The Disconnect in Connecting the Workplace

There’s a lot of talk about the future of work… Technology is indeed connecting us in ways that imp...

There’s a lot of talk about the future of work…

Technology is indeed connecting us in ways that improve communication, discovery and connectivity. The world is becoming a much smaller place as a result. Chances are that you are connected in one network or another to people in at least 12 other countries. Although social networking and smartphones are relatively new as a staple in the everyday life of adults and kids, how we as consumers use these networks and devices is outpacing how we as employees use technology in the workplace. Over time, how we make decisions as consumers, what we come to expect from the companies that we do business with, and simply how we want to work with them is shifting the balance of power away from today’s business models to the connected masses.

Seems logical and almost commonsensical. The challenge however is that companies are anchored by decades or years of technology investments and the existing philosophies and processes that govern and support them today. But it doesn’t stop there. These connected customers though aren’t the only ones we need to understand, they also represent a growing percentage of our workforce.

Fighting Fire with Fire Will Only Burn Everything to the Ground

In my research, I’ve found that many executives are well aware of the onslaught of new technology. Many however, are unsure of how to solve the problem or even address what the problem really is for that matter. There are those in IT who are drafting new plans that alter long-established roadmaps to evaluate emergent social and mobile technologies. Some are bolting-on trendy technologies onto legacy systems to apply what will only prove to be a temporary fix. As my friend Stowe Boyd, a web anthropologist and futurist often says, “You can’t teach old tech new tricks.”

Either way, social and mobile threw a curveball. It wasn’t just because the technology overtook the world in a matter of a few short years, it’s that social media and mobile apps changed the behavior of people who use them. Suddenly businesses have to rethink…everything. Yet, how they’re structure today symbolizes an old guard of command and control approaches where employees use technology bestowed upon them because it was gospel. In today’s world though, all I can say is “good luck with that strategy.” More often than not, the technology we force onto people forces them to conform to a way of work dictated by technology and those who govern it within the organization rather than use technology as a seamless enabler to get work done, individually or collectively, the way that people organically use technology in their personal life.

Technology is most effective when it is invisible.

Throwing technology at the problem isn’t the answer. Technology is an enabler and we must see it for what it unlocks or facilitates. But that comes down to us not as information architects but as architects of collaboration and work to do something greater than what we accomplish today. With all of the hype, and fatigue, around new tech, it’s easy to get caught up in what’s hot and what’s next.

Technology is part of the solution but it’s also part of the problem.

In my research as a digital analyst and anthropologist, I explore the dynamics of human behavior from a bottom-up or escalation perspective. The conundrum facing IT and businesses overall, is that the philosophies and systems governing the way we work are traditionally designed from that of a top-down approach. Yet how we use technology in our real life is completely different than what we use or how we use it to get the job done.

Businesses can’t look at new tech as a solution until executives understand what it is they’re really trying to solve for or enable now and over time.

Intranets languish.

Knowledge sharing isn’t shared as much as businesses hoped.

Collaboration tools inhibit true collaboration.

Mobile access looks and feels nothing like the way our personal mobile apps feel and function.

So what’s the answer?

Social streams that allow people to feel like they’re tweeting inside their company?

Geo-location apps that allow them to check in to cafés or meeting rooms?

Facebook-like collaboration networks that allow employees to network and work with each other.

Shift to iOS and Android phones and tablets because you have to thanks to the momentum of employees + BYOD (bring your own device).

Cloud anything…because cloud!

Gamification rewards to incentivize people to use internal tech because they get points and there’s a leaderboard to show who’s winning?

It all sounds like it will work until of course, it doesn’t.

Why is that the case?

The answers are simple yet revealing…
When Technology Fails

When I study why technology fails to change behavior internally, the reasons always seem to surprise executives, but rarely do they shock employees.

  1. Older managers disagree philosophically with how younger employees work in general.
  2. Systems architects don’t get today’s employees.
  3. Technology is too painful to use and there’s a lot of it.
  4. Workflow is imposed rather than designed to emulate how people naturally use technology to communicate and connect.
  5. Legacy processes and reporting systems actively discourage people to adopt something new.
  6. Legacy philosophies protect those who work in dated paradigms rather than encourage aging workforces to gain new expertise through learning and collaboration.
  7. Management doesn’t actually reward cross-team collaboration as part of the day-to-day work.
  8. Incentives to change do not align with employee goals and aspirations.
  9. Leadership does not lead by example.
  10. A lack of vision as to why new technology will enable business goals and why employees should buy-in.
  11. BONUS: The culture of the organization is more rigid than adaptive, which inadvertently undermines any hope for innovation

Depending on the culture of the organization, this list only grows…often unwieldy like a weed. Pulling the weed out buys time, but it grows back. You have to get to the root of the problem and solve for it as it lines up with the ultimate vision of the company. And sometimes, because things are so different now with market and employee behavior, that vision may need to be renewed or completely revised to mean something, to be relevant now and in the future.

