Communities and Performance – The “Future of Work”

Oftentimes when I have a spare minute to let my mind wander aimlessly, I end up thinking about what I would focus on if I continued my education. I imagine what I would choose as a PhD pursuit, and how I would craft my research. While in previous years this has varied from creative to scientific, and all stops in between, the most recent thoughts have been focused on our professional and social communities and how membership within these may (or may not) be correlated with more high-functioning individuals and teams.

I’ve been interested in this for awhile – how closely tied social capabilities are to performance outcomes. Recently, I pursued some literature on the topic, looking for evidence to support my hypothesis that individuals who have access to professional networks, or who work in an environment that facilitates inter-group, intra-group and external communications and idea sharing, are able to perform their tasks more efficiently, effectively, or both.

While I have found a wealth of literature that identifies the relationship between an individual’s work environment (culture) and his/her feelings of wellness or satisfaction (which, in turn, affect performance), I am looking for something a bit more specific and somewhat beyond what is traditionally viewed as “organisational culture” (typically policies and attitudes towards such things as breaks, fitness, flex time, etc.). I’m wondering how employees might perform with access to well-established networks of experts, mentors, and socially aligned peers, and if they are able to create methods of work that they know are most effective for them individually.

The Province of British Columbia includes a whole group/initiative called the “Future of Work”, which began as a commitment to changing the traditional models (both real and perceived) of the public sector worker, with the intention of creating a workplace that is responsive to future demands, appealing to a younger demographic, and is able to retain knowledge from its quickly disappearing top-heavy demographic. The Province is aware that its core service group will be retiring en masse within a 5-10 year period. Without some profound changes to both perception and reality, it will be increasingly difficult to attract the upcoming workforce, who is wily and agile, and doesn’t think twice about demanding attention to personal growth and access to resources. If they don’t get this, they will move on.

Is this the younger generation being spoiled and self-indulgent, or have they finally systemized what we are trying hard to unlearn – that rigidity, tenure and repetition do not a productive worker make? I assert that they are a generation that has learned to be less guarded in their natural responses to any situation and this is what feels right to them. If your gut tells you you need something, you probably do, whether it’s to talk to a like-minded individual to solve a problem, or to study a whole whack of (open) data that’s been amalgamated by a citizen group, or to poll a group of politicians to find a common stance on an issue.

All of these examples demonstrate that we’re leaning further and further into our communities to broaden our perspectives, answer our questions and find creative approaches for all sorts of tasks. So, does this mean those power users of communities and networks are further ahead in their practices? Do they have better information, or just more of it? Can they more quickly “triangulate” their sources to find a common truth? Do members of communities feel more secure, empowered, individually responsible?

Does the public service (or any private organisation) benefit from having employees that are committed to their communities, and know how to leverage them?

When we perform an analysis of an organisation’s social capabilities, we’re less interested in empirical data, and more interested in the qualitative subtext that is provided along with our indicating questions. I believe we’re entering into an age of contextual value where the ‘metadata’ trumps the data.

I welcome your thoughts – are the things we value as workers changing? Can we work better, smarter, more efficiently, and have more rewarding professional lives if we become power users of communities of practice, or informal social networks?

What does the future of work look like to you?

At Long Last…

It’s finally here! This blog has been a long time in the making, sitting patiently in the back of my mind while the rest of my responsibilities have taken priority. But it was time to start, having found a few spare minutes on a Saturday morning.

Much of the work I do involves helping people discover ways to do their work more effectively, whether through the implementation of new tools, rethinking their understanding of the work they do, or forming new relationships that present opportunities to leverage the knowledge and skills of those around them. Through these tactics, these individuals become what we call ‘connected workers’.

Every organisation has strategies, action plans, and operational capabilities, all of which are likely documented and structured to some level, and have reached some level of maturity that enables the organisation to continue doing business. But no matter the industry, configuration or tradition of the company, it must ensure its workers’ motivations and practices are aligned with the performance objectives that the organisation strives to reach.

Very often, programs to “empower” employees or instill a culture of collaboration are superficial and largely unplanned, resulting in mediocre success at engaging employees. True engagement and alignment can only come from the development of networks and relationships across the organisation that allow workers to build the organisation’s capabilities based on what they know and do best.

The “connectedness” of an organisation’s workers can be measured across six capability sets: innovation, communication, collaboration, engagement, alignment and trust. Only when these capability sets are mapped to strategy and planning can the organisation start to embed them within its operational programs. We call these capabilities “social capabilities”, a term used with much consideration of what “social” tends to mean these days.

Social capabilities encompass a layer of skills that are pervasive throughout all the work that employees do, and contribute significantly to the successful operations of any organisation. Ignoring these capabilities and skills means you are missing an important piece of your organisation’s reality that can make the difference between a functioning organisation and a thriving organisation, or between one that is agile and responsive and one that cannot change to meet rapidly changing environments.

I look forward to developing these concepts further and investigating the vast and fascinating connections among people, technologies, processes and policies. I welcome your dialogue and feedback!