What HR can learn from Socialtext: weak ties.

Socialtext is a wiki-maker. Ross, the founder, realised he needed a new CEO to drive the business up a notch. The company now has a new CEO and more funding. (more here)

Firstly, respect. Stepping aside isn’t a thing most founders can do easily.

Secondly, HR folks out there. Look how he found the CEO.

One thing that is of interest is how we met Eugene through the strength of weak ties.  I blogged it and he saw the post via TechCrunch.  I also posted it on LinkedIn and sent it to my contacts.  One of them was a mutual acquaintance and when they happened to have breakfast the next week.  We had 250 applicants that we narrowed down collaboratively through a wiki, of course.  Finding the right guy in two months this way is in stark contrast to paying an executive recruiter $100k to act as a PI for six months

On the point of the power of weak ties, read these two Andrew McAfee posts.

I’ll quote a bit.

I also think that employees who blog behind the firewall are establishing something like weak ties with all of their colleagues. If decent search exists, any employee can find out if their blogging peers have sought-after knowledge or expertise. The ties in this instance are potential rather than actual, but they’re still still valuable in the way that all options are.

In fact, the concept of an option is a useful one for understanding the overall power of weak ties. An employee’s strong ties give her colleagues. Her weak ones open up options. Technologies that help weak ties proliferate therefore also provide options. Given how cheap they are, and how many options they bring, they seem like one of the best investments out there.

This weak ties stuff isn’t a new buzzword. It has some serious grounding in rigourous sociology. (That ought be another post, reviving rigourous sociology theories with 2.0)

We read a fair bit written by Mark Granovetter, a sociologist now at Stanford who must be one of the most frequently referenced of all organizational scholars. In 1973 Granovetter wrote “The Strength of Weak Ties” (SWT), a seminal article that’s been cited a jaw-dropping 5111 times according to Google Scholar.

The time for HR departments to get stuck into enterprise 2.0 is now. Not in some vague policy kind of way, but in terms of action. Why aren’t more HR professionals blogging internally and externally?  On a practical note Wiki is an ideal mechanism for policy management. Try it. Most companies have a tired employee referral scheme, but what if you actually redesigned that to take social networking into account?  Do you have a strategy to leverage Facebook and Linkedin? What about prediction markets? RSS for policy and contract change announcements?  Microsurveys? Social Bookmarking?

If you really start thinking about aligning corporate goals and personal goals, then internal blogging and social networking is powerful medicine. Imagine I could click on an employee’s internal page and see what their KPI’s are, and what their boss’ KPI’s are, check what other projects they are involved in, even know a bit about what they do outside the office. Maybe a bit about their preferred work style? How much better are we likely to work together if we know what we want to do before we start? 

HR systems and processes are currently mainly about managing strong ties (manager-employee-immediate team). It is high time that they focused on the weaker ones too. Managing the informal….

Can social software fundamentally change organisation structures and work practices? Yes, I believe so. It already is. Now is the time for HR professionals to get stuck in. Don’t wait.

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One thought on “What HR can learn from Socialtext: weak ties.

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