Technology can help us do almost anything - for better andworse. In considering the options, leaders need to ask the question: "I know we can do it, but should we?"
I about fell out of my chair reading that companies are investing in sound masking technology to prevent their employees from overhearing executives discuss the state of the company and possible layoffs. I wonder if anybody in the decision-making process posed the question, "Yes, the sound masking technology will help squelch rumors, but shouldn't we focus our energies on actually helping our employees manage their fears about plant closings, project cancellations, and job losses?"
We all use, or rather misuse, smart technology to do dumb things. I've attended meetings in body, but not in spirit, due to the lure of my constantly buzzing BlackBerry. Everyone has diddled with a Power Point presentation by spending endless hours searching for the perfect graphic, adjusting the fonts, and positioning the text. And, of course, most of us have experienced regret and remorse for sending an email late at night, in a fog of anger or fatigue.
Unfortunately, our lapses in techno-judgment extend beyond how we use our personal "productivity" tools - they also are manifested in the systems that we select to run our company's core business processes. The impact of doing stupid things to our business far outweighs the impact of doing stupid things to ourselves (since we also personally bear the brunt of these behaviors in the form of poor performance appraisals, long work hours, and uncomfortable, strained relationships.)
Time and time again, I see leaders focus exclusively on defining technologies to drive the performance of the business rather than the people within it. Here are a few examples of how good technology can go bad...
These examples illustrate two very important principles about smart applications of technology:
- Increase breadth of impact by pushing technology as far down in the organization as possible. The greater the use, the greater the value. Don't give decision support tools to senior executives or business process tools to an elite group of specialized analysts. Instead, equip the front line employees who serve your customers and run your business.
- Increase the depth of impact by implementing features that simultaneously serve individual and business interests. Don't expect people to trade their old practices for systems that make their jobs harder or more mundane. Instead, figure out how to tap in to the core motivational needs: to be challenged, respected and connected. For example, incent sales reps to enter timely and accurate data by providing something of value in return such as a customized sales presentation, elimination of status reporting, or insights regarding successful sales strategies employed by other sales reps.
The leader's job, in the words of Jim Collins, is to "hire motivated people and don't de-motivate them." In applying technology, this includes giving them giving them tools that foster accountability, innovation, and collaboration." By considering the soft side of your software decisions, you can make technology work for you, your business and your people.