Social media and HRM: is it just recruitment?

Browsing the Net in search of examples of adoption of social media into HR policies, I am submerged by data on how crucial they have become for recruitment. Definitely, social media appear to be a hit, given their ability to decrease dramatically search costs, while at the same time providing a more detailed description of candidates.

However, this does not come without pains. Increasingly, surveys demonstrate that there is widespread resistance against the use of social media by prospective employers. Moreover, the appearance of online monitoring poses important threats to issues of privacy and freedom of speech, and it appears at odds with the idea of engaging people that is the HRM mantra.

In the search for a use of technology that is limited to making processes less expensive and time consuming, I think HR is failing to realize that social media are not an extension of traditional ICT. They resemble much more the kind of technology that telephones brought about: an immersive technology that transcends the way people were used to communicating and leads to a new way of organizing society. Most notably, social media are exerting a strong influence on political and social processes (think of the Obama campaign, and the Arab spring), they are posing threats to secrecy and lobbying (what about Wikileaks?), they expose corporate leaders and corporate boardrooms to public scrutiny. We keep saying that democracy is based on transparency, but what about giving transparency a chance?

Yet, corporate HR managers and top managers tend to think they can manage all of it, and that they will eventually be able to maintain a strict control over information. My guess is that they are failing to see to what extent business will be changed by this media revolution. We are so rooted in the metaphor of the human body that we are not able to see that corporations are not ruled by the brain (the corporate boardroom), but by the local ability to adapt by branches and employees. Successful companies are loosely coupled systems, where we superimpose a hierarchical structure that has more to do with status and power than effectiveness. Active cooperation is usually seek through expensive corporate programs targeting engagement or employees’ well being. What about giving power instead of passively empowering our workforce? That would be much more of a revolution than the plain platitude of asserting we look for the workforce-of-one…

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