Perils of Being Invisible

If you fail to stay current with the technology in your own professional space, you could harm your credibility when you try to prepare your organization for technologies that might impact -- or disrupt -- your business. 

By Susan R. Meisinger

Late last year, Steve Boese, one of my favorite bloggers and's Inside HR Tech columnist, posted a blog entitled "The Last HR Pro not on LinkedIn."  

In the blog post, Steve recounted how he was giving a social-media presentation to an HR audience and was surprised to learn that someone in the audience was not on LinkedIn. He was surprised that, in late 2012, there was "still one smart, engaged (she took the time to attend a professional-development and networking event) and experienced HR/talent pro who had not found her way to LinkedIn; if nothing else, to set up a shell profile on the site."

I wasn't nearly as surprised as Steve. In fact, I thought there were probably a lot more senior than junior HR executives who weren't on LinkedIn or any social-media platform. 

So I tested my hypothesis: I compiled a list of the members of the boards of directors for the HR Policy Association, the Society for Human Resource Management and the National Academy of Human Resources (of which I'm a member), and then proceeded to search for each board member on LinkedIn.

Fully one-third of those executives didn't have a profile on LinkedIn. Of the two-thirds who did, half had a shell or "placeholder" profile, or something close to a shell. Since many of these HR executives have very big jobs at very big companies, I wouldn't be surprised if some didn't actually post the profile themselves. I'm sure some were posted by folks from public affairs or corporate communications, since these departments are likely to be familiar with social-media tools.

Of course, there are lots of reasons someone may not post a profile on LinkedIn; if you're in the top HR job of a top company -- as many members of these boards are -- you really don't need to use LinkedIn to help you get your next job: Every major headhunter already has you in his or her database and you get calls regularly. And why have a profile if you'll have to respond to a flood of connection or introduction requests from candidates applying for jobs at your company? 

And let's be real: Who has time to spend with LinkedIn or other social-media platforms when you're trying to get ready to present to your board's compensation committee? 

So I was really not surprised that, as Steve noted, "there still exists a pretty significant knowledge and value-perception gap between most of the front-line, working HR professionals and those of us [who] think about and use new technologies every day."

But here's my concern:

If HR executives aren't learning about, thinking about and using newer technologies that are available and being used in their own profession, how likely is it that they're playing a leadership role to ensure that others in the organization are taking the time to learn about, think about and use new technologies in their respective domains? This is particularly important when new technologies begin to emerge that may be disruptive and might threaten the very viability of a business model.

(Consider the impact of the rapid rise of the Internet on newspaper publishing. Many major publishers have either disappeared or are still playing catch-up in changing their business models.)

There's no question that every business will be changed, in some way, by technological advances yet to come.  A recent report from McKinsey Global Institute highlights some technologies that are likely to be the most disruptive. The report, Disruptive Technologies: Advances That Will Transform Life, Business, and the Global Economy, highlights the challenge to HR and other business leaders - who will  "need to understand how the competitive advantages on which they have based strategy might erode or be enhanced a decade from now by emerging technologies -- how technologies might bring them new customers or force them to defend their existing bases or inspire them to invent new strategies."

My message here isn't to be sure you're on LinkedIn or some other social-medial platform. My message is that you can't be slow to investigate, experiment with, or understand the potential of social-media tools that are springing up and being used in the HR profession. If you fail to stay current with the technology in your own professional space, you could harm your credibility when you try to prepare your organization for technologies that might impact -- or disrupt -- your business. 

Of course, there's something else to keep in mind. Who will attract the best and the brightest HR talent to their team: an HR leader who has at least some visibility on social media, or the HR leader who's invisible on social media?

Susan R. Meisinger, former president and CEO of the Society for Human Resource Management, is an author, speaker and consultant on human resource management. She is on the board of directors of the National Academy of Human Resources.

Jul 9, 2013
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