Social Business: What It Can Mean for HR

Social Business: What It Can Mean for HR

Posted by Doug Palmer on September 19, 2013

The second annual Deloitte and MIT Sloan Management Review (MIT SMR) research study continues our exploration of the social business landscape and how organizations are changing how work gets done by embedding social capabilities into processes and workflows. Three-quarters of the HR professionals who participated in the research (vs. 70% for all respondents) believe social business is an opportunity to “fundamentally change the way we work.” Tellingly, however, HR’s usage of social business still trails other functions. Only 14% of respondents from HR reported their organization’s use of social business in HR to a great extent vs. 46% of marketing respondents and 31% of customer service respondents. We think this points to a real opportunity for HR, as we see many ways social business can be used to enhance primary HR functions.

The uses of social business in HR span internal areas such as learning and development and external areas such as recruiting and staffing. Over the past year, survey respondents overall reported increasing use of social business in two specific areas of HR: identifying expertise (17% reporting an increase) and managing talent (14% reporting an increase). HR respondents themselves reported that their department uses social business most often in recruiting/managing talent (39%).

Which uses of SB have increased within your organization within the last 12 months? (Respondents selected up to 3)

The somewhat broad uses of social business in HR can be broken down as follows:

  • Recruiting — A variety of social tools like LinkedIn and Twitter help companies find and attract top talent. Some companies, including Covance, which was interviewed for our study, leverage these tools to establish relationships with potential candidates throughout the hiring cycle, even during the earliest stages when candidates simply want to understand what it would be like to work for that company.
  • Hiring/Staffing — Not everyone has to be inside the organization. In the Open Talent Economy, the 2013 Human Capital Trends report authored by my Deloitte colleagues Andy Liakopoulos, Jeff Schwartz, and Lisa Barry, talent resides on a continuum ranging from full-time employees to open source communities that support a company’s business objectives.
  • Onboarding — Collaboration tools like Chatter and Yammer help get people acclimated and connected to others in the organization much faster, driving increased productivity for the organization. Gamification can also be used to educate new employees about the organization and engage them more fully.
  • Learning/Development — Some of these same social collaboration and gamification tools not only have implications for how a company structures and delivers learning, but also how employees access colleagues to get help and learn in a just-in-time way.
  • Performance Management — Companies are building tools that provide more real-time capability to capture employees’ contributions, connections, and reputations — and their impact — vs. only on a six-month or annual cycle.

While social’s uses in HR are compelling, the fact that many HR professionals are not yet using social to a great extent may have a silver lining. Perhaps one advantage of HR not being as aggressive in adopting social business compared to peers in other functions is that it can learn from the lessons of those that have already gained meaningful experience. In last year’s inaugural research with MIT SMR, we found that early adopters of social business tools and technologies tended to put the cart before the horse, starting with a social technology or social medium, and then looking for the social network and business problem it might solve. In contrast, we find that many leading organizations are putting strategy first, so the business objective or issue is driving the social business initiative.

In that vein, given the places where social business intersects HR — recruiting, hiring/staffing, onboarding, and the like — you might begin by asking what your organization needs to improve in these areas.

  • Do you need to widen the top of the funnel and broaden your recruiting efforts?
  • Do you need to “close” more of the candidates you recruit?
  • Do you need a way to acclimate people to their jobs and your culture faster and more effectively?
  • Are your learning systems meeting the needs of the business and your workforce?
  • Is your performance management system driving the desired behaviors and outcomes?

Maybe you’ll find that social business has a role to play in resolving your issues and meeting important business objectives, or maybe you won’t. But if you’re like 75% of your HR colleagues who responded to our survey and believe social business can fundamentally change the way we work, it’s worth exploring the possibilities.

MIT SMR and Deloitte’s latest study gives examples of companies using social business in this way. We’re also beginning to work on new research — our third annual study — and would appreciate your taking a moment to complete our quick poll and/or comment below to tell us if and how HR is using social business in your organization.


Doug Palmer Doug Palmer is a principal in Deloitte Consulting LLP and currently leads Deloitte’s Social Business practice, advising clients in areas related to social media, collaboration, gamification, and the adoption of emerging technologies.


As used in this document, “Deloitte” means Deloitte Consulting LLP, a subsidiary of Deloitte LLP. Please see www.deloitte.com/us/about for a detailed description of the legal structure of Deloitte LLP and its subsidiaries. Certain services may not be available to attest clients under the rules and regulations of public accounting.

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