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Jun 1, 2011

By Theresa M. Welbourne, PhD

This series of articles on Fast HRM is devoted to the goal of starting a movement to speed up the delivery of HRM tools and process by following the learning of the agile and extreme programming methods.

In the first two articles, the case for doing Fast HR work was introduced and discussed. Through the series, the principles of Fast HRM are introduced. The pieces also discuss why the Fast HR principles are important for any human resources group that wants to help its leadership and management team succeed in the current environment of business, which is fast and getting faster every day.

The first article — The Fast HRM Movement: It’s All About Energy, Performance, Success — introduces this line of work. The second part — Fast HRM Part 2: It’s About Fostering Trust and Doing Business Fast — focused on trust as a key ingredient for going fast.

In this third article, relational capital is the focus. As you will see as you start thinking through all of these principles, they are related. With strong relational capital comes higher trust, and both relational capital and trust build a foundation for innovation, which was the first principle.

Human capital vs. relational capital

There are extensive research and conceptual papers on the topics of human capital, social capital, and relational capital. In a simple definition, human capital refers to the traits and abilities of a human being while relational capital focuses on the relationships the human being has with stakeholders around him/her. Relationships may be with other employees, his/her manager, senior leaders, other departments, vendors, partners, the community and other groups associated with the organization.

Several fields of research are showing compelling work that it is not the human per se that drives high performance, but the relationships people have. The strength and quality of relationships are important for driving success; however, in many organizations (most in fact) this key ingredient for success is not visible or measured.

Reductions in force happen with no idea about what relationships are going out the door. Later, when key customers fail to renew, it is a bit too late to realize that the person who was let go took the relationships with him/her.

It is via relationships that most people acquire critical information to help them in their careers. Via formal and informal mentors or people who “look out for you,” high quality people find out what is happening in the environment, and they adjust their work to meet new business demands.

It should not be a surprise, then, that in order for HR to go fast HR professionals need high quality and long-lasting relationships with key informants in the organization. Going fast means being prepared and being very well informed about new trends and business challenges.

In the Fast HR training that we do, we focus at least one module on defining key stakeholders, building higher quality relational capital with these individuals and securing them as key informants for an ongoing HR development strategy. Parallel to the processes that agile and extreme programmers use to define requirements with key customers, the HR team secures insights from the key customers who are open to ongoing dialogue about HR deliverables and who understand the business environment and who are willing to help direct new HR work.

7 steps to Fast HR via a relational capital partner

In order to get to the place where you can secure this type of relational capital, a few things are necessary:

  1. Audit your current relational capital; where are you strong and where weak.
  2. Determine which stakeholders you need in your core informant group.
  3. Ask these individuals what they need from HR. Based on what these key stakeholders need, start at least one Fast HR initiative.
  4. Work closely and iteratively with these individuals to bring a project to fruition.
  5. Deliver a small piece of the project within two weeks; let your contact work with the tool, then meet again, review and change.
  6. Iterative and small deliverables do not mean lack of discipline. Use rigorous communications and project management in this work.
  7. Ask your contacts who else should be involved with your work.

Continue to build your relational capital within the HR department, across the organization and outside the business. With a positive and high level of relational capital, businesses succeed when others do not. Clients are more willing to stay with a company even if the prices increase if and when they have a trusted colleague.


Since starting the Fast HR work, we have seen several organizations choose specific projects and obtain input from key stakeholders. The error made by a few, however, is that when the HR group thinks the project is done, they do not go back to their stakeholders.

This is a big mistake because relationships must continue to strengthen. Also, the HR process that is being developed will continue to need more input as your stakeholders continue to use it and as the business environment evolves.

Controlling vs. nurturing

Human capital tends to be controlled; we account for it, and we try to develop metrics to measure and maximize it. Relational capital is different; it needs to be nurtured.

You cannot build a relationship, ignore it and expect it to continue to be strong. Just as you do with family relationships (e.g. husband/ wife, parents, children), strong relationships require ongoing attention. When you let your guard down and forget the value of the relationship, the relationship will diminish in quality and strength.

Fast HR requires strong relational capital for success. Trust, strong relationships, innovation, risk taking and ongoing communication make for healthy partnerships that traverse good times and bad.

Help move the Fast HR movement forward

Please share your stories of ways that strong relational capital has helped your organization succeed or assisted you in a Fast HR piece of work.