Seven Essential Elements of a Smart-Connected Workplace Culture

The organization of the future has a Smart-Connected CultureTM. As leaders scramble to figure out how to build the workplace of the future, these seven essential elements of a Smart-Connected Workplace Culture will drive performance, productivity, and collaborative advantage. 


According to a 2017 survey of more than 10,000 business leaders, 88% believe that "building the organization of the future" is an important or very important business issue.

Given the importance executive are placing on future-proofing their organizations, it's shocking that only 11% of leaders report that they "understand how to build the organization of the future."

The workplace of the future has a different operating model than those we've seen over the last 100 years. Unlike the hierarchical "power over" workplaces of the past, the organization of the future is driven by a Smart-Connected WorkforceTM

Leaders are learning powerful (but costly) lessons about digital transformation: 

1.  Digital transformation and innovation are only possible in partnership with Smart-Connected Employees; 

2. Smart-Connected Employees crave empowerment and the freedom to do their most creative work; 

3. Outdated leadership and management models fail to empower and engage the Smart-Connected Workforce;

4. The playing field is becoming equalized as Smart-Connected Employees--the one's companies want and need to hire and keep around--have more options than ever for getting hired as contractors and "gig employees."

5. Companies and HR are rapidly responding to hire on-demand talent and gig-workers to feed their talent shortfall and inability to attract and retain Smart-Connected Employees full-time. Linda Dishman has written a fine article on this for FastCompany

The critical lesson  leaders are learning about the future of work is simple: Attracting and retaining a Smart-Connected Workforce requires a Smart-Connected Workplace Culture.


I've spent the last 20 years researching and advising clients on how to establish, sustain, and transform their workplace culture. These clients have ranged from companies with net revenues of less than $25 Million to companies with 300,000 employees and revenues in excess of $30 Billion. I can tell you one thing for certain: changing workplace culture is the single-most difficult change any organization will ever undertake.

Based on what I'm seeing in organizations today and the changes on the horizon, these are the seven essential elements of the Smart-Connected Workplace Culture necessary to support the future of work. Changing any of them will require an intentional strategy and flawless execution.

#1: We-Focused:  Smart-Connected Cultures of the future will be "we" work cultures. This is a massive shift and struggle for leaders who have grown-up in high individualist cultures. Work cultures are degrees of individualist or collectivist in nature. It's either all about "me" in the former or all about "we" in the latter. The good news is that as the Smart-Connected Workforce grows in Asia, India, Latin America, and Africa--all of which tend to be more "we"(collectivist) cultures--organizations have the opportunity to gain collaborative advantage by becoming more inclusive and learning from employees from "we" cultures.

Future-Cast: We-Focused cultures will outperform Me-Focused cultures in the the future of work by gaining collaborative advantage. The most diverse and inclusive organizations will harness this collaborative advantage faster than less inclusive organizations.

#2: Collaboration On-Demand: Organizations produce exactly when they are designed to produce. Culture is a critical element of organizational design that leaders tend to get completely wrong. For example, "collaboration" is a term that many companies preach, incorporate into their values, offer training around, and leverage in their recruitment efforts. Ironically, these same organizations resist team-based rewards and recognition. They can't figure out how to align rewards and incentives in ways that balance individual effort and collaborative efforts. The result? They reward individual effort and wonder why leaders and teams compete against one another for resources and "turf."

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Future-Cast: Super-Matrixed structures, contingent or "gig" employees, and virtual collaboration will continue to trouble leaders in the future of work. But collaboration will get easier and more effective as more and more millennials assume leadership positions. 

#3: Presence Amidst Chaos: The future of work requires complex decision-making. Today leaders are all trying to "simplify" the complexity that they face. But simplification and clear communication, first, require an understanding of complexity. Slowing down and being more mindful and present in the moment is neurologically proven to improve brain functioning and one's ability to think and act through the complexity. 

Future-Cast: Smart-Connected cultures will encourage and enable mindfulness. This might include clearer workplace design, more intentional meeting structures (e.g., ensuring 15 minute pauses in between scheduled meetings to ensure employees can meet their well-being needs), or benefits that support mental health, presence, and greater well-being.

#4: High-Velocity Change-Makers: The future of work is and will continue to be defined by high-velocity change. This means that employees, team leads, and senior leaders must get comfortable with changes in not just speed, but also acceleration, and direction. Just like driving a Formula race car requires a different style of driving than driving a Prius, high-velocity change requires a different style of work and leadership. This isn't just about "managing" change or "leading" change, it's about "making" change happen faster throughout the entire Smart-Connected Workplace.

Future-Cast: Strategic investment in organizational change-makers will increase. Organizations must build systems, structures, and processes that are more flexible and responsive to rapid disruption and redesign. People--especially leaders--must build greater resilience and become "change-makers" by building skills and changing their mindset. 

#6: Developers Wanted: No, this is not a call for more app developers. Smart-Connected Workplaces are defined by "always-on" learning at the individual, team, and organizational levels. Organizations will become sponsors of high-impact development on a scale that the corporate world has never before seen. At the same time, employees must learn to take responsibility for their own development and learning to stay competitive in a rapidly changing labor market. Leaders and individual contributors will all have to change their mindset about growth, learning, development, and talent. My Future-Focused Mindset tool has helped hundreds of leaders learn about, develop, and leverage the power of their Future Focused Mindset. Discover your today. 

Future-Cast: The future of work requires an adaptive learning ecosystem. While technology will enable better curated and customizable content--human beings will continue to learn best through experience and human-to-human interaction and dialogue. 

#7: Discernment & Decision-Making: The Smart-Connected Workplace is awesome at making decisions. Decision-making amidst complexity is hard. Smart-Connected Workplaces will have processes and tools in place to help with complex decision-making, which I call "discernment." Discernment is an intentional values-based form of decision-making that is triggered when complex issues challenge a group's identity or core values. Many organizations already have values-based discernment processes in place. Smart-Connected organizations of the future will need to design discernment processes in ways that fit their mission, culture, and business needs. 

Future-Cast: Smart-Connected Workplaces will take ethics, values, and discernment more seriously as communication and transparency increase. Organizations and leaders will have to "show their work," in terms of how important values-based decisions were arrived at, what evidence was used, which alternatives were considered, etc. Discernment processes will enable a smooth transition to more efficient and effective decision-making for an increasingly transparent world. 

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See you in the future! 

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Chris Groscurth, Ph.D.

Chris Groscurth, Ph.D., is author of Future-Ready Leadership: Strategies for the Fourth Industrial Revolution. For the past 20 years he has worked as a researcher and strategic advisor to leaders across healthcare, finance, manufacturing, government and education. In addition to his consulting work, Chris addresses thousands of leaders annually through speaking engagements and workshops. Throughout his career, he has held leadership positions with Gallup, the University of Michigan, and Trinity Health. Chris currently leads Stryker's global learning design and development team, shaping the future of leadership in a high-growth medical technology company. Chris received his doctorate in human communication processes from the University of Georgia and has bachelor's and master's degrees in human communication studies from Western Michigan University.

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