With the rise in digital technologies and remote work the workplace is in transition, today’s leaders must find a way to bring technological advancements and people-first cultures together. I recently had the opportunity to chat with Future of Work Expert and Founder of NextMapping, Cheryl Cran, about the future of the workplace and leadership strategies that foster employee growth across digital platforms.
Daisy: Can you define “NextMapping” and what impact this has on training and development?
Cheryl: NextMapping is a proprietary process that we’ve created that allows organizations to implement business transformations including digital transformation in a very holistic, people-first way. Technology, obviously, is an important enabler of the future of work. However, throughout my career I have noticed that it’s when companies focus on the technology alone versus how this is going to affect and help their people that they lose people and can’t recruit as well. NextMapping is a tool that guides change within organizations in a very structured format. There are six parts to the NextMapping process: discover, ideate, model, iterate, map and integrate. We can use this process with an individual, a team and on an organization.
A lot of times, companies are very attached to legacy systems currently in place — which are ultimately a “change challenge.” It’s not that people don’t want new technology, it’s that they haven’t been engaged in a way that helps them buy into the new technology. With this, we are seeing a gap in the marketplace. The solutions that we present to organizations are to help people work together better, do work they love that is aligned with their strengths, and ultimately create a culture where people want to be working there — whether that’s in the office, remote, or a combination.
Daisy: I completely agree with you. I love the way that you defined and laid that out because it’s exactly what I’ve been observing with our customers. When I speak to customers, I emphasize that SAP Jam is a tool. It will help facilitate what you want to do, but people underestimate change management. You cannot only focus on the tool, you must also look at the change of behavior. Your employees need to determine how they want the tool to change what they’re doing. It’s a different interaction and a different goal. Spending the time painting that picture is extremely important.
Cheryl: For what you do, it’s really about a consultative approach. You’re solving a challenge for your client. A lot of times we focus on the product and not on the end result with the person.
Daisy: It’s why we talk in use-cases. With collaboration tools, it’s horizontal in nature. Not only do we have capabilities within, but we talk about how customers can apply it. That’s what they need help with: understanding how the capabilities are going to transform their processes.
Daisy: Can you share more on the importance of a “human-first” approach in business and why digital should come second to people?
Cheryl: People first approach is the foundation of our consulting firm. We help businesses understand the importance of looking at the human first and leverage business with a people first strategy. For example, I have a client who has legacy systems and is in the traditional insurance industry. They’ve adopted a new system that was supposed to be integrated into the organization a year ago, yet it’s taken two. When the CEO hired me, I explained that this is because the organization does not have people that believe that this new system is going to do what management is telling them it’s going to do. They’ve got in-house resistance to the very thing that they know will transform the business. Yet no one’s taken the time to sit down with each of these people and ask what they love about the legacy system, why, and what would make their job easier and better with the new system. If you start with where they are now, then you can have the conversation about the future and what the new technology does.
It’s no different than having a millennial who knows technology inside and out and someone who doesn’t. For the millennial frustrated with a boomer, you can succeed if you sit down with that person and show them how an app works on their iPhone, you can convince them pretty quickly that they should be using the app. But if you just tell the other person over and over again that they need to hop onboard when they don’t understand it, all you’re doing is trying to create a change for a person who is not ready to adapt.
Daisy: To your point of utilizing open communication to ask employees for their opinions first before implementing a new technology — this reduces friction and initial barriers. Removing that friction is extremely important. Simply asking reminds both the individual posing the question and the individual being asked that we are still humans and that we can communicate about these types of things.
Daisy: You touched upon millennials and often focus on generations in the workplace. Can you elaborate more on how organizations can successfully integrate generations, especially as Gen Z enters the workplace?
Cheryl: They’re calling millennials the “digital natives” and they’re calling Gen Z the “robotic natives.”
Millennials have created a massive shift. In 2010 I wrote the book “101 Ways to Make Generation X, Y and Zoomers Happy at Work,” and it’s now 2018. When I wrote that book it was because I was noticing huge communication gaps between each generation within my client work. The Boomers, who at that time were the main demographic in the workplace, were really frustrated with the new millennial mindset, and the millennials were equally frustrated with the lack of willingness of some Gen Xers and Boomers to change the system. Now, we’re in 2018 and that’s changed — the generations have been working together and there’s more understanding amongst them.
What hasn’t changed, in my opinion, is generational intelligence — this is not about ageism or putting people in boxes, but rather understanding personality. What I mean is generations appreciating each other’s points of view and integrating those points of view from a multiple-perspective approach. For instance, it’s about a manager understanding that they have a millennial and Gen Z-dominant team who don’t want you to email them, but rather text them or use collaborative software. If you’re not using the technology that your millennials and Gen Zer’s are, you lose credibility and your ability to influence them as their leader. So, if you have a team with a Gen Zer, millennial, Baby Boomer, Gen Xer and possibly a traditionalist on contract or remote, you not only have to adapt your approach to each of these people individually, but also how you communicate to them as a team.
