True leadership happens because it can

November 22, 2014

Collage 3 for net jmc

In an early experiment by educational pioneer Sugata Mitra, he broke a hole in the wall between his office and a slum in India and made a computer available to children who had never before seen one. A quote from the BBC article about this caught my attention back in 2005:

You find that the noise level begins to come down, and from somewhere a leader appears. Often his face is not visible in the crowd, but he is controlling the mouse because suddenly you see the mouse begin to move in an orderly fashion.

That’s true leadership. It emerges from a conducive context. It happens because it can.

You can “let” leadership – you cannot “make” leadership

Leadership happens in a given context at a given point in time: You lead in one situation; you follow in another.

Leadership is not a question of level or position, although organizations do have “so-called” leaders at different points in the hierarchy. It is not a question of personality. Warm charismatic people are good dinner companions, but do not necessarily qualify as leaders.

Leaders share three characteristics:

  1. They are humble and know how to listen.
  2. They have followers.
  3. They motivate others.

If you think about these three characteristics, you will begin to recognize leaders all around you. They are rarely part of the official “leadership” contingent but they play critical roles in organizations. Some may be community managers, well-followed internal bloggers, or customer service reps always ready to guide new colleagues.

In the digital age, leadership emerges in the workplace when the flows of information and ideas live in a context of open, participatory management and cross-organizational communities.

Leadership emerges naturally from noise

Noise evolves into orderly movements when the time and place are right. 

Like the hand emerging from the crowd of children to control the mouse, leaders gradually emerge from the “noise” in an enterprise digital workplace. As an organization starts down the social collaboration path, there are often concerns about this “noise”. About people wasting time. People talking about non work-related topics. People spending time “surfing” on the enterprise social network.

Management start to get nervous. How can we control this? Where is the ROI? This nervousness is felt because the flows of information and ideas are moving simultaneously in all directions. In the predigital era, information and ideas moved along hierarchical lines or within closed teams and groups.

A digital workplace on the other hand enables voices of people to be heard. It lets anyone share information with others. It lets people follow people and groups. It connects people who share a purpose but don’t yet know each other. In the predigital age, this was quasi impossible. In the predigital age there were “safeguards” in place in the form of designated communicators and official content publishers. Management was more comfortable.

A mature digital workplace augments the noise

A mature digital workplace make it easier for ideas and information to grow and spread in the natural course of working.

The capability of “sharing information and knowledge directly without going through official publishers” is over three times more common in maturing digital workplaces.

  • 78 percent of the maturing digital workplaces have this capability in place enterprise-wide compared to 23 percent in other organizations. Page 57.*

People can find other people without know their names by searching on key words in self-declarative people directories.

  • 78 percent of maturing digital workplaces have this capability enterprise wide compared to 31 percent of the others. Page 103.*

People across the organization can propose ideas in response to a problem-solving challenge.

  • 40 percent of maturing digital workplaces versus 8 percent of the others report having this capability enterprise wide. Page 108

A mature digital workplace shapes noise into value

Self-organizing communities across the organization counterbalance traditional hierarchical lines.

Counterbalance does not mean “in addition to”. It means “opposite but equal“. Organizations with maturing digital workplaces have strong flows in both dimensions:

  • Horizontal: Cross-organizational communities
  • Vertical: Management communication with with the workforce

In these organizations, people are able to ask questions and get answers from management. It means they can organize into communities and work towards shared purposes.

In organizations with maturing digital workplaces, 72 percent report that they have cross-organizational communities enterprise-wide. This is three times the 23 percent reported by other organizations. These communities, usually self-organizing around topics or purposes, play different roles ranging from managing projects, curating content to proactive work on strategic business topics. Page 57*

In organizations with maturing digital workplaces, top management is more likely to have an “open and participatory” approach. In fact, 34 percent say it is “a regular practice” for management to do live webcasts in town hall style where they take questions directly from the workforce. This compares to a 8 percent for the other organizations. Page 120*

How much “noise” does your organization generate and what do you do with it?

How would you answer these questions?

  • Can people share information, connect to each other and build communities across your organization?
  • Can people contribute ideas and help solve problems even when it is not part of their job description?
  • Do you have cross-organizational, self-organizing communities and if so, what roles do they play?
  • Can people communicate directly with senior managers, asking questions and getting answers?

Join the conversation and share your thoughts here or on Pulse where this post is also published.


Credits: Photos are from Mitra’s TED talk in 2010. A second talk in 2013 shows how far his work has progressed.)

* Page numbers refer to “The Digital Workplace in the Connected Organization” 2014 report, published in February 2014. Data are from 314 organizations surveyed worldwide in Q3 of 2013. The term “maturing digital workplaces” refers to the top 20 percent of the 314 organizations as per the Maturity Scale. They are referred to as “early adopters” in the 2014 report. Scoring is based on a selection of questions in the survey and the respondents’ own answers.

