Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Is Your Company Becoming a Digital Device Dinosaur?

  Holger Reisinger,

All over the world companies prevent their employees from bringing their own digital devices. But with more new wearable devices being launched and future – digitally native - generations taking over the labor market, these types of policies will drive your company to extinction.

Just the other day an old friend of mine called me asking an ‘existential’ question. She has just changed jobs and wanted to bring her beloved MacBook to her new workplace. However, it turned out she couldn’t. Company procedures only allowed PCs. No problem, she thought. I can manage and learn the ways of Bill Gates. And then the hammer hit: she couldn’t bring her iPhone either.  The company only allowed Android-based phones – at least if she wanted access to the company’s online resources and web mail.

A few days later she told me that she had decided to continue with her own phone. She had to keep another phone in her purse though, just in case she wanted to read emails from work after work hours. However, she also admitted that she wasn’t checking them as often as she did in her old job. Given her reaction, I couldn’t help but think how a ban on bringing your own devices seems so old fashioned that one could only worry for the future of the entire company if its other business practices equaled that of its IT policies. However, after looking up the stats I was in for an even bigger surprise. According to a 2013 TechRepublic and ZDNet member survey, only 44 percent of all companies allow employees to bring their own devices, although another 18 percent expected to lift the ban before the end of 2013. Hence, in 2014 roughly a third of all companies – including some of the most iconic worldwide brands today - have not yet embraced the diversity of techie stuff out there.

The Next Generations Don’t Give a Damn About Company Policies

That’s not good news if you plan to hire the top employees of the next, so-called millennial generation. According to a survey by Fortinet, slightly more than half of the digitally savvy young talents in their 20’s see it as their ‘right’ to use their own devices at work and not a ‘privilege.’ Perhaps even scarier for old-school companies, one out of three announced that they would gladly break any anti-“bring-your-own-device” rules and “contravene a company's security policy that forbids them to use their personal devices at work or for work purposes.” About a third would also be willing to use "non-approved applications" at work and two-thirds of those surveyed believe they, not the company, should be responsible for the security of devices used for work purposes.

The enormous investments and security risks associated with this attitude make me fear the worst. Not for the future of IT security but for the future of the most conservative companies around the world. If one third of companies have banned “bring-your-own-device” today, the attitude of future generations combined with the tremendous number of new types of devices about to be launched in the coming years will most certainly make more companies follow the path of probation. And I foresee it may very well kill off some of the giants dominating our daily lives today.

The prohibitionists overlook a very important fact in their analysis of future IT.  Young people do not think of their technology gear as IT equipment. They see it as an extension of their personality. They have carefully chosen, fitted and adapted their personal technology suite according to their personality, needs and self-image. Stripping them of their gear is roughly the same as stripping them of their clothes, family or nationality. You just don’t go there.

Stop Giving Employees Any Devices at All

Hence, this fight is obviously one you can’t win. And analytics companies like the Gartner Group agree with me. As a matter of fact, the Gartner Group has already predicted that by 2017, half of all employers will require employees to supply their own device for work purposes. They will not even make any device available: it’s simply not worth the time, effort or money.

So the era of ‘one size fits all’ is over in IT. And it’s probably also over in most other important areas associated with traditional work life. In the future we all expect special treatment, and our employers are doomed if they do not acknowledge each person’s unique qualities and needs. While the entrance of smartphones may have seemed like a revolution, it’s nothing compared to what is to come.  The future belongs to wearable devices, with Google watches and Samsung’s health bracelets as the frontrunners. Some 50 million wearable units are expected to be sold this year alone, according to IHS. That number is projected to balloon to 180 million by 2018. And most importantly: the wearable market is already growing at a rate five-times faster than the smartphone revolution that changed companies forever.

So here’s the short version of my recent experience. My friend didn’t just lose access to her iPhone. She took a hit to her identity. Companies who force people to change their lives so profoundly will cease to exist in the future, just like the dinosaurs were outmaneuvered by smarter, cold-resistant mammals. Make sure you evolve and adapt in time….

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Start Collaborating And Get twice the ROI on Your UC

  Holger Reisinger

Companies investing in unified communications solutions report tremendous return on investment for their efforts. But you can double that investment if only you take full advantage of the technology. All you have to do is start collaborating instead of just communicating.

It’s almost like playing the lottery – except in this case everybody wins every time. Or at least that’s what most companies making unified communications software told us when the UC market was swamped with the first wave of fancy technology five to ten years ago.

