Leadership in a Digital Age

In the digital age, leaders must be more dynamic, more cognizant of technology’s unintended consequences, and more willing to trust and empower their team members. With the massive amount of information available and continuously evolving web tools that are driving evolutionary and revolutionary change in almost every education, healthcare, and business application, leaders are now responsible for executing their craft in a complex and ever-changing system. This environment has added logistical and cultural complexities to the leader’s area of responsibility while simultaneously increasing connectivity to the work environment and blurring the distinction between work and non-work activities. As a result of these factors, leaders have many more productivity options, but also many more platforms that require management, more opportunities to misuse resources or miscommunicate with far-flung team members, more direct connections to work-related subject matter, and more contexts through which to offer guidance and direction. To succeed in this era, leaders must be able to communicate strategic goals, empower team members to explore and use web resources, understand the connective power of the web, and manage to remain focused in a rapidly changing environment. In these tasks, a leader’s job in the new digital age is to inspire productivity in an incredibly complex ecosystem that now includes in-person, web, synchronous, and asynchronous components. Doing this requires technological knowledge, trust, and the ability to contextualize strategic organizational goals and ground-level employee interactions in a faster, more social communications landscape.    

In this course, we’ve examined the role of web leadership, and we’ve analyzed tools, assessed behaviors, and suggested techniques leaders can use to remain confident and capable in an internet world. During our discussions, I’ve been most struck by the changing nature of learning, and the increased pressure this puts on leaders as they build teams and develop strategies to increase employee capability. We are in the midst of the redefinition of ‘knowledge,’ with the ability to search for data quickly becoming as important as the possession of that data. By highlighting the quantity of information on the web, the increasing ease and decreasing cost of accessing that information, and the mobile nature of the new web experience, this course has convinced me that leaders will face a completely new training and capability management environment in the future. In this environment, leaders will be able to train employees in real-time to complete many tasks, and will rely on web applications to assist with the execution of tasks that previously required some pre-activity instruction. This change alters the relationships between experienced and new employees, and lessens the need to invest in lengthy, formal pre-employment training programs. While this influence is not specific to the training arena, I believe that skills transfer and employee learning are the areas that are most easily and notably disrupted by new web capabilities.

This course made me more aware of web technologies and tools, and convinced me that leadership in the web environment is about strategic knowledge and tactical trust. Web leaders must understand the web’s evolution and identify capabilities that are applicable for their business. Then, they must create working environments that support employee web engagement and interaction. In a dynamic world buffeted by evolutionary and revolutionary web changes, leaders are less able to manage and control information, and more able to up productivity and engagement with targeted web use. To succeed, leaders must recognize the viability of the web and embrace modern tools and communication techniques while simultaneously developing strategies to ensure employees represent their companies appropriately and safeguard company secrets. Moving forward, I will use the information I learned in this course to improve my professional web and social media presence, and I’m designing training solutions to account for the new learning environment. In doing so, my style will evolve to account for the tools I didn’t know existed and to provide opportunities for my employees to better use their talents and skills in a complex world that I cannot fully understand or hope to oversee. 

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Leadership in the New Web Era: Currency & Technology Support

To stay current and adapt as technology changes, leaders must embrace new capabilities, become comfortable with new ideas, and support change and innovation. Anecdotally, it appears that technological implementation related to the web is generational, with younger consumers more willing to use new sites and services and older consumers less supportive. While social applications are changing this paradigm, web utilization still largely mirrors larger trends in cultural change, with younger generations accepting changes and approaches not fully supported or used by their elders. In Kevin Kelly’s conception of the future web, this generational gap has less space to exist due to the ubiquitous nature of screens, information sharing, and information flow; in Kelly’s projection, people will be ‘in’ the web, not ‘on’ it. This distinction is critical for leaders attempting to stay current – in today’s web environment, staying current requires active participation in the web environment and purposeful use of particular web tools. As the web transitions and begins to, in Kelly’s words, “surround us,” web use will become a more passive activity because consumers will no longer need to search out new sites and participate in new technologies. Instead, consumers will continuously receive information from a host of connected devices, interact with computers that can adapt to users’ needs, and work in a cloud-based environment where everything is shared.

For leaders, the transition to a ubiquitous web suggests it will be more important to generally support change and innovation than it will be to actively search out and use specific technologies or resources. Instead of becoming familiar with and using every new and popular application, leaders will have to recognize technology and culture evolve at such a rapid pace that they are unable to learn and use all of the resources their employees do. In this type of environment, the best leaders will understand that leadership in a period of rapid change must be thematic, not technical. In other words, leaders who become bogged down in the minutiae of every new web tool will not be as effective as leaders who understand the web’s power at a strategic level and leverage that power through their employees’ use of tools. As the web becomes everywhere, leaders who recognize they themselves cannot be everywhere will be better able to manage in the dynamic, flowing new online world.

