The future of work is around the corner.  Are you ready?

For the first time in the world of work, what is needed most is a mindset shift in how we perceive work and how we run organizations. It’s time to start thinking about how you are preparing to enter a new world where we tap into communities, build trusted relationships and don’t wait for the robots to arrive at work but build human-centered organizations around shared purpose.

We already have a semi-robotic workforce that follows a routine and is governed by notions of fear and scarcity and a world of work where decisions are not being made and complexity is increasing as a result. Why is that people in today’s workforce can’t wait for the weekend, dread Mondays, call Wednesday “Hump Day” and Fridays “TGIF” (Thank Goodness it’s Friday)? Wouldn’t our world be a better place if we were able to do our life’s work?

Why is this happening?

It’s simple. We are using 20th century models and business practices in a 21st century world. Our institutions were built in an entirely different era and the cracks are starting to show. While people in all sectors love to talk about innovation and introduce technology into their organization, the practices that run organizations are archaic.

Somehow we have lost our way when it comes to business. We blame complexity and yet, we are the ones creating complexity with more and process and governance systems to drive what? Why is it so challenging to have conversations and make decisions? How long will it take before we realize that we are trying to force a square peg in a round hole?

How do we shift?

At the heart of the 21st century organization is not more programs and delegating responsibilities like diversity and inclusion to a function instead of making it every leader’s responsibility to build the best team. In the new organization, leaders are responsible for building great teams focused on projects. Managers in the new world of work manage projects, not people. Having an ignited workforce that knows how to implement the organization’s business strategy will separate the organizations that survive. And no, this is not a human resources issue. It is about leadership, vision and execution. It requires getting back to basic business common sense and participatory leadership.

And what would happen if people in organizations focus on solving problems and creating opportunities with shared purpose? The 21st century leader understands that the words on the page don’t matter as much as their actions. They know that they can’t keep sending out the same rhetoric crafted by their executive communication specialist and expect people to believe in what they are saying. There is still a lot of fear in today’s workplace but if you talked honestly with people they will tell you that they simply want to work for a company that means something in the world beyond slogans and symbolic gestures.

The 21st century leader understands that they need a foundation and an engine to drive their business. They are not layering more and more useless strategies and programs that simply overwhelm people. They don’t discuss social fluency and other jargon-laden concepts; instead, they create shared purpose. It no longer matters what you say you do as much as who you are and what you are creating in the world.

Imagine for one minute that everyone in your organization not only shared in its purpose but also understood their role in making it happen. What would your strategic roadmap look like then?  What kind of organization would you need to support it? Most definitely not a hierarchical one that requires a re-org every 18 months. Every organization, no matter its size, needs a reason for being.

Work as we know it has changed. We are witnessing new ways of working that have yet to be captured in business school text books and it’s confusing the hell out of the people at “the top.” While they want to keep up with all the shiny new toys, they are also hanging on by dear life at the same time. I wonder when they’ll wake up and realize that all those change management programs are hurting their organization and that all they really need is a clear shared purpose that people can internalize. Instead of communicating more and more change and making people more and more overwhelmed, why not share that we will always have change and need to find ways to integrate it rather than manage it?

For the 21st century organization, communication becomes increasingly important. And no, it’s not about delegating to a function that creates stakeholder maps and tactics with messages. That is old world. In our current world, we need to have conversations with the right people at the right time and bring them together. New world communicators will help leaders leverage new tools and learn to work out loud and become strategic storytellers. Imagine what happens when everyone in the organization can then tell high impact stories and spread ideas.

We need to realize that organization change management is an antiquated practice as we no longer need to delegate basic leadership to a function. We need authentic leaders who take people on a journey that includes the good times and the challenging ones because they know who they can bring in at the right time to help solve problems and drive direction.

Leaders who understand that the world is a fresh new canvass of opportunity are learning to inhale and manage a beta culture that continually evolves and creates.

I hope you enjoy this book as it takes you to key foundations of building a thriving 21st century organization that is connected on many levels. I look forward to connecting with you and hope you share your thoughts on my posts at itbusiness.ca/author/ayeletb

7 predictions for the 21st century organization in 2015

Ayelet Baron Ayelet Baron Published: 12/16/2014

There is a lot of hype about the future of work, but many of the changes we will see in 2015 and in future years are already taking shape. What we will experience is their acceleration as change continues to be the only constant in our world. Those leading with 21st century practices of abundance and possibilities understand that aligning people around shared purpose and simplifying work is at the heart of their success.

Power is shifting to the individual who now has 24/7 access to tools and information, which also means they have a much louder voice. An increasing number of employees are bringing new technology to work as IT departments continue to face an overwhelming abundance of devices and the challenges of mobility.

The new consumer is always connected, shares their opinions, has an abundance of choice, requires immediacy, seeks authenticity and values responsibility. What will emerge in 2015 is that the characteristics of the new employee will increasingly reflect those of the new consumer, especially with the increasing shifting demographics in the workforce. Younger generations like Millennials and Generation Z  will make their workforce entrances, and they will bring different needs and expectations to work. We will also see an increase in contingent workers who will change how work is done.

What can we expect in 2015?


2015 predictions

Here are seven trends 21st century organizations are leading in:

  1. Re-imagining our relationship with work. Not only is the world changing quickly, but work as we know it is also making some changes that will become more significant in 2015, which is a year of transformation. In Canada, we will still see many work environments that require 9 to 5 workdays but in other parts of the world, there will be a vast increase in the need for flexible schedules, when possible, because it’s what knowledge workers want. In 2015, 21st century leaders will take the opportunity to re-examine what work means to their employees. It’s time to shelve the annual employee survey and introduce ongoing two-way communication into the workplace. The only way to re-imagine work is to adopt the 21st century tool of conversation and say goodbye to the 20th century world of meetings for the sake of meetings.
  2. Realizing that people are the killer app for the 21st century. And no, “people” is not the name of a new app. It is the realization that we need to stop thinking about headcount and start realizing that our workplaces will require human beings to get work done. Organizations that build teams around shared purpose will find their business flourishing as thousands of unnecessary hours will no longer be wasted on endless meetings and information sharing. People will actually understand how their role drives a shared purpose– their ability to collaborate with others to drive results. The 21st century leader will simplify work and create opportunities for greater collaboration.
  3. Stopping the insanity: It’s not about the technology. CIOs need to continue to be proactive around changing security and mobility demands that the workforce will place on their infrastructure. They will also need to experience a mindset shift in 2015 on how to use technology as an enabler of the business and to stop leading with technology. People in 2015 will expect the technology to work and will want the same ease they have outside the workplace to connect with colleagues inside their organizations. They will need to be increasingly educated about security.

