When I was asked to write a post about predictions for 2012, I was stumped. Predicting entire technology and business trends is difficult, made that much more difficult by the sheer amount of change we are going through and the speed at which we are doing so. Paradoxically, our ability to operate at the Speed of Now -- with compressed cycles and near real-time response -- will determine our successes.

Cloud computing and developments in enterprise mobility have enabled truly global collaboration and have lowered many competitive barriers. Your customers are asking you for more and faster and more transparently, and while you can innovate faster, so can your competitors. In short, everything is compressed: decision cycles, reaction cycles, innovation cycles and customer service cycles. The ability to understand emergent issues and act upon them with appropriate speed will mark the difference between the winners and losers of 2012. The following are the underlying pillars that will help you get there.

Social is the New Communications Paradigm

Employees are consumers too, and they have been using social technologies to connect to each other -- on their own time. Until recently, quite a few companies restricted access to social networks from work computers, and it baffles me that some companies still do. While there are fewer of these companies today, there are still quite a few who think that social is only for talking to customers on Twitter. To truly become a learning organization, you have to actually do something with these findings, and that requires flawless and lightning-fast internal communication, decision-making and action. The next frontier of the Social Revolution deals with what happens on the inside of the organization, to truly ready it for the Speed of Now.

The Connected Enterprise has Shared Goals and Strong Culture

Enterprises are complex, and to be truly social, we still have quite a few dots to connect -- this is exciting and challenging all at once. If social is to be the enterprise’s lifeblood -- not just an afterthought or a bolt-on -- we must do the homework and understand how different functional groups benefit from social and how they work together to drive unified business objectives. It’s rather telling that social currently seems disconnected from the rest of the business. According to this report from Fuqua School of Business, integration into the overall business strategy is still an enterprise weakness. Because there’s so much internal alignment that has to happen, social has to have a seat at the executive table, not be an afterthought.

Silos Must Be Broken

Informational silos must be broken if we want to compete at the Speed of Now. Oftentimes businesses struggle to work within their current information architecture, which was created to mimic functional silos -- after all, why would HR use a CRM system? As a result, there’s a tremendous amount of data that’s simply trapped across business systems and takes a long time to access. Adding a social layer on top of a business system that doesn’t talk to the social layer of another system creates -- you guessed it -- more silos. The key imperative from a content and information management perspective is helping employees discover business data and deliver it to the right people at the right time. It’s obviously not all about technology, though. Culturally, you have to get used to sharing more than you have been (in your department and across) and trust your coworkers more. From an organizational design perspective, roles have to be well-defined, while flexible enough to take into account professional proclivities and areas of passion.

Employee Is the Internal Customer

Our personal sprawling networks have helped us shift the balance of power towards ourselves as employees -- we no longer view ourselves as cogs in a machine, but rather as strategic partners to the organization. Yvette Cameron predicts that the mandate of the new breed of the Chief Human Officer will transition from transactional to strategic. It’s not just about HR though -- with the consumerization of IT afoot, the “build it, they will come” attitude no longer works with how we deploy technology across the enterprise. As a recent Fast Company article highlights, connectedness even trumps salary among young workers. If you want to attract and retain the best employees -- you know what to do.

Passion Is the Accelerant of the Social Employee

If the empowered employee is the building block of an organization, passion is what fuels this employee. We’ve been conditioned to pick professions for all the wrong reasons  -- all the reasons that don’t align with passion. I know I have -- I got my MBA, where I had 4 broad buckets of choices: investment banker, consultant, brand manager and “something else.” Our societal conditioning has always been at odds with the “fluffy” truth that we are more effective at things we are passionate about. As social shrinks our worlds and accelerates our opportunities, we as employees get to pursue our passions in ways that we couldn’t before. For us as businesses it’s a blessing -- because we can hire passionate and productive employees -- and a challenge -- because if we don’t clean up our acts, we will easily lose these employees. Smart companies know how to recognize and cultivate passion, and ensure that it doesn’t go to a competitor. For more insights into passion, I strongly recommend checking out John Hagel’s work.

The New Leadership Paradigm

We have gone to school learning that information is power, and our competitive advantage is information asymmetry. Our ability to get, use and dole out information determined our ability to climb the corporate ladder. Now that information has been democratized, we can no longer hoard it as a competitive advantage. Rather, the job of today’s leader is to connect the right people to each other to encourage information exchange, helping others turn data (of which there’s only going to be more of!) into insights, and turn passion into productivity. Smart leadership is recognizing the power of social inside and outside of the enterprise and helping employees in the process. Visionary leadership is embodying this trend and becoming more transparent with their own communication. In his own words, Supervalu’s Craig Herkert refers to this as “radical transparency”.

Education

It’s clear that the Speed of Now is affecting how we learn and internalize everything. While the field of education is overdue for reform, it’s beyond the scope of this article. What is necessary to mention is that because the traditional educational institutions can’t physically keep up with current demands, organizations will need to encourage and proliferate relevant learning at the Speed of Now. Leaders will need “wire” educational opportunities into their organizations, spanning across various types of learning -- formal, informal, internal and external. Employees learning from each other and formal / informal mentorships are going to be key in rounding out employees’ toolkits.

So there you have it! No flashy big trends; just the difficult ongoing work of setting yourself up for success by aligning the key pillars: culture, process and technology. What are you seeing as the big trends in your organization? How are you speeding up to the Speed of Now?

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