2015: Social HR Becomes a Reality
By Jeanne C. Meister, Founding Partner, Future Workplace and Co-author, The 2020 Workplace: How Innovative Companies Attract, Develop & Keep Tomorrow’s Employees Today

In 2014, we saw organizations use social technologies for recruitment, development and engagement practices. This year brought even more transformation to human resources. 2015 is the advent of what I call “the consumerization of HR,” where employees expect to have the same consumer experience at work that they have when reserving a taxi on Uber or Lyft, paying their bills on the Bank of America mobile app, or ordering food on Seamless or GrubHub. The mobile interface is becoming the employee’s primary conduit to a host of personal and business applications; putting pressure on HR to develop a mobile first strategy and create the workplace as an experience to engage, energize and position HR as a digital innovator.

As a recent MIT Sloan research report showed, 57% of workers now consider “social business sophistication” to be an important factor when choosing an employer. Even more noteworthy: according to the report, “Moving Beyond Marketing: Generating Social Business Value Across the Enterprise,” that group of workers ranged from age 22 to 52! The use of social collaboration technologies in the workplace is no longer a Millennial request. (Millennials are born between 1977-1997.)

Indeed, today we are all adopting an increasingly Millennia mindset. According to the recent Facebook Demographics report, the fastest growing demographic on both YouTube and Google+ is 45-54 years old. This shows the increased computer literacy of an older demographic, as well as the value they put on staying caught up with modern social tools. Sloan’s and Facebook’s research suggest that we are no longer divided into a world of either digital immigrants or digital natives: Instead, we are now all digital citizens.

2015: The Social HR Playbook
Based on workers’ increased prioritization of social sophistication, 2015 is seeing more forward-thinking HR leaders creating “Social HR playbooks” to incorporate a consumer marketing mindset to HR.

Here are seven HR trends to benchmark against your HR practices and ask yourself are you re-imagining HR to ensure your organization is creating a workplace that engages employees, is a magnet for top talent of all generations and leverages the latest social and mobile technologies in the workplace.

1. Employees at All Levels Become Social Brand Ambassadors
In just the past few short years, companies have gone from viewing social media as a danger to be avoided to training their employees to be social media brand ambassadors for the corporate brand. As I noted in a previous column, top companies like MasterCard now use tools like the Conversation Suite to guide the interactions their employees lead online. MasterCard’s Conversation Suite is a social media listening program that showcases the millions of relevant conversations about the MasterCard brand taking place around the world at any given point, via a 40-foot LED monitor in the center of the MasterCard headquarters.

MasterCard has also built a robust social media training and communications program, an online social media community site composed of short videos on how to use MasterCard social media channels and, ultimately, how to become a social ambassador for the firm. To date, more than 40% of MasterCard’s 8,000 employees are social ambassadors, meaning that they frequently share positive MasterCard content with their friends on their social channels and via blogs on both internal and external MasterCard platforms.

PepsiCo has made a similar move. The global food and beverage company turned its intranet inside out by allowing employees to easily share content from the company’s internal newsletter to their personal social media channels. PepsiCo determined that a good 85% of the content on the company’s internal newsletter was suitable to be shared externally; for example, articles like the one in CEO magazine that ranked PepsiCo number seven among the best companies for leaders.

For other companies, developing social ambassadors can start with the commitment to use social media to aggregate all types of inquiries from consumers and employees. Often these aggregation platforms are known as “social media command centers,” and they serve to deliver the message that the organization is serious about building its social brand both internally and externally.

Being a social brand ambassador is not only an option for employees. In fact, in today’s hyper-connected workplace CEOs and senior executives are expected to have an active social presence as well. Doing so builds brand authenticity and reinforces the company’s ability to source and hire the best talent. Forward-looking HR leaders will work in 2015 with senior executive teams to communicate the importance of honing social leadership skills in their communications with employees, customers and investors.

2. Wearables Enter the Workplace
In 2015, wearable personal tech devices will be on the rise in the workplace. After all, Business Insider Intelligence estimates that the market for wearables will be $12 billion by 2018, and of course much of that will include use on the job.

And wearable gadgets have a huge potential to impact workplace productivity. In its 2013 “State of Workplace Productivity” report, Cornerstone on Demand found that 58% of survey respondents said they would be willing to use wearable technology at work if it enabled them to do their job better. Millennials were even more willing: 66% of them reported they were already interested in putting wearables to use at work.

The year 2015 will likely see more organizations piloting wearable apps — or even their own wearable devices — such as Microsoft Band, which allows you to read emails and texts, and view calls. Or leveraging Oculus Rift, a virtual reality headset, purchased by Facebook in 2014 for over $2 billion and expected to be available to consumers in 2015.

