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Vulnerability in the digital workplace - a spark for innovation?

Vulnerability in the digital workplace  - a spark for innovation?

Time to read: 5 minutes to gain a different perspective (800 words)

// A privilege //

 A few months back, I had the honour of discussing vulnerability with colleagues and clients as part of a re-imaging customer experience session. The focus of exploration was customer vulnerability – a subject matter close to many and the subject of several posts. ** As the conversation ebbed and flowed, the discussion ventured onto the subject of colleague vulnerability. It is fairly safe to state that we have all felt vulnerable, at some point, within a work setting.  In my capacity as a change agent, I regularly encounter resistance to change and I and my teams are required to introduce strategies to overcome such resistance. The emotion of vulnerability can on occasion manifest itself as resistance to change.  

// The multiple faces of vulnerability //

 Vulnerability is a very personal human phenomenon, seldom discussed and, therefore, never really addressed appropriately. Vulnerability is not a sign of weakness, unprofessionalism, inappropriateness or obstruction; it is an emotional reaction to a situation one feels that one cannot control, fully understand or accept. Workplace vulnerability cuts across organisational enterprises, from the boardroom to organisational partners. Vulnerability that is unacknowledged, addressed and turned into a positive can harm strategy execution, inhibit innovation and erode a positive, outcome-based culture. I am of the opinion that:

 “Vulnerability is a source of innovation and invites the curious.”

 On the flipside, vulnerability harnessed correctly is not bad; it can uplift performance, engender different ways of working, and spark innovation.

 // Life’s constant lessons //

 As part of the conversation, I replayed a situation when I was charged with turning around a programme with significant, industry-wide implications. The programme had stalled or, perhaps, not really started. Throughout all the organisational layers, things were not in place or just not working. My remit was to turn around the programme (i.e. structure, governance/control, economics/return, deliver and market perception). Now, I was not new to this situation; however, what struck me here was the human factor, the behavioural traits of vulnerability.

 Upon arrival, with assistance from the leadership team, we quickly concluded:

  • The entire team were bright, but disengaged
  • The solution was right, but not understood
  • The commercial contract was sound, yet miscommunicated
  • The partners were right, but confused

The constant in every encounter was a sense of vulnerability. Throughout all the organisation’s layers were interconnected pockets of vulnerability that manifested in multiple ways – stalled decision making, high levels of active inertia, cross and miscommunication, siloed working and relatively high-level pockets of toxicity. Now, some readers may think that one need only fire a few people and things will quickly pivot. Notwithstanding some firm messaging, difficult decisions and significant restructuring. I commissioned a human-insight piece of work to understand the people and culture involved through the lens of vulnerability.

The results were profound and simple:

  • Most people (including partners) felt vulnerable due to a mixture of factors, such as a lack of understanding and training, as well as existing command and control structures preventing meaningful dialogue, sporadic engagement across the enterprise, a lack of worth and personal preparedness, the inability to request help, etc.  

// In a digital age, humans become more human //

With this insight, we commissioned a human-centred programme to place people at the centre of the success we set out to achieve. In short order, turnaround objectives were met, solutions were centred on a purpose, and the organisation benefitted from greater collaboration, innovative ideas and predictable value deliveries. We targeted culture and addressed the causes behind human vulnerability as a key pillar of our strategy.

I also learnt a significant amount about myself, particularly regarding how to acknowledge vulnerability and turn vulnerability into a positive. What really crystallised this for me was when I hired a professional coach. Professional coaching allowed me to explore and really unpack the human side of leadership and business. I religiously meet my professional executive coach every quarter as part of my quarterly rejuvenation cycle.

The takeaway from this experience and my own vulnerability is that it is a state of mind and one of decisioning. At a leadership level, colleague vulnerability and, therefore, culture should be built-into strategies and not regarded as a bolt-on.  At a personal level, we all deserve to create our own little space to constantly rejuvenate the elements that sustain our individual brilliance.

The outset of enterprise wide digitisation and disruptive business models will further increase colleagues’ vulnerability; therefore, it is important to place the human element at the heart of the digital. Failure to do so will likely lead to sub-optimal outcomes.

“What you do has far greater impact than what you say.”—Stephen Covey

 How have you solved the problem of vulnerability in your organisation?

 Please leave your comments below.

About Ambrish: Digital Strategy and Transformation Director // Customer-Obsessed // Making a Difference.

Ambrish is an accomplished, well-rounded financial services director with a 20-year career shaping and delivering business outcomes. He is an executive board-level advisor at the intersection of business, technology and digital transformation. He is an owner of two Finextra groups – Banking Strategy and Digital Transformation and Digital Banking: Mortgages and Savings – and thought leader, with several publications.

Note: ** Relevant publications located via Linkedin profile and Finextra.

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