Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Future of organizational development: framing for a learning experience

If HR is to assume a leading role in the next generation, social, organization, it should lead the way in framing the working & learning environment that will allow the emergence of meaningful learning and working patterns within this organization.

This next generation, social, enterprise builds upon external trends, as it is now commonly admitted that the social web is opening new horizons for business organizations, from user experience (consumerization of IT) to new learning models (social learning). By understanding the inner workings of this social web and successfully adapting them to the specific goals and constraints of business organizations, HR has yet another opportunity to reinvent itself and the way it impacts organization and talent development.

Translating user experience within the business organization

A very useful way to understand the inner workings of the social web, is to take the «user perspective». This, in turn, helps understand possibilities for a new «employee perspective», that is in line with the potential offered by social technologies.

This post by Peter Kim was very helpful in this respect, as it helped me picture the evolution from the first years of the internet and WWW to the social web and the impact of this evolution on user perspective. Beyond consuming information online (whether it was reading news or finding better pricing deals), like in the good old days of Web1.0, users are now having a complex and engaging web experience, in which they read, view, listen, share, contribute, speak, curate, in which they both more precisely relate to the real world (internet as a medium) and live in the virtual world, contributing to producing and then experiencing virtual goods, like music, videos, games, (the virtual world as a universe).

In a similar fashion, in the organization, we are moving from a world where internet technology was just a medium to a world where social technology helps build a working and learning environment. We are moving from a world where technological tools allowed to communicate with each other (mail) and to produce and consume information (MS Office, systems of records) to a world where technological tools are growing, imbricating with each other to form a new working and learning environment (social technologies, social enabled systems of records, apps ecosystems, persistent user experience from desktop to mobile, ...).

In the web 1.0 days, the user perspective was enhanced access to information and facilitated transaction. Similarly, in the old eHR days, the employee perspective, as internet technology is concerned, was enhanced execution: as an employee, I would be able to better perform my HR-related activities
  • Better knowledge of my team member skills and experience, and facilitated access to assessment tools;
  • Improved learning experience through e-learning, improved training administration and expanded knowledge base;
  • Almost real-time access to open positions and improved mobility potential;
  • Better access to internal communications through the company intranet;
  • ...

Today, the user perspective is an engaging, persistent, rich, social, mobile, collaborative, ... experience. For HR, there is a challenge in translating this user experience into an «employee experience», that is not about «better performing HR tasks». It’s, at the very least, about learning, collaborating, cooperating and curating.

From user experience platforms to learning & working environements (or learning organizations)

To understand what this change of perspective entails for HR as a function, the post of Peter Kim is once again helpful, as it helps understand what the social web key players are up to.

When we move from Web 1 to Web 2, Peter basically states, key players are not focused on "accelerating sales processes of brick and mortar stores"; ... ;"the key consideration this time around isn't user eyeballs - it's ownership of the user experience"

To own the client experience, key social web players are focused on creating user experience platforms leveraging and integrating "browsers, operating systems, peer-to-peer messaging, mobile devices, inquiry data and personally identifiable information". It is likely that this framework will mature, but even in this first attempt, it provides a useful analogy to see how HR needs to change to be able to provide an internal platform that helps the company maintain their associates (employees, partners, ...) intellectually, emotionnally and physically connected to the corporation.

And that is because, in the corporation, ownership of the user experience probably translates into benefiting from the continued intellectual, emotional and physical focus of an employee on supporting the relationships that ultimately make the value of the business to its clients.

In my experience, HR use of technology has been focused on improving intermediation between supply and demand for talent and for knowledge. It was a focus on the productivity of existing HR activities. Now, what would it mean for HR to contribute to building an employee experience platform ? And, can it actually accomplish that ?

Becoming the architect of the learning and working environment : the case for HR leadership in the organization

With social business or E2.0 projects, organizations are designing, building and getting ready to continuously adapt the learning and working environment that will allow their employees to deliver a meaningful experience to their clients. These environments are (or should be) centered on people, organized around social objects and focused on delivering meaningful relationships.

The sheer complexity of these projects can be daunting. And the risk is that the central objective be lost. The central objective, of course, is providing a platform in which the «employee experience» emerges and continuously evolves in the best interest of the company’s clients. To avoid this risk, there is a need to have an employee experience champion. 

HR should be best suited to become this champion, but only if it evolves in four dimensions: 
  • what it learns; 
  • how it transforms its existing responsibilities; 
  • how it collaborates with other functions.

HR needs to become the social technology champion. That is the evolution that is needed in what HR learns, as a corporate function. Up to this day, HR expertise has mainly been in organizational and talent development, personnal development, HR administration and labor relations. Technology was considered as another tool, and as a tool it was used, but not really understood. This evolution is key, as it is unlikely that HR can become the employee experience champion without developing a strong intimacy with the technology, both by living within it and by understanding its potential, from a strategic and transformational point of view.

The second evolution I see for HR concerns its existing responsibilities. It is a tough transformation, and will take a significant amount of time. Here are some questions that provide a starting point :
  • Should HR still be the owner of the people development processes ? Should it keep its intermediation position (by managing processes and owning competency frameworks) ? Or should it concentrate on strategic leadership positions and drive an R&D approach for development of all other populations (including future leaders) ?
  • Should HR still manage training budgets and operations ? Or should it concentrate on facilitating interaction between talents and on the job learning ? 
  • Should HR only work on the professional profile aspect or the corporate social network ? Or should it drive an ambitious strategy, focusing on context, social objects and people ?
  • What do the changes at hand mean for job-definition and job grading ? Should HR be governed by old, industrial principles, or could drive a differentiated strategy, depending on the nature of the work at hand (automated, social, creative) ?

Finally, HR needs to work hand in hand with IT and communication (at the very least). How it collaborates with these two functions is key, for they also can pretend to be employee experience champion. I will explore that in a future post.


  1. < HR needs to become the social technology champion. That is the evolution that is needed in what HR learns, as a corporate function. >

    Such a deep and daunting challenge, I think. Any initiative in this direction will quickly involve talking and collaboration with IT, and those two depts (IT & HR) have always been uneasy cousins. There are a decent number of difficult challenges well before HR becomes a 'knowledgeable' champion of such technology.

    Please note I am not at all criticizing or discouraging your logic and suggestion. On the contrary I think it's fundamentally necessary. It's just (I think) going to be very tough.

    Jon Husband

    I would be very happy to be surprised and have to eat my words.

  2. Thanks for your thoughts Jon. It will be (actually, it is) very tough. But things have a tendency to evolve, and even HR and IT departments will evolve - they might actually disappear if the value they bring is not in line with the potential that both technology and human work have for our corporations.
    I am an advocate of managed transformation, that's why I push for these departments to reinvent themselves, but change will come.