The missing link
published by , on 07/04/2009

By  Jeroen Derynck (The thinking ape) & Ben Caudron (Consultant)

In the Seventies, the American sociologist Granovetter already figured out that weak ties make your social network more effective. In his social network theory “The theory of weak ties” (1973), the author demonstrated that individuals in your “extended” network bring in more novel information and creativity into the circle. This is in contrast with our close friends and people with whom we have strong ties (such as direct colleagues). Strong ties tend to move in the same circles as we do and in the long run, we become like-minded: we are all thinking inside of the box.

By extending your network, you bring in more creativity and out-of-the box thinking in the process. This principle is nowadays called open innovation or to use some buzzword speak “crowdsourcing”.  In times like these, companies need – more than ever – creativity, innovative thinking and a fresh perspective.  Unfortunately, most Human Resources departments still go for the more conservative approach and primarily focus on the applicant’s curriculum. Does it match with the desired profile and skills? It seems as if companies and recruiters have difficulties in getting out of their own comfort zone. They don’t want to take the risk of attracting people who don’t have a 100% match with the required profile.  What’s even worse, the time of responding to an application is below acceptable levels.

A recent Dutch survey revealed that 50% of the companies do not reply within a week of receiving an application.  In 15% of the cases, they did not even bother to react at all.  While HR circles are buzzing about “human capital”, they are struggling with a high number of unfulfilled vacancies – at the expense of the company of course. These unfulfilled vacancies jeopardize business continuity and put the company’s growth at stake. The absence of real measurement instruments and a clear link with the organization’s strategy make it virtually impossible to calculate the Return on Investment of your HR operations. As a consequence, the HR department becomes the weakest link in the organization.

It’s high time for revamping your Human Resources.  The proliferation of online social networks such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Plaxo and Netlog have created unseen opportunities to find that “missing link” for your organization. More than one million Belgians have already subscribed to Facebook and half a million are on Linkedin. Unfortunately, most Belgian companies remain blissfully ignorant for this phenomenon. One of the direct effects of the current recession is a vast influx of fresh blood in the labour market.  These new dynamics are in part the reason why social networking sites see their members grow by the day. But, our HR departments have not heard of the “picking the low hanging fruit” philosophy. Just do a search for jobs in Belgium on LinkedIn and you will find that there are only between 60 and 70 jobs posted by Belgian companies. We are in fact missing out on the opportunity to substantially extend our networks. Where demand used to exceed supply in the past, today it’s just a matter of “l’embarras du choix” and cherry picking on those social networking sites.

Now is the time that HR can show true leadership and help to steer their organizations through the recession waters.  This do calls for a change in attitude: HR has to become more service-oriented, pro-active and risk-taking.  Stay in tune with what is going on in the market and come up with creative ways to attract the desired competences – not just skills. The web is changing the way we are interacting with each other but corporate recruitment sites are increasingly becoming the epitome of impersonality.  Where social media such as blogs, instant messaging and micro-blogging create opportunities for instant and personalised conversations, an automated reply message is all you can hope for after leaving your CV on a corporate career site.
Being in tune with the digital era does not only stand for having an online presence.  It also means that HR gets itself geared up for a new kind of conversation: instant, personalised and above all transcending the traditional boundaries. Charles Darwin said it already 150 years ago : “It is not the strongest species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the ones most responsive to change”

Jeroen Derynck/The thinking ape helps organizations to stay in tune with the digital age. Ben Caudron is an advisor to business leaders who want to (re-)shape strategies.

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