What to read this summer? For the passionate professional who wants to keep learning even on vacation, here are some of the books I’d like to recommend. From innovation, to the digital workplace, creative workspaces, diversity, leadership, and employee engagement – enjoy your holiday while diving into the world of work and communication!
The Innovators, by Walter Isaacson
“The computer and the Internet are among the most important inventions of our era, but few people know who created them. They were not conjured up in a garret or garage by solo inventors suitable to be singled out on magazine covers or put into a pantheon with Edison, Bell, and Morse. Instead, most of the innovations of the digital age were done collaboratively.”
This is how author Walter Isaacson introduces ‘The Innovators’, a fascinating tale of pioneers and entrepreneurs who are responsible for some of the most significant breakthroughs of the digital age.
The reason why I liked this book lies in Isaacson’s ability to describe the lives of these visionaries in detail. He shows their profound passion and deep care for building great products that ultimately changed our lives. At the same time, the author likes to emphasise how their remarkable inventions were mostly the results of collaboration. Being able to work in teams made those inventors “even more creative.”
“The tale of their teamwork is important because we don’t often focus on how central that skill is to innovation.”
The author likes to remind us of a crucial element to the partnership between humans and machines: creativity.
“We humans can remain relevant in an era of cognitive computing because we are able to think different, something that an algorithm, almost by definition, can’t master. We possess an imagination that, as Ada said, “bring together things, facts, ideas, conceptions in new, original, endless, ever-varying combinations.” We discern patterns and appreciate their beauty. We weave information into narratives. We are storytelling as well as social animals.”
Isaacson believes that arts and humanities should endeavor to appreciate the beauty of math and physics. And vice versa.
He encourages us to respect both the two worlds. But, more importantly he suggests understanding how they intersect. “The next phase of the Digital Revolution will bring even more new methods of marrying technology with the creative industries, such as media, fashion, music, entertainment, education, literature, and the arts.”
New platforms and social networks are enabling fresh opportunities for individual imagination and collaborative creativity. It is through the interplay between technology and the arts that new forms of expression will eventaully emerge.
“This innovation will come from people who are able to link beauty to engineering, humanity to technology, and poetry to processors.”
From Cascade to Conversation, by Katie Macaulay
“The premise of From Cascade to Conversation is that broadcasting to employees is now dangerously archaic. People everywhere have found their voice. They have both the desire and ability to converse across time and space. Employees no longer passively receive the message, but look to share and shape it” – Katie Macaulay
In her new book, Katie Macaulay captures the reason why having conversations with employees – rather than pushing messages to them – plays dividends to engagement, corporate reputation and sustainable business performance.
What I really liked about this manual is its ability to condense research and provide plenty of concrete examples drawn from corporate life. I also enjoyed the interviews in the form of conversation with professionals in the field. The result is a captivating reading on how to “unlock the collective wisdom of our workforce”.
“Organisations need to be constantly innovating. If we look solely to our strategists or management consultants for this thinking, we ignore the hundreds or thousands of people who know our organisation best; who create our products and deliver our services every day.”
Outlook and outlooks – conversing over screens
Thanks to technology and remote communications, workers now can have multiple conversations with colleagues across time and space. Yet, the large volume of messages they receive daily on their devices can inhibit effective communication. It is so easy and quick to send communications using the latest technology. The temptation to bombard employees with messages around the clock is huge.
“As a result,” writes Macaulay “employees tell us that they are missing important information because it is impossible to filter everything they receive. Many hit the delete button in defeat.”
The author likes to remind us that while emails, intranets and enterprise social networks can be a great source of productivity, at the same time they must be managed appropriately. “Without planned, considered implementation and support, they can cause frustration, confusion and stress.” These tools do not manage themselves, and the way an organisation adopt them is reflective of the culture.
Investing in social technology is not enough. In order to have open and authentic conversations on internal social networks, we need “ behavioural change: meaningful social exchanges that add value to the company will not spontaneously erupt across a workforce unless the conditions are right. An absence of trust, from either side, can make a workforce wary of speaking up and leadership appear wilfully incapable of hearing even if they do.”