  4. Building connected networks is key to survival. Most leaders in large organizations do not know what talent they have within their organizations, and the same top performers continuously get rewarded with more work and special projects. As the contingent workforce increases and more employees will choose to become free agents, it will be increasingly challenging to find people with strategic skill sets. Using existing social networks as an enabler to creating relationships will become increasingly important.  What’s old, like creating trust and building relationships, will become new again. Connected networks will also become increasingly important to build trusted communities of employees, where collaboration can accelerate the business. Partnerships with customers will also become increasingly important, as some will seek more personalized experiences. It’s time for business to start learning from the sharing economy. As that economy goes mainstream, an increasing number of people will share their expertise, their stuff, and work in a new form of collaboration.
  5. Senior leaders will start incorporating into their strategies the need for new ways of working. They will understand that changing demographics like the younger generation should be viewed as an opportunity to innovate how we work instead of exacerbating their stress levels. My hope is that we will shift from focusing on platforms and bring back business common sense when it comes to how these platforms can help us realize our shared purpose. We will adopt methodologies like “Working Out Loud” and reduce our reliance on email. We need to think about what mobile devices and applications allow us to do, like having the flexibility to work from anywhere. The 21st century leader will know the world is open and that social networks facilitate collaboration between billions of people. We live in an open world and it is as big or small as our imagination.
  6. Human collaboration is making an important comeback to the world of work. If you are in healthcare, for example, patient-centricity will become increasingly important with organizations trying to be more empathetic to  patients’ needs as we move towards more personalized medicine. Organizations will continue to integrate human-centred design and it will no longer be a buzzword, but will become a business model to develop innovative, real-time solutions for real world problems. The 21st century leader will have the design capabilities to bring agility and nimbleness to the workplace by listening and becoming more responsive to a personalized world.
  7. Lifeworking will replace the fallacy of work-life balance. Both the younger generation and people in their 40s, 50s and 60s will start shifting their notions of how work fits into their lives. An increasing number of people will want to bring who they are to work, which will require 21st century organizations to introduce new programs from flexible schedules. It will also mean organizations will need to know how to access the best talent inside and outside the organization. Technology can increasingly enable organizations to meet the increasing needs of lifeworking. The 21st century leader will realize that we can no longer leave our personal selves at home and he or she will value a new world definition of diversity.

21st century leaders don’t need to apply band-aid solutions

Ayelet Baron Ayelet Baron Published: 02/25/2015

Have you ever thought that the organization is on life support and everyone is rushing towards it with more band-aids and medicine, but the bleeding continues? It’s not a very appealing image. And yet, it is our reality since we are still stuck in the 20th century when it comes to managing organizations and our leadership practices.

Close your eyes for a minute. When you open them you are watching a patient on a gurney in the ER of your local hospital. This patient is on life support and the doctors are standing on the side mumbling about their mysterious disease. They call in the experts. One suggests that the patient needs some social business strategy; that would surely revive the patient and the more followers it gets, the better. Another suggests a re-organization as maybe the parts are in the wrong configuration; that would surely  be the answer and stop the bleeding. If we just throw $50 million at the problem, we would fix it with a brand new liver. A third expert flies in from a far land and recommends a new branding campaign; that would positively help reposition the patient. With just a little more amplification of the messages, the patient would heal in no time. And finally the fourth world-renowned expert says that this cool new technology would solve all the woes not only for the patient but also for the world with its revolutionary capabilities.

And yet, the patient continues to bleed. When a band-aid is placed on one wound, another one opens up. Why?

Bandaid solutions

It’s simple. We’ve lost business common sense. We are living in a world that is seeking short-term solutions instead of doing the hard work. We need more systems-thinking approaches that start at the head and not the tail.

Here are some suggestions on how to stop the band-aid solutions for 21st century leaders:

  1. Always ask: what is the problem we are trying to solve? Spend as much time with as many people to clearly define the problem. Tap into an internal and external connected network. Assess what is not working for the patient. Where does it stem from? If you jump to the solution too quickly, you are simply using the “band-aid methodology.”
  2. Identify the band-aid solutions in place. Put the smelly fish on the table, or as we like to say in Canada, put the Moose on the table, and really acknowledge and address the problem.
  3. And then ask: what happens if we solve it? What is the opportunity? Does the patient get one more year to live or has the patient been able to not only heal itself but also create a new life? What is abundant in our world that creates new markets, products and/or services?
  4. Understand your own culture. Listen to people. Go have conversations (not meetings). Ask questions and listen. Find business partners who can help you analyze what you are hearing. Uncover the uniqueness of what is in the hearts and minds of people beyond the PowerPoint slogans. Assess the gap between what leaders are saying (words) and what they are doing (actions). Also understand what would motivate people to help the patient heal holistically.
  5. Don’t waste your time with best practices and someone else’s diagnosis. Please don’t go to the latest and greatest hyped solution on the market as your people will call it the “flavor of the month.” Find leaders who have gone through similar problems who may be outside of your business sphere and connect with them for conversations. Look for thought leaders who solved similar problems in practice not theory. Listen and learn about what worked and what didn’t for them. Remember your culture and prototype with the right people.
  6. Never do another re-organization (please). Go back to the drawing board and evaluate your mission, vision and strategic frameworks and ask yourself what’s our purpose? Invest the time in simplifying and leading with purpose. Shuffling the deck chairs on the titanic usually brings the same results – over and over. A re-org is simply a bandaid solution so take the time to identify and address the systemic problem. If your strategy is simply to build an organization based on “butts in seats” without the vision and purpose, prepare to fail. I see this story happen in so many organizations when leaders explain why they decided to change by talking about the organization chart before bringing people toward the vision and purpose.
  7. Create shared purpose. Forget the different departments and functions. Be very clear about what you will achieve together across the whole body of the organization and make sure the right organs are functioning together in harmony. Once you are clear, then and only then, figure out the people, technology and process you need to enable that purpose through a connected network with trusted internal and external communities.

What’s your shared purpose? What will make people jump out of bed every morning excited about achieving it? How do you tap into the hearts and minds of your killer app for the 21st century: people?

The future of work: How to be a 21st century leader at the edges

Ayelet Baron Ayelet Baron Published: 05/07/2014
Future of work

Every few years the business community latches on to some new “innovative” way of working that promises to reinvent corporate America. Everyone is buzzing about innovation and design thinking these days and what’s fascinating is neither of them are new concepts. Design thinking–a systemic approach to research, collaboration, business modeling and evaluation–helps us get back to a bit of common sense when it comes to business, and the future of work requires tons of common sense.

Find your organizational edge: What’s hiding in the margins?

What is often missing is that whatever methodology we choose, it must be embedded in our business DNA. You need to be willing to experiment and have the courage to look at possibilities that may be outside of your comfort zone. Getting a bunch of people in a room and applying design thinking may hurt your business more than help you if you merely use it as a new fad that you must have. You need to have the right people together (by design) and this way of working needs to be ingrained in your culture as a way to explore possibilities. This is where common sense and the future of work come into play.

We can no longer hide behind meetings and declare success just because we brought people together in a room and applied a cool new process. Because while we may be blue skying  in these meetings designing our thinking, there are a whole bunch of people working on the outside to disrupt our business model. Focus and speed become much more important in our ability to see beyond the present and find our edges. Mainstream is yesterday. What is in the margin that will help drive your business? What are your organization’s edges? Once you have your design, do you know how to make it happen?

A new leader is needed for the 21st century

The future of work needs new leaders; ones who are humble, confident and can jump start their organization around a vision that  takes them to the edges and allows them to not only innovate but also to experiment. The 21st organization needs leaders who may be led by the top but are driven by tapping into people inside and outside of the organization. They think and act not only by asking the right questions but also by listening and taking action. These leaders know that when facing an obstacle that what stands in their way brings them closer to the edges of their business. 

Have you seen this movie before?

