Things have changed during this time – the ups and downs in the economy being just one factor that had HR changing stride. And are the people best placed to influence in an up environment necessarily the best placed in a down?
But I want to focus on a different, and in my mind even greater, change. And that is the rising importance of social connection. This is partly about the increasing use of social media, in general and in business too. But it is also much more than that – it is about a change in societal, and therefore in our workforces’, expectations about how they should be treated, and their desire to get involved.
I accept that to some extent, this is a generation y thing. Younger employees are often both more savvy and experienced in their use of social media, and they have higher expectations too. But it is something older workers share in too.
The response to these changes has been for business to become more personal – more human and more individualised too. You can see the impact of this sort of change in things like the interest in emotional intelligence. Not so long ago, people used to have to pretend not to have emotions at work. It was almost as if, as author Daniel Goleman pointed out, they would hang their feelings up with their coats and spend the rest of the day operating solely logically. Only of course, it was never really like that at all.
These days organisations realise they need to allow people to have, and even help people to express, their emotions. They have become more interested in each person as a human rather than some form of mechanical device.
But people are social animals. This means that as business has become more personal it has automatically become more social too. Sideways relationships, rather than just top-down reporting lines, have become more important, with networks and communities taking an organisational role alongside teams. Organisations have become concerned about levels of trust and the quality of conversation.
Who are the key influencers in this new environment? They are not necessarily the same influentials of old. For example, they are not the people who are most well known, or even those who are best connected. Instead, they are those who are connected to the rest of a community through the shortest path.
Another way of looking at this is to think about impact. The new influencers may not be the people best known for their thinking or experience, but are likely to be the people who can best get things done – creating behaviour changes and other outcomes within their communities.
What do these people look like? They may not be such prominent networkers – at least in the way this is commonly defined. Social influencers do not necessarily like promoting themselves at events. Rest assured, they are very well networked (that is, connected). They may just prefer spending time building relationships people they trust than meeting new people who can help their career.
And you will not necessarily see these people speaking at conferences that much. They might be there, but they will be having conversations at the back – or tweeting to their followers outside of the room perhaps.
In fact, the traditional conference format does not work that well for the new influencers. The idea that there is one group of people with knowledge who are there to disseminate this to those who are presumably seen to have less contribution to make does not sit comfortably with the new influencer group.
What is needed to support these new influencers, and others desiring connection and participation, is not a conference but something else – an ‘unconference’ perhaps? Wikipedia defines this as an event where the content of the sessions is driven and created by the participants, generally day-by-day during the course of the event, rather than by the organisers.
If this sounds like your sort of event, you may already be, or have the potential to become, a new influencer too. And the good news is that the UK’s first HR unconference is taking place next quite soon (21 October). You can get involved in planning the unconference at http://yammer.com/connectinghr (you will need to request an invite).
One of the things we’re going to be discussing is who some of these new influentials are. We’re going to create a list (although perhaps this should be an ‘un-list’) of these.
As to whether these people are ‘un-influential’ – well, they may be having more influence than you think. And as organisations continue to become more social, we expect their influence to grow.
John Ingham is an independent consultant, speaker and blogger