Continued support and resources need to be in place to make this a reality — whether it’s coaching team members or providing them with online or in-person training. It’s about knowing what the best way is to get people engaged and excited about working together.
Daisy: Are you of the position that companies have to have different modes of communication for each of the generations, and if so, how do you see that scaling if we’re talking about companies that are tens of thousands of people?
Cheryl: I believe we have to have options of communication. For example, as a leader, I will still send texts and emails to my team, but I might also send a quick DM. Or, I might send a quick video to my team saying, “hey guys, happy Friday, I just wanted to pop in and say great work this week! You guys all brought it and I want to recognize it.” It’s about varieties of communication for different purposes.
Daisy: That’s really great advice.
Daisy: Speaking of different technologies, what digital technologies do you seeing being the most impactful on the enterprise in the next five years?
Cheryl: I think anything cloud-based is the future. I believe we’re going to see more and more cross-platform app integration. I’m seeing collaborative HR technologies, but I’m also seeing a move towards integration with all of these technologies being in one platform.
As you know, one of the biggest challenges with organizations is that they’re still very siloed. The only way to break down silos is to build collaboration platforms that allow different departments to interact. For instance, providing a platform where someone in IT can get an HR employee’s input efficiently. That is the future, in my opinion.
Daisy: I completely agree. However, while there is a lot of discussion around breaking down silos amongst departments, we have to also make sure that the technologies aren’t inadvertently causing the silos.
Cheryl: That’s exactly right. A client I worked with recently is conducting massive and rapid acquisitions of technology verticals. Their biggest challenge right now is that every vertical is their own silo. When you’re working with 20 verticals and they’re not speaking to each other, that’s crazy! I’m working with them to create a more unified approach for their technology solutions so that they’re not dealing with segmented clouds and messaging systems.
Daisy: Do you think that employees are largely overwhelmed with communication at work? If so, is this a tech problem, a management problem or both? How can this be remedied?
Cheryl: Let’s say “information/communication” because, in my opinion, what’s happening in large organizations is that there is too much information that is not relevant. With that in mind, the solution needs to be both tech and management focused. Businesses need to examine whether their technology is providing a platform where employees can find the relevant information needed to do their job and serve the overall strategic goals of the company.
This is then where the technology solution comes in. If I’m an employee in the marketing department, having a collaboration tool can help me find out what’s going on in operations and customer service, and ultimately do my job better. Having a well-organized, cloud-based solution that lets employees find what they need quickly is the tech solution. If they can’t find it, the management solution is helping these employees understand who the best resources are within the organization.
Overall, it’s a hybrid solution between human and tech. It’s about making sure that the technology is set up in a way where it’s easy to find relevant information. For instance, with SAP Jam, employees can use the tool’s search function to enter in different queries, such as “HR recruiting new talent,” to which the tool provides strategies to recruit effectively and also tells users who they can partner with in HR. This type of “tech meets human” approach is the goal.
Daisy: The technologies and products that continue to evolve and improve are those that incorporate smart search recommendations and make sure that all of the information is routed to the right people. The signal-to-noise ratio can always use improvement, especially as more and more information is available. There is always information available, but maybe not as much communication.
Cheryl: To me, the leader’s role is to provide context as the future of work sees an increase in robotics, AI and automation. We have so much information, but if we don’t have context, we’re floating in space unsure of what we’re supposed to do.
Daisy: Then we’re left with interpreting the information instead of someone actually putting the bigger picture together so that everyone understands what action to take with the information that they have.
Cheryl: Using video to leverage that would be a great idea — employees anchor to messages endorsed by senior leadership through video. Leveraging video is going to be the next big opportunity.
Daisy: How do you recommend that companies improve collaborative culture?
Cheryl: I really believe that what has to happen is companies providing more examples of collaboration and creating a trickle-down effect of knowledge — showing employees that it’s okay to share leadership positions and power. A collaborative culture comes from trust and empowerment. If I feel like I can work with you and we’re on the same page, then we’re going to naturally collaborate. To create a successful collaborative culture, companies need to ask themselves questions like, “are we set up to collaborate with remote workers using technology solutions?”
From a human standpoint, we have to help people build collaborative mindsets. The people who instead value the “lone-ranger mentality” are struggling the most with collaboration. Sales departments, for example, tend to be full of lone rangers, focused on meeting their quota. Sales departments have not historically been collaborative, but now organizations are seeing that if they don’t collaborate, then they’re selling in a vacuum. Building a sales culture where employees can collaborate with other departments will help the entire system.