Thoughts from HR Tech 2012: Upgrading HR’s Role in Enterprise 2.0


HR Market Analyst,

Consumer technologies are rapidly changing the way we work. In HR, social and mobile technologies have proven to be powerful tools for sourcing and recruiting talent. And newer tools that leverage social consumer technologies–like Yammer for collaboration, and (formerly Rypple) for performance management–have the potential for facilitating a more actively engaged workforce.

At HR Technology Conference 2012 last week, these next generation tools were the focus of numerous sessions and conversations. But many attendees wondered, “Who takes ownership of these tools?”

As I see it, these tools present HR with an interesting opportunity to upgrade its role in Enterprise 2.0–from traditionally tactical administration to tech-savvy strategic function. This article explores how–and what’s in the way.

A New Strategic Role for HR

HR’s strategic opportunity is to drive the adoption of consumerized social technologies to boost productivity, improve communication, and foster greater collaboration both within and between departments.

And the play for HR is to team with IT in a role analogous to what IT Business Analysts do–assess needs, research solutions, and implement new technologies enterprise-wide. In short, HR needs to don a Business Analyst hat of its own.

While IT can manage or assist on the technical side of things, HR should focus on driving adoption. This may require hiring someone with a blend of HR and IT skill, or perhaps partnering with another business leader to spearhead the effort.

Needed First: Shedding Dated Practices

HR has earned a reputation for policing interoffice communications–not facilitating communication to make an enterprise more productive. As Chris Lennon, Product Manager at SilkRoad Technology observes, this is counter-productive.

“The mere act of policing will slow down the communication. If a person is trying to share information real-time with their co-workers and it doesn’t show up right away, they will stop using the tool.”

Cindy Lubitz, Founder of inTalent Consulting, points out that there’s also a double standard that is becoming a growing problem: “We hurt our corporate reputations when we attract candidates through contemporary use of social media, and then revert back to our old ways and block employees from using social tools to do their jobs.”

While mitigating risk is important, HR can do more by taking a proactive approach to new tech. By moving away from the stereotype of communication cop and redefining itself as a communication catalyst, HR can play a more strategic role.

Three Steps for Getting Tech-Savvy in HR

The details will vary by company, but here are some general steps in the process to get HR strategically involved in the selection, implementation and use of social technologies.

Step 1: Establish a Baseline

You need an accurate picture of where things stand before you can begin strategizing for improvement. Form focus groups to discover what needs employees have that they’re not solving today, or for which they would like a better solution. Ask how teams communicate and collaborate today. What works? What could be done better?

“A survey of what technology is currently working, not working–as well as what employees would be interested in using–provides human resource leaders a quick look of where the needs are they may not be aware of,” says Sarah White, Industry Analyst and Owner of Sarah White & Associates.

“I’ve seen organizations save tens of thousands of dollars by not going down the wrong technology route after learning it wasn’t the area the team actually felt they needed added support in,” says White.

After determining what employees want and need, research technology solutions. While there are basic guides for software selection, you can also dig a little deeper. What are similar companies are doing? What successes or challenges are they having?

While you short-list some tools, keep in mind that the best solution may not be a new tool but rather using a tool already in use in a different way.

Step 2: Tie Your HR Technology Strategy to Company Goals

Next, discuss your findings with IT, department heads and line managers. Which communication and collaboration needs are shared across the company, and what needs are exclusive to specific departments?

Begin formulating a strategy aimed at achieving company goals (for instance, improved employee engagement, communication, or collaboration). Then, break down how these goals relate to each department. As an example:

MarketingNeed: More organization
Solution: Social project management?
Need: Standardized communication tool
Solution: Social networking platform?
Need: More autonomy
Solution: Social goal management?
SalesNeed: More motivation
Solution: Gamification platform?
Need: Real-time feedback
Solution: Social networking platform?
Need: Real-time communication
Solution: Social networking platform?
OperationsNeed: More transparency
Solution: Social project management?
Need: Real-time knowledge sharing
Solution: Social learning platform?
Need: Centralized communication
Solution: Social networking with Chat?

