Lately I have been spending a lot of time with IBM, most recently at their new mega conference, IBM InterConnect as an invited guest. While I’ve long admired IBM, especially during their eBusiness and Social Business eras, my respect for the organization and the people within it has grown immensely over these past few months.
As part of a group of influencers supporting their #NewWayToWork initiatives, I’ve been given insider access to the people at IBM and within the broader thought leadership community seeking to reinvent work. I’ve listened to and interviewed some of the IBM teams who are pushing beyond Social Business to fundamentally change how teams work smarter together to create value. Something I have been focused on since I first realized that in the knowledge economy, the most important factor determining success of any organizational effort was the ability of smart people to work well together.
Given my focus over the last year on team productivity and performance with my startup Alynd, this relationship has been mutually beneficial on many levels, not the least of which is my participation in their new Global Entrepreneur Program. While some of the things they are doing are honestly more evolutionary then revolutionary, it’s tough to nitpick given the scope of their effort and the insights I have gleaned thus far from our discussions. They are the real deal and are fundamentally transforming organizational culture and systems.
Most poignantly, as I’ve spent time with people working on Verse, Connections and Watson as well as those running their influencers relationships, I’ve realized that the depth of their understanding and vision goes beyond trite marketing language (at least for the people I’ve interacted with lately). Attending a session at Interconnect featuring the head of HR/talent for the Watson team at IBM Interconnect, this was made abundantly clear, this is no longer business as usual. They are actually taking action to do the truly innovative things that change agents such as myself have long thought should be done. This type of bold thinking, to not only give voice to but invest in creating new mindsets, gives me hope for not only the future of work, but the future of our planet.
In order to even get started on a journey to a New Way to Work, we need to embrace new mindsets that give up on “doing things the way they have always been done”. As I’ve stated in my post “It’s Time for a Forward Thinking Conversation“, we need to rethink, reimagine, redesign and #ReOrg our entire approach to organizations and their culture. A lot of people have been spreading the meme that “Culture eats strategy for lunch” but too few people really understand what culture is and even fewer understand what must be done to shape it and how leaders are negatively reinforcing it with their own behaviors.The challenge is that there are so many contributing factors that go into culture, getting to the root causes, language and actions that create it and reshape it can be a daunting task. There are no standard best practices for fixing a broken culture, though there are some common insights that may be applied to your unique situation. As I see it, the first thing that must change is a need for REAL Relationships in the workplace as much as we need them for success in the marketplace.
REAL is an acronym as well as an intention – it stands for Reciprocal, Empathetic, Authentic and Long Lasting. We all need to get something out of our time together. Despite your title or position, the employees are not only there to be subservient to your will. For many senior leaders this may in fact be the most difficult insight to accept, but the performance improvements to be gleaned have already rewarded those bold enough to embrace this reality. When leaders embrace the fact that we are all in this together and support a deeper sense of TEAMWORK, costs go down, opportunities increase and employee engagement dramatically improves.
New mindsets are more then the foundation of a team based, collaborative culture. They are also about the shift in what we value, what we are willing to accept and what we are not willing to accept. Do we tolerate assholes simply because they are high performers? Do we only care about profit? or do we care about people and planet too? Increasingly market leaders are the one’s who understand that money is only one measure of success. Yes, it is an important measure of success, but as consumers and even corporations are shifting their mindsets, there is a greater realization of the benefits of serving the whole of the market. This is resulting in more leaders and more organizations discarding institutional thinking focused on capturing maximum value for shareholders and instead optimizing to create maximum shared value for all stakeholders.
But new mindsets are only the beginning. In order to really create a new way to work, we need new methods for creating shared value together. We need greater intentionality in the design of our processes and tools for getting things done more smartly together. Unfortunately the majority of the tools that have been developed thus far are about personal productivity – how I work more efficiently alone with the computer – as opposed to collaborative or team productivity, how I work smarter and more effectively with other people. I am not alone in this pursuit as I’ve discovered from conversations with IBM’s Jeff Schick, Scott Souder, Sandy Carter and so many of my other New Way to Work influencer program members. While we are all seemingly on the same wavelength, we each have a different set of experiences, insights and contributions that are mixing together to make the sum of our efforts much more impactful.
Most urgently, the new methods we are developing need to be considered with an understanding that we are literally going too damn fast. We are driven to a frenzied pace by a misplaced belief that everything needed to be done yesterday, that there is so much to do that we can’t pause, slow down or take a breath, let alone stop to smell the roses. Unfortunately, this couldn’t be further from the truth.This situation is exacerbated by an all too common refrain from atypical software developers that they don’t want to make users think. This is leading to, you guessed it, people not thinking and becoming clicking robots. Now more then ever, we need more critical thinking skills and we need more contemplation on what we are doing and why we are dong it. That’s not going to happen unless we slow down and consider our processes and methods with greater intentionality and consideration. Yes, as with the improvements on email collaboration found in Verse, we want to make common tasks more efficient, but that is more about placing common actions within their proper context and consolidating multi-step activities into single step one’s conveniently located within easy reach of what I am trying to accomplish. It’s about developing products that integrate previously disconnected functions in a convenient location for the people trying to get things done.
