Stop Gambling On New Technology To Change Your Company's Culture

I’ve spent most of my career working with IT people making IT decisions on behalf of people who use technology for work. What I love about IT people is their utter devotion to the idea that technology can profoundly change how people work. To improve their productivity, to remove barriers to collaboration, to spark groundswell innovation, and more. Just the other day, I spoke to one named Fred who said to me: “We’re introducing new technologies to change the culture of our organization.”

What a courageous and inspirational idea coming from an IT leader. We’ll just assume he meant to add “…for the better.”

I hear stuff like this all the time, particularly when Content & Collaboration Professionals are planning major initiatives for social technologies, mobile technologies, and collaboration tools inside companies with market caps that dwarf the GDP of entire countries. Big ones. And of course I hear it in the tech trade mags I read, at conferences, and from human capital people fretting about baby boomers turning into octogenarians, and the nano-toting-angry-birds-playing, malcontent Millennials sporting ADD-like technology tendencies at work. I’ll work for a Millennial one day. I’m not critiquing. Just observing.

So back to Fred. Assuming like me you work around folks from IT, I’ll ask: will Fred succeed?

Personally, I don’t gamble in casinos, but I do at work. I place bets on people I hire, budget dollars I spend, arguments I think I’ll win (but often lose), and even on the research ideas analysts on my team come to me with. After all, with luck, the right bets will put my three kids through school someday.

But I’m not betting on Fred.

Why? Fred sounds great, you say? As much as I’d like to believe that the IT projects I’ve done in my career have helped transform my employers’ workplace, increasingly, I believe they didn’t. Sure, in small ways, they’ve incrementally increased people’s productivity, or streamlined a process. But they haven’t transformed the culture or people's workplace tech behaviors much. I see this in both Forrester’s workforce data. I’m blogging now. But most of my day is spent in email using the same five features I did in college. Just like most of you.

My reponse to Fred: technologies don’t change corporate culture, people do.

In fact, I believe the single most important thing the Freds of the world can do to advance their careers is to learn more about people: particularly their attitudes and technology behaviors in the workplace. This means moving beyond placing undue expectations on workplace technology, and instead, thinking more about overall workplace experience. To me, a person’s workplace experience is defined by how their personal career drive, relationships, tools they use, and development opportunities work together to help them overcome barriers, and drive better business outcomes. Clearly, technology is an important factor. But it's likely not the most important one.

So to the Freds of the world, I’d like to invite you to join us at IT Forum where we’ll be elaborating on our theme: “Reinventing Your Workplace Experience.”

Special offer for blog readers: Register for IT Forum by visiting the website or calling +1 888.343.6786. Use the promo code IT11BLOG and save $200 off the non-client rate.

Comments

Culture Change

Great post. The interesting thing about social software is it can be used as a cultural change tool. Culture is about the things that happen everyday. I am not talking about whether you use email or collaboration tools. I am talking about what is your culture like where you work. What behaviours exist that reflect the Company value set. This is where culture change and the use of social software comes together. This is not adoption. This is a strategic plan to change the company from aspiring a culture to having it! At Forrester it is 3CIQ. Try embedding these values via email. Now try it using Yackstar or another collaboration/social software.

IT is attractive when it

IT is attractive when it helps people DO something that they want to do. Usually, that something is not change.

"Here's a pc. Be collaborative."

"Here's a smartphone. Be curious."

I don't think so.

IT is attractive when it helps people DO something ...

Nice point. I'd expand it a bit though. Our research shows that overall, people really do like to collaborate and share what they know with others. Among US information workers, roughly 70% do so at least weekly. Makes you wonder what the other 30% are up to, huh? But it suggests tools like social technologies *could* both amplify and extend an activity people already like to do at work.

But too often companies do too little to make people aware of the technology, drive interest in it, and to ultimately help people see how it might benefit them at work. These require "people" investments. To me, the low new tech adoption numbers (and conversations we have with IT pros) show companies are not investing sufficiently in these non-technology activities, and then blame IT: "Why aren't people using this stuff?" Achieving success in these cases is a multi-variate equation, within which technology tools play a small role.

I also think these tech investments must be paired with broader culture and human capital change initiatives. My point on "culture" above is that giving social technologies to the dictators within companies, just gives them a bigger bullhorn with which to spread repressive ideas. Without people engaged (peers, customers, management, or leaders) that respect and trust each other, many of the newer technologies risk becoming the proverbial tree that falls in the forest. No one sees or hears it. My sense is seeding and sustaining engagement among the right people is the new frontier of opportunity for content and collaboration professionals.

Culture Change

Screw seeding. If the concept of social business is so useful then it should be rolled like any other initiative that makes money. Hard and fast. With a full kit of change management and cultural change strategy. But you do not do this on an enterprise level until you prove how it works. You pilot then expand. If someone doesn't want to explore on the new technology then get someone else. You don't see call centres with a mix of rotary telephones next to predictive diallers! It is business. If it works everyone uses it. We do campaigns to find where social is revolutionary and where it is just new and shiny. I hope this makes sense...

Culture change needs a focus; technology is the enabler

If IT is going to be a driver of culture change, it needs to follow a clearly defined business focus.

So IT is the tool, not the change in itself. For example, if a firm is deploying new technology, what business results does it seek to create? Is the outcome about how to help beat competitors and partner with customers, to increase quality and consistency, to drive innovation and new forms of value or to help people collaborate and develop human capital capacity?

With that established, which aspect of culture does it seek to affect - leadership style, organizational glue, strategic emphasis or some other element?

Culture change is not about new energy that comes with a new initiative. Culture change is about where that energy is directed - and for what purpose.