AppFusions Ted Hopton "Fragmented conversations and knowledge silos threaten to roll back the organizational effectiveness gains that digital workplaces brought us"

Ted Hopton learned first-hand what customers need in digital workplace platforms (DWP) during a decade spent building and leading digital workplaces, first at UBM and then McGraw-Hill Education. 

“I got a broader perspective by working with users across those companies, as well as with DWP customers in other organizations who I got to know through peer professional networks,” Hopton said. “That customer perspective informs and drives my product management work at AppFusions as we build out our next-generation platform, AlohaDXP.”

Hopton is currently vice president of product management for digital workplace at AppFusions, which he joined in December 2018. He met AppFusions CEO and co-founder Ellen Feaheny at a Chicago Online Community Professionals co-working day last fall and was “intrigued” by her vision for the vendor’s platform. “The more we talked, the more excited I got about being part of delivering the solution I wish I had as a customer,” Hopton said. “I was ready for a change in role, so I seized the opportunity.”

Provide Feedback to Help People ‘Grow and Improve’

After graduating with a degree in English from Brown University, Hopton embarked on a career in teaching. His vision was to become a literature professor “researching and expounding upon the finer points of interpretation and analysis of great works of art while residing on an idyllic college campus.”

However, after seven years as a high school teacher, Hopton realized that while his students each year got to “learn, grow, and advance,” he “stayed behind and started over again every year with a new group of students.” So he went back to school to pursue an MBA, which in turn led to a change in career path.

“Funny thing is, I’ve never really stopped teaching,” Hopton said. “I just do it outside of the classroom now.” He found that the skills he honed as a teacher are just as applicable in the corporate workplace from “planning and preparing in advance; organizing information and ideas; communicating in person and in writing; finding ways to keep people’s attention when maybe they’d rather be doing something else; and giving feedback that helps people grow and improve.”

Hopton is a speaker at CMSWire and Digital Workplace Group’s Digital Workplace Experience taking place June 17 to 19 at the Radisson Blu Aqua hotel in Chicago. Together with his colleague Shaun Slattery, director of professional services at AppFusions, Hopton will be presenting a workshop at the conference titled, “Road-Mapping Your Digital Transformation: Creating Strategic Plans and Timelines,” on June 17. AppFusions is also a sponsor of the event.

We spoke with Hopton to get his take on how organizations can prepare for digital transformation projects, his thoughts on building successful online communities, and his best practices suggestions for measuring digital workplace success.

Clearly Explain the WIFFM: What’s In It for Me?

CMSWire: What’s your advice for organizations keen to embark on digital transformation but who are unclear how to get started? Why is creating a documented strategic plan so important to the success of a digital transformation project?

Hopton: Digital transformation is truly a journey more than a destination, and you can begin with the smallest of steps.

Going to a conference is a great way to learn from experts as well as connect with peers who are farther along the journey than you. Twitter is a great place to learn, also, by finding people who share their knowledge and following them.

I think it’s safe to say that documented strategic plans significantly increase the chances of success for any major project, and digital transformation will touch every area of your organization.

Your plan is key to building buy-in, securing resources, and measuring progress. And it’s important to capture that buy-in by articulating your shared vision and goals. Then, it’s a matter of laying out an achievable path for your journey.

We [at AppFusions] recommend a quarter-by-quarter roadmap that is continually updated. Those plans are the foundation upon which you will build your success.

CMSWire: What do companies tend to get wrong in communicating their digital transformation plans internally? What’s the impact of not keeping employees informed?

Hopton: I think one of the biggest risks in communicating about digital transformation plans internally is buzzword fatigue.

Let’s be honest, all of us have been bombarded for at least a decade or more with new and important-sounding technology imperatives.

To get people to pay attention, and to care, we need to clearly explain the WIFFM: What’s in it for me? If you don’t emphasize this, employees will be left to focus on the negative effects, starting with disruption of their familiar ways of working. 