In today’s web environment, leaders stay current and adapt as technology changes by involving themselves with new technologies and incorporating those technologies into their professional and personal lives. As we transition to the ‘everywhere web’ and increase the type, size, and frequency of web interaction, this strategy will cease to be effective, and leaders will be better served by becoming cognizant of large-scale culture and web trends and then strategically managing employees who possess specific technical skills. While it seems counter-intuitive, the new web paradigm will force leaders to become less interested in specific programs and capabilities and more interested in large-scale trends. This will help leaders to succeed in a period of great change and great choice, and will ensure they remain supportive of new technologies without being overwhelmed by the ever-present nature of the new web.

Kelly, K. (2011, March 29). Web Expo 2.0 Keynote Address. Retrieved from http://www.web2expo.com/webexsf2011/public/schedule/detail/19292

Ethics, Privacy, and the Web

The widespread use of web and social media tools has significant philosophical and practical implications for the privacy of casual users, employees, and employers. Philosophically, the diffusion of computer technologies and the new communication mechanisms and relationships the technologies fostered have encouraged a reevaluation of the concept of privacy itself. According to Bynum (2011), definitions of privacy have evolved from those stressing control over personal information to those stressing restricted access to those accounting for public circumstances. These shifting concepts mirror the rise of web and social media platforms that facilitate the production, storage, aggregation, and use of huge volumes of data; in today’s web environment, thousands of entities collect billions of data points in an effort to quantify, categorize, and monetize all aspects of human behavior. From social relationships to shopping habits or work preferences, actors on the web use data mined from searches, browsing histories, and social media interactions to build comprehensive profiles that trigger targeted advertisements or content. When combined with the ubiquitous nature of social networking sites with access-based privacy standards, this shift toward a personalized web experience has certainly facilitated the evolution of ‘privacy’ and indicates current web interactions encourage behaviors that define privacy in terms of access rather than control.

Practically, the web and privacy intersect in several broad areas, including the legal realm, the employment realm, the data collection realm, and the data storage realm. First, current laws do not account for the recent growth in social media and other web technologies and, as such, do not offer adequate privacy protections to system users. Loeffler (2012) explained that social media is governed by the same privacy laws applicable to the general online environment; in the United States, this translates into a patchwork of laws and regulations that address privacy issues for different segments of personal information, consumers, or industries. Several major privacy-related areas within this patchwork, especially the scope of employer surveillance, employee representation requirements, and the depth of pre-employment social media examinations by prospective employers remain unsettled, ensuring confusion and conflicting policies on the collection of data and the conduct of potentially invasive activities by employers. These actions have significant privacy implications, and the law must catch up to the social media environment to offer clarity and structure.

In the employment realm, web and social media technologies pose privacy concerns to prospective employees, current employees, and employers.  In general, the boundary-crossing nature of social media platforms, the availability of sensitive personal data in the online environment and the advertising and marketing potential of social media sites have the potential to impact privacy, and in aggregate have contributed to the philosophical reevaluation of what ‘private’ means. Sánchez Abril, Levin, and Del Riego (2012) suggested although employer invasiveness leads to negative personal and professional outcomes among employees, most employers have compelling business reasons and possess the technologies to surveil employees’ and applicants’ online activities.  This monitoring can help companies identify character flaws or negative personality traits and protect intellectual and physical property, but it can also result in privacy invasions, the collection of inappropriate data, and the execution of improper hiring, firing, and personnel decisions based on private data. Furthermore, the widespread use of social media platforms has blurred the work-life boundary and inspired companies to place restrictions on extracurricular activities that could harm the company’s reputation. Sánchez Abril, Levin, and Del Riego (2012) indicated this significantly complicates the line between the private individual and the company representative, and explained a more public digital existence can threaten the privacy of both employees and their employers by making it easier for private dealings to reflect on organizations, enabling disgruntled employees to divulge company secrets, and allowing organizations to try and regulate off-duty conduct. With a blurred line between on- and off-duty, previously private employee activities are becoming more relevant to company operations and forcing employees to disclose or even terminate formerly private actions.

