Technology and Organizations
I’ve kicked off 2015 thinking of the “futures of work.” Notice that I did not say the future, but rather the “futures.” No one clear future is on the horizon -- artificial intelligence in the workplace? further integration of global workforces? new technologies? -- but I am certain 2015 will be a year of discovery in each such area and more. I feel these five resolutions will help position you for the nimbleness and lighter touch that has become the hallmark of today’s manager. I welcome your suggestions for further resolutions in the comments field!
Use light-weight experiments rather than all-or-nothing approaches to change in your organization. Taking small steps in organizational change is more important than ever these days given the pace of the world around us. In 2015, go to the next level by finding fast, cheap ways to test the leap-of-faith assumptions underlying the adjustments you want to make. Use a crowdfunding campaign to test the market for a new product, for instance, or have half your teams try one form of flexible work scheduling and the other half another -- learn from both. Steer clear of surveys, you don’t want to base your change on someone giving you an answer they think you want to hear. Instead, measure behaviors like prepayments, performance, or repeat business.
Take advantage of the on-demand global workforce for addressing your temporary, cyclical, or even long-term needs. In March, two of the most visible online freelance job markets merged to become Elance-oDesk. They offer managers everything from on-demand software development to virtual receptionists and business card design. The combined company has grown to 9.3M freelancers worldwide -- a big move from the Kelly Girls of the 1940s.
Combine the growing trend of “wearable computers,” with personal responsibility for productivity (and perhaps light-weight experiments) to create a more healthy, productive workplace. Smart watches, fitness trackers, and the like can serve as more than just gizmos for your employees in their personal time. The US Centers for Disease Control notes that workplace health programs can increase productivity . Consider a contest in which your employees conduct experiments showing the effects of walking meetings, or short walking breaks on performance. The most effective experiment can become a permanent fixture of the workplace. I hope to do this myself: I’d like to connect my fitness tracker data to number of quality articles written and my students’ engagement in class. If I walk more before class, do they learn more from our sessions together?
Move away from once a year or once a quarter performance reviews and instead focus on feedback tied to projects and “check-in” style peer review. With the infusion of millennials into the workplace, demand has grown for managers to shorten the distance between goal-setting, feedback, and coaching. Similar to a Facebook post, managers who use Salesforce.com’s Work.com tool can post feedback when it’s most useful -- right after (or even during) a project.
Consider making IBM’s Watson (the artificial intelligence that won Jeopardy!) your next employee. If your business is health care, finance, retail, or the public sector, subscribing to this AI technology could be a great addition to your team. Watson can play a role in customer interactions, the management of big data, or accelerating research. My colleague Christine Isakson and I are just starting to look into the issues of whether we should think of artificial intelligence as a full-on member of the team, a consultant, or a tool. No doubt Watson will be covering more industries soon and I hope he will soon help us with our research. Another technology that I predict you’ll be finding ways to integrate in the near future: drones. Unmanned vehicles (drones) in the air, on the land, or in the water have the potential to conduct mission-critical tasks including photography, surveying, environmental research, package delivery, security, and cell tower and road inspections. Perhaps a drone crew will loom large in your 2015 future!
If you are not reading this on TerriGriffith.com, please click here to provide your comments. I would love to hear about your own futures of work.
Many thanks to Deborah Lohse. She asked me if I had ideas for managers looking forward in the new year and kept me on the straight and narrow through the development, including helping see the connection to drones!
"Futures of work" image care of CoolText.com
Jacob Morgan has written a great overview of the future of work: The Future of Work: Attract New Talent, Build Better Leaders, and Create a Competitive Organization. I've been writing and speaking on similar topics for a while and he's hit on all of mine and rounded out the topic with additional depth and examples. The images, many from his organization, Chess Media Group, provide clear summaries of the material and no doubt will be showing up in my classes.
The Future Employee
The Future of Work is self-contained in that it opens with the basic forces at play: Generations, social media, globalization, mobility, etc. Chapter Three lays out "7 Principles of The Future Employee":
- Has a Flexible Work Environment
- Can Customize Own Work
- Shares Information
- Uses New Ways to Communicate and Collaborate
- Can Become a Leader
- Shifts from Knowledge Worker to Learning Worker
- Learns and Teaches at Will
He then provides the background on the organizational and management shifts that intertwine with the needs and skills of these future employees. Appropriately pushing the envelope are discussions around freelancing and managerless approaches (examples provided by Zappos, Morning Star, Valve and more). If you follow these issues, you're likely aware of these examples, but Morgan does a nice job of talking about the tensions as well as the opportunities. I was interested to see the push back from some employees around how these programs have been described in the press.
