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As the end of November approaches, that time has come again when we must consider whether we have the right initiatives in place for ourselves and our organisations as we get ready for 2017. How are you transforming the capabilities and work practices in your organisation to make sure that your teams are more effective in their work?
Why is Work Changing?
The way we work is fundamentally changing under the influence of five main drivers:
- Pervasive Global connection: As internet connectivity has gone mobile, we now have the ability to connect with, to converse with and to see the whole system of our stakeholders any time anywhere.
- Automation: Digital technology has enabled us to automate simple tasks and string together increasingly complex processes and systems.
- Data and Analytics: As digital connection and digital automation expands so does our ability to gather data and analyse that data to provide insight and run complex algorithmic processes.
- Changing Consumer Expectations: As consumers are exposed to the potential of digital through consumer technology and consumer services, the businesses must meet disruptive and exacting standards for convenience, service, value and speed.
- Accelerating Pace of Change: Disruption, greater responsiveness to change and ever-shortening cycles of feedback are the new norm for business and our work practices must adapt to enable our businesses to keep up.
We have already seen great change in digital transformation.
Further dramatic changes in the nature of work are here but ‘not yet widely distributed’ to borrow the phrase of William Gibson..
2017 Future of Work Recommendations
With these pressures on the way we work, every business should have a focus on how it is changing the way its people work and the practices that will support ongoing transformation of work. Here are my recommendations on what work you should have on your backlog for the new year:
These five are in place in your organisation today. However, they may not be well understood, managed or serving your purpose. As you look to 2017 it is always worthwhile to ensure that the foundations are sound and well aligned.
Purpose: Be clear on your personal purpose. Look for that purpose in the work you do. Clarify the shared purpose in your organisation. Don’t impose a purpose designed around the leadership table. Discover the purpose through the stories and the work that bring your organisation together.
Strategic Value: What value are you trying to create to fulfil your purpose? What kinds of value matter most to your stakeholders? When do they know you are creating value? What measures tell you that you are achieving your goals?
Networks: To compete in the network era, your organisation must be networked. How are you bringing people together to connect, to share, to solve problems and to respond to the networks around your organisation? The technology matters less than the connection, the behaviours and the shared purpose. Are you clear on the strategic value of your communities, are they well supported with sponsorship, investment and community management so as to accelerate their value creation?
Culture: Move beyond words on a poster. Move beyond generic platitudes. Move beyond an agglomeration of individual team cultures. What specific values are shared across your organisation? Why do these help fulfil your purpose? How do those values translate to expectations about behaviours in and across your teams? Is the culture in your organisation effective for your purpose and the value you are seeking to create? How do you personal role model the behaviours you expect from others?
Employee Experience: Are you working somewhere that values the employee experience and is adapting it to changing work and changing roles in the organisation? How have you aligned your employee experience to your desired customer experience? Does your workplace create rich value for employees and enable them to express their potential in fulfilment of purpose? Does your employee experience work as well for the one-hour temporary contract worker as the long term employee? Does it work equally well for all levels of the hierarchy and all corners of your network?
Personal Effectiveness: Four Key Future of Work Practices
These four personal practices are enablers of the future of work. They enable an individual employee to deliver greater value in their work by responding to the opportunities and information in their environment. Agile and adaptive they empower employees to continuously improve and innovate.
Working Out Loud: Sharing work in progress in a purposeful way with relevant communities will accelerate learning, sharing and feedback cycles. Start working out loud now.
Personal Knowledge Management: Learn how to turn the personal information flood into effective sense making, learning and sharing. A critical skill to make sense of complexity and to leverage networks for learning.
Adaptive Leadership: Enabling the rebel and the change agent to lead more effectively in any system. Improving understanding, influence and the increasing the breadth of leadership techniques to create collective change in any system.
Experimentation: Move beyond the limits of your expertise. Learn by doing. Resolve uncertainty through action. Shorten cycles of decision making and feedback to increase personal effectiveness.
