Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Social Media, Adaptive Change & HR

The advent and adoption of social media tools and the rising importance of learning to communicate and network effectively, both in person and online, is reflective of the shift we have been observing towards a knowledge culture. If the extensive collection of books on change, leadership, engagement with customers and employees are any indication of the importance and complexity of this shift, we may need to rethink how we approach change. We seem to be adapting much slower than the rate of change suggests, and in part, this is because we are now needing a level of complexity in mental development greater than needed for career success in previous eras. We are essentially 'feeling' our way into a new era when traditional thinking no longer achieves the goals we set for employees and/or meets the strategic needs of the organization.

One distinction that I often make when talking about workplace skills, competencies, abilities (whatever you call them in your organization)is that technical skills are substantially different than what are often referred to as 'soft' skills.

Ronald Heifetz (1994) poses two kinds of change challenges to consider, that are relevant to this topic:

1) Technical-skill sets necessary to perform these (complicated) behaviours is well-known.

2) Adaptive-can only be met by transforming your mindset, by advancing to a more sophisticated stage of mental development.

He also suggests that "the biggest errors leaders make is when they apply technical means to solve adaptive challenges" which better describes my belief that the way we approach developing technical skills is different than the way we develop 'soft' skills.

Social Media tools perhaps often creates the need to consider both technical change challenges and adaptive change challenges as key needs when introducing, integrating, and developing skills sets to use the tools effectively. The tools are relatively easy to learn how to use from a technical aspect, and regardless of how frequently they are updated or new tools developed our previous experience with computers offers us a relatively simple learning curve. We must also consider that not everyone has the computer experience depending on the job they do but may need to learn it for the future of those jobs. The real challenge and one that is more difficult to learn is to look at how well developed the 'soft' skills are. This includes learning the differences between how we may be perceived in an online interaction and how we that may be perceived quite differently when we interact face to face.

HR practitioners must consider both the technical and adaptive needs of the people in the organization as one without the other is the reason we see the amount of public discussion on the pros and cons of social media use and the effect this has on the organization's reputation both with customers and as an employer.

What challenges are the most perplexing to resolve in your organization? What challenges are the most difficult in your own change adaption?

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