Monday 10 October 2011

#HRTechConf – minus three thumbs


   I mentioned in my opening to my session on HR 2.0 that I thought there had been a bit too much agreement on things during the conference (particularly in Jason Averbook’s and Naomi Bloom’s love-in), and said that I’d try to be clear about what I did, and didn’t agree with (since doing this would help people decide whether to support my model of HR 2.0).

And I did refer to some of these disagreements during my presentation (where they linked to my inputs), but ran out of time to do all. So here is my personal summary of the conference, provided through a list of what I agreed and disagreed (‘unagreed’ is probably. the new social media word) with.

Again – this should help you consider whether you support my views about HR (and maybe even challenge your own):


HR being more like the rest of the business

I though John Boudreau gave a good and well-argued presentation, but I don’t agree with much of what he said.  HR does need to improve it’s credibility in the business, but this doesn’t mean that dressing HR like the rest of the business is necessarily going to be a good thing.

It’s why I think the greatest value from HR comes from focusing on employees, rather than on the business.

And it’s why, whilst agreeing that measurement tools used by the business may provide value for HR (or business leaders’ management of their people), I don’t think we shouldn’t take that as granted.  Tools should be judged on their value to inform decision making.  And if we need to educate business leaders to use HR based tools then that’s what we need to do.

Measurement being the key to HR

There was a lot of twitter at the conference about measurement, some of which I agreed with, but a lot of which I didn’t.  For example. “You can manage by walking around, but you can't measure by walking around."  Well, you sort of can, and I think you probably need to too.

Jac Fitz-Enz gave a good summary of how HR activities can be measured (some supervisor training resulting in a 16.6% improvement over 6 months) but this was pretty transactional stuff.  The more we focus on stuff that really drives our businesses, eg passion, the more difficult it is to measure in objective terms.

Particularly for the social capital stuff I was describing in my session… yes, you can measure this through organisational mechanisms, eg social network analysis, but you can also measure it in human terms eg through team pictures or team sculpting.  Or you can also measure it socially – ie by conversation – walking (and talking) around.

Take this quote about Greg Dyke, while he was at the BBC from his Head of Learning there (and included in my HCM book): “Greg had almost blind faith in the programme. It was almost build it and they will come. Evaluation was still important and ROI would have
been interesting but Greg wasn’t that sort of a person. It wasn’t that he
wasn’t interested. He was very interested in how much it was costing us.  But he just knew that this had to be the thing to do. He would ask, ‘Can
anybody think of a good reason why not to do it?’ He would say he
could walk round the BBC and talk to a few people and that would tell
him better than any evaluation whether the programme was working or not

Absolutely.  Objective measurement has an important role to play in improving HR, but let’s not try to pretend it’s the answer to everything.

HR being about driving the trains

Laurie Ruettimann and Oliver Marks had a good debate (with some actual disagreement) in the social media panel, and I have to side with Oliver’s views on the importance of Enterprise 2.0.

Laurie suggested she always takes the view of the majority of HR people who keep the trains running.  Which they do – but if that’s all they do, we’ll never get the available benefits from social media – or more social approaches.  (Actually the same criticism applies to most E2.0 practitioners too – which is why Forrester concludes that the most common benefit achieved from E2.0 systems is reduced travel costs – yawn!).

Plus there’s a really good role for HR technology here – keeping the trains running / doing operational HR.  If people want to keep a job in HR in the future, they need to keep thinking and acting more strategically.

A strategic view to HR and social media / social approaches is important as that’s how we’ll get to HR 2.0.

The future of HR technology being apps for the workforce

I don’t really want to add even more agreement to Jason’s and Naomi’s ‘debate’, but I’m going to have to do so.

Jason explained that the combination of social and collaboration are leading to the development of talent management 2.0, and that we therefore need to think about this differently.

I think that’s absolutely right – talent management, or HR 2.0, if it’s to mean anything, has to be transformationly different to HR 1.0, and that difference has to be about social collaboration.

The social network changes talent management

I’m cheating slightly on this one, because yes, of course, it does.  But, despite loving Jim Holincheck’s presentation on ‘Face-Linked’, I can’t help but feel we’re focusing on the wrong change.

Matthew Hanwell summed it well for me – the session / conference assumed that people will still be working for large organisations in 2020 and that we’ll be recruited into them.  Maybe, but I think increasingly not.

Social technology is going to have an impact, but the changing sociology of organisation is going to be more profound.


Please don’t get me wrong – I may have shown less thumbs up than down, but this is about disagreement not dislike, and in any case I always tend to disagree most strongly with those things / people I feel most closely connected to.  In addition, this was definitely a great (thumbs up) conference  and I really hope to attend again one / next year…


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  1. Great review for those not there (and I guess for those who could make it too). Could not agree more with the points on:
    - Measurement by walking around; curious what it means in increasingly virtual work environments though, and;
    - Focusing on the wrong change, and what sort of organizations people will be recruited into in 2020? The number of within-the-walls employees as a ratio of total company 'workforce' continues to drop dramatically in the western world. The leaders of large companies are actively pondering whether companies of very great scale can even exist in the mid-term.

    What is an employee? What is a company? These are big questions; I agree that focusing on a technology shift in one area can easily leave us blind to the much bigger shift taking place.

  2. Jon

    Thanks for this. Client commitments kept me away from the conference this year, though I promise myself to be there next.

    I've noticed for some time that you don't share my and Abhishek Mittal's enthusiasm for John Boudreau's recent work. I don't think, however, that it's necessarily conflicting with (what I understand) your HR 2.0.

    At the heart of John's recent work is an approach to innovation which I've been practicing for much of my career, that is to reframe the problem in such a way that you can identify similar problems which might already have a robust solution.

    To focus on the techniques and not the logic for applying these techniques is somewhat missing the point. If you have a problem, and there exists a robust, widely accepted and understood approach for dealing with that issue then I believe you need a compelling reason before reinventing from scratch.

    My own experience is that talking in a language that other managers understand inspires interest, enthusiasm and confidence. When we talk about the need to do behavioural or need-based segmentation to understand, predict and influence employee behaviour those with customer-management experience understand the logic and are more likely to support. The compelling part is getting them to reframe the issue in a way they feel confident in addressing.

    I believe that the linkage between your approach and John's is a reframing of employees as customers (I've used the term 'employment customer' for the last 10 years). There exists a wealth of customer approaches that can be applied with relatively minor fine-tuning to employee scenarios; John talks about using Conjoint to understand preferences for various baskets of offerings for example. I promise to write on why I believe that this approach, rather than viewing workforces as 'human capital' is the most appropriate reframing in the coming weeks.


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