The way to the Connected Organization

It has probably been since the very first collaborative tool crossed the company firewall (2009 circa) that managers and consultants started looking for ways to map the Social Enterprise terrain and to understand both the firm’s current position and its future trajectory. Many projects are born out of the desire to fill the gap, real or presumed, with potential competitors along this path. A path too often imagined as a single linear sequence of standard and well defined steps.

A mission that, even if legitimate, has proved to be much harder than expected for the huge inertia organizations are facing along the transformation journey but also because that single map probably doesn’t exist due to the extreme diversity in culture, goals, background and choices that make every company unique.

On the other side the lack of a detailed map shouldn’t prevent us from seeing the crystal clear direction that lies ahead.

Even without the instructions at hand and risking some crushes, today all of those involved with organizational design are feeling a new wind in their sails. With great speed or more slowly, the change in weather conditions is dragging the whole market towards a more connected and human future and while single individuals, managers, business functions may still be reluctant to this process of transformation, the point of no return seems reached already thanks to a concept of business that is totally different from that of the last century. An organization in which both employees’ and customers’ play a totally different role at the benefit of enterprise agility, responsiveness and innovative potential. The truth is such qualities are quickly becoming essential to safely navigate the rapids of our times.

The eighth edition of the Digital Workplace Trends report by Jane McConnell represents a long leap forward in trying to quantitatively and analytically paint the direction towards the Connected Organization through a Digital Workplace Scorecard :

The Digital Workplace is an organizational construct that exists at the intersection of people, organization and tools. Jane’s works investigates such junction points and provides an x-ray analysis of the Digital Workplace through 9 dimensions summarized below:

  • Capabilities or the possibilities of expression that individuals have at the individual, core business and entire company level
  • Mindset or the values ​​and expectations that determine behaviors divided into the strategic importance attributed to the Social Enterprise (asset), the active role of management (leadership) and corporate culture
  • Enablers or the organizational and technological infrastructures that support change divided into process realignments, the creation of new units / structures, the ability to reach the highest possible portion of the organization (in particular through mobile communication).

The measurement of the 9 indicators in synthesized in 5 levels maturity map that serves as a guide for the growth of the Digital Workplace from a state of non-existence to one of total fusion with processes, ways of working and organizational culture:

Without any map, for the first time the Digital Workplace Scorecard let us take an objective, almost scientific picture of how much organizations are close to the destination with a view by industry and business scenario (not discussed here).

While all the details, diagrams and insights can be found in the 180 pages report, here are the evidences that struck my attention the most:

  • The growth trend is slower than expected but unstoppable as more and more companies have begun introducing internal social networks. A 40-45% overall level of diffusion is probably a conservative estimate as many other studies have suggested values ​​that go higher than 50%:

  • Every sector is affected. Different industrial sectors show a higher (professional services, telco and financial services among the first) or lower maturity but even the less culturally ready sectors have started their transformation (Level 2 more than 40%). Based on my own experience Manufacturing is for example among the most interesting industries due to its need for operational efficiency, a globally connected workforce and an overall rejuvenation of the corporate culture.

  • The Social Enterprise becomes strategic. Finally organizational change facilitated by collaborative approaches is taking its place within the strategic initiatives of the firm. Employee communities and social networks are getting into the C-Suite radar at least for the leaders of the survey. In accordance with our own Social Collaboration Survey, positioning the Social Enterprise inside the board-room is among the key factors to which most projects should pay more attention.

  • Knowing the obstacles and overcoming them. What distinguishes leaders and followers is not the presence of obstacles. The obstacles are exactly the same, but the leaders have put fear aside and have asked themselves how to meet the challenges related to ROI measurement, change management, process redesign and to all the factors that influence decision-making. Finding the right questions (the direction), more than expecting to find all the possible answers (the map), is what makes the difference in an unknown terrain.

  • The market is immature but not in the same way for leaders and the rest of the pack. The leaders are much more busy at integrating and pooling experiments, pilots, departmental initiatives towards a single vision of what collaboration should be. In all the cases, heavy barriers remain in terms of space left to individuals (Individual), focus on enterprise-wide projects (Enterprise), deeper evolution of organizational models (Process), a pro-active and visible role for the top management (Leadership).

I have kept the most revealing chart for last. This is the one that portraits the seemingly unbridgeable gap between the past and the future, between the followers and the leaders: the monster of culture.

  • We are facing a war of cultures. Technology, processes, management? Leaders and majority are so distant in terms of culture more than for any other factor. On one hand, openness, transparency, the ability to make mistakes, to work as a team that distinguish leaders. At the other extreme cultural closure, command and control, slavish compliance with rules and punishment for the majority. A gap not to be filled purely by pushing from the bottom or simply thanks to the goodwill of a bunch of employees. A watershed that must be addressed by strategically and viscerally engaging the entire corporate ladder, starting with those who have the largest responsibility in defining the vision, the goals and the leadership model of the enterprise.

Conclusions

Jane McConnell’s work stands once again as a reference for those of you who are imagining the future of their organization. While the 7 previous editions of the report give credibility and perspective to the trends depicted (here you can read my comments to the 2013 edition), this last installment covers lots of new ground in terms of quantitatively informing future strategies for the digital workplace.

How the dozens of diagrams and comments show, whatever that future might look like, it will first of all about soft factors and human motivation, ie all the dimensions traditionally ignored by decision makers because intangible, elusive and still culturally distant from the background of the top management.

Well the message that you need to take home is that the future is already here and it is binary: you can jump on the model of a human organization or remain anchored to a mechanistic scheme which, although still working, won’t be able to keep up with volatile consumer expectations or the constant upheavals in business models the market has demonstrated so well.

The good news is that this is the right time to choose. The bad one is that this choice is completely up to you.

This post is also available in: Italian

Emanuele Quintarelli

Social media enthusiast and Social Business Leader in EY. Research, reports and reflections about the introduction of web 2.0 inside the enterprise.