In my last post, I talked about some of the most significant people-process challenges facing folks looking to enable a mobile enterprise, the goal being to counterbalance the over-emphasis on mobile technology in discussions of mobility.

In this post, I want to expand out from there to talk about the central organizational design challenge facing the creation of a mobile enterprise -- openness.

Mobility Must Be Open

Fully leveraging mobility (people, process and technology) requires an organization to embrace openness. In large part, this is because enterprise mobility is fundamentally at odds with the traditional command and control hierarchy and makes it difficult (if not impossible) to maintain.

Because of mobility’s conflict with traditional channels of authority, organizations that are not ready to let go of the need for a tightly managed hierarchy and linear information flows will not realize gains from mobility as fully as those organizations that embrace openness and the more flexible organizational arrangements it both fosters and requires.

Before we go any further, let me just say that there’s been a lot written on the subject of openness, particularly from the perspective of social media and collaboration. Without getting into a detailed review of the current literature on the subject, I’ll say that for me, the standout is Charlene Li’s Open Leadership. And despite the fact that the book really doesn’t treat mobility per se, her characterization of openness and the organizational changes it requires are a great primer for folks interested in enterprise mobility.

Attitude Adjustment

Given that successful enterprise mobility requires openness, organizations considering mobility (and the openness it requires to be successful) need to address the following attitudes head on:

  • The belief that employees are less productive out of the office (at home, on the road) because they’re not at a desk (and able to be observed by their supervisor).
  • Unwillingness to acknowledge that “business hours” can, should and must be different across the organization to reflect the different kinds of work done, the variety of customer needs, etc.
  • Difficulty moving beyond the view that ideas and innovation don’t belong to a particular area -- they belong to the organization as a whole, and therefore each and every member of that organization has the right and responsibility to contribute.
  • The belief that information should travel along the lines of formal organizational authority and that deviations from this model of information sharing are to be prevented, avoided and punished.

To some extent, these attitudes are not problems solely for organizations considering mobility -- they also impact how organizations react to workforce demographics, technology changes and consumer/marketplace dynamics. But they all come together in the arena of mobility to present significant challenges to the development of enterprise mobility.

Benefits of Openness and Mobility

However, those organizations that overcome these challenges are poised to reap significant rewards. And while many of these will depend on industry, market, product and basic organizational differences, here’s a short list of some tangible benefits that I’ve seen out in the field at organizations that have begun the shift to becoming mobile enterprises:

  • Reduced facilities expenses due to smaller office footprints and hoteling
  • Increased employee satisfaction, leading to greater productivity, decreased sick leave and medical claims and greater retention (and therefore lower switching costs, e.g., recruiting, onboarding, training)
  • Faster germination and execution of ideas and innovations, both internal- and external-facing

The Final Word

There’s much more to be said about openness and mobility -- this post really just scratches the surface. But you should have a better feel for what some of the broad challenges to enterprise mobility are as well as some inkling of the kinds of benefits waiting for your organization should it decide to make the move towards becoming a mobile enterprise.