Monday, 17 December 2007

Leadership and Social Acumen

As I posted on my People Business blog at HR Circles last week, social networks are important in helping HR deal with global people management challenges. They provide significant benefits to other business leaders too.

One of the most provoking blog posts I’ve read this month is Gill Corkindale's Harvard Business blog on the leadership crisis in the UK. Looking at the prime minister, the chancellor and the government, the Bank of England and its governor, and a couple of football managers (you can probably guess which ones), Corkindale notes a long string of leadership failures. Most of them, to me, see to have developed through these leaders being too remote from their organisations – a lack of social connection.

Lisa Haneberg’s blog, Management Craft has alerted me to Ram Charan’s latest book, Leaders at all Levels. Charan's explanation of ‘social acumen’ may help leaders build the sorts of networks they need if they’re to avoid the sorts of problems that currently seem to be so common in the UK:

"Leaders who possess it are not loners or bookworms. They have an innate desire to work with diverse people and naturally cultivate a broad range of social networks that permeate the company, including subordinates, peers, and superiors. As these leaders develop their social acumen, their networks often extend beyond the business to include customers, suppliers, regulators, politicians, and various interest groups. The relationships tend to be durable because they are built on trust, and that trust allows information to flow both ways, exposing the leader to new ideas and different ways to see things. The social networks also allow him or her to energize and synchronize people's energy and actions and to do a better job managing a crisis than would otherwise be the case."

Social acument isn't yet a common topic in many leadership development programmes, although rotating leaders across the organisation or bringing them together into formal leadership courses, may provide the basis for some of these networks to evolve.

Friday, 14 December 2007

Carly Fiorina: People aren't the soft stuff

I've been attending (and presenting at)'s VIEW conference (see my HCM blog for details). Carly Fiorina provided the opening keynote, and one of her points caught my attention. She said that people aren't the soft stuff - they're the software, ie the clever stuff.

I agree with her on people not being the soft stuff, and you'll find plenty on my HCM blog about this to. I also recommend Scott McArthur's blog, particularly this post.

However, in this post, I wanted to extend on Fiorina's point about people being the software. You could see:

  • Human capital as the software sitting on each individual PC

  • Organisation capital as the hardware - particularly the computer networks linking different PCs together

  • Social capital as the intra and inter net, including web 2.0.

Tuesday, 11 December 2007

Social capital in Second Life

From my HCM blog:

I hope you like my new avatars (digital characters) on the right hand column of this blog - I suspect experienced bloggers will find them extremely annoying, but I hope I'm forgiven as a newbie for a bit of experimentation. I've also been doing a bit more playing around in Second Life (SL).

For those that don't know, SL is a three-dimensional, virtual reality world where you can meet interesting people, do amazing things, and live out your fantasies.

It's also increasingly an environment being explored by businesses for commercial purposes. The Sunday Times has recently conducted an SL conference with 90 participants from businesses which included ABN Amro, the BBC, BA, Cisco, Dell, FirstDirect, Shell and Reuters. The Times explain that one of SL's advantages for the workshop is that had the conference taken place in the real world it would have cost thousands and generated somewhere between 120 and 180 and tonnes of carbon. In addition,

"3D is closer to reality than 2D. Second Life offers more interaction. When you look at a web page on the normal internet you can’t see that a lot of other people are looking at that page. But in Second Life you can see people standing around you and you can interact with those people looking at the same information.”

The use of SL for HR purposes is also being explored.

In recruitment, organisations are conducting recruitment activities virtually, presenting themselves as innovative employers and simplifying interviews and assessment processes. The main focus to date has been on IT designers, animators, virtual-world builders and the like, but this is now starting to extend. Yell has recently launched a SL campaign alongside TMP with uniformed avatars wandering around SL and talking to other avatars about the company. Yell believe that SL users may provide the 'creativity and innovation' they seek within their workforce.

In learning, many organisations are running SL workshops, providing great opportunities for experiential learning which allow people to try out new ideas and practice new skills without fear of failure and embarrassment. Some are developing virtual campuses.IBM has embraced Second Life more than any other major company — it has more than 230 employees spending time in-world, and it owns some half-dozen islands. Some are open to the public, including a flashy recruitment office that links to its internet recruitment site. IBM even has a dress code for its employees' avatars (see Jay Cross' post IBM bringing decency to the wild frontier). The company says it may also look to develop it’s own in-house virtual world for the use of employees and clients.

Despite rising concerns about SL's potential (see, for example Don Taylor's post Second Life Backlash) this seems to be a medium for which business and particularly HR applications are going to grow and grow. SL and other similar virtual worlds may never become environments where businesses can mass market their products, but they provide interesting additions to the tools organisations can use to increase social interaction, including within their workforces.

Look out for our avatars next time you visit.

Jonin and Sandrain Allen.

Mintzberg on social capital

From my HCM blog:

I've already mentioned that one of Mintzberg's remedies for short termism is to get the analysts of the backs of the corporation. Others are to:

  • Take corporate governance seriously
  • Keep the mercenaries out of the executive suites.

But I think Mintzberg's last suggestion is potentially the most valuable.This is:

  • Treat the enterprise as a community of engaged members, not a collection of free agents. We can start, for example, with compensation systems that encourage co-operative effort. Corporations are social institutions, which function best when committed human beings (not human "resources") collaborate in relationships based on trust and respect. Destroy this and the whole institution of business collapses.

Flooding and social capital

From my HCM Blog:

I came across an interesting article on the floods across the UK recently: "When the waters clear". The articles notes that flooding destroys organisational but not social capital:

"Floods and other disaster destroy physical and financial capital. But not relations between people and their networks - what's often called social capital.

Even truckloads of goodwill can't offset the trauma of being flooded. Indeed, unlike any other form of capital - social capital can actually increase at a time of crisis. People who come together learn the importance of appreciating the value of neighbourly support, often act with greater community spirit in the aftermath of a disaster. All of us can help by encouraging the victims of the flood to look for solutions that will improve their lives instead of looking for someone to blame. Blaming often weakens social capital and undermines the return to "normalcy". Instead of looking for a hidden meaning behind the flood we ought to be focusing on learning the lessons. We now know that floods are normal part of our life. What we have to figure out is how much of our resources we are prepared to devote to minimising their destructive impact on our lives."

Ie it is our reactions to crises like floods, not the floods themselves, that can damage us most.
I guess the same is true in organisations as well. It is a rare organisation that thinks about how it will react to challenges and particular failures in a way that will increase its social capital.