Step 3: Collaborate with IT on Implementation

One of the great benefits of the new wave of HR technology is that technical implementation doesn’t require much, if any, heavy lifting. The real challenge is driving employee adoption, and that’s one area in which HR can play a more active role.

To that end, HR should focus on internal communications to promote adoption of the new tools and best practices around their usage.

“To encourage user adoption, being open and direct about the benefits of the technology is key,” says White. “Talk with your HR technology vendor about your adoption strategy. Many vendors offer resources to help you spread the word and build excitement about the solution. Remember–talk about what is in it for them, not you.”

It’s also effective to get your employees involved. At Software Advice, for example, employees in the Marketing department recorded video tutorials of each of the tools they use day-to-day. Each video walks new employees through basic functions and best practices, and outlines how they’re used for essential workflows. They’re useful, but they also gave employees a chance to share some insider information–and play a part in driving adoption.

It’s Time to Upgrade HR

HR departments fighting for a seat at the table aren’t doing themselves any favors by resisting innovation in workplace technology. There are bound to be hiccups when opening channels for employees to exchange ideas and information in real-time. But Lennon has a great point: “They’ll be surprised at how infrequently these [things] occur.”

The greater risk with these types of tools is that heavy-handed moderation can have a direct impact on your company’s investment in these technologies. If HR can focus on strategies to maximize return on investment, rather than policing use, they could position themselves as a major contributor in the social enterprise.

Thumbnail image created by zigazou76.

  • David E. Shatz

    Wished I would have known you were there. We exhibited and launched our engagement platform SPARC’D!

    • kyle_lagunas

      David! So sorry to have missed you, friend. It was an intense couple of days. I tried to maximize my time on the expo floor, but found myself in the briefing room more than anticipated.

  • Jocelyn Aucoin

    So good, Kyle!!

    “HR departments fighting for a seat at the table aren’t doing themselves any favors by resisting innovation in workplace technology.”


    HR needs to “get in the fast lane” or get run over. I for one and really amped for what this means for HR and the new role they get to take on. Rockstars!

    Thanks for breaking it down in such a practical way — I think the world needs more of this. More actionable steps to the HOW of this all.

    Great stuff.

  • Paul Smith

    Hi Kyle,

    You make some interesting points and offer some good advice in your three steps for HR. I think the notions of analyzing staff needs and operating toward your organization’s needs are always critical.

    I am concerned though about the first need which is “shedding dated practices”. Just because something is new doesn’t mean it’s a good technology or a good technology for an organization. For HR to define itself as a communications catalyst (which I fully support), I believe HR should first understand the digital vision the IT department has for the organization.

    Understanding the IT initiatives that cut across all lines of business, that deliver core customer services, and are the standard processes gives HR the ability to better strategize. Understanding the needs of employees is great. But if HR approaches IT saying, “employees need this or that” to do their jobs but has no understanding of efficiency or scalability, it defeats the notion that HR is a strategic partner with IT, and your third step of implementation will be that much more difficult.

    It’s true, HR should take a more strategic role. But it must understand the tactics first. Otherwise HR could fall right back into the “policing role” you described.

    • kyle_lagunas

      Great point, Paul–and one I didn’t have enough word count to explore. I think HR is in a great position to both identify employee needs and align them with IT initiatives. As I said, HR’s role here isn’t to take over IT initiatives, but to drive their success. Thanks for chiming in!

  • Rahul Patwardhan

    Hello Kyle,

    First of all thank you for great post!
    I would like to ask you that, how much important is the mobile workforce management? Does it really help to simplify HR activities? 

  • Pingback: Guest Post | Thoughts from HR Tech 2012: Upgrading HR’s Role in Enterprise 2.0 | Lucidica

  • Blogs by Market:
  • Subscribe to the Software Advice Human Resources Blog

Popular Blog Posts