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How to Build a Connected Workforce

Technology can help, but the key is to focus on interdependence and a common language.

Here’s an unnerving stat. According to recent IDC report, “by 2018, 70 percent of siloed digital transformation initiatives will ultimately fail because of insufficient collaboration, integration, sourcing, or project management.” Whether the failure derives from workforce resistance to a new technology platform or the C-suite’s neglect to deliver and build new digital capabilities in the organization, efforts to drive meaningful change through existing organization channels often fail — while causing great disruption.

Too often, organizations don’t deploy technology innovations in a way that captures business value. Case in point: A few years ago, an industrial company implemented a new customer platform throughout its enterprise. But much of the sales team in the field still hasn’t embraced the new system and continues to use email and a note-taking app. How can a large enterprise increase sales productivity in a workforce that is using three different tools and that won’t adopt the new, and presumably better, product?

The answer to this problem lies in rethinking what it means for employees to be connected. Colleagues from disparate parts of the workforce must become dependent on one another if they are to drive true innovation. After all, collaboration is about more than showing up to work in an office with an open floor plan, free snacks, and Ping-Pong. Collaboration in business is about aligning teams across disciplines in the right way to stimulate growth and innovation.

A Common Language

When people work in silos, different units and capabilities are pulled in when the time is right. Legal might hand off to marketing, or the user experience team is consulted only after design is completed. This approach won’t cut it in today’s mobile- and social-first digital world, in which everything has to be simple, seamless, and intuitive from the start. And it particularly doesn’t work when it comes to digital and technology initiatives. It’s hard, for instance, to develop a cohesive and unified digital vision when 68 percent of digital and tech spending occurs outside of IT budgets.

Building a working environment conducive to collaboration is key. Rather than encourage people to toil in isolation or only with their peer groups, modern working environments must allow for a cross section of specialists to be in close proximity to one another, even if that closeness is achieved only in cyberspace. When they learn how their teammates work, colleagues will develop the next imperative for a connected workforce: the ability to understand one another’s working language.

To succeed in the workplace, all employees, from entry level to the C-suite, must possess a baseline of business, technology, and experience know-how. A common working language allows for the seamless collaboration and increased efficiency vital to moving at the speed of technology. When they share a working language, deep specialists in all areas of the organization — lawyers, marketers, designers, programmers — can get a firmer grasp on what their colleagues are saying, and on what the business is asking for. In a truly connected workforce, cohesive teams of big thinkers and solution drivers address business issues that are no longer isolated to one discipline but intertwined across many.

As my colleague David Clarke pointed out last month, the Make-a-Wish Foundation provides an object lesson in the importance of a connected workforce. When it set out to build a new technological platform for donations, it assembled a team that included a tax expert (who was able to resolve issues with charitable donations instantly) and an attorney (who helped address legal questions). Having people work outside their silos from the outset allowed Make-a-Wish to think about their donation model in a different way and develop the new platform in a mere 60 days.

The Connected C-Suite

Having a diversity of talent and richness of perspective can generate hypercollaboration in your workforce. The same thinking applies to the C-suite, where the connection between strategic, financial, and digital decision makers should be strengthened. We know, for example, that fostering a more powerful collaboration among the chiefs of marketing, information, and digital in setting digital business strategy correlates to stronger financial performance. Yet only 53 percent of the companies in PwC’s 2015 Global Digital IQ Survey said their organizations have a common road map of their business strategy.

After all, collaboration is about more than showing up to work in an office with an open floor plan, free snacks, and Ping-Pong.

The expansion of the C-suite in recent years suggests organizations aren’t approaching digital transformation as efficiently and effectively as possible. The growth and expansion of roles like the chief innovation officer, chief digital officer, or chief technology officer suggest that top management may not be exchanging ideas and building new organizational capabilities in an optimal manner. These new executives, who often work in their silos, make connections among executive decision makers rather than allow them to develop organically. It’s a triage model, and it will eventually fall apart at the seams. What’s needed is a leaner C-suite in which all members, like the specialists mentioned above, share a common working language.

Just as today’s workforce doesn’t need roles designed to evangelize for, say, electric power or the telephone, it also doesn’t need roles designed to promote today’s revolutionary technologies. If executives in these roles can think in a connected fashion about business, experience, and technology, and if they can instill this mentality into the organization, their job will be complete. And in the process, they will have helped create a connected C-suite whose skills and attitudes will trickle down to all levels of the organization.

We’re already seeing this type of transition play out in industries including media, retail, and finance. Five years ago, according to our Digital IQ Survey, only 55 percent of CEOs said they had become their company’s single biggest champion for digital. In the most recent survey, nearly 80 percent of CEOs said they were.

That signals a significant shift in mind-set. It’s not easy to build a connected workforce. But doing so ensures that organizations will be more effective in implementing new initiatives and expanding their sense of what is possible.

Tom Puthiyamadam

Tom Puthiyamadam is the U.S. digital products and U.S. advisory consumer markets leader. A principal with PwC US, he is based in New York.


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