The opportunities to use these features in the workplace are huge. Imagine the front desk manager at a hotel who can engage customers in a virtual reality “peek” at their room, hotel amenities and special spa services. Or consider a recruiter at a college fair who uses Oculus Rift to bring to life key job roles or the corporate campus.

Once these devices enter the office, companies will have to address parameters for their proper use. And yet, according to Ipswitch, an IT systems monitoring firm,  only 13% of companies currently have any such policies in place. Some, like the insurance firm USAA, have already banned wearables such as Google Glass for their employees, citing privacy and security concerns. So, while companies increasingly understand the opportunities for the use of wearables at work, they must move to create solid strategies regarding the hardware, and to incorporate those strategies into their current social media and employee code of conduct policies.

3. The Corporate MOOC Takes Off
I was an early advocate of the power of massive, open, online courses (MOOCs) to transform corporate learning as noted in my Forbes column, “How MOOCs Will Revolutionize Corporate Learning & Development.” As MOOCs gained traction in high education, forward-looking corporate learning officers like Kelly Palmer, the Talent Transformation & Inclusion executive at LinkedIn, saw the opportunity to transform learning by creating a MOOC for LinkedIn’s employees. Palmer and her team saw the design features of a MOOC as a wakeup call to re-imagine e-learning at LinkedIn.  The result: a cohort-based blended learning program that leverages the best features of corporate MOOCs and Conscious Business taught by Fred Kofman, VP of Leadership & Organizational Development at LinkedIn and author of the best selling book, Conscious Business: How To Build Value Through Values. Palmer shares “We see the Conscious Business course as a ‘pilot in a new kind of blended learning’ where the blend is between learning and working.”  LinkedIn creates the content and structure, and employees dedicate up to 16 hours over the 4 weeks to bring the principles of conscious business to their jobs. While LinkedIn is on the forefront of the corporate MOOC movement by building its own platform, a number of other forward-looking companies are piloting a corporate MOOC by partnering with EdX, Coursera, Udemy, Udacity and Intrepid Learning, to name just a few of the leading corporate partners. Look for more pilots in 2015!

4. Apps & Social Learning Become the Norm
iTunes App Store now has over 1.2 million apps and has seen 75 billion apps downloaded from the App store in 2014. But what is noteworthy is according to Gartner, by 2017, 25% of all enterprises will have their own corporate app stores.  And these apps will be seamless and live across multiple devices from wearables to phones, tablets and laptops.

In my book The 2020 Workplace, I noted that companies would increasingly develop apps for HR and learning as work becomes more collaborative and finding answers to our questions increasingly mirrors our personal lives.

Consider Cognizant Technology Solutions, which has developed more than 50 apps for its employees’ learning. The demographics of the Cognizant workforce were elemental in their decision to take learning mobile: roughly 99% of the Cognizant workforce is part of either Gen X or Gen Y, with the vast majority, 79%, Gen Y. 

As I detailed in my previous Forbes column, Lessons from a 2020 Learning Organization, Cognizant is delivering increased amount of learning via apps, which look and feel like iTunes apps, but whose sole purpose is to drive greater interest in being a continuous learner at Cognizant.

5. Data Analytics Is the Expected Way to Find and Recruit Talent
As the U.S. economy returns to growth mode, PwC’s global survey of CEOs finds that 70% of business leaders are concerned about their access to employees with key skills to grow the business, and 53% of these business leaders report that their HR department is not prepared to find, develop and source new talent.

Meanwhile, a host of “big data” recruiting firms is set to benefit from this increased emphasis on using data analytics to find talent. These firms even claim they can tap new talent before it hits the job market.  

Talent search engine companies like Entelo, Gild, TalentBin and the U.K.’s thesocialCV analyze not only job candidate’s Linkedin profile, Twitter feed and Facebook postings, but also note their activity on specialty sites specific to their professions, such as the open-source community forums StackOverflow and GitHub (for coders), Proformative (for accountants) and Dribbble (for designers.)

This approach to recruitment is creating a new technical world order, where job applicants are found and evaluated on their merits and on peer-rated contributions, rather than by how well they sell themselves in an interview.

The companies at the intersection of big data and recruiting have made a science out of locating “hard-to-find” talent. And according to Dice, finding tech talent is becoming increasingly difficult as the unemployment rate for tech professionals fell to 3.5% last year down from 3.9 % in 2013. Gild takes the approach of using big data and scouring the Internet to locate hard to find tech talent. For example, examining such clues as: Is his or her code well regarded by other programmers? Does it get reused? How does the programmer communicate ideas? How does he or she relate on social media sites? How big are his or her networks, and who is in them? Gild, for one, scores and ranks prospects’ publicly available code from niche sites like Google Code, GitHub, and Bitbucket.