Organisational Effectiveness: Scaling & Accelerating Change
Organisations are made up individuals. These four practices of organisational effectiveness scale and accelerate the personal practices through a focus on design of systems for connection, learning and adaptation.
Open Collaborative Management: Middle managers are often those who find a change to digital ways of working most threatening and disrupting. Open up the work of management. Move management from planning, allocation and control to facilitation, alignment and coaching. Shorten cycles and improve the performance value of feedback. Foster the role of managers as network navigators and brokers. Management can be a critical point of leverage in achieving more open, more collaborative and more effective work.
Scalable Capability Development: Turn each employee’s learning into a contribution to scalable system for delivering strategic value. Create Big Learning systems that scale learning around strategic capabilities for the organisation’s success. Coordinate your learning agenda as an agile change program. Curate the capability building of your teams, leveraging learning from peer communities and leverage social learning to bring 70:20:10 and a performance-oriented approach to learning to life at scale and in the workplace.
Effective Networked Organisations: Take advantage of the networks in and around your organisation to rethink your business model and organisational design choices. Break the centralised/decentralised binary and move beyond hierarchy. Enable autonomy, foster alignment and improve effectiveness for purpose. Skill your teams to achieve effectiveness in the wirearchy. You don’t need to purchase a new management system. You need to adapt your approach to managing knowledge, trust, credibility and results to your purpose, culture and community.
Agile Innovation & Change: Adapt to the changing needs of the environment and stakeholders to deliver new value. Accelerate innovation and change through new approaches and by putting in place the systemic support for employee-led innovation, change and transformation to a more responsive organisation.
Simon Terry provides consulting, advice, speaking and thought leadership to global clients through his own consulting practice, and as a Charter Member of Change Agents Worldwide, a network of progressive and passionate professionals, specializing in Future of Work technologies and practices. The focus of Simon’s practice is assisting organizations to transform innovation, collaboration, learning and leadership.
Collaboration and other future work practices require investment from organisations to foster community and support the changes in practices. The potential value from this investment is better work organisation-wide.
Speaking at Intranets2016, I had the opportunity to see a showcase of presentations from organisations large and small on how they have leveraged value from new ways of working, better communication and collaboration with employees. I also got a chance to speak to many of the people attending the event and discuss their challenges and concerns.
Reflecting after the event one thing was striking: Each of the case studies had invested time and resources into helping their organisation get the most out of collaboration and community. They had spent time and money on strategy, on design work, on employee engagement, on training and community management. They had ongoing resources devoted to realising the value of community. When I spoke to many members of the audience winning the support of their organisation to invest in these elements was a major challenge. The success stories were successes because their organisations supported their team to realise the value of changing work.
Many organisations have not yet realised that the potential value creation from their new intranet, their new productivity tools or their new collaboration software far exceeds the investment they need to make to support change and adoption. These tool are part of the furniture in an organisation and while from time to time we invest in the latest version to stay effective, not much more is expected from their use.
Organisations that invest in community and collaboration know the value creation opportunity is far greater than a more effective tool. The value creation opportunity goes to the heart of their organisation by making work better, more productive and more effective. What little resource they choose to invest will deliver benefits that are multiplied by all the work that they do in the organisation. Scrimping or not investing at all in this capability leaves the tools to miss their potential and the community of users to miss the benefits.
Champions of social collaboration and new productivity solutions need to do more than fund the technology. They need to help the organisation see the strategic value of the new tool in new ways of working. When that value is clear then the business case for ongoing investment and in community and change is much more obvious.
Curiosity is a critical capability for the future of work. We have reached the end of stocks of expertise.
This morning I was lucky enough to be involved in a fishbowl conversation with Cheryle Walker, Andrew Gerkens, Renee Robson, Charles Jennings and an insightful audience. The final question of the engaging conversation about learning and performance was ‘What capabilities matter for learning and development professionals in the future?’ The question prompted a great discussion of the value of strategic, business, relationship and systems acumen as learning becomes more focused on performance improvement & more integral to work.
