Google’s new product, Wave, looks set to create waves for HR and organisations, writes David Creelman
Google has revealed a new product called
Wave which is intended to replace email.
Wave will be available later this year. There’s
no question it is a cool product, and I will
describe it a bit later on, but here is my ques
tion for you: “Does Google Wave has anything
to do with HR?”
The answer to the first question hinges on
another: “What is HR?” Normally we think in
terms of the main departments: recruiting,
training, reward and so on. However, over and
above all of that, HR is the group that spe
cialises in understanding how people work
together in organisations. There is no other
section of the organisation in which there is a
group of people with such a deep under
standing of people, jobs and organisational
design. When it comes to anything that af
fects people working in groups, HR has to be
Why email and Wave matter
Email ought to have been of great interest to
HR. We invest enormous amounts of energy
in attracting, retaining and motivating star per
formers then sit idly back and watch them
spend a third of their day on email. Is this time
well spent? What factors make email an ef
fective organisational tool? How can we avoid
it being a waste of time? HR should be the
expert on these topics.
However, it appears that Wave really will
have the power to replace traditional email
and so that is what we should focus on now.
The easiest way to think of Wave is that you
open a “page” on which to have a conversa
tion with one or more people. Rather than
bouncing individual messages back and forth
the conversation evolves as each person adds
to and edits the page. In many ways it is very
much like a wiki – and, again, HR professionals
should know what a wiki is and how it can af
fect group productivity.
What to do about Wave
If Wave is a success, people in your organisa
tion will be spending a great deal of their day
working with it as a replacement to email. The
goal of HR is to make sure employees are sup
ported in learning how to use the tool effectively.
I’m not thinking primarily of training of the sort
“What button do I push to add someone else
to this conversation?” The learning needs to be
about how to use the tool to effectively com
municate, create ideas and build camaraderie.
How do you use Wave effectively? No one
knows. So the goal of HR should be to cre
ate a learning environment. For example, it
would be a good idea to create a communi
ty of practice to help share people’s experi
ences with Wave and develop knowledge.
Don’t fall into the trap of creating a commu
nity only of hard-core enthusiasts and geeks.
There need to be average managers and em
ployees in the community who will ensure the
lessons are relevant to the company as a
whole, rather than just IT geeks. There should
also be customers invited to participate in the
community of practice as well (This idea of in
volving customers comes from Dave Ulrich
and his group at RBL).
A community of practice isn’t the only way
to create a learning environment, but it is a
good place to start. And while it’s true that
Wave is so new that no one is an expert on
how to use it to boost organisational per
formance, we do have a lot of experience with
email and wikis that will be relevant to Wave.
The role of IT
The IT department is clearly very important in
getting the most from tools such as Wave
so HR has to let them be seen as taking the
lead on this. They are responsible for tech
nology and won’t appreciate it if HR seems
to be taking over what they see as “their”
product. Also, because IT staff tend to be early
adopters of this kind of tool they probably
know more about how to use it effectively than
anyone else – so HR has a lot to learn from
them. However, there should not be much of
a conflict; IT will appreciate HR’s support in
using Wave effectively.
Making it work
The one remaining question is: “Where does
HR get the resources to manage this?” For
tunately, it doesn’t take much time to organ
ise a community of practice; an ambitious HR
manager will find a way to fit this into their
schedule. At the same time, HR should be
gathering some data on how much time em
ployees currently spend on email and use that
to justify investing effort in learning to use the
next generation of collaborative software.
This is fun work to do and is important to
the future of HR.
David Creelman is CEO of Creelman Research, providing written research and commentary in human capital management firstname.lastname@example.org