Take This Job and Connect It.

The connected world of the net is changing everything.  Knowledge is no longer linear.  A Wikipedia page about fuel dispensers (gas pumps) has around 100 hyperlinks that connect to pages on everything from the coefficient of thermal expansion to the history of Florida.  This hyperlinked writing style is an example of what Weinberger, in a video about the power of the Internet, calls filtering forward.  With no page limits and seemingly endless information, why not add connections that readers can explore?  Weinberger (2011) suggests that this open, unbounded structure of information will become the dominant form of knowledge, leaving traditional books behind.  Inevitably, networked knowledge and hyperlinked thinking will change how we do business, how we work, what we do, and what we need.  Will it also change how we lead?

change-ahead-hrImage Credit: <thecoolnessfactor.com>

Gartner (2010) predicts that several workplace changes will occur as organizations adapt to a connected environment.  For example, the growing use of contracted technology solutions is changing how we do business.  Enterprise resources are moving out of organizations and into the Cloud.  My university uses cloud solutions for key business functions such as human resources management and online course delivery.  While these solutions come with a loss of control, Gartner (2010) says this “hyperconnectedness” to external solutions will only intensify as cloud strategies position organizations to be competitive in tomorrow’s world.

Enterprise solutions are not the only resources that are relocating.  Workers have a forwarding address too: “My Place”.  Team members of the modern workforce may not have an office, or even know each other well.  As the nature of work becomes non-routine, Gartner (2010) predicts that agile teams will come together quickly to solve problems, and then dissipate.  Several employees at my university already work virtually.  Teams collaborate across the net, using text, images, videos, and exchanging files and data.  How we work is changing, and leaders need to find new ways to help teams work effectively.  Thankfully, tools are available to help leverage workplace connections.  One example is Slack, a popular tool that was reviewed favorably by blogger rd2dochazen.  Slack has a rich set of Apps that link to everything from Asana (workflow management), to GitHub (code management), to GoogleDrive (cloud file storage), to Uber (get a ride), all from within the Slack environment.

Sometimes the net changes what we do.  An example is found in the book Leading Digital (Westerman, Bonnet, & McAfee, 2014).  Pages Jaunes, a French “Yellow Pages” company, recognized that their business model was being disrupted by digital technology.  Printed directories are obsolete—you can find a plumber faster on the net.  Guided by a visionary leader who saw the need to adapt, Pages Jaunes reinvented itself as a successful online connector of customers and businesses.  In today’s fast-paced world, leaders need to look to the future.  My university will continue to educate students, but courses will be different than they are today.  Even now, virtual reality is being considered for course design, and data scientists are creating real-time assessments of student learning.

As the nature of the workplace shifts, so does what we need.  Millennials (people born 1982-1995) recognize that the work/life divide is vanishing, one of the reasons they will choose jobs that pay less but are more socially rewarding (Gallup, 2016).  Millennials do not want leaders who tell them what to do, they want leaders who coach them and empower them (Gallup, 2016).  And now Gen Z (born 1996-now) is entering the workforce, the first truly mobile generation.  Gen Z cannot imagine an unconnected world.  As a university leader I think about my team, yet I also reflect on what students—the workers of the future—will need.

This dizzying array of changes comes with advice for leaders who desire to help their teams and their organizations.  Panetta recommends consulting Millennials about technology and collaboration, and Glassdoor’s chief economist Andrew Chamberlain suggests integrating data science with human resource management to better align worker and organizational needs.   Weinberger advises leaders to be open, constantly anticipating what may come.  And, insightfully, Jon Husband proposes using Wirearchy—an organizing principle generated by connections and collaboration—to foster the creation of social and economic value in a system that connects people and technology.

Fundamental to all of this good counsel is openness, agility, and awareness.  If the net is changing everything, leaders will be ready for change.  We are reminded of Ignatius Loyola’s description of the ideal Jesuit: “living with one foot raised”—always ready to adapt by exploring new ideas and embracing new approaches (Lowney, 2003).  Some aspects of how we lead will disappear; others will remain the same.



Gallup. (2016). How Millennials want to work and live. Washington, D.C.: Gallup World Headquarters.

Gartner. (2010, August 4). Gartner says the world of work will witness 10 changes during the next 10 years [press release]. Retrieved from http://www.gartner.com

Lowney, C. (2003). Heroic leadership: Best practices from a 450-year-old company that changed the world. Chicago, IL: Loyola Press.

Weinberger, D. (2011). Too big to know. New York, NY: Basic Books.

Westerman, G., Bonnet, D., & McAfee, A. (2014). Leading digital: Turning technology into business transformation. Boston, MA: Harvard Business Review Press.

10 thoughts on “Take This Job and Connect It.”

  1. Good morning CatontheKB,

    Let me echo Dr. Watwood’s thoughts and say nice post, as well. The need for leaders to adapt is important. I can tell you that it is something that I deal with on a daily basis, as do some of the more senior members of my department. As we continue to bring younger members of the IT department on board, or those with perhaps more experience in our hyperlinked world, I see discomfort and conflict arise. Some are very wedded to the way things have always been done, and others staunchly refuse that mindset. I have a number of employees who work either completely virtually, or in that fashion at least some of the time. As you said, in some ways that puts them at a disadvantage. People are expected to be connected at all times… to be able to log on or log in at a moment’s notice and address a problem or respond to an email.

