It’s probably fair to say that some in the HR profession have been a bit slow to appreciate the value that active use of social media tools could add to their role. If anything, the over-riding reaction seems to have been one of trying to control employees’ use of social media and of dismissing the growing number of internal networking and collaborative tools as just passing fads.

The ‘social’ bandwagon, however, continues to roll into town and shows no sign of slowing down. Forward thinking HR people have already realised that if they embrace the social revolution rather than trying to fight against it, they can actually make a real difference in areas like employee engagement, team-work and innovation. This is especially true for small and mid-sized businesses that are lacking the money and resources to invest in employee portals or collaboration tools that have been available to bigger organisations for some time.

So what are the key areas of work where HR can use social media tools to make a significant impact on the business?

Engaging Employees

A recent article in HR Magazine points out that HR people should be among the most connected in the company. Some of the latest social media tools can help them achieve just that – and also create a real sense of community among employees at the same time. The technology is now available to help companies build internal networks where people can input ideas, share information and ask pressing questions. HR, for example, could seek feedback on the type of benefits employees would value or stimulate a discussion about how internal communication could be improved. These tools give people from across the business the chance to input their views, feel involved with change initiatives and really engage with whatever it is the company is trying to achieve.

Promoting Knowledge-sharing

How many times has your business reinvented the wheel or duplicated effort simply because one team or department doesn’t know what the other is doing? Internal networking platforms provide a great opportunity for people to share knowledge, collaborate and drive projects forward much faster. They give individual employees the opportunity to post a profile – in the same way they would on LinkedIn  – and to tell others about their areas of expertise and what they are working on. It helps to break down barriers and enables people to quickly get answers to questions or problems they may otherwise have been grappling with for days.  It’s also a great way for the business to get a real handle on the talent it has in-house and to spot employees with skills and abilities they may not previously have been aware of.

Driving learning and development

The beauty of some of the latest generation of social tools is that they allow employees to access just-in-time learning. The wealth of (often free) learning material available on line is astounding.  Name just about any topic or skill and a quick search will unearth a long list of wikis, blogs, podcasts, presentations and videos that people can use to build their knowledge. Employees do, of course, often need help to navigate their way around the plethora of content that’s out there – and there are now tools and sites designed to help companies ‘curate’ knowledge or direct employees quickly to the information they need. A key advantage for the business is that it puts responsibility for driving learning into the hands of the individual and makes the pursuit of knowledge an integral part of their daily working lives. People identify a development need and at the click of a mouse can find the information and insights they need to help them progress whatever task is to hand.

Sharing praise

We all like a pat on the back for a job well done. But research has shown that public recognition and praise is particularly important for the Generation Y employees who are entering the workforce now. The growing trend towards ‘social’ performance management is making it increasingly possible for employees to get ‘real time’ feedback and public praise on their performance – and not just from their managers but from peers, colleagues and even clients too. It offers companies the potential to make performance management a much more ‘live’ and motivational process, rather than the static and often negative interaction produced by the more traditional annual appraisal. Of course the added bonus is that any development needs can be identified and tackled much more quickly – setting people up for even greater success in the future.

Managing work more efficiently

On-line task management tools can now make HR’s job (and everyone else’s) much more streamlined and efficient. The latest solutions allow people to log, organise and monitor progress on tasks from one central location.  We are talking about much more than an electronic ‘to do’ list or an on-line calendar. Today’s tools are sophisticated pieces of software which help people to focus on their priorities, see what others are doing and collaborate on tasks.

The reality, however, is that for many hard-pressed HR people, keeping on top of all the latest tools is just too big a challenge. The HR software industry has responded by developing a new breed of HR systems (such as Cezanne OnDemand) which incorporate many of these ‘social’ features into the technology companies are already using to manage their people processes.

It’s a real step forward which enables companies to not only streamline their admin and make HR processes more consistent, but also to get people really engaged and working towards a common goal.

What’s your view? Is HR finally waking up to the benefits of social or is it still a step too far for many practitioners?

Erika Lucas author image

Erika Lucas

Writer and Communications Consultant

Erika Lucas is a writer and communications consultant with a special interest in HR, leadership, management and personal development. Her career has spanned journalism and PR, with previous roles in regional press, BBC Radio, PR consultancy, charities and business schools.

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