This chapter will give introduction to what the research is about, its significance and also introduces the organisation where it is conducted. It also sheds light on the limitations faced by the study.
1.2 Research themes
This research is focusing on how Cloud Computing (CC) and social media applications can be integrated and used by an organisation to improve employee feedback systems within performance appraisal. This study aims to investigate whether key Human Resource (HR) policy makers are aware of CC, and its potential use to performance appraisal systems through social media applications.
Performance appraisal is a vital tool for any organisation, potentially influencing workforce productivity. Performance appraisal is used to provide employee with a framework where employee objectives are defined and discussed. Dessler (2011) defines Performance Appraisal as a system of setting employee job expectations, assessing employee's performance, giving feedback on the performance and how to improve it in future. An effective performance appraisal measures the quality, quantity and timeliness of the job done and also helps identify personal development needs.
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Cloud computing (CC) is an emerging computing trend, which is defined by Scale (2009) as a platform where sharing of applications and IT resources is carried out to get the work done without concerns about ownership and management of the network's resources and applications. CC integrates many individual bespoke applications and processes, which were previously stand-alone, into a single environment. Increasingly being hosted online, the shift towards CC, is potentially one of the most important technological shifts within the last decade. In recent years, CC has become an inexpensive commodity that is reachable and affordable to many business and individual customers. Online Cloud  hosted solutions reduce or totally remove the need to purchase and maintain hardware as vendor managed hardware and software usually instantly yield cost savings; as well as the ancillary benefits of built in redundancy of the 'Cloud' environment (Wang et al, 2011).
Social media as defined by Acas (2011) is a platform that allows user-generated content to emerge through interaction and collaborations in a virtual community. It is famous because of its accessibility and immediacy. Anyone who has a computer or smart phone can access it and it provides users with an ease to reach out to others without much effort. According to Acas (2011) Social media and the latest developments of the web are rapidly pushing organisations away from the traditional broadcast communication and engagement models that they have been used to. They are creating a constant ever changing real-time open data flow, which is continually updated and drives behaviours and responses at a progressively faster pace.
In the context of the current economic recession and austerity, organisations are placing a greater emphasis on improving efficiency and performance. Adopting swifter technological advancement like CC as a means to improve communication systems (to improve individual's performance through appraisals/feedback) via social media applications, presents an effective means of improving an organisation's productivity. The focus is on supporting an organisation to do what is needed to drive performance that lasts - encouraging strategic vision and using shared purpose to drive sustainable performance (CIPD, 2011). By adopting new trends in technology like CC and social media any organisation will not only be able to scale its IT resources ,but also use these innovations to improve communication across the organisational hierarchies, as it creates a platform where information is easily accessible and an informed perspective of the organisation is available to all stakeholders. Potentially, benefits arise from providing greater spontaneity to feedback, getting real-time updates on issues related to performance management, taking advantage of pooled expertise to coach and mentor employees, thus saving considerable costs on training.
1.3 The Organisation
This study is taking place in the HR department at Birmingham City Council (BCC). BCC is a public sector organisation and is the largest council in Europe, providing high standards of service to Birmingham's residents and businesses.
The HR department at BCC employs approximately 413 people across 10 departments, which are further divided into sub units. Key HR functions encompass people resourcing, people support, rewards, recognition and engagement, operations, organisation development & learning, workforce initiative and planning. The HR department in BCC holds a key strategic position, enabling the organisation to achieve its strategic goals by attracting, retaining and developing employees, and functions as the link between the organisation and its workforce.
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This study seeks to determine whether the performance appraisal system currently used by BCC's HR department, can be facilitated by adopting a social media application hosted in CC. Acceptance of such performance appraisal systems may also improve the 'bureaucratic' (Bureaucracy represents a certain kind of exercise of power; or rather, a certain kind of regulation of the exercise of power (Weber and Kafka 2012)) style of management, which currently exists in the organisation and hinders employee empowerment to some extent. Currently PDR is conducted by line managers; performance of an employee is reviewed after every 6 months and annually as well. Most line managers meet with employees after every 4 weeks to review the monthly targets, while others reviewed it after every 6 months or annually, depending on the situation and the need to do it. PDR is electronically stored on-site, and is password protected with access limited to employee and line manager only.
An anonymous source within BCC's HR department said that the SAP generated process of performance management is 'too formal and rigid', as it does not help improve employee engagement or the already 'bureaucratic' work environment. The recent shift in corporate strategy at BCC has resulted in financial gains. However, the organisation still doesn't offer a flexible 'culture' to engage employees, resulting in subjectivity on line managers' part to define 'success' and its accomplishment. It was also revealed that most top management is resistant to changes in IT, as they deem it a 'break from the comfort zone'; hence leading to 'routine practices' to be followed by employees.
1.4 Aims and Objectives
This study aims to investigate how social media applications hosted in 'Cloud' environment can help improve BCC's current performance appraisal system (known as Performance Development Review (PDR)), by improving resource utilization and enhancing business performance on the whole.
To evaluate the existing literature available on the Performance Appraisal, Cloud Computing and Social media by comparing and contrasting different author's views.
To investigate BCC's employee opinions on current performance appraisal systems, the PDR.
To explore BCC's employee awareness of CC
To investigate the acceptability of a social media application hosted in a cloud environment for performance appraisal amongst BCC employees.
There are many limitations to this study. Firstly, there is not much research done to link Performance Appraisal, Social media and Cloud Computing. Secondly, the researcher faces problems due to respondent's unavailability and busy schedules, leading to a sample size which makes it less representative of the population. Being a public organisation, with a 'data protection' policy, access to respondents was restricted even through emails; hence a senior HR practitioner was forwarded the link to the questionnaire. Thirdly, this research uses only quantitative research methodology due to time constraint, so it requires more in-depth analysis of the topic through interviews, focus groups to explore the possibilities of implementation or limitations of the topic extensively.
1.6 Significance and rationale of Study
New technologies and changes in modes of communication are becoming normal in modern-day society. CC and social media applications can be integrated together to develop more streamlined performance appraisal systems. This study investigates the acceptability of change amongst a public sector workforce. This study will help understand perceptions of people on the topic and will present the organisation with possibilities to be explored in the fields of CC and social media to facilitate PDR.
This chapter introduces the research topic and gives a brief introduction to the topics to be explored. It also discusses why the study is important for the researcher and the chosen organisation.