Finally, today’s web and social media technology contains items that collect, track, and use sensitive personal data for advertising and other businesses purposes. Cookies and other advanced technologies track online movement and gather data without user knowledge, this data is gathered, stored, and analyzed, and the process minimizes privacy in favor of finely targeted commercial activities. Tracking mechanisms and personalized advertising have made it extremely difficult for users to operate privately on the internet, and anonymity is almost impossible on today’s web. Data-collection applications and web communities such as Facebook that gather personal data and leverage it for targeted advertising have the capability to aggregate massive amounts of information and, in doing so, develop sophisticated personal profiles for millions of users. This process provides these companies and the entities that purchase personal information with data on users’ friends, habits, likes, dislikes, shopping habits, and other personal/private topics. This information was not collated and aggregated to this degree prior to the rise of the web and social media platforms, and the existence of these capabilities and the resulting databases have significant privacy implications for all web users.

As the web evolves and social media platforms mature, internet users will become more familiar with the privacy threats associated with ‘big data,’ and the law will change to reflect the web’s influence. Today, however, the explosion of social media sites, the unclear legal environment, the massive data-collection capabilities of online companies, and the ongoing redefinition of ‘privacy’ have combined to create an environment where traditional concepts of privacy are not sufficient to protect individuals and businesses in the online world. During this transition phase, this has resulted in the existence of serious privacy threats and the rise of a billion-dollar data-collection industry devoted to obtaining personal data and leveraging it for consumer and professional purposes. In the short term, this trend has caused web users to forgo or limit traditional privacy conceptions, and I see this trend continuing as social media grows in popularity and cultural acceptability.

Bynum, T. (Spring 2011) “Computer and Information Ethics”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Edward N. Zalta (ed.). Retrieved from  http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/spr2011/entries/ethics-computer/

Loeffler, C. (2012, September-October). Privacy issues in social media. IP Litigator, 18(5), 12+. Retrieved from http://go.galegroup.com.cuhsl.creighton.edu/ps/i.do?id=GALE%7CA305371564&v=2.1&u=creight_law&it=r&p=LT&sw=w

Sánchez Abril, P., Levin, A. and Del Riego, A. (2012), Blurred Boundaries: Social Media Privacy and the Twenty-First-Century Employee. American Business Law Journal, 49: 63–124. doi: 10.1111/j.1744-1714.2011.01127.x

Networked Workers?

Networked workers bring a significant amount of opportunity to an organization and can significantly increase organizational productivity. From acquiring information quickly and efficiently to immediately responding to company tasks and communicating quickly and cheaply, the web has enabled workers to streamline business processes, increase knowledge, and up efficiency in the workplace. However, easy access to the web has some negatives in a work context, especially concerning time management and security. Free access to web resources ensures the availability of time-wasting websites that distract employees and decrease production, and networked activities open organizations to external infiltration, hacking, and other malicious threats. If an organization can mitigate the threats to company time and resources that easy connection brings, the positives of a connected environment are substantial. If it cannot, then the organization risks losing vital business information and productive hours. Here are a few of the most obvious opportunities and risks associated with networked workers:

Opportunities

Availability: Connected workers are nearly always aware of and engaged with work issues. This provides broader opportunities to solve work-related problems, ensures work remains a priority regardless of time and space, and allows employees to influence work from anywhere. According to Madden and Jones (2008) networked workers who use the internet or email at their job report higher rates of working at home. Overall, 56% of Networked Workers report some at-home work and 20% say they do so every day or almost every day – this indicates a large majority of American workers are available and working outside of the traditional hour structure.

Access to Information:
Networked workers have ready access to a massive amount of data, which can inform business decisions, help identify new strategies, and inspire new marketing approaches.

Creativity: According to Friedman (2007) Capabilities create intentions and, in a networked world, there is a whole new universe of things that companies, countries, and individuals can and must do to thrive. The existence of networked resources can inspire new ideas and help individual employees develop and implement creative solutions to business problems. Madden and Jones’ (2008) research indicates network availability does inspire collaboration; the authors indicate that 73% of survey responders say web technologies have improved their ability to share ideas with co-workers.

Communication: Networked workers can communicate easier, quicker, and more efficiently. From email to web chats to synchronous video conferences, today’s networked employee possesses a host of communication enhances that limit the adverse effects of time and space. This enables long-distance collaboration and allows the smooth management of complex design, procurement, and supply functions.

Risks

Distraction: Research indicates a significant amount of workers shop, blog, and engage in online gaming at the office (Madden and Jones, 2008). These activities take valuable time away from company tasks and cost companies significant time and cost in lost productivity. While many organizations employ filters and other blocking devices to limit the type of sites employees visit, social media, video, gaming, news, and other sites are often accessible from work computers or employee telephones, which makes it possible for employees to eschew assigned tasks for unrelated web activity through a variety of platforms.

