Supporting organizational design: the role of social technology

92% of senior executives and HR leaders rate organizational design – the process of aligning the structure of an organization to business objectives and realities – as a key priority, according to research published by Deloitte.

A shift is underway, triggering the need to adapt and evolve to survive the most challenging work environment yet. We need to be closer to our customers and our staff. We need the flexibility to respond quickly to change. We need to fully utilize our most valuable asset – our people – across the boundaries of function, department or location.

A new approach to organizational design is already underway across the globe. Companies are moving away from functional structures and removing emphasis on hierarchal management: instead, the focus is on the creation of dynamic, agile networks of empowered teams and a decentralization of authority.

Only 38% of all companies and 24% of large companies (>50,000 employees) are functionally organized today. (Source: Deloitte)

For this new organizational structure to be successful, you need the right tools.

There is no single ‘holy grail’ platform or tool that can address all these challenges, but business leaders are increasingly recognizing the value and flexibility of social technology to support organizational design goals.

In this blog, we explore the role social tools have to play and how to maximize their value when considering new organizational design.

Teams of purpose

Before exploring the technology that can support it, it’s worth exploring exactly what this new organizational design approach looks like.

The underlying philosophy is to view employees not as resources of their manager, but of the organization as a whole. Rather than assigning defined functions and responsibilities, with the associated job titles and job description, companies can deploy individuals according to their skillset where they are needed: for example, into teams aligned with a project, mission or customer need.

Organizational structures

In practice, launching a new product would see a team leader who was an expert in that domain, alongside representatives from the design team, engineering team, product team, QA, marketing, sales and more. This “micro team” would be specialists dedicated to the specific product development and launch. Once the product goes to market, the focus would no longer be required; individuals can be repurposed to the next project.

Hospital and healthcare organizations are leading the way with this approach. Rather than silo-ing professionals according to their medical specialty, which separates surgeons and medical specialists, leading providers are moving towards patient-centric teams aligned with a specific patient outcome.

For example, rather than having a patient go to a General Practitioner, to be referred to a specialist, who will refer to a surgeon, and then be discharged to support care or nursing services, individuals from each ‘function’ will work as part of a team to deliver a more integrated, seamless experience- with measurable benefits for the patient.

Supporting new organizational design

This new approach isn’t without its challenges.

When faced with globalized staff across multiple locations, the demand to share knowledge and connect individuals is vitally important. Aligning those teams with the mission and culture of the larger business and ensuring they can break out of traditional silos is more difficult still.

Only 14 percent of executives believe their companies are ready to effectively redesign their organizations. (Source: Deloitte)

After projects conclude, individuals still need a ‘home’ within the organization to return to: pure fluidity is not realistic for many organizations. Physically bringing individuals together may not always be feasible, calling for flexible working solutions and the supporting technology to ensure they can communicate and collaborate effectively – across the boundaries of location or time zone.

organizational design communications

There are also considerations for goal setting, performance management and individual progression. Removing focus from a hierarchal function-based structure may mean employees are working with and ‘managed’ by a multitude of individuals: calling for a collective process of assigning objectives, giving performance feedback and ensuring individual development.

So, where can social technology support in addressing these challenges and objectives?

Breaking down communication barriers

Unsurprisingly, the key role for social tools is to break down barriers to communication. Individuals need to be able to communicate in real time and break outside of the email inbox to build productive working relationships with their colleagues.

Social tools provide an efficient means for communicating using intuitive processes that employees already utilize in their day-to-day lives. Instant messaging or Enterprise Social Networks emulate the likes of WhatsApp or Facebook, making it easy to onboard staff to platforms.

“90% of companies using social technologies report some business benefit from them.” (McKinsey, ‘The Social Economy)

With a People Directory as part of your social platform, employees can effectively find one another by searching beyond name and function: looking for skills, expertise or interest to identify individuals that can support their team goals and objectives.

intranet profile - interact software

Social functions such as Timelines, forums and discussion groups or blogs also increase visibility for employees beyond their traditional silos, pushing information that they might not otherwise come across. With an intelligent intranet or social platform, user data can also support the ‘push’ of relevant or associated content, profiles or information, based on employee activity.

A centralized digital workplace

To be successful in their dedicated teams, employees need real-time access to the knowledge, information and tools required to complete tasks and achieve their goals.

For larger instances of organizational design in particular, this can present a challenge. Huge knowledge assets may be hosted across multiple servers or locations, or even by individuals. Employees may utilize multiple tools and applications to perform their roles, creating a disjointed network where information held on one application doesn’t necessarily align or communicate with another.

Investing in a technology stack which is designed around the principle of employee experience is key. For example, using a cloud-based intranet platform with integration functionality and single sign-on (SSO) can act as a one-stop-shop for employees: bringing together disparate information by integrating with online storage, for example. As mobile access to business applications continues to rise, it also ensures required information is available on-the-go, regardless of location or device.

By acting as a portal to access key business applications and providing a searchable platform to share and access information with peers, employees also enjoy higher levels of productivity, engagement and workplace satisfaction.

Interact integrations

(Interact provides seamless integration with common business applications and storage providers, acting as a ‘hub’ for employees to access the information and tools required to perform their roles. With single sign-on functionality, users can access these tools using a single login, without the need to jump from one platform to another.)

