Stop gambling on new technology to change your company's culture

Technologies don't change corporate culture, writes Matt Brown. People do.
Written by Matthew Brown, Contributor

I’ve spent most of my career working with IT people making IT decisions on behalf of people who use technology for work. What I love about IT people is their utter devotion to the idea that technology can profoundly change how people work. To improve their productivity, to remove barriers to collaboration, to spark groundswell innovation, and more. Just the other day, I spoke to one named Fred who said to me: “We’re introducing new technologies to change the culture of our organization.”

What a courageous and inspirational idea coming from an IT leader. We’ll just assume he meant to add “…for the better.”

I hear stuff like this all the time, particularly when Content & Collaboration Professionals are planning major initiatives for social technologies, mobile technologies, and collaboration tools inside companies with market caps that dwarf the GDP of entire countries. Big ones. And of course I hear it in the tech trade mags I read, at conferences, and from human capital people fretting about baby boomers turning into octogenarians, and the nano-toting-angry-birds-playing, malcontent Millennials sporting ADD-like technology tendencies at work. I’ll work for a Millennial one day. I’m not critiquing. Just observing.

So back to Fred. Assuming like me you work around folks from IT, I’ll ask: will Fred succeed?

Personally, I don’t gamble in casinos, but I do at work. I place bets on people I hire, budget dollars I spend, arguments I think I’ll win (but often lose), and even on the research ideas analysts on my team come to me with. After all, with luck, the right bets will put my three kids through school someday.

But I’m not betting on Fred.

Why? Fred sounds great, you say? As much as I’d like to believe that the IT projects I’ve done in my career have helped transform my employers’ workplace, increasingly, I believe they didn’t. Sure, in small ways, they’ve incrementally increased people’s productivity, or streamlined a process. But they haven’t transformed the culture or people's workplace tech behaviors much. I see this in both Forrester’s workforce data. I’m blogging now. But most of my day is spent in email using the same five features I did in college. Just like most of you.

My reponse to Fred: technologies don’t change corporate culture, people do.

In fact, I believe the single most important thing the Freds of the world can do to advance their careers is to learn more about people: particularly their attitudes and technology behaviors in the workplace. This means moving beyond placing undue expectations on workplace technology, and instead, thinking more about overall workplace experience. To me, a person’s workplace experience is defined by how their personal career drive, relationships, tools they use, and development opportunities work together to help them overcome barriers, and drive better business outcomes. Clearly, technology is an important factor. But it's likely not the most important one.

So to the Freds of the world, I’d like to invite you to join us at IT Forum where we’ll be elaborating on our theme: “Reinventing Your Workplace Experience.”

Matt Brown will be speaking at Forrester's IT Forum, May 25-27 in Las Vegas. Visit the website or call +1 888.343.6786 to register, use the promo code: IT11BLOG, and save $200 off the non-client rate.

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