Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Connecting an organization together, version 2.0

Posted in book recommendations, HR and personnel, social networking and business by Timothy Platt on September 25, 2009

This posting cuts across three categories I am interested in writing about, and I see it as touching on an issue that is broad-based enough in impact to merit that. First of all, I am putting this in my “book recommendations” category as I am rereading a book I see as offering real value here:

• Bryan, Lowell B. and Joyce, Claudia I. (2007) Mobilizing Minds: creating wealth from talent in the 21st century organization. McGraw-Hill

This book systematically explores a number of issues and approaches for dealing with them that I have been interested in since I first got to work on setting up a corporate Intranet, quite a few years ago now. In doing so it ties together a lot of areas that are too often viewed in isolation, at least relative to each other and this is why I bring in the other two blog categories: “social networking and business” and a new one I have left unused until now in my categories list “HR and personnel.” I will add that a major thrust of the book is in how an organization’s internal information architecture has to connect with and support ongoing strategy and business processes. I want to pick up on this here and add some of my own thoughts into this mix while doing so – an HR connection as I see it is one of them.

That first Intranet I worked on, and most current Intranets still have at least one salient point in common. They are one-directional resources for distributing information and policy to the troops by a central publishing, Web 1.0 model. There is, unintentionally, a second point that most Intranets have in common and that is the simple fact that people do not preferentially use their employer’s Intranet or access their organization’s knowledge base through it, and many organizations even overtly try to force the issue of employee Intranet usage by only providing key forms and other documents that employees must use only through their Intranets. Yes this does force people to go to the Intranet and yes it does make it easier to both distribute these forms, etc and keep people using their current versions. No, this does not encourage employees to actively browse the corporate Intranet to find and tap into new sources of value and it does not even entirely manage version control as people reuse older forms they have on their computers or that they get from colleagues. And a traditional 1.0 based Intranet does not help employees find the width of value that a more interactive Intranet could offer. That constitutes a hidden but significant loss for the entire organization.

This collective lost value is not in any way trivial as it impacts on some of the biggest avoidable cost centers that go into fixed operating expenses. One of them, it turns out, is avoidable staff turnover or churn. It is incredibly expensive to replace a skilled employee who has really learned an organization’s system and processes. These people know the skills needed to do their job that would appear in a job description, but more than that, they know how things are done within that organization and they know who does what and who does it well and quickly, and they know who knows who when they need networking help within that organization. When one of these employees leaves for a position elsewhere, so does all of their hard-earned knowledge and value. How does this connect in here? Exit interviews reveal a range of issues that prompt good and superior performance employees to look for new positions, and to be open to offers if approached. Salary and other monetary compensation are certainly on this list and so are things like “shorter commutes” but the most important reason that brings that employee into an exit interview when they make the decision to leave is usually different than them. Very often it is that even the best employees feel they are pigeonholed and under-utilized for the skills they can offer. And I will bring in another point here to mesh with that – an observation I have heard mirrored back to me from others too. Most of the time when an organization hires a consultant to come in from the outside to manage a task or resolve a problem, that organization had people in-house who could have done that job but for a variety of reasons it was not possible to bring together the right people from within to do the job.

This is partly because of organizational structure and the thick silo walls that can build up and it is partly the result of empire building that can go on within those silos and their sub-divisions, and to add to this it can be caused by a sometimes very genuine concern that managers in other parts of the organization may be looking to poach employees – take them and never let them go back to their old teams and areas of responsibility.

One thing an interactive, version 2.0 Intranet can support is an effective social networking capability where employees can share information on the wider range of what they can do and of what they would like to contribute to the organization. This can facilitate more effective team building to address new and emerging problems and opportunities and that can in turn both create new value and help retain these employees to the organization per se. (Note: I keep saying organization here instead of business or company as this all applies equally to nonprofits and for-profit organizations.)

That is all very nice in principal but it does raise a question as to how any of it could be implemented. An obvious fault line separating theory and practice is in the table of organization as it sets up and facilitates the silos that break the potential collaboration and problem solving capabilities I cite here as possible. Mobilizing Minds addresses enough areas of that to be worthwhile reading for that alone, though it only starts what has to be a much more through discussion, even in that area. Information Technology as a functional service within the organization has to be thought through and every other service and functional area would be changed by this as well. But one area that I see as meriting special consideration here is Human Resources – HR. Basically, I see a need for a major shift in HR and both in how it is viewed within the organization per se and in how it sees itself within its own departments. There, I am referring to how key HR personnel are trained, evaluated and advanced, and I am definitely referring to a shift in focus and priorities, or rather a very specific type of focus and priorities widening. That, I am going to touch on in my next posting.

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6 Responses

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  1. […] has been a lot of talk around social media and HR. The implications being seen as potentially very positive and transformative. […]

  2. […] has been a lot of talk around social media and HR. The implications being seen as potentially very positive and transformative. […]

  3. […] mucha conversación alrededor de medios sociales y HORA. Las implicaciones vistas como potencialmente muy positivo y […]

  4. […] y a eu beaucoup de conversation autour des média sociaux et de HR. Les implications étant vues comme potentiellement très positif et […]

  5. […] hat viel Gespräch um soziale Medien und Neue Tische gegeben. Die Implikationen, die als potenziell sehr positiv und […]

  6. […] большой разговор вокруг социальных СМИ и ЧАС. Значения, замечаемые как […]


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