My contribution was that curiosity is an important capability. As the attention shifts to how organisations can manage big learning systems, those facilitating this change need to be curious well beyond traditional domains of expertise. When work is learning and learning is the work to quote Harold Jarche, there is a need for facilitators of this process to be looking at their system and looking beyond the organisation with an intense curiosity. The question is not ‘what do I or our team need to know?’ The question needs to be ‘what can we learn that helps us work better and be more effective?’
Traditional approaches to learning often have an implicit or explicit assumption that there is a fixed reservoir of knowledge to be known by employees. Global connectivity has shown us that the required knowledge is constantly expanding, being shared and being created as people experiment with the edge and step into new domains or engage with new systems.
Big learning processes are key to the future of responsive organisations. Performance will depend on how fast and how effectively we learn. To shape this we must remember, the future of work belongs to the curious.
Applying mechanical process productivity to collaboration provides us with an efficiency benefit case for collaboration. Understanding the true benefits of collaboration requires us to understand the knowledge work systems in place and the broader effectiveness of the organisation at creating value.
Value of Collaboration is Not Easy
We always facing the challenge of valuing the benefits of collaboration. Collaborative technology is part of the infrastructure of the organisation. It’s use is open to many applications that will be co-created by the employees and shaped by the organisation. Many of the outcomes are not direct; collaboration facilitates a more effective organisation.
The temptation is to play it safe. We can use the same process efficiency mindset that applies to any other system to automate processes. The question usually asked is “How much more efficient will our people be when they use a collaboration system?’ A number of studies have looked at the impact of collaboration systems on in process efficiency of knowledge workers. One of the most widely quoted statistics is the McKinsey survey that identified 20-25% of the time of knowledge workers could be saved with better ways to search for and interact on information. This mindset often drives an adoption focus to collaboration projects that misses a bigger opportunity to create value.
25% Better Off?
If you are processing iron ore into steel and you find a way to do it 25% better, then you will have 25% more steel or need 25% less inputs. That is a mechanical process saving. Inputs became outputs at a cost. This is how our traditional efficiency mindset has focused us on measuring value.
However, knowledge work isn’t like steel manufacture. At the end of a knowledge work process, we still have the inputs and the outputs. Both the inputs and the outputs can be shared widely at very low cost because they are easily reproducible. Most importantly, neither the inputs nor the outputs are fixed.
Let’s consider a practical example. As a knowledge worker, you are asked to create a new process to improve the efficiency of steel production. Is the goal to do this 25% faster? No, the goal is to create the most efficient way of producing steel. There are four elements that measure effectiveness of your work:
- Reduce waste: If there is no better way currently possible or someone has already done the work, then don’t work on creating a new process. Do something else.
- Reuse existing knowledge: If someone has developed a process that is more efficient, use that process as a basis. Don’t start with a blank page.
- Create new knowledge: If you can bring together people who have never been connected, if you can share information that has not been shared you may be able to solve new problems or create an entirely more effective process for steel manufacture. This is likely to impact a much larger value opportunity than knowledge work in your organisation.
- Create new value with existing or new knowledge: Your new process for steel manufacture will be able to be shared across your organisation and may even become a product in its own right.
The economic value of these four elements aren’t productivity measures of knowledge work. The economic value is the impact on the production of steel and the greater value created in the organisation by collaboration to improve steel production. In my experience the benefits from simply stopping wasteful projects without any value add, is an order of magnitude larger than the productivity benefit from reduced search by knowledge workers.
Thinking more broadly about the economic impacts of collaboration can create a dramatic step change in the benefits for an organisation. Rather than looking at efficiency in the cost base of knowledge work, collaboration impacts value creation organisation-wide. This new view has a critical role to play in shaping leaders support for collaboration and the level of investment an organisation should make in fostering collaboration in the organisation.