I recently had a conversation with a manager who feels paralyzed; not by the external pressures of his industry but by the internal roadblocks. Shankar shared with me that he joined his company in 2010 when his start-up was acquired. He has great ideas that would have bottom line impact and take his organization to the 21st Century. But he is being told that he needs to be more like everyone else and that his style is too abrupt and transparent, His creativity and innovation are being crushed and he is being excluded from meetings and gets called out as an outlier that needs to reel himself in. He understands that everyone is under pressure but that this is an opportunity to go to edge with new thinking.

We’ve all seen this movie before. Shankar will ultimately leave the organization and find one where he can apply his breakthrough approaches. His organization is pushing him to their competitors instead of developing new breakthrough products. Who loses out? The manager who is not being allowed to apply his skill, talent and passion in his drive to take the organization to the next level and the organization who will end up watching their competitor launch a new, innovative product.

Umair Haque recently wrote a great piece on How and Why to Be a Leader (Not A Wannabe) and focused on the fact that 21st century leaders lead us to create, which is one of the goals of design thinking, We need leaders who challenge:

It’s often said that leaders “inspire”. But that’s only half the story. Leaders inspire us because they bring out the best in us. They evoke in us our fuller, better, truer, nobler selves. And that is why we love them — not merely because they paint portraits of a better lives, but because they impel us to be the creators of our own.

Courageous leaders look for ideas from everywhere. They know how to bring people together and build trusted relationships. They have the following skills:

  1. Build Trust. They start with the why and identify the problem. They do the hard work of spending time understanding and defining the problem they need to address. It is easy to jump to solutions and tactics. The hard work entails taking the time to fully understand the situation and see the opportunity. And they don’t delegate it. They lead by matching their words with their action. These leaders are able to be trusted since people see them living their values. They don’t have someone else writing in their voice but communicate authentically with conviction.
  2. Create Dialogue and Listen. They have conversations and some times tough ones that uncover the issues, the needs and share it with the right people, regardless of organizational hierarchy or boundaries. They want to do the right thing for the business and bring in the best solutions; not the latest shiny object or best practice that worked for someone else.
  3. Fail Openly and Share What They Gained. They don’t just focus on the success stories and feed them through the organization as the only way to drive the business. They ask and live “what/if?”  These leaders experiment and build in failure as a way to build a successful business. They understand that technology has given us more options to reach and connect with people and they can have new ways of acknowledging all efforts.
  4. Reward those who Identify the Edges. These leaders know how they like to be appreciated and recognized in personal ways and create new meaningful ways of recognizing and rewarding people. Good strategy means that you add value and know how tap into people to be different.

We need a new generation of leaders. And we need it now. 

People today want a leader who acts with courage, transparency and empathy. If you live it, you will win people’s trust and commitment. You will have thriving communities that you can tap into inside and outside of your organization. Leaders at the helm of 21st century organizations believe in the human capacity to drive their organization. They don’t talk about headcount and build fiefdoms, they inspire people at all levels of the organization by rewarding risk and those who create value. They do the hard work. They don’t delegate it to a handler or a function. They lead.

So I’ll leave you with this question, when you think of a 21st century leader, who do you think of and why? Are you one of them?

Our ability to dream unleashes innovation in the 21st century of possibilities

Ayelet Baron Ayelet Baron Published: 08/01/2014

Lately I have been questioning the right and wrong I was brought up to believe. As I get older, I find that some of the notions that were instilled in me and labeled as being wrong actually now feel very right to me.

One example is the society I live in distinguishes between the developed and the developing or underdeveloped world.  This distinction points out that one got it right and the other is still figuring it out.  It also assumes that the developing countries have yet to adopt the values of the superior, developed ones. Having many friends who live in what we on the west label the “Third World,” I always feel guilty when I use these terms as my friends have taught me so much and brought so much into my life about what’s possible. They are the ones who still dream.

A lot of the rules that have been written dictate to us what we need to dream and aspire for. And the same thought keeps running through my head, what if what I was brought up to believe as being so “right” is actually misleading?

In my work, I am finding that while employees believe their leaders have all the answers, that’s far from the truth. It’s like when we were children and believed our parents knew how to navigate life and the world and we found out years later that they were simply doing the best they can. There is a paternalistic hope that the people “at the top” got there because they knew what they were doing. And on most days, while they have the technical or scientific knowledge of their industry, they are making it up as they go, trying to find the latest management practice to implement. And at the same time, encouraging everyone to innovate when they themselves may have stopped dreaming.

The vision, mission and strategy are important elements for organizations to have everyone share why your organization exists and how you plan to implement it. But how many people understand what their specific role is in that framework? How much energy goes into building a common purpose where people know how to play their position? How much is real and how much is a PowerPoint deck you refer to when you do your quarterly reviews? Where does innovation sit in that framework? Is it integrated? Do people get rewarded and recognized for their innovation, which means successes and failures? If 90 per cent of innovation experiments “fail” are people free to fail nine out of 10 times?

The limiting challenge of innovation

John Perkins writes: “Our perception is the single most important factor in shaping the future.” In our concrete cities, we have office buildings where executives ask their employees to innovate. They create campaigns and slogans to help encourage their people to help them be more successful. And yet, they rob them of time to think and create with endless meetings and hours of email therapy. How many times have you heard a colleague say “I need to catch up and do my email”? How many times have you said that to yourself? When did ‘doing email’ equate to working?

I recently spoke to an executive who was exhausted from having to fly to meetings from London to San Francisco every other week. And having worked in hi-tech for years, I know firsthand that there are innovative ways to connect people and reduce the human wear and tear of travel. But in her corporate culture, the definition and need for face-to-face connection is eroding people’s health and capacity to think. Dana shared  with me that what she misses most about her work is the pure time to think. How could she possibly be innovative without the time to step back, breathe and think about what is possible? While she used to spend time thinking and preparing, she is now in perpetual catch-up mode when it comes to her work. Like her colleagues, she spends so much time going from meeting to meeting that she doesn’t have time for her work that gets pushed to evenings and weekends.

And here is the quandary, which is much larger than time. How can employees innovate when they have lost the ability to dream? Can you truly innovate in an environment where the structure in which you work constrains your ability to dream of what is possible?

Dreaming of possibilities is our opportunity

If the only constant is change and we know that change is happening across every industry, how do we create a culture where this principle is ingrained in how we work every day? How do we move innovation to a core capability that is embedded in the organization’s cultural DNA?

  1. Facilitate dreaming

As children, we spent most of our times dreaming and playing. Time stood still for us as we created a world of possibilities. Then at some point in our lives, we were told to stop “daydreaming” and live in reality. We were told to put our dreams aside and become practical.

Now as employees, we are no longer those children, who are carefree to dream and innovate. And I find it ironic that when I attend innovation summits as a keynote speaker, I often find the rooms set up in a way to bring that child within each of us back.  The rooms are set up to spark creativity and often have toys, candy and fun items to play with.

To truly innovate, we need not only time but to go back and dream. Before we jump into solutions, we need to ask questions. We need to be silly and think about what’s possible without constraints.

  1. Bring people together

And that doesn’t always have to be in person. Some of the most powerful meetings I’ve been to were across multiple time zones using technology where we saw each other and had conversations. When you get the right group of people together and enable the conversation with the right technology that connects them in conversation, magic happens.