    So, how do we protect those employees and team members? While virtual work and teamwork is becoming more common, the risk of burnout for those individual is great. William Ford provided some great tips that I will be referring to when working with my remote employees. If, as leaders, we don’t provide a strong work environment to those who work remotely, they have other options. The flexibility of what they can do makes them very marketable to some companies, and we risk limiting ourselves if we don’t adapt to this new way of work.

    The Ayes Have It


    Ford, W. (2015, May 18). 5 fixable mistakes you’re making with remote employees. Retrieved from http://www.urbanbound.com/blog/5-mistakes-youre-making-with-remote-employees

    Moran, L. (2005). Invited reaction: Virtual team culture and the amplification of team boundary permeability on performance. Human Resource Development Quarterly, 16(4), 459-463. doi:10.1002/hrdq.1150


    1. Ayes,

      You bring up an excellent point that leaders need to provide a strong work environment for remote employees. This is so important, yet easy to overlook. A colleague I work closely with is virtual. She is always available—it is easier to connect with her than with most people in my area. I was so impressed with her work ethic that it took me awhile to realize she rarely took breaks. She needed my assurance that it was ok to step away from the keyboard, just as it would be for anyone on the team. I also noticed that I provided more informal feedback to those in closer proximity, and have made a conscious effort to include feedback in our video chats. By the way, VSee (free for educators) has proven to be an excellent video chat tool for us.

      The blog you shared (5 Fixable Mistakes You’re Making With Remote Employees) offers terrific insights for working with virtual employees. Communication and feedback are always important, you just have to remember to connect. It looks like “Managing by walking around” will still be needed in a virtual workplace!



      1. CatOnKB, thank you for your post! I appreciate many of your comments, including the discussion of openness and agility as relates to the Internet. Godin (2012) said the Internet is a place to be open versus a less expensive extension of television, as businesses were initially leveraging it. The Web is an environment where the only thing a business should build online is permission to contact and engage. Godin emphasized humility, which also jives with the Jesuit mindset. So, perhaps it is less that the Internet brought us anything fundamentally new, and more that we are circling back to earlier values. What are your thoughts?

        Godin, S. (2012, December 16). Seth Godin – The future of marketing & advertising. Advertising 2020. Retrieved from http://wfoa.wharton.upenn.edu/perspective/sethgodin/



  2. Thanks for your solid and thought-provoking post, CatOnKB! As I have been reflecting on these various shifts, I accept the values of agility and adaptability towards an organization’s response to a rapidly-changing environment. However, my conversations with peers (here in the program, and elsewhere) often include the idea of building trust…and how long of a process that can be. In trying to explore this, I found this HBR article (https://hbr.org/2015/10/the-changing-rules-of-trust-in-the-digital-age), which may not address my specific concern, but nonetheless offered some important insights, including the articles close: “And we’ll have to find a way through because to be human, to have relationships with other people, is to trust. Perhaps the disruption happening now is not about technology; it is how it enables a shift in trust, from institutions to individuals.”

    It seems that being agile–bringing disparate people together, in a hurry, acknowledging that some may have no prior experience working together–may offer very little foundation of trust and little time to develop it. Is this type of trust compatible with the portrait of an agile networked team? Is trust necessary to fully leverage collective intelligence and impact in the participatory climates of today (and tomorrow)?



    1. EA,

      Thank you for your comments! The questions you pose are very thought-provoking, and ones I will undoubtedly continue to reflect on. They also apply to a situation at my university. The faculty are concerned that they do not have enough visibility in administrative and operational meetings. Their solution is to have faculty representatives on every university committee, and create a reporting structure within their faculty community. I believe the real issue is a lack of trust, and I am concerned that the solution won’t solve the problem. In reflecting on your comments and the HBR article (https://hbr.org/2015/10/the-changing-rules-of-trust-in-the-digital-age), their solution might be a positive step in building peer trust from the bottom-up. Having seen cases where a lack of trust hindered the collective intelligence, your questions are very important for leaders to keep in mind.



  3. Cat on a Keyboard,

    First of all, I love your title! While reading your post, I thought about my institution. We are not immune to the challenges facing many Community Colleges around the country. In order for us to tackle big learning issues for students that never closed the achievement gap and a never-ending budget shortage, we as an institution are going to have to rethink how we do everything. It is clear to me the technology is going to aid in the transition. But, we need to be thoughtful in our approach because not all technology is helpful or leads to greater productivity. An article by Mankis (2016) indicated that the more connected were are because of technology, the less time we have to do actual work. I know I feel the impact of technology overload. My students have so many ways to contact me I often find myself spending most of the time checking for student messages.


    Mankis, M. (2016). Is technology really helping us get more done? Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from: https://hbr.org/2016/02/is-technology-really-helping-us-get-more-done


    1. Shelli,

      Thank you for your comments! You make an excellent point that technology does not always lead to increased productivity. As you said, the multiple means that students have to contact their professors can contribute to information overload. Students seem to want instantaneous feedback. I would love to hear about any techniques you use to manage the situation.

      Thank you for sharing the Mankis article (https://hbr.org/2016/02/is-technology-really-helping-us-get-more-done). It made some connections I had not thought of, for example, meetings. We have more meetings than ever, but they don’t necessarily increase productivity. It had not occurred to me that the ease of e-calendars might be contributing to the growing number of meetings. I block off time for projects, which does help.



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