McKinsey: Social tools to reshape organisational structures

04 July 2016

The process of digitalisation is generating additional ways in which to perform transactions or operate processes and social tools. It is, however, also set to transform internal relationships between employees – from ground staff to management. A new report considers the relationship between social tools and digitalisation, as well as the effect these tools are having on organisational structures and operations.

Companies are seeking ways to reduce costs as well as improve efficiency. The recent rapid expansion of social tools, from social media to communications platforms, has added a whole new landscape in which engagement and collaboration can take place internally to an organisation. In a new report from McKinsey & Company, the firm explores the way in which social tools are transforming those internal relationships as well as the interplay between social tools and digital transformations more widely.

The report, titled ‘How social tools can reshape the organisation’, is based on 2,427 respondents representing a full range of regions, industries, company sizes, functional specialties, and tenures. To adjust for differences in response rates, the data is weighted by the contribution of each respondent’s nation to global GDP.

Effect of social tools on work

Potential improvements
The research finds that most businesses (93%) use at least one social tool, up from 82% in the previous year’s survey. The majority of respondents also have at least one tool on mobile devices, and 74% say social tools are at least somewhat integrated into employees’ work.

The research also found that there is a growing demand for the use of social tools internally to the organisation. Tools that support collaboration between employees are the most valued. The social tools most responsible for adoption include those that facilitate real-time interactions, collaboration tools and tools that extend accessibility. These tools are also perceived to improve how people work at the respondents’ organisations.

Digitalisation in correlation with social tools

Digital correlation
The research also finds that there is a correlation between respondents that are using next generation tools and the share of the organisations’ business activity that is digital in nature. The most integrated companies, in terms of social tools, are rated very integrated to extremely integrated at 36% and 21% respectively, while across those surveyed, 11% keep all of their business activity in a digital environment, while 34% keep most.

The consultancy firm notes that “while most companies tend to use social tools in external-facing processes, such as marketing activities and public relations, adopters of new-generation technologies report broader use of social across the organisation. They are much likelier than average to use social in internal processes, such as R&D and IT management.”

Specific correlations

Adoption correlation
To digitise all processes, both internal and external, the results suggest that social tools can help. For every process where their companies are digitising and using social tools, respondents agree that social technologies have enabled their use of digital overall.

The areas where the largest correlation occurs, according to the executives, are order to cash, demand planning, new-product development/R&D, supply-chain management and procurement. Other results support the notion that, when a company looks to technology to improve its processes, the benefits are greater when social and digital tools are used together.

Structural and management changes from social tools

Reshaping organisations
The continued development, and integration, of social tools is set to reshape the organisations, according to many of the executives. The largest change (cited by 66%) will be that social tools will allow employees to communicate more often with others in different teams, functions and business units. The second biggest development is set to see day-to-day work become more project based, instead of team or function based, because of the tools, as cited by 48%. The tools will also, according to 40% of executives, allow teams to self-organise.

Additional changes that can arise are blurred boundaries between employees, vendors, and customers; the organisation’s formal hierarchy can become much flatter or disappear completely, and individual performance can be evaluated by peers rather than by managers.

Structural and management changes that social tools bring about

Leading changes
The greater the number of processes involving social tools, the more likely executives are to expect more dramatic organisational changes. The same is true at fully networked companies, which are reaping the greatest level of benefits from using social. It’s true, too, of companies using next-generation team-collaboration tools.

Those using next generation tools are much firmer believers that social tools will bring about certain changes in the coming three years. This is particularly true for self-organisations, at 72% vs 40% of all respondents, and more projected based day-to-day work, at 66% vs 48% of all respondents.


Why leaders must balance technical expertise with soft skills

17 April 2019

Soft skills matter in the workplace just as much as technical expertise, writes Samantha Caine, Managing Director of Business Linked Teams.

For too long technical expertise has been seen as the marker of a strong candidate for development into a sales or leadership position. Sales and leadership candidates are tasked with demonstrating a diverse and wide-ranging set of technical skills, yet their aptitude in these technical skills or ‘hard skills’ cannot signify great leadership potential. This is why a healthy balance of soft skills and technical ability is required. 

So what exactly is the difference between technical skills and soft skills? In engineering, it’s crucial to demonstrate knowledge of physics as well as a strong grasp on mathematical equations. Yet, in any industry, it’s important for leaders to be able to interact with other people effectively with soft skills like communication, empathy and adaptability. 

Business Linked Team’s 2018 study into internal leadership development revealed that 69% of large organisations are prioritising the identification and development of future leaders from within the workforce. As more and more organisations begin to invest in sales or leadership development within their existing workforces, more focus needs to be placed on ensuring the right soft skills are in place. 

With those soft skills in place throughout the workforce, the business will benefit from a wider pool of potential leaders developing under their noses, and it should be the same where sales candidates are concerned. 

It’s not just about easier access to ideal candidates for these positions without the rigmarole of recruiting from outside of the organisation. The leadership development study also found that 89% of HR decision makers say succession planning has become a top priority. Those currently serving in leadership positions can’t lead forever and the same goes for those generating sales for the business.

Why leaders must balance technical expertise with soft skills

From people leaving for new opportunities or retirement, to people simply stepping aside to focus on other areas of the business, successful leaders and salespeople require experienced and capable successors that will be ready and able to confidently step into their shoes and pick up the mantle without the business experiencing any lapse in performance.

Soft skills make stronger candidates

When it comes to the soft skills required, a strong leader must be able to manage through clear communication and effective time management, coaching and goal setting. They must be able to demonstrate empathy and empower their teams to be successful, productive and fully engaged. And beyond simply giving direction, they must also be able to take direction from those above them and cascade the business strategy down through their teams. 

A strong sales candidate must possess the ability to communicate value to the customer, negotiate well and protect margin or the ability to increase the scope of a particular sales opportunity. 

With the relevant soft skills in place, the business will benefit from increased productivity, greater agility against changing market conditions and greater transparency. In turn, this will provide visibility on issues and inefficiencies while removing opportunity for miscommunication. All of this can transform the culture of a department, improving employee satisfaction and reducing staff turnover. 

Ultimately, developing leadership or sales candidates will require the business to strike the right balance between technical skills and soft skills, and this requires an effective and sustained learning journey.

A balanced learning journey

Facilitating and supporting the development of leadership and sales is best achieved by establishing training groups. By cultivating training groups, businesses are creating talent pools that will inspire and support each other on the learning journey. However, personal goals and learning objectives must be defined for each individual based on their own existing skillsets and the skills that each individual needs to develop. 

With the emergence of e-learning, businesses recognise the value of online-based learning activities, yet many make the mistake of opting for one-size-fits-all solutions which are solely focused on self-study. A development solution will only deliver true return on investment if it combines e-learning activities with group learning activities that provide opportunity for shared experiences and support.

A blended learning solution that combines self-study and face-to-face group learning activities will aid strong development of the talent pool through shared experiences. Through these shared experiences, those undergoing the training will organically develop a support network that supports the development of the group as much as it supports the development of each individual. 

The blended learning approach is supported by one of the seven principles of human learning that socially supported interactions aid the individual development of expertise, metacognitive skills, and formation of the learner’s sense of self. The strongest opportunities for development can be unlocked by blending workshops with online activities such as virtual sessions, peer coaching, self-study, online games and business simulations. But it’s crucial to provide a blend of one-to-one and group sessions too.

Beyond delivering a better learning outcome for the employee, the blended learning approach allows organisations to adapt their training quickly and easily to shifting business demands in an ever-changing landscape.