Leading HR: Harnessing Social Power

HR Departments are often seen as the enforcers of the organization; the unbendable glue that protects it from litigation and unscrupulous employees. This is important, but HR also needs to see their role as one of building and valuing personal networks (Galbraith, 2000). The power of these networks cannot be understated. They form an invisible structure that is more powerful than any formal structure imparted by the organization’s leaders. Employees who effectively understand and navigate the social structure of an organization are the most influential employees, for better or for worse, in the organization.

Jay Galbraith describes the “reconfigurable organization” and argues that this type of organization must be able to reconfigure itself by forming teams and networks across organizational departments. As organizations continue to globalize, this ability to form partnerships becomes more and more complex. Galbraith also wrote that “the long-term human resources role is to build social capital by creating richly connected interpersonal networks across the organization.” Strong social networks within organizations can be a valuable competitive advantage in organizations and HR leaders are perfectly poised to ensure those networks remain strong. They are the people department after all.

This social power is especially important as Millennials continue to infiltrate workplaces. Millennials utilize technology with ease, and regularly engage and connect with their social networks. Thirty Percent of Millennials write openly about themselves online (Accenture, 2010), and I suspect that percentage is higher in 2012 than it was in 2010. The technology is a means to connect to them, not the actual connection itself. Most are unable to fathom life without these social networks: real or virtual. They were raised in a world where social media allowed them the freedom to interact with anyone they wanted to, and where the quality of a person’s ideas determines a person’s status, not their job title. They fundamentally believe that digital assets and knowledge are free. Other generations merely wish to believe this. HR leaders must learn to ride these trends, not just attempt to regulate them. Truly effective HR leaders will use these networks to the organization’s advantage, and increase its overall effectiveness by doing so.

Accenture. (2010). Jumping the boundaries of corporate IT: Accenture global research on Millennials’ use of technology. Retrieved from link.

Galbraith, J. (2000). Designing the global corporation. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

This is part One of a series I will be doing this summer on leadership by and from HR.


About Tim Vanderpyl
I am a student of leadership and human resources, and I'm blogging to share some of my thoughts and ideas with readers. I'm a CHRP (Certified Human Resource Professional) at a large healthcare organization, a graduate of Regent University's Doctor of Strategic Leadership program, and lover of the life that God has gifted me with.

One Response to Leading HR: Harnessing Social Power

  1. Hi just wanted to say that I like your article very much. Please keep up the good posts Thanks a ton! and Have a good day

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