example of the type of behaviour needed to lead in a connected global company. Leaders who once ran a small team in a single office could now find themselves leading a team of remote workers dispersed around the globe. We have to get leaders to step up to how they can lead in this new kind of environment. When someone is working remotely, communication becomes more important, and using video becomes really important – people still want to see their leader.”


I love what Cisco has been doing, which is why I’ve already posted on them so many times:


But of course as these posts point out, video is only part of the solution.  It’s a shame that neither Alexander Fliaster’s nor Charlie Johnston’s article mentions Twitter for example.


Insight Led HR

The other thing that’s missing from these two articles is a clear explanation of how internal networks and collaboration provide competitive advantage.

This article from the CIPD’s Bridge consultancy (spit!) almost provides this missing piece.  Borrowing heavily from my value triangle, the article describes a pyramid showing the different levels on which HR can operate:



“Future HR leaders will need to break away from the ‘one model fits all’ orthodoxy if they are to fully exploit the function’s unique vantage point and build organisations to last. In the latest phase of the Next Generation HR programme, a more discerning vision is coming into focus

Most of HR’s heritage is in the bottom two layers, which in concert look to drive consistent performance through the people levers. Moving up, HR starts to place increasing emphasis on examining the fitness for purpose of the business now and in the future. The focus here is ultimately about supporting an organisation to do what is needed to drive performance that lasts. The reality means HR often operating well “off piste” in areas where the organisation most needs to help itself if lasting performance is to be achieved.

These ‘total pyramid’ leaders tend to look at HR as an applied business discipline with a people specialism. They are trying to answer two big questions at any given time. How fit for today is this business? And how fit for tomorrow is it? HR professionals are not simply slaves to the processes, history and client expectations that they encounter. Instead they build an agenda unique to their context, business-focused in its feel and balanced between the needs of today and tomorrow.”


I agree totally and passionately with the CIPD’s perspectives around purpose (POV), insight and differentiation (“an outbreak of HR orthodoxy has happened by stealth and we are in danger of calling this best practice”) but actually, I also think they’ve got a lot of this wrong.

I believe, and demonstrate in my value triangle, that the highest impact comes from really understanding people and the value they can create.  The CIPD’s approach leaves people as resources rather than vital providers of human and, with particularly relevance for this post, social capital.  Social connection and networking is one of the ways this value can be provided – and that’s why the articles by Alexander Fliaster and Charlie Johnston are as important as they are.


I’d have liked to have seen more of a story linking these themes in the magazine together (I don’t think it came out in the editorial).  Maybe it’s up to readers to create their own stories, but I suspect that few HR practitioners know enough about the three topics I’ve addressed here to connect them in the way I’ve suggested above.  I hope they and the connections I have drawn between them have made sense for you.



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