Posted by Dion Hinchcliffe.

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Research continues to show that one of the single most important activities that senior leaders can engage in — to drive real change and realize results with digital and social business — is to lead from the front. Of course, this shouldn’t come as a surprise to most business leaders. Yet we find it still needs to be emphasized, despite the growing shift away from hierarchies and towards communities to get work done in new and better ways. In fact, the value of executive leadership for digital/social has been confirmed again just recently by the Community Roundtable’s excellent 2014 report (slide 15).

However, the vital resource that also remains most scarce in the C-Suite is one that we’re all the most short of: time. The question then, is how can CIOs make the very most of their fundamentally limited leadership assets to drive broad technology transformation?

Most of us are now aware that organizations are facing one of the largest upheavals in business history, largely due to the transformational changes that high technology is having in virtually all aspects of our lives today. This has resulted in most business leaders being overwhelmed and unable to tackle the massive scale of the work at hand, despite an acute need to digitally transform existing and new products and services steadily over the next half decade to align with the market and stop falling further behind.

The theme we’re seeing in many businesses we work with is a focus on getting better organized — and maybe even catching up — in a year 2020 time frame or so. IT departments, HR teams, corporate strategists, and others are trying to assemble highly transformational roadmaps that will take the large organizations to a better place. Yet lack of leadership, low confidence in direction, and fear of failure is still holding too many companies back.

Business 2020: The CIO Role in Digital/Social Transformation: ERP, CRM, ESN, social business, collaborative economy, e-commerce, intranet, collaboration, marketing, community, mobile, IoT, clouds, open APIs

Despite this, it’s clear that an imperative to change is being widely felt in the corporate world. Many organizations are using whatever convenient temporal signpost they can muster to map out a plan for fundamental digital change in order to remain competitive, sustain the organization, modernize, and grow. The goal: Taking their legacy organizations and updating them right down to the core if necessary to revamp corporate structure and business processes and then remake them around a constellation of fast emerging technologies and new digital business models.

Doing so successfully, however, requires overcoming a number of very significant hurdles: Not invented here, the innovator’s dilemma, the challenge of changing a large organization rapidly without “blowing it up”, all while arranging a large-scale enterprise-wide switch in organizational competencies, and so on.

Part of the secret to successful digital transformation seems to be the emphasis and meaningful adoption of new organizational models. Whenever we look at companies that have been relatively successful in such transformations, they’ve built vibrant ecosystems around new network-centric models. As my friend and industry colleague Lee Bryant recently noted:

[We should start] with the realisation that hierarchy is just one of several dimensions of organisational design – others being communities, networks and small autonomous teams, for example – we can begin to see how some of the characteristics of new models such as Holacracy, Organising for Complexity, The Connected Company or Kotter’s Dual Organisation can be introduced without throwing away those aspects of the line organisation that are currently working well. The goal in doing this is to achieve the kind of Twenty-First Century company attributes that are necessary for real digital transformation to work.

So if we take these two issues as at or near the top of the list of what’s required to digitally transform: Leadership and new organizational models, what then does this mean for the putative top digital leader in most corporations today, the CIO? As I’ve observed before, there’s now a lot of internal jockeying for top-level technology leadership in the enterprise: The CFO wants to outsource to the cloud, the CMO wants to own market-facing engagement technology, and the new Chief Digital Officer is busy trying to take existing assets and build new digital businesses with P&L responsibility.

To further complicate matters, as technology adoption becomes more decentralized there are the heads of lines of business, many of which are attempting to control their own technology destiny locally, closer to where business actually gets done on the ground. This is a lot of competition. Yet the CIO remains better positioned than any single other entity in the organization: They have the largest budget, staff, and existing responsibility for digitally enabling the business.

The digital diaspora: A CIO/CDO challenge

So if the CIO previously had a mandate to digitize the old business, does the new CIO mandate mean that they should be the person most principally responsible to realize digital transformation? When I talk with top CIOs these days, there is a clear sense that IT is separating into two components: Infrastructure management and digital evolution. The former has always been the purview of the CIO, but the CDO is increasingly making a play for the latter.

What role then should CIO’s play in digital/social business transformation? Should CIOs step aside whenever it’s wise and there is a more motivated and skilled actor in the C-Suite? Or should CIOs take the leadership position in the transformation process? I explored this in detail recently in a keynote at CIO Perspectives in Virginia. While I think CIOs often have too much on their plate today, given their many responsibilities, this is the one area where they are 1) better positioned than anyone else in the organization and 2) afforded a once-in-a-career ownership opportunity to map out the very future and even enable the outright survival of the organization.

