Each November, the parent entity of the CEC, the Corporate Executive Board, releases to our members a widely read Executive Guidance briefing outlining management imperatives for the coming year. This year’s document addresses one of the most common challenges raised by Communicators – the promise and perils of globalization. The opportunity is clear: between 2010 and 2030 the percentage of global GDP from emerging markets is expected to grow from 37% to 59%; however, most organizations focus on market-level investments and fail to address how corporate center functions such as Finance, IT, Legal, and of course, Communications need to adapt. The Corporate Executive Board has outlined six management disciplines critical for long-term success in emerging markets (and members will have upcoming opportunities to digest them all); however, one in particular struck me as a place for immediate impact from a high-functioning global Communications department: Accelerated Collaboration and Innovation.
While access to new markets and talent should offer opportunities for market shaping innovation, less than 40% of employees perceive effective collaboration – even in just one location. The results are troubling: innovation vitality (the percentage of sales from new products) is troublingly low to keep up with the necessary pace of growth in these new markets and less than a third of R&D staff in developed or emerging markets report high levels of trust with their global counterparts.
So how is this all a Communications problem (other than the fact that everything is a communications problem!)? Corporate Executive Board research shows that most organizations wrongly attribute these deficiencies to the innovation skills of geographically dispersed R&D centers; however, leading companies instead focus on increasing 1) the willingness of global employees to share and receive information and 2) the strength of connections to actually identify and apply new ideas – in other words, the effectiveness of the communications environment. Two lessons from our research into global intranet platforms suggest some immediate solutions.
1) Humanizing Our Global Employees – A significant deficiency in communication platforms ranging from Yammer to Sharepoint is the belief that the ability to connect is correlated with the willingness to connect; however, our research shows that it’s only when we allow these tools to take someone from a faceless email address to a three dimensional individual with personal interests and experiences do we actually build the trust and empathy that promotes collaboration. One of my favorite result stats from a CEC case study shows that in Sabre’s very human internal social media platform started with largely personal connections but those bonds were a necessary precondition for the professional discussions that now form the majority of the dialogue. Communicators can therefore increase the pace of innovation by focusing less on reaching our global employees and more on deepening the ways they can identify with each other.
2) Diversifying Employee Networks – This past year we’ve been speaking a lot about an internal connection platform at the engineering firm Mitre. What their research revealed was that their most agile employees – essentially the ones best positioned to identify and implement new ideas – were not employees with the largest networks but the ones with the most diverse networks. When I think about our own collaboration tools at CEB they constantly recommend that I connect with the people on the system who are on my team that I talk to everyday, but what Mitre realized is that the best platforms will connect you with people who you may never have known about. Communicators can therefore help organizations to meet their innovation needs by enabling on and offline dialogue between colleagues that aren’t already communicating rather than just making it simpler for the ones that already are.
Curious to get thoughts from readers: what are you doing to humanize global employees, diversify networks, or more broadly help your organization meet it’s global innovation needs?
CEC Related Resources
- Principles for Peer Sharing and Learning
- Peer Learning Platform (The MITRE Corporation)
- How can I enable employees to build a stronger network of support?
CEC Related Blog Posts