We’ve all been asked to use software at work which make us want to weep in frustration – timesheets, training portals, dashboards – the list goes on and on. In fact, a recent survey by PWC highlighted that 30% of an employee’s experience is attributed to the technology they use at work, so when the software doesn’t support the work, employee experience plummets. And the new world of work has seen the introduction of even more new technologies to navigate a hybrid and distributed workforce. But in the quest to improve efficiency and grow revenue, businesses need to be careful not to stack new technology on top of old because they think the latest ‘solution’ will be the silver bullet they’ve been waiting for.
Resignation rates are at a twenty-year high in the UK and with trends such as ‘quiet quitting’ stifling workforces, HR teams have a newfound pressure to promptly identify pain points and woes amongst employees – including the possible negative impacts of new, sometimes poorly implemented technologies.
There seems to be a paradox between the intent of businesses and their employees’ reality when it comes to the introduction of new solutions. In the same PWC workplace survey, 90% of the Leaders asked said they choose technology investments based on the benefit it will deliver for their teams. However, just 53% of their employees think this is true. I have sympathy for both parties; legacy technologies with limited capability are the source of frustration at the top as they restrict growth, and amongst teams who often need to find manual workarounds to a solution smarter than the tech they have to work with. At the same time, change and new systems are often met with resistance or, worse, apathy. It’s understandable how decision makers can feel stuck between a rock and a hard place.
Frustrating experiences with technology have pervasive negative effects on employee’s psychological and physical wellbeing. Dr. Steven Hunt, Chief of Technology and Work for SAP recently published a book about the future of work called Talent Tectonics. As he explains it, ‘we are seeing an ongoing shift in the fundamentals of work, work is becoming physically much easier but psychologically more difficult.’ Asking employees to carry out tasks which are repetitive, unnecessarily complex, or even just at odds with their core role can lead to resentment, irritation, and burnout. People cannot be the things companies want such as creative, caring and collaborative if the technology they use makes them feel frustrated, inefficient, and angry. In the context of a difficult hiring market, this is an incredibly important issue to be aware of and a difficult balance to strike.
Despite the complexities of change, the answer is not to shy away from introducing new technologies. But, instead of jumping right to a technology ‘cure’, it’s often best to take more time to diagnose the problem in a holistic way. Companies that take the time to understand exactly how work is being done today and to map out those business processes have a greater chance of fixing the right problem. This process-centric approach will give you best chance of landing a change successfully. As part of this end-to-end approach, the creation of a collaboration hub can ensure the expertise of front-line workers is considered alongside the business and technical teams. Change is not just about having a flexible technology infrastructure. Businesses are made up of people and no change will happen if they aren’t ready and willing.
Under the right circumstances, people can be quite good at change; after all, our species is the most adaptable on the planet. Articulating clear goals, openly soliciting input, establishing transparent communication channels, and evaluating the impact of changes on people can help create the necessary climate of adaptability. When you ask your employees to do something in a new way, they will question the process; ‘do I want to do this?’ and ‘is it easier?’ are natural responses to a new process. If you can show ahead of implementation what the impact of a change will have on your teams and that they have been included, you will be better placed to anticipate and respond to these questions with empathy and accuracy.
A process mindset helps decision makers move from a strategy to people and technology-based execution by creating the transparency necessary to take fast, but well-informed decisions and set the necessary actions. It’s important to get to this place before you consider introducing new tech because rarely is transformative action taken on a project basis with a clear end point. There needs to be ongoing feedback loops and employee engagement to make the necessary adjustments over time. Process management is the key to helping you navigate that ongoing transition and help you avoid the response to digital transformation all leaders dread the most; ‘why did you make things worse?!’
To close with another quote from Dr. Hunt, “requiring employees to use poorly designed technology solutions is