Welcome to Part 2 of our two part series on the Future of Work: Reinventing Your Company for the Networked Era by Les Martel and Jeff Loher. In Part 1 you learned what the “Networked Era” is and what it means to you and your companies survival. The authors introduced you to the “Organizational Fitness Lens”; a handy tool to asses your company as it prepares for the coming evolution/revolution of “work”, employment and corporate structure.
In Part 2 you will learn how to use the “Organizational Fitness Lens” to assess your company’s survival in the coming evolution/revolution of “work”, employment and corporate structure, as well as, what you can do now to prepare yourself and your company for the coming changes.
We look forward to even more guest blogs by the authors as we explore what the “Future of Work” will mean for you and your companies in the coming years. Please use the contact information provided to reach out to the authors with any questions you have or start a discussion right here on our blog.
Tell us what you think the Future of Work will look like.
Analyzing Your Company with the Organizational Fitness Lens
In part 1 of our series we introduced the concept of the Networked Era and what it means for the Future of Work. We created a tool called the Organizational Fitness Lens to help you analyze your company and assess its readiness for the changes to come. In part 2 we will show you how to use the Organizational Fitness Lens and based on the results you get, how you can make the necessary changes to ensure your companies continued success.
As a brief recap,
The networked era organizational fitness lens is the tool that we developed to quickly assess organizational capability in the networked era. By assessing each individual component we are able to understand where the company is on its journey to becoming a networked organization. This tool helps us define and understand the value and impact of specific investments an organization can make going forward. While your organization may be doing many things right, this lens serves as the top-level screen identifying gaps and opportunities.
Our Networked Era Fitness Lens as seen below in Figure 3 below has five interlocking components:
A: Robust technology backbone: A rock solid technology infrastructure
B: Right & ready Data Access: The right data, for the right person, at the right level of granularity, at the right time
C: Collaborative Bias: Cross-boundary collaboration must be the cultural norm
D: Boundary Porosity: Internal/external organizational barriers must be low and porous
E: Talent Intensity: Highly specialized talent with contemporary “hard and soft” skills
A. Robust Technology Backbone
Technology forms the bedrock on which networked era organizations are built.
In fact, continuous technology development is the main driver behind this new organizational form. The technology backbone must be both sufficiently strong and flexible to support the organization’s networked era design. In the most basic sense the networked organization requires this backbone to ensure that information is available everywhere and that all of the other pieces fit together. The technology backbone must satisfy 4 functions:
- Connectivity – linking people, machines and processes
- Information Creation – the combining of data in to usable information
- Storage – keeping information in an accessible way
- Access – allowing access to stored information
First, creating the technology backbone starts with connectivity. In a networked era organization everyone and everything must be connected to the network. This one component is driving much of the technology conversation today and is the idea behind sensor ubiquity and “the Internet of things.” By connecting everything the entire organization can create a better view of the whole business in a way that avoids human error. But connectivity is only the first part. However, once systems are connected they must also be able to turn raw data into useful information.
Second, a continuous stream of operational data is useless unless it is brought together in a meaningful way to create useable information. Today connectivity is possible in some of the most extreme situations. For example, in the Oil and Gas industry, directional drilling companies are able to communicate with drill heads through thousands of feet of pipe and rock by sending waves through the mud column that the drill creates. NASA is able to connect spacecraft on Mars to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California. Connectivity limitations are being shattered on a daily basis. As challenging as these solutions may be for NASA, the benefit of being connected and knowing what is really happening at the drill bit or on Mars, far outweighs the cost. The networked era organization requires that all business and operational systems are linked and updating close to real time so management has a clear measure of performance. Yet, continuous streams of operational data are meaningless unless they can be combined to paint a meaningful picture. This requires algorithms that can correlate information as well as present digestible visualizations.
Third, the information must be stored in an accessible way. This is easy with today’s cloud systems that move companies away from closed networks that are hard to access to cloud systems that are inherently connected. Developing, assessing and changing these algorithms will be a key role of talent in the networked era organization.