The Future Organization
Chapter Nine offers 14 Principles of the Future Organization and is the best summary of the topic I've seen. Some are dynamics my colleagues and I have been studying for a while (e.g., globally distributed teams, connected workforce, innovation anywhere, intrapreneurial). Others are areas we're just getting a hold on (e.g., adapts to change faster, operates like a small company, democratizes learning, flatter structure), and some are on the edge (e.g., focuses on "want" instead of "need," runs in the cloud, more women in senior management roles, tells stories). All in all, Figure 14 is a great roadmap for organization science and the future organization in general.
Our Future Work
I’ve had the opportunity to do a couple of workshops on the value of data in support of leadership -- especially leadership without formal authority. A key issue is that the environment is changing such that we have less face-to-face time for leadership. This increases the value of complements to interpersonal leadership, things like training, tools, and feedback from the work itself. A culture of data can also be an excellent complement to leadership. (Slides from the most recent workshop: Notes are available if you download the slides).
In these workshops, I use a John Trumbull painting of George Washington resigning his commission and position as commander-in-chief. I love how the golden light shines down on Washington. Washington resigned as a signal that power should be in civilian hands - he led by letting go. The point of the image in my presentation is to contrast traditional face-to-face leadership with the next image in the presentation, that of shifts in population density before (diffuse) and after (dense) the industrial revolution. Our moves to more global and virtual work are the swinging of the pendulum again -- though not everywhere as noted by San Francisco Bay Area housing prices. But even in the dense Bay Area, leadership needs to work from afar.
Data is a language understood across a global organization. Data is beautiful. Data is actionable. Data is (often) apolitical. And, yes, I understand the important differences across data, information, knowledge, and wisdom, but data is the starting point.
Data is the starting point for decisions to be made via evidence rather than formal authority. Scott Cook, founder and chair of the executive committee at Intuit, describes “leadership by experiment” (see too, this article by Bryan Eisenberg). Bob Sutton and Jeff Pfeffer highlight similar issues in their book, Hard Facts, Dangerous Half-Truths and Total Nonsense: Profiting from Evidence-Based Management .
In the workshop, I then switch to a micro course on lightweight experiments for management decision-making. For my last audience, it wasn't a big leap from their scientific and engineering backgrounds to the idea of prototypes and experiments focused on anticipation, visioning, creating flexible alternatives, and initiating change - leadership behaviors identified by Ireland and Hitt (1999). They have a culture of data already and I expect this is just a new tool in their toolbox.
Data has a special power for situations where you have little other authority. Think about a negotiation: You both are and act (!) more powerfully when you have a good BATNA (Best Alternative To the Negotiated Agreement). Data is what helps you find and develop that great BATNA.
How has data benefited you in situations where you have little or no formal authority? Please add to the comments here. As I tell my audiences, when I walk into an organization, I generally have no formal authority. I don’t have a strong network inside their structure. All I have is my data and what I’m able to do with it. Hopefully I have enough data underlying this post to trigger a few lightweight experiments.
For some wonderful and sometimes free resources around lightweight experiments, see MovesTheNeedle’s page.
From LinkedIn to Elance/oDesk, Coursera, & Watson
- Elance /oDesk: Hugely successful platforms for linking people who want to do freelance project work with people who have project needs. Preferences and quality ratings from past work steer you to your next projects.
- Coursera : One of the top platforms for taking massive online open courses. They know what you know and what you are interested in and have talked about offering career services.
- IBM Watson : The artificial intelligence that won the gameshow Jeopardy! and is now supporting physicians, financial experts, and human resources directors in their daily work. I would love to see Watson become an ally in getting all of our work done. What do we want to do and what do we want to leave to Watson?
Up Soon: How Might Google Help Us Plan Our Day?
- Automation Makes Us Dumb, from Nicholas Carr in the Wall Street Journal — thank you, Lucas Mayer for the reference during our discussion of Birst.
- Why Managers Still Matter, from Nicolai J. Foss and Peter G. Klein in the MIT Sloan Managment Review, includes a reference to my colleague in the other hemisphere, Tim Kastelle.
