In the February 2020 issue of Fargo, INC!, I shared my perspectives on what managers and leaders can do to be intentional and purposeful when using technology within organizations. For those who have not read the original article, I’ve summarized the main points below:
- In the broadest terms, technology can be defined as “an object, a tool, or a set of means to accomplish a task,” (Funk, 1999).
- Technology helps us to close three gaps: 1) the distance gap (i.e., communication), 2) the knowledge gap (i.e., education), and 3) the outcome gap (i.e., performance measures and standards). (Gillette, 2014).
- To address the complexity that technology can sometimes bring to organizations, managers should be intentional about the purpose or implementation of technology in the workplace
That article was published prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. Recently, I’ve been reflecting on how much has changed in our world and in our personal lives in the past two years. In fact, we have come to rely on technology even more since then. Given that, this would suggest that the need to be intentional and purposeful with technology is now even more important. For this month’s article, I want to expand on the four insights I shared in my original article by sharing some thoughts and reflections based on what has transpired since then.
Awareness of technological advances
The first insight involves a manager’s awareness of changes when it comes to technology. This could involve being aware of new hardware or software that is being developed, or being aware of existing technology being used in different ways in response to changes in the general environment. For example, let’s consider the video-conferencing platform Zoom. Prior to the pandemic, I had never heard of nor used Zoom. Now, I’m on Zoom consistently each week. Initially, I would use Zoom primarily for work-related reasons. Now, I use it equally for personal reasons such as connecting with family around the country. Some organizations, particularly in academia, started using Zoom to conduct virtual conferences to continue the important task of networking and sharing ideas and research with colleagues. Going forward, I think managers should continue to look at how technology can be used in new ways and for new purposes that benefit and accomplish the goals of the organization.
Effectiveness first, then efficiency
The second insight involves prioritizing effectiveness over efficiency in the organization. In my original article, I shared Bill Gates’ two rules for implementing technology:
“The first rule of any technology used in a business is that automation applied to an efficient operation will magnify the efficiency. The second is that automation applied to an inefficient operation will magnify the inefficiency.”
The key takeaway from this is to first examine existing processes that improve effectiveness, then to determine the best way to apply technology to that process to increase efficiency. We’ve seen this happen. Let’s consider the restaurant industry, which according to experts, was probably the industry that was the hardest hit over the past years. In response to shutdowns, restaurants had to rely solely on carryout and delivery to stay in business. The online magazine Restaurant Business provides examples of what some restaurants did, which included streamlining their ordering processes (some involving physical changes) and then implementing technology to make the food ordering process more efficient. One restaurant was able to increase the number of food orders, reduce the number of customer complaints, all while complying with social distancing requirements and reducing congestion in the establishment. I think this re-emphasizes the importance of developing an organizational culture in which tasks and functions are continuously and proactively evaluated to improve effectiveness given the effect that technology will have on their efficiency.
Assessing technological training needs beforehand
The third insight involves an accurate assessment of training needs before implementing a new technology system in the workplace. With the evergrowing need to be on the cutting edge, sometimes managers can overlook several important aspects in this area: 1) the system itself (can the system perform the essential task or function?), 2) the user (how soon can the user become competent and comfortable with using the system?), and 3) the implementation (when is the best time to implement the change that will be the least disruptive to the organization?). Not considering these items could cause an organization to experience Bill Gates’ second rule of technology (a magnification of the inefficiency). Going forward, I can’t stress enough the importance of managers listening to the input of their employees to gather pros and cons of a new system, have a realistic training timeframe, and be strategic about the optimum time for implementation.
The fourth insight involves how managers respond to any resistance to technology. Typically, resistance comes when an organization is trying to implement a new change going forward. However, resistance can also occur when there is a desire to go back to the old way of doing things. For example, prior to the pandemic, approximately 6% of employees worked primarily from home. Now that workers have adjusted to working from home, a majority would like to continue this practice. In response to some organizations wanting employees to come back on site, employees are choosing to quit their jobs altogether which has been called by some “The Great Resignation.” From personal experiences, I’ve observed that in some situations, the new ways of doing things (e.g., virtual meetings) can actually be more effective and efficient than in-person meetings. When it comes to being intentional and purposeful with technology, it is important for managers to make evidence-based and common-sense decisions. Listen to feedback from employees to identify best practices learned during these past years and make a commitment to stay the course with the new way of doing things if possible.
Dr. Aikens can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org