Socialogy Interview: Ayelet Baron

We need leaders to own and drive two-way communication and stop handing over their responsibilities to functionaries.

I regret that I have only ‘met’ Ayelet via the Internet, through her ‘ideas that matter’ site and other writings. I completely buy into the memes of authenticity and simplifying work, so it’s not surprise we click, deeply, at a profound level.

About Ayelet Baron

From her bio at Simplifying Work:

As a Futurist, Ayelet Baron combines lessons learned from more than a decade as a high-tech industry executive with her roots as a researcher, change catalyst and global leader. This rare blend of expertise enables her to assess and advise individuals and organizations that seek to embrace new ways of running a business from innovation to results. As a futurist at Simplifying Work, she is building a diagnostic tool to assess whether an organization has industrial or 21st century practices to help leaders transform and build healthy and resilient organizations.

Ayelet speaks on the future of work and how to integrate technology solutions (like social media, Enterprise 2.0 and knowledge sharing) into organizations. Most recently, she spoke at SxSW and client’s executive team off-sites.

Prior to Simplifying Work, Ayelet was the Chief Strategist, Cisco Canada and helped position Canada as the second largest revenue generating country for Cisco at $1.9B. She was also on the executive team of Cisco’s Emerging Markets (covering Africa, Middle East, Latin America, CEE, Russia/CIS) and was the chief strategist for Cisco’s $2B global mobile business. As a Cisco Leadership Fellow, she worked with 21 of the largest NGOs and developed a social networking handbook for social good and ICT for Healthcare initiatives.

The Interview

Stowe Boyd: I read your recent 7 Predictions for the 21st Century Organization in 2015, and I'd like to dig into a few of the points you made. You wrote,

It’s time to shelve the annual employee survey and introduce ongoing two-way communication into the workplace. The only way to re-imagine work is to adopt the 21st century tool of conversation and say goodbye to the 20th century world of meetings for the sake of meetings.

I've reviewed a number of fast feedback solutions in recent months — like 15five, tinyPULSE, and others — and I think they lead to a real different dynamic. And, as you say, they will likely cut back on soul-killing status meetings. Thoughts?

Ayelet Baron: It’s simple. We have lost common sense when it comes to business these days. We are still using antiquated 19th century management practices in a 21st century world. We blame technology for our being on 24/7 and yet it is people who can choose when and how to work. We let the Google or Outlook calendar monster dictate our days, moving from one meeting to the next and then feeling stressed out that we don't have time to get our work done or answer our exploding email. We allow the internal communications function to “own” and “manage” our organization’s intranet and collaborative platforms, and then we are surprised they fail to increase productivity and collaboration. Does the function that still ghost writes blogs for executives, and provides one-way corporate communication have the right to hold the key to facilitating open, two-way communication? It may have worked in the world of announcements and memos but in today’s world we need the right technology to enable the business; not lead with it.

We need leaders to own and drive two-way communication and stop handing over their responsibility to functionaries. Why is it so challenging to have conversations and make decisions? How long will it take before we realize that we are trying to force a square peg in a round hole?

Consumers today have more access to open systems than those working in organizations. Any literate person who has a smart device and Internet connectivity can post feedback to any brand. And yet, at work, we are governed by an annual employee survey that no longer serves us. In a world of constant change, having the right, purposeful conversations is key. And it’s time to let go of tools that don't fit where we are headed when it comes to work. And the world of work will change dramatically over the next decade so we need to be ready and adopt collaboration tools and not see them as another place to go.

SB: Yes, the tempo and shape of corporate communications hampers openness and transparency, and slows adaptiveness. How to accelerate that?

It’s time to let go of tools that don't fit where we are headed when it comes to work.

AB: How about we stop delegating leadership responsibility to functions and have leaders who know how to have conversations and communicate in their own voice? We need to stop the old world communication plans with audiences, and move to the 21st century practice of two-way communication where voices are heard and respected to drive the business.

