Most organisations aren't ready for the way that hierarchical structures are about to be levelled by the proliferation of enterprise social collaboration platforms. No other technology has demonstrated such an impact on the way that companies organise and engage as much as social collaboration tools promise to.
Even Email, the most prolific collaboration tool of the twentieth century, follows established company hierarchies - it remains poor etiquette to go above ones boss' head on email with an idea that an immediate boss has already vetoed. However the powerful flattening impact that social collaboration brings - and its inherent visibility across the organisation - means that such chain of command circumvention is perfectly natural. The outcome is only positive for employee productivity, mobility and self-empowerment - all of which ultimately roll up to overall employee engagement and success across the whole organisation.
Three powerful elements of social collaboration have emerged that are particularly interesting to HR as they are revolutionising typically static and outdated Human Resource processes in ways that haven't received the focus they richly deserve:
1. Job Succession & Onboarding - Right from day one, social collaboration makes an employee's job easier. On most occasions, despite all the "orientation" Human Resources provides, beginning a new role is more like solving an Sherlock Holmes mystery. What are the projects that are ongoing? Who are the stakeholders in those projects? Which are the projects that began but have stalled (often an even more important question)? Social collaboration platforms make this process totally transparent by collating everything related to a job role intuitively in one place. This enables new recruits, secondments or internal promotions to very quickly digest all the content (and context) they need for the job at hand, connect with those relevant to moving forward... and get started immediately. In terms of efficiency and productivity, there's a massive boon right there!
2. Appraisals - Many will say that there are few greater injustices about working life than the (often dreaded) Annual Appraisal. It is rarely a balanced view of a year's work and hardly ever provides an objective judgement of an employee's performance and future for the year ahead. Equally, it can become a pressure point for the manager of someone who isn't performing; and so appraisals seemingly become the only opportunity to deliver long-needed messages of criticism, causing conflict and tension. Social collaboration software provides a medium for genuine "360 degree reviews", and consequently employees are no longer held hostage solely to the possible insecurities or prejudices of their "hard line" report. Instead, performance reviews are able to collate perceptions from a wide range of stakeholders and collaborators in a very transparent way. It also facilitates an on-going appraisal. The accessible nature of the collaboration network and the visibility of activity means that problems and issues quickly become apparent and can be addressed - "nipped in the bud" so to speak. Conversely, impressive achievements and outstanding performance is often loudly acknowledged and rightfully celebrated - often using gamification features called 'badges'. Well-known workplace expert Jeanne Meister wrote in Forbes Magazine recently on the subject of such 'badges', "people like having something to show for their achievements, especially as employees at all levels become ever more invested in maintaining a robust personal brand."
3. The Power to Self-Organise - Here is perhaps the biggest revolution facing employee engagement opportunities - the enablement of "go-getters". One of the most worn-out epithets attached to social collaboration networks is that they "flatten the organisation". But the cliche is not a myth, enterprise social networks genuinely destroy hierarchy and even create what the Harvard Business Review's Michael Shrage describes as the "Gray Market" in enterprise self-organisation. "Initiators and intrapreneurs aren't just using social media to make their efforts more transparent and accessible, they're using these platforms to improvise and organize new ways to get the job done. They're using these tool and technologies to add value to existing processes or, indeed, to create new "just-in-time" processes (and programs) that the C-suite and other senior managers had never envisioned," he wrote recently. Far from anarchy, what this really means is that self-starters and the ones full of the very initiative that job descriptions always ask for, are empowered to innovate work-arounds and construct their own networks to get things done when the traditional roadblocks, processes and systems often kill projects slowly through inertia.
This is why so much folklore of graduates achieving leadership positions in lightening speed are bleeding out of the organisations that have deployed social collaboration networks. Additionally, as well as knocking down hierarchical walls, these networks easily transcend geographical boundaries enabling workers in every country to collaborate on projects and share their expertise where traditionally they can languish in forgotten parts of a commercial empire, with their talent sadly un-tapped.
While all this change might seem frightening, it is always worth remembering that all the tools to achieve this change already exist! Millennials are proving that if they don't like the formal tools provided by an organisation, they will simply use their own - on their own devices. Innately social, those entering the workforce today hate email. They self-organise on Social Media all the time and if their job is too hard to do using company sanctioned tools then they'll deploy their own - LinkedIn, Facebook, Tumblr workgroups and so on. Isn't it far better to provide these tools formally, in a secure environment that is easy to control, manage and protect?
Generally in history, the best response to revolution has been to recognise its inevitability, accommodate the changes required and move forward in a positive direction. Those that have chosen to fight and resist it may be swept aside as the world races forward towards collaborative organizations.