Brad Grissom is typical of a growing number of digital workplace leaders, who are able to draw on a combination of well-honed business and IT skills.

“Line of business departments need tech-savvy leaders and workers, just as information technology organizations need business-minded engineers and leadership,” he said. “In today’s digital world, organizational units can’t afford to ignore either skill set.”

Grissom is currently senior advisor of digital workplace solutions at Southwest Airlines where his primary responsibilities include defining the airline’s enterprise digital workplace strategy and capabilities for its 55,000 employees as well as managing the delivery of that program and its roadmap. He also champions digital workplace awareness and thought leadership at Southwest.

Look Inward First, Then Outward

Grissom joined the airline from Harley-Davidson in 2012 to start Southwest’s business continuity program. He then moved to help lead the company’s internal communications solution team and its digital workplace strategy. His team acts as the bridge between Southwest’s corporate communicators on the business side and the airline’s IT teams who are focused on architecture, development, security and project management.

Every organization faces a “good bit of work” to get its “business groups and IT playing well together,” Grissom said. What’s required is “a shift in philosophy” that’s not too dissimilar from the shift going on within the digital workplace arena where everyone needs to think not only about modern ways of working (business) but also about the tools they’re using to get that work done (IT).

It’s also vital that companies take a combined internal and external approach to their digital workplace. “For an organization to be digital, they can’t only focus on their products and customer experiences,” Grissom said. “They must first look inward at their processes and employee experiences.”

Grissom will be speaking at CMSWire and Digital Workplace Group’s Digital Workplace Experience taking place June 18 to 20 at the Radisson Blu Aqua hotel in Chicago. He will give a session on June 19 titled “Characteristics of the Modern Digital Workplace.”

We spoke with Grissom to hear his thoughts on emerging technologies, what’s new with SWALife, Southwest’s intranet, and how to measure digital workplace success.

Define Your Workplace Culture, or It Will Be Defined for You

CMSWire: What recent shifts and new developments in digital workplace technologies are you most excited about? Why are these newer technologies of interest and how do you see them as benefiting organizations?

Grissom: Honestly, I don’t think I’ve seen much new in the past year, but I am very excited about the emerging technologies that are floating out around the edges today. Artificial intelligence (AI), internet of things, wearables, chatbots, conversational user interface … all can be cited with example uses here and there, but they are not mainstream yet.

I think the area that has the most potential is in the AI space. We’ve not seen significant, measurable increases in workforce productivity in decades. I think AI will bring the next wave of productivity enhancements. The digital workplace vendors are all on the AI bandwagon, which is great … but it also means we are going to have to work to cut through the hype and find the bits that we can actually use in our organizations. AI isn’t going to be easy on several levels.

CMSWire: What’s been happening with SWALife over the past year and what are your future plans for continuing to evolve how your organization and your employees use intranet and other communications and collaboration software?

Grissom: Our redesigned intranet, SWALife, is around a year and a half old now but we’ve been busy looking at what our next evolution will bring. Strategically, we want to capitalize on cloud technologies, more adequately and easily address mobile, and create a more seamless and simplified collaboration experience.

I’m very excited that we are not on this journey alone and that we have many like-minded groups within Southwest aligned under a common Employee Experience Program. This is going to help us ensure that we are not making changes and decisions based on technology capabilities, for instance, but are instead meeting the ever-changing needs of our highly engaged workforce.

CMSWire: Southwest has long had a strong corporate identity. What advice do you have for organizations who have yet to define their own culture as they attempt to create a digital workplace reflective of who they are?

Grissom: If you don’t consciously and intentionally work to define your culture, your culture will nevertheless be defined for you. So, hopefully it isn’t too late for you to instill the attributes that you value into your organization.

My advice would be to really focus on your values and work hard to see those manifest in your digital workplace. If your culture is about having fun, then make sure your digital workplace has that feel to it. A digital space that has tight posting and moderation guidelines and that is only focused on work won’t come across as a fun environment.

CMSWire: What tips and tricks do you have for organizations that are having trouble getting their employees to be engaged and active users of their intranets and enterprise social networks?

Grissom: Behaviors and processes are harder to change than technologies. So, usage of digital workplace tools needs to be tied to actively adapting the way work gets done. This can happen at multiple organizational levels simultaneously.

Give your staff-level employees freedom to explore and experiment, have your management instill new work processes that leverage digital workplace technologies, and have your senior leadership visibly and authentically engage in the conversation and activity.

Employees need to have tangible reasons and clear personal benefits to try something new.

CMSWire: How should organizations think about tracking the success of their digital workplace initiatives? For companies new to this area, which metrics should they start using when they’ve not taken any prior measurements?

Learning Opportunities

Grissom: I think it is important to go beyond the easy to measure vanity metrics. Page views and mobile downloads have their place, but they only convey a small portion of the desired end state. As practitioners, we need to hone in on the outcomes we are trying to achieve.

Find real ways in which employees have used digital workplace practices to achieve outcomes that wouldn’t have likely or as easily occurred without them and communicate those relentlessly. These success stories will go much further in gauging and defining your success than comparing before and after numbers.

For instance, we have a group of over 300 employees that are spread across all of our stations with central planning and coordination coming from our headquarters office. In the past, they did everything through email. As you can imagine that was inefficient and often a pain on the inbox when the Reply All’s hit.

When they switched over to a community within our enterprise social network, they gained several new capabilities like shared calendars and centralized file sharing and moved communications to a more social experience. This didn’t just make their email workloads go down and make a piece of their jobs more efficient, it also enabled them to do more than they could before.

CMSWire: In providing employee experiences, what elements should be common to all staff and where should experiences be different? What are the links between great customer experience and great employee experience?

Grissom: Well, at Southwest Airlines we believe that great employee experiences lead to great customer experiences. If your employees are happy, engaged and productive they will be able to do their jobs easier, more willingly and with more passion than the competition.

There are definitely nuances across employees throughout the organization that should be taken into account. Different jobs have different needs as do people at different stages in their employment.

A few elements that I see as fairly common include access to news and announcements, the ability to connect with your coworkers, to access and receive training and learning opportunities, to have technology that enables you to be productive and collaborative, and to be able to manage your employment basics like payroll, performance, benefits and so on. 

To achieve great employee experiences, you need to know your employees. What do they want, need and desire? Why do they work for you instead of the competition down the street? The answers will be as varied as the people you ask, so ask as many as you can. There is no such thing as one-size-fits-all employee experience.

CMSWire: Outside of work, which applications and social networks do you find to be the most helpful in collaborating with family and friends? In your experience, what are the particular benefits and drawbacks of these tools?

Grissom: I don’t think I could live without a shared calendar between my immediate family! I’m sure I would be late to or outright miss most of the events occurring between my wife and two kids if I didn’t get reminders on my phone.

We also enjoy sharing photos in private messaging apps as well. I guess that I’m more in favor of private social spaces for my personal use. I don’t think this is too far off though from where we are going as a society.

There has been considerable blowback recently toward Facebook and Twitter in regards to privacy and authenticity concerns in particular. These two issues may not translate one for one to the enterprise space since organizations own the data and anonymous users aren’t typically allowed. However, if we see a significant and sustained drop off in social media use and perception, there will be eventual implications to our digital workplace platforms and practices.

We need to be smart about how social is changing our personal and professional lives — for better and worse — and form appropriate safeguards, behaviors and tactics.

Learn more about the Digital Workplace Experience here.