Fourth, the technology backbone must provide access to the information. Without access the technology backbone is of limited value. Access itself can take many forms; from computers linked to real time data to reports delivered automatically and on a regular basis to smartphones. In our experience, many organizations have much of the technology backbone already in place. That is, the capital-intensive part of the work may already be done. But often the component pieces don’t talk to each other and critical data is not captured and turned in to useful information. These gaps are holding companies back and limiting the return on their technology investment.
When assessing your organization’s technology backbone, ask these questions:
- Do we have a robust technology backbone that extends to every part of the company?
- Are we capturing the data available to us?
- Are we converting raw data into useful information that guides actions?
- Is this information stored in an accessible way?
- Are we providing broad access to the information?
B: Right and Ready Data Access
In many strategic planning meetings we are often surprised by how much time is spent on rehashing the past and using it to forecast the future. Aside from being a futile exercise, it invariably has a demoralizing effect on people. The past does not change and conversations focused on past issues deemphasize solutions for the future. The networked era organization focuses on designing strategies for the future.
One executive shared his frustration with us. Before migrating to a networked organization structure, his team always held 2nd cup of coffee meetings. The first cup of coffee was consumed while preparing for the meeting to develop the arguments needed to defend against the onslaught from other managers. The 2nd cup meeting followed the first meeting to develop supporting arguments made in the meeting itself. Forward thinking was very much secondary. After implementing changes that allowed for right and ready data access, managers began to show up for meetings prepared to review the information together – Imagine, no more preparing of spreadsheets or reports! Information was available to all and indisputable. The meetings became focused on options for solving problems and handling future challenges rather than debating the past.
In the networked era company, data collection is automatic and the system itself can generate higher-level information reports. With a few clicks managers can have access to the right information, at the right level of granularity, at the right time. This frees up management to think about what the information means and where it is leading. This is the higher-level work that managers should be doing and want to be doing. Yes, right and ready information requires a robust technology backbone – but the IT just provides data. Building the right analytics, the reports and the dashboards is relatively easy; it is the implementation that requires deeper change management. The reason for this is that people will initially feel as though they are being exposed. Managers in particular must learn a new way of working with each other and managing subordinates. They will need to be more open about performance and learn to focus the conversation on future solutions. Making the transition to right and ready information must be done purposefully – it is a result of networked era organization design and not an automatic function of making information available.
In order to manage this transition to right and ready data access the organization must:
- Spend the time to identify what information matters to whom and create the reports that deliver the information.
- Recognize that the information will need to change over time, so resources must be dedicated to updating the reports and developing new ways to view information.
- Have clear shared management incentives.
- Structure conversations to focus on the future rather than the past and support managers in this transition.
- Build a culture of measuring performance over the long term rather than immediate past actions.
Questions to ask:
- Do management meetings focus more on backwards looking information or forward looking plans?
- Is more management time spent assessing the past or preparing for the future?
- Do managers have essential management information available to them when they need it?
C: Collaborative Bias
Right and ready data access provides the information but does not solve the problem of how people will work together. A collaborative bias is fundamentally an organizational culture issue, so it’s critical to create and foster a collaboration culture. In industrial era organizations people and functions had to make a determined effort to collaborate across boundaries. The bias was towards doing “my work” not “our work”. In the networked era organization, there must be a collaborative bias up, down, across and outside of the organization. Competitive advantage comes from finding and managing the best ideas from wherever they exist and however they originate. Competitive advantage will no longer come from operational management because this will be largely taken care of by automated systems. This means creating a flexible, collaborative work environment where people rapidly share ideas and work towards shared goals. Collaboration must go further than just working together. Members of the organization need to be linked through well defined work flows and shared information rather than functional designations.
Collaborative bias goes way beyond just shared goals. The work environment must also reinforce these organizational changes. Networked workspaces reinforce a collaborative experience rather than an individual one. Important design elements to collaboration are facilitating the chance encounter and providing opportunities to delve in to topics in shared spaces. The offices themselves break down barriers between functions and encourage problems solving huddles. This means having more connected spaces, places for people to have conversations with out disturbing others and environments for relaxed chance encounters. This environment also needs to extend beyond the office building. This is especially true as organizations become more porous and people work remotely and in different time zones. The best employees and external participants may not be located geographically close to the office but will still need to be connected have chance encounters and spaces to explore ideas. One solution we’ve used to great success is to implement company wide social networks and information exchanges. One company we worked with has developed its own new website with teaser ads that draw employees into different projects and in unexpected directions – promoting these chance encounters.
