HR and Change in Corporate America: Speed Up, or Get Out of the Way

Is HR ready for the changes coming in the workplace? (Photo illustration by

I read an article the other day titled Older Internet Users Take Shine to Social Networking. By older, they mean as in over 50, according to the study.

The Pew Research study showed that social networking usage among this age group (people 50 and older) has nearly doubled — from 22 percent in April 2009 to 42 percent in May 2010. During the same period, social networking (LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook) use among web users ages 50 to 64 grew by 88 percent overall, from 25 percent to 47 percent, while use by people ages 65 and older doubled, from 13 percent to 26 percent.

At the other end of the spectrum, social networking use among users ages 18 to 29 — the so-called Millennial Generation — grew from 76 percent to 86 percent overall.

I also came across an equally compelling conversation from a group of senior level HR professionals talking about the primitive steps they are taking in getting on the Social Media bandwagon. The conversations centered around getting a “handle” on Facebook and how to “really” use LinkedIn. There was no comment, or shall we say, I did not hang around long enough to hear their thoughts on Twitter. I walked away shaking my head.

All this reminded me of a conversation with a CIO a few months back boasting about how he had locked down all facets of Social Media and blocked access to a number of websites at his company. He proudly told me that HR was behind him a 1,000 percent. I have followed chat groups conversations from other HR professionals going all out with “working” on the legalities of Social Media in the workplace. What is going on here? Maybe I’m missing something. Why aren’t there more conversations on how to harness this new weapon or strategy (you choose which one)?

HR in the future: managing change

I find this sad for a number of reasons, and one has to do with our ability to adapt to change, because one of the major functions of HR in the future will be managing change and the expectations thereof.

With the Millenials moving into the workforce in greater numbers, there is a train wreck coming and it will not be pretty. With the spread of technology and its use by the new workforce, how are we to manage and use Social Media as a strategy? Recruit, communicate, trust, and engage all spell change in connecting to the new workforce.

As I said earlier, one of HR’s main responsibilities going forward will be managing change and expectations. With all the economic turmoil that has devastated employee engagement, profits, innovation, and people initiatives, our whole HR mission will have to be changed. Many organizations today are operating under an extreme amount of stress. The key to any change initiative is your people, because that is the very thing that will directly impact the success of any initiative.

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Change is coming at warp speed

To give you an idea about how fast change is coming, it took 38 years for radio and 13 years for TV to reach 50 million people, while it took the Internet only four years, the iPod three years, and Facebook two years to do the same. The next Facebook/Twitter/Linkedin is in someone’s head as I write this, and it will reach critical mass probably faster than Facebook. This is change on a massive scale, at warp speed.

There is a total misalignment of the “new” workforce and the “old” corporate sector. There is a demographic that is entering the workforce now, and arcane policies that limit how to reach and engage that group (and for that matter, Gen X as well) will force companies to make changes in their approach.

How will we reach these new workers if they are so ahead of the curve and out in the fast lane, while the rest of us in a lot of cases are just coming up the on-ramp?

We had better embrace that age-old strategy: speed up and get out of the way, or we will be run over.

Ron Thomas is Managing Director, Strategy Focused Group DWC LLC, based in Dubai. He is also a senior faculty member and representative of the Human Capital Institute covering the MENA/Asia Pacific region.

He was formerly CEO of Great Place to Work-Gulf and former CHRO based in Riyadh. He holds certifications from the Human Capital Institute as Global Human Capital Strategist, Master Human Capital Strategist, and Strategic Workforce Planner.

He's been cited by CIPD as one of the top 5 HR Thinkers in the Middle East. He received the Outstanding Leadership Award for Global HR Excellence at the World Human Resources Development Congress in Mumbai, and was named as one of the 50 Most Talented Global HR Leaders in Asia

Ron's prior roles included senior HR positions with Xerox HR services, IBM, and Martha Stewart Living.

Board memberships include the Harvard Business Review Advisory Council, McKinsey Quarterly's Executive Online Panel, and HCI's Expert Advisory Council on Talent Management Strategy.

His work has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Inc. Magazine, Workforce Management and numerous international HR magazines covering Africa, India and the Middle East.