Social Intranets: HR’s Innovation Opportunity


Earlier this year I was invited to speak at the 13th Annual Simposio Internacional de Gestion Humana (International HR Symposium) in Cartagena, Colombia. Organized by ACRIP Bolivar (the Bolivar regional division of the Association of HR Professionals of Colombia), the conference brought together HR managers, directors, and executives from around Colombia to listen to leading speakers discuss topics related to the conference theme: Innovation, Sustainability, and Measurable Results.

From September 16-18, 2012 attendees listened to ideas about how organizations can become more innovative and survive in turbulent, complex time, through a mixture of organizational development strategies and human capital, delivered increasingly through collaborative digital technologies.

I was proud to speak at the event and make my first trip to continental South America, joining established and esteemed presenters like Michael Eckersley from US design firm HumanCentred and international management expert Javier Fernandez Aguado from MindValue in Spain.

Now I’ll be the first to admit – my Spanish is non-existent. Even more non-existent than my French (which is pretty slim these days), so attending and speaking at Spanish-speaking conference was a bit intimidating to say the least. Thankfully, the warmth of my hosts (and their translation abilities), combined with the global visual language of PowerPoint decks, and with a bit of technological magic, I was able to participate far more than I thought possible when I first arrived.

Thanks to this nifty mobile app, WordLens, which I’d previously viewed as a neat party-trick use of the iPhone, I was able to view slides and do real-time translation as I sat in the audience. Amazing. While I was only getting partial information about the presentations, it was certainly enough for me to follow along and make sense of many of the presentations.

And while the setting and the language were foreign, several thousand kilometres from my home, the speakers largely presented on familiar global business themes.

  • Government representatives spoke about encouraging innovation through building educational programs.  Their strategies of instituting better technology in the classroom and a push for multi-lingualism would sound typical to any North American political observer.
  • HR Directors from large corporations, ranging from banks to consumer brand companies, shared case studies and examples of their efforts to foster innovation, corporate social responsibility, and good PR (both internally and externally).
  • Academics spoke about the evolution of globalization in Central America. I reminded myself while I sat in a hotel near a 500 year old walled city that was built up and maintained by the Spanish colonial presence here for hundreds of years, that globalization was not a new topic here. It had been a reality for generations.

Creativity was a common thread throughout the conference.  In addition to being the final objective of the techniques suggested to fuel engagement and innovation, it also clearly serves an important means of inspiration in much of Latino large-scale corporate culture, as evidenced by the promotional videos and songs that made appearances in many of the presentation from companies operating in multiple countries throughout South America. Example below from consumer food goods giant Quala…

My talk, “Social Intranets: HR’s Innovation Opportunity,” tried to fit with the themes of innovation and measurable results, by linking it back to the (hopefully understood) HR concept of employee engagement, something that we’ve been writing about here at ThoughtFarmer for a while. The talk focused on the theory of the diffusion of innovation and the purpose of “social” inside organizations as well as how social intranets can bring about measurable innovation.  As I knew that most of my audience would be listening to a translated version, I tried my best to stay away from the abstract, knowing that a good story tends to transcend culture and language.


I used our textbook case of our very first client, Intrawest, to demonstrate the mechanics of the diffusion of innovation, deconstructing their construction project story that saved them $500,000 on a $2.0M project. I also covered the benefits to Human Resources – lower employee turnover, more productivity, higher profitability – of having an engaged workforce, the starting point for an innovative culture. And of course, I spoke about how the features of a social intranet can provide opportunities for fostering those qualities.

Judging from the length and quality of the question period (simultaneously translated into my headset by an unseen translator off-stage), the talk was well-received and I thoroughly enjoyed the chance to interact with a new, enthusiastic, different (and yet not-so-different) audience.

A big thank you to ACRIP Bolivar and conference organizer Jota Escobar for inviting me and bringing me to Colombia, as well as ACRIP Bolivar Exec Director Katherine Ospina Viana, and to my new friends Omar & Luis from Buscan2, Ramon & Mariana from Sapiens & Co, and Michael Eckersley for adventuring with me in the old town of Cartagena on a hot afternoon away from the conference…


Cartagena is a beautiful place and I’m lucky to have experienced it. I’ll leave you with the city’s anthem and some of the sights and sounds of the Caribbean jewel of Colombia…

Muchas gracias.


Join The Discussion

  1. Jota Escobar

    Thank you very much for your words, and for your participation in the Symposium as speaker. It was a great experience, and you have a friend in Colombia !!

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