Empowering Employees of the Future to Innovate

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Futurist Glen Hiemstra speaks to how CIOs can lead business evolution by listening to their newest employees.

The workplace and the very nature of work is continuously changing. Technology is the driving force of these changes. Email, for example, pushed work-related communication beyond normal business hours and across time zones. The pervasiveness of mobile devices and applications leads employees to look for work outside of their community because they believe that they can work as effectively from home. According to the 2014 Cisco Connected World Technology Report (CCWTR), approximately two-thirds of working professionals indicated that their job searches are, or will become, national and global. 

Now emerging devices, connections, and capabilities continue to alter the way workers perform their jobs.  The future workplace will likely include a lot more flexibility around devices available to employees to help them be more productive. The CCWTR also revealed that 80 percent of HR professionals believe that Gen Y employees are more efficient when allowed to use their own devices and applications.

CIOs don’t just have an opportunity to support these changes. They have an opportunity to empower their workforce in ways that boost productivity, industry engagement, and innovation.

“Technology has removed many traditional business boundaries,” says Glen Hiemstra, Founder and CEO of Futurist.com. “Not just the boundaries of time and space, but also organizational structures and processes.”

Such developments are not to be taken lightly. If they haven’t already, companies need to rethink their organization and how they do business, Hiemstra says. They must consider the balance between in-person and remote work. They must re-assess their office environment, HR processes, and operating standards. Additionally, they have a chance to alter their go-to-market strategies, and align their workforce accordingly.

“This is bigger than allowing employees to bring their own devices to work,” Hiemstra notes. “It’s a challenge to rethink and reinvent longstanding business and cultural norms, but it’s also an opportunity.”

How do CIOs Prepare for and Drive these Changes?
First, they need to get involved in strategic, big-picture thinking and planning with other top executives in their organization, says Hiemstra. Second, they should look for opportunities to educate themselves—outside of their industry and domains of expertise—to learn more about long-range issues and opportunities. Third, they must tap into millennial thinking and pick the brains of their youngest, brightest employees.

“People tend to think more freely in the first year or two before they get assimilated to an organization’s culture and norms,” Hiemstra says. “Whether it’s through focus groups or innovation summits, CIOs have an opportunity to tap that free thinking and look through fresh eyes.”

CIOs should also take some time to learn about the Internet of Everything (IoE), Hiemstra suggests. The explosion of connections between people, processes, information, and things promises to further change the nature of work in dramatic and exponential ways.

“In the near future, every device will have intelligence, and every connection will have value,” says Hiemstra. “If IoE isn’t something that a CIO is studying, they should. It will impact everything, and they don’t want to be left behind.”

Talking about exactly what changes CIOs should embrace, Heimstra suggested, “It depends a bit on the nature of the business.  For example, if you are producing any physical good, I’d certainly be shifting my exploration of the Internet of Everything from a curiosity to a priority. I’d do this by asking how each of my products could be better if intelligence and wireless connectivity were added. A manufacturer of something as basic as gypsum wall board might ask, ‘What if every tenth sheet were made intelligent with imbedded sensors for moisture and mold, and those sensors made wireless internet ready?’ If you are producing a service, or information, then I’d be creating advisory councils of all my new, young—preferably millennial age—employees, and tasking them with surveying all your offerings for where they are out of date or behind the times. Ask those councils to give you a monthly report on what they see with suggestions for improvements or new product ideas.”

In other words, says Hiemstra, get on a faster learning cycle and share the lessons internally.

More Information: Visit the 2014 Cisco Connected World Technology Report page for further insights on the future of work.