Articles, People & Culture

Workplace Orientations: Where to focus?

There are many demands on investments and energy in organizations today. “Competing priorities” was cited by over half the survey participants at the end of 2016 as a “serious obstacle holding us back”.

How to decide where to focus? What do data say? What do people say?

I’ve researched the internal digital work environment for a decade – 2006 through 2016 – through annual surveys with internal digital practitioners and leaders from approximately 300 organizations worldwide.

In 2011, the research participants looked at four future orientations and indicated (1) where they saw high, moderate or low potential value for their organizations, and (2) how far advanced they were in each one. Six years later, in early 2017, I ran a quick poll checking to see if perceptions had changed and if progress has been made. Then just last week (Enterprise Digital Summit in Paris) I ran a workshop with 24 people where we brainstormed opportunities and risks inherent in the different orientations.

Four orientations examined:

The four orientations are complementary, each potentially impacting the others, but it helps to have a primary vision.


What Do the Data Say?

Smart Systems has moved up the value scale.

Smart Systems is the only orientation where value perceptions changed: 40% saw high potential value in 2011, 60% in 2017. This is not surprising, as AI and bots enter the workplace today. Smart Systems is now perceived to have the same potential value as People-Centric and Super Search, rated high by 60-70% of the participants.

People-Centric and Super Search – with the most potential value – hover around the 50% mark when it comes to reality.

Organizations saying we are “well on our way” or “have started working on this” rose 40 percentage points to reach 57% in 2017. Super Search showed an increase of 30 percentage points for “well on our way” or “have started working on this” to reach 45%. That said, most report “have started working on this” and many fewer “well on our way”. Perceptions of potential value are consistently high: 60-70% said “high” in both years.

The My Apps orientation does not look promising for the future.

My Apps is the lowest of the four orientations, both in 2011 and in 2017 in terms of potential value – under 50% both years. Progress on the ground ranges from 25-30% starting implementations.

What Do People Say?

Opportunities and risks need to be carefully balanced.

The workshop activity is summarized in the tables below. Here are the high level observations from the group.

Information opportunities and risks are at the forefront of minds.

  • There is a strong need for better, relevant, reliable information. At the same time, there is a strong concern about filter bubbles, funneling information and limiting what people see.
  • Work can be more fun and rewarding through a people-focused and smart system approach. At the same time, there are risks regarding privacy and information security.

Enabling people can make management nervous.

  • Networking, empowering people and flattening hierarchies are seen as benefits by many. However, the results may trigger management fears because empowered people cannot be controlled.

Details from the workshop:


Top photo credit: Mar Newell, Unsplash.