Enter the responsive organizations

Cesar Cernuda, President, Microsoft Asia Pacific
Cesar Cernuda, President, Microsoft Asia Pacific

It’s getting more difficult to be productive in the modern workplace. For the average employee, the start of the new year can be the busiest time of the year and in the rush to meet our new targets, we can find ourselves buried in a never-ending avalanche of meeting requests, expense reports and the ubiquitous unread emails.

Widely heralded as the key to increased productivity, the prevalence of email is now a huge time burden on the average employee. In ‘The social economy’ research report, global management consulting firm McKinsey and Co. suggest that more than one quarter of the average employee’s time is spent reading and answering emails. On top of that, 14 percent of our day is spent communicating and collaborating internally the old fashioned way – in meetings, at our desks, and by the water cooler. That means close to half of our day is spent simply exchanging information. So, our day is half over before we get any real work done.

Advancing technology was believed to be the key to unlocking this communication gridlock and lessening the burden upon employees. In many ways, technology has done just that. Today through the internet, the world has formed a giant network of networks, where everyone has the potential to be connected and where information can travel instantly. These global, open communication platforms – what we call social networks – are democratizing access to information, and this in turn is driving and accelerating change. But in many workplaces, this change is happening in the opposite direction – there is an increasing chasm between how easy it is to communicate in many employee’s personal lives; and how cumbersome it is to do so in the workplace.

Part of the reason for this information burden comes from the speed at which information is created and transmitted. We simply have more information in our lives that needs to be processed. McKinsey and Co. suggest 19 per cent of our working lives are spent searching for and gathering information, despite huge advances in the way we organize, store and access the world’s information.

The tremendous amount of information able to be collected and kept in the modern workplace creates huge challenges for companies: workers fall victim to both information overload (too much irrelevant information) and information silos (not enough relevant information). Getting the right information to the right people when and where they need it is the urgent challenge facing the modern workplace.

Traditional information structures that controlled the directional flow of information – from the decision-makers down to the masses – are no longer sufficient to keep up with the pace of change in today’s corporate world.

So how do modern companies learn from the world around them and communicate openly? Enter the Responsive Organization – a restructured way of thinking about communication hierarchies to take advantage of open learning and experimentation. Responsive Organizations are able to respond rapidly to change by democratizing and optimizing the open flow of information. To do this, Responsive Organizations use social technologies to not only share and disseminate information, but also to help organize networks of employees and direct them towards common goals and purposes.

Responsive Organizations operate like open communications technology that exists today – services like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Wikipedia – except they operate ‘inside’ the protection of a company firewall. They optimize themselves for the open flow of information, by reducing the friction of information flow through an organization.

Social media services are perfectly suited as tools for Responsive Organizations. Superior to traditional communication structures, they take advantage of the ‘small world’ phenomenon in order to accelerate the dissemination of information to where it is needed. Imagine, you are an employee in a multinational company, trying to find a piece of information. Knowing exactly which person within your organization holds the information can be difficult – especially in today’s mega corporations that can span thousands and even hundreds of thousands of employees. Yet, even though you don’t know exactly who possesses the information, the small world theory posits that someone in your network will be connected to someone who knows the answer. Social technologies allow information seekers to access the network of minds, reducing the effort and time it takes to get from question to answer, from failure to learning, by taking advantage of not just one person’s knowledge, but an entire group’s knowledge.

Social networking technology lubricates the flow of information, and it can also help to organize information.  Online networking tools allow people to self-select into groups, helping to organize the corporation’s minds into accessible networks.

The competitive advantages for using social technologies are larger than you might imagine. The Social Economy report suggests that by utilizing social networking tools such as Yammer, a corporation can reduce, by as much as 35 percent, the time employees spend searching for company information. That translates into hours of additional productivity time per week.

Just as other industries have had their wake-up calls, every business and organization is realizing the need to be more responsive. The rapid spread of ideas in today’s digital economy mean that the pace of change will only continue to accelerate. It is no longer good enough just to ‘keep up’ with technology. The advantage is now in how you’re using tools and services, and how you’re changing the way you work to allow them to enhance your business operations.

To reap the full benefit of social technologies, organizations must transform their structures, processes, and cultures: they will need to become more open and nonhierarchical and to create a culture of trust. Ultimately, the power of social technologies hinges on the full and enthusiastic participation of employees who are not afraid to share their thoughts – and trust that their contributions will be respected. Creating these conditions will be far more challenging than implementing the technologies themselves.

Reference: http://www.mckinsey.com/insights/high_tech_telecoms_internet/the_social_economy

This article was published in The Business Times on 06 March 2014.

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