Private social network as strategic HR tool

LATEST thinking in strategic HR splits its practices into five clusters: People practices, reward and performance practices, work practices, leadership practices and communication practices.

The Human Capital Telescope by Brett Chulu

The latter cluster of HR practices is beginning to receive serious attention.

This article looks at how business in Zimbabwe can leverage on private social networking platforms to do strategic HR communications. Strategic HR communications refers to how the expectations of external customers (the ones that pay the business’s bills) and of those that confer on the business the right to play the game (regulators and interest communities), together with the business’s strategies are made known to employees.

It also involves letting external customers know how well employees are delivering and being developed to deliver on their expectations.

Leveraging on private social networking
What we are teasing out here is not best practice; it is architecture for next practice. Businesses differentiate themselves through next practice and not best practice.

Advances in communication technology today can allow a business to own its private social networking site. We are not talking Facebook or LinkedIn. We are talking of a private business networking site you can set up for your business.

A private social networking site, owned and controlled by a big business gives it some of the competitive advantages enjoyed by a small entrepreneurial business. In a small business of say 20 or so employees, the CEO knows every employee by name. The small business CEO has the ability to quickly communicate strategic and operational issues, reaching out to the entire organisation in a short space of time. In an entrepreneurial small business, employees and the CEO can develop one-on-one interaction necessary to explain strategy and operations. This can result in capabilities such as strategic unity, collaboration, speed-to-market, for instance.

As a result, entrepreneurial small businesses, ironically and by default, are more strategic in their HR than even big blue chip organisations. The reason for this anomaly is really a no-brainer—the CEO of the small business effectively acts as the HR Director! Thus in a small business the strategic HR agenda gets the attention at the highest level. Small businesses can out-compete big businesses in certain market niches because they have better organisation (ability to weld together individual employees to focus and deliver on a business agenda). Big businesses can access some of the competitive potencies of small-sized businesses through the innovative use of a private social network.

Innovative social networking
Here are four ideas, by no means exhaustive, on how Zimbabwean companies can leverage upon private social networking in their businesses.

Firstly, a private social network can be used to give members of the executive team of a big organisation, that employs several hundreds or thousands, direct access to all employees. Creative business leaders can use such an electronic platform to deliver a ‘state of the business’ address to regularly update employees on the strategic and operational priorities of the business. This can be delivered either in the form of a video posted on the social networking site or a posting in text form.

Employees could be allowed to give feedback on the ‘state of the business’ address. This idea is based on an employee engagement principle where employees want to know what’s going on in a business and why.

Secondly, a private social network can be used to convey feedback from external stakeholders to employees. For instance, critical incidents involving customers that occur on a day-to-day basis can be reported to employees, either to affirm positive behaviours cited by customers or highlight negative behaviours customers are frowning upon. When the business receives special commendation or awards from external communities, such information can be conveyed to employees via the private social networking site.

Similarly, if the organisation gets external negative publicity, it can use the private social networking site to explain its position to employees, minimising damage on the employer brand.
Thirdly, collaboration and learning can be enhanced. One of the projects that can be done via the private social networking site with speed and economy are employee surveys. Business leaders can quickly gather data from employees to gauge their disposition towards their work or company. What can be more strategic than knowing the pulse of your organisation? It is also possible to form communities of practice within the business itself to foster cross-functional collaboration.

Fourthly, special communications can be relayed speedily and economically. For instance, internal job vacancies can be effectively relayed to every employee. Instead of wasting funds on printing internal newsletters, electronic versions can be availed on the social networking site. An even more strategic communication opportunity is public recognition of teams and individuals as part of a reward and performance strategy.

One of the biggest challenges business leaders in Zimbabwe have is over-reliance on best practice. Religiously placing faith in best practice reflects a dearth of a culture of innovation in that you are relying on someone else somewhere to do the thinking for you.
Should you wish to set up a private social networking site for your business or organisation you can contact the author of this instalment.

Reflect on it
Think of at least 10 ways you can use a private social network to connect the behaviour of employees to your external customers. The reader who provides the most thoughtful and innovative ideas will receive a recently published book: Performance Management Handbook for Emerging Markets. The winner will be announced in this column next Friday.

Chulu is a strategic HR consultant who has worked with listed and unlisted companies. – brettchulu@consulant.com