Security: The websites networked workers access may open company systems to threats from hackers, industrial espionage actors, or malicious codes. Many individuals and nations use a variety of active and passive techniques to gather sensitive and proprietary data from countries and companies, and networked workers are a company’s weakest line of defense against a web compromise.

Bias Confirmation: The web’s user-driven model enables browsers to self-select the information they view, which can lead to selectivity and bias over time. For companies, this is dangerous because it serves to limit creativity and create groupthink.

Burnout: According to Madden and Jones (2008), those who are most tethered to work are more likely to say that their gadgets and connectivity have increased demands that they work more hours, with 46% of workers stating demands have intensified and 59% of professionals and managers agreeing. This correlation has implications for work-related burnout – 49% of wired workers stated constant connection increased the level of stress in their job, and 49% of workers stated connection made it harder for them to disconnect from their work while at home. These numbers suggest constant connection is somewhat stressful, and sustained connection may contribute to higher stress levels, job dissatisfaction, and burnout.

While these lists are far from inclusive, they identify some of the most obvious issues surrounding networked employees. In the current work environment, most employees have immediate professional or personal access to the web, and employers must acknowledge this and develop strategies to keep their assets safe, their employees focused, and their missions unchanged. At the same time, employers should work to harness the communication technologies and creative power that the web facilitates; if done correctly through proper policies and management techniques, integrating the web into the life of the typical employee can improve production, inspire creativity, and positively impact the organization.

Friedman, T. (2007). The World is Flat (3rd ed.) New York: Picador.

Madden, M. & Jones, S. (Sep 24, 2008). Networked Workers. Pew Internet and American Life Project. Retrieved from http://www.pewinternet.org/Reports/2008/Networked-Workers.aspx

‘Work’ in the New Web Era

The web’s evolution has impacted the nature of work by significantly increasing the value of collaboration, connection, access to information, and teamwork. With the transition to an information-based, outsourced, and constantly connected economy, work is becoming less tied to space, time, and distance. The removal of these constraints has made cross-functional, global collaboration the norm and placed the team, which may include asynchronous or synchronous global collaborators, as the preferred work unit. The web has also inspired the easy movement of capital; according to Friedman (2007), capital looks for the most productive labor at the lowest price, and moves to places that have proper infrastructure, education, governance, and environment. The web facilitates this process, which results in companies employing outsourcing, home-sourcing, and other labor management strategies that decrease the necessity of large co-located business locations and traditional schedules. In doing so, the web has drastically changed the way businesses approach all facets of operations, from hiring to marketing to producing. Furthermore, by removing traditional time, space, and distance barriers, the web has increased competition, enlarged markets, and enabled small entities to compete with larger, more established companies. Friedman (2007) stated that the incredible degree to which individuals or small groups can now act and compete globally is one of the defining characteristics of the web era – along with the dissolution of traditional management hierarchies in favor of collaborative teams, the web has allowed small entities to compete on a massive scale with minimal infrastructure, technology, and marketing investments (Husband, N.D.).

For leaders, these changes have conceptual and structural implications. First, the dissolution of time, space, and distance constraints ensures leaders are always connected, always accessible, and always accountable. To succeed in this environment, leaders must recognize that traditional work hours and observation-based management techniques are not applicable and instead pursue a collaborative, productivity-based approach. Furthermore, leaders must adapt to the rise of teams and become comfortable leading and managing global, asynchronous teams. This approach requires trust and empowerment, and lessens the value of hierarchical organizational structures. In time, this trend may result in traditional hierarchies giving way to project-based teams led by subject matter experts; with this construct, ‘leaders’ will emerge based on specific skill, shepherd a defined group for a defined time period, and then join other teams as a member after their project finishes. To manage these role changes, companies must develop leadership skills in most or all employees, and Husband (N.D.) suggests companies employ e-learning strategies to enhance technical effectiveness and safe costs. In the future, companies will likely choose to deliver portions of leadership training via e-learning platforms, collaborative discussion boards, and other community learning strategies that leverage the power of the web and deliver content to the wide variety of teams and locations that make up their workforce.

Friedman, T. (2007). The World is Flat (3rd ed.) New York: Picador.

