Another thought on making HR indispensable

Another way for HR to make itself indispensable is through a more sophisticated and considered approach to talent management. Again, we are not talking about talent management in the traditional sense. Instead by focusing on social networks and connectivity, HR can play a key role at the very heart of the business.

The problem with the current approach is discussed in this Zielinski piece and features comments from Laszlo Bock, vice president of global people operations at Google:

“HR is still essentially doing talent reviews the same way they were done 40 years ago, and doing compensation the way it was done 20 years ago.”

A further critique of “we focus on getting the smartest people” approach is featured in a Wired article which discusses the role of individual intelligence on group performance:

“Their analysis, published Sept. 30 in Science, found several characteristics linked to group performance — and none involved individual intelligence. What mattered instead was the social sensitivity of individual members, the proportion of women (who tend to be more sensitive) in each group, and a balanced participation of conversation.”

On a similar theme, another piece of research appearing in Strategy + Business suggested that:

“hiring too many high-status employees dampened effectiveness, the authors found. Moreover, companies with high-level expertise tended to fare worse with superstars in tow than did more run-of-the-mill outfits.”

The alternative is that HR can play a key role in fostering experimentation, creating networks, identifying the key influencers, mapping change etc.

This means adopting a new and in many ways experimental approach to talent. A couple of interesting articles have tapped into this idea and present some new ideas that may hold the key to improved performance. By moving the focus away from identifying and developing talented individuals, the focal point should be on groups and networks.

For example, there is an interesting blog post from Stowe Boyd, where he discusses some recent research from Maksim Kitsak at Boston University:

“The importance of hubs may have been overstated” say Kitsak and pals.

In contrast to common belief, the most influential spreaders in a social network do not correspond to the best connected people or to the most central people”

At first glance this seems somewhat counter-intuitive but on reflection it makes perfect sense. Kitsak and co point out that there are various scenarios in which well connected hubs have little influence over the spread of information. “For example, if a hub exists at the end of a branch at the periphery of a network, it will have a minimal impact in the spreading process through the core of the network.”

“By contrast, ‘a less connected person who is strategically placed in the core of the network will have a significant effect that leads to dissemination through a large fraction of the population.’”

This is an interesting idea and has clear implications for change management, communication and collaboration. At the same time, the identification of such people who are strategically best placed in the network is not always the most straightforward challenge.

“The subtle, dark-matter mystery of social networks is that influence is oblique and not easily determined by the sorts of tools we have today.”

This entry is an extract from Four Groups’ Quarterly Update, originally posted here.

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