Having conversations is a 21st century practice of allowing people to think and create in an unstructured way. Innovation happens when we allow for divergent conversation and often conflicts in thinking. We have been convinced that we must manage conflict but often, having some conflict allows us to come up with new ways.

  1. Enabling innovation

For most organizations enabling innovation is an afterthought and the root cause of why it doesn’t become part of the DNA of the organization. If your systems and processes don’t allow for people to have the time to dream, create and fail, you will have limited success.

While having a blueprint is important, it is much more important to design how you work and how you recognize and reward people as part of your overall innovation purpose. Ask yourself whether your technology enables people to connect and have conversations? Does your incentive program send the messages you want when it comes to innovation? What course corrections do you need to make?

I will leave you with this thought. The amount of dreaming taking place in your organization is correlated to your level of true innovation. Help people dream and create what is possible and you will see your people and organization thrive. And also make sure your systems and processes encourage it!

Building connected networks is the most important skill of the 21st century

Ayelet Baron Ayelet Baron Published: 09/15/2014
Connected Networks

The most important skill we need to develop for the 21st century is our ability to build strong partnerships. At the core of this is our relationships. Industry lines are blurring. We no longer know what industry Google, for example, is in. Does Netflix have a great distribution model or is it an award winning content creator?

The organizations that are re-inventing themselves are the ones that are moving to the edges with purpose. They also know how to create streamlined two-way communication internally and externally. They value dialogue and understand that people are at the center of everything. The currency is trust, which leads to strong partnerships.

A connected network knows no boundaries as it enables people internally and externally to connect around purpose and common needs and interests. It surpasses organizational hierarchies to connect people to each other and to ideas. In the 21st century, leaders moved from seeing a world of scarcity where they needed to compete to one of abundance where they can create new markets. Possibilities and opportunities are available to those who understand that the world is open and that social media is just a bunch of tools that help us reach people in more direct ways. They understand how to use video, for example, as a strategic tool to build thriving relationships and ultimately, partnerships anywhere in the world. These leaders know how to arm their business with the most valuable technologies to reach their goals. They never lead with technology.

Connected Network

What is a connected network?

Imagine that you were able to connect people around areas of interest and they were able to solve issues together. In most organizations, people know the people they work with and few have vast networks that span a large organization. Of course, smaller companies can innovate faster because they are nimble in terms of size and also they don’t have to reach consensus and fill a massive amount of templates to get work done. They can have conversations with the right people at the right time. But they, like large organizations, don’t always focus on how to streamline their work through robust internal and external connections.

What are we connecting?

Too many organizations are using 20th century practices to run a 21st century organization and the cracks are starting to show. Hierarchies play a role, as organizations do need structure and processes, and at the same time, the world has opened up and can connect with anyone anywhere. I started my day with a quick chat with a musician in Nairobi and tried to help him with a challenging situation. The technology is there; the knowledge of how to make it work for you is the opportunity.

There are three elements to building a thriving connected network:

1) Connections: Enabling the right people at the right time to connect on specific issues. There are people who define themselves as connectors who know how to look inside their network and connect people at the right time. They often get out of the middle and let these connections build and continue to grow the network. Ask yourself how can connections leverage existing networks to grow your business? How do you build a trusted network and then grow it with people who can help you meet your goals.

2) Conversations: When the right people can connect over a specific need, they engage in a two-way conversation. The shift is from meetings to engaging conversations around understanding and addressing issues. In a connected network, people know who to bring into the conversation at the right time to drive it further. In a business, organizational silos no longer dictate who is invited into the conversation and the shift is to making sure the business issue is being addressed by the right connections.

3) Co-creation: When the connected network brings the right connections to have the conversations to innovate and solve issues, co-creation takes place. This is why partnership becomes a critical edge for 21st century organizations as they recognize that through their connected network, they are able to drive business results and are not held back my antiquated 20th century management practices.

It takes hard work to build anything and learn from it

Some times you will never know how deep your connected network runs as the growth of it depends on continually extending it. Imagine, if you were running a clinical trial and wanted to introduce a mobile Health solution and all the traditional channels tell you that you are non-compliant with the FDA regulations. Then imagine, if you could turn to your connected network and ask them to help you with this innovative approach and your network can help you have the right conversations with the right people. And finally, imagine, if you were able to co-create a solution that would help you experiment and save more lives. That’s a real problem I am working to help a client with now.

One of the biggest challenges we have in our connected world is knowing who can help us in new ways and also having the courage to ask for help. A connected network allows you to break down barriers and bring innovation to save more lives through connections, conversations and co-creation.

The most important marketing strategy you need for the 21st century

Ayelet Baron Ayelet Baron Published: 06/13/2014

I recently was a keynote speaker on Preparing for the Future and the organizers asked me to be challenging and provocative with my messages. When I walked into the room, it was me who was feeling challenged by the traditional set-up. The room reflected the past and it hit me that there will be people who will hate what I share and those that will feel inspired by a world of new possibilities that is coming. A world where partnerships, relationships and trust are at its core.

What century are we in?

I wanted people to walk away with an understanding that the challenge we face is that we are still using antiquated systems in a new world of possibilities and opportunities. And one of them is our own filters and inability to truly listen and have meaningful conversations. It seems that too many people are living in their own bubble and numbing themselves with being overwhelmed that they only hear what they want to hear and disregard the rest. I was asked to challenge and make people think about what they can create in the world but the truth was that most people are comfortable with the status quo. Why would anyone want to rock the boat? Why would anyone consciously decide to step out of their comfort zone and change how they’ve always been doing things? Isn’t upsetting the apple cart dangerous?

And that is the true definition of change. Change happens every single time a person’s expectations are disrupted both in our professional and personal lives. Humans have habits and most people like predictability. Imagine you had your daily commute to the office and one day, you were told that you had to take a different route that would add 11 minutes to your commute. For some people, this would be a huge disruption of  their expectations of when they left their house and when they arrived at their office for their first meeting. For others, it would be a welcome change since the new route may add 11 minutes to their commute but it goes through a beautiful scenic view of the ocean and would make their drive more enjoyable. They would arrive at the office refreshed and inspired even though this change increased their commute. This is not a scenario I made up but a true story from a friend who lived in Dubai, where his commute to work kept changing when Dubai was constantly under development and construction.

Knowing this, my goal was to help this community prepare for the future by showing them that small shifts in how they approach business issues will help them pave the wave to becoming a true 21st century connected organization

The world is shifting

While in the 1800s we received most of our information in the town hall by governmental and religious institutions, the mass media age was about getting information from trusted media sources. Today, we trust strangers for where we eat, where we stay, what book to read and what healthcare professional we see. We can simply go online and read reviews and make decisions. And yet, we don’t know these strangers and what they like. Whenever I speak and ask whether anyone in the room has ever done this, most hands shoot up. There are always a few people who sit there shaking their heads saying no, I could never do that. But most people trust strangers on important decisions in their lives. When I read reviews, I always look at what the reviewer liked and disliked to see if we have anything in common. How do I know that what she thought was a fantastic hotel experience would be something I would enjoy? I question what those five stars mean and only trust it when I see we have some common tastes and views.

This age we live in is one where no matter how much advertising is done, people trust other people’s opinions. Technology today helps connect people to people. With technology, we can create a thriving connected network. We may blame technology for a lot and many people do. But it is only when we integrate it into our lives as an enabler do we reap the benefits. The world is now open to each and every single person on the planet who has a device and connectivity.