Unified communications (UC) is basically the tool (the little green icon at the bottom of your screen) that brings together audio and video conferencing, messaging and presence into one single integrated application. Among other things, this comes in very handy when employees are working somewhere else than their office desk, which an increasing number of employees are doing nowadays. They are in meetings, at home, traveling, waiting in meeting rooms, airports, hotels, and the like. With mobile phones, Wi-Fi, Cloud services, social networks, and connected devices they can work from anywhere. When they are equipped with a UC solution, they can easily bridge that gap between devices and are more productive.

UC technology keeps its promise of better and cheaper collaboration and communication, and the stats are impressive. A recent Cisco study shows a return on investment of 103 percent over a three-year period and a payback period of just one year.  According to Aberdeen Research, 79 percent of all companies see a return on their UC investment within the first 12 months.  My own company, Jabra, also demonstrates valuable results. For example, our clients with UC-optimized headsets reduce overall call handling time by 33 percent. If you have a call center with 1,000 employees making an average of US $20.00 per hour, it will save you a nifty $264,000 a week.

Collaboration Is the Key to Ultimate Success

However, there is an important ‘but.’  Normally ‘buts’ are bad, but this time it constitutes a wonderful opportunity. Therefore, follow me on a quick trip down memory lane because somewhere down the line we missed an additional ‘C’ that used to go along with unified communications’ ‘UC&C.’ It’s in that last ‘C’ that we find the really big bucks.

The missing ‘C’ stands for collaboration. While unified communications allows us to communicate seamlessly across multiple devices, it’s still just a channel to get ahold of colleagues or information about them. That’s great if you want something done yourself. But if you could use these wonderful tools to collaborate and create and invent new things together, you’d multiply your investment.

Surprisingly, a lot of the technology solutions that companies invest in are already capable of making employees work in collaborative – and very productive and innovative - virtual teams. But for some strange reason, many companies do not take full advantage of the solutions.

Microsoft Lync, which is a popular instant messaging system, enables you to see a team member’s presence, conduct audio calls, video conference calls and present information to all attendees. But these features are rarely used. I have even heard reports of some companies limiting the use of the messaging feature because they felt it was not used for work but as a personal means of communication only.

It’s time to find and activate the missing ‘C’ in ‘UC&C.’ In the future, it’s not about sharing documents and information one-on-one, it’s about making your investment work and setting collaboration free. You wouldn’t make people’s private Facebook accounts the primary company communication platform either – knowing that employees are banned from attending via their company owned devices!

How to Double your ROI with UC

In your new UC&C set up, information will be shared in groups, just like in a big brainstorming session, where ideas, news and information are spread virally like you see on Instagram, Facebook or LinkedIn, but this time it happens within your own company. The more people interacting - the better the effect.

And there are benefits for everyone. In a report by the international analysis consultancy Frost & Sullivan, a company that has UC&C installed and working, it was noted how their engineers improved product development and lowered costs associated with innovation. Sales and marketing professionals saw improvements across sales performance, customer retention, and their ability to respond to competitive threats. Investor relations and public relations staff reported that collaboration helped them increase shareholder value and shape corporate reputations and the human resources teams found collaboration tools useful in recruitment, retention and training activities.

This is where the big benefits are waiting for companies who dare to go for the high (right) C of UC&C.  According to Frost & Sullivan it’ll be worth your while. They calculated that organizations going from “basic collaborators” to “advanced collaborators” double the effect of their investments.

All it takes is using the technology you already have to facilitate a group sharing culture, where all employees are part of a continuous, digital discussion about almost anything.
That way you do not just win the lottery. You win it twice.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Know Your ‘Connectors’ and Get the Job Done

Modern organizations are drowning in information that prevents people from getting the job done. It’s time to map those that make your company run smoothly behind the lines and reward them for their efforts. It’ll be the best investment you have made in a long time.

I have a friend who is widely known as ‘the fixer.’ His name is actually Michael, but he got his well-deserved nickname because he is the number one ‘go-to’ guy when you need something done efficiently and in a hurry.

Michael is a really smart guy, but that’s not his real talent.  Michael’s secret is his amazing network making him capable of ‘producing’ anything from an auto mechanic to a nuclear physicist within a surprisingly short time. And somehow, the members of his network all seem permanently willing to help Michael – or us, his lucky friends – with any problem at hand.

I often think of Michael at work when I have a professional problem and need a specialist to help. Just like I’m sure that you too sometimes wish you could ‘call a friend,’ like on the TV game show ‘Who wants to be a millionaire,’ at work every now and then.

It Takes More People to Get the Job Done

We are all increasingly in need of help at work because modern work is becoming increasingly complex over time. When Ford invented the automobile, he did most of the inventing, mechanics, law and marketing himself. Those simple days are long gone. Today, you need scores of people to get anything done.