As we analyze companies making the transition, a few key behaviors come up again and again. These then seem to make the difference between organizations that can jump from the 20th century industrial model to a more pure-play digital model, at least in most industries:

  • Open leadership, especially via role modeling. It is very difficult to get C-Suite leaders directly involved in digital/social efforts, but if it’s done, it can drive change faster and more effectively than just about any other method. Charlene Li’s work on open leadership is good material to apply here.
  • Focus on culture shifting. The patterns of successful digital/social adoption are increasingly well-understood, but it helps to understand the current corporate culture, and then plan to change it in incremental steps. Successful efforts focus on adding the new organizational models into the business, and using their presence as an operational function to introduce and metabolize change at scale. These can be digital communities of practice or more traditional change initiatives using open leadership methods.
  • Organizational redesign for digital/social. This includes both processes and structure within the organization, and is part of an overall model for systemic and sustainable, renewable technology change built inherently into the business and its connected ecosystems. The CIO has control over the IT aspects, while having to work through a CEO (or similarly empowered leader) to have a mandate to change the rest of the organization. This can be a tall order and is fraught with political and bureaucratic obstacles, but is essential for anything more than short-term success.
  • Embracing and enabling change at the edge of the organization. And not constraining. IT can no longer be a constraining agent. Instead, the CIO must tap into the fuller resources in the entire organization to drive transformation. This means putting as many other parts of the organization in charge of local change, and is part of the fuller digital change toolkit to reach any kind of year 2020 roadmap.

Today’s CIO is living in an age of unprecedented change, but that also means there’s tremendous opportunity as well Unfortunately, IT leaders are sometimes unwilling to be as revolutionary as required by the times. Given the growing distance between where the technology world operates today and how legacy enterprises work, this is an increasingly untenable position. Fortunately, the solution seems to be spending precious time and resources in the activities most likely to create successful transition, namely the points given above.

Additional Reading:

Rethinking How We Transform Our Organizations for the Future

How Social Business Has Matured

What CIOs Should Focus on in Digital Business for 2014

Posted by Dion Hinchcliffe.

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One of the scenarios we still see all too often these days is the broad — yet relatively unfocused — introduction of new general purpose collaboration tools to a largely unsuspecting enterprise workforce. Even though very few collaboration initiatives — social or otherwise — actually desire to pursue a “Field of Dreams” approach, this is in fact exactly what often ends up happening as new solutions are installed in the organization with anticipation that users will flock to them.

However, the long history of this trend has shown that even with proactive community management and highly engaging collaborative tools, it is surprisingly hard, long-term work to drive measurable business results.

If new digital methods of working together are so much better then, why exactly is this the case? Shouldn’t our workers rationally adopt new behaviors and tools if they are genuine improvements? Perhaps.

It turns out there are a few significant obstacles that we 1) often fail to recognize in our collaborative improvement efforts and 2) actually take the care to remove.

Related: The Strategic Benefits of Modern Workforce Collaboration

Key Elements of Successful Digital/Social Collaboration

While I’ve explored methods to get higher levels of performance from collaboration projects, the reality is that each technology solution that is applied must first go through an initial growth and adoption phase to reach critical mass. This requires the buy-in and alignment not only with the leadership of the organization, but those that actually will use the tools. This is where organizations often get it wrong with collaboration, by implicitly making this core assumption:

Users will take up new collaborative tools simply because that is the primary option put in front of them.

Unfortunately, this is just no longer the case. Even though most organizations understand that new collaboration tools — whether they are user-editable intranets, enterprise social networks, online communities, file sharing apps, or content/document management systems — are far more optional than say, e-mail, they typically fail to design their collaboration solutions with a clear sense that their customers do have a choice.

The reality is that the use of enterprise technology has changed dramatically in a relatively short time. With the wide prevalence of IT consumerization (essentially, a combination of shadow IT and bring-your-own-technology), enterprises can no longer afford to ignore usability. As Aaron Levie, CEO of Box, publicly observed to some acclaim this week:

20 years ago CIOs couldn’t care about user experience, 10 years ago they didn’t have to, and now it drives everything. Huge shift for all.

This has long been an issue with corporate IT, which tends to look at feature checklists and security capabilities well before user experience, even though data has consistently shown that every dollar invested on ease-of-use returns an order of magnitude or more in ROI. In fact, in our experience, usability is absolutely vital (though insufficient alone, more on this later) to the adoption and retention of any new collaborative solution. Yet the actual quality of user experience remains ruinously low on the priority list for most efforts, despite the overall intent to make it easier for people to work together.

Ironically, having good basic human factors isn’t even the biggest obstacle to improving collaborative performance. That’s because good UX is increasingly being solved by an onslaught of new consumer-oriented collaborative tools like Dropbox, Google Docs, Feedbag.io, and even enterprise solutions like Jive and Tibbr. All of these readily offer brilliant user interfaces and eminently useful, high value, low-friction feature sets that enterprises can build upon.

Instead the large enterprise has a problem of a higher order. By this I mean that although general purpose collaborative tools can be used for the broadest set of business activities, as the apps usually aren’t constrained to any given problem or solution, they’re usually only a small incremental improvement over legacy collaboration tools. It is precisely because they just don’t get deep enough into specific, local collaborative scenarios that they often fail to provide enough new value. Enabling improvement of these collaborative scenarios is the key to unlocking deeper business value and must be a primary objective.