Gild has succeeded in partnerships such as the one it forged with Red Hat, a leader in the open-source software field. With a growth rate of 17% in 2014, Red Hat is perpetually searching for top talent, which led it to partner with Gild to identify hard-to-find leaders in the field.

“Red Hat’s use of data analytics shows us prospective candidates’ rankings according to their overall expertise level and market demand, and then provides a ranking from 1-100 to indicate their skill level,” says L.J. Brock, the company’s VP of Global Talent  & People Infrastructure.

“All of this information gives Red Hat the ability to quickly identify highly ranked candidates, and increase our speed and efficiency in talent acquisition,” Brock says. Red Hat has even adopted a robust change-management and engagement program to encourage the adoption of data analytics by the entire talent acquisition team.

Big data is the future, so HR teams must have plans in place for all of its team members to learn how to use data analytics before their competitors outpace them.

6. Gamification Becomes an Engagement Tool
After recent research by Gallup showed that 71% of American workers are either “not engaged” or “actively disengaged” in their work, it’s no wonder that gamification is finding its way onto the agendas of the chief human resource officers everywhere.

In the business context, gamification serves to increase employee levels of engagement. Gamification takes the essence of games — addictive, fun engaging design, and competition — and applies this to a range of real-world HR processes. Those can range from training new hires at SAP to developing customer call center operators at American Express, to the myriad of ways companies help keep employees healthy with a Microsoft Band, FitBit or JawBone.

Pew Internet Research has said that around 21% of all adults now use technology to track their own activities for exercise or fitness (this author included!). For companies, the question is how to apply the same level of engagement found in a video game such as World of Warcraft or your Fitbit or Microsoft Band to solve problems in the workplace.

NTT Data is one company already seeing results from its strategy of using gamification to develop leaders. Since my column, Gamification for Leadership Development, NTT Data’s Ignite Leadership game has expanded from 70 leaders to over 700 leaders across USA, Canada and India. The game was developed to train leaders in honing five key skills: negotiation, communication, time management, change management and problem solving. During 2014, new incentives were created to motivate employees to complete Ignite Leadership, including receiving 6 hours of training credit towards the 20 hours of mandatory annual employee training, for each participant upon completing the game, plus leaders at each site were recognized for team participation in the game thus reinforcing engagement in Ignite Leadership.  Future plans for 2015 include adding more interactivity to the game with immersive and scenario-based learning and increasing the scale from 700 leaders to 7,000 adding both more NTT Data employees as well as customer companies. 

It’s important to remember gamification in the workplace is not just about using badges, mission and leaderboards. Instead, gamification if designed properly, is a form of engagement, which identifies a learning objective and target audience, and then determines what motivates them. From there, gamification can change the way employees work, communicate and innovate with peers and customers. 

7. The Annual Performance Review Process Is Dead
The era of annual performance reviews and rankings may well be coming to an end. Accenture (my former employer) has recently joined Deloitte, Motorola, Microsoft, Adobe and Expedia to end the annual performance process. Accenture will end the annual performance management process starting fiscal year 2016. In its place will be a more fluid process, in which Accenture employees receive timely feedback from their managers on an ongoing basis following assignments.

To date, according to research firm CEB, 6% of FORTUNE 500 firms have gotten rid of annual performance management systems. CEB recently conducted research on performance management and found that the average manager spends more than 200 hours a year on activities related to performance reviews — things like sitting in training sessions, filling out forms and delivering evaluations to employees. When you add up those hours, plus the cost of the performance-management technology itself, CEB estimates that a company of about 10,000 employees spends roughly $35 million a year to conduct reviews. But the change is not solely driven by cost. What Accenture and other companies that have re-imagined performance review process have done so to address the issue of how to create a fluid process, which regularly supports and positions employees for future success rather than measuring their past performance.

In summary, forward-looking HR practitioners are creating a social HR playbook taking a page from their marketing colleagues and focusing on a host of new initiatives such as: training employees to be social brand ambassadors, leveraging wearables in the workplace, making MOOCs available to employees, developing apps for learning and focusing on future performance rather than the past. Developing an employee-centric mindset and using such marketing tools as design thinking and ongoing listening surveys to enhance the employee experience will in turn create the type of workplace top talent will migrate to.  What’s your social HR playbook? Share your thoughts with me at [email protected]!

To learn more about the topic of the 2020 Workplace, register now to attend CTHRA’s Future Forward HR Symposium.

This article has been updated to reflect new content and originally appeared in Forbes.com
Pofeldt, Elaine (July 11, 2015). “Six-Figure Solo Businesses Grew By 45% In Five Years, Study Finds”. Forbes

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