You can participate in the 9th edition of research on internal workplaces by joining the Digital Workplace Survey. You will receive a free copy of the 2015 report. More information here, including a direct link to the survey platform.

Digital is mindset, not technology

November 17, 2014

Digital is a new way of working. It simplifies. It accelerates. It clarifies. It humanizes. Technology is only a small part of the digital way of working. Most people misunderstand this. They think “technology” when you say “digital workplace”. My definition of the digital workplace is “the intersection of People, Organization and Technology”.

The path to a meaningful digital workplace is long and not always smooth.

Last year’s Digital Workplace Survey of 314 organizations around the world showed distinct differences between Early Adopter organizations (top 20 percent) and the Majority of organizations. The Digital Workplace Framework helps understand these differences. It is based on three perspectives: Capabilities, Enablers and Mindset. Each perspective is divided into three dimensions. (Read about the framework here.)


Digital Workplace Survey Closes 31 December

November 16, 2014

I decided to extend the survey participation period this year to the 31st of December.

The publication date will not change, and the 2015 Report will be published in early March as previously announced.

Why the new deadline?

In fact, it opened later than usual and quite a few previous participants wrote to me last week saying they could not participate because they are in 2015 budget preparation period. So I decided to give everyone more time. (Calendar)

Use the extra time to involve some of your stakeholders!

Read here to see how you can involve more people in your organization. The Digital Workplace Collective Scorecard will bring new insight to your organization. It will definitely help you build momentum for your 2016 ambitions.

Get in touch if you have any questions or would like guidance on organizing a team session to do the survey.

Participation link.


Luxury Sector Digital Workplace Index

October 27, 2014

Are you in the Luxury Sector? If so, please read this. If not, please help spread the word.

When it comes to digital, luxury goods companies are highly focused on e-commerce sites and external brand awareness. When it comes to digital inside, for the workforce I mean, the situation is unclear. I plan to bring clarity by creating a Luxury Sector Digital Workplace Index. And I need your help.

I’ve had the opportunity to work on digital workplace strategy with two of the world’s largest luxury groups. I’ve seen some very interesting projects from the inside, but need to broaden the input and see where the industry as a whole stands.


Construction & Engineering Sector and the Digital Workplace

October 24, 2014

(See where your organization stands by participating in the Digital Workplace survey for 2015. You’ll receive a complimentary copy of the 2015 report and your customized scorecard. How to participate.)

People focus: Ease inside and ease outside for the Construction & Engineering sector

Twelve out of 314 organizations that participated in the 2014 Digital Workplace survey are in the Construction & Engineering sector. This small segment shows some striking differences from other sectors. It is in position 3 out of 14 for digital workplace maturity framework.

Construction & Engineering is a sector where people are important. People inside the organization and people outside. The figures below could be higher of course, but they are higher than averages in most other sectors.

  • Nearly 50 percent say it’s “very easy” or “easy” for their customer-facing workforce  to access the information they need to serve their customers.
  • Over 50 percent say their workforce is able to easily learn and develop their skills in the “natural flow of work”.

A closer look at the sector: Five pressures in the work environment today

Fast growth: Business is growing in new markets including China, India, Russia and Central and Eastern Europe. PWC predicts a growth of 70 percent by 2025: “World construction markets are at a tipping point already with 52% of all construction activity in emerging markets today. This is expected to increase to 63% by 2025, with China and India contributing most to growth in emerging markets.”

Complex project management: The industry relies on sophisticated project management with complex projects extending over many years and often involving multiple contractors and partners.

Non-connected workforce: There is a large workforce “in the field” in construction companies. Connecting this workforce to meaningful services from the digital workplace is a challenge.

Going green: Environment, climate change and sustainability issues require new innovation and new design approaches.

Skills shortages: A quick search on Google brings up multiple links to surveys and reports from countries around the world where the industry is already suffering a severe skills shortage. A UNESCO report published in 2010 describes the challenge to include “attracting and retaining broader cross-sections of our youth, particularly women; strengthening the educational enterprise; forging more effective interdisciplinary alliances with the natural and social sciences and the arts….”.

So what’s the status of the digital workplace in this sector?

The chart below tells part of the story.


Is your organization digitally-enabled?

October 20, 2014

Find out where you are. See what others are doing.

Do you work in HR, IT, Communication, Marketing, Sales, Engineering, Finance, Legal, Organizational Strategy, Corporate Affairs…?

If so, you are certainly seeing the impact of digital on how people work, how you serve your customers and how your workforce collaborates.

Are you wondering what value the digital workplace brings to an organization?

You can find out what other organizations are thinking and doing by participating in the 2015 Digital Workplace survey.

Free copy of the 2015 Report

All survey participants get a free copy of the 2015 Digital Workplace Report.  The report includes data, charts, analysis, case studies and industry sector scorecards, letting you see how you compare to your peers. (The report is available to non-participants for 550 USD. See the 2014 table of contents.)