Strategic Internal Communication, by David Cowan
We live in an extremely crowded communication age with the volume of digital information increasing 10-fold every five-year period. We are all interconnected and interdependent and our workplaces are increasingly diverse. “The rate of change and flexibility of attitudes and trends means there is greater transcience in our society with people moving places and positions more frequently,” writes Cowan.
Everything is considerably faster while our attention spans have become considerably shorter. Getting our messages out is cheaper, while hiding information is more difficult, which means “we have to communicate transparently.” At the same time, there is also an increasing demand on privacy and a sense of discomfort that transparency has become intrusion.
Yet, most organisations are still using 20th-century approaches to communicate to a 21st-century workforce.
While in the past internal communications was primarily focused on the ‘what we do’, today it should emphasise the ‘why of what we are doing’. Cowan’s book is an invitation to engage, to extend our reach to connect one another while creating positive participation and change.
We are all networked as people
The position the author takes in relation to the notion of being interconnected challenges some sacred cows of internal communication. He points out the changing role of the function inside the enterprise. “Who in your organisation can you get a message to so that you reach a greater number? They need not be ‘communications people’ or important managers; they are simply your natural communicators.”
In our age we are discovering that we are all networked as people. “Everyone is a communicator and networker, and communications has to be both a leadership function and a job for everyone.”
Communication is not technocratic as it was in last century but rather people-centric. This indicates that technology must be at the service of people and not the other way around.
Creating Authentic Organizations, by Robin Ryde and Lisa Sofianos
In Creating Authentic Organizations, Robin Ryde and Lisa Sofianos make a strong case for creating authenticity at work.
While businesses rarely have invested in authenticity as a major competitive advantage, a value-creating factor and driver of business performance, the authors are in no doubt that it is a crucial asset worth building.
What I particularly appreciated about this book is its ability to condense psychology with sociology and business. The result is a solid argument for taking individual responsibility in exercising the self at work. It develops a captivating journey toward personal discovery and self-expression within a corporate context.
“My authenticity sits with me, yours with you, and it is not our belief that it is anyone’s responsibility to find it or ‘fix it’ for someone.”
The manual also offers a variety of tips and guidelines that if followed, might help to “create authentic organisations, bringing meaning and engagement back to work.”
The prize of being authentic
What does it mean to be authentic at work, and why it is important?
“Think of authenticity as the degree to which one is true to one’s own personality, spirit or character, despite external pressure,” write the authors. In this scenario, people are themselves at work as they are in their private life. They recognise who they are, without pretending to be something different, without wearing a mask to make themselves more palatable to others, and without suppressing their own important values. They bring the whole self to work ‘every day’.
The prize that this offers at individual level is significant. It includes greater levels of engagement, well-being, productivity, and commitment. People have high levels of motivation by applying their own thoughts and experience to the task in hand. They take pride in the work they do and leverage their particular strengths to the job. They also learn much more due to a deeper personal application.
The authors like to remind us that, if this is done right, then organisations benefit enormously too. For example, in terms of innovation. As workers seek solutions to their own challenges and feel able to freely explore a variety of possibilities, their resourcefulness and creativity increase. “Not only does this deliver a benefit to the task but it also raises capability across, and for, the organisation.”
Throughout the book, Ryde and Sofianos see people as self-governing individuals who are ultimately responsible for claiming and exercising their own authenticity.
I found this view particularly insightful. “Authenticity is rightly a concern for all, but it is for the individual to define it for themselves, to strive to attain it (should they choose to), and importantly to resist giving way to the temptation that it is the job of management to furnish it for them.”
They point out that something needs to happen for people to be more authentic at work. They explore a model, which comprises three overlapping areas, or ‘freedoms’: Freedom to Operate; Freedom to Speak; and Freedom to Actualize.
However, claiming these freedoms is not enough. Workers have associated obligations. For example, within the Freedom to Operate, there are understandable limits to what is possible since organisations have a different ‘freedom to operate’ based on their industry. As such, employees are expected to appraise themselves of the corporate initiatives under way. Similarly, the more workers engage in discussions about the ‘elephant in the room’ (Freedom to Speak) the more they need to be sensitive and aware of the consequences for others in doing so.