Now, before you think this is premature optimization of the topic, let’s look at the issues.

Related: How to Improve Modern Workforce Collaboration

Usability as Foundation, Then Collaborative Design

Those of us in the collaboration industry are aware that you can’t effectively mandate collaboration amongst any group of people. You can’t even really specify which tools can be used or how they’re used. That’s because human engagement — of which meaningful collaboration is an key outcome — is a notoriously hard-to-control, nuanced, and fluid activity that naturally gravitates to the most enjoyable and satisfying venue it can find. People requires a receptive environment that’s well-suited to the conversation, and will inexorably seek it out. In this way, real collaboration can only be enabled and facilitated, it can’t be forced or contrived. And it tends only to happen amongst fully engaged employees.

That said, effective collaboration certainly can and does take place all the time in legacy and new channels such as e-mails, conference calls, enterprise social networks, and so on. But the issue is these are just a few of the dozens of great options most workers now have today. So the “right” venue for the given conversation is chosen by its participants, and it’s usually chosen precisely because includes just the right people, setting, context, and other inputs. The lesson: We should be creating more appealing and effective collaboration environments.

Lest we forget, the latest advances in collaboration, such as social tools or unified communications were supposed to be large improvements over older methods because they enabled powerful factors like improved scale, open participation, asynchronicity, and better knowledge retention. But collaboration projects often focus on these aspects of the new to the neglect of other essential aspects of collaboration. There must be balance.

We also used to talk about the classic 9x barrier when adopting new tools like social software. The 9x rule was the lesson that the replacement solutions for existing ways of working together can’t be just a little bit better. Instead, in order to provide motivation for people en masse to change habits and learn new ways of working, you have to offer something a lot better — nearly 10 times better the data says — than what they have today.

I find that the 9x lesson is often forgotten by the time a new collaborative initiative reaches its launch point: It was high bar that enterprises often don’t have the skill set or time to achieve anyway. And by the way, you can still get some business value even if you don’t reach it. So, despite lacking sufficient impact, the new solution launches anyway. However, it doesn’t have to be this way.

So, if top-flight user experiences alone are not enough to drive useful, widespread behavior change in collaboration (though I should be absolutely clear their contribution to reaching the 9x level is critical), what else is required?

Paying Down “Collaborative Debt”

From my experience, in addition to high impact and effective user experience, two additional elements are required to get us there:

First, in the IT world there is this concept of “technical debt”, which means the accumulated backlog of technology that needs overhauling, improvements, updates, and modernization.

It turns out there is exactly the same issue in the collaborative world: A growing set of changes to the business environment that have been needed — but for various reasons not made — to improve the likelihood of better workforce engagement. This includes shifting corporate culture to be more amenable to agile, open, and participative ways of working. Most organizations have non-trivial levels of collaborative debt they need to pay down but new collaborative tools that require what Richard Martin says — and we wholeheartedly agree — a new enlightened way of working that fully embodies the business requirements of today’s fast moving marketplace.

Second, and just as importantly, is what I call collaborative design thinking, which is really nothing more than the realization that collaboration solutions will benefit from considerably from design thinking, which is the process of solving a problem with deep understanding and empathy for the full underlying context.

What does using design thinking for rethinking the way we work mean in practical terms? First, it means that specific collaborative scenarios — typically the most common and/or the most impactful to the business — are considered first class citizens in the realization of the collaborative effort, rather than assuming the solution will address the actual business and technical needs of these vital scenarios. These scenarios are then rethought for an improved collaborative environment, for example, by making them more open and participative or perhaps more specific to the scenario. In addition, this design process ensures that supporting and high quality user experiences are deliberately thought through and validated with stakeholders.

Second, it means that common enterprise collaboration patterns — such as conversing in context about a document or piece of enterprise data — are applied in a way that maximizes their previously successful realizations across the industry. This is not something that has been talked about nearly enough in the collaboration industry and so I’ll be exploring it more in my next piece. The message here is that we have a wealth of experience on digital collaboration from the last 10 years that we can now leverage if we’re willing.

Examples of high-level patterns include both the positive, such as using social tools for project management at BASF, or the not-broadly-successful, such as the concept of the corporate intranet as a collaboration hub. These lessons must be rolled into our collaborative efforts going forward or we’ll keep re-inventing the wheel. In my work, I’ve seen these patterns emerge time and again, and while enterprise collaboration vendors have moved many of these into their offerings (especially document collaboration scenarios), we’re still well-behind where we should be in identifying common patterns across our organizations.

Take Away: UX + enablement + patterns of success = optimum results

So to sum up, there’s a high bar required to make any improved collaboration effort successful. However, by combining the high leverage of improved user experiences, paying down the biggest pieces of collaborative debt, applying design thinking to key collaborative scenarios, while taking as many of the lessons learned as possible from common collaboration patterns of those that were successful before you.

