It’s an annual ritual for me — to go into analysis mode and investigate what’s making people thrilled and what’s making people die in digital. My findings fall squarely into several observations.
People are Aspirational…
The people who work inside organizations are generally pumped up at the beginning of each new year or fiscal budget. While they certainly reflect on the past year’s accomplishments and shortfalls, they are typically eager to get to work on new goals, build upon incremental successes, and dream of even larger, more aspirational projects and experiences that will benefit the company and their customers. I find all of this energy uplifting in principle.
And They Like Each Other…Pretty Much…
I don’t walk into as much interpersonal dysfunction as I used to. Back in the ‘90s, early internet adopters were pulling their hair out convincing people that the internet wasn’t some passing fad. The 2000s brought about epic battles between IT, whose initial reaction to any customer-facing project was “it’s not possible”, and marketing departments who were left rubbing a few nickels together to make something magical happen.
I see less “us vs. them” in most organizations. Oh sure. It’s still alive and well in many companies, but largely people like and respect each other more. This might have some generational qualities about it, as younger tech-native marketers know the importance of technology and technology people understand the value of a good digital experience, being heavy users of applications themselves. Within the walls of most organizations are people who understand the value each other can bring to a project.
But They’re Growing Intolerant of Their Organizations
While many breakthrough ideas are identified during free-form brainstorming sessions, the reality too often is that the organization itself is too disorganized to execute against those ideas. When I examine organizations, I still see industrial age checks and balances, separated by outdated departmental silos, and regulations that stifle ideas rather than encourage innovation. Too often, these excellent ideas break form from traditional lines of management, and unfortunately, no matter how aligned they may be with overall business objectives, they die due to institutional legacy. As a result, teams become disenfranchised from innovation at best to disillusioned with leadership at worst.
Modern organizations are recognizing that they themselves are the single most important element in creating success. Here are a few things successful organizations are doing to harness their own potential:
1. They are dropping bombs on organizational structure, pulling people from across the old silos into cross-functional teams. This means technologists, marketers, customer service personnel, and product team leaders actually sitting and working together.
2. They are developing shared goals that are measured by customer adoption and satisfaction rather than navel-gazing MBOs. These goals and Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) are non-departmental. In fact, they’re entirely customer-driven. Taking this approach prevents one group from saying they’re working on some other group’s project. To sound as trite as humanly possible, I’m saying that great efforts are “we” efforts, not “you” efforts. You’ll be surprised how liberating this view can be for the people who work together.
3. Egos are checked at the door. A couple of weeks ago, I encountered the worst leader I’ve ever encountered. He disenfranchised his entire team, calling them out in front of their peers, and essentially rendered everyone silent except for himself. I can tell you that nothing good will come from this team. No-thing. Innovation requires mutual respect coupled with unique talents. No one person has all the skills and understanding to execute something magical. Successful teams respectfully disagree, encourage debate, challenge preconceived assumptions, and are encouraged to fail in search of solutions. Egos derail these behaviors over and over again.
The technology revolution has caused us to forget that humans are still in charge. We’re emotional beings who carry loads of baggage to everything we do. We’re complicated. Humans are remarkable creatures, capable of so much good yet often eager to tear each other apart. You see these dynamics at play in very real ways every year as organizations of all types struggle with the reality that they’re expected to be more human and humane. We’re not machines, like we often were in the industrial age. All that grad school talk about the ‘Knowledge Economy’ means that the humans are in charge and with that comes all of the associated challenges and opportunities. Technology both enables and highlights the entire spectrum of the human experience inside organizations. It’s no wonder we’re challenged to create extraordinary outcomes, often misguidedly thinking “that new hot platform” will solve all of our problems.
This year, as I wrote about last week, I expect to be a critical one in the evolution of the modern organization. We have much to learn, undo, and recreate each and every day.