Summary: As part of the Social Business Collaboration 2013 conference in Berlin the attendants had the chance to discuss specific subjects in hosted groups in a so called “WorldCafé” format. The outcome of my “Mobility” round was incredible. Organizational and leadership subjects were discussed as essentials towards effective value contribution from a mobilized workforce putting a clear emphasis on expression like trust, care, managerial responsibility and expectations management. The severe impact on work and people culture in terms of quality awareness, individual responsibility and “caring for others” made clear how challenging it will be to simply squeeze existing business and operations models into a “mobile” mode. Really impressive was the fact that the “device” and “technology” angle was hardly touched in the discussion… Enjoy the read:
Perspectives on “mobility” as a foundation for the discussion
My role as moderator was to provide a couple of starting points for a discussion. I decided to draw a little illustrating setting out some key aspects of mobilized information work and workers.
In order to focus the conversation and retrieve tangible results from the conversation I decided to split the conversation into three major blocks, knowing that all of them of course converge and influence each other:
- Management & Leadership – What it means to lead a mobilized workforce and how the roles of managers will be affected
- Responsibility – The change of individual and collaborative responsiblity in a sense of making sure that others are enabled and that potential availability does not lead to a loss of work/life balance
- Quality – How mobilized employees have to take into account what quality they will be able to deliver depending on device and situation as well as the quality expecations coming from the ones that request input from people on the road
The incredible outcome of 6 rounds of conversation, discussion and input
Attendants from various industries (banking, business services, manufacturing, insurance, biotech…) were highly engaged and partly even emotional. TRUST turned out to be an essential element in the enabling a mobilized workforce to deliver success. Three dimensions of trust were discussed:
Trust that people will deliver even if they are not present.
Trust towards managers that the right work support is provided.
Trust that mobility does not mean “disconnection”.
In the same way the emotional expression of “caring for others” was put on the table. People have to develop a real interest that their peers are able to participate even if they are not present and that information is not kept in the “ivory tower” of the office.
So from a mobilized workforce derives a new level of responsibility: work result quality, contribution ad participation shall not be affected by absence. In the same way as managers have a new responsibility towards their subordinates in terms of not expecting a 24/7 availability and ignoring conditions such as different time zones. In that context 2 statements were particularly interesting:
“What can you expect from someone on the phone at 2 am in the morning?”
“Leaders have to understand that live broadcasting for corporate information to a globally distributed workforce will put a lot of people into a pretty miserable situation.”
Scalability was another interesting aspect: making sure that the impact of a specific expert(ise) is not limited by requiring physical presence. This might even go hand in hand with a note towards talent management: if relocation or unreasonable travel can be avoided for a particular role the options of high caliber candidates might increase substantially.
From an organisational perspective it was crystal clear that moving existing models of business operations unchanged into a “mobile mode” is destined to fail. Individual and collaborative value contribution in a mobile environment is substantially different from the one happening in a physically shared office space.
What came up from two angels was the war of generations at the mobile workplace. On the one hand in terms of “ability of adaption” and affinity on the other hand in terms of “training bottom-up” (not in the sense of using technology but in sense of “applying” it the right way!). For some representatives of the “established and experienced workforce” training from very young folks can be…challenging (how can they tell me how to “think mobile”).
With a decentralized and mobilized workforce one key paradigm definitely moves into the center right next to the aspect of “trust”:
Accountability vs. Control
It shouldn’t be the way to the result or the physical space in which the result was created. Management by objectives and results will be the key challenge to the established management pool that is in charge today.
The outcome in detail (MindMap in PDF Format)
In order provide – more or less – the actual results of the discussion I have consolidated the results in a MindMap. As part of the exercise I’ve tried to group them a little bit, which felt a little bit artificial because in many instances a statement can’t really be allocated to one subject alone. In order to keep it transparent and easy to read I’ve decided not to replicate statements for multiple groups connect statements across groups. I might have ended up with a subway map that actually scares of anyone who just remotely considers to think about the subject of “mobility”…