Thursday, 17 November 2011

With Demos on social mobility


   This blog tends to deal with organisational social collaboration, and within this agenda, its main focus is often on social technologies.  That’s not actually my intent –I do want to focus more broadly on other aspects of being social in organisations eg social responsibility outside these organisations, as I do believe these issues all inter-relate, or at least require a similar perspective. 

Well yesterday morning I attended a roundtable on social mobility with political think tank, Demos.  With a few HRDs, journalists, researchers and parliamentary special advisors there, we had what I thought was a good discussion about this issue, a couple of points from which I summarise below:

  • The concern is over relative social mobility (ensuring the low-skilled / paid can progress upwards – as well as the high skilled / paid downwards) rather than absolute mobility (increasing the standards of living for everyone).  [And people talk about HR-speak!  Unless I’m missing something, I interpret this as concern for social mobility over what you get at the bottom of society if there isn’t any mobility.]
  • The government is struggling with challenges relating the open vs the big society (from an open society perspective, the big society’s focus on informal social networks is one of the main problems in society).
  • Some organisations invest in supporting social mobility (apprentice programmes, paid interns, work experience programmes etc) for philanthropic reasons, some because they think there is a business case – even if it sounds to everyone else as if they’re just doing it because they think it’s the right thing to do.  Most don’t do very much at all.
  • Individuals with ‘low social mobility’ ie crap jobs need to raise their aspirations – neither the government nor employing organisations can do this for them.


I didn’t get a chance to add to the debate yesterday, but the points I would have made are:

  • There isn’t a solid enough business case to invest in social mobility at the moment, particularly when many of them are just trying to stay in business.  I agree that talent management professionals should have a longer-term focus but I don’t think this is the right time to ask.
  • Having said that, there are some signs that focus in areas like social responsibility in increasing, and the government should obviously push the door when there’s an opportunity of it opening.  Organisations can sign up for the government’s social mobility contact here.  The most impactful thing I think organisations could do however, would be to start giving better feedback to job seekers, particularly those who have just left school or university, or are from disadvantaged backgrounds etc.
  • But what’s really needed, I think, is for organisations to change the way they work, and be smarter in what they do - and doing this, might well provide a business case. One thing that would help would be switch in focus from always recruiting the best people to recruiting the most cost effective, eg someone from a lower status university who might not be quite as good (though there did seem to be fairly broad support at the roundtable is that what differentiates the high status Russell Group universities from the rest is the attendance of confident if incapable ‘Dim Tim’s).  But because there’s less competition for theses less attractive individuals they can be picked up without paying anything like so much (a bit like John Boudreau’s arguments for focusing on pivotal talent management perhaps).
  • As another example, one of the speakers talked about PwC moving from recruiting graduates to school leavers.  Well I did this 15 years ago at Ernst & Young.  But the reason that we developed our Accounting Technician stream wasn’t about a philanthropic concern or even a business case for social mobility, it was because we’d redesigned the organisation and realised that not everything done by an auditor needed a chartered accountancy qualification.  So when Demos ask ‘how cna the government up-skill HR professionals to implement more effective social mobility strategies in the workplace’, I have to say 1, that they can’t, and 2, that it’s the wrong question anyway.  HR, and other business leaders, just need to be smarter at building their organisations differently (ie better).  If they did this, then work wouldn’t be so hour glass (or even squeezed toothpaste tube shaped.
  • I’d also like to see organisations loosing some of their focus on individual talent management and putting a bit more effort into building collaborative organisations (ah, back to that again!).  I think social mobility, and just generally better performance, would be a natural consequence of this sort of shift as well. 


Picture credit: accent on eclectic


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Saturday, 5 November 2011

Chairing the Social Workplace conference


   On Tuesday I chaired the new Social Workplace conference in London.

This was a great event, focused on the digital workplace.