Admittedly, it is the latter item that is the hardest element to realize for now as there has been limited sharing of what works, though you can find my partial early list here. I believe however that we can together start capturing these in more detail to make our efforts more successful if only we have the willingness. More soon on many of these fronts as we dive into these issues.

Additional Reading: Rethinking How We Transform Our Organizations for the Future

Posted by Dion Hinchcliffe.

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Over the last 10 years, enterprises have been inundated with an endless stream of new collaborative technologies. These have ranged from the high concept — enterprise social networks, co-created intranets, and related social business tools — to the merely incremental, such as unified communications, enterprise chat, improved content/document management systems, and now mobile collaboration.

That these have raised the bar and improved the way enterprises work — at least overall — there isn’t a great deal of doubt. However, the actual question is how much the additional complexity and fragmentation caused by new collaborative channels means there has been a net improvement.

The more prosaic reality is that most organizations are only reporting low incremental returns from their recent investments in collaboration, often in the single digits. While this is often enough to justify the expenditure, it’s still a far cry from the revolutionary outcomes many — including yours truly — realized were possible.

But for those with an IT background, this does not come as much of a surprise. Large IT projects frequently underperform initially for a variety of reasons, not the least which is that it takes time to absorb and metabolize major shifts in how we work. The truth is that IT is still struggling to reconcile new collaborative tools with the old ones. During this process, we’ve often forgot, ironically given that the focus is collaboration, that we must create collaborative solutions that are good fits both for the people that use them, as well as the urgent needs of the business itself.

Related: How To Improve Global Workforce Collaboration

Collaborative Performance Improvement with Enterprise Social Networks and Social Business

We at Adjuvi now believe that the influx of powerful new collaborative technologies has laid the groundwork for a second wave of modernization that will more deeply impact the business. We have good evidence that the strategic benefits of successful collaborative projects is considerable. But most organizations have barely rolled out the tools, often focused on a horizontal and largely laissez faire approach where employees were left to figure out the best way — and when and where — to use these new tools. Thus they are not receiving the benefits they could be and should be.

Aim modern collaboration at better business outcomes

While this is a perfectly acceptable — if suboptimal — way to start, and it will certainly produce some results, we believe this leaves most of the business value of modern collaboration off the table. When I studied dozens upon dozens of collaboration efforts when I wrote Social Business By Design, one fact leaped out when you look at the picture of those that have reported outsized returns versus those that haven’t:

Organizations that fundamentally restructure the way they work around improved collaborative methods see far higher business benefits.

That is, the more that the organization optimizes the business for the unique strengths and abilities of new methods of collaboration, the more likely they are to see significant returns. While this makes sense on its face, it’s also not what most organizations are doing today. Instead, they are either taking a ‘Field of Dreams’ approach (the proverbial creation of a new collaborative environment and the hope that users will come) or they are identifying a few high level scenarios and focusing on them, such as employee onboarding, project management, or sales support, but without rethinking the possibilities very deeply. In other words, paving the cow path instead of directly grappling with today’s significant challenges.

Esko Kilpi recently explained how today’s highly complex enterprise environments have to change because of today’s new operating environment:

An organization is not a whole consisting of parts. There is no inside and outside. An organization is a continuously developing or stagnating pattern in time. Industrial management was a particular pattern based on specific assumptions about causality and human agency.

The sciences of social complexity change our understanding of causality and recent developments in psychology/sociology have shown that human agency is not located or stored in an individual, contrary to mainstream economics. The individual mind arises continuously in communication between people.

The focus of industrial management was on division of labor and the design of vertical/horizontal communication channels. The focus should now be on cooperation and emergent interaction based on transparency, interdependence and responsiveness. Looking at communication, not through it, what we are making together.

Given this legacy, it’s perfectly understandable why organizations would take an incremental approach to improving collaboration, even though it’s increasingly well understood that the needle won’t move much initially. First, there is the perception of risk: The bigger the change made to the business, the more chance that things will go wrong. Second, it’s often poorly understood what makes new forms of collaboration particularly effective, and hence these aspects are not emphasized or optimized for.

So, while highly scaled and cost-effective open business processes and community-centric business models are now clearly the end-game when it comes to rethinking collaboration to ensure large organizations are competitive in today’s marketplace, most companies require at least several discrete steps to get there.