The 21st century opportunity

The true purpose of social networks (both internally and externally) is to bring likeminded people together in conversation. My social media 101 tip is that when people use social tools like Enterprise Social Network (ESN) or Twitter in a 20th century world fashion, they are simply using it like advertising to yell at people. The purpose of your social network is not to bring in bad habits like top down, one way communication to a collaborative way of working. The 21st century leader understands that the true purpose is to work out loud, have conversations and work in a community. And if this is not happening in your organization, please don’t blame the technology, ask yourself:

  • Are you posting one-way announcements? Have you made your social network a place where people only read about what’s going on?
  • Is everyone writing their own content or is an executive communication person ghostwriting for executives? Is there transparency and authenticity?
  • Are you seeding conversations and responding or are you complaining that too many people responded to your blog post?
  • Do you see it as “another place to go” or are you working out loud?
  • Are you having more conversations in your meetings and less PowerPoint because you started the conversation online?
  • Do people have enough trust to participate in your network?
  • Are you building safe communities for people to work in regardless of title, time zone and location?

The most important skill for the 21st century world of work

The most important skill we need to develop for the 21st century is our ability to build strong partnerships. And at the core of that are relationships. Industry lines are blurring. We no longer know what industry Google, for example, is in. And does Netflix have a great distribution model or is it an award winning content creator? The organizations that are re-inventing themselves are the ones that are moving to the edges with purpose. They also know how to create streamlined two-way communication internally and externally. They value dialogue and understand that people are at the centre of everything. The currency is trust, which leads to strong partnerships.

Here is what most marketers today won’t tell you

There are no gimmicks. No quick tricks. No magic carpets that will make your business grow. There is no viral campaign or social media magic that will produce the bottom line results you are looking for. It’s about doing the hard work. It’s not easy. It involves rejection and disappointment because it forces us to get out of our comfort zone. So forget about your social media strategy, the question you need to answer is what is your relationship, partnership strategy?

What is the most important social media secret for the 21st century?

Ayelet Baron Ayelet Baron Published: 08/18/2014
Integrating Technology

I am an early adopter of technology because I have been lucky enough to understand the value that it brings to business and my life. When I think about the power of technology, I think about how collaboration is changing the world and no, it’s not about a platform or a tool. It’s about how it enables us to connect and break down silos and connect with purpose.

In the 21st century organization, leaders understand how to enable their business with the right technology solutions and they abandon 20th century practices of leading with technology. There has been an abundance of failure with specific technology tools because organizations have used too many gimmicks and change management programs to introduce these new shiny objects instead if simply integrating them in how we work. The focus should never be on the tool, it’s about the business at hand and how the tool helps us.

I launched the first internal online community at Cisco Systems Inc. in 1999 and it failed miserably because of two reasons: 1) the organization was not ready and 2) we didn’t integrate it into the business flow. I would do it all over again because the learnings were immense and forever changed how I help organizations implement technology as an enabler. And that brings me to a hot button topic I have when it comes to social media. In 21st century organizations, leaders understand that social media is just a bunch of tools and they need to only choose the ones that are valuable to their business.

Yesterday a client asked me if he should be tweeting. My answer was, why do you think you should? How would it be valuable to your purpose? Through conversation, we realized that tweeting doesn’t serve his purpose because he did not care to integrate it into his work. So we decided he should simply get back to work and do what he does best.

Here is the most important secret about social media. It’s a bunch of tools. Did your organization ever have a TV or email strategy? If not, then why would you have a social media strategy? What would have happened today if you had a strategy for MySpace? When it comes to social media tools, the question that you need to ask yourself is which of these plethora of tools enable my business? If I look from my customer’s perspective, what is the best experience I can provide him or her by using these tools? We still don’t know which tools will be pervasive so the focus should not be on the tools but on how they enable your business and bring your culture to life.

And fans and followers are not reliable business metrics.  It’s not about the tools, it’s about relationships that can not only transform your business but can also change your life. I love speaking and sharing stories about how this happened in my life and how I have built a thriving connected network around the globe. You can also do it for your business if you adopt 21st century practices and realize there is no such thing as a social media expert. Ten years from now, how many people will have social media in their titles?

The five trends that are impacting our business from a social networking perspective are:

Technology changes, humans don’t.

It took radio 38 years to reach 50 million users, while iPhone applications took 9 months to reach 1 billion users.  Ten years ago, we did not have the smartphones we know and love today. Texting is the #1 most used data service in the world and very few organizations ever had an SMS strategy. Instead, they looked at how adoption can enable their business. Nonprofit organizations were first to tap into the power of SMS in mobile health and other strategic areas.

We trust strangers.

Anyone can influence anyone: We now trust strangers as much as our closest friends for restaurants we eat at, movies we watch, hotels we stay at and so much more.  How do we know that someone else’s 5-star rating is similar to what we like?  People also trust strangers recommendations and opinions much more than paid advertising. Think about what this means for your business.

Businesses are no longer the sole creators of their brand.

Social business brings forth the importance of relationships and will require leaders to be transparent and authentic, while agility will become an increasingly more important business driver.

Increased need to embrace the multi-generational workplace.

This is the first time in the history of work where we have five generations in the workplace with different needs and styles. Organizations will need to adapt and embrace the needs of the different generations especially to attract the younger employees with BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) acceptance, open workspaces and meaningful work, while balancing the needs of all employees.

The connected enterprise.

The power to draw resources and people when we need them to solve problems and meet challenges will become increasingly important.  The World Future Society predicts that we will move to a Hollywood-style work environment where will need to be able to pull the right skill sets for each project.  And the Connected Enterprise is one where a new class of company is emerging—one that uses collaborative Web 2.0 technologies intensively to connect the internal efforts of employees and to extend the organization’s reach to customers, partners, and suppliers. And if it is successful, it will turn into a Connected Network, where connections, conversations and co-creation takes place across a global network of connected individuals with no boundaries.

So what’s the important secret when it comes to social media in the 21st century? Pick the social media tools that help you achieve your business purpose and leave the gurus behind because you will build the most amazing relationships on earth.


Lifeworking in abundance in the 21st century

Ayelet Baron Ayelet Baron Published: 04/16/2015

If you were in a business setting and heard that a really successful person was about to enter the room, who would come to mind? Most likely you would think of a person who has attained a senior level position, maybe a CEO or Board member. This thinking is not unusual, especially for anyone who has spent his or her career in a corporate environment.

But in many ways, this thinking focuses on a very narrow definition of human achievement and is at the root of what we consider to be a crisis in 21st century careers.  Why a crisis? Because my friend and co-researcher Jamie Anderson and I believe that many people in business reach a level of high professional achievement only to realize that the commitments and tradeoffs that this requires are excessive.

In the words of Alain de Botton,

It is one thing for people to not achieve their dreams – but it is another for them to reach their professional goals and then to realize that the wider outcome is not what they want at all.”

Jamie and I share the belief that this realization has become an epidemic amongst many senior managers and leaders around the world.

One of the most topical themes in the debate on future careers is the impact of Generation Y who are now starting to enter many middle-management positions within organizations.  In our interactions with Gen Y, and increasingly with human resources professionals and senior managers themselves, Jamie and I have been continually told that Gen Y is more interested in “work-life balance.”

