Are You Too Slow To Win? Pt. 2

Corporate culture and the new workplace, pt 2


Technology is not the solution

In my first post, I explored the changes in the workplace as driven by the changing talent market. Readers told me that one of your favourite points was 'trust becomes paramount for the modern workplace' (with thanks to Vedran R.). As always, feedback is welcome.

The modern and digitally enabled workplace is one of physical ambivalence, where employee engagement delivers real advocacy, ideas come from anywhere and where collaboration, communication and innovation are the lifeblood of the organization. The laggards to adopt new approaches to the workplace will wither into irrelevance, and quickly.

The product of a digitally enabled way of work is the unlocking of step changes in efficiency that further drive the bottom line and ability to deliver value for the customer; a culture of efficiency, performance and innovation where people are proud to be a part of it.

The superstars have been doing this for a decade; it’s already here and happening. Let me share what they do, why you need to know, and how you can apply the lessons in your workplace. We continue with technology; a fool’s panacea.

Exec Summary: 45 seconds

One in six IT projects has a cost overrun of 200%, and a schedule overrun of 70% (1). So why do businesses continue to sign off on heavy lifting tech rollouts given such poor success rates? Somebody’s buying the dream without being prepared to make their bed and enjoy it.

In defense of the vendor, the tech will often do very capably what it says on the tin. In defense of the client, they are too quick to jump to an incomplete vision of the future. The piece that is critical to remember is that culture changes the power of tools (2). That deserves it’s own <p> and <b>.

Culture changes the power of tools

If you treat workplace technology as an IT problem, you should continue to expect an IT solution. With digital being as much about culture as it is about technology, there is now a shared responsibility in leading tech rollout and adoption between the functions of HR, IT, and Strategy.

This ’triad of change’ addresses the issues of evolving to digitally enabled ways of working, namely:

  • Shaping a more agile culture that is willing to test and learn
  • Tools to enable collaboration and ongoing support in removing barriers
  • The impetus behind making a sustainable shift in the workplace to realize business gain

I hope it is clear which issue is supported by which function (if not, then let’s talk).

With digital being less of a technological capability, and increasingly the enabler of collaboration (at unprecedented scale and at diminishing marginal cost), it demands a shared stewardship in order to be effective. Those in IT roles typically have technical backgrounds and focus on implementing the product and having everything working as it was designed.

Queue the CEO’s frustration: 'But why is nobody using the damn thing!?'

An existing process is quickly amplified through digital, however not necessarily improved. 'Buy the technology' and you will lose sleep over why it doesn’t work. However, by treating digital as an exciting opportunity to make your workplace more human you will enjoy real business gain as you unlock your real competitive advantage - increased synergy from your people.

The technology that your teams use in their life outside of work are borderline perfect for the task at hand. Otherwise they wouldn’t merit the time nor attention.

Seamless connection regardless of physical location, engagement, the sharing of ideas, collaborating on worthwhile projects, even having some fun are not mutually exclusive to the workplace. The adoption and self selection of relevant tools and rapid behaviour change is already happening, widely adopted and in many cases loved and valued. Work needs to play catch up (to play itself), and fast.

Businesses can gain from introspection on culture, use of digital, treatment of new ideas and flexibility, followed by a frank assessment of digital maturity before hoping to increase collaboration through technology. Are the tools shaping ways of working or does the business leverage digital tools to enhance human collaboration?

It’s a fine line, and one that can be difficult to measure without support. Digital tools often come at great cost, though.

There’s nothing wrong with sharepoint. It’s an incredibly powerful tool for sharing baby photo’s, bicycles for sale, and of course the #1 trafficked page, the lunch menu (3). While a poor tradesman blames their tools, a tradesman with no tools is just a bloke.

Activating the cultural shift that transforms tools like an intranet from costly noticeboards to enablers of collaboration takes time, and it starts with a series of questions including:

  • Where is the online conversation happen already?
  • If your intranet vanished tomorrow how would things change?
  • What information is available ONLY to those who seek it on shared digital spaces?
  • When leadership wants to share updates or good news, how do they do it?
  • Which part of the business is the most transparent in their projects?
  • If CXO wants to catch up on progress of project X can they do this without calling a meeting?
  • If something is going off course, who can spot it and intervene to guide back on track?
  • How do our customers know what’s going on with our products or services?
  • To what degree are our teams empowered to bring new ways of working into their projects?

These questions largely focus on improving community, which should be a priority when considering any digital solution. Facilitating community and collaboration surpass technical capability, every time.

Culture is the most powerful tool available

However it is one that must be crafted by the business over time. You can’t buy culture, it must be earned. The CEO sets the standard for what the corporate culture should be, and the remaining leaders’ digital presence indicates the speed in which a digitally enabled culture will start to fire on all cylinders.

Two examples where culture meets technology is a distributed company, founded in an open source culture of collaboration, using collaboration tools, some of which that are free to use and are as old as the company itself (4). And truly distributed; they have about 500 people located in 50 countries. And productive; at last glance the company is valued at over a billion US dollars.

What we can learn from is not that we can shut down head office for cost savings, but that talent is capable of incredible collaborative productivity as facilitated by some of the most basic tools (as compared to the myriad of technology solutions available today) provided the corporate culture is there to leverage those tools.

An e-commerce retailer believes that live chat offered strong probability for increasing on site conversion. So far so good. Test and learn! The technical and operations discussions carried forth and decided on a solution that integrated with existing support operations. Makes sense; so far still good. The team delivering live chat were going to be customer facing knowledge holders from elsewhere in the business. All of a sudden, we have been thrust out of an IT problem and now face a shared problem of HR, IT and Strategy; an issue of corporate culture being agile in embracing new ways of communicating with the customer. While discussion continued on how to integrate the technical aspect, the real work was in getting the digital skill-set lifted for the team who would be responding to the chat requests.

What we learn is that it was shared ownership that was required to see the successful rollout of an initiative like this. It’s a different experience to talk face to face with a customer than it is to handle multiple chat ‘support’ tickets. That is until the digital skills are brought up to speed. Then it’s 'just the same as talking to them in store only I can now help 3 people at once. We should have done this earlier.'

In the following post we hit the big topics; efficiency, talent, collaboration, flat hierarchy and ideation - explored with real world examples of digitally enabled ways of working and the portable lessons we can apply.


Burke Turner is a Digital Workplace Consultant, passionate about helping organisations unlock latent talent to achieve heightened efficiencies, greater depths of creativity and true agility.

Read Burke’s recent posts on the Digital Future of Work via LinkedIn

  1. HBR
  2. I highly recommend Scott Berkun’s book, The Year Without Pants, in which this quote was discovered.
  3. Go on, have a look at the stats for most popular intranet page in your organisation. Office of 250 or more? Lunch menu..
  4. A P2 (WordPress) blogging theme (where people post comments and contribute to discussion threads), IRC and Skype form the bulk of this company’s communication technology. If you remember IRC you probably also remember the fax machine.

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