The Three Aspects of Collaborative Performance Improvement

We believe that a growing number of enterprises today — having now put down a solid foundation for new modes of collaboration — are ready for the second step. This next wave, which we call collaborative performance improvement and will create strategic (instead of tactical) business value, looks like the following:

  • The redesign and optimization of business processes across functions to employ the unique strengths of modern collaborative approaches. Organizations will go well beyond horizontal, general purpose collaboration and redesign functional process (marketing, sales, customer care, product development, operations, supply chain, support functions, etc.) around powerful new collaborative capabilities. One of the great examples of this was the rethinking of the supply chain using social tools by Teva Pharmaceuticals to shrink manufacturing cycle time by 40%, something which their traditional ERP system could not do.
  • Adoption of a simultaneously customer-centric and worker-centric model of collaboration. Collaborative outcomes today are often curtailed because they stops at the silo the worker is in or the particular business function the customer is interacting with. For instance, there’s often an artificial gap as the customer moves between marketing and sales, or sales and customer care, or operations and product development. It’s a legacy of our industrial age models and how they shaped our businesses. But in the network era, collaboration naturally flows across and includes all relevant stakeholders. The most successful business outcomes come with there are no unnecessary barriers between who needs to collaborate. Collaborative performance improvement will integrate key business scenarios across silos in a natural user experience.
  • A shift from collaboration as a support function to a business function. Most people think of collaboration as an activity carried out within teams that enables a specific business result, not the business result itself. This is certainly the case for legacy businesses today. But we’ve now learned that collaboration itself is also inherently a business function, as it can form the basis of both transactional and relationship-based value. In its simplest form, this is collaboration-as-a-service, akin to crowdsourcing, but adapted to the enterprise. Companies like Innocentive and others have offered this model for years. Now, however, we’re seeing with global solution networks and other forms of large-scale collaboration that take advantage of this realization. This is the strategic chessboard that must be of high interest to business leaders, as it is actually one of the largest avenues left open for enterprise growth. It’s also an ideal on ramp to digital business (namely, to get much more value via new modes of collaboration from corporate assets and the collective intelligence of the workforce.)

What does all this mean? How should organizations get started on the second wave? It means that for most companies, the collaborative journey has barely begun and will continue to be an exciting one. The contemporary models of collaboration offer tremendous business potential, if organizations are willing to start down the second wave and go beyond so-called “bolt-on” collaboration by rethinking their business processes — while shifting their culture a bit — to access the considerable benefits as they prepare more fully to modernize their business.

What will you do to drive collaborative improvement?

Lastly, part of the problem is that collaborative project teams today are often in support units — such as IT, corporate communications, or even HR (see visual above) — and consequently don’t have responsibility or control over other parts of the business. Thus the default is for low-impact horizontal usage at a distance, rather that impactful transformation within the business.

However, this is where senior leaders are urgently needed most to drive change. They can step in as sponsors and provide the vision, mandate, and required resources. As The Community Roundtable recently reported in their latest study, the single most effective action that businesses can take to improve community-based collaboration is secure close executive involvement. This then is the key mandate and requirement to start down the road of collaborative performance improvement.

Posted by Dion Hinchcliffe.

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Most people would agree that the way we work together has changed quite a bit over the last few years. Or more accurately, how we can better collaborate has vastly improved, largely because of new digital tools, along with important new supporting concepts that they enable (see podularity, Holacracy, etc.)

But just because there are better ways of working, doesn’t mean that we’ll adopt them.

A large number of organizations even today are still attempting to understand the rationale for applying the latest collaborative tools and techniques to their organization. Along their journey towards modern collaboration, they have often encountered a range of structural and process-related barriers to success, from which we’ve learned many good lessons along the way.

A significant part of the issue, as I’ve noted in the past, is that some of the more effective new modes of collaboration — such as social media — were never designed for the business world to begin with. Thus, instead of a major potential boon, as the data consistently shows year after year, it’s often perceived as “a risky medium that we are forced to confront” to quote the useful and detailed Deloitte/MIT SMR study on the topic that I participated in last year. This approach has led to a variety of internal cultural obstacles in many organizations, putting aside the necessary changes to mindset, habits, and business processes required in order to access the benefits of these exciting but often challenging new forms of collaboration.

Related: How to Improve Global Workforce Collaboration

Strategic Benefits of Better Collaboration with Social Media and Technology

This brings us to the question of motivation and purpose. I generally urge collaboration initiatives to keep in mind — as they take the long journey to modernize the way they work — to maintain a focus on achieving the concrete, documented, and substantial benefits in doing so (see visual above.) This has to be the sustained objective of any well-designed collaborative improvement program.

What does such an program look like? It now generally means taking a highly social, digital, mobile, and multi-channel view of mass interaction and team cooperation in most organizations and using their unique capabilities to directly drive these better business outcomes.

The Measurable Value of Connectedness

Certainly, the improvement of human collaboration is much more of a journey than a destination. However, it can to a large extent — and often specifically because of the new technologies — be measured, managed, and optimized. Much of the conversation about modern collaboration today revolves (as it should) around the human factors, as in making our workplaces much more fit and appropriate places for today’s workers. However, this doesn’t mean we can eschew close management and measurement of the process of improvement. In fact, if you don’t, most of the results you encounter will largely be accidental. Thus, collaboration by design is the desired process to achieve specific business benefits (even though you’ll get many emergent outcomes as well.)