Gen Y has witnessed the generation before them commit a very large part of their lives to career and company, and many of these young people have started to question the trade-offs that are required to make it to the top. Many have also witnessed their parents and grandparents made redundant, sometimes after decades of service to an employer. In such an environment, it is not surprising that many within Gen Y have started to question a world in which organizational loyalty is expected but not always returned.

But we think that this debate misses something – it is not just Gen Y that is grappling with a more holistic appreciation of success. Another trend that is emerging at work that is significant but does not get as much attention as the millennial generation is the shift that is taking place in employees in their 40s, 50s and 60s. Indeed, the aspiration to be recognized as a multi-faceted and purposeful human being is powerfully present across even the upper echelons of senior management. But in so many cases these high- achievers hide their wider dreams and aspirations, and suffer in high-paid silence. There was a total of US$54 billion dollars in unpaid vacation pay reported in the U.S. alone in 2013, reflecting upon the true scope of the problem in many countries.

While many talk about millenials, most don’t realize a bigger shift that is happening. We are no longer experiencing mid-life crises. Our needs and wants are starting to shift from possessions to experiences. More and more people at all ages are craving more connection and community. Those in their 40s, 50s and 60s who have been on the “high potential” and “high achiever” tracks are starting to ask; “This is it? This is why I gave away my evenings and weekends for work and pursued the myth of work-life balance?”

Lifeworking in Abundance

How do you define success?

There are many who have been conditioned by the success trap – the manner in which so many career professionals find themselves on a path towards promotion responsibility and accountability that slowly but surely absorbs energy from other meaningful life activities. And then success was defined by finding the holy grail of work-life balance.

Some people define themselves by and through their work, and therefore have no sense of the conflicts that we are talking about. Their work is their life, and we wish such people every happiness in the way that they define success. I will focus in my discussion on the people who come to define happiness in a wider sense and experience 21st century abundance of opportunity. They move away from the 20th century scarcity mindset of fear and competition into our current world of abundance of collaboration and co-creation. They want to see their lifework in abundance and collaborate in trusted communities. They may decide to be a free agent (as 50 per cent of the U.S. workforce will be by 2020) but they very much see success as collaborating and partnering with others.

Work-life balance is an unattainable myth because the very definition of this term is part of the problem, and offer an alternative philosophy to purposeful living – what my co-researcher Jamie Anderson and I call lifeworking. This is an approach that does not try to separate life and work into two distinct and seemingly incompatible spheres, but instead meshes both into a new way of thinking about a life journey in the 21st century.

Is it time to redefine success? What’s your lifework?

You should work out loud in the 21st century

Ayelet Baron Ayelet Baron Published: 03/26/2015
Work out loud

If you have been engaging with my thinking on building thriving 21st century organizations, you will know that this is the best time to be alive as we live in an open and connected world. If this is our first encounter, I look forward to connecting and learning from your thinking. That is what is so exciting about our century: our ability to find the right people at the right time to have  conversations and co-create. To truly understand the power of technology, you need to start with what you want to create in your organization and get the technology you need to make it happen.

If you look at the introduction of Enterprise 2.0 into many organizations and why they have not been an overwhelming success, you will understand that the keys to the Tesla were given to drivers who did not know how to get it on the highway. And if you have ever driven a Tesla, you know what a smooth ride it is and can be. If we lead with technology, we will fail. If we see technology as a place to go, we will fail miserably.

Too often, internal communication and IT were given responsibility for these platforms and they used 19th century thinking to implementing them. Too many internal communication functions still practice one-way communication and these platforms are about having conversations and co-creating. If you are simply using them for blogging (executive announcements and memorandums) and one-way communication, you are missing their true value. And that’s what I have seen so many organizations doing over and over. An online community is not another place to go that you have to think about. If it is valuable you will tap into it as often as you need. Isn’t that what we do with texting and Instant Messaging?

Solving business problems with new ways of working

After a year as an Innovator in Residence at Roche, I have many stories to share with you on how to build a 21st century organization. One of the first new way of working I introduced with Sheila Babnis, global head strategic innovation product development, was working out loud. The problem we were trying to solve is how do we drive innovative thinking and behaviors across the organization at all levels. And we figured out how to do it with technology and conversations. It takes a lot of courage to make this shift and once you do, it’s almost impossible to go back.

What is working out loud?

If you have a small organization, working out loud can be very simple and easy although communication always seems complex. Working out loud is about sharing what you are working on in a way that brings other people to understand how they can also contribute. When you work out loud, you don’t need endless one-way presentations. You put your work out in the world and find unexpected partners. As Sheila shares:

Working out loud is more than just sharing information. I see it as a key to building and strengthening relationships, helping to identify the right connections and having the right conversations that open the door to co-creation.

Why work out loud?

My answer to this is why have secrets if everyone is working for the same organization. Knowledge is definitely power and the more you share, the more powerful your organization can be. The key benefits include:

  • Less time in mind-numbing meetings
  • More access to information that leads to increased effectiveness because we are working in an open environment
  • Enables us to build trusted relationships and communities focused on a shared purpose

How to work out loud?

Working Out Loud is about narrating your work in online communities, posting updates and information and questions for group discussion. It’s about time-shifting conversations. It’s about taking time to see what colleagues have posted and joining in those discussions.

According to Sheila and John Stepper, there are a few steps to get us going:

  •  Create a dedicated space to share and have conversations with your colleagues, share a dedicated space where you post information and discuss topics that everyone can see and comment on.
  • Make it a habit: find what’s valuable to you and if you can get the right people together you can have incredible ongoing conversations
  • Share: recognize that you are a source of abundant information and by sharing you enable colleagues to access information that can make them more effective in their jobs.
  • Tag your posts: tagging our posts in your collaboration space allows anyone to search for the information as they need it, or even choose to receive the information by requesting notifications on certain tags, topics, or by thought leaders and blog posters.
  • Encourage others to join you: as others join you in working out loud the exchange of conversation moves from building trust to ultimately building and strengthening relationships. With that trust, you are making connections to help solve problems at accelerated speeds!

What’s the impact?

The 21st century leader knows that work is about collaboration and co-creation. Working out loud ensures knowledge being shared vertically rather and horizontally increases the speed and adoption. Sharing information helps many more people in their thinking and helps them build new connections that are important to their work.

For Sheila, a few behavior changes were essential: The first was to stop attending so many meetings; and let others own the meetings and the personal relationships in some cases.It is tough to do when you are a connector. Ultimately SheiIa found that Working Out Loud enabled her to connect on a larger scale and with many new people who she could ask for help in solving problems, gathering information and more.

The impact was that Sheila balanced her time better. She has fewer meetings. Her team has cut time spent in meetings by almost 50 per cent. They work online and make decisions whenever they can. The method has accelerated the time to complete key deliverable and make important decisions. Sheila says she has more time to think.

There was also a significant mindset shift to this is about relationships to do things rather than networks to have. Relationships enables listening and hearing; relationships lead to conversations online and the ability to solve problems in new ways. WOL makes it faster and easier ask for help and make more things possible and things happen faster. Getting perspective from outside helped shape Sheila’s thinking and what Roche can do in the innovation space.

