William H. White’s bestselling book, The Organization Man (1956) was very influential in its time. White debunked the commonly held belief that organizations made better decisions than individuals and that employees were more motivated by serving the company than they were by pursuing their own ideas and creations. White introduced the concept of commitment and tied it not to blind loyalty, but to an employee’s desire for individual freedom to pursue ideas and have a say. A premise that has yet to see its day because many companies are still hard-wired to suppress these desires and continue to reward executives for risk-averse behavior. White described the prevailing social ethic that conspired against individualism: a belief in the group as the source of creativity; a belief in “belongingness” as the ultimate need of the individual; and a belief in the application of science to achieve that belongingness. What’s funny is that each one of these principles can be looked at through the prism of the digital age and actually be used to make an opposite argument. Digital tools such as Spigit are exploiting the power of the group by creating an open-source approach to innovation; social sites such as Yammer and Chatter are satisfying the need for belonging, and big data is the science that makes transparent that which used to be obscured by hierarchy. Maybe the digital age will help strike the balance between collectivism and rugged individualism.
I’ve dedicated my consulting career to helping organizations become places where people can learn, grow and be fulfilled. This is my passion, and for years I’ve been a close confidant to many senior business and HR executives. I know they know that their people are the number one key to business success. But, the shareholder rules, and often these same executives are held back from acting on their convictions – sometimes the only place to cut or the easiest thing to ignore is people. It’s often a tough and painful choice to make, but, I’m feeling hopeful. In the last year or so I’ve started to see a new path — something’s on fire, a tipping point is near. This path, I think, leads to radical change in the psychological contract employers have with their employees. A whole new level of connectedness, created out of the wave of digital transformation, is shifting those 1950’s views.
How are organizations responding? The answers to this question lie in a muddy pool of water – there is no clear view or plan. Some just let the grassroots take hold and some try to govern with positions, policies and rules. I believe both are needed, but you can’t over-control things. My brother, Rob Biesenbach recently tweeted a link to Gini Dietrich’s blog where she wrote, “There is no such thing as a social media strategy. That’s akin to saying you have a telephone strategy or a typewriter strategy.” I think she’s right. If these tools are good for business and good for people they will take hold; as long as the engineering is sound and the value is there. Leaders need to lead the way, building their own online presence and engaging in and experiencing this alongside everyone else.
This blog is an attempt to organize my thinking on this subject, which right now is just a daily barrage of ideas flying through my head or out of my devices. Many, including myself, have written about the impact of digital on culture, leadership, employment, learning, talent, productivity, but like most things people-related, we constantly fail to see the patterns and unify around a set of organizing principles. This blog will evolve my own framework and hopefully start to shape a useful dialogue. In my opinion, the full value of the Connected Organization will be realized when:
- Employees are connected to employees, opening up a world of once difficult to find people, expertise, information, and shared experiences, making it easier for employees to perform, connect and have some fun.
- Employees are connected to the outside – customers, community leaders, researchers, academics, vendors, and politicians – allowing them to activate the company’s brand on an entirely new level. Handled right, employees will make the brand come to life better than any advertisement or traditional outreach campaign ever could.
- Employees are connected to the business, its vision, mission and leaders. This connection allows people to better understand how they fit in and to see their leaders as authentic human beings. It allows leaders to experience the value of transparency and authenticity. It brings heart back into work.
My blurry framework includes five things:
- Social. Creating a connected workforce adept at using digital tools to open up new ways of working, collaborating, sharing and socializing.
- Psychological. Shaping a new employee experience and understanding what workers of all generations want out of work and what businesses need in return. It’s about building loyalty and commitment and a competitive employment brand.
- Engagement – I’ve been a life long change management consultant and am glad the days of big brown paper stakeholder mapping exercises are over. These tools were fine back when, but they have no place in today’s environment. Rather, change management is now about creating an experience that allows people to hear, see, touch and live the change — using videos, blogs, games and other tools.
- Analytics – Data about consumer behaviors and attitudes have truly transformed how companies attract and retain customers and drive them toward their product or service. A New York Times article about “workforce science” laid out the benefits of tapping into employee data to drive productivity and success. This is not a new idea, but the science of workforce planning is coming of age.
- Human Resources. If any of my colleagues are reading this, I know I’d hear a faint groan. Let’s face it, Digital Transformation has forever impacted the role of the CMO and CIO, but not many are talking about the role of the CPO. Why is this? I think it’s because HR, while improving, still suffers from it’s own lack of investment in its core infrastructure, relegating most of its brain power toward mundane tasks. If we buy into the notion that HR are the stewards of human capital then we need help shape a new role and elevate HR to a new level of performance.
Last but not least, it all begins and ends with Leadership. The Digital Age leader must be real, honest and willing to be vulnerable — or simply put, authentic. This isn’t a new idea, but what is new is that with an online presence a leader can practice being real in real-time – rather than sitting in some hotel ballroom with a quirky facilitator who forces excruciating exercises. I’ve never been a big fan of the “I’ll make you cry” style of leadership development and think the Connected Organization offers a new way to develop leaders – make them real.
Thanks for reading and I hope you’ll visit again. I will take each of these pieces one at a time and bring new thinking, research and practical ideas on how to realize a truly connected organization inside your own company.