Over the years, I’ve been asked many times, how to measure ROI for new types of collaboration. Fortunately, the answer to this is actually fairly straightforward but requires some discipline and forethought. First, measuring ROI requires baselining the performance of the part of the organization being improved with new tools and techniques. Second, causal ties have to be identified between the improvements in key measures of performance — typically pre-existing and respected KPIs that are already being captured– with notable events in the the collaborative medium.

Identifying ‘notable events’ is the hard part in this equation, as you may not even be aware of them when they happen and are highly fluid in nature, making them frustrating to identify. These can involve a sudden temporal increase in collaborative messages in the new work environment (such as an enterprise social network or unified communications platform) or it could be the involvement of just the right person at the right time. The former is fairly easy to casually tie, the latter is more difficult. Either way, over time, by sustaining an active measurement and correlation process, the picture of what you are actually accomplishing begins to emerge.

But this kind of business analytics only verifies the benefits of designed or accidental collaboration improvements. It behooves us to understand what sort of benefits there are to be had and how can they best be accessed, so we know how to design for and then measure them. In the visual above, we summarize some of the latest research along with findings that have now been verified year-after-year, such as McKinsey’s excellent annual Web 2.0 surveys.

The Benefits of Improved Collaboration

The numbers on collaborative improvement speak for themselves, but most organizations won’t attain these levels right away. An organization that deliberately focuses on what makes the new collaboration tools and techniques more effective can reach — and even sometimes exceed — the benefits enumerated below, the yearly accrual of which can easily justify the typical collaborative improvement program.

  • Better collaboration provides a wide range of functional and non-functional rewards. This includes double-digit gains in speed of finding knowledge, expertise, customer retention, revenue, and profit growth. The same is true for overhead: Better collaboration can reduce travel cost and time to market.
  • It’s not just about doing the same work with higher performance, but also ensuring access to just as important less-tangible benefits. The less quantifiable outcomes of new forms of collaboration are by definition more difficult to measure, though they sometimes can be. Certainly better customer and worker satisfaction is fairly measurable and is actually a key benefit to better collaboration. Harder to measure but still quantifiable is the rate of successful innovations and ideas, better visibility into operations, and the connecting together and breaking down of silos. Better competitiveness results as well, according to many studies, including the Deloitte report cited above.

The good news: these numbers also show that considerable progress is being made today by many companies on their way towards a brighter collaborative future. Certainly, productivity and efficiency gains are usually the most interesting returns in the short term for many organizations. Often, demonstrating this is actually crucial to continuing the journey at all. I’ve encountered more than a few collaboration projects that have been stopped by failing to adequately describe the benefits they’ve delivered so far.

But it would be a major mistake to entirely enumerate the benefits of better collaboration as purely a numbers game, though it will always be that too. New modes of collaboration are changing the rules of business in terms of how things gets done and who does them. The implications are many and profound, but access to them is largely prevented until you’re willing to make the transformative changes required. But realization of them is, however, essential to the long-term survival of most of our organizations.

This then is the imperative for better collaboration, as it often means access to our very future.

Related: What is the future of work?

Posted by Dion Hinchcliffe.

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One of the signature challenges of large organizations today is the unique set of issues they face when trying to improve the way their workers interact, communicate, and collaborate together. The collaborative environment in a typical enterprise is complex: A dozen or more time zones, vast distances between offices, regional cultural differences, corporate politics, bureaucracy, and differing technology capabilities all make it very challenging to improve the status quo.

Even though increasing the effectiveness of collaboration is an activity that is highly likely to provide significant gains to how a business operates, it’s typically a fraught process. Fortunately, updating collaborative methods to meet the dynamic needs of the changing workforce — as well as meeting the needs of the business — is one of the top priorities of digital transformation these days.

It also doesn’t help, however, that some of the highest value collaboration scenarios are typically cross-border: Workers with business partners and suppliers, or workers with customers. That’s typically because the constrained visibility required to protect corporate data in such scenarios is counter to many of the newer, more open techniques, such as social collaboration. In large organizations, this is typically exacerbated by multiple divisions and subunits, many of which have different sets of collaboration platforms and techniques.

In short, driving successful collaborative improvements in the workforce seems counterintuitively more difficult in today’s market precisely because it is saturated with supporting tools, techniques, and too many choices. This often causes analysis paralysis. That means often little changes except the introduction of some easy-to-roll-out generic tooling such as an enterprise social network, a video conferencing capability, or new virtual meeting space. However, without closely tying collaborative processes to the value chain of the organization, it is a long, slow road to reaping benefits through hit-or-miss usage and largely accidental organic returns.

This then is the key to improving the way a global workforce collaborates:

Connect collaborative processes directly to high-value outcomes that create significant business impact.

