Updated: Oct 14
We have come far in technological creations over the past decade from virtual home assistants to electric cars and if we go back twenty years we can recognize advances such as Smart Phones, Google, and Skype. Over the past 50 years, we have made extraordinary medical achievements with the use of technology, saving lives and preventing disease. The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated our technological arm even further, some say, pushing us 10 years into the future by adopting various capabilities that will forever change the way we work. Matthew Doan, a digital leadership coach, strategist, and speaker makes a comparison between the use of technology in corporate America and technological advances in the medical field, stating, “Today, there are innumerable medical technologies and specialists — and Big Pharma — available to help treat patients. However, while health care has provided immense good through its modern transformation, it has wrestled with several shortcomings, including making overly narrow diagnoses, addressing symptoms rather than root causes, and providing elaborate and expensive treatments. And these issues aren’t just contained to the health care industry.” As organizations continue to drive deeper toward digital transformation in the hopes of solving various challenges, the scope becomes narrower, limiting the capacity for a holistic approach to culture.
The impact to humans…a mix of excitement and pressure may push organizational leaders to invest in technology, indiscriminately selecting different tools and product options without taking the time to truly understand their impact. Often times, the technological solutions within a company are outsourced to a myriad of developers, consultants, and software systems creating a medley of opinions, products, and uses. Without stepping back and inspecting the root cause of challenges and company issues, technology simply serves as a box of mixed band-aids that are slapped on random parts of the company. Instead of technology being used to enhance work and make things better it ends up stressing employees out as they try to maneuver conflicting platforms and multiple channels of communication.
There is an increasing tendency for companies to serve up a variety of tools to their employee body from MS Teams, Skype, Outlook, and Google Drive to Gmail. With so many options, employees often spend their time jumping from platform to platform, emailing one person and using Slack to connect with another. Project Management platforms have made it even more complex, some groups in an organization use JIRA while others use Trello. It is technological ADHD. With all of the different platforms, productivity has dropped as the time spent in communication and clarifying messages has spiked, according to Digital in the Round, a total of 17.5% hours a week are spent solving miscommunication issues.
The misuse of technology can also feel one-sided: many programs that organizations use track employee hours worked and time in front of the screen while also providing a real-time status on where employees are at all times. Technology is also used to automate different jobs inciting lay-offs and job eliminations. We even give more credence to the tool than the person, coming up with slick names and acronyms for technology roll-outs, and diminishing the human to the title of, end user. On the flipside, it could also be used to make employee’s lives easier, in fact, two-thirds of employees are willing to take a pay cut to work remotely, however many leaders are not comfortable with this and have forced their teams back into the office following the initial surge of COVID-19, limiting the opportunity for a flexible work environment.
It can sometimes feel like companies that are not tech companies are vigorously trying to be tech companies, without actually doing the work first to understand what makes the most sense for their organization, without first learning about the technology and other options in a similar category, without first pacing the roll-out and how different tools can work together. Technology is cool and shiny, it saves companies money, it allows innovative leaders to think about the future of work in a whole new way, yet according to a recent MIT article, there is a 70% failure rate (and associated costs) for digital initiatives.
Another impediment to a workplace that pushes a technology driven vs. a people driven culture, is a lack of collaboration and outside of the box thinking. Now, one could argue that technology promotes both of these things by driving people to come up with new ways to use various tools, the challenge is that this leads to isolated thinking, obsessing over one problem or type of tool as the fix rather than thinking slowly and methodically to embrace an all-inclusive and holistic approach.
A better way….
While it may seem that technology is the answer to everything, Only 5% of all jobs can be fully automated. Technology may not be able to replace the workforce, but it can enhance it; we have the opportunity to make people’s jobs better, richer, and more fulfilling by creating a space where people are served by technology. There is a place for leaders to inspire collaboration by creating a culture of experimental curiosity, an inclusive place where employees can come together and build out a plan for technology to change the way of work for the better and it all starts with putting the human first.
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