A large part of the history of our technology has been the effort to use technology to control human behaviour. Technology transformation is often sold on the potential to better make humans do things that they should be doing. The failure of so many transformational technology programs is proof that human behavioural changes are a subtler and more elusive challenge. Changing the conversation is as important as changing the process.
The Business Case for Technology Transformation
Leadership mindsets from the industrial era often lead to the management question:
“What can we do to make people do the right thing?’.
Technology transformation is sold on a promise of offering the answer. Too commonly management will choose a new technology system or process as delivering a way to make people ‘do better’. For example:
- Customer Relationship Management systems will deliver better conversations with customers and better sales force productivity
- Human resources systems will deliver better talent, engagement and performance conversations and better compliance with required processes
- Business Process Management systems will enable better and more granular control of the processes that people use to do the work
- Enterprise collaboration tools will make an organisation more collaborative
- Knowledge management tools will make organisations better informed
- Better analytical tools using big data will deliver better decisions in organisations
However, these technologies are usually only an infrastructure to support new behaviours and new conversations. Their capabilities underpin human behaviour. New processes will encourage change. New data capture and reporting may help measure activity. Without a willingness to change to new behaviours from users, the systems alone cannot make change without risk of major disruption or disengagement.
Technology rarely can require a new behaviour or a new conversation. Human creativity enables remarkable ways to cling to old ways in the face of new technology. Even to the extent that these technologies deliver better measurement of human activity, organisations are often frustrated to discover that the ability to measure and target activity simply generates activities to solely meet the measures, not behavioural change. Quantities are achieved as the cost of both productivity and quality.
Change the Conversation
Changing the leadership question can have a dramatic impact on how an organisation makes decisions. Here’s a different question for management to ask about a transformation of technology:
‘What do our people need to better deliver our goals?’
There are a number of advantages that flow from changing the conversation around change and transformation in this way:
- Engaging your users: Instead of assuming management or a technology vendor has the answers, the question opens up a conversations for people who do the work to contribute and learn. Treat your employees as skilled knowledge workers and respect their creativity and opinions. These people will have the best context on what is causing the issues and what support they need. Engaging their input will be the most powerful element of change in performance. At the end of the day, the behaviours that need to change are theirs.
- Change the leadership conversation: Shifting from a control mindset to one that is about realising the potential of the team is a powerful change in an organisational conversation. A transformation can be a key way to help accelerate this change in mindset. If employees feel trusted and are free to share, many people will highlight the way that the leaders themselves may need to change as part of that transformation too. The best change begins with those seeking to drive change.
- You may not need new tools or a new process: How many systems have been implemented to solve issues which were simply a lack of clarity of purpose or objectives of work? Do people need new skills or capabilities instead of new systems? Do people need new freedoms, approaches & leadership support to respond in an agile way to market needs? Consider alternatives and additional elements to enable the behaviour changes that arise.
- Inconsistent demands on people: Engaging your people in change will highlight areas where you are being inconsistent. In a siloed organisation systems often work at cross purposes. Are you sure that all the other elements of your systems & culture reinforce the right goals? For example, it is common for people in sales and service roles to experience that their time is used up with low value compliance tasks. As a result high value customer tasks will get pushed from the system. Forcing additional compliance will only make that worse. If performance management systems and the real leadership conversations in your organisation work against your new system, it is dead before it is even deployed.
- Engaging outside the organisation: Do your customers want to give you the data that you need for your new CRM or analytics system? Does the change in sales approach or work process improve their experience as well? Will great talent be rewarded by working in your performance management system? Are you sure you can articulate the value of these changes to external stakeholders? Your people will need to do so. Your people’s reluctance to do your view of ‘the right thing’ might be saving you from broader issues with customers or other stakeholders.
- Pace of change: Changing systems takes time. When will the system need to change again to adapt to a rapidly changing market? Are your people holding back because they can see the next change coming? Are you better to focus on your ability to change behaviours in more agile ways than through changing technology systems?
Technology transformation can be a powerful enabler of organisational change. However, it is merely an enabler. Changing the leadership conversation is often the critical element to ensuring the success of a transformational change.
Image source: http://pixabay.com/en/ravens-black-birds-conversation-236333/