Your Digital Workplace Scorecard

You can also request to receive your Digital Workplace Scorecard showing where your digital workplace is today on a 5-level maturity scale. It’s based on the innovative Digital Workplace Framework designed by myself and the survey Advisory Boards of 2013 and 2014.

Choose how to do the survey

You can do the survey on your own, submit your answers as a team, or even invite different stakeholders in your organization to participate and get your Digital Workplace Collective Scorecard.

Last year over 300 organizations around the world participated. See reviews about last year’s report.  Join us this year: see where you stand and get your free copy of the 2015 Report.

Follow this link, read the instructions and start the survey!

Contact Jane McConnell for more information.

Collective Digital Workplace Scorecard (Free)

October 19, 2014

What’s new in the 2015 Digital Workplace Survey ?

If you have several stakeholders that participate in the survey this year, you can request a Digital Workplace Collective Scorecard.

In addition to the Digital Workplace Scorecard based on your answers,  you and the other participants will receive a Collective Scorecard that consolidates the responses from all participants from the same organization. This is a free service and is explained here including instructions on how to benefit from this service.

DW Collective Scorecard (more…)

Why does the Financial Sector – leader in digital services for customers – lag behind for the workforce?

October 17, 2014

(See where your organization stands by participating in the Digital Workplace survey for 2015. You’ll receive a complimentary copy of the 2015 report and your customized scorecard. How to participate.)

The financial sector has led in providing a digital workplace for customers. So why not for its own workforce?

I discovered two surprising statistics from the financial institutions participating in the 2014 Digital Workplace research: (Top left chart on the snapshot below.)

  • Over 50 percent say their customer-facing workforce finds it “difficult” to access the information they need to serve their customers.
  • 70 percent say their workforce is not able to easily learn and develop their skills in the “natural flow of work”.

How can that be in a digitally-enabled sector?

The ATM revolution has freed many of us from standing in line in banks. The first ATMs appeared half a century ago. Online banking and insurance services let us handle our money in convenience of our homes. Online banking started 35 years ago. Insurance companies are technologically advanced using big data and algorithms as everyday business tools.

Both industries are experimenting at the edge of what technology can “bring” or “do” to people, depending on where you stand. The insurance industry is exploring predictive medicine which raises fundamental questions about individual responsibility versus mutual solidarity. The banking industry is figuring out the impact of bitcoins which raises issues about privacy, surveillance and illegal marketplaces.  So, both industries are at the forefront of the digital workplace, or, as I define it, “the intersection of people, organization and technology”.

Like in all sectors, there are usually some outstanding organizations that are fare more advanced than their peers and the financial sector is no exception.

How do digital workplace leaders in the financial sector differ from the other?

Out of 314 organizations that participated in the 2014 Digital Workplace survey, 56 are in the financial sector. Out of this segment, there are 6 digital workplaces that show a high degree of maturity compared to the average. They range in size of workforce from under 5,000 to 50,000. They are headquartered in 6 different countries: Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Norway, Portugal, UK.

What makes these financial institutions different?

The chart below tells part of the story.


Why “efficiency” is not the best driver for digital in your organization

October 12, 2014

Who’s against efficiency?

Henry Mintzberg tweeted: “Who could possible be against efficiency? Me for one.” He shared his thoughts here: What could possibly be wrong with “efficiency”? Plenty. (Via @jonhusband)

Mintzberg makes three points, and I quote:

  1. “Because costs are usually easier to measure than benefits, efficiency often reduces to economy: cutting measurable costs at the expense of less measurable benefits.”
  2. “Because economic costs are typically easier to measure than social costs, efficiency can actually result in an escalation of social costs.”
  3. “Because economic benefits are typically easier to measure than social benefits, efficiency drives us toward an economic mindset that can result in social degradation.”

Efficiency is not the top strategy driver in more mature digital workplaces

Based on the new digital workplace model, organizations that lead in maturity report “Organizational Intelligence” as their top strategic driver whereas the majority of organizations reported “Efficiency and cost savings” as number one.

Strat drivers Efficiency or Organizational Intelligence


Looking for pilot testers for new Digital Workplace survey

September 22, 2014

I’m looking for a few volunteers to pilot test the survey this week.

The pilot will be available end of day today, Monday 22 Sept. I’m looking for digital practitioners organizations to do a test run of the new Digital Workplace survey.

I’m asking people to fill it out “for real” as if they were actually taking the survey,  to note their comments as they go in an email or text file, then to send me the feedback. I’ll integrate your answers into the final version so you do not have to do it twice. Or, if you prefer, you can do it again later. It’s up to you.

The deadline for getting the feedback to me is the end of the week, end of day Friday 26 September.

I’d estimate it to take about 60 minutes for the survey, plus a little more for the time spent noting your feedback.
Let me know if you are interested and if you have the time this week. I’ll need your email in order to send you the survey link, along with a few specific comments about the feedback. Please use your organizational email, not a gmail, hotmail, etc..

Interested practitioners can contact me using the form on this page.  Thank you.