Happy New Year! To start out 2013 we’re jumping off with a series of posts on the hot themes that we see affecting HR this year. The first of these is Crowdsourcing, or harnessing the wisdom of the crowd for HR.
Crowdsourcing is not a new concept. We’ve certainly been aware of its benefits since the 17th and 18th century, when scientific societies and governments offered prizes to crowdsource scientific discovery—such as the search for a way to determine a ship’s longitude—which was crowdsourced in 1714. The Oxford English Dictionary is another widely cited example of crowdsourcing in the 19th century.
The use of “crowdsourcing” as a business concept can fairly be traced back to James Surowiecki’s groundbreaking 2005 book, The Wisdom of Crowds and Jeff Howe’s influential 2006 article in Wired Magazine: “The Rise of Crowdsourcing”.
What is crowdsourcing? Briefly put, it is outsourcing of human power en masse. Putting the effort of many minds together, it has been shown, will yield a more powerful and more accurate result than even the best specialist minds working alone. Because it relies on cooperative effort, it caught on quickly and has been a tremendously successful model for non-profit and volunteer organizations.
In the last few years, businesses have begun to follow suit. Crowdsourcing has become a very hot topic in the boardroom, and has spread into all areas of the company: financing and fund-raising, strategic direction, research and development, quality testing, and marketing. According to research firm PwC, publishers of the Annual Global CEO Survey:
Crowdsourcing is effective, in part, because it draws upon the diverse experience and knowledge of a large, heterogeneous audience to arrive at innovative solutions. Another benefit: Crowdsourcing mirrors the social-collaborative mind-set of young audiences who are accustomed to communicating and sharing knowledge in a world where information is freely available with no organizational barriers.
Likewise, the Harvard Business Review Analytic Service has noted, in its study “Closing the Gap: How Companies Achieve Smarter New Product Development and Make Better Decisions with Technology”:
As more manufacturing moves to emerging markets and further away from headquarters, companies are finding that research and development is no longer an exclusive domain for engineers in lab coats. With a trend toward ‘open innovation’ – not only are sales, marketing, finance, and operations now collaborating with R&D – so are partners, suppliers, customers, and competitors.
Up until recently, however, it hasn’t been exactly clear how HR could benefit from the wisdom of crowds. That is rapidly changing as leading edge innovators have begun putting crowdsourcing to work in many HR areas, with astounding results. Here are a few ways that they are using crowdsourcing (and its cousin social networking) that may already affect how you do your job:
- Talent Searches: Networking and finding candidates via not only using social media, but using Recruitment 4.0 and Recruitment 5.0 techniques such as mobile recruiting, gamification and crowdsourcing job descriptions, candidate referrals and the assessment/interview process.
- Building and managing company reputation: via sites like Glassdoor.com and Indeed.com has become critical to attracting quality talent—who rely on these crowdsourced sites for an accurate view of company culture.
- Crowdsourcing non-traditional labor: Hiring microworkers in lieu of hiring permanent employees may be an option your company is exploring. The non-traditional method of contracting microwork via the cloud is a significant change in business model for some organizations.
- Crowdsourcing performance reviews. The crowdsourced review has been a cutting edge practice in 2012, but we believe it will come into its own in 2013. Globoforce’s CEO Eric Mosley recently published a book on the topic of leveraging recognition data to augment traditional reviews with real-time, crowdsourced performance assessment. Check it out.
- Refreshing and realigning core values: Periodically a company will refresh and realign its core values (or even its name). Rather than leaving this assessment to execs in the boardroom, consider getting a sense of what really matters in your company by asking your employees.
- Culture management beyond the engagement survey: It is no secret that top consumer brands drive customer engagement through crowdsourcing. But those same principles can also be put to work within company walls. Instead of simply assessing engagement levels, invite employees to offer ideas for engagement and to participate in their own culture creation and management.
- Social recognition or social collaboration: Tools for recognition (such as ours!) or tools for sharing ideas might be an option your company should consider to harness the power of crowdsourcing to measure and monitor culture, manage talent, or to generate and share ideas.
- Crowdsource your benefits choices: An employee survey on benefits is a good way to ensure that at open enrollment time you’re providing options that your employees actually want—and that you aren’t wasting effort on benefits no one cares about.
PwC offers the following advice to companies who are incorporating crowdsourcing into your internal processes:
1. Include a diverse audience: The power of crowdsourcing lies in its ability to systematically engage a large, diverse group of people in collaborative problem solving.
2. Provide a clear purpose: To ensure that crowdsourcing does not descend into chaos when a plethora of voices spin off topic, you should provide a specific challenge for the company.
3. Motivate to participate: Participation is more likely to be self-generating in companies that have a trusting environment in which employees are engaged and encouraged to contribute.
4. Allow time to innovate: Research has shown a direct correlation between teams that are given time to innovate and those that submit a winning crowdsourcing idea.
5. Don’t throw out ideas: To truly innovate, companies must embrace a culture in which a failed idea is acceptable and the workforce is encouraged to continually push the boundaries.
2013 promises to be the year when using crowdsourcing in these ways becomes the norm. If you’re not already using some them, we suggest you consider it!
More in this series of posts:
Overview: 6 Hot HR Themes for 2013
#2: Measuring & Managing Culture with Big Data
#3 Keeping HR From Getting Lost in the Cloud
#4: HR Hits the Road – The Impact of Mobile Networking in 2013
#5: Healthcare Changes and Employee Morale in 2013