I like to say that I know enough about technology to be dangerous. Back in the day of IBM XTs, I could code, tie devices together in new ways, and generally do a decent job of integrating technology and work without getting my hands too dirty. For a while though, I’ve felt that the world has gone beyond my skills and I let the experts do the tech side while I advocate for those trying to get their work done. Recently, I’m seeing some interesting possibilities for all of us to take back some control of the technologies that make up the tools of our work. While large firms will not be setting aside their CIOs anytime soon, and small firms still need tech experts to do their security audits, we can all still get a better grip on our individual and team tools.
Paul Pluschkell , Kandy Founder and Executive Vice President of Strategy and Cloud Services at GENBAND, helped me see a range of possibilities. At the most sophisticated are the tools that help technical people create business applications without getting into or reinventing the detailed programming that would otherwise be necessary. In the middle are specific services that help all of us do things like share files securely without managing the storage decisions one by one. At the most basic, we have tools that let us use a drag and drop, what you see is what you get, approach that otherwise would take some level of programming capability. While I agree that the basics of coding should be part of business literacy, I do not want to have to code or formally access a file server to do something simple like creating a new blog post or sharing a document with my colleagues. I (we) need platforms that take that on for us while giving us the control to more directly do our work.
(Photo credit: NASA. Image of Ed White, first American space walker -- and an image of a technology platform providing great freedom.)
Platforms as a Service
Ben Kepes gave me a simple definition of platform as a service (PaaS): PaaS is where you have a "computing platform that allows the creation of web applications quickly and easily and without the complexity of buying and maintaining the software and infrastructure underneath it” (click here for more). There are platforms across levels of Internet experience (our personal experience and the depth of the interaction).
Basic -- SquareSpace (Website Design for All of Us)
SquareSpace is a drag and drop platform that lets you build your own beautiful website, without knowing any HTML, the basic language of website design. If you do have skills, customization is only a click away. Templates and consideration of the basic needs for shops, photographers, bloggers, artists, restaurants, musicians, and weddings (and everything in between) mean that the power of the web is available to most through the thoughtfulness of the platform.
Midrange -- Platforms that Help Your Organization Get Work Done
Egynte, co-founded by Vineet Jain, a Santa Clara University alum, is a platform for your files and how you store and share them. Egnyte’s vision is that organizations need more control over where their files reside, but that this needs to be strictly under the control of the organization. Whether the file is behind the company walls, in the cloud, or some combination of employee and customer phones, tablets, and computers, Egnyte provides the choice and flexibility through it’s platform.
Consider a construction company working with large files - files too big to be email attachments and files that need to be a single source of truth. Platforms like Egnyte offer secure and effective collaboration strategies that give flexibility and power to the people doing the work. Balfour Beatty used the platform to enable an $800M renovation, while being paperless and saving $5.1M in the process. So much for blueprints.
Sophisticated -- Platforms for Technology Professionals, or Talented Do-It-Yourselfers
Kandy , for example, is a “platform as a service” for integrating communications into your existing applications and business processes. While the Internet, security and all, is increasingly complex, more modularized approaches wrap deep expertise into reusable nuggets that help us get work done. For Paul Pluschkell’s firm, these are “little pieces of Kandy” offering video shopping assistance, a live customer service button, instant multi-party video, and the like. You (or your web developers) don’t have to start from scratch to build in the communications components for your website. The nuggets are there giving more control with less need for technical sophistication.
Toy Genius uses Kandy to enable their expert clerks (lab coats and all) to communicate in real time with customers, including being able to show videos of the toys in action. Clerks can also help customers put the toys into their virtual shopping cart and move through the check-out process. The Internet shopping experience becomes much closer to the brick-and-mortar one, but the inclusion is powered by the platform, not custom software.
- Be sure your IT staff understand that power is to be shared to the point where the work is being done. If there is a way to leverage a platform to let the people doing the work design their own tools, go for it.
- Look for opportunities to move to platform as a service, but be sure to understand where your information is being held and how safe it is. Your needs will be specific to your organization so have a good mental image of what information is where and who has access to it.
- Feel free to experiment (having taken points 1 & 2 into account). The beauty of the platform as a service is that you aren’t buying, you're renting. Just like AirBnB can let you try out different neighborhoods, try different platforms until you find the one that best suits your needs.
How have you seen technology enable us to share power? Any specific platforms as a service that let you "lead by letting go?"