Why metaphors from the industrial era are no good for living, breathing offices3 min read . Updated: 30 Apr 2019, 01:28 AM IST
Organizations are ecosystems, or networks of connected competencies and teams
Delivered like clockwork. Well-oiled machine. The next growth engine. Have you heard these expressions at the workplace? These are used as metaphors to describe effective projects, teams and innovative ideas. These metaphors, rooted in the industrial age, give you a vivid imagery of wheels spinning in stunning precision, mechanical parts moving flawlessly and cylinders firing away. Efficiency and productivity are keywords that come to mind when you think of these systems.
These metaphors are so widely and frequently used that they deeply shape our thinking and understanding of our workplace. The problem is that these metaphors don’t describe modern workplaces. Machines are great at doing the same thing, the same way repeatedly over time. The metaphor of organizations as machines works well only when the environment is controlled, predictable and structured.
It is no secret that we live in a new hyperconnected era where there is heightened uncertainty and unpredictability. In the digital age, organizations are not machines; they operate more like living and breathing organisms. Accordingly, we need a new operating logic that defines the way our projects get done, how we operate in teams and how we unlock new ideas.
As we move from the machine to the organism metaphor, we find that traditional command and control hierarchies are dissolving. Organizations have become ecosystems and traditional organizational designs have transformed into networks of competencies where individuals and teams are connected both internally and externally in intricate ways. Consequently, individuals must work with a significantly greater number of stakeholders inside and outside the organization to accomplish their goals
Traditional sources of power, centred around authority and control, don’t have the same effectiveness as they did during the industrial age. So how does an employee get things done?
In the digital age, influencing is the new currency that helps one get things done. Here are the four things one must focus on to be able to influence stakeholders in the digital age.
Build a personal brand
In the absence of formal power, the focus has shifted to personal power. Personal power can be built by becoming an expert in a field and gaining the ability to influence due to followers’ loyalty, respect and admiration. It is important to build a unique point of view on your area of work. Always think in terms of adding value to your network. This helps you build a personal brand. Is there a field in which you are known as an expert? Start building your reputation around it by writing articles, blogging and engaging in conversations.
Be a super connector
Super connectors are individuals who excel at connecting resources, people, ideas and opportunities. They play the role of orchestrators of the network, constantly nourishing and guiding the activities of the network. To be a super connector, one must develop a keen eye to spot opportunities, connect the dots and orchestrate results.
Hyper-collaboration happens when a diverse team is able to create things that are beyond the sum of its parts. In the industrial era, teams were organized in the form of functional silos. Each silo was responsible for adding incremental value to the chain of activities. In the digital age, the linear model of value addition is giving way to a more connected, exponential value addition model where the network plays a significant role. One must focus on building relationships, nurture high awareness of the context and develop the ability to transform potential conflicts into opportunities.
Influencing happens indirectly through technology platforms. One must develop a system-wide understanding of what motivates different stakeholders, what incentives people respond to and the principles of influencing positive behaviours. Accomplishing this requires one to develop the ability to look at situations from a holistic perspective and devise incentives that drive positive behaviours from all stakeholders. Identify issues at your workplace that impact multiple stakeholders. Can you come up with a win-win solution and codify the solution in your process?
To conclude, influencing is a vital skill in the digital age. To be successful, individuals and teams must invest in building a personal brand, become super connectors, strive for hyper-collaboration and always think win-win to create sustainable opportunities for everyone.
Rajiv Jayaraman is founder and CEO of KNOLSKAPE, an end-to-end learning and assessments platform.
Work in the Digital Age discusses the skills and capabilities individuals and teams need in the new, hyperconnected workplace.