Compendium for the Civic Economy, by architects 00:/
The notion of ‘business as usual’ has been widely discredited. New business models and forms of sharing resources are generating alternative types of employment. Against this background, ‘Compendium for the civic economy‘ invites us to build social capital to widen our opportunities for innovating. “Civic entrepreneurs are doing just that. Their initiatives are a source of optimism and resilience at a time when we sorely need both.”
This fascinating collection of case studies and lessons on the civic enterprise has been researched and created by 00:/. It captures the technological, cultural and organisational trends that are changing the fabric of our economy and society. It shows how civic entrepreneurs are achieving change through the use of collaborative and open-ended approaches, seeding new ideas, attracting diverse collaborators to shape their propositions, and achieving a variety of associated social, economic and environmental outcomes. “They make innovative use of new technology, innovative finance and wider social networks. They enable better use of undervalued resources whether physical or social.”
Understanding the civic economy
The definition of the civic economy given in the book may not be the easiest to grasp. “We define the civic economy as comprising people, ventures and behaviours that fuse innovative ways of doing from traditionally distinct spheres of civil society, the market and the state. Founded upon social values and goals, and using deeply collaborative approaches to development, production, knowledge sharing and financing, the civic economy generates goods, services and common infrastructures in ways that neither the state nor the market economy alone have been able to accomplish.”
Yet, when you look at the stories that the manual thoroughly describes, it all comes together.
A good example is Fab Lab (short for fabrication laboratory), a 21st century workspace where people engage in product design. It functions as a manufacturing workshop equipped with everything from 3D printers to wood-cutting and computerised embroidery machines. Its aim is to empower communities, enterprises and members of the public “to do it themselves.”
Around 50 Fab Labs across the world encourage the creation of everyday objects as well as the development of new ideas.
They also actively support collaborative learning. “Online platforms facilitate the exchange of knowledge and experience between Fab Lab users across the world, while within each Lab people are encouraged to document their work for future reference and to teach others how to handle equipment.”
The idea of the Fab Lab is particularly interesting for a number of reasons: it taps into people’s desire to build on their ideas, create their own products and share them with others. It also integrates a ‘play and experimental’ culture with high-tech opportunities. Plus, it combines work with a social meeting space breaking down barriers to participation while also encouraging an informal exchange of know-how.
The Psychology of Fear in Organizations, by Sheila Keegan
Is dealing with fear the answer to increasing creativity at work? Sheila Keegan, author of ‘The Psychology of Fear in Organizations’ thinks so.
An intriguing argument that Keegan makes is around building up resilience on individual, team and organisational level. Its value can be considerable, especially when working under stressful conditions.
“Teaching resilience is one route towards building stronger and more resourceful workforces and, equally, it is a way in which individual employees can feel better resourced and able to cope in challenging workplaces.”
In fact, the author links up increased resilience with optimism, persistence, and positivity – all elements that are incredibly important when managing an organisation back to health.
However, resilience is not enough in situations where interpersonal relationships are difficult. What we need is trust. This matters, a lot.
“Trust can make the difference between success and failure in an organisation. Without mutual trust, organisations and their employees will struggle.”
An organisation that is full of fear and distrust, or anger or suspicion will never thrive. “It may survive for a while as contracts, greed or power tie employees in, but it is a battle against human nature.”
Why is building trust so important for any business? Because, not only it leads to a happier and more productive workforce, but also greatly impacts on risk-taking and innovation.
The author has no doubts that creating high trust is the only viable option for the future of many organisations. “It is a business necessity. Innovation, in particular, is a risky endeavour, especially for the individuals who are actively involved in it. To experiment, fail and persevere with no guarantee of success, individuals need to feel the confidence of a trusting organisation to back them up.”