The bottom line is that Sheila is a 21st century leader and this is only one of many stories of how she adopted new ways of working. And there is no turning back. She’s happy to let go of her old way of working.  She finds WOL so much better.  As Sheila says, its great to have the community/network helping you get the job done every day.

So when will you start? What do you need help with to fundamentally shift your mindset and behaviors?

In the 21st century, we need less PowerPoint and more conversations

Ayelet Baron Ayelet Baron Published: 01/06/2015

The future of work needs to be a burning issue for all leaders. The workplace will tap into the best people who have the skills and capabilities to get the job done. We will be able to easily connect talent to solve big business problems, innovate, and deliver extraordinary results.

The coming years of work will be both about going back to business basics when it comes to people and talent and rethinking business to include how we can deliver results faster with leaders who can clearly communicate their vision. It will be a world in which employees and contingent workers will know their role in implementing the organization’s strategy without endless meetings and turf wars. It will be about executing a shared purpose. And yes, it is that simple.

The good news is the workplace is changing. Complex strategic plans no longer make sense as they waste time and resources because business is changing so fast. Still, strategic planning is more important today than ever. Done well, the planning process can be a catalyst for aligning the workforce and leveraging employees’ best thinking…  but it can’t be done without trusted relationships and agile engagement on an ongoing basis rather than annual process. The demands of customers and investors alike require today’s leaders to up their game on developing and executing well-defined plans that capture a mindset of abundance of opportunities and ensuring employees’ understand their specific role in delivering outcomes. Purposeful planning and execution are the new norm.

(Image: Softchoice).
(Image: Softchoice).

Where are we today?

Leaders have been slow to adapt to a world where top down hierarchies are no longer a viable way to run organizations, create growth, and motivate people. Many workplaces still have rigid organizational structures that encourage fiefdoms, silo mentality, and require frequent organizational changes as a result. And when we look at organizational design, it tends to be centralized by the CEO for control and the organizational structure most often does not reflect actual work patterns. Today’s organizations are also highly political where management bottlenecks decision-making. A great deal of energy invested internally and is wasted on defining work and political boundaries.

Employees around the world are increasingly frustrated that their potential and contributions are being wasted, while management expects greater and greater innovation from their people. According to the Deloitte LLP, 2010 Ethics and Workplace Survey, employees’ top three reasons for seeking new employment were:

  1. Loss of trust in their employer based on how decisions were made during the recession (48 per cent)
  2. Lack of transparency in leadership communication (46 per cent)
  3. Being treated unfairly or unethically by employers over the last 18 to 24 months (40 per cent)

And the irony is that ideas are not scarce. What’s scarce is the ability to execute on an idea. There is a growing need to redefine how work gets done so everyone wins.

What’s our opportunity?

Leaders have a huge opportunity to reinvent the workplace to tap into people’s needs for purpose and meaning by aligning talent with key projects. This will lead to the much-needed opportunities for innovation and productivity improvements. By focusing on how social technologies can connect and create communities, for example, organizations can more easily streamline work and create two-way communication channels for employees, customers and partners.

 What can you do?

The 21st organization leader knows how to lead with business and in 2015 will implement new ways of working. This year, I will share many ideas around new ways of working and here are the first three for you to consider.

  1. Stop talking at people. Stop using the word ‘audience’ when it comes to your communication. You are not on a stage yelling at people. Your goal is to communicate, which means listening and talking. In 2015, we want to have less PowerPoint meetings and more conversations. Build new world communication plans to outline how you engage with your people, customers, partners and other stakeholders. Leave the audiences for the actors on stage delivering a performance.
  2. Work out loud in 2015 and build thriving communities. Stop leading with technology and tools and start integrating them in how you work. I introduced working out loud at a recent client engagement and we managed to cut meetings by half as we took the conversations to the online collaborative platform and shared what we were working on. The meetings themselves became more meaningful because the background conversations already took place online. And it was not an easy journey as habits needed to change but it was worth the investment as decision-making accelerated and geographical distances were no longer a barrier to collaborating.
  3. Don’t think of technology as a place to go. Integrate it into your processes and how you work. Imagine if you simply made sure that every conversation you had was face-to-face, regardless of geography. Make sure your organization provides computers with cameras and has a platform that is a one-click call to anyone that has video. When you realize the power of video-conferencing, for example, and make it a habit and practice, you will change your culture and increase engagement. I can promise you that you will not see people multi-tasking when they are on a video call.

We will not make change happen with big programs, but with a mindful way of having our shared purpose at the core of how we align people. And we have an opportunity, as leaders, to show the path forward. My personal goal in 2015 is to help as many leaders and organizations thrive with purpose, so please comment here about what your challenges are or share what works for you so we can start working out loud. It’s a way of work and life for the 21st century organization as we can share and have more conversations so we can create more. Isn’t that what innovation is all about?

I look forward to seeing you share more in 2015. What are you waiting for?

Have you met the 21st century employee?

Ayelet Baron Ayelet Baron Published: 05/12/2015

While resistance to change continues to be alive and well in many organizations, the world is changing every day. We are in a time when entire economies, organizations and industries are transforming. And yet, we use antiquated organizational change management practices in our 21st century world. The biggest change leaders need to make is to have clarity on the shared purpose of their organization and how to deliver on it in a simple way where employees understand their roles.

Change is inevitable. And what is needed is a total mindset change and not a program that can be delegated to a team to do on behalf of the senior executive team. Today, we need less sponsors of change programs and more owners. We need a generation of leaders who understand why change is important to the business and their accountability to implementing it. We need to get back to business basics and stop this insanity. It will save organizations a lot of money in the long run. The question leaders need to be asking themselves today is does your organization know how to transform as the needs of your customers change?

And we need leaders with a new mindset

The 21st century leader needs to view themselves as a connector and community builder as they will need to bring the best people to solve problems; regardless of whether they are employees, contractors, consultants or partners. They will also need to break down the walls between functions and select ideas that can be converted to what their customers wants and need and get paid for it. And having the right leader is key to taking an idea to market. Organizations will need to define their most critical projects around their products and services and be aware of how many real leaders they have who can deliver results. Why have 56 projects running in your organization if there are only 7 real leaders who can bring them to the marketplace? It goes way beyond a title on a business card. In the 21st century, organizations need a 21st century leader:

21st Century Leadership

Why is this important?

There is one main reason: you don’t want to be left behind and have your business become irrelevant. I’ve already shared my thoughts around 21st century leadership in an earlier post, and we now need to understand the mindset of the 21st century employee.

What do we need to know about today’s employees?

If you want to understand the 21st century employee, you have to understand the new human (aka the new consumer). This is the first time in the history of work where we have more access to technology tools that give each of us a voice outside the corporate walls. In our daily life, we can each search for the best restaurants and hotels and read other people’s online reviews. We can also add our own when we have a great experience and more often, when we have a terrible one. Outside the work environment, we have a voice and can share our feelings whenever we want.

Too often, this changes when we come to work where we cannot express our voice openly as there are processes and procedures that dictate how employees are allowed to communicate. Many employees have inboxes overflowing with emails trying to push us to communicate in the online collaborative space and we can give feedback once a year in the annual employee survey. We don’t have the ability to have open, ongoing conversations because we are so busy being governed by the Google or Outlook calendar monster that takes us from meeting to meeting every day. And we ask ridiculous questions like should our employees be our brand ambassadors? Why would you not want your employees to have a voice and pride in what they do? Who better to convey the passion and purpose of your organization in the world?

