Common goals for organizations that want to better respond to change, drive innovation, and position themselves for the future of work often include using more modern technologies to become more agile. Cultivating a culture that enables, supports, and contributes to these goals is a key success factor, one that technology itself is helping them achieve.
Technology and culture may seem like an unlikely match. How can something so concrete and technical apply to something so intangible that tends to evolve organically over time? The link between the two becomes clearer when you define culture as “the way we do things around here.” Organizations can consciously decide how they want to do things and how they want to operate. Technology then becomes a means for the organization and the people in it to act and get things done in those certain, desired ways.
Specifically, we’re seeing companies using technology to (1) change culture and (2) sustain and reinforce culture.
Technology in changing culture
As organizations strive to become more digital and agile, they are embracing technologies to be the mechanisms of the culture shift. Consider the use of SaaS-based HR systems for example. Business cases for moving HR systems to the cloud typically cited the drawbacks in current systems—clunky interfaces, the need for many workarounds, difficulty running reports, limited support for workforce planning, and the like. But one of the biggest (sometimes unspoken) drivers to move to the cloud was the demand from employees for modern-looking—and modern-functioning—tools. Employees increasingly want and expect a consumer-grade technology experience at work, similar to what they use in their daily life.
Today, the business case for changing old ways in favor of new technologies may also include propagating the desired culture. Technology is seen as the enabler of a more seamless employee experience and of the automation that simplifies routine tasks and lets people focus on what they inherently do better than machines—imagine, communicate, collaborate, and creatively solve problems.
Technology in reinforcing culture
As companies consciously acknowledge culture as essential to executing business strategies and achieving goals, they’re also deciding what kind of culture they want to have and using technology to reinforce it. For example, to support a culture of caring and concern for employees’ health and welfare, companies are adopting well-being platforms or specific apps. These can connect people with coworker cohorts as well as giving them information, nudges, reminders, and suggestions that support their physical and mental health.
Another example is the use of performance management technology tools to foster a culture of transparency and accountability. One of the downsides of people working remotely and using self-service platforms can be a breakdown in personal connections. When manager intervention is no longer needed to perform tasks, there can be a distancing in the relationship between managers and direct reports, and for that matter, between individuals and the bigger picture of team and organizational strategies and goals. So now we’re seeing performance management tools that help facilitate regular check-ins between managers and staff, even collecting and collating items or activities to serve as an agenda for one-on-one or team meeting. These tools also help evolve performance management beyond the traditional focus on annual reviews and make it a more active, ongoing part of the company culture.
Making it stick
Some situations naturally offer the opportunity to launch a cultural technology initiative, such as an M&A that joins two organizations together, a spin-off enterprise that presents a blank slate to build the desired culture from the ground up, or the appointment of a new CEO or a new market direction that ushers in an era of change. Culture change could also simply be seen as a business imperative, necessary to stay competitive and attract talent as an employer of choice.
Whatever triggers the technology adoption, that perennial must-have for virtually any type of organizational initiative to take hold and succeed—C-level buy-in and support—certainly applies. Senior leaders should visibly and vocally use the tools of the desired culture and be seen as active participants while encouraging other to do the same. Use of the technology may be mandatory, such as performance management tools, or optional, but with incentives offered to encourage participation, such as offering a gift card for reaching a milestone in a healthy-living app.
One of the potential advantages of being deliberate about culture (“the way we do things around here”) is the potential effect on engagement—“how I feel about the way we do things around here.” In a kind of virtuous circle, deploying technology to operate with more agility and transparency, and with overt regard for employee expectations and well-being, is likely to result in higher levels of engagement. This in turn fosters stronger focus on performance and commitment to helping the organization excel.