Forrester_logo_2009.jpgWhat Influences "empowered employees", why is experimentation of new trends and technology so important? We asked a couple of the keynote speakers at Forrester's Content and Collaboration Forum last week and here's what we were told.

Overall, the Forum aimed to highlight results from Forrester's newest book, Empowered: Unleash Your Employees, Energize Your Customers, and Transform Your Business, and provided case studies of companies who have harnessed their employee’s influence in order to facilitate collaboration and improve productivity.

We were fortunate to talk one-on-one with two keynote speakers in an effort to learn more about their initiatives. What we learned by talking with Ted Schadler, co-author of Empowered and Zach Brand, senior director, chief of technical strategy and operation at NPR Digital Media, is that customer/user experiences are evolving the way we work, collaborate and create content. Experimentation is the only way to keep up with changing trends and mediums.

What Influences the Empowered Employee?

What I wanted to know most about empowered employees was how they became empowered in the first place. While interacting with smart technologies requires a certain level of curiosity, there is a difference between someone who uses technology because it’s there and those who are driven to use technology to problem solve.

Ted Schadler says that when he and his researchers set out to understand what make some employees want to use smart technologies to improve the productivity of their everyday and professional lives, they found that it didn’t include advanced education, race, age or socioeconomic status. Job title, salary,or the type of car you drive doesn’t affect it, either. Rather, it comes down to how you regard technology.

If you tend to be optimistic about what technology can bring, chances are you can be an empowered employee. If you are pessimistic about technology and how it can influence your life, you’re likely not to see its business value.

In many companies it’s easy to be pessimistic about technology and still rise to the top of the C-Suite. Coupled with an increase in customer expectations, Schadler says that it’s becoming harder for company leadership to drive influence or innovation because they are disconnected and unengaged with employees, as well as customers. And so it falls to the empowered employee to share information and spark technological and logistical advancements. But they ought not to go it alone.

Schadler speaks to the achievements of Dell, who have incoporated governance groups within their organization’s structure. These groups not only gather to discuss important topics, they are authorized to make decisions as well. By making productivity and customer experience company-wide initiatives, everyone is exposed to the inherent values of the solutions employed and how they affect the way people work.

Putting the Relevance is NPR

As a leader in digital media innovation and user engagement, I wanted to know where NPR goes from here. I asked Zach Brand how they plan to keep ahead of emerging technologies. His answer: experimentation.

After all, as he points out, NPR is in a unique position. Unlike newspapers, they are not driven by monetization, but rather relevance, which affords them the freedom to experiment. In addition, they are not afraid to switch gears when something’s not working or getting the attention they wanted.

During his keynote, Brand emphasized the need for flexible content. During our live Tweet, we posted:

Is your content flexible? Does it work? Is it is easy to find? NPR is doing it, you should too!

In response, a follower asked:

I like NPR for independent and unbiased news coverage. Does Forrester agree? :)

I asked Brand if he thought that having flexible content allowed them to remain unbiased? He said that he didn’t think they were mutually exclusive, but that remaining objective is a priority of NPR and he suspected that having been open to the idea of launching an API has probably helped them to remain unbiased, if only because it allows others to re-use and share content.

Flexible content aside, NPR aims to be ruthlessly efficient and actively search out ways to remain that way. Yet, they realize that they don’t need all the answers in order to move forward. Though they resist trying to predict the future, they spend time looking for trends and monitoring what others are doing, supplemented with analytics, in an effort to be generally prepared for what comes next.

Aided by Siteworx, who helped them develop and launch their API, NPR is in the middle of some very ambitious initiatives. For instance, they are re-platforming their extensive library of radio archives that currently resides in a legacy platform into a WCM from which they can access 40 years worth of meta data.

With a steadfast commitment to fostering honest engagement with their users (and developer community), both NPR and Siteworx understand what it takes to keep information relevant and make stories portable for their listeners and readers, all while continuing to evolve their platforms along the way.