It’s also importantly about technology solutions and methods coming together in new ways to provide an integrated holistic experience. As Marcus Buckingham put forward when discussing technology in his 2015 Trends webinar, “The synergistic nature of new processes and technologies will create stronger teams.” This is a subtle but important insight. If we are truly to create exponential organizations, file sharing, activity streams, social task management, email and solicited peer reviews are not going to move the needle in a significant way.
This is why I built Alynd as an integrated approach to Planning, Execution, Tracking Progress and Reviewing results. It’s why I’m working to shift our methods from tasking people to asking people as a better method towards building those REAL relationships amongst team members. It’s why I’m advancing the notion that collaboration is really about the commitments we make to one another and whether or not we fulfill them, even if something that has a higher priority gets put on your plate. If you promise someone you will get something done for them, disregarding that promise is as much an affront to your reputation as it is to the person who required something of a lower priority then what you actually did.
As I’ve experienced in bringing such a solution to market over the last year, this is challenging for both investors and users to understand right now, though clearly we are headed this way over the mid to long term. Perhaps once again, as with prior inventions over the past 20 years, I am a little too early with my insights, or perhaps the timing is perfect and what is required is greater tenacity and veracity to advance this thinking and these types of solutions. But I digress, more on that at another time.
To reinforce and support new mindsets and methods, we need to find new measures. As the old sayings go, you get what you measure and you can’t manage what you can’t measure. Yes, financial contribution is still important, as is other key results delivered. But there are so many intangible things that can’t be measured. I was surprised to learn that IBM is shifting its performance management away from the more traditional approach to instead look at performance, expertise and potential when evaluating an employee. Performance meaning broadly executing on what is expected of them, delivering key results. Expertise meaning intelligence and ability. Potential meaning interest, willingness and capacity to grow. More so, I was surprised to learn that many in the Talent Development organization at IBM have realized that sometimes an employee needs to move on to another opportunity and that retaining them might not be mutually beneficial.While I agree with this approach as it reflects several things I learned from my time at Deloitte Consulting, I think that the new methods ultimately must produce new measures. With Alynd’s innovative approach to collaboration for instance, we are able to measure things previously unseen or unavailable based on the siloed system design and fragmented collaboration methods. What I’ve also learned is that everyone wants to boil it all down to the simplest form it can take, usually a number. Issues with our experience with Klout notwithstanding, there is value in this simplification if done properly.
With Alynd, we have invented an approach for measuring trustworthiness, focused on what we believe is the most important aspect of team work, trust. While this insight was initially brought into my worldview from Tom Peters’ work, reading “Built on Trust” by Dr. Arky Ciancutti is what demonstrated the depth of its importance. Particularly as I looked at my own ADD inhibited collaboration habits and realized I was facing a real challenge personally and professionally as a result of not always doing what I said I was going to do. As I worked with more and more organizations, I realized what a common problem this was – that not only did many people fail to deliver on their commitments, but that the reason for doing so was a lack of rewards and consequences. Worse still was the prevalence of unevenly distributed consequences, where some ‘favorite sons’ got away with everything while other hard working team members carried the burden for all the screw ups.
So in looking at Trust as a key foundation upon which we work together in the market and in the workplace, we developed the Net Trust Score. Not simply as a modified instance of the Net Promoter Score, but as an entirely new way to know whether or not people can be trusted to deliver on their commitments within collaborative groups or teams. In getting to the heart of the matter, we realized that the facets of collaboration most needed to create high performing teams were the team member’s integrity, ability, clarity and their level of engagement. In other words, does the person honor their word, are they able to deliver as expected, are they clear in their communications and are they investing attention in common objectives.
But these are only a handful of the new measures we can develop as we embrace new mindsets and methods. Indeed, we are only scratching the surface of what is possible as we reach for new levels of collaborative productivity. So much more lies in front of us, but first we must expand our understanding of what works and what doesn’t in different situations. We must increase the reach of these insights and their practical application within day to day workflows. This is something that only happens with more time, requiring a degree of patience which is difficult to hold given that I have been waiting over 20 years for some of these new ideas to become an intrinsic part of our day to day reality.
Making A New Way to Work a Reality
Given enough time, relationships and resources, I am confident that what we envision now as a new way to work will one day become simply the way to work. Eventually we will get tired of these mindsets and methods and see a new potential future, even greater then the one we are striving towards today. But as I’ve learned over the last couple of years, we must take it slower in order to go faster. We must heat the water in the pot slowly rather then dropping everyone into a boiling ocean. Yes, the human factor requires a more gentle transition then a radical one. This is why I am now thinking about 10 year cycles instead of quarterly ones.Yet, I still push the boundaries of what is possible with all the energy and positive intention I can muster. I still hope that things will just change today and we don’t need to wait for the rest of society to catch up. More importantly, I now see how we can make subtle changes of an evolutionary nature in the short term, which will lead to a revolution in how we work together over the long term. With patience, our new way to work will be here and passed before you know it.