Things must change, but change begins with seeing and approaching this challenge cum opportunity differently…

This is a time for leadership…not the conventional management systems as we know them. Change doesn’t have to come from today’s executives or managers however. What’s important to understand is that change can come from anywhere within the organization. Anyone can assume the role of leader as long as they have vision for what’s possible, courage to break what isn’t yet fully broken, and passion to mobilize people to unite in transformation. This sense of conviction is contagious and when approached with a human and business focus, even executives can’t help but listen…and learn. I guess that’s what this is about. We have to learn to learn again and that will only help us lead.

The Disconnect in Connecting the Workplace, July 15, 2014, Brian Solis

Design A Better Dashboard

Take a look at any nonprofit dashboard and the most effective ones probably have an organizational process that lies ...

Take a look at any nonprofit dashboard and the most effective ones probably have an organizational process that lies beneath. Dashboard design is more than simply clarifying outcomes and key metrics. Dashboard design should also inspire buy-in and continuous improvement by using “human centered design” methods.

But shouldn’t dashboards be designed by data scientists and graphic designers? Yes they can be part of the team, but anyone can be a designer! These are methods for developing solutions (any type) in service of people. By applying this approach to any program development or strategy and even your organization’s dashboard, your nonprofit can more innovative and get more impactful results.

Many times dashboard design is focused on “getting it done efficiently” and graphs and does not address the human side – buy-in, learning from data, and consensus on metrics. A focus on the bar charts without taking the time to understand the challenges and open up creative thinking will not inspire organizational buy-in which is so important.

Here are two stories about two very different nonprofits and how they approached designing their dashboards with human-centered design techniques.

Tracking for Impact and Learning

Edutopia, a project of the George Lucas Educational Foundation, is an online web site that creates and curates content that is distributed through mobile, social media, video, and offline channels. They also have a robust online community. The ultimate goal is to improve the quality of education. Their theory of change is about raising awareness of the issues and then inspiring, engaging and encouraging their audiences to take actions around this goal.

Their dashboard already did a great job at tracking impact metrics about the reach and size of their audience, but they wanted to go deeper in tracking engagement and taking action. With a large staff producing and marketing content, they also wanted a way to capture data for ongoing feedback to improve their content.

Again, using design-thinking facilitating methods, the process started with a presentation from the executive director on the strategy for the year and measurement. Staff were asked to use a technique called “Rose, Bud, Thorn” to identify strengths, challenges, and opportunities for change. They created a concept map of the different themes that emerged. While technical topics such data and measurement processes emerged, so did a lot culture change issues.

Next staff identified key impact metrics by creating a paper prototype of the dashboard on the wall, with sticky notes. Using a sticky dot voting process to identify metrics most important to senior management and the board and those most important to different staff departments, they were able to design different “views” – a high level for impact and more detailed version for “learning.”

What emerged from the conversation was a plan for impact reporting, but also a process for more intentional experimentation and learning linked to key metrics.

Metrics for Movements

GivingTuesday, a philanthropic movement to promote a national day of charitable giving that takes place the Tuesday after Thanksgiving, organized a convening of key stakeholders called “Measurepalooza.” The gathering followed on the heals of the “Best Practices Summit” where partners and participants came together to share and learn best practices and identified the need for the movement to also capture metrics beyond “dollars raised on the day” numbers.

In particular, they were interested in looking at transformational metrics such as donor engagement, building nonprofit capacity, and global reach.

As a movement, GivingTuesday needed to address and get consensus on two big measurement questions: What metrics should the movement as a whole measure? What should participants each measure for their individual campaigns?

The session started with setting context on the accomplishments of the past year’s campaign and a summary of what was learned during the best practices summit. This lead to a discussion about the need to capture both “transactional” and “transformational” metrics related to specific outcomes as well as what and how to effectively use both quantitative and qualitative data for both movement level learning and for participating partners.

Through a facilitated design thinking process, small groups of participants created a draft of the Giving Tuesday movement level and partner level metrics.  As a consensus building process, participants used “sticky dot” voting to identify the most important metrics (green for partners; red for the movement as a whole). This allowed everyone to see visually what the group consensus was and hone in what was most important.


