CIPD Podcast 22 - Social networking, recruitment and HR

Date: 22/07/08 Duration: 00:17:12

In this podcast we consider the impact of the internet on HR, including CIPD research on the role of web 2.0 innovations in HR. Martyn Sloman, CIPD’s Learning, Training and Development Adviser, Richard Mound, Associate Partner of Human Capital Management at IBM, Julia Porter-Robinson, T-mobile’s Senior Recruitment Manager and Stephen Foulston, the Royal Opera House’s HR Manager discuss the issues.


Philippa Lamb: Hello and welcome to our podcast about the internet and HR, where we focus on the advent of Web2.0 and its implications in the workplace. While the onset of social networking has already caused a stir at work now is clearly the time to really consider the potential impact of the internet’s evolution on human resources.
Through this podcast and our research into Web2.0 and HR we hope to bring you some interesting current examples, and insights, into its effect on our profession.
You’re about to hear the very different Web2.0 experiences of The Royal Opera House, IBM and TMobile, and we cover a whole lot more in our discussion paper Web2.0 and HR, which aims to dispel the myths and give you the true picture about HR’s use of Web2.0. You can find more details in the notes that accompany this programme at
But first, let’s start with a clear definition of Web2.0 from Richard Mound, an Associate Partner of Human Capital Management at IBM.
Richard Mound: Well I think probably the simplest way of describing Web2.0 is it’s an evolution of the web. The early form of the web, which is called 1.0, was almost publishing and broadcasting messages. Web2.0 is all about collaboration where the people who are looking at the content are actually creating content. Creating as they go onto the site and sharing.
PL: Martyn Sloman, CIPD’s Learning, Training and Development Advisor expands on that definition and gets us thinking about what it means for HR.
Martyn Sloman: The key word is collaboration, so whereas the first uses of the internet that we saw were sort of top down, you went in and got information, this is sort of lateral sharing; peer to peer across the stuff. The question, however, is how significant is that going to be to HR practice and we don’t know yet.
PL: Well indeed this is something which I think is preoccupying HR professionals in organisations of all sorts isn’t it because they know this stuff is out there, they know that it’s a potential recruitment tool, specifically, but they don’t really know how to engage with it.
MS: We’re at the stage now where we are starting to define the terms, we’re starting to think of a vocabulary. We’re also at the stage where we can point to some examples of things that organisations are doing, some of which are very interesting and very attractive, they’re very compelling indeed but what we don’t know is whether there are going to be some profound effects.
PL: One way of anticipating effect is to consider shifts in expectation and, as ever, different generations have different expectations, as IBM’s Richard Mound explains.
RM: I think that the advent of Web2.0 and the need for organisations to become more flexible has put a lot of changes within organisations and the way they work, a lot of challenges. I think perhaps one of the biggest challenges is how do you blend what new entrants, the net.gen coming into organisations now expect because that’s how they work, that’s how they live. They expect that, they’re almost surprised if it’s not there, so how do you provide that and how do you provide that in an environment where people generationally have different expectations, different ways of workings and perhaps different preferences?
PL: Some poignant questions there. To find out more about the net.gen’s expectations I asked Julia Porter, TMobile’s Senior Recruitment Manager, how Web2.0 had helped with their graduate recruitment.
Julia Porter: I had a big concern that we were offering roles to graduates in March and we weren’t going to see them again until September and we know that that sector is all online and very active in the social networking so what we thought we’d do is set up a forum for TMobile graduates. Initially they were posting messages to each other about “Have you had an interview yet?” “Have you had your testing yet?” “Have you been invited?” “Did you get through?” and we would pop in and see how they were doing and if there was anything controversial we would say “Hey we’re still here you know, TMobile, and you want to work for us so…” and we watched their relationships evolve and we watched them through their assessment days and then the goodbyes “I didn’t get a job so good luck you lot” and then right through to “Hey, who wants to share a house with me?” right through to “Let’s go out and celebrate” and “We’re all joining next week so what are we going to do?” It was amazing, we had no drop outs at all. The 50 we offered all joined promptly and properly in September.