The Digital Renaissance of Work, by Paul Miller and Elizabeth Marsh
They have recently launched “The Digital Renaissance of Work: Delivering digital workplaces fit for the future.” Paul Miller is the CEO and Founder of the Digital Workplace Group (DWG). Elizabeth Marsh is DWG Director of Research.
In this interview, they share how digital tools are dramatically changing our experience of work. Plus, how organisations can create greater value by harnessing the power of their digital workplace.
Gloria Lombardi: Your book addresses the shift from the intranet to the digital workplace.
Elizabeth Marsh: By ‘digital workplace’ we mean all the technologies and tools that an employee uses to get their work done. It is not a bigger or better intranet. This is where sometimes misconception comes in.
Nevertheless, the intranet can very much be a focal point for understanding the wider digital workplace. It also acts as a point of integration. So, we see intranet managers as having a very important role in the digital workplace. Yet, this is just one aspect of it.
Paul Miller: One of the terms we use in DWG is ‘intranet-driven digital workplace’. It means seeing the intranet as a starting point, and a place for holding together many other different tools. It unifies communications, mobile, HR systems, procurement and all the other aspects of a digital workplace that would not be considered purely as part of an intranet.
The intranet is essential. But, the digital workplace is transformational. No CEO gets really excited about their intranet. But, they do get excited about the digital transformation of work. In a holistic and integrative way of thinking about it, it implies an entire new mind-set around work.
GL: What type of mind-set are we talking about?
PM: Personal accountability. Taking the responsibility for your own results, productivity and capabilities. The industrial revolution produced a relationship between employers and employees, which was like a parent-child. ‘You feed me and everything will be OK’. In the digital workplace, relationships are more informal and between equals – we talk about ‘freelancing the organisation’.
In a digital workplace we do not judge people based on how busy they are, but on the quality of their delivery. As a CEO of a company I accept different ways of working from my employees, as long as the quality of their outputs is what is expected.
Plus, you need a flexible mind-set. You are working far more virtually. The expectation of going to a specific office every single day and having a repeated pattern of work is something that people are leaving behind.
EM: No matter how well we design and implement the tools, if we do not get that mind-set right, a digital workplace will not work. At every level of the organisation we need to ask ‘How do we help people to shift that mind-set? Is training part of that?’ More than anything, leadership should model these new behaviors.
GL: The changing role of internal communications in the digital workplace. What’s your view?
EM: With employees working across multiple devices and channels, communicators need to think and plan carefully how to deliver their message.. A scenario where a new joiner chats with the CEO via social media is becoming much more common. The new role of the communicator is to optimise that ‘connectedness’.
PM: To add value, communicators need to empower staff to be part of the interactions happening on channels such as Chatter, Jive or Yammer. It is about evangelising new tools.
They are also required to have a full digital and technological understanding. The technology itself is getting simpler. The real requirement is to formulate a digital strategy for the organisation. The question is not, ‘we need to upgrade to SharePoint 2013’ But, ‘why and what we are going to do with these tools?’
Employee Engagement, by Emma Bridger
Emma Bridger is the author of the newly released ‘Employee Engagement’, a manual that takes a practical approach to core internal communications topics. I wanted to catch up with her to know more about her studies and what to expect from her book.
In this interview we discuss the role of social media, leadership as well as a new type of mindset to take effective steps toward the creation of engaging organisations.
Gloria Lombardi: ‘Employee Engagement’ is the title of your new book. What was the motivation behind writing on the subject?
Emma Bridger: There is a lot of great work on employee engagement, but most is academic.
‘Employee Engagement’ links the theory to the practice. It brings studies in psychology to the practicality of work to explain how to build and support engagement. I wanted to write a book for practitioners – a manual that would give them real practical tools and techniques, yet backed up by science and research.
GL: What is important for readers to know about the book?
EB: All the area around the ‘why’ of engagement, which I explore in one of the main chapters. We very rarely answer this question. We know what employee engagement is and that is matters. Yet, we often forget to ask ourselves why this is the case. We just intuitively say ‘if we are engaged, then we do a better job.’
GL: Will answering the ‘why’ contribute to the creation of better workplaces?