Whether you are using data to inform a digital content strategy or to build a philanthropic movement, it is important to remember that effective measurement begins with people.

How has your organization achieved buy-in from staff or senior leaders about what data to collect for impact tracking?  What are the processes that your organization is using to help ensure that data is used for decision-making and learning and not ignored?

Design A Better Dashboard, July 18, 2014, Beth's Blog, by Beth Kanter

Leadership in the Volunteer Community

Long standing professionals often forget for whom they work. They also tend to forget the importance of their role to...

Long standing professionals often forget for whom they work. They also tend to forget the importance of their role to nurture leadership and volunteerism. They forget the need to apologize to others, to admit they have erred.

I have been studying the structure of volunteer organizations and analyzing the leadership of their professionals’ leadership styles for a little more than forty years. I have founded a number of synagogues in Europe and the United States, worked as a congregation rabbi and finally served as the exec director of the Federation of Jewish Men’s Clubs (FJMC) for nearly thirty-five years. My work has been guided by the belief that if one wishes to build a community one must empower and invest in its volunteers.

This isn’t always easy and it runs counter to the way most organizations function. The majority of not-for-profit organizations when they wish to develop a community or a project choose to invest in professionals. This, is a logical means of moving forward but it often overlooks the fact that the professional staff is only one part an equation. The second part of that equation is the volunteer culture. The manner in which professionals interact with their volunteers often determines their continuity and the success of the organization they represent. The success of any not-for-profit organization is dependent upon this volunteer/professional relationship.

A large number of professionals assume that part of their position is to create and articulate a vision but the manner and the strategies that the professional employs to empower others with that vision is rarely taken into account.

In order to create a working meaningful volunteer/professional culture the professional or professionals needs to develop a plan that engages and develops volunteers. Too often this fails to occur and tensions between lay and professional leaderships develop.

I often ask newly ordained rabbis, serving in their first pulpit, to define their leadership style in a simple sentence ending with an adjective and a noun. For example, “I am a dynamic leader.” The results are usually very interesting primarily because they have never been asked to consider this question. When I am asked this question, and I usually am, my response is “I am a servant leader.”

Servant leaders help make their volunteers the best volunteers, the best leaders, they can be. Servant leaders places volunteers in the spotlight, and helps them learn how to motivate others. Servant leaders quietly create the roles models we wish to be emulated. They are the ones who help their professionals make decisions. They are the ones that learn how to lead grace after meals so they can teach others.

In order for this to occur, volunteer leaders require backups and partners and the security that they will never fail, because the professional understands that their lives, like ours, are extremely busy and very complicated. Someone will lose a job, or contract an illness, or have something happen to their family which will limit their ability to serve. At times this means that the volunteer leader might not meet some people’s expectations. They might not perform in a position the way someone else would. It might mean two steps forward one step backward. The servant leader helps leadership understand they are doing the best they can and are learning how to be more effective volunteers and possible leaders if they are properly encouraged. In the volunteer world a culture of friendship means that no one ever fails, they just might not succeed as much as they desired. The professional’s job is to create a culture of friendship and trust coupled with the recognition that everyone has different abilities.

I was recently asked by the leader of one of the great teaching institutions in America, how could I run an organization, the only one in the Conservative Movement that is growing and getting younger, with such a small staff? My answer was simple and straight forward. I empower volunteers to coordinate all of the various portfolios. I help them break down positions with tremendous responsibility into small achievable goals and tasks. I place them in positions where they can succeed and I trust them. I help them learn to share, to ask questions and to request help from others. I work hard at teaching them how to work as a team and to divorce themselves from ownership

Too often lay leaders, upon attaining high office, confuse “inauguration” with “installation”. They speak of their legacies and results. Attitudes like these creates cultures of fear and mistrust. When this occurs, organizational directions can be shifted in different directions at the whim of the president. On the other hand, a culture of friendship reflects a venue where incoming, existing and past leadership works together. They stay on course from administration to administration concentrating on previously determined goals.

In many instances the vision of the professional doesn’t always reflect the needs of the organization. This is one of the great pitfalls in the not-for-profit world. A person can be swept up in the perceived glory of becoming an international figure, a world Jew, when in actuality in order to strengthen the organization a different professional direction is needed.

Long standing professionals often forget for whom they work. They also tend to forget the importance of their role to nurture leadership and volunteerism. They forget the need to apologize to others, to admit they have erred. They forget how important it is to be a servant/leader.

Leadership in the Volunteer Community, July 15, 2014, eJP, by Charles Simon