Creating collaborative spaces for agile teams

The governing principle of an agile organization is collaboration.

Social technology is built on this premise: bringing together individuals to collaborate and work harmoniously together. Those that offer team spaces that can be quickly and easily established according to project or objective, with content areas, timelines, calendars and discussion forums, offer a digital space for all members to work effectively.

The type of collaboration tools and features required will vary from business to business. Where some organizations will benefit from project management-led tools, others will require video conferencing or instant messaging to achieve their goals. The key is to look at connections: offering a central location where those individuals can come together and identify what modes of collaboration are required, aligning the tools accordingly.

Self-service for employees

With the move towards an agile structure, in which employees may work across multiple locations and within differing teams, logistical and administrative processes can be difficult to manage centrally.

Empowering employees to take ownership for, and complete, everyday tasks required by the organization not only decreases the resource demand for those operating at the center or top of an organization, but also increases accountability of employees.

Social tools can play a role here also. Introducing common workflows and forms to your collaboration platform allows employees to complete essential tasks, such as requesting a leave of absence or submitting expenses.

Using content areas to host common policies and compliance allows staff to access essential business information. Discussion forums, combined with a supporting intuitive search function, enables the efficient asking and answering of common questions or ‘FAQs’.

Kent Community Health NHS Trust intranet patient care page

(Interact customer, Kent Community Health NHS Foundation Trust, uses content areas to host vital policies, best practice documentation, FAQs and other critical information to empower staff to self-serve and provide exemplary care for patients.)

Even redesigned organizations with an agile structure can’t eliminate administrative and operational controls. However, putting some of that responsibility to employees themselves helps promote a flexible work environment where employees take responsibility for their own experience: a reference to Netflix’s famed culture manifesto, “freedom with responsibility”, which has proven widely popular.

A digital culture

One of the greatest challenges when promoting an almost ‘disenfranchised’ organization, in which individuals move freely according to business need and operate across traditional office boundaries, is how to establish and retain a unified culture.

The arguments in favor of instilling a sense of purpose are extensive:

organizational design stats

  • Companies with a high sense of purpose outperform those without purpose by 400%.
  • 95% of candidates believe culture is more important than compensation
  • 84% of global executives say culture is critically important to their success
  • 60% believe it outranks strategy
  • Yet 45% believe their culture isn’t being managed effectively.

Culture can implicate on employee engagement levels, productivity, the ability to collaborative and innovate, and staff retention. However, creating a common culture in an agile organization is difficult. Without function based structures, employees may not have a defined ‘team’; remote workers may not experience the office or engage with social activities; disparate offices won’t have visibility of one another.

remote workers face isolation

Social technology provides a framework for building and communicating a virtual culture that can address these challenges.

Shifting the focus of senior leaders to strategy, vision and overall business direction is the starting point, empowering them as champions for the organization. Communicate shared vision and values across your shared collaboration platforms and embed them in day-to-day communications and processes.

Mission-driven companies have 30% higher levels of innovation, 40% higher levels of retention and they tend to be first or second in their market segment. (Deloitte, ‘Becoming irresistible: a new model for employee engagement)

Encourage employees to blog and share insights from their roles or offices, including activities that don’t necessarily fall within work parameters. User-generated content typically has high levels of engagement and helps communicate who you are and what you do.

If your organization is undergoing change or celebrating success, promote transparency and authenticity by communicating it via your social technology channels. Allow employees to give bottom-up feedback and use analytics or pulse surveys to identify and address any areas of concern.

The result is a virtual culture, in which employees who may never meet or speak in person will have acute awareness of where their organization is headed, who has contributed to that success, the governing values that direct its actions and their own place within the bigger picture.

It’s an idea we explore more fully in our previous blog around Employee Experience: check it out here.

Facilitating recognition and feedback

An agile, flexible organization structure, poorly designed, can become disenfranchised and increase levels of disengagement amongst employees if they don’t feel their work is being recognized. Without defined hierarchies or the traditional performance management processes seen in previous organizational design, ensuring a culture of continuous feedback and recognition is key.

Traditionally, managers have rated employees with limited or no input from others, focusing on individual performance. Now, employees should be judged as part of the ecosystems in which they operate, with performance gauged against team objectives. Crowdsourcing feedback from different teams, managers and even peers of those employees is important and again, can be facilitated through social and collaborative technologies.

70% of employees say their managers do not provide clear goals and directions.

Digital recognition programs are now well-established, offering the capability for manager-to-employee or peer-to-peer rewards through virtual ‘currency’, social shout-outs or blogs that celebrate the achievements and successes of teams and individuals.

Abandoning the structured feedback process in favor of agile performance management through frequent feedback, regular conversations and an emphasis on coaching in line with regularly reviewed team objectives can also be managed through team areas or areas on social technology platforms.

The new organization: skills, not silos

The future of organizational design will be shaped by the challenges and pressures we face to attract, manage and retain talent, deliver shorter timescales to market and adjust to an increasingly globalized landscape.

Without continual review and investment, business frameworks and structures will simply become obsolete. Skillsets won’t be deployed to where they are needed, cross-organizational collaboration won’t occur and without keeping pace against competitors who are already maximizing the potential of their resources, we face market decline or even business failure.

Deploying the right tools and technologies to deliver on the vision for a better organization is vital to not only thrive – but survive.