Tools for the future of work: Salesforce bets on social

Image of Rypple Flow on a widescreenIf the future of work is mobile and independent, featuring more accountability but less loyalty and rigidity, then what sorts of tools will this new reality demand? Or to think of the same question from a different angle, what tools will help speed our present toward that future?
These are questions that John Wookey, Salesforce’s new executive vice president and a former exec at SAP and Oracle, must ponder often, as he is heading up the team behind recently acquired social performance management solution Rypple. The answer, Wookey recently told us in a wide-ranging discussion of tools for the future of work, is more social, less hierarchical systems.
More global, more agile
Likening the skeptical reaction among some execs to enterprise social solutions to the reluctance of higher ups in the early days of email, Wookey sees the adoption of tools that share information in a transparent and social way as inevitable. “I think they’ll look back and laugh. Why did it take so long to get there?” he says. Social tools, he argues, are simply better suited to the realities facing businesses today – namely, a need to be both global and agile. He explains:

More and more companies, even companies of fairly modest size, are almost immediately global. You don’t have people all sitting in the same room or the same building walking around. You have all these people spread all over the world, and customers and partners and so on that don’t always operate in your time zone, don’t operate in your geography. So you have to think about building this sort of virtual company and tools that support your ability to act seamlessly.
What excites me about these social networking tools is they provide a tremendous amount of freedom of movement of ideas and information. People know about different projects going on in the company. They have an ability to participate in those in some way if they’re of interest to them.

And it’s not just the geographic reach of the workforce that’s driving the need for easier information sharing and fewer bureaucratic hurdles between members of organizations. The increased mobility of workers within companies is also pushing organizations to find ways to knit together teams without relying on shared spaces or lengthy tenure:

The workforce itself is more dynamic, meaning it moves across projects more quickly, so you may be part of a work group for a period of time, but when a project comes to some logical breaking point, you may move on to another project. The ability to quickly align around goals and what you want to get done is important. These kind of tools not only support the more remote workforce, but also the more mobile workforce.
You see it at fast-moving companies like Facebook or LinkedIn. If you’re talking about, ‘what are you working on at Facebook?’ they’re, like, ‘well, I’m working at this now’ and six months before they were working on something different. One of the reasons Facebook liked Rypple so much is because, even though [employees] are moving around a lot in the company, they have a better sense of how what they do contributes. With more short-term roles, more project-focused roles, they still feel better connected to the mission of the company. Whereas you can go to more traditional companies where people have been in the same group for ten years, and they have no idea how what they do really helps the company at all.

New tools meet old realities
Wookey argues that a more agile and global business environment is demanding more social tools to help teams gel together quickly, but he concedes that traditionally structured companies sometimes struggle on a cultural level to adapt to these tools. “Implied in the idea of a social networking tools is this level of transparency and trust that has to be there across the company,” says Wookey. “In a lot of ways that becomes the biggest challenge for more established companies because it’s not their normal operating model.”
To illustrate the point he contrasts Salesforce’s transparent goal-setting process, where everyone from the CEO on down publishes drafts of their objectives for public comment, with traditional top-down goal setting, in which the board dictates the course for everybody, “and nobody in one big division knows what the heck anybody in another division is doing.” Those older operational models “have become increasingly stressed as companies get bigger, as they get more global and as the market moves faster,” says Wookey.

John Wookey

Social tools can collide with these entrenched ways of doing business, limiting their impact, but Wookey feels that changes in corporate culture and communication tools can create a virtuous feedback loop, with the tools nudging the culture to evolve and the evolving culture encouraging the uptake of the tools. Meanwhile, the need to attract the best talent may speed the process further, as the most talented workers demand certain tools from their employers.
“Social networking tools are not just about technology. I think they are also a bit of a litmus test,” says Wookey, noting the difficulty of recruiting engineering talent at the moment. “Employees are pretty smart today about asking what technology do you use. Are you a Microsoft shop? What kind of a shop are you? People ask that now. I think they’re going to start asking what kind of social networking tools do you use because, to them, it sort of describes the type of company that it is that they’re talking to, and they have a clear idea about what kind of company they’d like to work for.”
Breaking out the crystal ball
So, what future does Wookey predict for social tools? Unsurprisingly, considering where he’s chosen to work, he has an extremely bullish outlook:

I think over the next five years this will start sweeping through companies. In the same ways that Rypple has taken this model of social networking and how people work together as a fundamental design point and applied it to performance management systems, you’re going to see it apply to a lot of systems around companies, whether it’s the recruiting process or compensation or learning systems. I think it will eventually hit things like financial budgeting and planning systems, anything where the work is inherently social. Those systems will come under pretty rigorous review and everyone will say we really need a rethink on how these systems work because this is not how people work together. The systems are not reflecting the reality of what happens in our business, and I think clever companies will come forward with new solutions there that simply are better than the systems that exist in the marketplace today.

Does Wookey’s vision of the expansion and uptake of social tools convince you?
Images courtesy of Salesforce.