When technology goes wild

What happens when technology conversions or implementations go wild? You get social patterns in your organization that look like cross-talk, territorial disputes, fear of technology, open and subtle resistance, running faster and harder (but going nowhere), wasted energy and resources.

Over the years I’ve observed executives and senior leaders get so excited about adopting a new application like PeopleSoft, only to be mystified a few months later because they can’t understand why things are taking so long, people are complaining and/or resisting and everyone feels overworked. What’s going on?

Technology facilitates convergence and integration to achieve better, faster results. Executives and leaders nod and buy-in. They look to technology to drive work process redesign. After all, they’ve been making heavy financial investments in technology for years now.

Yet, for many, the expected results don’t materialize. The reality is often unintended outcomes that sound like “…we can’t execute well on what we have now…” “…there’s enough technology to hold us for the next 10 years…” “…the focus needs to start with the business or end user and how to execute well, not more bells and whistles…” “…trying to do too much at once is a big mistake…” “…there is too much change, it’s overwhelming…”

Here’s the problem
Executives have been sold a partially valid proposition. What’s missing is the causal relation. It should read: technology facilitates convergence and integration to achieve better, faster results if organizations can align their people and work processes to deliver on technology’s promise.

The emphasis has been on what technology will do for the organization. Little time is spent examining what technology is doing to your organization. It’s changing what you do (work process) and who you work with (relationships), not just how you work.

Making technology’s promise come true is hard. It requires rolling up your sleeves, plunging deep into the inner workings of how your organization functions. Effective leaders understand that technology fundamentally alters the implicit social patterns of interaction in the organization. In other words, the data might converge and integrate, but it will not become intelligence until your people and processes converge and integrate.

Don’t automate the dysfunction
When technology goes wild, often the dysfunction gets automated. What I mean is any dysfunctional behavior (email warfare, withholding information, passive-aggressive fighting, etc.) gets imbedded into how you do business. Successful technology implementation builds into the roll-out plan a mechanism to ensure helpful, productive relationships. Time is allocated for relationship management, for key relationships to be examined and perhaps reworked. If left to happenstance, you run the huge risk of automating dysfunctional social patterns that currently exist or will erupt as you move necessarily deeper into your organization to reach technology’s promise of faster and better.

A final thought…
You’re bound to experience many technology conversions in your life. For example, today is the end of analog TV. Realize that technology conversions, integrations, (whatever else it’s called) are painful for the most part. It’s like going to the dentist, a necessary evil. Don’t use it as an excuse to fall into the trap of whining and complaining about it. Instead, pay attention to your relationship management skills at work – who you interact with (or don’t), how communication happens (or doesn’t), who needs to be in the know to make your job go smoothly, etc.

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jana gallatin

“Don’t automate the dysfunction” From your keyboard to the eyeballs of every gov CIO/CTO!

Managing people is hard. It’s messy and slow, but that is the key to successful technology insertion.

A couple of things should happen. An organization’s middle management must rededicate themselves to the organizational mission and purpose and pull themselves up from day to day process oversight long enough to “see” the future.

The second thing is questioning process results. The first question anyone should ask when considering process improvement or automation is “How important is the result of this process to accomplishing the overall mission?” Streamlining a bad process may just get you to a stupid result a lot faster.

Maybe the process doesn’t work because the employees see no value in the result. That should be a hint to identify the people who require the result and make them responsible for achieving it instead of forcing worker bees to check boxes and fill in blanks.

The answer is definitely not more training….Training is what you do to a dog. People learn and grow, they can synthesize information into knowledge. Technology should stimulate that process.

Nancy Dailey, Ph.D.

Great comments, Jana! Thanks. I’m working on helping CIOs/CTOs see the human system side of technology change. Unfortunately, I’m almost always called in to help repair the damage that’s already been done rather than be at the table during the planning.


So true…but the soft skills are the tough part and no one wants to focus on it up-front. I notice that with GovLoop as well – people want to talk about the technology but that’s the easy part. The hard part is building community and making people feel like GovLoop is a valuable community.

jana gallatin

I vote we free our toddler roots…”no!” “mine!” and “why?”

When told to do something counterproductive or something we are not willing to put our heart into, we should be ready and able to say, “No.”
When finding something that drives our passion, we should be able to say, “mine!” (We should respect that other people have “mines” too…and the concept of “ours” is something to embrace. So this is slightly more mature than 2.)
Finally, when we don’t understand something or don’t “get it” we need to ask “why?”

Now the trick is to be able to use these skills collaboratively. (“Why” can be a really great passive-aggressive tool. People use it when they should just say “no.”)

Three things need to exist in an organization in order to allow our inner toddlers some freedom. Trust, respect, and grace. Trust that people will bring their best game to the table most of the time. Respect their efforts. And grace allows us to honestly forgive. William Hazlitt said, “Grace has been defined as the outward expression of the inward harmony of the soul.”

I may sound Pollyanna, but I am very aware of evil and recognize that it must be addressed. But, locking down good things to avoid facing down one evil thing allows evil to win.

So, how does this tie to technology insertion? If we look at technology as a tool to help us connect our strengths as human beings and not as a mechanism to reduce us to interchangeable bots, we will be successful. If we don’t, we will waste resources on yet another shelfware solution.

Tim Constantine

Right on target Nancy. Benefits, as defined as contribution to your organizations mission, is the promise of IT; but it takes organizational change to realize those benefits. After the cost/benefit analysis (if any), those listed benefits are soon forgotten as the project moves forward. All too often “features” take their place, and features are not benefits.