It is quite evident that inventing things takes more people than ever before. Unlike many companies, the scientific community keeps close tabs on who participates in making new inventions and discoveries.  Every time scientists make a new discovery they write an article and everyone who participated in the project is on the list of authors, appearing in the order of importance of their participation.

According to Nature Magazine, the world’s foremost scientific publication, it takes more people than ever to uncover new discoveries. An issue of Nature Today has a similar number of article submissions today as 60 years ago, but at least four times more authors. In the early 1980s, papers with more than 100 authors were rare. By 1990, the annual tally exceeded 500 — and it has just kept growing. The first paper with 1,000 authors was published in 2004 and a paper with 3,000 authors came out in 2008. Similar observations have been documented from clinical science to law.

The Mavens, the Salesmen and the Connectors

It seems that if you want anything done, you need big work-related networks – often comprising specialists from other companies, organizations or institutions. And that’s where people like Michael ‘the fixer’ come in handy. People who know people are becoming the lifeblood of most modern knowledge-based companies today. Social psychologists call someone like Michael a ‘bridge’ and the popular scientists – most notably Malcom Gladwell, who presented this theory in his famous book, The Tipping Point – call him a Connector. Michael bridges people who would otherwise not know each other. Recent studies, however, show that the most efficiently networked companies hold three distinct types of people who keep the network together. The three are known as Mavens, Salesmen and Connectors, and they all play an important part.

The Mavens are the traditional knowledge workers who have deep knowledge that they are keen to share. However, they are not necessarily proactively sharing their knowledge. That’s where the Salesmen come in. The Salesmen like to influence others to take action and possess the important trait that everyone they talk to tends to agree with them. It’s the Salesmen who influence or inspire people to seek new information and look for the right Maven to solve their problem. However, the right Maven is not easy to find. And that’s where Michael and his special breed of Connectors come in. They know everyone and will send you to the right (wo)man to do the job.

In short, you could say that Connectors are people specialists, Mavens are information specialists and Salesmen are charismatic persuaders. All traits you need to build the perfect knowledge company of the future. And even though new technologies and social networks make it easier for you to find information and people, I predict that we will all be looking proactively for these three personae in our organization and when we are hiring pretty soon.

Map your organization and win

New survey methodologies actually make it possible to identify the three networking types in an organization and – more importantly – to find the people who bridge different parts of your organization to each other.

Once identified, you can use the power of your network to do incredible things. The Salesmen will persuade your colleagues to stick to your strategy. The Mavens will make your company smarter and more innovative. And the Connectors will ensure that this positive spiral just goes on and on – and at the same time make sure that your growing organization will continue as one unified company.

Companies like wind turbine producer Vestas, Japanese Takeda, and Ferring Pharmaceutical have already searched their organizations and improved their innovation power and company cohesiveness. I urge you to do the same soon – it’ll be the best investment you’ve made in decades.

In the meantime I will call Michael. I promised my parents to find a missing part to an antique table they bought some time ago. Intensive Googling didn’t solve the problem, so now it’s time to call in the cavalry. I’m sure that Michael will help me out of my troubles once again.

He usually does.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

RIP: the E-mail (1971-2014)

By Holger Reisinger

E-mails are no longer the best way of sharing information or communicating with peers. It’s time to move to the next level and let e-mails die in peace and loving memory. 

Even though some internal networks were operational in the early 60s, it’s generally acknowledged that the first e-mail was sent by Ray Tomlinson to himself in 1971. After a slow start, I guess it is reasonable to say that the e-mail has become one of the most success technological breakthroughs since that time. According to the Radicati Group (who does a lot of counting), we will send a total of some 191 billion e-mails in 2014.  And they predict that we will reach 206 billion e-mails sent every day in 2017.

Given the long heritage and current tremendous success, e-mail seems to be here to stay. But if it was up to me, the age of the e-mail would be over. It’s time to let the old workhorse retire and look to the new and more productive communication platforms instead. It’s time to put the e-mail to rest.

The challenge with e-mail is that it’s reasonably good for sharing information – but it’s an incredibly poor collaboration tool.  It is great for confirming and documenting decisions, but it is less ideal if you have not yet reached a conclusion to the matter. In that case, e-mailing back and forth can be very time consuming and fruitless when compared to having an actual conversation. Unfortunately, billions of people around the world see it the other way around. We use e-mail to collaborate. And with the invention of the cloud, where we all have access to our shared files 24/7, we have found smarter ways of problem-solving and sharing information.

