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How to empower your people through new technologies

Daniel Strode - Author of The Culture Advantage

Technology in the modern age really is a bedrock of innovation, especially as we enter an age of exponential change. The difference between those companies who have embraced technology, and those who have shied away from it are stark reminders of the importance of spending time getting to grips with technological trends, and doing plenty of research so that when the time is right you can take full advantage of them.

You can only empower your people through technology if you have the right culture. Digital transformation and innovation through technology is inherently a culture change programme, one which arises through a need to adapt the mindset of a company: to help companies recognise that technology is business, and business is technology. Technology is not just a bolt on to existing structures which can be implemented into a business from one day to the next, it needs to be ingrained deep within the organisational culture to work well – so there is a true partnership.

PROACTIVE STEPS TO TAKE
Creating a culture where technology is embraced and proactively sought out is important. Many try to run away from technological advances through the fear of job losses and change (despite the former hardly ever coming true). Think about Web 1.0 (the first internet) – that was supposed to destroy jobs, but in fact, a study by McKinsey published in 2011, actually found that the internet had been a catalyst for job creation with 2.6 new jobs being created for each job lost due to the technology. Their final finding was that the internet, in 2011, accounted for 3.4% of gross domestic product, and 21% of the gross domestic product growth over the prior five years could be accounted for by the internet and its technologies (McKinsey, 2011)[i].

The most innovative companies have taken a proactive approach to their relationship with technology, they are planning for the long term, future-proofing their businesses, and preparing for expansion and growth well ahead of time.

There are a number of strategies you can build into your business, in order to promote this culture of innovation through new technology, for example:

  • SENSE, SCOUT, AND RESEARCH:
    1. The market is changing so fast, so rapidly, that it is hard to stay on top of all the changes. Ask vendors to come and explain their new products to you on a regular basis
    2. Or, if you are short of time, ask one of the consultancy firms to present a summary to you
    3. Even without these you may find public resources looking at ‘top trends’ in technology useful, for example, those from McKinsey titled “The top trends in tech” as extremely useful (McKinsey, 2021)[ii]
    4. Run regular customer insight sessions in the form of surveys or roundtables to understand what their views are on technology, and research their opinions and views. Consultancies or companies such as Ipsos MORI can help if you prefer
  • DISCUSS:
    1. Consider holding technology related Board meetings, Strategy Committees, or even monthly meetings with your Executive team dedicated to discussing the latest technology, and how it could be applied across the company
    2. Make it everyone’s responsibility to consider new technology. This is not only the Chief Technology Officer’s domain, we are all responsible
    3. Visit and participate in trade events and conferences around innovative technologies
  • PARTNER:
    1. You may choose to partner with third-parties, from the technology industry, to explore if there are new products or services you could offer jointly. For example, Renault, the automotive maker, has partnered with LG Corporation in order to offer their electric car drivers an intelligent infotainment service from their dashboard (LG, 2021)[iii]
    2. Partner with a consulting firm or technology company to undertake a deep dive, a root and branch review of your business (in terms of existing technology, and future technologies which may be applicable)
  • EXPERIMENT:
    1. Experiments are often more important than expertise and you can build an environment where experiments with technology can be undertaken. Give your technology teams a space to safely try new things with real customers, and seek their feedback. Take an ‘incubator’ approach, and reduce your enterprise risk. Scale what works
    2. Give your teams time to innovate and try new ideas. Of course, the most famous example of a company giving their employees time to work on other projects is Google – and their 20% time, where employees are encouraged to work on projects outside of the scope of their daily work (which was responsible for Gmail amongst other innovations). Focus your 20% time on technology, and its (potential) applications
  • RECRUIT:
    1. Recruit technology acumen to your Board of Directors. This is an important step, ensuring you have senior leadership which has a track record and understanding of new technology to support your teams. A Deloitte study found that high-performing S&P 500 companies were more likely (31%) to have tech-savy Board members than lower-performing companies (just 17%) (Deloitte, 2019)[iv]

A TRUE PARTNERSHIP
So, the final question for you is, do you want to work as a team? Will you partner with technology on your journey? If you can push aside your fear, and leave your ego at the door, partnerships can prove very fruitful when innovation is needed.

Technology isn’t new, new technologies are, but technology overall is not. Of course, it is normal to be worried and nervous about new technology, there are always traps to fall into. But, if we work together with technology, partnering side by side with it we can succeed.

When looking through the history of chess there was a moment in February 1996 when Garry Kasparov, who was a grandmaster of chess and one of, if not the most, successful and pioneering chess players in history, played a game of chess against a computer (IBM, 2021)[v].

IBM had developed a computer called Deep Blue, which was developed to win chess matches. And indeed, in February 1996 it beat Garry Kasparov in the first game it played. The match was a six-game match, and Kasparov won 4-2 in the end. IBM went away and worked a little more on the code, and in May 1997 there was a rematch and Deep Blue was a 3 1/2 – 2 1/2 victor this time around.

Since that point in 1997 the world of chess never looked the same. Computers have routinely beaten the best chess players in the world. The use of computers to beat humans in other games has continued since then, and clearly computing power and technology are a match for men and women.

That said, what came next was even more curious. Players experimented with different formats of advanced chess, where computers or machines intervened in different moments. What became clear was that whilst computers can beat humans, when humans and computers worked together they could always beat another computer operating independently.

Will you partner with technology?

[i] Pélissié du Rausas, M,  Manyika, J, Hazan, E, Bughin, J, Chui, M, & Said, R (2011) Internet matters: The Net’s sweeping impact on growth, jobs, and prosperity, McKinsey & Company, 1st May. Available from: https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/technology-media-and-telecommunications/our-insights/internet-matters#

[ii] McKinsey Digital (2021) The top trends in tech. Available from: https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/mckinsey-digital/our-insights/the-top-trends-in-tech

[iii] LG Corporation (2021) LG’s Newest In-Vehicle Infotainment System to debut in Renault Mégane E-Tech Electric, 1st November. Available from: https://www.lg.com/global/mobility/press-release/lgs-newest-in-vehicle-infotainment-system-to-debut-in-renault-megane-e-tech-electric

[iv] Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu (2019) Technology and the boardroom: A CIO’s guide to engaging the board, 22nd February. Available from: https://www2.deloitte.com/us/en/insights/focus/cio-insider-business-insights/boards-technology-fluency-cio-guide.html

[v] IBM (2021) Deep Blue. Available from: https://www.ibm.com/ibm/history/ibm100/us/en/icons/deepblue/

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