EB: Yes. We can appreciate the fundamentals for building experiences that enhance people’s positive feelings and happiness at work.
There is robust research that supports this idea that if we are in a particular space where we can experience certain emotions, then we will be able to work smarter, harder, more creatively and innovatively. Using that science to explain to the C-suite why employee engagement works is key.
Based on your research, how do you see the relationship between social technologies and staff engagement?
EB: Social media is providing an immense opportunity for employee engagement. For example in the way measurement is conducted. The days of the one-year engagement survey are over. Today, employees expect to contribute their thoughts and be included on a real-time basis.
Social technologies have been completely revolutionised by this aspect. New applications like Thymometrics and other tools are allowing employers to tap into staff’s ideas regularly. Ultimately, it helps the organisation to shift from transactional to transformational engagement.
But, it requires a change of perspective. Most companies are still in the mindset of ‘how can we stop our people doing this?’ rather than seeing it as a great opportunity to create dialogue.
Employees go to social media and external sites such as Glass Door at any time to express their voice. We can’t stop them doing that. So, it is better to encourage and channel these conversations internally. Enterprise social networks (ESNs) like Yammer, Jive, or Chatter have a key role here. They enable people to collaborate, feel part of a community, and have many more informal discussions.
GL: Let’s talk about leadership.
EB: It is one of the most important influences to engagement. Even if we work for a fantastic company, and we love our daily job and the people we work with, if our boss is not a good one, we are unlikely to be fully engaged.
We can’t pass over that. It just makes us feel miserable.
The Future of Work, by Jacob Morgan
Jacob Morgan is the author of The Future of Work and co-founder of the Future Of Work Community. He has studied, worked with and advised companies for over a decade to help them understand “how to create better experiences for employees,” as he puts it.
Gloria Lombardi: In your book you encourage organisations to think about and foster a “very different place to work.” What does that mean?
Jacob Morgan: There are a couple of important trends to consider. Firstly, the big global trends that are impacting the future of work – from globalisation, to Millennials entering the workforce, new technology and behaviours invading the company and the rise of mobility.
Secondly, the specific changes that we are going to see in the future of work. Over the next ten years we will see a focus on employee experience. It is about thinking of how employees interact with the company they work for and create a great experience for them – from how the individual finds that job to how they work there and what happens when they leave.
It also includes thinking of new ways to help staff shape their careers, giving them the technology that they want to use – it is about giving them a workplace environment where they feel they can succeed. It is basically re-thinking what it means to work and create a place where employees want to show up.
GL: You write about the digital workplace as something that every organisation needs to create
JM: Organisations have to create their digital workplace. It is the next evolution of how work is going to be done. In the world that we are living today and the world that we are living towards, if you don’t focus on digital transformation you are going to have many troubles in future.
The best way to move quickly and keep up with the changes is to experiment and ensure to have the right team and resources to empower that testing. Just like anything in our personal lives, when new technologies emerge, you test them; and if they are right for you, then you keep using them. Organisations need to have the same level of agility internally.
GL: How is this impacting on management practices?
JM: A very different model of management is emerging today. Before, it was the employee’s job to support and do what the manager said – it was their job to make managers look good.
The big shift that we are seeing now is that the manager exists to make the employee look good – the manager is supposed to encourage and empower staff like if they were a coacher or a mentor. This model is going to spread even further in future – managers are there to help employees.
GL: You also write about diversity and women in leadership position
JM: The workplace is changing so quickly that diversity is crucial – you need different perspectives, different points of view and different ways of thinking about and looking at problems.
The biggest area of frustration is that in many companies there is much talk but not so much implementation. Definitely it is not going as fast as it should be going.
GL: What should be done to change the situation?
JM: The biggest area is around education. Before writing my book, I had no idea of what it was like to be a woman in an executive role in a corporate environment. And, I believe many other people are not totally aware of this issue either. So, we need to have more education about the importance and values of diversity.
Also, making a strong effort from the top in bringing more diversity into the company. Again, Cisco is a great example. They have started a huge initiative aim at solving this problem and currently around 50% of the executive team are women.
