- A connected, collaborative workforce is critical for innovation success in today’s business landscape.
- Removing distance between employees, by breaking down silos, will create a common language to work from.
- C-suites must become leaner, not expanded, to ensure more collaboration, not less.
Here’s an unnerving stat. An IDC report predicted that “70% of siloed digital transformation initiatives will ultimately fail because of insufficient collaboration, integration, sourcing, or project management.”1 Whether the failure derives from workforce resistance to a new technology platform or the C-suite’s neglect to deliver and build new digital capabilities in the organisation, efforts to drive meaningful change through existing organisation channels often fail — while causing great disruption.
Too often, organisations don’t deploy technology innovations in a way that captures business value. Case in point: a few years ago, an industrial company implemented a new customer platform throughout its enterprise. But much of the sales team in the field still hasn’t embraced the new system and continues to use email and a note-taking app. How can a large enterprise increase sales productivity in a workforce that is using three different tools and that won’t adopt the new, and presumably better, product?
The answer to this problem lies in rethinking what it means for employees to be connected. Colleagues from disparate parts of the workforce must become dependent on one another if they are to drive true innovation. After all, collaboration is about more than showing up to work in an office with an open floor plan, free snacks, and ping pong. Collaboration in business is about aligning teams across disciplines in the right way to stimulate growth and innovation.
When people work in silos, different units and capabilities are pulled in when the time is right. Legal might hand off to marketing, or the user experience team is consulted only after design is completed. This approach won’t cut it in today’s mobile — and social-first digital world, in which everything has to be simple, seamless, and intuitive from the start. And it particularly doesn’t work when it comes to digital and technology initiatives. It’s hard, for instance, to develop a cohesive and unified digital vision when 68% of digital and tech spending occurs outside of IT budgets.
Building a working environment conducive to collaboration is key. Rather than encourage people to toil in isolation or only with their peer groups, modern working environments must allow for a cross section of specialists to be in close proximity to one another, even if that closeness is achieved only in cyberspace. When they learn how their teammates work, colleagues will develop the next imperative for a connected workforce: the ability to understand one another’s working language.
To succeed in the workplace, all employees, from entry level to the C-suite, must possess a baseline of business, technology, and experience know-how. A common working language allows for the seamless collaboration and increased efficiency vital to moving at the speed of technology. When they share a working language, deep specialists in all areas of the organisation — lawyers, marketers, designers, programmers — can get a firmer grasp on what their colleagues are saying, and on what the business is asking for. In a truly connected workforce, cohesive teams of big thinkers and solution drivers address business issues that are no longer isolated to one discipline but intertwined across many.
Having a diversity of talent and richness of perspective can generate hyper-collaboration in your workforce. The same thinking applies to the C-suite, where the connection between strategic, financial, and digital decision makers should be strengthened. We know, for example, that fostering a more powerful collaboration among the chiefs of marketing, information, and digital in setting digital business strategy correlates to stronger financial performance. Yet only 53% of the companies in PwC’s 2015 Global Digital IQ Survey said their organizations have a common roadmap of their business strategy.
The expansion of the C-suite in recent years suggests organisations aren’t approaching digital transformation as efficiently and effectively as possible. The growth and expansion of roles like the chief innovation officer, chief digital officer, or chief technology officer suggest that top management may not be exchanging ideas and building new organisational capabilities in an optimal manner. These new executives, who often work in their silos, make connections among executive decision makers rather than allow them to develop organically. It’s a triage model, and it will eventually fall apart at the seams. What’s needed is a leaner C-suite in which all members, like the specialists mentioned above, share a common working language.
Just as today’s workforce doesn’t need roles designed to evangelise for, say, electric power or the telephone, it also doesn’t need roles designed to promote today’s revolutionary technologies. If executives in these roles can think in a connected fashion about business, experience, and technology, and if they can instill this mentality into the organisation, their job will be complete. And in the process, they will have helped create a connected C-suite whose skills and attitudes will trickle down to all levels of the business.
We’re already seeing this type of transition play out in industries including media, retail, and finance. Five years ago, according to our Digital IQ Survey, only 55% of CEOs said they had become their company’s single biggest champion for digital. In the 2017 survey, nearly 80% of CEOs said they were.
That signals a significant shift in mindset. It’s not easy to build a connected workforce. But doing so ensures that organisations will be more effective in implementing new initiatives and expanding their sense of what is possible.
A modified version of this article previously appeared in PwC’s strategy+business.