SB: Perhaps you could elaborate on your idea that ‘people are the killer app for the 21st century’ and that we need to simplify work.

AB: One of the most important areas leaders need to focus on today is simplification in how they communicate and ensure their people know the role they need to play to remain relevant. We somehow lost touch of people with rhetoric and increasing fear. Many organizations still have a scarcity mindset that focuses on what is deficient and how to kill the competition.

In today’s world, there is opportunity to create new markets, products and services and find unusual suspects to partner with. This century is about pursuing abundant opportunities and thanks to technology, there is so much more that we can do. But we need to stop leading with technology and old world management practices.

We also need to move away from mantras and recognize that the world is about community and people. We have two big shifts happening at work today and they both involve people. The first is that there is an increasing number of people in their 40s, 50s, and 60s who are seeking more meaning in their lives. They are questioning why life is defined by what they do. They are increasingly de-cluttering their lives and realizing that work-life balance is a fallacy. And they are not alone. People in their 20s and 30s are also moving more toward lifeworking: how work fits into their lives.

We are also seeing an increase worldwide in the freelance economy and that will have a huge impact on organizations that will need to have more of a blended workforce since it will be challenging to find the talent they seek in traditional models.

People, not technology, are the killer app. And people need more conversations and less meetings. We need to bring common sense back to business and stop over-complicating what is truly simple. Imagine if an organization had a shared purpose and each and every person (employee, freelancers, etc.) knew what their role was in delivering on it?

People, not technology, are the killer app.

SB: I like the simplification/decluttering idea, but is it limited to the older cadres? Aren’t millennials interested in meaning and purpose, too?

AB: It’s growing among all age groups. Some are waking up to the question and disappointment of “this is it?” when they reach the metric of career success. Millennials are not only seeking meaning but want leaders to commit to their local community and the world. The exciting generation is the 14–19 and what they bring but that’s a whole different conversation.

SB: Your insight that leaders will have to realize ‘We live in an open world and it is as big or small as our imagination’. The question is, do business leaders have the sort of imagination needed for the 21st Century? And what sort should it be?

AB: We do live in an open and connected world. Despite all of the social networks and apps we have, we are still using 20th century advertising models to drive them. We don’t have the 21st century networks in place yet that can connect people based on interests and purpose as the algorithms today are based on “followers,” “connections,” and “friends.” We are more focused on personal branding than having conversations and building relationships. These social networks have confused leaders. But those who do understand the power of collaboration platforms are building strong communities. They understand that by bringing the right people at the right time to have conversations, their ability to co-create expands. It is simply an ability to use our imagination to take advantage of the abundance of possibilities.

We have one of the biggest leadership crises we have ever faced in the world today: where fear and scarcity mindsets limit our imagination.

We have one of the biggest leadership crises we have ever faced in the world today: where fear and scarcity mindsets limit our imagination. We should create strategies and pathways around what is abundant and possible. I recently worked with a client on their 2020 strategy and instead of focusing on what they needed to take away from the competition; we looked at what was abundant in their world. The outcome was potential partnerships with so called “competitors” to solve similar problems. We need a new generation of leaders who are trustworthy and trusted and lead with purpose and community rather than fear and hierarchy. Imagine what would be possible?

SB: I’ve often said ‘In a connected world, the most important decision is who to follow’. But that doesn’t exclude shared interests, and limit us to just personal branding. It could include more open-ended discovery through shared interests.

AB: The new generation of social networks are built on old world models and the reason so many internal platforms are failing is because they are not relationship and interest based. We've had communities forever. Why is it that we put the word “online” before community and most don't know what to do and see it as “another place to go.” Shared purpose changes everything, and so does common sense.

SB: Thanks for your time, Ayelet.

AB: Thanks Stowe, for asking great questions and the opportunity to share. Looking forward to continuing the conversation.

Written by

Founder, Work Futures. Editor, GigaOm. My obsession is the ecology of work, and the anthropology of the future.

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