HR For The Future – This Is The Stuff You SHOULD Study…

Paul Hebert Audacious Ideas, Coaching, Employee Coaching, Employee Communications, Employee Engagement, HR Technology, Innovation, Paul Hebert, Science, Social Media, Social Media and Talent, Social Networking

Put down the book on FMLA and anything else remotely associated with administrivia in your organization. I’m going to point you to something that is probably more important than all of the ATS software reviews you’ve got planned after HRTech.

As technology grows in influence (and maybe importance—I’m still not sold on that), you will be tempted to face in that direction and become an expert in HR software. I’m here to say that the least of your worries will be technology. The biggest threat you will face it … wait for it … people.

Yup—human beings. Kinda ironic that HR is somewhat obsessed with “big data” and cloud-based SaaS software—or whatever they’re selling off the back of the medicine wagon. HR needs to start to learn about humans in order to fulfill their corporate objective. I’ll bet the machines on your factory floor get more maintenance and service than your human machines. I’ll also put some money down that you have more people trained in the settings and operational specifications of those machines than you have people focused on human specs. Look around. You know I’m right.

I bring this up because there was a very interesting article on the New Yorker a few weeks ago called “The Limits of Friendship” that talked about humans, their social requirements and the future of how we will interact.

The article begins with a discussion of the “Dunbar Number” (a concept that HR must be familiar with IMO), which suggests that humans have a limit of 150 people with whom they can maintain solid relationships with. This is important from a personal point of view but also from an organizational standpoint. How many groups in your company are made up of more than 150 people? Dunbar’s studies would suggest that bigger will equal less effective. But the Dunbar number is just the tip of the iceberg.

Here’s some of the stuff I think HR needs to be acquainted with—especially as we keep hearing how HR needs to adopt social media and install more technology to connect with more people.

“The amount of social capital you have is pretty fixed,” Dunbar said. “It involves time investment. If you garner connections with more people, you end up distributing your fixed amount of social capital more thinly so the average capital per person is lower. If we’re busy putting in the effort, however minimal, to “like” and comment and interact with an ever-widening network, we have less time and capacity left for our closer groups.”

What that means is that as technology allows our virtual network to grow, our more immediate, real life connections get shafted—and that potentially could lead to less effective work groups and less efficient organizations.

And this cautionary bit:

“If you spend most of your time online, you may not get enough in-person group experience to learn how to properly interact on a large scale—a fear that, some early evidence suggests, may be materializing. It’s quite conceivable that we might end up less social in the future, which would be a disaster because we need to be more social—our world has become so large.” Dunbar said. “The more our virtual friends replace our face-to-face ones, in fact, the more our Dunbar number may shrink.”

Normally I’d say … “if you get a chance go read this.” But I’m not. I’m saying you MUST MAKE TIME to go read the piece and then start thinking like this:

  • How do I manage my organizational structure in a way that doesn’t create problems with social connections?
  • How do I identify employees who may have a problem with socialization because they’ve spent most of their lives online?
  • What training do managers need to be able to understand how this affects work group dynamics?
  • How do I put in place options and speed bumps to limit the affects of what we all know is coming – increasing virtual work.

Understanding the psychology of employees is MORE important than understanding the difference between multi-tenant and single-tenant SaaS. But you’d never know it based on the Twitter stream, Facebook and Linkedin.

The singularity is upon us and we never saw it coming.

Take my advice—start studying the human owner’s manual. Understand our specifications and our settings.

THAT will be what is important in the future


Paul Hebert
Paul Hebert is Senior Director of Solutions Architecture at Creative Group Inc, writer, speaker and consultant. Paul focuses on influencing behaviors and driving business results through employees, channel partners and consumers. He is dedicated to creating true emotional connections often overlooked in our automated, tech-enabled world. Using proven motivational theory, behavioral economics and social psychology he has driven extraordinary company performance for his clients. Paul is widely considered an expert on motivation, incentives, and engagement.