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October 25, 2010 / Mervyn Dinnen

Connecting HR : The Revolution Starts Now!

Maybe revolution is a little strong, but there was definitely an air of change, of something new and exciting, happening at the ConnectingHR Unconference last Thursday.

Maybe it was the surroundings at Spring Community Centre (all very Reservoir Dogs) which lent the proceedings an almost militant air?

Or was it the ambience, part palpable excitement, part nervousness of the new that gave it an edge?

Whichever it was, there’s no denying that what started as a small step into Social for the UK HR community ended as a giant leap! When I went to HREvolution in May, the US HR community ended with a key track about breaking out of the echo chamber…for the UK it’s a case, for now, that we need to break IN! And I’m so excited to be part of a movement which is encouraging just that.

So having had a couple of days’ reflection, what are my thoughts? Three things stand out…

Engagement and Trust

It became clear during each track that I sat in, when the discussions turned to the leap of faith needed to let your people embrace the social and start connecting, that we have a way to go before we eradicate the fear. Fear of the unknown, fear of employees saying something that will reflect poorly on the company, fear of them saying things to each other that may de-motivate. Fear of the transparency and fear of the immediacy.

The attendees all wanted to know more; to be able to go back to their companies and make something new happen, yet back home there would undoubtedly be naysayers and doom mongers. There were certainly some lively discussions, with earlier adopters sharing examples with newer adopters of what had worked and what hadn’t.

And for me it always comes back to Engagement and Trust.

The second blog that I posted here, almost a year ago, was about needing to trust your people if you want to get the best out of them. I’ve had countless conversations about social media since then, with people talking about the control and guidelines, the policies and the ownership, and I’ve never wavered from my belief that if your employees are engaged, and they believe in the values of your company, and can operate in a transparent culture in which they are trusted to do things the right way, then you have nothing to fear from them embracing social media.

It was interesting that when we looked at the world cloud from the mornings chatter and tweeting, that the word ‘Control’ was most used. I don’t think that it was used in a negative way, but I do wonder if HR has an innate belief that if something was to go wrong it would be down to them.

We need to get the buy in from everyone…from the CEO to the cleaner. And if the CEO embraces Twitter, then he or she will have to accept that at 11pm one night they may end up online discussing the latest episode of Mad Men with the cleaner. If they have a problem with that then I believe that this is almost certainly indicative of a wider problem of engagement within the business.

Catalyst

The afternoon tracks I went to were a bit more political! The Age of Austerity loomed large over discussions about jobs, skills, training and the big society.

The two big discussions were over the role of HR during the next few years. Firstly, where did it sit during spending cuts and tough times? With management? With the wider workforce?  Or somewhere in the middle? And whose message will they be carrying? A much trickier question than first sounds.

Then I moved on to the the crowd sourced attempt to join the ‘What’s The One Thing I Would Change About HR’ thread.

Ultimately the two ended quite close together…HR needs to be commercial, to be in the business not regulating the business…and probably needs to attract operators from other support functions to really enhance this commerciality. Credibility wasn’t mentioned, but I suspect that a team drawn from a wider business background may pack more clout.

I had asked a question…what if, in Summer 2008, HR had gone to the board, concerned about the impending economic conditions, concerned that they had heard the sales team having difficulties, concerned that the finance team were worried on cash flow, and suggested that the company take a look at its plans and forecasts for the coming 2 years…would anyone have listened?

Probably not. If sales guys have a problem, then it’s up to their manger/director to sort it out…admission that things are getting tougher is more likely to lead to a new manager/director than a re-think of corporate strategy, so may not be aired.

HR should be at the heart of the business, its pulse and its heartbeat, and social media could and should be the oxygen that enables it. A truly connected company, with everyone in the conversation, can lead to a more enlightened, progressive business, in my very humble opinion.

Which is why I was so pleased that the final group decided that the one thing we would change about HR would be…to make it a catalyst for change, not an inhibitor to progress!

Action!

I’ve said three things, and that’s very apt, because the first attendee to blog was Alison Chisnell, talking about her 3 learning takeaways.

And this says it all for me because she had never blogged before, yet barely 12 hours after Gareth and Jon closed the doors on ConnectingHR (literally!) Alison published that blog. And it was her FIRST EVER BLOG. Now that’s what I call action! That’s being energised and motivated by an event!

Barely a few hours after that, two other attendees had changed their Twitter names to their own names and their avatars to pictures of themselves. More blogs were being published and were being commented on.

I could sense the energy and curiosity from the very first track, with HR professionals wanting to know more about what tools and platforms to use, how to use them and how to encourage others to use them. And within a day, they were jumping in and using them!

So there you have it. My fourth unconference and I really do still feel like a kid on Christmas morning at the start of each one…always fun, always entertaining, always informative and always full of really interesting people.

My biggest hope from this one?

HR is coming and they’re going to make the corporate world a lot more SOCIAL!

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