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    « Carnival Time - Training Time Style | Main | Nowhere to hide from technology »
    Tuesday
    Aug182009

    Can Technology Change Culture?

    On the last HR Happy Hour show we talked quite a bit about organizational culture, and how culture influences the acceptance of 'alternative' appearance and attitude.

    The culture discussion carried on via Twitter the next day as well, and since I have to put a Technology spin on things, it led me to this question:

    Can the application of technology, specifically technologies designed to increase employee communication and enhance collaboration actually change culture?Flickr - Pinheiro

    Or does an organization's shared culture and their norms drive what technologies are adopted and how these technologies are used?

    If you take the position that culture, values, mission and organizational priorities drive the design, content, and implementation of technology, then only those companies that already possess an open, transparent, and collaborative culture stand to benefit from the application of the literally hundreds of new technolgoy solutions meant to help foster these objectives.

    But if you believe in the power of these tools, then potentially even the most closed, insular, and hierarchical companies can see benefits in their implementation.

    So the question is, can collaboration and 'social' technology transform company culture?

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    Reader Comments (12)

    Its been my experience that a organization's culture and norms drive which technologies they adopt and implement. Which makes it terribly difficult and slow to get some of the newer technologies adopted or even considered. But if someone in the company can be a champion for new technologies, there is hope but its certainly a struggle.

    August 18, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterErik Bartz

    Thanks Erik for your comments. The real question in my mind (and I suppose I should have phrased it this way) is are the more traditional and hierarchical organizations doomed to eventual failure if they can't transform their cultures? Many people in this discussion will de-emphasize the role of the technology in these discussions, as but I think that is short-sighted. All companies have tools in place for collaboration and communication (e-mail, IM, even phones), but the companies that continue to rely on these alone will certainly never be able to efficiently harness their talent, particularly on complex projects requiring collaborative effort. But as you suggest, even in these companies the introduction of the correct technology, with the right support of a passionate few, can lead to lasting and dramatic change. We have all read the 'Blue Shirt Nation' case study a million times. The question is did this technology, launched from under a desk drive a transformation of culture at Best Buy? I would contend if id didn't actually transform the culture, it certainly enabled it to take root and spread.

    Thanks again for reading and sharing your thoughts.

    August 18, 2009 | Registered CommenterSteve

    IMHO I think how advanced a company is willing to go on the technology they implement is based on the culture of their company. However, It is very well possible that the more traditional and hierarchical companies will fail and they are definintely missing out on fully harnessing the potential of their employees. By not implementing the necessary collaborative technology they will lose business to companies who are using the collaborative technology and doing projects and tasks more efficiently.

    August 18, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterReviewSNAP

    Chris - thanks very much for your comments. I think it is a reality in many organizations that the technology and the 'champions' to push change initiatives will be necessary for many of those traditional organizations to adapt any thrive. It is not enough to simply say 'OK we are know going to be a more open, and communicate more effectively'. Employees have to have access to and the ability to move beyond current process and tools to make that happen. Thanks again for reading and sharing your thoughts.

    August 18, 2009 | Registered CommenterSteve

    I think it can. Incrementally as the 'leadership' isn't always behind the technology - it's groups of people - early adopters, IT, web work who see cutting edge stuff and embrace it. In time, it trickles down to the mainstream workforce.

    Good stuff. I still love the conversation about culture.

    August 19, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDeirdre

    Thanks Dee, at the end of the day I agree with you. Especially since the technology in question is many times so accessible, so inexpensive (even free), and easy to use, that in many cases it can start to take hold in stealth mode. The Best Buy story I mentioned in another comment is the classic example of this. Thanks Dee, the culture conversation is really interesting, and it was still going on last night on Twitter. And here people think my little show was about tattoos, it was really about workplace culture and leadership!

    August 19, 2009 | Registered CommenterSteve

    Steve, in response to your question, "are the more traditional and hierarchical organizations doomed to eventual failure if they can't transform their cultures?" I'd say they certainly run the risk depending on their business. I've seen in my company, which tends to be more traditional but thankfully 'interested' in technology, that inefficiencies greatly affected the profit margin during the recession. Margins were thin before and then disappeared. To the more technically inclined, the inefficiencies in typical workflows were giant red flags. Companies not pursuing efficiencies might survive for awhile but the outlook isn't good.

    Thankfully we're making progress here, but its slow.

    August 19, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterErik Bartz

    Thanks Erik for the comments, what I think is easy to see how the traditional or classically hierarchical command and control model will almost certainly have to adapt at least somewhat in order to survive. You can only do so much by wringing every last dime out of process automation, but many firms are in survival mode. So I understand right now the really narrow, short term focus. Longer term, new ways of working, innovating, and communicating with employees and the community at large will almost certainly be a pre-requisite for long term success. I appreciate you sharing your perspective.

    August 19, 2009 | Registered CommenterSteve

    Posting this comment a little late, but add my voice to those who say that if the culture isn't conducive to employee communication and collaboration, then application of technologies designed to enhance that will not change the culture, at least not quickly. However, not applying the technologies risks having the culture never change. At least with the technology in place, there exists the possibility that it could be used in a "safe enclave" that can demonstrate success.

    August 20, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMark Bennett

    Thanks Mark for your comments, I have to say that I agree. Doing nothing for many organizations is not a long-term strategy for success. If there has to be technology evangelists in place to prod and push for these types of applications, then so be it. It is a model that has many documented success stories. Thanks very much for reading.

    August 21, 2009 | Registered CommenterSteve

    I do think that the technology can facilitate a change in culture, but there must be people willing to lead the charge. I also believe there must be a business reason for the adoption of collaboration technology. Social collaboration tools must show a true reason for use and have early success in order for it to be sustainable. Thus I believe adoption should begin in those areas of the organization who are most likely to collaborate today an in some way enhance the collaboration. Than as success is demonstrated implement the tools in other areas of the organization where collaboration needs to be improved and the tools can truly help in this effort.

    August 25, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJacqueline Kuhn

    Thanks Jacqueline for your comments. I wonder if sometimes the need to 'prove' business value or ROI in advance of the implementation of collaboration tools hinders the widespread implementation of said tools. It can be very difficult of not impossible to determine the 'hard' dollar payoff of these projects. That said, I fully agree with the strategy of choosing the specific areas that are in most need of collaboration support to start initiatives. Thanks very much for reading and for sharing your thoughts.

    August 25, 2009 | Registered CommenterSteve

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