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Belinda Gannaway

Where HR and Social Collide

In these challenging economic times, where can businesses look to unlock revenue and margin growth? According to recent research by the Boston Consulting Group, robust HR is a key enabler. It found that companies who are people centred and invest in HR have up to 3.5 times the revenue growth and double the profit margins of competitors.

As someone who works in and around social business, I found this fascinating. Not least because the people-centred nature of social business puts it pretty much on the same page as sound HR when it comes to underlying principles.

There is mounting evidence to suggest social business practices will have a role in delivering sustainable performance in the years ahead (see the MIT Sloan Management 2012 Social Business Global Executive Study). So where exactly is the common ground?

The BCG research suggests three areas of HR have the greatest potential to drive performance – leadership development, talent management and performance management. So I thought I’d start by looking at some examples of where our work impacts on these areas.

Leadership development

Research finding: High-performing companies have leadership models that clarify leaders’ expected contributions and behaviour.

Engaging in social channels – both internally and externally – requires a culture of openness, a commitment to customer care and a dedication to getting problems resolved wherever the solution lies. For many organisations, making that a reality means big change.

When we help clients develop their social capabilities, we work with business leaders as well as project leads. Only by changing things top down and bottom up can organisations realise the opportunities and mitigate the risks of the connected world.

Business leaders need to fully buy in to the need for change if their organisations are to deliver the sort of experience their customers expect on social channels. We help business leaders understand the opportunity and how their organisations need to change to realise it. We also help flesh out the contribution they need to make as figure heads in the organisation and the behaviours they need to embrace to make the change real.

Talent management

Research finding: High-performing companies offer more development opportunities for a broader range of talent.

Because social is still seeking a natural home in many organisations. Marketing? Customer service? Comms? A lot of the work we do involves finding people with the right skills and aptitude to get involved.

Spotting people with a natural flair for conversations and solving problems and putting them at the heart of things gives us a real buzz. For example, we’ve seen amazing people in the operations of one large transport provider make a real impact on Twitter with their customer service skills.

We believe companies will have a greater chance of success in the future when more of their people are able and trusted to engage across digital channels to deliver the brand promise. That will require a new approach to tracking down and developing talent. And it challenges the traditional silos, thinking and culture that dominate too many organisations.

Performance management

Research finding: High-performing companies measure and reward people fairly and transparently. They promote meritocracy - rewarding behaviour, not just results.

As a democratic business, fairness, transparency and meritocracy are part of our DNA. As the values of the social web, they also dictate which companies will be able to prosper in the future.

Much has been written about the changing expectations of the workplace from people entering it for the first time. To attract and retain talent, organisations will need to be flatter, more transparent and flexible. And they will need to rethink how they motivate, monitor and reward performance.


This post touches on just some of the many common principles of good HR and sound social business. However, what it does hopefully demonstrate is the need for joined up thinking. As Jean-Michel Caye, senior partner at BCG, says: “It’s not enough to carry out people management activities in a linear and separate fashion. There is an integrated logic in how a company builds.”

If the social business approach teaches us anything, it’s that collaboration is a better way of working. So let’s get together. HR folk, are you up for the ride?

This post was filed under Current work, Digital transformation, Internal comms Comments are currently closed.


  1. Liz Barnes

    Oh yes – surely such an important overlap (hopefully fusion rather than collision). Perhaps HR will evolve and embrace other functions becoming ‘Social Resources’ at some point?
    I am curious though – regarding the outworking of social principles within an organisation. We know that some personality types are simply more ‘social’ than others (longing to engage, share, express, hear from others etc). If we restructure (and perhaps reward) around these ‘social’ types / behaviour are we just redressing an imbalance? Or asking staff to become more ‘social’? Might we alienate the ‘private’ thinkers who provide insight and energy through their focussed solitude? Perhaps this isn’t an issue for now…’socialising’ business might take precedence at least in the medium term. But I’d love to know the personality types of leaders / inspiring managers within developed or develping social businesses. Anyone want to share?

    Posted 9th August 2012 at 7:02 pm | Permalink
  2. Really interesting point Liz. I guess for me, making the organisation ready for a connected world is about putting the house in order and making it more human and better able to deliver on customers’ and employees’ needs and expectation. I don’t think everyone needs to be engaged in conversations with customers – and it’s vital to make space for introverts as well as extroverts (equality & diversity and all that). But I do think the requirements on business leaders are changing, and there is mounting demand for them to be visible and open. Not charismatic, perhaps, but definitely happy in public and comfortable about transparency.

    Posted 11th August 2012 at 2:21 pm | Permalink
  3. Steve Walker

    Interesting blog Belinda. The organisers of the Olympic Games have really tapped into some of the behaviours you talk about with the Gamesmakers. There are lessons there for organisations that want to “find people with the right skills and aptitude”. Anybody lucky enough to have visited the Olympic events will testify that there was a great deal of space for the extroverts to come forward and find a voice and the introverts to engage with customers at their own comfort level too. The level of ‘conversations’ was extremely high. The Gamesmakers have definately demonstrated a natural flair for conversations and were effective to wide acclaim right at the heart of things. If businesses can get this level of conversation going between their own people and their customers then I agree there is a huge opportunity to make a massive impact – whatever the channel.

    Posted 14th August 2012 at 11:25 am | Permalink
  4. Thanks Steve, what a brilliant example. I hadn’t thought of that. But got me thinking.

    Posted 14th August 2012 at 11:36 am | Permalink