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    « Succession Planning goes to College | Main | Facebook and Talent Management Technology »

    Google Wave and HR

    In 2004 (which in internet time is about 49 years ago), in a Harvard Business Review article titled Can Absence Make a Team Grow Stronger?, the authors studied productivity and the effectiveness of team-based decision making in global, distributed teams.

    One of the recommendations that came from the study was obvious, that modern, collaborative technologies must be utilized to support and enhance communication and collaboration for the purposes of problem-solving.  And way back in 2004, one of the specific findings was that e-mail should be used sparingly, if at all, as it has severe limitations as a collaborative technology. Additionally, the 'closed' nature of e-mail does not foster trust in distributed teams, particularly ones where the members are expected to collaborate for the first time and do not have a history or shared experiences to draw from.

    So e-mail is generally lambasted as a collaboration tool. But for many project teams and organizations it remains the primary technology that supports team-based work.  Everyone has e-mail, everyone knows how to use it, and the barriers to adoption are at this point zero.

    Other tools have emerged in the last few years that can in some form replace and improve upon e-mail, (wikis, group blogs, IM, Twitter, Yammer, among others), and have enjoyed varying levels of success in supporting distributed collaboration. But since the widespead adoption of e-mail as the so-called 'killer app', no single technology for collaboration has come close to supplanting e-mail as the main tool for employees and organizations to work together and share information, and to (gasp) foster innovation. Truly, since e-mail was created over thirty years ago, the corporate world has been waiting for the next 'killer app' for collaboration.

    Perhaps that will be the lasting legacy of Google Wave.  Wave has been described as 'e-mail if it were invented today'. Wave, at least at first glance, seems to address and improve upon many of the shortcomings of e-mail, while certainly offering the promise of capability far superior to e-mail.  This video does an excellent job of explaining Wave in the context of e-mail 'replacement'.

    Where e-mail tends to be 'private' between sender and receiver, Wave is much more open; anyone can be invited to see and participate in a Wave. Folks invited late to the conversation can use the 'replay' function to see just how the conversation developed and to get more of a flavor for the twists and turns in a problem solving process. The contents of the Wave itself are much more enduring, accessible, and portable than long e-mail message and response chains.  For all those reasons, and probably many more, Wave offers an exciting alternative to traditional e-mail collaboration. There have already been scores of posts explaining the various features of Wave, so I won't try to re-create that again here.

    But I think another, perhaps more interesting question for HR and Talent professionals than whether or not Wave is 'better' than e-mail, is this one: What is the role of HR in the assessment and evaluation of tools that can increase employee collaboration, raise productivity, and foster innovation? 

    When an interesting and potentially groundbreaking technology is created that has such potential in the workplace should the HR organization, the ones that are meant to be the leaders in helping to find and assess talent and to position that talent to ensure organizational success, be on the front lines of these technology discussions and tests? 

    I think the answer is yes.

    These evaluations and determinations of what technologies to try and implement in the workplace, particularly ones that may reach deeply in to the organization have to be influenced by HR's unique position as the 'talent' experts.

    These decisions are too important to cede to the IT department.

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    Reader Comments (9)

    Great post, Steve. I'm excited to see how people use GW in the coming weeks/months, because I think there are some great applications for our profession just waiting to be discovered.

    October 20, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterBen Eubanks

    Excellent post (as always). I wasn't familiar with the history that went into Google Wave...it has really helped me to understand the application better. Thanks.

    October 20, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSharlyn Lauby

    Dear Steve,

    very good post.
    Wave kind technologies require, like social media, an integrated, multidisciplinairy, holistic, corporate wide approach.
    It is also, like I used to say working for DEC, about hardware, software and most important the HUMANWARE.
    I think the difference with "the past" is that companies are giving apps away for free for personal use. So employees are already on social networks, on twitter, sharing on wikis. The HUMANWARE now these days can more or less take the lead themselves.
    It is learning by doing privately and at a certain moment they demand professionally, in their work, the tools they use privately as well.
    This is the world upside down, compared to 40, 30, 20, 10 and maybe even 5 years ago. It is just a fact of the information age.
    Employees are not interested in security risks, they "demand" an effective and efficient working envirionment, supported by the tools they know that help them. I think it will go like this with WAVE as well.

    For HR the challenge to take advantage of this new technology, learn by doing to get a real understanding about what they could do to help employees and managers to perform as a team. That requires moren than a Google WAVE.

    Interesting to follow the suggestion Chris Brogan made today about using Blueprints to "sell" social media. http://bit.ly/2bzNiw
    A challenge to make an HR GW blueprint? Would be an interesting challenge.

    Hope you see my point and like my blueprint idea.

    Best regards
    Alexander Crepin

    October 20, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAlexander Crepin

    @Ben - thanks, I am sure we will figure out some creative and beneficial applications for Wave at the HRevolution next month

    @Sharlyn - Thanks very much Sharlyn. 'Wave as e-mail re-designed' is the easiest way to make the tool a bit more accessible, I think once the developer ecosystem gets rolling we will see that Wave can and will be much more than that.

    @Alexander - I will take a look at the Blueprint idea you mentioned. I liked your point that HR really has to learn by doing and that is the true way to best assess this and other potential workforce technologies. Thanks very much.

    October 20, 2009 | Registered CommenterSteve

    Thank you for stressing employee collaboration, productivity and innovation as the desired outcomes of using social collaboration tools like Google Wave, and for NOT mentioning employee engagement as an outcome. While engagement could be, and likely will be, an outcome of well-deployed social media in organizations, it shouldn't be an end, but a means to achieving the aforementioned productivity & innovation. Sometimes I think that HR professionals get stuck on engagement because we/they feel that this is the only *measurable* outcome HR can somewhat directly influence. But frankly, business leaders appreciate engagement only in that it can contribute to the bottom line through improving other measurable business outcomes. HR has to prove the causal connection.

    If we insist that social media improve engagement, then we also have to prove engagement improves productivity, revenue, profitability, etc. But if we can prove that well-deployed and used social media directly contribute to productivity and innovation, revenue, etc., then we can skip the "middle metric" of engagement. Would HR be overly threatened by this, I wonder?


    October 20, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSuzanne Rumsey

    Thanks Suzanne for your excellent insight and comments. I did not mention engagement at all, because I too believe it is an indirect measure of many other drivers like job fit, a challenging environment, and alignment of personal aspirations with career potential. I don't really see tools, even inherently social tools as a direct influencer. I think some studies have drawn the conclusion that higher engagement leads to increased productivity and profits. But I do agree that it can be a very fuzzy concept to articulate. I think you are correct that while 'engagement' surveys are fairly common and HR staffs are usually comfortable with them, there is certainly a challenge for HR in the newer area of social and collaborative technology. Thanks so much for reading.

    October 20, 2009 | Registered CommenterSteve

    Personally, I use Showdocument for online teaching and web conferencing. I'm not saying these programs aren't good,
    But I think a web-based application is always better, since there's nothing to download or install.
    try it at http://www.showdocument.com . -andy

    October 21, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterandy stewart

    Thanks Andy,I will check out showdocument.

    October 21, 2009 | Registered CommenterSteve

    If you've seen any screen shots or videos about Google Wave - it's amazing, but it's by invite only at this time. Anyone open to inviting blog readers to join the fun?

    October 22, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAmanda

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