PL: Would that not normally be the case?
JP: No, we would have built in a 10% probably drop out rate because it’s a long time, lots of other companies will start kicking off graduate recruitment maybe in June. We’ve done that ourselves in the past and mopped up people who haven’t heard maybe from the organisation they’ve been offered by, they feel forgotten. The beauty of this was they felt already like TMobile people.
PL: This is fascinating. I mean it’s almost like an anthropological study isn’t it watching these people evolve and bond and come together, but from what you’re saying it had a really measurable benefit in the sense that they all came onboard.
JP: Yeah, well I think that’s true and as we watched them, their relationships grow and blossom with each other, it was absolutely fascinating how they coached each other, supported each other, looked out for each other really and we didn’t have to do much. We would just let them know we were there and I would put a message on occasionally. Sometimes we had to communicate things that might not be so great, you know, we’ve had to defer your start date and this is why and what’s wonderful is now they’re at TMobile they are a very strong network still. So, they’re physically together, but every Friday they’re all having lunch together and they all have this fantastic cross functional relationship and I actually really admire them for that because they’ve kept it going. They don’t use Facebook anymore, not in work, but they’ve just been good mates since long before they joined us so, yeah, it’s been really powerful. 

PL: The benefits for TMobile are clear. Retaining 100% of your graduate intake is fantastic and for them to have transferred their pre-employment network into sound cross functional working relationships is even better.
Next, I turned to a very different organisation, The Royal Opera House. I asked their HR Manager, Steven Foulston, about the innovative way they’ve been using the web to boost their recruitment effort and how it’s helped them challenge preconceptions about employment in the arts.
Steven Foulston: What we wanted was for people to realise that in any arts organisation, for every one performer on stage there are probably three or four people in a backstage capacity, without whom that performance can’t happen. We need accountants, we need IT people, we need people with experience and qualifications who may not have thought about working in the arts before, who may not have even realised that arts organisations need accountants just like any other organisation does. The next thing we wanted to do was challenge perceptions about The Opera House of being white and elitist and a bit stuffy and a bit middle class and actually diversity, we have an incredibly diverse organisation in terms of the roles that we’ve got, the type of people that we employ, the type of people that we want to attract.
PL: So they had a strong grasp of what they wanted to achieve; how did they go about it?
SF: What we did was very visual. The first thing really we’d say is listen to this, go away, click on YouTube, type in Royal Opera House careers, turn your sound card up, sit back, enjoy. There’s about six videos, each of about 50 seconds long that are a little bit cheeky, a little bit irreverent, a little bit different to what perhaps you would expect from The Royal Opera House. 

PL: Well, different is one thing, I asked how successful it was.
SF: I checked, I think last night, and so far we’ve had about 7,000 hits, which we’ve been very very pleased with. In terms of our reach we’ve actually seen a 22% increase in the number of applications that we receive.
PL: A 22% increase in applications speaks for itself. One organisation you might expect to be making use of Web2.0 for recruitment is IBM and I asked their Richard Mound about it. IBM is very evidently a Web2.0 enabled organisation in every sense of the word. I take it you do use these technologies for recruitment as well.
RM: Yes. I think ‘the battle for recruitment’ as we refer to it I think has two parts to it. One is actually identifying where the people that you want to bring into an organisation sit and that’s when you can use a whole raft of new sites, new opportunities to reach those individuals. But I think perhaps the most important part of Web2.0 in a recruitment frame is actually creating the attractive workplace to have people to want to come and join and, in the Web2.0 world where communities are formed and people are sharing information and voting and scoring people, if you have a reputation for driving and providing a very attractive, flexible workplace you’ll actually get more talent wanting to work for you.
PL: But Web2.0 isn’t just about attracting talent, it has the potential to have a real impact on the day to day working of organisations. Richard talked us through how IBM are using it.
RM: Well, in IBM we’ve spent quite a lot of time enabling our organisation to be very flexible. In fact at a recent research we did into the field with the leading HR Directors we found that one of the biggest challenges they found was how to make their actual organisations adaptive - adaptive to change, to flexibility – and based on that, we have now enabled in our organisation all employees to function, based on their role, to have all the information that they need at their fingertips wherever they happen to be. Whether they’re at the work location, at a home location, perhaps working with a client. So it doesn’t matter where they are, their department and location independent.
PL: How exactly does that work? Is this an internal Wiki, is this a database of stuff that everyone needs to know at IBM or is it some other technology?
RM: Well it starts with the portal that you go into, it becomes almost your workspace is your portal and that sifts all the mass of information a company has, it makes it relevant, so it filters to you the information you need to do your job. Now around that are a whole set of enabling technologies to help you collaborate better. So, for example, searching for information in an organisation, it’s very hard with traditional search engines so in the Web2.0 world you use things like tagging. People tag content so when you search you find information that’s been tagged and validated by others and that is a much better information.
PL: While you might expect IBM’s culture to be accepting of Web2.0, what about gaining acceptance to even the idea of using technologies in innovative ways in organisations outside the technology industry? I chatted some more with The Royal Opera House’s Steven Foulston. Did you have a hard time selling this idea to senior management at The Opera House?
SF: No. Bizarrely we literally did a kind of mock up on a mobile phone. It was as simple and low tech as that. We then got HR Director, Marketing Director, Press and Communications Director in a room, showed them it, their faces dropped when they first saw it within ten/fifteen seconds. You need to see the video, but the whole thing it’s a reveal, it’s a joke, there’s a punch line at the end. Once you get the punch line they just collapsed with laughter and pride – joy. 

