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Flexibility really is what it is cracked up to be

Dirty yoga dudeCan’t touch your toes? Afraid stretching is going to hurt? You’ll never know til you try. And even if you can’t reach below your knees today, with some effort and perseverance you’ll be doing gorilla in no time. Same can be said for evolving a company’s intranet; it’s not easy, and it takes time, it might even hurt a little, but it can be done.

What many internal online spaces (intranets, collaborative spaces, communities, …) need is to stand up and stretch – break out of the box that has contained them, and embrace a set up and structure that is more flexible and fluid. Like it or not, change is an integral part of today’s world in every way, and being able to keep up with said change, let alone getting ahead of it, can be the difference between an organization thriving or just subsisting.

And saying that a company’s culture or structure won’t allow for that flexibility is just an excuse to avoid the inevitable.

So maybe you can’t (and probably shouldn’t) go from the structured, inflexible technical ecosystem set up you have today to a fully open and agile internal online environment. But plotting a course to adopt a new, more malleable and responsive way of working, and putting in place the change management (people, process, and systems) protocols that will help you get there is the first step to a new, better way of working.

How flexible do we really need to be?  

Employees want to be more efficient. They want to be more effective. That doesn’t mean (necessarily) they want to be more social. Bottom line – if they see value in the change being proposed – saves them time everyday so now they can get to the gym, or make an extra Starbucks run; they have more flexibility in where they work (a topic for another post) because they can access any file, online, without the need to go through a 14-step authentication process – then they will adopt (the new processes and systems) and adapt (change they way they work). No matter how locked down and buttoned up they are in the ways they work and their processes, if they can connect the dots from proposed change to improved work efficiency/effectiveness/intuitiveness … then they will (likely) follow the lead laid out for them. As my colleague Kyle Dover pointed out in his recent blog post “People don’t resist change.  In fact, people routinely change their behaviors – IF they believe that the change will get them a better result than they get now.”

Do we really need to change? YES!

Work in the information age depends upon knowledge processes. Unlike industrial and business processes, knowledge processes are neither formalizable, nor predictable. In today’s world, where content counts more than the process, and the process is continually being manipulated and warped in ways that cannot be anticipated and codified due the very unpredictable nature of knowledge-based work, the systems that support the workers have to bend and sway with that constant state of change.

Enterprises are still largely structured to support antiquated, predictable industrial/business processes, which leads to an increasingly problematic knowledge process gap; a gap traditional intranets very often exemplify and exacerbate.  The bottom line is that an intranet needs the ability to adapt and support that change, and that means being in a constant state of evolution both from technology and processes perspectives:

  • Platforms have to be adaptable
  • People & processes need to be able to change quickly

Traditional intranets – based on web or enterprise content management systems, portal servers, or other technologies – and regardless of the perceived quality of the intranet or satisfaction level of the users . . . cannot accurately be described using terms like agile, flexible, or responsive.

What do we need to do?

Companies need to look at what they want, and need, to deliver how their associated work processes and technology (aka: their intranet) need to facilitate that end game, and THEN set a course for how to achieve it; recognizing the plan may not include the technology and processes currently in place. The next generation intranet – whether you call it the information workplace or the digital dashboard or whatever, has to link technology to knowledge.

Companies have to engineer an ecosystem and supporting processes that enable knowledge workers, not hinder them. Provide platforms that support and encourage the sharing and retention of knowledge in your workplace; be a destination where they can share and collaborate with their colleagues. The new focus needs to be on gaining agility and flexibility across the organization through improved processes that are facilitated with great technology choices.

Today’s effective and productive workplace is about open access and sharing data, letting employees access and analyze data from their own, unique perspective rather than prescribe what information people see and how they see it. Opening the channels and giving employees, teams, and partners more room to maneuver will help create agility, speed and flexibility in how things get done.


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