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Aligning People, Comms and Technology for Effective Digital Workplace Transformation

04.14.2014
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Much has been said recently about the importance of the CIO and CMO relationship. Whether the focus is on a shifting balance of power or on the need for closer cooperation, it’s clear these two functions are key to the digital transformation of an organisation’s ability to identify and respond to customer demand.

Far less however has been said about an equally important relationship – that between the CIO and the HRD. And when this is discussed the emphasis is commonly on the application of Big Data to talent analytics – an important and exciting area – but rarely on the hugely significant area of digital transformation of the workplace.

What is the digital transformation of the workplace?

The digital transformation of the workplace is the fundamental change to the way people work and communicate within an organisation underpinned by two principal factors. On the one hand is a combination of digital technology catalysts – the rapid spread of new workplace tools such as collaboration and enterprise social platforms on the back of the Cloud / Social / Mobile revolution – and on the other hand are the supporting behavioural and cultural enablers that allow individuals and organisations to unlock significant productivity and performance gains from these tools.

Why is this significant?

The case for digital transformation – and risks of not embracing it – has been well made and is now widely accepted. At the highest level, the ability of an organisation to meet rapidly changing customer demand and respond to emerging competitive threats (both of which are increasingly driven by digital disruption), is in many industries largely a function of how effectively it leverages the potential of its workforce. The challenge is therefore how this can be achieved.

Who is leading digital workplace transformation?

Vital to this transformation is the CIO / HRD relationship – or looked at another way, the relationship of the ‘technology’ and the ‘people’ functions in your organisation. Of course this will encompass a number of actual functions or departments: on the one hand IT, IS, enterprise architecture and the like; and on the other hand HR, OD, L&D and so forth. But in most organisations the senior leaders with overall responsibility and authority in these areas are the CIO and HRD (which are in most cases board / executive committee roles).

In addition there’s a third role which is key to this digital workplace transformation: the senior person in charge of internal communication (often the Head of IC). This is rarely a board / executive committee level role, and will report into different places depending on the organisation; commonly into HR, corporate comms or marketing.

The dynamic between these three areas and the leaders responsible – Technology (CIO), People (HRD), Internal Comms (Head of IC) – is I believe key to effective digital workplace transformation. From my work with complex organisations across various sectors there are clear distinctions and common patterns in terms of outcomes and effectiveness determined by the degree of alignment and coordination between these three functional areas.

What if these functions aren’t aligned?

Where there is misalignment and poor coordination between these three areas, this can result in a ‘dominant partner’ (i.e. the functional area leading the initiative) focusing narrowly on it’s own agenda and objectives rather than considering the overall ‘holistic’ opportunities and objectives for the organisation. This narrow focus then results in neither the ‘selfish’ objectives of the specific function nor the overall objectives of the organisation being achieved – a ‘lose-lose’ situation which is hugely damaging given the significance of this area to the future sustainability and success of the organisation.

To give this some flavour, here are some of the common scenarios we come across at Betterworking:

Misalignment vs alignment

Why it’s hard to get aligned

One of the key challenges of course is that initiatives to change how people work and communicate within the enterprise tend to be commenced and initially led from one or other of these three areas (i.e. fragmented at the outset rather than coordinated).

For example, the IC team may have been ‘given’ responsibility for a technology platform – often because the platform is being seen by more senior decision makers as essentially an internal comms channel. In other cases the IT or IS function may have decided to implement a technology solution – as a necessary replacement to existing infrastructure and/or with targeted user and business benefits in mind.

Whatever the initial purpose or motivation, without proper coordination this can result in the outcomes highlighted in the table above. So the obvious solution is to get these three areas – People/HR, Internal Comms and IT/IS – aligned and coordinated from the start, right?

This may sound easy in theory, but of course it’s far harder in practice. Organisations tend to have established ways of operating resulting from a unique interplay of structure, processes, protocols, politics, fiefdoms, KPIs and various other factors which serve to maintain the status quo. So ‘even’ getting these three key functional areas to work together in more collaborative and coordinated ways than they traditionally do is challenging enough.

And beyond this core group (the ‘digital workplace transformation leaders’) there is the wider business to consider i.e. how to get the other teams, functions, geographies, segments, verticals and the like working and communicating in new and better ways – which is even more challenging. Again, for the simple reason that effective digital workplace transformation by definition requires the organisation to work in ‘unnatural’ ways which go against established structures and processes.

Aligning and coordinating for success: Five steps

As I’ve outlined above, effective digital workplace transformation starts with effective alignment and coordination between the three core functions of People/HR, Internal Comms and IT/IS, and then needs to ‘radiate out’ to the wider organisation.

If you’re in one of these core functions and want to take the lead in digital workplace transformation, here are some tips for developing the alignment and coordination necessary for success.

1. Gather evidence

Whichever function you’re in, one of your key challenges is that you’re sat in only one function (i.e. not all three). It’s therefore essential you base your approach and recommendations on solid evidence: the current landscape, current challenges and risks, future opportunities and potential ‘use cases’, key barriers and enablers – all framed from a business-outcome perspective to provide ‘common denominators’ that cut across current organisational boundaries.

In addition the process of gathering evidence (through research/consultation) also serves as a great way to engage and align stakeholders with the change initiative.

2. Get an outside perspective

Linked to the above point, since you’re sat in a particular function it can be hard to step back and take a fully holistic / neutral perspective, and it can be difficult for those other functions essential to success to fully accept the recommendations of one of its ‘peers’. Leveraging external support and expertise can bring fresh perspectives and best practice, as well as objectivity and neutrality.

3. Create a clear vision and a compelling narrative

To get people working together collaboratively (initially in the three core functions, and then across the wider business) requires clarity and commonality of vision, purpose and objectives. These must cut across existing ‘narrow’ objectives and KPIs and provide the motivation, ‘license’ and common ground for those at all levels in the respective functions to work together in ‘non-traditional’ ways. And this all needs ‘packaging’ in a compelling narrative which engages and inspires active participation at all levels.

4. Secure senior buy-in and visible leadership

While cooperation and collaboration between those managing the change day-to-day in the respective functions is essential, without senior support (both within the three core functions and the overall C-suite level) the chances of success are minimal.

Senior leadership (visible and active) is absolutely critical to success, as highlighted in this MITSloan/Capgemini digital transformation study: “This idea that a thousand flowers will bloom and we will all be okay is a great way to get some ideas, but we have not seen any transformations that happen bottom up…They’re all being driven top down.”

5. Build a collaborative team

It should be very clear by now that effective digital workplace transformation cannot be driven by one area of the business alone. To get individuals and functions across the business to change the way they work and communicate – and do this in a sustainable and ‘sticky’ way – you’ll need to engage them in the change.

This means identifying the key stakeholder groups who need to be involved in shaping and driving the change and bringing them together into a ‘collaborative steering group’. And the first task of this team is to co-create and agree the shared strategy, plan and governance framework.

I hope this has been useful in helping frame some of the key opportunities and challenges facing those of your looking to drive digital workplace transformation in your organisation. If you’re interested in finding out more you can read our recent case study of how we’ve supported a FTSE 100 global technology firm in their their transformation journey, take a look at our methodology and services or contact us for an initial chat about your requirements.

Author: Chris Copland @chris_copland

Published at DZone with permission of its author, @ Better_working.

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