The Art of HR: Building Social Networks

I studied two organizations this summer who renovated their buildings to specifically accommodate relationship building. Their central cores were filled with tables and couches for small or large gatherings. They both had a Starbucks inside the building (if there was ever an incentive to get me to work at a different company, that would be it) and strongly encouraged relationship building in meetings and interactions. The HR leaders at one of these organizations had a large cubicle for office space, not a segregated office hidden behind guards (also known as Executive Assistants). This leader admitted their social aspects were still a work in progress, but judging by my short visit, they seemed to be way ahead of other companies.

Social networking has evolved in various formats, using technological advances to allow people to communicate with their network in unique ways. These networks have infiltrated our workforce and have created numerous fluid dynamics in our workforce. Avid social networkers can now create a portfolio of jobs, without relying on one single employer. Charles Handy predicted this “portfolio life” more than twenty years ago. Handy argued that our society would see a rise of part-time and contracted work as people built portfolios of expertise. The collection of this expertise would form a ‘shamrock’ type of organization. Handy argued that a growing segment of the population would not work for a sole company, but rather contract out their services. Handy was mostly correct in his predictions, but even he probably did not foresee the explosion and extent of the technology and networks that would make this possible.

In today’s networked economy, when a person needs a realtor for example, they will look to their social network first, and will most likely give their business to someone in their social network, or someone recommended by their social network. Likewise for a plumber, interior decorator, photographer or bookkeeper. No amount of advertising can replace the recommendation of a friend. Corporations spend millions of dollars each year attempting to create campaigns that will encourage people to share the advertisements with their friends. “Check this out…” on a status update is the Holy Grail of advertisement, for better or for worse.

If I know five people who work at Company X and despise their jobs, my view of that organization will be tainted. I will probably not want to work there, nor will I purchase their products or services. But if I know five people who work at Company Z who love their jobs and speak very highly of their company, then I will want to work there. I will also be more likely to purchase their products or services. Employees are ambassadors for their organizations, whether they know it or not. The organization’s perceived value in a social network is only as good as the collective sum of the perceptions of their own individual value in that social network. As one HR leader described this to me, “good news begets good news. When you are a successful organization, people come to you.” This HR leader was quite proud of the fact that his organization spends very little on recruitment advertising but still receive more than 80,000 unsolicited applications each year.

The power of social networking remains elusive to most organizations and conquering this elusiveness will be the key to many organizations’ success globally in the 21st Century. Some organizations (including one of the ones I studied) are merging their communications departments into their HR department. They have realized that there is no such thing as internal and external communications anymore, and that they have untapped communications power in their employees. I foresee this convergence at many other organizations in the near future.

HR leaders must also be able to train leaders on how to effectively navigate the informal social network within the organization. Social competencies are extremely important, and helping employees increase their social acumen is as important as any other competency that trainers can train for. Social acumen is essential to innovation, and requires a unique blend of tact, perseverance, skills and internal alliances. To teach this, HR must first set an example for the rest of the organization by building its own internal social networks. Effective leadership in this area will be required of 21st Century HR Professionals, and we ignore this area to the detriment of our entire profession.

Handy, C. (1989). The age of unreason. Boston: Harvard Business School Press.


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.

4 Responses to The Art of HR: Building Social Networks

  1. hindoldatta says:

    Reblogged this on Linked Stars Blog.

  2. Reblogged this on Pinstripe Pumps and commented:
    It is crucial that companies grasp the importance of people’s social networks and how they impact their every day decision-making processes. Channelled effectively, social networking while on the job can help to increase innovation and stamina in the workforce.

    Just this past year, Suncor Energy loosened their security settings on their work computers, allowing employees to check their social networks, such as Facebook, during work hours!

    Social media competency is important to every business, as social media becomes a powerful marketing and brand dissemination tool.

  3. Hi Tim;

    I find it interesting that you received your Masters in Leadership. I graduated from Wilfrid Laurier University with a HBA in Business Leadership myself! I have heard that many HR professionals are looking for people with degrees in Leadership, guessing from your life-path into HR, I would assume that you have found that to be true?

    Have a great evening,

  4. Hi Brienne. I’m not sure HR Pros are specifically looking for degrees in leadership, but it is becoming more and more common. I suspect these types of degrees might one day be deemed equal to MBAs, but we’ll see. Executives can delegate marketing, analysis, accounting and other ‘hard’ aspects of their jobs. But they can’t delegate effective leadership. Programs like mine (and yours as well) really help those leaders hone the ‘soft’ parts of their leadership. hopefully that translates into business results for them.

    I wouldn’t change my education path for anything. People fascinate me, and it seems the more I learn about leadership, the more I realize how much there still is to learn.

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