Work Ahead 2017–2018: A Review and Further Work

Six months ago, I wrote a post that both focused and previewed of the work that I planned to do for 2017 with clients. This post reviews this work plan, gathers some lessons from the last 7 months of work and highlights some additional themes that have arisen as I have worked through these challenges. For those disinclined to read the prior post, this infographic summarizes the major themes:

Lessons from 6 Months of Practice:

  • This story still holds: Working Out Loud is bigger than I expected with John Stepper’s continued success in Germany leading a global movement. Personal Knowledge Mastery is smaller than it should be but Harold Jarche’s work continues to grow. Agile is discussed everywhere and people are experiencing the role of learning by doing as a result. New models of leadership are key to sustaining change and I would rank this as an area that needs greater priority of investment & practice in organizations. If one thing is holding organizations back in the digital workplace, it is not employee engagement, it is executive leadership of digital change.
  • A tighter story of digital transformation of work: The last post highlighted the history and future of digital to set some context for how work is changing. I’ve found that too much context for the busy executives who shape digital workplace strategy. This simpler single image captures the major themes and resonates quickly.
  • Focusing on the Future of HR: In working with organizations on these themes, it has become clear that the Human Resources teams need help to shape their new role both in leading this work and in the ongoing function of HR as work is changing. The Ulrich model of HR remains dominant but it is designed for an area of stable industrial processes. Working with a number of clients, I have found that helping to set a strategy for HR and refocus the capabilities of HR for a new more agile operating model is an important part of any transformation.
  • From Employee Experience to People Experience: This work on the Future of HR has prompted some deeper dives into the work underway as Employee Experience becomes People Experience. People Experience is on the rise as the term and its strong focus on digital transformation of HR spreads out from Silicon Valley start-ups. Much of the focus on the People Experience theme to date revolves around automation and design of people journeys. These are important areas of work (and lucrative consulting gigs) but I have seen a similar pattern before in the early days of Customer Experience in the 1990s. Without clear strategies, use cases and a focus on operational and financial sustainability of the new experiences, the new experiences will fade away having failed to achieve their outcomes. Today some People Experience is just outsourcing & other projects are pretty window dressing. People experience needs to balance business, operational and design goals for sustained success. Not just a story of digital automation, real innovation is required.
  • The Return of the ESN: Enterprise Social Networks are back. Workplace by Facebook’s launch has reinvented the role of the category and organizations are more clearly seeing the distinction between chat, enterprise conversations, and collaboration. Yammer is growing strongly and both platforms continue to produce great case studies. Organizations are increasingly understanding the need to be able to leverage their wirearchies and ESNs are a key digital workplace tool for greater collaboration and strategic value.
  • Analytics: Business runs on measurement. If you are not measuring your transformation you are missing out. Measurement and data analytics across the realm of digital transformation continues to be of importance in shaping the capture of value. Swoop Analytics launched a great e-book on measuring the Collaboration Value Maturity Model.

The New Work Ahead

The Roadmap set for 2017 was an ambitious one. For a solo consultant, even with the support of my colleagues in Change Agents Worldwide, this is more like a 5-year plan than a one-year work plan. However, I think of it as a product backlog and I remain keen to work and learn in each of the areas on that backlog.

Here’s what I am adding to that backlog now as new challenges:

  • Degrees of Freedom: There is a range of practices and cultural expectations that are enablers for ongoing digital transformation. These ‘degrees of freedom’ are how traditional organizations can be included in and benefit from the new models of work that are often seen as being constrained to start-ups and new greenfields ventures. More to come on this theme.
  • Cross-Discipline Collaboration: HR disciplines are full of silos: Employee Communications, Collaboration, Culture, Leadership, Learning and so on. The digital disciplines are equally in danger of becoming siloed as digital customer service, digital marketing, design, agile project management, agile change and so on grow throughout organisations. Successful organizations work at the intersections of these disciplines and create their own vibrant culture of collaboration. There is no one discipline to unite them all and we need to avoid the religious wars of doctrinal disciples. We need neo-generalist practitioners to lead us forward to mastery.
  • Storytelling: Social learning is critical to the future of digital workplaces. Can you discuss social learning with busy executives and get meaningful traction? Rarely. We need new models of advocacy for much of the future of work agenda and it begins not with thought leadership but with the hard yards of practice and new stories to tell.
  • Resilience, Purpose, and Grit: Changing Work is Hard. We need our champions to stay in the fight when they may prefer to surrender to the antibodies of culture. Building resilience, purpose and grit at an individual and a collective level in organizations matters.