Bringing the Social Model to Human Capital Management

John Wookey, Executive Vice President, Social Applications at , published “Why Human Capital Management Really Needs a Social Model” on TLNT ( in the May 2, 2012 issue.

Without diminishing what John has written, I want to elaborate upon and recommend counterpoints and further enhancements to the general themes he espouses.  I will elaborate on five quotes from the article:

1.     “People-centric systems should promote connection, communication, and collaboration.  That is the core of the social enterprise”. 

At face value, this statement is true.  There are, however, various ‘flavors’ of connection, communication, and collaboration that offer and support alternate objectives.

As commonly practiced, the social enterprise advocates promote a one-to-many communication paradigm in which each individual broadcasts information out to everyone in the group.  Examples include:

  • Project team members share their personal goals with the whole team.
  • Individuals send out queries company-wide seeking help.
  • Shared document edits are seen by everyone.
  • Coworkers award badges to each other in an open feedback forum.

The benefits can be readily appreciated, but there are also limitations to these practices:

  • Participation can be spotty; some people participate a lot (sometimes too much), others not at all.
  • Kudos are happily awarded, while critiques are rarely entered.
  • Broadcasting needs and gathering input from a larger and larger social group has value, but social networks do a poor job coordinating work and actually taking action.
  • Groups tend to diffuse responsibility; information sharing is very different from accountability.
  • Too much sharing can challenge a healthy respect for privacy and appropriate confidentiality.

Lastly, due to its more random nature, a one-to-many forum produces little hard data from which to develop meaningful performance metrics.

Moving forward the most effective social enterprises will blend the one-to-many social paradigm with its newer counter-part, the one-to-one paradigm: two specific people having a focused interaction.  It is still about connection, communication, and collaboration, but at a granular level taking action involves a performer delivering some outcome to someone else who can assess the completeness and express specific satisfaction.

This dialog can be either private (visible only to the two parties) or open (visible to a broader group of interested parties).  The key principle is the authenticity and personal integrity of the two parties.  This emphasis is less freewheeling than the one-to-many paradigm, but this more disciplined communication drives greater intimacy and personal accountability by making commitments explicit and tracking each deliverable.  Accountability and engagement are made palpable, and tracking deliveries against commitments yields a wealth of actionable metrics.

2.     “Lack of meaningful information is the hallmark and curse of every legacy HR system.”

This comment is perhaps a bit overstated; though the point has merit.  I would urge, however, that while creating a social enterprise will render new information, the data’s meaningfulness has limits.  Tuning in to the social buzz around what has been called the ‘enterprise social water cooler’ can certainly provide a more real-time picture of employee concerns than a survey.  Employees can share comments and suggestions that may result in improved operations.  Badges awarded to colleagues can be accumulated at review time.

I submit, however, the inherent diffusion of a large social group, coupled with its anonymity and randomness of participation severely limits real meaningful metrics.

3.     “Making the [performance management] process collaborative – and allowing people to commit – creates and fosters a real dialogue across an organization.” 

I have spent years studying, and understanding the process and practices associated with making commitments.  Commitments are, indeed, what really drive actions.   But just making performance management ‘collaborative’ does not get stuff done.  Commitments can and, to be most effective, should be publicly shared, but the actual formation of a commitment is a person-to-person endeavor.  Some enterprises are certainly moving away from command-and-control practices and toward more bottom-up participation and engagement.  On the other hand, the actual process of making and tracking commitments, plus the feedback and metrics associated with delivering on those commitments, requires more discipline and rigor than is typically offered in purely social one-to-many dialogues.

4.     “Feedback should be open and collaborative…which results in transparency, trust, and alignment”. 

This observation is certainly overstated.  Sure, some feedback can be more open and it is fine to get kudos from colleagues in other departments, but other client-customer or manager-employee/performer feedback (one could even argue the most important feedback) should certainly not be done in an open forum.  And it is oversimplified to make the leap that open and collaborative communication automatically yields more transparency and trust.

5.     “A social HCM system still supports the creation of formal reviews and metrics-based assessments.” 

Yes, sharing goals with the group and accumulating badges and feedback from colleagues across the enterprise is a step beyond the old 360review process, but providing metrics-based assessment, not so much.

Meaningful metrics rely on facts that are documented and comparable.  The system for collecting data must be structured and consistent across the entire enterprise.  These are not typically the qualities of a purely social, one-to-many network.  The evolving complementary one-to-one social systems will add an important adjunct that can provide meaningful metrics.


The social enterprise is coming and with it comes a wealth of new opportunities. But, let’s include in our enthusiasm an appropriate understanding of the deeper practices and behaviors we all seek to transform, as well as the new communication structures that will actually support performance improvement.

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