Additional reading: Rethinking Work In the Collaborative Era

Workforce Collaboration Value Chain: Social, Intranet, Community, Engagement

Of course, like many things that are worthwhile, this is quite a bit easier said than done. For one, global workforces are made of people. And people, even when they want to embrace change — in this case, adopting better practices, tools, and techniques for collaboration — need time and help to do so. Not surprisingly, the more help they get, the more rapid and impactful the outcome is.

To help understand and build a mental model of how better to directly connect collaborative improvement to business value, it’s helpful to look at what I call the workforce collaboration value chain.

Yes, it sounds like corporate speak, but it’s also a powerful way of mapping the array of inputs we have to bring to bear on collaboration, along with tools, activities, and desired outputs. By understand all of our collaborative assets to their fullest extent, only then do we have the best chance of producing results that really matter.

Workforce Collaboration: High Value Requires High Impact

When we look at the collaboration value chain we can see five key elements (see visual above), a careful focus on understanding of which is required to ensure you aren’t engaged in what’s a highly visible, enterprise-wide improve effort that’s also largely tactical exercise and will therefore under perform.

  • Inputs. To develop and realize a successful collaboration strategy that delivers desired results, means tapping into the full wealth and richness of the organization’s resources. This includes existing interaction processes, collaboration projects (and their existing knowledge and assets), work artifacts, corporate structure, language, culture, overall business objectives, known collaborative constraints (something will I cover in detail in a future post), internally respected measures of performance, and governance. This is the full palette from which a meaningfully impactful workforce collaboration strategy must draw.
  • Tools. Collaboration can be greatly improved by the right supporting technology, which has been true since at least the advent of the telephone. But we’ve come an enormous way since then, and today’s digital collaboration tools have consistently been able to support double digit returns in performance, and sometimes more. You can certainly improve collaboration without tools to help — and collaboration is always about people in the end — but you’ll also leave much of the gains behind.
  • Activities. Understanding how you collaborate and on what is absolutely key to driving performance gains. An effective collaboration strategy will map existing collaboration models onto new ones and identify a process of getting to the target approach over time, using specific methods that are known to drive behavior change in an organization.
  • Output. Managing the structure and processes of collaboration so that desired outcomes take place is the key to the whole exercise. Most organizations are looking for specific benefits, even though they’re often highly emergent as well with today’s approaches, which will spin off many important 2nd order results. These benefits typically are gains in measurable workforce productivity, capturing of tacit institutional knowledge, employee engagement, corporate efficiency, cost reduction (travel especially), business agility, and better cross-divisional corporate alignment.
  • Impact. Of course, specific collaborative outputs lead to more strategic benefits for our enterprises as well. This includes often hard to quantify outcomes like better responding to changing markets (because collaborative workforces are more amenable to adopting change), creating more innovative products and services (because you can tap into more and better ideas over open networks), addressing competition, and creating resilient and sustainable new institutional practices that are self-organizing and perpetuating (again, though mass connectedness, collaboration, and peer production of said practices via better collaborative methods.

How can we build our own version of this value chain for our organization? It’s not difficult but it does require planning and critical thinking. While some organizations today still eschew strategy, such exercises, as long as they aren’t overly massive and rigid constructs, greatly aid in understanding the promise, value proposition, and often most importantly, the hidden obstacles that — if you only understood them upfront — would help you understand how to move ahead confidently and with least risk.

The simple fact is that our workforces are the single biggest investment that most businesses have. Better collaboration is the key to unlocking the untapped value and innovation in them, which we know is considerable.

What will be the future of work in your organization?

For more information on collaborative performance improvement, please contact us today.

Posted by Dion Hinchcliffe.

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When to comes to the pace of business evolution today, I’ll get right to the most essential point: Most organizations are far behind where they’d like to be — or even need to be — to survive in their present form long-term. The current digital world and modern marketplace are simply lapping most traditional organizations when it comes to both technology change and the associated cultural/societal shifts that have gone hand-in-hand.

However, I do not believe it has to be this way: A few notable organizations have figured out a way forward and shown that successful transition can happen. We now know leadership-guided adaptation for the future is possible if there’s sufficient vision, willingness, and ability. To wit, today’s business world, dominated by a few thousand large industrial era organizations, doesn’t have to be overcome by wave after wave of fast-moving, legacy-free Internet companies that have fundamentally rethought their respective industries in contemporary digital terms.

That’s not to say that there aren’t going to be organizations that don’t make the transition. The big question is how to make such shifts repeatable and reliable for those that can. As part of this, I deeply believe that in virtually all industries there is a lack of clear guidance or well-defined strategy for how to successfully adapt our institutional structures, operational processes, and numerous associated concerns to the way organizations need to work and perform today.

Digital Business Transformation with Community and Social Business Leadership

It’s for these very reasons that understanding the best way forward with technology and business practices has always been my professional focus. So when I looked around for my next big adventure, I sought out a partner that shared a similar vision in helping organizations make the transition to digital business and not only succeed, but flourish in doing so.

