A brave new frontier of human capital management is emerging and it’s being fueled by technological innovations that will fundamentally change the way organizations do business, award-winning author and workplace strategy expert Tamara J. Erickson told attendees in September 2010, at the 13th annual HR Technology Conference & Exposition in Chicago. Collaborative technologies will affect “how we work, where we work, who we work with and who has a voice in the workplace,” said Erickson, the conference’s opening keynote speaker.
She outlined some of the ways technology will affect the future of work, such as by allowing:
- Extended collaboration, which will allow large groups of people to collaborate.
- Faster retrieval of information.
- Unstructured interactions among individuals and groups.
- Communication patterns that can be tracked over time.
- Activities that can occur in synchrony.
Yet “most companies haven’t begun to scratch the surface” when it comes to taking advantage of what these new technologies can do, Erickson said. “But let me remind you that when the telephone was introduced, people thought that was a frivolous technology that would never be used in business.”
‘Becoming a “community of adults” is the first step in adopting social technology. If you want people to act like adults, you have to treat them like adults.’
Tamara J. Erickson, workplace strategy expert
She said organizations should no longer ask whether they should adopt collaborative technologies. “That question is past,” Erickson told the audience. “I don’t think we have a choice. If you don’t do it, your competition will.”
So why is technology adoption so difficult? Erickson offered several reasons:
- It’s not worth it to the organization.
- Employees have to want to do it and can’t be forced.
- The technologies change the way companies are led and the way they are organized.
- A company’s “unwritten rules” discourage use.
Overcoming such barriers requires that organizations first rethink their assumptions about the employer/employee relationship, Erickson said. The old paradigm of employee loyalty being rewarded with protection and care will give way to a new equation where employees will be rewarded for discretionary effort and relevant skills. She cited companies such as Best Buy, with its “Results-Only Work Environment” program that shifts the focus from employee’s schedules to their work outcomes, and online retailer Zappos.com, which pays new hires $2,000 to quit after one week if they decide they don’t want to work for the company.
The paternalistic approach to managing employees that has been seen in the past won’t work for the collaborative organizations of the future, Erickson said. “Becoming a ‘community of adults’ is the first step in adopting social technology. If you want people to act like adults, you have to treat them like adults.”
She challenged current assumptions about what motivates workers and what people want from their jobs. “How many of you assume that if you see employees working, they are, or that if you pay someone more money they’ll work harder?” She offered several case studies of businesses that have abandoned old ways and embraced new ways of working, including moving from annual performance reviews to a practice of continuous peer feedback; giving employees a voice in who joins their team and creating employee councils and networks to make business decisions.
“In the last century, the iconic companies were the ones that mastered quality, quantity and cost. In this century, the iconic companies are going to be those that have figured out how to mobilize intelligence—the knowledge of their employees, customers and the larger community. The companies that harness knowledge and use it in innovative ways will dominate,” Erickson said.
As befitting a conference devoted to technology, the conference took advantage of the latest tech tools. Participants could download a mobile application to view information about the conference’s 32 sessions, 200 exhibitors and dozens of presenters and they could join in conversations about the event by posting comments on a Twitter stream.
Desda Moss is managing editor of HR Magazine.