Social Tools Collide with Talent Management Software

Social networking tools have transformed our lives. Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Pinterest (read my commentary about Pinterest here), Reddit, and many others have significantly changed the way we work. The concept of an “activity stream” is now commonplace and we can connect, share, and communicate with people like never before.

And these tools do things we could never do before. First, they are “location aware,” so they can help us find restaurants, avoid traffic jams, or even find local friends. Second, they can now serve as “visual tools” to finding things (witness Pinterest). And as more and more devices become internet-aware (the “internet of things”), social networks will become networks of all activities in our lives (did we leave the sprinklers on this morning?).

When we started studying this space in 2007 we looked hard at tools like Jive (corporate social networking), Sharepoint (content management and integrated Microsoft platform), Yammer (acquired by Microsoft), Socialtext, Chatter (, and others to understand their impact on the corporate learning market. At that point we found that most of them were being viewed as “IT-systems” or corporate infrastructure, and most HR and L&D execs weren’t even aware of them.

Today that has radically changed. Most IT departments have developed a social infrastructure strategy and are buying enterprise-wide collaboration systems. But while these tools are in place, most of our clients tell us they are not widely used for HR or L&D applications yet. Why? Because they simply are not well-integrated into HR and talent management applications.

So companies have two choices: either they work with IT to tightly integrate these social tools into their HR systems, or they wait for the HR platform vendors to deliver integrated “social features” into their systems. Which gets me to the point of this article: HR systems vendors are rapidly building their own social features. Which makes sense.

The Need for Social Tools within HR and Talent Management

Leaving out social recruiting for now, there are dozens of mission-critical applications for social tools within HR and talent management: experts can share content and expertise; managers can find internal candidates for new positions; teams can share and collaborate with each other; performance feedback and recognition can be shared; executives can broadcast information and monitor their teams; recognition can be shared and captured; onboarding and talent mobility can be dramatically improved; and you can “find” people in the company easily.

The more you think about it, nearly every HR and talent process in a company is “social” in some way!

A few weeks ago I was visiting a large client who had just re-arranged its entire office complex in New Jersey. We had a meeting scheduled in conference room A3-112-C. We spent 25 minutes wandering around the office looking for the meeting room. If we had a location-aware social tool we could have found it in seconds.

Vendors understand this and are assembling an arsenal of technology. Microsoft announced the acquisition of Yammer for $1.2 billion. Oracle is developing its own social networking tools. SAP-SuccessFactors is now actively marketing Jam (a mobile, social sharing system), and Salesforce is aggressively selling Chatter as the infrastructure for the “social enterprise.” But can these generic tools really fit the needs for HR, learning, and talent applications? Not yet – so HR vendors are developing these features rapidly.

In the last few months this trend has taken hold. Saba introduced its PeopleCloud offering. PeopleFluent acquired SocialText. PageUp People announced a deep integration with Yammer (for collaboration and onboarding). CornerstoneOnDemand is about to upgrade its social tool (Connect) to make it a complete social platform, and SilkRoad announced their social talent management solution Point. (We are doing the same with our own BersinInsights® information platform, by the way.)

SilkRoad Point – A New Approach

Let’s look at one exciting example in particular: Silkroad Point. With an integrated talent solution that includes HRIS (Heartbeat), performance management (Wingspan) and learning (Greenlight) already in place, SilkRoad has unveiled a consumer-like system that draws the user in and engages them like a “killer” iPad app such as Flipboard. You may recall my comments about how SuccessFactors is striving to make their solutions more “toy like.” SilkRoad is singing from that same hymnal. (“Consumerization” of business applications is the new rage.)

Point, like Saba PeopleCloud, is automatically enabled when you login. First time users easily can create their own groups, find others, and quickly get connected to subject matter experts. Our High-Impact Learning Practices research demonstrates how informal learning, content sharing, and expertise development are among the most powerful learning tools in any organization. Companies which embrace the 40 practices of a high-impact learning culture are actually delivering three-times more revenue per employee, markedly better customer service, and more rapid time to market. (Members can learn more from our High-Impact Learning Culture research and tools.)

If this was all SilkRoad had accomplished with their product release, we’d raise our Soy Latte in a toast and say good job. But much like the cold war era of escalation, the talent management system’s world does not sit still. The top vendors must constantly innovate, improve and drive increased results or the market will cruelly leave them in the rear view mirror. Leveraging their integrated solution architecture, SilkRoad has taken the promise of social collaboration, learning, recognition, management and delivered something we’ve yet to see accomplished by any other solution provider.

Using a blend of “signals” (Saba calls them the “People Quotient”), SilkRoad looks at things such as:

  • The content created or shared by an individual
  • How much validation their sharing has received from inside and outside their groups
  • Who the people are that are validating – subject matter experts versus neophytes
  • Commentary received, etc.

These and numerous other information feeds signals are calculated to create a numerical valuation of an employee’s influence within the organization. For those of you familiar with the world of social media, think of this as being almost Klout like scoring. As interesting as that is, here comes the part to get you going “hmmmmmm”. Using these signals and values, organizations will now have more insight into their talent than ever before:

  • Who is that 24 year old new hire in your Omaha office that has your senior marketing managers reading everything she posts?
  • Why is your top product manager’s influence trending down for the past four months, is there an engagement issue you’re not aware of?
  • Even though he doesn’t have the best sales numbers, why does the entire sales team seek out this one colleague for his knowledge?

Taking a page from the social solution vendor’s playbook, SilkRoad will offer Point in a freemium manner to its customers. Existing clients will have the base product made available to them at no extra charge. Features such as the core influence reporting will be sold as an add-on module. SilkRoad, which focuses its sales on mid-market organizations, is looking to create a new way for businesses to operate. Imagine what a company could accomplish with a tight integration between Point and another system such as their CRM. How much insight would executives have on their ability to execute if they had an easy to interpret dynamic dashboard monitoring this information at their disposal? And let’s not forget to mention obvious items such as seamless onboarding and quicker time to ramp-up for new employees.

Bottom Line: Social is now a Mandatory “Feature Set” for Talent Management

Which leads me to my final point. The HR systems and talent management market is now mature enough that we, as buyers of this software, should expect social “features” to be embedded within the applications we buy. Companies don’t want to lash together a social tool with an HR system any more, just like we don’t want to have to buy a printer driver seperately for our PC. Social has become a set of “features” not a “platform.”

What this means for the HR software market is that every major vendor has to build or buy social features. (And with lots of open source tools available, this is not very hard.) Tools providers have to be more innovative than ever, because while they may be able to sell their collaboration and social tools directly to some clients, they are more likely to see their market disappear as these features become more integrated into platforms.

That all said, today the market for social tools within HR applications is still immature. Only SilkRoad, Saba, PeopleFluent, SAP, and Oracle have any sort of well-developed integrated social features available. But the writing is on the wall: all major HR systems providers have to put this on their roadmap and they will find that by bringing social technology to traditional HR, learning, and talent applications, their whole system becomes more useful, modern, and valuable to their clients.

Stay tuned for a flurry of new research from us on the tools and software offerings in HR, recruiting, and talent management. Fall is approaching soon, and we will soon be releasing all our new industry studies on these exciting markets.

And please join me at the HR Technology Conference coming up in October. I will be presenting on the state of the learning technology industry, which is one of the most dynamic and exciting areas of HR technology.

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