Real Virtuality

I have been reading Total Engagement, by Byron Reeves, and am struck by the trend towards inclusion and participation.

Since the early 1990’s, leadership speakers have promoted a form of participative leadership, or one of its analogous variants (Quantum, Servant or Transformational Leadership). Most organisations have been content, however, with hierarchical structures that perpetuate the status quo. Some mining companies even boldly proclaim their hierarchy as an entrenched element of their culture. As our technology advances, though, our communication must ultimately follow, and the writing is on the wall.

Please allow me a few illustrations: Alcoholics Anonymous and Harvard Business School are on Second Life, a 3D virtual world, where personalised avatars wear outfits funded with real money. LSBF lets you study their MBA through HD video on Facebook, and only pay for the certification. The Agape Project, and its Causes application on Facebook, raises more money for social good than most NGO’s. A hotel in the UK lets you customise your room before arrival. A print company selling customised magazines for organisations sells more than 60 000 of its titles each month, without being on the shelf. They will soon be launching a personalised magazine, where readers can select their content from multiple alternatives, and have the printed magazine delivered to their door within 48 hours! This is the iPad world, and it is not just in established economies.

Who cares, you might ask? I hope you will. These levels of engagement – active participation, vivid and exciting experiences, diverse and global allies – are being sought after by many employees, who desire similar involvement from their own work. Organisations have the fresh challenge of making their work as friendly, fun and participative as a video game.

How do we do that? Well, for one thing, we can avoid the trap of “at-my-desk” leadership, where simply being present and accessible to a manager is considered to be productive. We can allow flexibility of schedule, and measure productivity in terms of deliverables, instead of presence. This, out of interest, is a key driver of attraction and retention, according to Towers Watson’s 2010 GWS.

We can also create business simulations as we attempt new projects or ventures. There is also a growing need for experiential learning, whereby “business field-trips” take employees out to real-life case studies, in order to explore innovation, alternate realities and coal-face learning. Continuous improvement of this nature will play more and mre of a role in our leadership development initiatives, and Africa has more to teach the world than most, given the relative lack of reliance on credit, its diversity and its mobile-dominated penetration.

Fresh ways to use mobile technology in our work need to be explored. A paper manufacturer has been exploring mobile training on their engineering equipment. What options exist in my environment? We need fresh ways to let people freely express themselves and their creativity, too. And today is not too soon.

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