HR Technology® Conference
Conference speaker details the importance of the HR function
when it comes to social-media innovations.
BY JON INGHAM
My presentation at this fall’s HR Technology® conference will focus on what I call HR 2.0— the application of HR activities and new HR
technologies to the creation of social, or relationship-focused, outcomes.
Social innovation is a critical requirement for many
organizations, and HR’s role in creating capabilities
within it is equally crucial.
Innovation has long been a key focus for many
organizations. However, its importance has been
increasing of late, as companies seek to develop new
Many HR functions are already pursuing ways to
support innovation. However, a large number of HR
teams are still missing out on their most significant
and innovative opportunity—the transformation of HR
It is not just my view that HR increasingly provides
the most substantial opportunity for innovation. In The
Future of Management, Gary Hamel suggests that we
have already generated most of the opportunities for
innovation in products and services, and even within
business models, and the main opportunities for
introducing new approaches now lie within the way
organizations are managed internally to support their
external-facing business activities. While this extends
into other functions, Hamel’s main focus is HR.
A good example of HR innovation is provided by
HCL Technologies, headquartered in Noida, India. In
Employees First, Customers Second, HCLT CEO Vineet
Nayar writes that his strategy has been to differentiate
the company by how it works rather than by what it
does (that is, through its HR and associated practices).
A key element of this strategy has been to build
a new organizational structure based on an upside-down pyramid with Nayar’s own role at the bottom
and line managers and support functions such as HR
in the middle, supporting customer-facing employees
at the top.
To make this model work, HCLT has introduced a
number of new approaches such as the use of service
tickets. If an employee has a problem with an HR
process, he or she opens a service ticket and then is
the one to decide whether and when the problem has
been resolved so the ticket can be closed. HR is tasked
with reducing the time taken to close service tickets,
and also reduce the number of open service tickets at
any point in time.
It’s often the small changes, such as these, that
dramatically alter the look and feel of HR. However,
despite the example of HCL Technologies—as well
as other “maverick” organizations that are managed
in very different ways—there is generally very little
evidence of innovation in HR.
Consider the fact that people management is both
one of the most important and one of the most open
targets for innovation—and, yet, one in which very little
innovation is currently taking place. HR teams that want
to address this gap need to understand how innovation
works. In particular, they need to acknowledge that it
usually occurs as a social process taking place between
a diverse selection of people or teams.
Innovation as a Social Process
We tend to think of innovation either as a solitary
activity, conducted mainly by particularly creative
people, or as a formal process (brainstorming, for
example) in which groups of people are expected to be
more creative than they normally find it possible to be.
In fact, innovation is much more often the result of
ongoing, informal conversations between people with
different perspectives. This suggests that innovation
is frequently the offshoot of the relationships between
people rather than something about the individual
Academics in HR and IT also say the most
important relationships are those they call weak
ties—relationships with people we do not know so
well that, therefore, tend not to be well-formed. They
contrast with strong ties—relationships we have with
the people we work with on a regular basis and which
are therefore well-developed. Strong ties are critical