Digital Transformation

Using Technology to Reimagine Workplace Culture and Experience

Cloud computing, social media, mobile and now Millennials have become forces for business disruption. The leadership challenge is learning how to manage in the here and now to harness the new dynamics.
- By Joshua Ferdinand

The most connected generation in the history of business now makes up a significant portion of the workforce. The Millennials bring with them technology skills that far exceed the skills of most of their managers and older co-workers. They expect businesses to embrace social media, cloud computing, and analytics with enthusiasm and to allow their employees to utilize technologies to their fullest extent to bring innovation to their jobs.

The transformation initiated by emerging technologies has accelerated the speed at which people work and communicate as information flows nonstop from all directions. Only those organizations and leadership that transform along with the new workforce and new technologies will remain competitive in the high-speed decision-making environment.

True Transformation and Not an Adaptation
As technology and Millennials converge in the workplace, a transformation is taking place in a stunningly swift and dramatic way.

The technology includes hyper-intelligent software that impacts everything from employee collaboration to customer sales/service to product design. Along with the software comes enabling hardware – think mobile which freed people to work and communicate anywhere and at any time.

Many managers recognized the waves of change but did not see the tsunami coming. Technology has deconstructed the traditional industrial-based value chains, impacting everything, including how products and services are sold and delivered, suppliers vetted, meetings held, decisions communicated, ideas shared, teams formed, customers served, and so on. Massive amounts of global business news is communicated at the speed of light, and the external stakeholders produce another huge quantity of information as they communicate with and about the business using social media and website access.

Only companies able to sort through and analyze the internal and external information flows at nearly the same speed can understand things like what the competitors are focused on, how resources are being impacted, and what innovations are emerging or are needed.

In the Thick of Technology
In the thick of the technology are Millennials, the younger members of the current workforce and the next generation of corporate leaders. They are comfortable with technology, embracing it with enthusiasm and demanding more sophistication, features and speed.

Even more important for managers to understand is that they expect the technologies to be integrated in the workplace so communication and work can take place across the organization no matter where it may be operating. They are pros at funneling down massive amounts of information coming at them from their desktop computers, smartphones, laptops, tablet computers, social media and so on.

Millennials are also comfortable working in the new business model in which information and humans are no longer co-located. Distance is not an issue because communication is as near as the smartphone. In the traditional business model, coordination of costs, communication and information was imperative and keeping people and functions in tightly controlled conditions (think office or manufacturing plant, rigid supply chains, etc.) was the only way to control and manage information. In the transforming environment, control is dispersed and location has become much less important.

It is not easy for corporations and leadership to adapt to this new high-speed environment because structurally most companies are still organized to control communication and work, while older professionals are frequently struggling to understand how new technologies like cloud computing and the integration of social media impacts decision making. At the same time, the information flow is accelerating.

Managers stuck in the older, slower way of doing business and failing to leverage technologies for better decision making lose credibility with younger professionals, the very people they need fully on board.

Moving Towards Wirearchy
Identifying market and organizational needs as they arise requires a fundamental change in the way of doing business. The hierarchal business model is slow and cumbersome, while the “wirearchy” better fits the new technology.

Wirearchy is a business model in which people are connected without regard for seniority or rank. Anyone, from the CEO down, can dynamically interact with individuals at all organizational levels, thus sending innovative ideas directly to the best people and cutting out time-delaying hierarchal information flow. There is a dynamic flow of power that is based on knowledge, information, credibility, trust and results. Millennials easily maneuver through the wirearchy, finding key players and earning status through a willingness to share knowledge and participate in idea formation and work flows.

Compared to the structured organization, this dynamic model seems haphazard, making one wonder how management can ever adequately assimilate critical information and make appropriate decisions. The purpose of past governance and management was to keep people from deviating from an accepted norm, and using authority to control information flows for decision making.

The ongoing move toward wirearchy, widespread access to metrics, cloud computing power, and social media are placing information in the hands of all and at enormous speed. Even externally, competitors and customers now possess and share information that once was strictly controlled by corporate leaders. The top-down, command-and-control manager will struggle to remain effective when information is free-flowing from every direction.

To adapt to the speed-driven, content-rich flow of information, managers must understand first that they still have decision-making control but their authority and power will come for their ability to lead in a clear, focused and shared manner within an open communication system. The corporate vision and values must be crystal clear and communicated to the entire workforce so people make good decisions at their level. The corporate culture must enable responsiveness and adaptability, and the technology infrastructure should support the flow of information in all directions.

Instead of things getting done through top-down decisions, things get done as a result of conversation and communication. Glaxo Smith Kline adapted to the need for speed in decision making by redesigning the workplace to expand and enhance employee interactions. The metrics tell the story as to whether management is adapting. They include response time to competitor actions, problem-solving speed, speed of growth into markets, and so on. Glaxo Smith Kline cut decision-making time by 45 percent with its workplace redesign.

It seems the best approach to managing in the high-speed technology-driven business environment is to connect people even more.