Social Capital truly is the secret weapon for human resources professionals. Let’s try to make it less secret and more of a weapon this year. In your last post, you offered up three topics that we should consider as we begin our discussion about social capital in HR:
- social/relational capital as a strategic tool for the HR leader
- how to get your HR team connected (and to whom)
- relationship basics for the HR beginners
Since we’ve had at least one request to start with the first bullet, that seems like as good a place to start as any. But, before we can tackle any of these topics, we need to start by defining social capital, so I will tackle that in this post. The definition we generally use comes from our favorite book on social capital, Achieving Success through Social Capital by Wayne Baker:
Social Capital is the resources available to an individual through their relationships with and connections to others.
At first, the concept of social capital is difficult for some people to get their heads around. But, when you think about it, it makes sense that people who have more substantial networks have access to more “stuff’ than those who don’t. The types of stuff we talk about when we talk about social capital is information, expertise, introductions to others, favors, business and recruiting leads, cooperation, and a variety of other things. Essentially, social capital is anything of value to you that you have access to through a relationship with another person.
I’ll illustrate the power of social capital by sharing a story from my experiences in 2009 (and one that proves the point that it’s not WHAT you know but WHO you know that makes the difference when you are job hunting). For those who don’t know, I made a move in my career last year. My new role as an HR VP is a job I have really enjoyed and is a great job at a great company. It is the kind of job many HR leaders would love to have and that I was lucky to find. Here’s how I landed it.
Toward the end of 2008, I had a lunch scheduled with a longtime friend of mine who works for a large recruiting organization. When I showed up to lunch, there was another person there with my friend who I didn’t know. Turns out, he was a recruiter who worked with her. He had just taken on a new executive search with a client that my friend thought I might be a good candidate for. She had invited him to lunch so that he and I could meet one another. Ultimately, he presented me as a candidate to his client for their open position.
Through the interview process, it became very evident that my years of HR experience was less than most of the other candidates for the job but that I was much more highly networked than the others. During the interview process, the CEO of company that I formerly worked for made an unsolicited reference call to the CEO who I was hoping to go to work for. He made this call due to the relationship he and I shared. To make a long story short, I got the job. In my final interview with my new boss, she shared with me that while I didn’t have the years of technical HR experience that some of the other candidates possessed, they had chosen me because they felt that I had such a strong network that I could pick up the phone at any time and find out whatever I didn’t know through my connectionss. Additionally, they felt that my sales background and relationship skills would enable me to build the internal network that would be needed to transform the organization’s perception of human resources. It wasn’t what I knew about HR that got me the job, it was my social capital and relationship skills that put me over the top.
In the end, it was my social capital that introduced me to the opportunity and my social capital that closed the deal. I could share dozens of stories about how social capital has helped me to be effective just in the past year. I hope that this story illustrates how relationships can create value and help you achieve your goals.
Joe, any good experiences or stories to share about the role social capital played for you last year?
In my next post, I’ll propose some key ways that social capital is important to the HR leader for you to react and add to.
Until then . . .