Internal Communication: a manual for practitioners, by Liam FitzPatrick and Klavs Valskov
Liam FitzPatrick, Managing Partner at Agenda Strategies, together with Klavs Valskov, have recently released their new book ‘Internal Communication: a manual for practitioners.’ I met Liam, the well-known communicator to learn more about what to expect from their latest work.
GL: In your book you argue, “organisations need professionals who can coach leaders to drive behaviours through communication.” What skills do internal communicators need for doing that?
LF: They need two fundamental things. The first one is attitude. It is about constantly challenging leaders, asking them “Do you really know what you are saying? Do you really know what impact your communications have on the organisation?” This can be done at any level, not necessarily at a senior one. Even the person writing the newsletter or the employee organising the Christmas Party can be in a position to challenge.
However, what makes them able to challenge, is having a deep understanding of the organisation and its people; this is the second key thing. Internal communicators need a robust knowledge of their business and colleagues. From day one, they need to be thinking, “Do I know everyone here? Have I met them? Am I spending time with them? Do I have ways of tracking how they think?”
Only by having that deep understanding of the company, can internal communicators stop agreeing to doing things that aren’t effective, as well as to say ‘no’ to weak ideas. They will be able to come along with insights. Plus, senior leaders will respect their opinions much more.
GL: In terms of leadership, how do you see their relationship with communication?
LF: It is very hard to find leaders who don’t think that being a good communicator is part of their job. While many of them may know that communication is important, at the same time they don’t know how to be good at it. Quite often they would take advice from the nearest people to them. Our argument in the book is that internal communicators can get close to leaders by knowing their audience and always being on hand with data.
GL: You also write, “our argument is that great communications advisors are less obsessed about the process of communication than the outcomes it needs to deliver”. Could you explain with an example?
LF: If someone in a meeting says, “I’d like you to put this story on the intranet” the smart internal communicator doesn’t immediately go out and start developing the article. The smart communicator would stop and ask: “what’s the outcome that we want to achieve? What’s the behavior we want to drive?” With that goal in mind, they will be able to look at the best way to get the results that the business needs.
Which enables them to reply back: “Well, do you really think that an article on the intranet is the best solution to solve this problem?” Maybe it isn’t. If they are able to stop the conversation at that point, they can invest time and resources more effectively.
Quite often people go to internal communicators with a predetermined idea of what the solution is. But, the smart communicator needs to add value – that can be done only by having a clear idea of the result the business wants to achieve.
The Impact of Diversity on Global Leadership Performance. LEAD, by Sylvana Storey
Different ways of working across cultures and generations have become prominent in today’s global and complex organisations. How a leader embraces, coordinates and acts upon differences in the workplace is key to achieving business goals while supporting organisational identity and sustaining employee engagement.
I met with Change Management Consultant and author of “The Impact of Diversity on Global Leadership Performance. LEAD³” Sylvana Storey to learn more about the topic.
In her book Storey explains:
“Diversity is often seen as a problem for global business leaders – either because leaders in mature markets driven by compliance are experiencing ‘diversity fatigue’ or, leaders in emerging markets don’t always believe diversity is ‘relevant’ to their context.
“However, when diversity is seen from a ‘big picture’ perspective then it is acknowledged as being vital to global growth, sustainability and maintaining strategic advantage – it actually represents a huge commercial opportunity, but only if it is correctly understood and managed with this purpose in mind.”
In this video interview Storey shares her personal experience with discrimination – due to the colour of her skin or just for being a woman, and suggests what companies can do to help their workplaces be more diverse.
She also discusses three key dimensions of diversity: Structural diversity, which considers demographic and systemic differences; Cognitive diversity, which relates to the different ways of thinking, and Behavioural diversity, which pertains to the different ways of behaving.
“Organisations are complex adaptive systems that embody both technical and human processes. It is the humanness and quality of our relationships that ultimately drives an organisation’s success and therefore the focus on inclusion, engagement and collaboration that lies at the heart of diversity is also the heart of successful change.”