It’s worth noting that right and ready data access in and of itself will change the organizational culture. With so much information flowing around the company, the organization will be naturally driven toward a collaborative bias.
To assess collaborative bias ask these questions:
- Who needs to communicate with whom and does this help or hinder breaking down the traditional siloed structure?
- Are formal interactions are around shared goals rather than functional goals?
- Whether current workspaces are enabling collaboration?
- Are teams are focused on business challenges rather than functional content?
- Are internal linkages are structured to value contribution rather than role?
- Does the environment and the reward and incentive structures foster collaboration?
- Are there are robust internal and external linkages?
D: Boundary Porosity
Georges Nahon & Mark Plakias in their article, The Coming of the Porous Enterprise (2009) proposed this intriguing question: “What if companies looked more like airports?” An airport is made up of a many different functions and companies, but they must all work together towards a common goal; an excellent and safe traveler experience. Be they airline personnel, food service providers, baggage handlers or air controllers; they work together in a way that appears seamless to the traveler. Like an airport, no one company can perform all of the functions and many specialist capabilities need to be shared from both inside and outside of the company. The networked era organization works more effectively across boundaries both internally and externally. By supporting boundary porosity and ensuring that the organization is focused on solving the right problems, people will work together to solve mission critical problems rather than working as individuals managing their silos. The challenge with boundary porosity is involving other external players in internal problems. While this is often uncomfortable at first and does need to be structured to be effective, the payoffs are tremendous.
New technology enables real-time interaction with suppliers, external participants and customers. Successful networked era companies will access the best ideas, regardless of where they come from. The rulebook has been rewritten in terms of how companies work with internal functions, external partners, venders, consultants, suppliers, and information providers; all harnessed around the job to be done. Good examples of boundary porosity are the creation of Knowledge Hubs and Centers of Excellence. These entities are linked internally and externally, focused on applying specialized knowledge to new problems then codifying the solutions. Open innovation initiatives and public challenges are other ways to involve external participants. In this way you can use experts that can solve emergent problems while also defining the future of the organization.
To assess boundary porosity ask these questions:
- Does the organization have clear, shared overarching goals that can be expressed across functions and with external companies?
- Are ideas managed and shared?
- Is there a focus on the TOTAL customer experience?
- Does the incentive structure encourage sharing across functions and boundaries?
- Is there a “Just in time” internal and external partnering capability?
E: Talent Intensity
Talent is critical to networked era success. Very specific talent! Talent Intensity is the component that accelerates the other 4 components. We purposely use the term talent intensity rather than other generic terms to describe talent requirements like “the war for talent” or “emergent labor shortfalls”. These terms miss the essential problem, which is finding just the right talent with the right mix of critical thinking, technical and interpersonal skills. As illustrated below, the authors maintain that the talent imperative can be succinctly summed up: in order to win you’ve got to have “smarter and smarter” employees. That is, the ones who know how to “learn to learn” on the fly wherever and with whomever in order to get the job done. These are the same people that every networked era company wants to hire. Many traditional work roles are fast becoming “the melting middle” and the “quickly commoditized”. Companies are no longer interested in staffing up for these roles. Although this can be a reality jolt to the workers whose jobs are disappearing, it is the painful truth of the networked era. While humans will not disappear from the workforce, many of the traditional jobs will vanish. Androids and algorithms are doing more and more of this work freeing up “employee bandwidth” to do more personally gratifying and higher-level work. More “smart and smarter” employees will be needed to do this work and they will be in great demand.
On balance though, the networked era organization will do more to empower people rather than replace them. It provides great opportunities for those who have the new skillset to thrive. We believe that the “smart and smarter” employee must possess a 21st century set of competencies as outlined in the figure below. The base of the triangle notes the foundational capabilities required: a combination of technological agility paired with critical reasoning capabilities while the top of the triangle represents the 4’C’s of collaboration; communication, connectivity and creating. The 4 C’s are the rapid accelerators for both individual and organizational success in the networked era.
