3 measures of digital workplace performance in an uncertain world

3 measures of digital workplace performance in an uncertain world

Written by Molly Anglin, Newsweaver.

User sessions and page views fall short in measuring the true health and impact of an organization.  As our understanding of digital workplace evolves – the concepts of antifragility, collective intelligence and working out loud play a role in gauging our ability to navigate a highly competitive and uncertain world.

Today, intranet and digital workplace really don’t equate to the same thing. Digital workplace is more comprehensive – encompassing a wider ecosystem of content, apps, data and collaborative workspaces… including the intranet.
The term also implies that the manner in which the work is undertaken is evolving. Agility, adaptability, a greater sensitivity to the customer and a desire to leverage network effects to perform on a broader scale, all dovetail into the latest manifestation of the concept of digital workplace.
User sessions and page views – those old standbys – seem ill-equipped for the job of measuring the digital workplace. Sure, you can use them to determine if your internal search engine is failing to turn up quality results or to seek and destroy content that hasn’t seen the light of day since 2004… But they don’t adequately reflect if there’s been a gain in productivity.  You can’t tell if the organization is collaborating effectively. They fail to express much about how well-aligned your staff is behind organizational priorities or how in-tune they are with the customer.  They don’t indicate how the company will fare in the face of a majorly disruptive force.

Quantifying the health and success of the digital workplace

We recently explored the practice of goal-setting within the digital workplace. To craft an approach to measurement, we probably need to understand how to make good goals, right?   “Planning is impossible and essential” says author and information architect Peter Morville in his nine theses on planning for disruption – speaking to the painful uncertainty of the process.

As more aspects of global digital business leap from the realm of the “complicated” – where factors contributing to the success and failure of the business can be dissected, analyzed and optimized – to the “complex” where the interplay of consumer and competitive elements becomes so unpredictable that fine-grained long-term strategies fall short…

….what do you measure?

For those that support the digital workplace, I believe the answer lies perhaps not so much in the goals themselves – but in the flow of communication and the architecture of the network that binds its participants. The capacity to sense and interpret opportunities and threats becomes critical; as does the ability for participants within the organization to shape an immediate course of action and generate support. The responsibility of the digital workplace manager is to ensure that the wheels of communication and collaboration are properly greased – while safeguarding the organization against competitive trauma. Without the appropriate collaborative infrastructure – the business fails to operate at a sufficient pace and alignment with market demand.

Idea in brief

internal communications

1. Anti-fragility

In his book, Antifragile, Nassim Taleb explores the behavior of complex systems. Things that are fragile are easily disturbed by volatility.  But what is the opposite of fragile?  We might be inclined, he argues, to believe that the resilient – systems that are impervious to volatile forces – might fit the bill.But that’s not going far enough. The antifragile, according to Taleb, grows from disorder; becomes smarter, stronger. The property of antifragility can be measured and cultivated within an organization.

Taleb states: “You cannot say with any reliability that a certain remote event or shock is more likely than another (unless you enjoy deceiving yourself), but you can state with a lot more confidence that an object or a structure is more fragile than another should a certain event happen.”

He goes on to explain how to measure of fragility through a clever story.  A king, angry at his son, swore that he would crush him with a large stone. The king quickly realizes that his proclamation would bring unfortunate hardship.  To brush off the statement would jeopardize his position: a king who goes back on his word is not fit to rule. Acting on it would mean the ultimate demise of his son. To resolve the dilemma, his advisor suggested breaking up the stone and launching the resulting rubble at the son.

Where the rock would have surely killed him, the rubble had negligible effect.  Greater harm comes to fragile entities as the shock increases. The effect can be graphed as a nonlinear curve.

For the antifragile, strength grows with stress.  Your muscles when lifting weights for example, improve (to a point) as the weights get heavier.

As the central nervous system of the organization, the digital workplace likely plays a role in the degree to which the organization is antifragile.  It has the potential to be a platform for experimentation; a place where the fitness of the organization in the face of trauma can be exercised (before the real thing occurs.)