Husband, J. (N.D.) What is Wirearchy? Retrieved from http://wirearchy.com/what-is-wirearchy/

Knowledge Leadership in the Era of Convergence

In The World is Flat (2007), Friedman described the ‘Triple Convergence,’ or a confluence of three systemic changes that created a new economic and technological environment. These changes, which generally included the emergence of new players in the world economy, the opening of new world markets, and the development of new processes and habits for collaboration, enabled companies and individuals to approach knowledge management and business processes from a horizontal perspective. This perspective, which redefined knowledge as a community, rather than exclusive property, was made possible by the development, use, and widespread adoption of communications technologies, data storage devices, and other internet-related technological advancements. According to Friedman, the ‘Convergence’ lessened the importance of systemic control and increased the need for companies and individuals to expand access to knowledge, consider outcomes and effects instead of hierarchical power relationships, and develop new tools and technologies to increase collaboration (2007).

Within this environment, the rise of the internet enabled knowledge to diffuse much faster and provided all members of the organization with the ability to access information regardless of rank or position. Furthermore, according to Jarche (2010), the advanced communication capabilities that the internet provided increased reaction times and feedback loops, making it necessary for individuals to search for and access answers in real-time. This forced individuals to rely on trusted colleagues and friends for quick answers to business issues. Jarche identified this cycle as ‘Social Learning,’ and stressed that the trust relationships necessary to support Social Learning develop over time through shared experiences and interactions (2010). This suggests workers who deepen social relationships with a cadre of trusted colleagues and rely on those colleagues to provide advice and guidance function more effectively in an interconnected, fast-moving world. Furthermore, in doing so, workers acquire knowledge during these information exchanges, which increases their competence, and they are able to pass this learned knowledge to other members of their trusted circle.

Friedman’s Triple Convergence and Jarche’s Social Learning are both predicated on the idea that the internet and its associated tools and capabilities have created an environment where knowledge resides in the masses and learning occurs in a horizontal manner. Dixon supports this idea; in her 2009 analysis of knowledge management, she identified that knowledge management professionals must transition from a pre-internet standard of hierarchical, concentrated knowledge to a diffused, diverse, and community-based knowledge management perspective. In doing so, Dixon suggested knowledge professionals expand access to knowledge repositories, provide community members with the ability to edit repositories, encourage diversity, and incorporate social media into a comprehensive knowledge management strategy. If implemented properly these steps will result in a knowledge management capability that is appropriate in a world where users generate content, access to information is not dependent on organizational position, and collaborative engagement is a typical business practice.

Of the resources highlighted above, Friedman’s Triple Convergence described the changing environment, Jarche’s Social Learning outlined learning-specific behavioral reactions to that environment, and Dixon’s thoughts highlighted ways to excel in the resultant new knowledge management paradigm. Taken together, these three ideas suggest that knowledge is now socially developed, and businesses must make knowledge easily accessible from all hierarchical levels in order to maximize productivity. Furthermore, businesses must treat knowledge as community property that can be augmented, changed, and expanded by all community members. To facilitate these attitudes, leaders must develop organizational cultures that stress collaboration, openness, and sharing. Furthermore, leaders must consciously democratize knowledge, and create systems that enable all organization members to access as much data as possible and contribute data. Additionally, leaders should incorporate Jarche’s Social Learning by creating peer mentoring opportunities, giving new workers the opportunity to learn from more experienced employees, and creating a company wiki resource that allows any employee to contribute. In an environment where speed, access, and tools allow workers to seamlessly collaborate across time zones, store massive amounts of data, and crowdsource the answers to difficult organizational issues, organizations that trend toward openness in the knowledge management arena will be better able to use new technologies and react to cultural and business changes. This makes leaders responsible for developing an open, collaborative culture, and suggests that inspiring these attitudes toward knowledge management will have positive individual and organizational consequences.

Dixon, N. (May 2, 2009). Where Knowledge Management Has Been and Where It Is Going. Conversation Matters. Retrieved from http://www.nancydixonblog.com/2009/05/where-knowledge-management-has-been-and-where-it-is-going-part-one.html

Friedman, T. (2007). The World is Flat (3rd ed.) New York: Picador.

Jarche, H. (February 24, 2010). A framework for social learning in the enterprise. Retrieved from http://www.jarche.com/2010/02/a-framework-for-social-learning-in-the-enterprise/

The Flipped Classroom

Many of the tools we’re examining this week make it possible for educators to employ non-traditional content delivery and classroom organization methods. When combined, new presentation tools, online learning software, content curators, and streaming video platforms allow educators to shift the information delivery portion of instruction outside of the classroom and use the classroom for application. This trend, generally known as the ‘flipped classroom,’ has led to more student-centered approaches, which tend to produce better learning outcomes. This infograph from Knewton provides some numbers to put the ‘flipped classroom’ into context:

Flipped Classroom

Created by Knewton and Column Five Media

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