E-mails cause misunderstandings, unnecessary discussion, and a general wastage of time

This unfortunate mix-up is stealing our time and leads to unnecessary frustration. According to McKinsey, an average worker spends a staggering 28 hours a week reading and answering e-mails. And lots of research show how e-mails are more often misunderstood or misinterpreted than leading to clarity and progress.

At the same time, e-mails have liberated most of us from the burden of thinking for ourselves. We don’t have to talk to anyone anymore. You just send out an e-mail, and your informative work is done. On the receiving end, you don’t have to take responsibility for keeping yourself informed either. With a gazillion e-mails in your inbox, no one can really expect you to read them all…

A brave bunch of frontrunners have already figured out that this is the road to disaster. And these pioneers are already testing life after the e-mail for the rest of us.

Some have started off with the most destructive element of the e-mail: the copied e-mail string. You know, where anyone, with a swift click on one key, can include most of the company in an e-mail string about a subject which should have been dealt with in a more meaningful conversation between two people at the very beginning. Broadcasting of e-mails is a major time killer. That’s why Peter Hughes of Cisco has banned the string-mail practice altogether, even issuing fines to the perpetrators.
Other companies go after the traditional e-mails. The IT company, ATOS, is planning on banning e-mails altogether. However, given the dependency on e-mails, the company has issued an extended timeline where e-mails can still be sent but should be brought down to a bare minimum. They even appointed a set of ambassadors – called Zero-Heroes - to help their colleagues stop the practice.   Others have decided to quit e-mails one week a month or shut down the e-mail servers at specific periods of time every day.

There are plenty of alternatives

What’s the alternative then? Well, there are two important routes. For communication purposes we need the old real-time conversations – however, in a more suitable digital format. Video messaging and meetings are much better at conveying ideas, thoughts, and emotions. And if you simply must broadcast your thoughts, use Twitter or Shortmail, which limit your rants to a tolerable 140 or 500 characters, depending on which one you choose.

For information sharing, all documents belong in the cloud, and for day-to-day chatting, the format must be social and searchable. According to McKinsey, using social media technologies, such as wikis and workplace collaboration tools such as Yammer, echo.it or Chatter, instead of e-mail could improve productivity by up to 30 percent. When you have a searchable repository of social messages, people wouldn't have to send e-mails asking questions that have already been answered.

The technology is there, and the first results from the pioneers are encouraging. So, just like the workhorses of the past got a well-deserved rest when motorized vehicles became widespread during the 20th century, so also should the e-mail retire in honor and step back for more efficient technologies.

The e-mail is dead. May it rest in peace!

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

In the Future Your Employees Will Not Be Your Employees

By Holger Reisinger

Your future employees are most likely to be freelancers with specialist skills traveling from project to project. They will challenge your organization and traditional thinking. But they will also make you more productive and competitive. 

Frequent readers of this blog may have noticed my keen interest in how new technology, changes in demography, and the mindset of future generations will change the way we work and how our companies must adapt to these changes.

Since the employees are the core of most companies, they are always at the center of my rants. However, there is one important trend which seriously messes with that point of view. According to several surveys, most of the people working for us in the future will not be our employees at all. They will be self-employed or work for someone else and will only temporarily happen to be working for us.

The HR prophets call them “the extended workforce,” and they are part of an ever-expanding network of freelancers, consultants, outsourcing partners, vendors, and other types of nontraditional workers. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of temporary employees in the U.S. rose by 29 percent between 2009 and 2012. A survey of the 200 largest companies found that temporary workers represented, on average, 22 percent of their workforce, and that percentage is growing. A recent study conducted by the software company, Intuit, shows that more than 40 percent of the American workforce will be freelancers by 2020. That’s more than 60 million people.

Technology leads the way

We’ve always had freelancers and some level of outsourcing. But there are several reasons why there will be an explosion in the numbers of this type of worker in the coming years.

First of all, new technology makes it possible for people to work from anywhere. And a significant number of people are determined to utilize this facility to live exactly the lives they choose to live. Working from home or where their favorite surf, vista, climate, or whatever they crave is, counts for much more than the security of a steady job.

The super workers of the future are looking for the toughest challenges, not a steady job. They want to be free to switch from project to project and to solve their work tasks with whomever they prefer in the gigantic, worldwide web of freelance specialists, which is held together by social media.

Companies are also pushing talent into the extended workforce. Most companies are actually not very good at keeping employees happy with new, challenging projects or work. In a recent Accenture survey of 1,088 U.S. workers, only 34 percent of respondents reported feeling that they could easily move to other roles or jobs in their organization where their skills would best be utilized.

Good news for you

The extended workforce is very good news to companies all over the world. As freelancers are free to choose whom they want to work for and which projects they want to take on, they are quite likely to be happier and therefore, also more productive than your average employees.