Taleb also makes a point that the “large” is proportionately more fragile than the “small.”  A cat may have nine lives, while the elephant can break a limb more easily.  The effects of shock on a large object are proportionally more severe.  This is why, for example, big projects can have even bigger delays; whereas a series of smaller projects may have negligible delays.  The effects are nonlinear. This has interesting implications for the architecture of digital workplace – smaller groups or efforts may be more impervious to shock: think of Jeff Bezos’ two pizza-rule at Amazon.


2. Collective Intelligence

The digital workplace offers the possibility of more significant achievements and greater productivity through collective effort.  MIT professor, Alex (Sandy) Pentland’s research has found that social engagement is the central predictor of productivity – exceeding individual intelligence, personality and skill.

One of Pentland’s experiments involved tracking the interactions of employees within a call center at a major bank.  Several teams wore sociometric badges for six weeks – that monitored their movements, the quantity of interactions and the degree to which their interactions were animated.

He discovered that the best predictor of productivity was the team’s energy and engagement outside formal meetings.  Based on this finding, the company reorganized the employees’ coffee break schedule so that everyone had a break at the same time.  The resulting changes were on the order of $15 million a year in productivity increases and a rise in employee satisfaction of more than 10%.

In many ways, Penland’s findings point to a fundamental human truth.  Alfred Hermida, journalist and media scholar, frames it this way in his book Tell Everyone: Why we share and why it matters:

“People are interested in news because news matters. News is driven by an innate need to be in the know and to know about things that might impact a way of life. Information is crucial to making informed decisions. Beyond the limits of our own knowledge, experience and awareness, we rely on others to fill in the gaps. Gathering and sharing news gave a group an inherent advantage, as an individual can only see and hear a fraction of the world.

In early societies, telling fellow hunters to avoid a particular area because of the presence of a sabre toothed tiger is a form of risk reduction and reciprocal exchange. What one hunter is communicating to another is effectively, ‘I tell you today about the dangerous animal in the hope that you will share similar news in the future, so we both live longer.’ The more such news gathering and dissemination pays off, the more it becomes part of everyday behavior.”

How would you measure a digital workplace designed to foster collective intelligence?  The work of Laurence Lock Lee of Australia-based SWOOP analytics offers clues.  He has developed a set of engagement measures and benchmarks for monitoring interpersonal interactions online – particularly within Yammer.  Here’s what they believe to be the most important factors.

Microsoft’s forthcoming Workplace Analytics product, part of Office 365, also hints at an improved capacity to measure collective intelligence.

3. Correlating Working out Loud with corporate performance

Dennis Pearce of Lexmark International, Inc. has written one of the most thorough reports on enterprise social network usage I’ve seen. His dissertation, Developing a Method for Measuring “Working Out Loud”, shares the methodology he used for exploring the relationship between participation within the company’s collaboration tools and the company’s performance.

Pearce points out that the advertised benefits of the social network cannot be achieved with a focus on technology adoption alone. Instead, he argues that ESN platforms are “socio-technical systems,” systems in which acceptance of the technology is shaped not only by the interaction of users with the system but also by interactions among themselves.

According to his paper, four categories of behaviour must be kept in balance in order to maintain the health and value of the social network:

  • Consumptive use – passive use to acquire knowledge from the platform
  • Contributive use – contributing knowledge to the platform
  • Hedonic use – using the platform for fun and entertainment
  • Social use – using the platform to establish and maintain social relations with coworkers

Pearce goes on to discuss the practice of Working out Loud – an approach that has emerged as one possible way to address all four factors – and demonstrated how an organization could be surveyed to develop a numerical score for their propensity to work out loud.  He suggested that the numerical score provides the ability to correlate social business behavior with other organizational metrics such as financial performance, productivity, defect rates, employee engagement and customer satisfaction.

This article was originally published on the Newsweaver blog on March 13, 2017.
How is your intranet measuring up? Join your internal communication peers at the 6th Intranet and Digital workplace Summit, May 22-24, in Chicago or the  7th Intranet & Digital Workplace Summit, June 20-22, 2017 in San Francisco and gain valuable tips and solutions for your organization’s intranet challenges.

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