In the person of Larry Everson, I’ve found such a partner. Larry has had a long and rich career in assisting large enterprises with the complex issues surrounding change management and adaptation to competitive and marketplace shifts. He created Adjuvi five years ago to lay the foundation for helping organizations deal with what have become the top issues of the day: social business, digital transformation, technology innovation, changing models of management and organization, enterprise-wide cultural transition and the future of work.

Larry and I have come to understand, like so many others in recent years, that the way businesses operate today is in the process of a unique and seismic historical shift. This shift is creating once-in-a-generation marketplace opportunities as well as the likelihood for disruption for most businesses.

Adjuvi was founded specifically to help organizations navigate these changes so organizations can reach for the future and outperform upon arrival. But ironically, traditional methods for adapting organizations to dramatically different market requirements are profoundly limited, are generally short term, and typically underperform. We believe the secret to large scale change lies in the very forces disrupting us: Vast digital networks of people and information aligned to dynamic business strategies coupled with highly adaptive cultures that embrace change.

Creating A New Type of Transformation

Larry set to out create Adjuvi to help organizations apply just the right mix of traditional change management and performance improvement processes combined with disruptive new next-generation capabilities to successfully adapt our organizations to the unprecedented levels of change and disruption currently taking place.

The result will be remade and optimized organizations that will eventually become what we call next-generation enterprises, with high degrees of fitness to thrive and evolve in today’s rapidly evolving marketplace. I personally believe that organizations that are “born next-generation” like Adjuvi are the most likely to be able to help enterprises using these new potent methods.

Unfortunately, for their part, our legacy institutions don’t have the luxury of starting over and they can’t afford to fall further behind. I think Adjuvi, a strategic next-generation digital change management organization, has the best available combination of innovative thinking, contemporary core competencies, advanced technology tools and strategic change expertise to successfully support today’s complex enterprise transition requirements. As Chief Strategy Officer at Adjuvi, I will continue my work to bring to clients the definitive and leading capabilities for driving adaptation and high performance in today’s pervasively digital world.

Please join us in the conversation about transforming our organizations towards the future. http://adjuvi.com/blog

To start your process of becoming a next-generation enterprise, please find out more at http://adjuvi.com/discover-adjuvi/

Posted by Dion Hinchcliffe.

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It wasn’t all that long ago that getting the right information to make decisions with was relatively hard. Information was scarce, difficult-to-access, and expensive to produce. None of that is the case any longer. Now we have too much information. It’s also relatively cheap and abundant, and only getting more so.

The very same could be said of our organizations: The operating environments of the previous century required stability, hierarchy, process, and order in the face of scarce information resources, comparatively primitive supply chains, and slow and/or expensive modes of communication. In the intervening time period, the most consistent and growing force exerting itself against our businesses is change. The relentless march of change in our business conditions, stakeholder expectations, customer needs, and especially technology, has been causing the future to pull away from most of our organizations and institutions.

The simple truth is that the vast majority of organizations today are currently falling behind, unable to cope with or absorb today’s marketplace shifts.  Many have written about why organizations have to evolve more quickly, but the solutions usually discussed — which typically involve re-engineering the very structure and connective tissue of how we operate our companies — seem like nearly as large a challenge to adopt as dealing with the pace of change itself.

The Pace of Business Change: The New Form of Disruption

At Adjuvi, we’ve come to believe there is a better and more effective way of transforming than what most companies are employing or even considering today. The traditional model of change management, and the delivery processes for it, typically large-scale initiatives supported by ‘proven’ frameworks, have been largely ineffective in helping organizations stay up-to-date with the times. Or we simply wouldn’t be in the position most of us are in today. There is an urgent need for a better way.

New Methods of Transformation, Matched For Our Times

However, fundamentally new methods have arrived on the horizon. They are now starting to show great promise in helping us remake our organizations for the future. We believe the time is right for businesses to modernize how we align our organizations with the current state of the world, infused as it is with increasingly high market expectations, a blistering stream of disruptive new technologies, and a sustained dislocation of our existing business models — often by startups — from organizations which are better digitally aligned.

We profoundly believe that these new methods all have these vital elements in common:

  • They are powered by digital communities as their prime productive force.
  • They carefully manage to digital/network power laws such as network effects.
  • They optimize for decentralized transformation processes, informed autonomy, and local change, yet in overall conjunction with their stakeholder communities.
  • They are scalable and resilient enough to handle today’s current rate of change.
  • They can be wielded directly by business leaders as a sustainable way to access high performance.

What then exactly are these methods and what do they look like?  Over the next few weeks, I’ll be exploring them in detail here as we look closely at the next-generation enterprise and what precisely it will require to adapt and sustain itself into the foreseeable future.

This is one of the most exciting times to be in business as well one of the most challenging.  We have come to discover that using the very same methods that are causing rapid, disruptive change are also the right methods to deal with it. Even more so, there is an imperative to do so: The very survival of our organizations.

Together, we can reinvent corporate change and transformation for the modern era. We’d like to ask you to join us on this journey.