There’s a school of thought that says the best leaders hire great people, and then get the heck out of their way. But that’s a management philosophy that’s far easier said than done.
Bringing the best people on board and getting them to do their best work involves including the flexibility to innovate and a collaborative workplace culture where company vision and resources are designed to keep everyone energized and aligned on business goals.
In working closely with dozens of CEOs and executives over the years, I’ve seen again and again how choices around technology are among the most important in creating this optimal environment for innovation and productivity. This is especially true in light of the high competencies and expectations today’s workers have around technology to begin with.
The current labor force is indeed bringing greater technical savvy and a more entrepreneurial spirit to the marketplace than ever before. These folks are motivated to identify and solve problems immediately, and they use technology to do this whether they’re at home or at work. Significantly, they expect employers to bridge these two worlds as well.
Business technology redefined
The fact is, technology in our personal lives has changed the way we work in the office, and business leaders who don’t recognize this reality risk alienating the best and brightest. In an era where we can communicate from anywhere and create our own apps as a weekend project, it seems like an invitation to check your creativity at the door when companies cling to rigid, outdated technologies and IT-centric bureaucracies.
From the bring-your-own-device (BYOD) phenomenon over the past decade — where people bring their iPhones, Androids and other devices to work — to today’s self-serve apps and analytics boom, workers have gotten used to having more and more information at their fingertips. As a result, they are more productive on their own, and less patient with IT-led solutions delays and other bottlenecks.
As a follow on to BYOD, now there is a “bring your own application” (BYOA) trend, where employees build their own apps to find technological solutions to business problems. In this environment, which includes everything from online software development kits (SDK, or devkits) and tools like Google Hangouts to send a quick IM or Dropbox to house intellectual capital, employees get what they need without waiting for lengthy process implementations or enterprise-wide technological support.
Creating this flexible environment may sound like a no brainer decision. But again, it’s easier said than done. Implementing can be difficult.
It may be scary, after all, for those in charge of data protection and quality control to cede ground to business users looking to figure things out on their own. In an entrepreneurial landscape guided by BYOD and BYOA, leadership teams — especially CIOs and their IT staff — rightly worry about the impact of unauthorized technologies that may threaten their data and internal processes.
But with the appropriate governance, I’ve found that a flexible environment leads to a workforce of people who not only get things done, but also do so faster, better and often more economically.
A question of culture
So, where exactly is the intersection of technology and governance? And how, as managers and leaders, do we foster an agile information environment while maintaining proper regulations and restrictions on our data and assets?
The answer involves establishing a management culture that both empowers your people to identify problems and also holds them accountable to find solutions. The key here is to establish company-wide buy-in for the technology mission and to take an outcome, impact-based approach to problem solving. These are central priorities when deciding how much freedom and flexibility to allow your business users.
Once you embrace that culture, pick the tools and technologies that best correspond to the agility and autonomy you’re hoping to create for your workforce. This means you will probably not reach for outdated, overly-complex systems — be they enterprise-wide communication systems or bulky knowledge management centers — that rely excessively on your IT staff or a corps of outside consultants to run things.
As managers, we are in a truly unique position to wed our technology with our company culture. I often say the key is to understand the “speed of your people” and to build on that energy by picking tools, technologies and internal controls that allow employees to focus on solving problems.
What exactly does it mean to run your business at the “speed of your people”? To me, it means we can’t put silos or potential roadblocks in their way. We must create an environment that mirrors the agility they’re used to having outside of work. We have to reinforce a business culture where our people have access to the tools and capabilities they need — wherever and whenever they need them — to solve problems quickly and efficiently.
The end result is a workforce that feels empowered and inspired, and that wants and is able to do more for the business.