Social tools – a people issue or not?

At a recent symposium I attended in London, one of the discussion points was – why should Learning & Development have anything to do with Social Media/Collaboration tools? I found myself in somewhat of a minority on this one as I firmly believe that they should! So, today’s blog post will explain why that is the case!.

The session abstract for my recent session at the Saba People 2010 Conference is a good starting point:..

  “Most organizations already have social tools- but they don’t connect people inside the firewall on issues of import to the company or the people that work there. Companies will need to change behaviour and reward knowledge sharing to maximize the value of enterprise social networking. It’s a people challenge, not an IT or communications problem and HCM is the key to success for knowledge sharing and collaboration projects. This session looks at why HCM applications are the natural home for collaboration and social technologies”.

For any initiative to succeed, there has to be a business case – the introduction of new social media tools is no different! Having had a strong background in studying Knowledge Management over the last 10 years, I looked at the business case in a slightly different way to many of my peers. In a nutshell, I can’t put it better than this:.

  “an organisation’s knowledge walks out of the door every night – and it might never come back.”

SOURCE: Kevin Abley (Cap Gemini) in OR Society Conference on Knowledge Management, London, Nov 1998.

To put that into perspective, we know both what our current staff attrition rates are and when people are due to retire. The worse case scenario could be that up to 50% of the people in your organisation today, may not be there in 5 years time – and of course, their tacit knowledge will literally “walk out fo the door and not come back”.  That to me is a not only a strong case for action but also and indication that this is indeed a people issue! We have to provide our people with tools and a new culture where knowledge sharing is actively encouraged.


But it’s not just about KM thinking – let’s also consider this definition of Social Networking from Wikipaedia:

  “A social network is a social structure made of nodes (which are generally individuals or organisations) that are tied by one or more specific types of interdependency, such as values, visions, ideas, financial exchange. friendship, kinship, dislike, conflict or trade.”


Where the HCM space has a role to play in this is for me, quite clear! If we are to promote knowledge sharing in an on-line environment, we also need to create the context for people to want to be part of  a collaboration community. With the knowledge we alreay have of our people in our HRMS /HCM systems, we have the ability to build these communities and connect people by bringing the community to them instead of them having to seek it out – some examples of this are:.

  • People with the same job
  • People with the same competency or skill requirement
  • People in the same location
  • People attending the same training event. 

Another part of this is also to enable us to find experts we have never met – from the data we hold about the competence/performance/skills of our people, we should be able to identify subject matter experts and make them available to help other community members. Even if you are not a Saba customer, the messages in their promotional video “The Ask” bring this aspect to life.


Here’s another view on Collaboration – this time from Elliott Masie:.

Collaboration requires several key components:.

  • Trust
  • Need/Motivation
  • Shared Aspirations
  • Traditions
  • Listening
  • Courage
  • Critical Thinking
  • Time
  • Tolerance of Diversity
  • A Shared Language .

I don’t see much in that list that tells me that IT are the right people to be defining how we deal with Collaboration!.

But it’s not just me saying this! At an event earlier this year, Thomas Otter from Gartner suggested ”  Work on your strategy for social software in HCM and Learning now!”. And of course, we are starting to see the Learning vendors including social tools – I guess they agree with me too!.

Wherever you stand on this, Social Media isn’t going to go away and whilst we in the HCM space have an opportunity to influence how it is deployed in our organisations, then we should step up and do it!

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