People who are highly collaborative and adaptable will power the networked era organization. They possess above average communication skills across verbal and virtual mediums. They are capable of connecting with others through effective social networking on a 24-7 schedule. Most important, they will be capable of and responsible for innovating and creating value for the company regardless of title and physical location.
Companies cannot avoid the imperative to migrate toward a networked era organization model. Implementing the networked era organization may feel daunting and expensive, but it doesn’t have to be. The key to making the networked era organization work is in how the organization is structured. Managers must manage in a networked era fashion and create incentives that drive collaboration, sharing and focus on the future. This is the future of work and networked era companies will be more flexible, better able to manage in a changing environment and more prone to success. Understanding where your organization is on this journey starts by viewing your organization through the Networked Era Organizational Fitness Lens and identifying where the gaps are. Then you can develop a plan to address the gaps and create the conditions for success.
The thoughts outlined here are not meant to be exhaustive but rather to serve as a catalyst to encourage discussion within your company about what’s working and what’s not. Viewing your company through our Networked Era Organizational Fitness Lens is a first step before launching into additional change initiatives. The 5 components of the lens can provide valuable insight as to organizational strengths and weaknesses as well as serving as a step-wise intervention guide.
First: Look at your company history to understand how you got to the current sate and plot the desire future.
Second: Understand what the future of work looks like and initiate the organizational design discussion with this in mind.
Third, Use our Networked Organizational Lens framework to stimulate a conversation about where you lead and where you lag.
Then: Dig in because this is where the real work begins. Fortunately for those companies that can make the shift the benefits gained through enhanced performance and more innovative approaches will be well worth it.
|ABOUT THE AUTHORS||
Les Martel is a senior level Organization Development professional with strong applied business acumen and a keen ability to link strategy with execution. Currently, he is Principal Consultant with Virtual Consulting International, a global strategy consulting firm based in New York City. Les works with organizations to meet the challenges of the emerging networked era organization to strategically reposition their business. Les focuses the talent capabilities needed for the business to thrive and the collaborative architecture needed to ensure seamless integration of strategy, people, processes and organizational structures regardless of physical location.
Previously, he was an Executive Consultant with Personnel Decisions International (PDI) serving key strategic accounts and a Senior Consultant at Development Dimensions International (DDI) designing, project managing & delivering talent & leadership development engagements on a worldwide basis. From 2000-2004 he was based in New York City as VP & Global Head Talent & People Development for The Instinet Corporation, the world’s largest global electronic securities broker. In that role he partnered with senior leaders to successfully drive a wide range of key strategic, operational, and human capital initiatives across the enterprise. For example, in that role he designed and deployed the first corporate-wide learning platform linking selection, talent assessment, performance management, & succession planning with mission critical business imperatives. He also created & implemented the external/internal emerging leader coaching & career path programs in addition to serving as the internal executive coach to top management.
Prior to joining Instinet, Dr. Martel was a Senior Leadership Development Consultant for Downey-Kates International, a strategic HR consulting firm based in New York City serving a diverse range of global clients. He specialized in executive assessment, feedback & development coaching as well as design & delivery of customized senior management leadership development programs.
Jeff is a strategy and organization design consultant based in New York City. He brings extensive international and cross industry experience, strategic insight and problem solving skills to bear on complicated issues at companies of all sizes – from startups to some of the world’s largest companies.
His experience includes and corporate strategy development, innovation, new market entry, risk management and creating effective organizations in the networked era to deliver effectively. Some of the companies he has worked with include: Butterball, Daimler Benz, the Ford Motor Company, Borax, Rio Tinto and Peabody Energy where he has been a leader in developing strategy and innovation projects that drive efficiency and rapid growth.
He is active in the design of new organizational models for the networked era and bringing new ways of working to companies looking to meet the challenges of a changing market. He has also developed innovation processes that have allowed both industrial and also consumer firms to reinvent themselves, create new operating models and redesign operations.
Jeff has an MBA from the Anderson School at UCLA.