Communication, Collaboration, and Change Management

Communication, Collaboration, and Change Management

The tools we use to manage and automate content collaboration and social interactions have become even more integrated and seamless within the workplace, with many of these feature-rich solutions providing options for both on-premises and cloud-based solutions. The enterprise platforms we use at work (CRM, ERP, HR and finance platforms, etc) are increasingly looking at not just solving core workloads, but in ensuring productivity when moving *between* workloads. This is a really, really good thing.

As a result, the focus of IT has largely shifted to what I call “integration through social extension” in which the social and collaborative tools we use act as a “social fabric” across these disparate systems. The result? I don’t *need* to go through the time and expense of integrating most of my systems on the back-end, because end users can integrate their activities on the front-end using cloud-based forms, workflows, and communication tools that provide a federated view of their customers and their data.

Multi-Tasking Hurts

While there have been many studies on the topic of productivity and the negative impact of switching between workloads, people generally understand and accept the fact that juggling too many tasks — or moving between too many screens and tabs — has a detrimental effect on personal productivity. For many organizations, the wealth of technology options have not improved upon this fundamental collaboration problem.

We understand the cost, and yet in an increasingly complex information worker reality, we continue to ask people to deliver on existing projects WHILE constantly communicating AND sharing AND keeping up-to-date on the latest technology. The rate of change happening around information workers is staggering.

When your work environment is plagued by multi-tasking, how productive are your end users?

We all have an idea running through our minds about what productivity means, and whether or not we think our organizations are good at getting the most out of our people. I’m not talking about the strengths or weaknesses of any single individual around time management or effectiveness in their roles (although that is certainly important) but at whether the platforms we use to get our work accomplished are designed and managed in a way that unleashes productivity, in general.

There is definitely an ROI for improving productivity: faster employee on-boarding and training, more business output, more usage of the platform (whether it be a broad collaboration platform such as SharePoint, or a focused solutions such as Salesforce), and of course, faster realization of the financial investments you’ve made in business and technology systems. But how much time have you spent actually analyzing those investments against specific business workloads?

Understanding Begins with Measurement

In my experience, most organizations do not adequately measure, and therefore have no clue as to whether their investments have delivered value, or simply kept their employees busy.

As you look at your own organization and identify the areas which have the greatest need for productivity improvements, are you able to identify the discreet workloads that could be improved?

I tend to look at these issues through a collaboration lens — so for this example, consider a common collaboration and knowledge management question: Are you optimized for search? At the core of any collaborative platform is the need to catalog your content and then, at some point in the future, locate the content and data within your platform. Whether building a product catalog, or a self-service support platform, or maybe even an overall knowledge management platform, you need to ensure that your plans include a detailed search strategy.

Seems like a no-brainer: any system with the primary function of capturing knowledge should make it easy to retrieve that content quickly and efficiently, right? However, without an end user productivity mindset, most organizations do not adequately plan for the “findability” of their content, opting instead for an out-of-the-box deployment that has not been optimized for their data or business scenarios. There are two aspects of search: improving “searchability” (optimizing the experience for how people search within your platform) and findability (optimizing for the artifact, so that it can be better located). You need to have a strategy for both.

Because organizations do not adequately measure, they do not understand the true costs of the loss of individual productivity.

Granted, it’s a hard problem. Search can be a huge, sticky mess for most organizations. There are people who earn PhD’s on the topic. However, solving the problem can become a competitive advantage.

Your focus should be on understanding the kinds of content/data/artifacts within your system, and automating — as best you can — this identification and the assignment of metadata.

The Modern Era of Integration

Communication, collaboration, and change management are the new methods for integrating disparate systems. These three areas have become critical to every organization’s productivity planning. And if you don’t have a plan, people will attempt to solve it on their own, using commercially available tools in an effort to improve communication and collaboration with their peers and customers. Many (most) of these solutions will be rolled out without thought of security, compliance, or scalability for your business.

The failure to address these areas — and to establish a change management model that is both transparent and responsive to your employee needs — means that people will continue to solve their growing needs with individual and inefficient solutions. How do we break the cycle, and course-correct? Look at how your end users are working, understand the current gaps from a user experience perspective, as well as an enterprise perspective, and identify solutions that can address both needs — or the governance activities required to help you manage those gaps.

Central to any productivity strategy is your change management process — because change management is the key to identifying where integrations can and should happen between tools and systems and data, how they should happen, and the benefits of these changes.

Successful change requires active communication. Make it crystal clear to your end users the priority, expected delivery, and ongoing status of their feature and solution requests. Communicate to them that no platform is ever static — but an ongoing list of priorities and discussions that continually moves forward. Have a process defined and in place to capture their feedback and requests. Transparency and communication are key. When people are communicating, needs and priorities become more clear, gaps are more quickly identified and solutions built, and productivity is optimized.

One lesson I’ve learned again and again throughout my career is

The more you involve people in the process, the more likely they are to accept the end result.

It all comes down to culture, which has a direct link to productivity. When people can see and participate first-hand in the change process, they’re better able to recognize the value of granular improvements — and more willing to work toward your renewed focus on not just individual needs, but enterprise-wide productivity.

Christian Buckley

Christian is a Microsoft Regional Director and Office Apps & Services MVP, and the Founder & CEO of CollabTalk LLC, an independent research and technical marketing services firm based in Lehi, Utah, through which he provides fractional-CMO for partners in the Microsoft ecosystem.