CMSWire: Where do you see organizations struggle in enabling employees to collaborate effectively with each other? What actions can companies take to encourage disaffected employees to re-engage with intranet tools?

Hopton: I’ve seen terrific progress in the ways that organizations enable employees to collaborate effectively with each other, especially via digital workplace technology.

Currently, we actually have too much of a good thing: collaborative technology is embedded in multiple tools, plus the number of standalone collaborative technology tools popping up in enterprises keeps growing. Fragmented conversations and knowledge silos threaten to roll back the organizational effectiveness gains that digital workplaces brought us.

In my opinion, the genie is out of the bottle and there’s not much hope of eliminating all the new collaboration options to force people to use only the organization-approved tool. Instead, we need to build connections and integrations among these applications.

Instead of forcing people to adapt to software, we need to develop software that adapts to the ways people want to work. That’s the promising future of the next-generation intranet, and that’s what it’s going to take to get people to re-engage.

CMSWire: Having been instrumental in establishing and reinvigorating online communities, what best practices advice would you have for organizations eager to quickly increase employee participation and contribution?

Hopton: My top principles for a successful online community are authenticity and transparency. These are, of course, elements of an organization’s culture, and it’s my experience that online communities tend to mirror the company culture even as they come to influence and amplify it over time.

Authentic leaders who are open and transparent inspire respect and admiration, as well as imitation, and this creates a virtuous cycle of employee participation and contribution.

That’s not to make it sound easy, of course, as there is a ton of work required to nurture the desired behaviors, as well as guide and educate employees and leaders alike about how to engage effectively. But if you can start with authenticity and transparency, you’ll increase your chances of success.

CMSWire: What advice do you have for organizations on how to measure positive employee experience and digital workplace success? What are some of the key metrics companies should use to track employee engagement?

Hopton: Measurement is one of my favorite topics, so I could talk all day about these questions. Unfortunately, I don’t have simple answers, mostly because so few digital workplace tools provide truly effective measurement options.

What is most widely measured is what is simplest to track. So we can count transactions, for example. But the things that matter most — behavior change, for example, or increased innovation — tend to be qualitative in nature so basic quantitative measurements fail to capture them.

I think the future of effective organizational measurement will be enabling qualitative changes to be captured quantitatively.

For example, we could be surveying people and using AI to score their responses as one form of measurement. Or machine learning could detect changes in behavior that a human observer would not detect, giving us new ways to measure improvements (or detect problems).

CMSWire: Who within an organization should be in charge of managing and presenting these metrics?

Hopton: Way back in 2010, I called for online community teams to include a data analyst role and I still maintain that’s the right way to devise and develop the metrics that organizations need.

Yet in almost every organization it is the over-worked community manager who has to do this in addition to everything else. Until this changes, it’s going to be hard for organizations to significantly improve how well they measure.

CMSWire: What has been your best vacation so far and what made it so memorable? What are your expectations for your upcoming trip to South Africa and which animals are you hoping to see while on safari?

Hopton: I have been lucky to have had many memorable vacations, so it is hard to choose the best. But that honor probably belongs to the trip I took around the world, literally circling the globe, in my early 20s as a teacher leading a group of students. The sheer breadth of experiences we had on that journey was incredible, including exposure to so many cultures different from my own, that I feel it had a formative impact upon me as a young man.

We skipped over Africa on that trip, however, so I am very excited to be going there at last. On the safari, I hope to see the traditional ‘Big 5’ (lion, leopard, rhinoceros, elephant, and Cape buffalo), but cheetahs are more prevalent in the park I’m visiting than leopards, so I can accept that trade-off.

But what I most hope to experience is a sense of awe and wonder in the presence of so many animals in such a wild and beautiful place. I want to feel I am part of the adventures I saw every weekend as a child on Mutual of Omaha's "Wild Kingdom" television show, minus the dangerous situations Marlin Perkins’ sidekick, Jim Fowler, frequently found himself in.

Learn more about the Digital Workplace Experience.