By Gloria Lombardi

With a packed agenda of employee engagement and social business seminars under the same roof, the choice of which presentations to attend was not the easiest to make.

I opted for workshops on creating a collaborative culture, revolutionising internal communications, re-imaging work and going beyond social. Was it worth? Let’s see together.

Building a collaborative culture

Angela Ashenden, Principal Analyst at MWD, drove home that “while it may be easy to see the advantages of better collaboration, it’s not enough to simply invest in the latest, greatest technology: the cultural shift required demands a clear and well-thought out business change strategy.”

Ashenden defined collaboration as “the act of people working together to achieve a common goal, with shared responsibility, and where all benefit.” In her words, “better collaboration equals to a better business: better sharing of knowledge, driving innovation and differentiation, supporting distributed teams, and building better relationships with both partners an customers.”

She also emphasised three pillars of a collaborative organisation:

• A networked and non-hierarchical structure. Individuals are empowered and defined by their skills and expertise; teams are defined by their goal, not their place in the organisation structure; focus is on leadership, not management.

• An open, honest and trusting culture. Employees feel confident to voice their opinion; there is no fear or sense of threat from inviting feedback or comment; sharing is promoted above personal knowledge; executives encourage input, and maintain transparency in decision-making.

• An engaged and valued workforce. They want to listen, understand, and contribute; they feel they can make a difference and believe their opinion matters; they feel they have a space to grow and develop. This drives higher retention, increase creativity, and innovation.

According to Ashenden there are a number of reasons why improving collaboration is hard. First is people’s resistance to change: habits are hard to break, knowledge is power – so, what’s in it for me?, lack of time, tools fatigue, and middle management blocking adoption.

Secondly, collaboration is often approached without an adequate strategy and investment. This includes insufficient executive support, poor education as well as un-managed expectations.

The MWD Principal Analyst suggested a number of steps to lay secure foundations:

• Understand your business need: “better collaboration is not enough. Tie to your organisational goals.”

• Clarify ownership: “Role requires ability, enthusiasm and clout. Multiple owners are better than one.”

• Secure budget: “Budget for an initiative, not a project. Include costs of technology implementation and business change activity.

It was also interesting hearing about the relevance of having a “multi-faceted business chance strategy” that implies a “balance between top-down, bottom-up and middle-out.”

At the end of Ashenden’s presentation, the key messages to take away were: “a more collaborative culture brings a host of benefits to create a more agile, innovative and differentiated organisation. It won’t happen by itself; you need a clear strategy and the right investment and leaders to make it work. Your business change programme must be long-sighted, and combine top-down, bottom and middle out strategies.”

Velvet revolutions

Next, I attended the seminar by Engage for Change‘s John Smythe on “The rise of employee engagement, the fall of command and control.” This was delivered as a two-way conversation with the audience. He challenged people with a great deal of questions to test assumptions on leadership styles. “Why do people turn up every day for you? Why do they give you their creativity? Do they feel part of the mission or like ‘extras’? Do they set sufficient direction without emasculating the talent?”

According to Smythe there are two key ingredients of effective engagement for leaders. The first one is Decision-making pattern:

• Consider who will add value if engaged upfront;

• Negotiate authentic agreement about decision: a shared story;

• Consider who needs to be engaged in execution;

• Consider how to engage and communicate: method and style;

• Learn from listening and observing.

Engaging employees in decision-making upfront will drive better decisions, faster execution through and with people, and increase trust and happiness in the workplace.

The second key ingredient highlighted by Smythe is the minutiae of the leader’s personal presence (language, tone, body language): “Your legacy precedes you,” said the engagement guru. He described how different style could help or hinder engagement. Is the leader adopting a visionary or arbiter style? Is he/she a team coach or a bully? Maverick or arbiter?

The seminar ended with a persuasive Smythe citing Chair Lloyds Banking Group, Wim Bischoff: “employee engagement will become one of the key health factors to be considered by shareholders” – the velvet revolution at work is becoming mainstream.

It’s time to re-imagine business

“Everywhere you look it feels like technology is taking over, but instead of succumbing to the information deluge, automation and endless filtering, we should focus on using technology to cut through the haze and reimagine how we live, work and do business,” this was Microsoft‘s Chief Envisioning Officer Dave Coplin.

He stressed the point that the rise of always-on devices has brought us new opportunities and advantages such as real-time communications with colleagues around the world. Also, social media at work is giving voice to the voiceless and driving agility. Yet, Coplin reminded people that, in other ways, the same technology could disconnect us. For example, “the rapidly rising volume of information is affecting all aspects of our lives, in the real and digital worlds, as individuals, as consumers and customers, as workers, and in business.”

He re-called the need for re-discovering “discovery” by taking charge of our “deep thoughts”, “insights”, and the “wisdom to know what to do”. He stressed the importance of mindfulness, living in the moment (“If you are in a meeting, be in the meeting not in the email”) as well as “creating space for creativity and blurring the boundaries.”

Coplin also emphasised the power of big data suggesting “learning to love data to bring stories to life” and “moving beyond intelligence.”

His final thought for attendees was that “technology is not for the machines but instead is the ultimate platform for the rise of humans.”

Beyond Social

Christopher Morace is Chief Strategy Officer at Jive and author of Transform. How Leading Companies are Winning with Disruptive Technology. His Twitter handle says a lot about his philosophy of work, @thinkoutloud! He ran an engaging seminar – the last one for me – on Beyond Social.

In line with the other presentations he stressed the need for “putting people at the centre of work”. This is what organisations should do if social business efforts want to achieve intended benefits.

He took an interesting approach by taking the audience through an honest look at the developing relationships between people and technology. In just a few years we have moved from “sometimes with you, periodically connected devices” to “always with you, constantly connected devices,” from “single format interface to multi-format interface”, and from “data tied to machines to data separate from machines.” All this has changed profoundly our behaviours. “Everyone is efficient, 24/7. Agile to the extreme.”

The future of work is led by the next generation digital enterprise infrastructure, which adopts new ways of interacting by addressing concerns around organisational change, rollout, measurement and value. At the same time it requires to address issues around access, identity, data security, regulatory compliance, integration and risk.

With social business an organisation also needs to consider the whole ecosystem, which includes customer and prospect communities, have a mission focused collaboration as well as a strategic alignment and communication.

Other noteworthy content from Morace came when he gave some examples of companies who are doing well with social, such as Swiss Re. The company are seeing their culture gradually change to one that fosters increased participation and open sharing of opinions. Their organisational structure does not always reflect how people work, or how they want to work. Their internal social platform has already helped them to make decisive steps against that problem.

Another example is the one of Metaswitch; they and all of their customers are engaged throughout the solution process. The result is a large influx of innovative product ideas for the company and higher value solutions for the customers.

Humans at the centre of work

Walking away from the conference, the message that resonated most was that, we should not forget that work belongs to humans. Business belongs to people. Technology has to serve individuals, not the other way round. This simple ethos is something that we all are in charge of and need to foster to make our organisations more collaborative, productive, agile, and innovative.

————————————————————————————————This article originally appeared on simply-communicate