Wearable health trackers are the rage at the moment. A thin wrist band wirelessly connected to your smartphone can pretty much monitor your activity and general health, in the same way that only a short few years ago, required a hospital room full of computers, screens and wires attached to you while you slogged away on the walking machine. People wear them because they want to improve their health and well-being. And they can become positively addictive! Fitbits  provide analytics about you and your personal physics. But the other side of you that also has a big effect on your overall health and well-being is your ‘social physics’ , being your social connections. So the question is… will devices like Fitbit ever evolve to help you enhance your social connections, be they work related, or purely personal? i.e. get you ‘Net-Fit’.
Well this may not be that far away. We have already seen the creation by MIT Labs of the experimental ‘Social Badge’ that collects data on your face-to-face interactions; like your body language, physical proximity and even your conversational style. It wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to see social badge features incorporated into a future versions of wearable fitness devices. Devices like Fitbit already take advantage of social cues by allowing you to share your data with friends, in the guise of creating some friendly competition and motivation to reach and surpass the fitness goals that you might set yourself.
Now lets change contexts a little. Its now a few years on and your Fitbit is now equipped with the latest social physics features, all wirelessly connected to your smartphone, which is also selectively synchronised to your employers’ cloud based servers. As part of the ‘new-age ‘care for your employees’ climate, your employer is interested in your health and well-being. Its not all philanthropic though, there is good commercial reasons for having healthy employees who take fewer days off sick and can come to work with a healthy mindset. Likewise with social monitoring, there isn’t an enterprise around today that does not have aspirations for its staff to improve collaboration. The senior executive would be equally enchanted by the prospect of monitoring their staffs’ social interactions at work. This is where things start to get a bit uncomfortable. This is when we start to hear the terms ‘big brother monitoring’, ‘privacy’ and the like. All of a sudden we have progressed from a simple self-monitoring device from which I can set some personal goals and monitor them privately, to one where potentially my every move and utterance can be monitored.
Here is the gist of the article. As we move technology from the personal world into the world of work the traditional methods for introducing enterprise wide technology needs to change. No longer will a CEO pronouncement, a raft of carefully crafted corporate communications and a truckload of organisational change consultants be sufficient. We are entering an age of customer and employee empowerment, facilitated by the vast and affordable technology becoming available. For the enterprise to thrive, senior executives can best facilitate staff and client motivations in the desired directions by providing a climate of trust and empowerment, whereby staff and customers choose to work together for communal benefit.
Lets now take a little journey into the future. How could this future customer and employee empowered world look?
We are clearly now in the ‘bring your own device’ world. I can wirelessly synchronize my personal data at a local, group or enterprise level, if I choose to do so, it’s entirely up to me. I quickly find however that it’s not good to keep all my data to myself. I do need to get my profile out there. Without a personal brand none of the resourcing co-ordinators will know that I exist. It’s not like the old days, where there was always a line manager there to make sure everyone was occupied. I also quickly find out that its not enough to just blast everyone with by profile page. It seems that the people that get the best jobs and get promoted the fastest are the ones in most demand from their peers. I really do need to know ‘who’s who in the zoo’ if I’m to achieve my own career goals (which are privately programmed into my Fitbit).
My organisation has provided us with a comprehensive enterprise wide social software platform. I don’t have to use it. There are no managers imploring me to use it like in the bad old days, when these systems first arrived. I find that if I want to progress in this organisation I have to engage with other staff, and they need to engage with me. The platform is my way of exposing the collective value that I am providing by being a part of several high performing teams. I also find that as my network evolves I am having greater success in reaching out to ‘hard to get to’ specialists and experts in our organisation. In the bad old days we were always directed to the ubiquitous “Directory” to connect with people. Unfortunately the directory didn’t have information like ‘how approachable is this person?’; ‘is this person really an expert?’; ‘would they be willing to help me if they don’t know me?’. I find that reaching out through my network provides me with ‘qualified’ leads that can make my job so much easier. In fact my work colleagues are now all thinking the same way. I’m comfortable now sharing most of my Fitbit data, with the knowledge that it would not be misused. The difference now is that I have the choice. It’s my decision.
So what has my new socially enhanced Fitbit done for me?
Well here are just a few things:
- We now have a work-based community who I can walk with at lunch times, meeting our activity goals together. It’s so much more fun.
- I have found out that my work network only gives back on the basis of what it receives. I’m much more careful now with my forum posts and blogs, to write them in a way that they can really provide value and engage others. I also find that I’m much more willing to engage with others’ contributions by actively commenting or sometimes just with a simple ‘like’….but not too much. We are all now attuned to people trying to ‘game the system’.
- I’ve also learnt to balance my conversational style when interacting both face-to-face and online, so that I don’t talk too much or too little. We now know that high performing teams have balanced contributions from all of their members. The social tag features of the Fitbit monitor this for me.
- It has helped me make a career move from technical specialist to client service manager (eventually I want to get into general management). I did have to research the client service area well before cultivating new connections in the area. Over time they started to value some of my forum contributions that drew from areas of my technical expertise; and eventually they offered me a job. I intend to do the same for my next move, but I’m convinced that things will move faster as my network grows. In fact on our platform I have private access to my own network graph, so I can actually see it growing and changing over time.
- In my new role I find that I’m becoming the ‘connector’ between our clients and my former technology area. I feel good about being able to facilitate the connection between a client need and a technical capability that we have. I note that on the personal network profiling provided on our social platform I have moved from the ‘specialist’ quadrant to the ‘agent’ quadrant now and I’m starting to edge toward the sought after ‘ambassador’ quadrant….how exciting!
- I’m also monitoring my ‘Network Performance’ score, which I share with a few close colleagues … we like to egg each other on. We understand that the score is based on a combination of how cohesive and yet diverse your network is. It is all about tradeoffs, but essentially maximum performance is gained by achieving the right balance. Too much cohesion might lead to close mindedness and ‘group think’. Too much diversity might lead to ‘wheel spinning’ with lots of ideas but no ability to execute.
- As a final comment I’m glad we have moved on from the ‘bad old days’. Its now fun to come to work; collaborate and engage with people I like to work with; to be part of energised and agile teams that are delighting our clients, without the threat of the old meaningless targets. I mostly appreciate the ‘light touch’ approach management have these days. They now set the scene and the let us get on with our work. We have the tools to work with, it’s now all just up to us.
Now back to the present. All wishful thinking or are we on the verge of a big shift? What do you think?
 I don’t currently own a Fitbit, I’m not promoting them, just using it as an example.