Highlights for me were:

  • Lee Bryant’s points about:
    • Social business will be key to engineering ourselves out of the economic crisis
    • It fits exception handling in a complex process driven organisation
    • Humans being leaky so organisations will never have 100% data security
    • Amazon having ‘2 pizza teams’ (if two pizzas is not enough to feed it then the team is too big)
  • Benjamin Ellis talking about:
    • Digital being about engagement – making someone want to come and play on a website vs traditional interrpution marketing (putting the intranet on the home page – similar to putting adverts in the middle of a TV programme) eg a good strategy is to tell people NOT to use the intranet
    • The spectrum of communication activities ranging through broadcasting to feedback (still over a closed channel) to dialogue to networking
    • The culture of sharing which works best if you share something when it’s unfinished
    • Measurement being largely qualitative – through tags and comments
  • Elizabeth Lupfer on social experience and the importance of employee profiles, tagging and social recognition (gamification):


Picture credit: Olga Pavlovsky


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In the IBM Forum: conversations on social business


   After a week focusing on the ‘analogue’ / physical workplace, it was back into the digital world this week.  It was also a week on my feet as on Tuesday I chaired the Social Workplace conference in London and then on Wednesday and Thursday I chaired the new HR Technology (including social technology) conference in Amsterdam.  And it was a week of learning about IBM as I was with Jon Mell (who I interviewed recently) at the Social Workplace conference and Ian Bird at the HR Technology one.

But this focus actually started on Monday with a session at IBM featuring a few bloggers: Johnnie Moore, Peter Gold and Matt Alder (pictured) plus Mike Morrison (sat behind me) and some people from IBM, including Jon (pictured), and Stuart McRae, who I saw present on IBM’s jams earlier this Summer.

We kicked off with a suggestion from Jon Mell that in today’s organisation, where hierarchy doesn’t matter (doesn’t it?), being social is a key requirement, and that this needs to go beyond being digital.  For some reason, despite this encouragement to go broader, our conversation seemed to focus heavily on social tools.

Some of the key points we discussed, for me, were:

  • Our workforces are increasingly ahead of their organisations.
  • Despite this, social networking tools often aren’t working well in organisations – following your boss feel like friending your dad – not cool.
  • Where it works, it’s because social networking has been made an organic part of the business vs employees being social and then going back to work [though I challenged this as I think in the best social organisations, social plays a much bigger role than this].
  • There are some challenges in this too.  Stuart gave the example of auditors using the network of people they studies for their accountancy qualifications with in preference to senior staff in their own firms – leading to information leakage and greater difficulty in firms establishing their own approach.
  • People naturally follow social processes rather than business processes, so we need to unforce people (from using business processes) rather than force them (to use social processes).
  • Unplanned outcomes are often the most interesting.    Peter gave an example of a retail company where staff pushed back against being given T-shirts.  When consulted they suggested shirts with logos of their products and turned a cost into a profit item.  This could never have been planned.
  • This is the difficulty with traditional business cases.  ROI can be a red herring.  IBM rewarded people for providing case studies.  This helped adoption and helped provide benefits for continuing work after starting it.


We also talked quite a bit about IBM’s own (Lotus) Connections product – including a rather bizarre (to me) conversation comparing Connections to BuddyPress (just because I think this has precisely no connection to the social business), though we got into IBM’s own use of Connections more deeply at the Social Workplace conference.



So an interesting debate, though the most interesting part of the day for me was walking back to the tube with one of the other bloggers, (perhaps because this is where we got more social?). We both agreed that the session had suffered from a couple of limitations:

  • A lot of what makes social works is doing the right thing in a particular organisation. It depends on this – on what leaders or other individuals do – not what we as thought leaders think they should be doing!
  • We weren’t totally sure how much IBM has taken ownership of the event, or whether this is just a good idea of their PR agency.  And Jon, it really isn’t very social to disappear from your own session!


Anyway, you can keep track of IBM’s work on the social business at

Also see Peter Gold’s report on the session.



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