PL: And that was that? They said yes.
SF: Then we did exactly the same thing with the Chief Executive, who had exactly the same reaction until he saw the reveal, blown away, loved it. Budget? Do what you want, away you go.
PL: Fantastic, well it’s an absolutely dream response. 

SF: The challenge actually was not the managers, it was actually persuading individual members of staff to make a fool of themselves. So again if you looked at the videos they are real employees, in real jobs that we just captured doing their work and got them to perform.
PL: Ah but these are people who would not normally perform in the course of their jobs at The Opera House. 

SF: Absolutely. So that actually was the challenge to go and persuade half a dozen people to come forward and want to do this.
PL: A fascinating example there, but just how far can the use of new technologies like social networking go? I asked TMobile’s Julia Porter. 
You’ve used this with graduate recruitment, can you see yourself using these sort of technologies for other sorts of recruitment?
JP: I think with social networking I think you have to be really careful about where you’re going, consider your target audience. Actually our need wasn’t attraction, our need was building advocacy. So, it wasn’t really to attract graduates – though we have used it to advertise graduate roles since. Be very clear about what you’re using it for. You must consider your audience. Are you going to find your top lawyer? I don’t know. Would I want to see their profile about their stag night? I don’t know. I think you’ve got to be clear about what you’re using it for. I also think that the social network you can go down a lot of blind alleys with it to be honest with you. I’m a great believer if you’re really going to network then go to an event, get talking to people, really take your message directly to people. I think it’s possible to waste a bit of time on it if I’m honest, I don’t think the return is what people might think it can be but what we’ve tried to do at TMobile is use bits and pieces here and there rather than throw everything in one area. But social networking, yeah, my view is powerful tool but be clear what you want to use it for.
PL: Some good pointers there but I wanted to know more about the types of things to watch out for. Julia gives us a pertinent example. 

JP: This year we had to make some fairly swinging cuts on the numbers of graduates coming in and of course if you invite people to be that close to you you’re creating a relationship where they feel they can be very vocal with you and we had some (shall we say?) some uncomplimentary messages from some applicants saying “How could you cut your IT roles?” and so on and I responded directly to them. “Okay this is me, I head this thing up. This is why we did it. I’m not going to lie to you about it, I’m not going to get you here and then make you redundant. We’ve made this for big grown up reasons and guess what? You’re joining the big grown up world.” It was an interesting learning in terms of okay you bring them that close you’ve got to respond properly to them, you can’t rely on your comms department or your PR department. If you’ve reached out like that you’ve got to be brave enough to talk to them and actually what we got was a whole swathe of messages back saying “Yeah, really sorry, I shouldn’t have shot my mouth off like that. Yeah, I understand now why you’ve done it”, and actually it didn’t damage us at all but it was a bit of a shock when I saw some of the postings. So, yeah, a good lesson learnt.
PL: So it seems like Web2.0, like many means of communication, has great advantages but it needs to considered in context. And as the CIPD’s Martyn Sloman told us earlier, examples of Web2.0 and HR are now coming through; it’s an exciting time. I asked him for his advice to professionals considering where to start Web2.0.
MS: Well, you should start by having a look at our discussion paper which sets out the vocabulary and the glossary which is freely available on the site. You should be monitoring what’s going on, you should be looking at practices and you should trust your judgement, it does come. Exactly the same rules are going to apply, so trust your judgement, don’t be panicked, don’t be an early adopter unless you are naturally an early adopter and those are people in the high tech space who are attracting a certain sort of high tech computer literate type people. Watch what’s going on, it is going to happen but don’t be panicked. 

PL: A reassuring and balanced view there. While we know from our research that some 62% are concerned about their employer brand being damaged by comments on social networking sites, we hope to have shown through this podcast that Web2.0 does have the potential to offer opportunities for HR too. We’ve heard how it’s already helping boosting recruitment, cross functional relationships, accessibility to information and employer brand.
Whether you already use Web2.0 or are only thinking about it, join our debate at to make sure you get the latest evidence and thinking around Web2.0 and HR. 

In our next podcast we’ll be interviewing the CIPD’s Chief Executive, Jackie Orme, about the future of HR and her vision for the CIPD. If you’ve got a question you’d like Jackie to answer we’d love to hear it. Go to and follow the links to send it in. We’ll be accepting questions until August 12th.
Until next time, goodbye. 


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