“Ecosystem” is a relatively new term in the corporate world. Much like it does when used in reference to the natural world, ecosystem describes the interconnected nature of the modern workplace. Regardless of industry, size, or structure, organizations are (now more than ever) living networks made up of not just people but also processes, products, and resources that drive how work gets done. When discussing the idea of a workplace ecosystem, I usually start by saying …
Everything affects everything.
Every day, hundreds of decisions are made that have wide-ranging, unforeseen impact within dispart parts of the organization. An inability or unwillingness to develop the necessary level of ecosystem awareness can lead to a variety of workplace challenges, including interpersonal conflict, lessened productivity, reduced engagement, and inconsistent experiences. Therefore, it is important for all organizational decision-makers, including those supporting learning and performance, to pause and take a look around to assess the current state of their ecosystem.
Its unlikely that any one person can grasp the full complexity of their ecosystem, especially within a sprawling global company, but developing an awareness of this concept is essential to fully enable employees. This is especially true for those of us supporting learning and performance, as we must consider the entirety of the employee experience when we attempt to identify and deliver right-fit solutions.
While assessment methods and outcomes will vary based on the unique nature of your workplace, here are 5 essential considerations to keep in mind when evaluating the health of your learning and performance ecosystem: authority, priorities, logistics, resources, and information.
This one is pretty obvious. Authority can directly dictate decision-making. When I say “authority,” I don’t necessarily mean “hierarchy.” “Influence” is a closer match. Yes, formal authority plays a considerable role when it comes to the employee experience. However, informal authority can be just as if not more powerful when it comes to day-to-day performance.
Authority informs employee enablement and accountability. It dictates how people spend their time. It tells people who they should listen to. It often determines what people believe to be important, which leads into priorities as my second ecosystem consideration below.
Here are a few questions to consider when assessing the impact of authority within your workplace ecosystem:
- Who is seen as an authority figure within the frontline operation?
- How important is the role of authority to employees as part their everyday performance?
- How well is senior management authority respected at various levels of the organization?
- How present/influential is informal authority, including tenured and high-performing employees, within frontline teams?
In a perfect world, every employee would hold same priorities. OK, maybe they wouldn’t be exactly the same, but their priorities would at least build on one another in support a singular vision for the organization. Well, we don’t live or work in a perfect world, and most organziation’s suffer due to considerable variations and conflicts in employee priorities.
To best support and enable employees, we must understand what’s REALLY important to them within the context of their work. What parts of the job do they prioritize and WHY? What motivates them to come to work and do their best every day? Where do priorities align, and where do they vary? Understanding the dynamics of organizational priorities will lead us to the all-important WIIFMs on which we should base performance support efforts.
Here are a few questions to consider when assessing the impact of priorities within your workplace ecosystem:
- How familiar are employees with priorities expressed by senior management?
- What priorities appear consistent at most levels within the organziation?
- Are employee priorities dictated or self-imposed?
- How do priorities influence performance through on-the-job decisions?
- How do common priorities relate to the stated vision of the organization?
How does the work get done? With logistics, we begin to shift our assessment to include more tangible elements. That said, “logistics” is a pretty vague term that could include any number of elements that affect how work gets done. Here are a few things I consider when exploring the logistics of the workplace:
- Setting: the physical employee location and how it factors into their ability to do their job
- Environment: the less tangible elements within an employee’s setting that influence their ability to perform
- Relationships: the people that an employee must and/or chooses to interact with as part of their role
- Requirements: the rules that dictate how people do their jobs
Logistics can vary considerably by employee and often go unnoticed or disregarded when assessing workplace performance. They just are what they are, right? Whether or not logistical considerations can be easily manipulated, they must be factored into the overall employee experience – no matter how seemingly small or inconsequential.
For example, what’s the temperature in your office? Why was that temperature selected? Have you ever considered how the temperature of your office could impact employees’ day-to-day performance, especially during unique circumstances like high-volume periods or executive presentations? Or is it just always the same temperature, and people are expected to deal with it based on their individual preferences regardless of circumstance? Does this matter? I have no idea, but it’s certainly worth considering.
Here are a few questions to help you assess the impact of logistics within your workplace ecosystem:
- Are workplace logistics continuously and holistically evaluated by management, or have these decisions simply piled up over time?
- What ancillary tasks are employees required to do, and how do these tasks relate to their performance objectives?
- How many different people/teams make rules about how work gets done by an individual employee?
- Do employees understand where the rules of the workplace come from and the value of each rule?
- Does the organization employ remote workers, and how does the organization support their continued integration?
- Are employees required to work with people outside their teams, or do they primarily exist in functional silos?
- What control are employees permitted over their workspaces?
Let’s get even more tangible and talk about the tools people use to do their jobs. Resources can directly dictate performance. If an employee has the tools THEY deem necessary for their role, they have the opportunity to excel. If their access is limited, so too is their potential.
When I say “resources,” I’m talking about things like …
- Role-specific equipment
- Technical systems
- Knowledge repositories
- Performance support tools
- Access to subject matter experts
- Training opportunities
Yes, I consider time to be an allocated employee resource on par with technology. After all, an employee could be provided with a myriad of great tools, but a lack of allocated time may limit their ability to maximize these tools and therefore inhibit their performance.
Here’s another set of questions for consideration when assessing the impact of resources on your workplace ecosystem:
- What tools do employees use most often when doing their jobs?
- How can employees learn about and gain access to workplace tools?
- Are the most consistently valued support tools provided by the organization or home-grown within teams?
- How many different people/teams control the tools a single employee needs to do their job?
- How often are workplace tools evaluated/replaced?
- How much control do employees have over their own schedules and capacities?
- Are employees permitted to engage in training activities without requesting permission?
Finally, let’s talk information. Much like resources, information is essential to the execution of any job. Without access to quality, timely information, an employee is out their on their own and left to guess their way to optimal performance.
When assessing information within the context of a workplace ecosystem, consider both the WHAT and HOW. Piles of information – tacit and explicit – exist within every company, but that’s not enough. It’s the HOW – the flow of information from source to user – that can really differentiate an organization.
- Social networks
- Break room discussion
Every communication mechanism – internal and external – should be assessed to determine if, when, and how employees gain access to the information they need to do their jobs.
Here’s one last set of questions to help you assess the value of information within your workplace ecosystem:
- Who decides what information is shared at various levels of the organization?
- What mechanisms are used to communicate important, timely information, and how are those mechanisms regarded by frontline employees?
- Is information shared openly or cascaded through a pre-determined hierarchy?
- Is information contained in a searchable repository, or are employees required to know “where” to go for access?
- Is formal approval required before information can be shared?
- Is contribution limited to designated subject matter experts, or can any employee contribute?
- What processes are in place to transform tacit information into explicit organizational knowledge?
What other considerations are important when evaluating the health of your workplace ecosystem? How do these considerations come together to influence day-to-day performance within your organization?
JD Dillon is one of the most prolific authors and speakers in workplace learning today. He has spent 20 years designing learning and performance strategies for respected global organizations, including The Walt Disney Company, Kaplan, Brambles, and AMC Theatres. JD is the founder of LearnGeek and Chief Learning Architect with Axonify.