We is Greater Than Me Digital Futurist

Why Successful Collaboration Starts with Employee Empowerment Not Software

Blog, Generational Collaboration

The problem is many cultural transformations, and collaboration solutions are they focus on forcing change rather than a philosophy that includes those employees already disconnected or already feeling forced. At the same time, let’s face it; nobody likes being forced to do anything.

To truly drive cultural change empowering collaboration, there must be a shift in communication, and that starts with creating a foundation for three-way trust:

  1. Trust in leaders/managers by employees.
  2. Trust in employees by leaders/managers.
  3. Trust in company tools/technology/data by leaders/managers and employees.

Creating this foundation of trust can create great strides in empowering employees and the initial adoption of technology that can help amplify and scale collaboration but doesn’t guarantee long term adoption.

But sadly, most companies stop when it comes to establishing a trusted organization, therefore, leaving the three-way trust to stand on its own. Without any process for change such as new employees, a shift in company policy, the addition of modern technology, and maybe the most disruptive, the lack of education. No, not the lack of education on how to use a tool instead of training focused on teaching employees the value of sharing knowledge and working with others instead of the old mindset of holding on to what you know to make yourself irreplaceable.

Let’s face it the power of collaboration for team success is a massive net positive, and in most cases for management and executive leadership, the cost benefits and cultural benefits of collaboration are transformational. But the value is harder to see for the employee looking at their career growth, investing in their brand, and wanting to do what’s best for them.

The ways we collaborate and communicate have changed over the years yet are still the same.

Old pay phones before millennials

As with any change, there will be risks, and there will be rewards, and for the past 15 years, I’ve been an advocate of driving collaboration change in all different capacities. 

But the truth is in each experience the roadblocks haven’t been the technology, although that’s the easiest to blame and fix or lack of leadership buy-in, which is what most analysts like to focus on so they can continue to get hired to consult and advise.

We had massive leadership buy-in across the entire military when I was working at the Department of Defense, deploying Sharepoint solutions across different military branches. Which I will argue might have been one of the hardest collaborating jobs in the world, getting the Army to share cybersecurity policies with the Navy.

Not only did we invest in the technology, but we invested in a massive team to deploy and manage the technology during my time as a Technology Evangelist architecting and implementing a social business solution at a booming startup. This is also where we even decided to eliminate the ability to email between employees to drive adoption and a shift in the process (No, this didn’t work as we planned).

To the last 5+ years working with organizations like IBM, SAP and multiple startups on the adoption of social media, influencer marketing, and employee advocacy, all with an underlying goal of linking data and information between teams, between customers and product managers and in many cases between leadership and employee.

The one theme that prevented real success across all of these unique deployments of cultural collaboration transformation wasn’t technology or leadership buy-in rather the lack of employee empowerment. 

Over the years, I’ve heard thought leaders interchange the concepts of employee retention and employee advocacy with employee empowerment. Still, each has different goals and path towards successful adoption, and I believe when investing in employee empowerment first, retention and advocacy initiatives will have a much higher likelihood of success.

Digital Futurist Brian Fanzo Keynote Slide 5 Generations In The Workplace

No, It’s Not Just Millennials That Want Empowered!

As a self-aware “pager-wearing Millennial” myself, the idea of employee empowerment for failing into the bucket of a millennial stereotype isn’t acceptable. Such as associating empowerment with the need for participation trophies or the need for attention, but no leader for a minute should believe that millennials are the only ones that want to feel empowered,. Doesn’t every employee want to feel like their boss appreciates them and that the work they are doing is having a more significant impact on the company they work for than we have a much bigger problem than collaboration?

Because it’s a company policy because it’s the only option…

Because there’s some random gamification element in the new software that you were sold on as the glue to bring everyone together?

Forcing every employee to collaborate and communicate the same way will never work. While at the same time, allowing everyone to use whatever tool, app, or technology they want would not only be impossible to manage but would be a cybersecurity nightmare as well.

Yes, the answer comes back to employee empowerment but not just “employee” but multiple employees that represent the different collaboration and communication personas within your organization. This can seem overwhelming, and depending on the size and diversity of your organization can be, but starting small and empowering, your employee change agents is the best place to start.

Ginni Rometty quote

What’s in it for the employee?

There is no doubt a massive shift happening in the thought leadership space as leaders are no longer being praised for what they know rather how much they share with others and how good they are at conveying it in a relatable manner.

This shift hasn’t been as evident within organizations today because most companies still evaluate and incentivize employees based on the number of hours they work or in the more forward-thinking organizations the work they accomplish.

Seldom is an employee celebrated for the sharing of knowledge outside of their team or highlighted because of the content they created that builds trust and connection with customers.

Collaboration is ONLY successful over the long term if it’s both mutually beneficial and mutually empowered.

As I stated at the beginning, trust is the most critical component in creating a collaborative culture, and employees today WANT to trust their company. Still, trust can’t be just one-directional, just like collaboration can’t be all about the way the company wants to communicate.

As we continuously push forward in driving collaboration, I believe employee empowerment must be our highest priority.

This means helping managers create customize incentives for their employees!

Helping leaders see the value of investing in employee’s brands!

Employees are taking ownership of their own empowerment by driving change themselves and celebrating fellow employees driving the change they want to see.

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