At the same time, the flexibility for you is tremendous. Without much ado, you can assemble world-class top specialists for any job you need done. They will be masters at collaboration and will bring in additional skills when needed. And when your problem is solved, you no longer need to pay them for their services, nor will you have the burden of finding new projects challenging enough to keep them happy until the next time you need their special skills.

Top people and high flexibility is the recipe for success, so unsurprisingly there are numerous studies verifying that using an extended workforce is making companies more competitive. In one study, the majority of executives surveyed (55 percent) described the contingent workforce as highly valuable for their business. When Manpower surveyed 41,000 employers in 35 countries, 34 percent of the respondents said that non-permanent members of an organization’s workforce (including outsourced workers and consultants) were an important element of their organization’s workforce strategy.

At the same time, access to these new super employees is becoming radically easier. New online platforms are popping up where you can find exactly the skills you need. Online independent contractor talent platforms such as Elance, oDesk and TopCoder—is a rapidly growing market, with more than one million workers having earned one to two billion dollars over the past ten years in this industry.

You must get your own house in order

So, where’s the catch? Well, with the extended workforce and the contact points in place, thousands of experts are just waiting for you to call. But it will require something from your own organization. First of all, your organization probably needs to introduce a completely new, and more open, collaborative work style to embrace specialists who are not part of your own organization. You must start partnering up with networks of specialists with skills you may need some time later. And you must ensure that your own organization has the software and collaboration tools needed to stay in touch with the knowledge nomads of the new economy.

If you get that right, you are good to go. Have fun with your 60 million new (almost) employees. I’m sure you are going to accomplish great things together.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Is Your Company Ready for the Me, Me, Me Generation?

By Holger Reisinger

In a few years, the millennial generation will constitute the majority of all employees. The Ms are more skilled, more “networked,” and more self-sufficient than any generation we have ever seen. Here’s how you prepare your company for the Me, Me, Me generation.

With the baby boomers retiring, one of the largest generations in history will be replaced by a smaller generation with a mindset completely shaped by the Internet, social media, and the financial crisis.

In the U.S. alone, 78 million baby boomers will be replaced by only 45 million Millennials, leading to a crushing deficit of talent, skilled managers, and top performers.

In 2020, Generation M will represent some 44 percent of the U.S. workforce, and in 2025, they will constitute a whopping 75 percent. The same goes for most of the rest of the western world. So, it’s time to adapt to their new ways of working. Here’s my take on how you can become the Millennials’ preferred employer and beat the competition in the hunt for top talent:

  1. Create a compelling company cultureFirst of all, your will not have an everlasting relationship with the Millennials. They change jobs often and will switch in and out of jobs, freelance work, and off periods, spending time on themselves. They are driven toward interesting cultures. Cool people want to work with other cool people. So, you should create an engaging and cool workplace with a strong and compelling company culture to stay on top. They want to be in a community where they are understood, included, accepted, and respected. Think of Google and Twitter and you are getting closer.
  2. Create powerful networksThe Millennials are formidable networkers. And with the rise of digital social networks, they can change these networks into very powerful change agents. Therefore, they will seek networks, not workplaces. The future belongs to the companies that think outward, building strong networks, not only in the industry but across industries, disciplines, borders - you name it. In the future you will build your business through networking, recruit through networking, sell through networking, etc.

  3. Build a new reward systemGrowing up with videogames and being constantly “on,” the Millennials are used to instant gratification in all elements of life. When they need or want something, they react spontaneously and require an instant response. In the future you must secure constant feedback and rewards to make your employees desire to strive. The smartest companies will turn their work processes into “games,” where employees will be able to reward themselves and each other for a job well done.
  4. Create a “me, me, me” workspaceThe Me generation will require a “me” workplace. The opportunity to pick and choose will be important. All work must be changed into projects where employees can join the ones they want to work on. The old school cubicle must also go, leaving room for more personalized workspace, should they choose to go to work instead of working from somewhere else. And you can throw the employee handbook out – they will not read it anyway.

  5. Quit the patriarchal management style
    Finally, the Millennials will not follow traditional leaders. Instead they will seek inspirational managers that help them to navigate rather than to direct in a predefined way. Being used to ever-changing networks and solving challenges in network groups, they will not respond well to traditional hierarchies, but will prefer informal dialogue built on mutual respect. 

Overwhelmed? Don’t be, because I have some good news. If you ensure secure, constant dialogue, the Millennials will help you build this perfect workplace themselves. Because that’s what they do: they set their hearts on something, find the people that can help them anywhere in the world, and create wonderful things.

All you need to do is say goodbye to your old school thinking and enjoy the ride!