Time to re-imagine effective work

By Michael Sampson

In organisations where the IT Department equates success for new ways of working with installing the software correctly, all the great stuff doesn't happen. Employees ignore the new capabilities and keep using current tools to get their work done in historical ways. Or they make a minimal effort to comply with the IT mandate to "use SharePoint," but do so only for the most mundane of work processes. Although the organization has at its disposal new capabilities that offer transformative possibilities, they are relegated to insignificance through lack of imagination.

Re-imagining effective work is a double-loop approach to seeing the opportunities for improvement within an organization in light of new capabilities for how work can be done. In the first loop, the ability to see opportunities is enhanced by understanding the capabilities of new collaboration technologies, such as Microsoft SharePoint and Lync, IBM Connections and Sametime, and real-time collaboration tools from Cisco. In the second loop, new collaboration technologies are explored for their possibilities in transforming work practices, not because they happen to be the latest feature-rich whizz bang gadgets. 

A great example of re-imagining effective work comes from Cisco in Canada and North America. As is common with high-tech firms, Cisco used a multi-tier approach in its sales strategy, with a large number of salespeople complemented with a smaller set of technical sales specialists. At the appropriate point in the customer's buying cycle, the salesperson would invite a technical sales specialist to provide an on-site demonstration to a client or answer their specific technical questions. The incumbent approach was to tie a technical specialist to a specific geographical region. As a consequence, sales specialists spent their time travelling to and from client sites, and had to frantically work to keep up with a broad range of product-specific material. Sales people had difficulty finding the right specialist for a client interaction, and scheduling a client visit could take weeks, all of which prolonged sales activities.

When looking at this organizational problem, you could try to solve it by driving sales specialists to work harder, by hiring more sales specialists, or by using a fancy scheduling system to reduce time lag between request and delivery. What Cisco actually did speaks to the power of imagining a better way. First, the allocation of sales specialists to a geographical area was eliminated, and a new model introduced where sales specialists provided support remotely using Cisco's online meeting, video, and telepresence capabilities. Second, a new way of identifying the best available sales specialist for a given client opportunity was introduced to the sales people. While a local sales specialist - from a geographical perspective - may be able to answer a question, if they are otherwise busy the query can be addressed to all of Cisco's sales specialists across North America, and the best qualified and most available specialist could address the question.

These changes had benefits across multiple dimensions. Sales specialists had to travel less, which reduced Cisco's travel expenses and helped with work/life balance for the specialists. It became more possible for sales specialists to focus their attention on a specific product, building deep knowledge and skills in a focused set rather than having to address a broad range at a shallow level. Sales people gained better and faster access to sales specialists across North America. Clients benefitted from being able to engage directly with the best sales specialist across the region, and with less drag between agreeing to a meeting and being able to host the meeting. By re-imagining what effective work looked like, Cisco, its sales specialists, its sales people, and its clients were able to achieve a win-win-win-win.

Structural changes of this nature in work and organizational life are possible in light of new capabilities from collaboration technology, when applied with appropriate imagination and foresight. My current burning question is how to encourage changes of this nature and type among organizations. What is the mindset, toolkit, and exemplars we can draw on in our work with tools like Microsoft SharePoint and Lync to re-imagine effective work, not merely introduce a nicer filing cabinet or cheaper way of calling. I will be exploring this question during my presentation at the upcoming SharePoint conferences in Sydney and Auckland in July.

Michael Sampson is a Collaboration Strategist who works with end-user organizations on Making Collaboration Work, with focus areas of culture, governance, and adoption. He will be speaking at the upcoming SharePoint conferences in Sydney and Auckland on Re-Imagining Effective Work. Michael will also be facilitating pre- and post-conference workshops based on two of his books - User Adoption Strategies (on the Monday before the conferences) and Collaboration Roadmap for Organizations with SharePoint (on the Thursday after the conferences). Visit Michael on the web at michaelsampson.net.