How have we lost so much common sense when it comes to business? It’s time to get it back and have an understanding of the 21st century employee and why change is inevitable as it will start coming from the people who show up at work. Organizations that understand that this century is about collaboration and co-creation leave fear and scarcity behind, to pursue opportunities by creating new markets, services and/or products. They will also kill the annual employee survey and re-institute ongoing conversations and feedback into their very fabric.

This is how 21st Century Employees shows up at work:

21st century employee

Meaning: Pursues their lifework 

“If one wanted to crush and destroy a man entirely, to mete out to him the most terrible punishment,” wrote Dostoevsky, “all one would have to do would be to make him do work that was completely and utterly devoid of usefulness and meaning.”

The 21st century employee shows up as one person. She doesn’t buy into the work-life balance myth as she looks at how does her work fit into her life. She has an understanding of who she is and the impact she wants to have in the world. And this is not just about the Millennial generation and younger people. This employee also includes older generations who are now redefining success and realizing that working 24/7 is no longer tenable or desirable. An increasing number of people are currently questioning their relationship with work and are starting to pick themselves, which is why 50% of US workers will be free agents by 2020. People will no longer need to retire if they are doing their life’s work. They might choose to do something different but they won’t need to plan their escape from a job as work will just be part of our lives.

Meaning becomes far more important, which means there is a need to have a clear understanding of the organization’s purpose and how your employees can help achieve it. Authentic two-way communication becomes critical. There will be less canned messaging and more leaders who can inspire teams to achieve shared goals. The world for the 21st century employee is not pursuing the myth of work-life balance but doing their life’s work, which means how does work fit into our lives?

Choice: Has a voice inside and outside the organization

The 21st century employee wants to share his voice. We still need a level of governance and policies to protect the organization, especially in highly regulated environments, but instead of asking silly questions like should our employees be brand ambassadors, leaders tap into the collective expertise of  the people they spent months hiring and on-boarding and now retaining. The 21st century employee has a mindset of abundance. He knows that there are many opportunities for himself and for the organization because he is no longer confined by fear and scarcity. There is enough. The 21st century employee has a strong desire to make, do and create and be part of something bigger than himself.

In the 21st century, employees don’t wait to be picked; they pick themselves. Because they have an increasing amount of choice. When a person is doing their lifework, they are no longer governed by fear of losing their job. Over the next decade, for example, we will see more people taking vacation days and respecting themselves rather than the crisis we are witnessing today, where $54B in vacation was unused due to fear in 2013. When we have a choice and can express it, we have a voice. This new employee is  looking to be part of organizations that thrive on conversations and collaboration and bring the outside in.

Harmony: Collaborates and co-creates with others

There will still be plenty of jobs where people can be independent in their work. But as organizations start focusing on the key problems and opportunities they need to address to be successful, they will need to bring people together to deliver on them. The 21st century employee understands that being part of something bigger than her is going to be more personally fulfilling. She has a strong desire to collaborate and co-create with others. She understands that innovation is not a department but a way to experiment on what’s possible with others. Just take a look at how Theranos disrupted the $70B blood testing industry with a new business model.

Organizations will need to re-think how they measure success. While many messages that are being shared today are about the team, the metrics that measure success are still based on individual performance. There is a need to radically transform the performance review process from an annual, individualized process to one that helps people deliver shared purpose and measure shared goals. Your collaborative goals will not be achieved if you don’t infuse new ways of working that allow for true collaboration.

Network: Has a robust connected community

There is a big difference between a connected network and a trusted community. A network includes people you are connected to who you may not have deep relationships with, where a community includes people you trust and who trust you and usually has a common purpose.

Because the 21st century employee has a voice and wants to create, he has a robust network of people to tap into both inside and outside of the organization. One of the main reasons we were able to position Cisco Canada as the number two revenue generating country for the company in 2012 was because our strategy focused on the deep relationships our employees had in key communities. The 21st century employee shows up at work with existing connections and builds new ones. He wants to tap into his network and work within trusted communities and not organizational departments. Organizations that get it know how to build thriving online communities where employees can work and co-create.

Co-creates: Learns through dialogue

Many organizations are looking for ways to motivate employees who are seeking meaning in their work. From accountants to product development managers in large organizations, the search for purpose is everywhere. Co-creation projects are a powerful way to ensure employee satisfaction. More of us will see our working lives structured around short-term project based teams and more of a “Hollywood model,” where a team comes together and works as long as is needed and then disbands. Just like making a movie and bringing the best director, costume designer and editors, organizations will need to bring the best people with complimentary skills to co-create.

Often, these projects will be complex and will need more dialogue to get everyone up-to-speed on what needs to get done. This works for the 21st century employee who learns from co-creating with others through dialogue. Like the movie and television business, storytelling becomes much more important in the future of work as sharing of information quickly becomes key.

Impact: Cares locally, regionally and globally

An increasing number of employees want to see the impact their organization is making in their local community and the world. Millennials, relative to older generations, are all about giving back to communities that align with their core values and they are asking hard questions like where does the organization source its products and what does it do for the community? And we don’t talk enough about the shift that is taking place with all generations in the workforce, a reconnection to impact. The 21st century employee wants not only to have meaning and impact in the work he does, he also wants that impact measured.

Today, most organizations use antiquated measures for success that measure activity and do not track the impact. It’s usually an after thought to figure out if we what we did had the results we aspired to. We spend energy on the new technology that needs to be implemented by a certain date and don’t necessarily track its impact and then we wonder why it was not successful. If we have leaders who have a mindset of measuring impact, we will attract and retain the 21st century employee who is seeking value in his contributions. The beauty of technology is that it allows us to live in an open and connected world where we can build new communities and it also has made us increasingly conscious that we have a responsibility to our local, regional and global world. The new employee brings these beliefs to work and wants to work for organizations that make a difference. And it’s an opportunity for private sector organizations to find new ways to market by co-creating unusual partnerships across sectors on the edge.

Mobile: Wants flexibility and personalization

The 21st century employee is mobile where the devices simply allow them to connect any time, any where. Mobile is not just a technology anymore; it’s a way of life and work for the 21st century employee who wants flexibility and personalization. And yet many organizations take a transactional view of mobile and think about it as a technological device or remote working.

Leaders need to truly understand the opportunity that mobile provides and its importance in creating the future of work in the “Hollywood model.” New technologies like Enterprise 2.0 solutions need to be integrated in how we work so those conversations can take place outside the scheduled meetings where work actually happens. Video becomes increasingly important in the future of work in connecting us through conversations. Organizations that can tap into employees any where and connect them through video will be the ones 21st century employees will thrive in. Imagine the impact of reducing carbon footprint with being allowed your work in a mobile environment. And imagine a mobile workforce that has impact in the organization and the community. This is the new canvass we should be painting together.

Are you ready?

The 21st organization needs to be created. We need to move away from antiquated  management practices so we can tap into the hearts and minds of people who want to do their lifework. As a futurist, my job is to analyze trends and prepare leaders for what’s coming in the world of work and life. I hope this article helped you start thinking about what you are doing and the shifts you need to make. I look forward to having conversations on this. And I leave you with one question: “are you ready?”

Thank you for reading.

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