Don't Forget the People

Over the last decade I have had the pleasure of viewing the workings of several highly dysfunctional businesses. While that sentence may sound depressing, taking as a whole the experiences have provided an education that no university could hope to.

Of the many lessons learned one is that technology can do wonders for efficiency, however if you do not focus first on the human element, the implementation of the best products and services in your industry are doomed to failure. 

The smartest organizations are the ones that realize implementing new technology isn’t about the hardware or software but about the users.  

Today your organization whether comprised of 1 or 1000 must be nimble to make the most of tech changes that are occurring, thus you need humans who can adapt to change. Providing each team member with the tools and skills is not enough. You have to instill the appropriate mindset. 

Begin with Goal-Centric thinking. Forget about implementing technology because it looks fancy and has lots of buzzes and whistles. Most people only embrace technologies that actually help them achieve concrete and valued goals. 

Accept that not every tool is going to be embraced by every employee — and empower them to choose the tools that will actually help them work more effectively. To ensure that inertia (or tech phobia) doesn’t discourage people from adopting the technologies that really can be valuable to them, communicate the specific problems, benefits, or situations the technology is meant to address. And teach your employees to start each tech adoption process by thinking about the specific goals they want that technology to help them accomplish, so that they make effective use of each tool.

Collaboration skills. Collaboration tools like Google Docs and Basecamp can’t make up for missing kindergarten. If your employees don’t know how to play nicely together, having the tools to communicate is not going to combat tendencies to hoard knowledge and resist sharing progress with one another. Your organization will only make effective use of collaboration software if you foster a culture of mutual trust, and reward team effort as much as individual contribution. Even a cooperative team culture may have players who have difficulty sharing: help those employees build their collaborative capacity by encouraging them to share in a smaller way, and to expand their use of collaboration tools as they get comfortable sharing what they know.

Communication skills. As organizations move more of their communication online, they often find that great offline communicators are curt emailers, or, conversely, too personal or verbose. Help your employees build their capacity for effective online communication with workshops and resources that highlight the differences between on- and offline communication, like the potential for misunderstanding and offense. Encourage a culture of tolerance for differences in online communication style, and teach employees to take conversations offline (ideally face-to-face, or failing that, by phone) as soon as there’s any tension or hostility.

Learning skills. Learning how to use a new technology is a skill in and of itself. Most tech enthusiasts actively enjoy the process of learning a new tech skill—but not everybody regards learning a new software platform as a whole lot of fun. It can be helpful for employees to recognize that there are different learning styles when it comes to technology; if they can find their own preferred approach, it will be easier for them to adapt to future innovations. While some people like reading manuals or watching training videos, other people do better just plunging in, and looking up instructions as they need them; still others need an actual human being to sit down with them and walk them through their first experiences with a new tool. Offering your support in a variety of forms — and encouraging employees to identify the approach that works best for them — will help your team members get more comfortable with the adoption process.

Troubleshooting skills. Nothing kills that new software high like random crashes or the frustration of a tool that just won’t work. When employees are dependent on IT to help them past each crash or hurdle, they’ll get bottlenecked by their efforts to use a new technology — particularly if they have to wait a day or two to solve their problems. Better to teach team members to solve their own basic problems: learning how to Google an error message, or how to accurately describe a problem so they can find online solutions. Those same skills will also help your employees provide more accurate error reports to IT, so that when theydo need the help of your support desk, that help can be delivered as efficiently as possible.

Playfulness. While there are lots of practical skills that can affect tech adoption in the workplace, nothing will have a bigger impact than cultivating a playful attitude towards technology. Employees who actually enjoy using their computers and devices — employees who think of them as toys — are a lot more likely to embrace opportunities to use those toys more effectively. Bake some humor and play into your office tools — for example, by choosing tools that use humor in their messages (like Slack), or giving your Basecamp projects silly names — or better yet, by encouraging your employees to explore the way technology can support their personal interests and hobbies. The more people associate technology with fun and not just with expense reports and client presentations, the more they’ll be able to embrace successive waves of tech innovation.

Of course, there will always be employees who don’t need help developing any of these attitudes or skills: they’re the tech enthusiasts and early adopters who spend their evenings and weekends goofing around with new technology, too. Embrace these techies as your partners in building a tech-friendly culture in your organization, and harness their contagious enthusiasm to make tech adoption easier for everyone in your workplace.