“It all starts with making the decision to change. But, it needs to come from the mindset. And it has to come from the leadership saying ‘We are going to do it’.” Jennifer Stevenson (pictured right) speaks from the heart about work collaboration. And she’s enthusiastic about using new ways of working to support business performance and employee engagement.
The Digital Workplace Architect at the global management consulting and technology services firm Accenture, has been spending her career in innovation and social productivity. “I work specifically around digital workplace transformation,” she says. “I create strategies for companies by helping them to marry new technology with people and processes.”
I wanted to talk with Stevenson to explore the state of digital transformation at work: the trends, the challenges and the successes, and what organisations can do to adapt successfully. In this interview she shares advice on how to overcome the barriers, the relevance of leadership commitment, the role of corporate culture and cross-functional collaboration, as well as the opportunities given by mobile technology to enforce the employee experience.
Gloria Lombardi: We have just entered 2016. What are the key trends that organisations committed to a digital workplace transformation should look at?
Jennifer Stevenson: In 2016, organisations should be at a point where they have already adopted the digital workplace. From a trends’ point of view, they should now be looking at using their data as an asset – from business intelligence to big data, making sure to use that information to make smart decisions. It is about commoditising, mining, and leveraging data to push the business into new directions.
Yet, even if we are in 2016, many companies still haven’t even moved to a digital workplace. Those businesses will not be able to follow the trend – they are still a little bit behind. But, it will be doable for them once they catch up. Data will help them to move faster than they have done in the past. They will be able to start doing what a lot of other companies, including some of their competitors, are already doing.
GL: What is causing some companies to still lag behind the digital workplace transformation? What is preventing them to succeed in the same way that other organisations are doing?
JS: Many businesses think that employees are not ready to adopt a new way of working. But, if we take a step back, many people are already using a variety of digital capabilities in their personal life. For example, some people go on to Facebook or LinkedIn to reach out to people to collaborate; other users appreciate Evernote, OneNote, or TripAdviser. Those individuals are ready to go and use digital tools in their professional life.
The key problem is that, often, the in house processes of an organisation are very antiquated. The company may have looked at finding the digital replacements of some specific work activity. But they have not changed the actual processes to take full advantage of the technology as well as of the new way of thinking of their employees. So, while they may have invested in tools and training, they are still working as a decade ago.
Processes are key – they reflect a general mindset around leadership and the way the business thinks of the change as a whole.
GL: Which types of approaches can an organisation adopt to overcome effectively the ‘processes’ barrier?
JS: It is critical to realise that the initiative does not come from IT only. It needs to be a joint effort toward change between HR, Communications, Development, Project Management, Operations and Administration. The organisations that are driven only from technology will always struggle. It will always take longer for them as they don’t take into full consideration the people and processes aspects of the transformation.
But, technology is the easy part. Looking at the whole business and asking if it can handle the change would help them successfully move to a digital workplace. If all those pieces are not taken into account together, the initiative is never going to be successful. I see this time and time again – when companies do that, suddenly they move faster.
GL: What can we learn from the organisations that are effectively embracing digital transformation?
JS: Many successful organisations are approaching digital transformation in an aggressive way. They are very agile and open to experimentations. They are willing to test something new quickly to see if it works for them. If it doesn’t work, they would just move on. It is OK to try and it is OK to fail.
This is a new business attitude. Back in the days when they did a large project, it had to be successful. This is no longer the case. Now, they are adopting a novel way of working based on people and have a leap of faith to see how things work out. They take the piece that works, drop the one that does not work, and then continue on.
GL: Isn’t this type of attitude mainly due to the culture of those organisations? Not every business possesses the same entrepreneurialism. Any piece of advice? Perhaps, should companies focus more on their corporate culture?
JS: Yes. Part of the digital workplace transformation is actually about changing the culture.
It all starts with making the decision to change. But, it needs to come with a change of the mindset. And it has to come from leadership saying ‘We are going to do it’. If an organisation begins that way the initiative is going to go much faster rather than leadership simply dictating and telling employees that they have to change.
And, you have to have leadership not only saying it, but actually doing it. They themselves have to be more collaborative, reach out, listen to what people do, get on with social, share information, and bring people into conversations. They have to be just as adaptive as they are asking their employees to be. This is what happens in those successful businesses transformations: leaders actively engage with their employees. That it what makes a digital workplace.
GL: Could you give me some concrete examples of great leadership?
JS: Drawing from my own personal experience, Accenture itself is a great example. Leaders such as my Managing Director, Gary Taylor, actively engage on our enterprise social network. He is always posting and sharing information with other people. You can see him asking for input or making suggestions, such as: ‘Can we work on this all together?’ It is an active way of saying, ‘Let’ be more collaborative. Let’s create something. Let’s make people feel involved. Let’s share our knowledge so it can be a value for the whole business.’
GL: I would now like to explore with you the phenomenon of mobility at work.
JL: We are at a point in time where being mobile is no longer considered an add-on or a nice thing to have. It is an absolute requirement.
Mobility is ingrained into people’s life. Today, almost no one goes out of their house without some type of mobile device. We are all connected through our devices.
And, no matter the type of business a company is in, their staff will always want to utilise their mobile phones to do something that they can action when they want, wherever they are. If we think about it, often when people commute in the morning, they do what I call the ‘busy work’ – they check emails, corporate news or catch up with the latest business projects, for example.
So, for any company, to not have an actual plan for the mobile aspect of the business, it means that they will be left behind. For everything that they put out, they should be asking themselves if it is effectively accessible to their employees through their devices.
Additionally, it is now very important to take into consideration the work environment itself, which is having a huge impact on how a business creates their digital workplace.
Organisations have to have a sound mobile strategy that allows staff to have the fluidity of moving and working wherever there are. In fact, I see more and more businesses that are investing in creating that relationship dynamically.
GL: The development as well as business adoption of employee‘s applications continues to expand. Suddenly we ended up with a huge landscape of enterprise apps. That’s a good thing as it means more options and choices for organisations and employees. At the same time, how should a company go with pulling together a variety of apps in an aligned way?
JL: A really good point. From a mobile point of view, simple is best. Not all applications need to have every single function, but at a very basic level they should be able to deliver something.
From an organisation’s perspective, companies should consider the most relevant applications for their employees. They should go to staff and do some research to find out which apps people do really want to enable their workflow, collaboration and communications.
Ultimately, a company should only roll out the apps that are business critical or the most popular ones. It is about simplifying, making it quick and easy for employees to do what they need.