While the needs are similar, the results I have observed are quite different. Executives and salespeople need no convincing that they need to always be improving their networking skills. HR professionals, however, are often reluctant as they can’t clearly see how building a network is important to them in their jobs.
The argument I often hear is that salespeople have an external focus, which takes them outside the company, while HR professionals have a focus on the inside.
Yet, HR professionals across the region that don’t develop wide and deep networks often find themselves becoming stale, and increasingly irrelevant to their companies. The fact is, many HR professionals fall behind on key issues in their companies, and don’t provide the kind of leadership that only they can. They end up responding to problems and firefighting when they should be anticipating and creating awareness.
Given the importance of human capital to our companies in the region, the cost is tremendous to companies. They end up floundering because their HR executives and managers aren’t using the latest information, don’t create ideas of value and employ tools that are more about limiting perceived damage, than they are about spurring on creativity and risk-taking at all levels.
They typically don’t have the time or inclination to return to school, and the paucity of practical research in HR means that the best ideas often don’t come from academics — instead, they come from fellow practitioners. Without a deep and rich network, the best ideas that are available remain shared among a small group of people in Bridgetown, Montego Bay and Castries.
Reaching and learning from fellow professional in the region takes an investment. Very few companies can even afford to send their professionals to more than a single conference per year, and rarely are they allowed to do more than attend something local. The response of too many professionals is, sadly, that they stop trying to expand their network beyond their current, comfortable set of friends and colleagues.
There is an answer, however, as most young professionals and IT-types will tell you. Instead of getting on a plane, get on the internet, because new technology is providing amazing ways to connect, collaborate and co-create.
Unfortunately, too many HR professionals are not technically savvy enough to take advantage of the most recent tools.
The fact that most of these tools are either free or very cheap only heightens the urgency of the need to learn them from those who have some inkling of how to employ common tools such as VOIP and YouTube.
When HR professionals don’t use the internet and other technology enablers to network, their companies a disservice. Other professionals in their companies simply don’t learn the key skills that are critical to their success.
To put it another way, the techies in the IT department should never know more about the latest networking skills than HR professionals, because underneath the technology lies all the same issues with communication that are best understood by those with soft-skill training. While the techies know a lot about installing software, they know nothing about creating a software-driven culture change.
Email is a simple example.
It is an indisputable fact that the ubiquity of email in the professional workplace has changed the culture of every single company that uses it. It altered communication, relationships, teamwork, conflict resolution and created new issues of trust, privacy and privilege.
As this culture change was underway, I fear that the HR professionals were caught unawares, and were probably among the last to attend the “Intro to Email” class offered in the company. The poor email and time management skills shared by many HR executives stands testimony to this fact.
A culture change was undertaken without HR’s guidance, knowledge or leadership.
Today, in 2008, that’s just water under the bridge, but it’s not too late for Caribbean HR professionals to grasp the significance of technology and how it can be used to drive a culture change, to improve communication and to network.
P.S. Recently I wrote a book outlining the ways in which Caribbean professionals need to enhance their networking skills. It’s 37 pages long, contains several multimedia links, and it’s currently free to download. Click here to be taken to the download page — as of today, it’s been downloaded or referred at least 400 times. It’s titled — The New Networking – Caribbean Professionals 2008.