Are You Empowering Employees, Or Watching Them Empower Themselves?

Today, Forrester and Harvard Business Review Press released the print version of Empowered, a book by Forrester veterans Josh Bernoff and Ted Schadler. This book is a quick and worthwhile read for just about anyone who wants to consider the changing role of technology in the workplace. After several reads of this book, I have found that in addition to a lot of great statistics, quotes, and case studies, there is a valuable message for how companies MUST change their philosophy and approach toward new technologies in order to stay innovative.

As a quick example of how quickly the technology landscape is changing, stop for a moment to consider just how many times in the past few days you have:

  • Received an invitation to LinkedIn.
  • Seen a personal acquaintance using Facebook.
  • “Tweeted” or heard someone comment on “tweeting.”
  • Checked your mobile phone — or seen a commercial for a cool new mobile app.
  • Heard reference to social media in a news story.
  • Watched a video clip on YouTube.

After writing this list, I realized I had experienced all of these things in the past two days and my guess is that you have too. The bottom line is that a few new technologies — social technology, smart mobile devices, cloud computing services, and pervasive video — are literally changing the way we engage with each other. Ok, that’s probably no surprise to most of the readers of this blog.

But now think about how this applies your business.

Ask yourself:

  • Do you use any of these four technologies to engage with customers, facilitate partnerships, educate internal workers, or generate innovative business ideas? 
  • Does your company have a formal strategy or policy for how to manage the risks and rewards of these consumer technologies? 
  • Are you — as an individual business professional — doing anything to facilitate the widespread use of these technologies in your business?

If you’re like most of sourcing/IT professionals I’ve spoken with over the past few weeks, your answer to these questions is "no, no, and no" — and I’ve heard most of the arguments for why not:  "these technologies are not relevant to my work processes," "we’re too concerned about security," "we’re just starting to think about those things now but not there yet." The list could go on. While I understand these limitations, I’d also argue that most business professionals have not thought creatively about how these new technologies could improve their internal or external business operations. 

This is ironic. In my client interactions I get a lot of questions about how to be more innovative and which emerging technologies are shaping the business environment. Yet  its relatively rare for most companies to have a strategy for harnessing the power of these these four technologies — technologies that we know are being used by individual consumers, and that we know are having a powerful impact on social engagement models. In Empowered, Schadler and Bernoff show that when it comes to using technology at work only about 20% of employees say that they feel empowered and act resourcefully to solve their problems and challenges. That number needs to rise. 

This represents an opportunity for sourcing and vendor management professionals, if they are willing to change their focus. SVM is in a unique position to help companies identify, evaluate, and manage new technology vendors — and therefore to play an "empowering" role within their own companies. But playing this role will require new skill sets, new levels of business alignment, and new ways of evaluating technology (particularly on factors such as security and organizational risk). Is your SVM team willing to make this shift? Empowered presents a strong case that you'll need to. 

Over the next few months, look for more research from Forrester about how these four technologies could fundamentally shape the traditional role of sourcing and vendor management. And look for this as a key theme underlying Forrester's 2010 Sourcing and Vendor Management Forum.

Have you played a role in identifying/sourcing these new technologies? We’d love to hear from you. Please provide comments below and we will incorporate them into future research decisions. 

Chris - Twitter: @chrisandrews50