It’s not technology. It’s a tool.

Blog article | By Beth Cooper, April 11, 2017

We’re going to start with something of a radical statement: there’s too much focus on technology. If that sounds like a crazy comment from an organisation whose principle aim is to enable the successful adoption of technology, bear with us, and we’ll explain.

We’ve recently been at HR Tech World in London – note that word “tech” again and were privileged to hear some outstanding inspirational speakers. But we’ve come away from the event with one line from a presentation still sounding loud in our consciousness. For now, let’s take that line out of its presentation context because we think it’s a quote worth passing on. Cushman and Wakefield’s Mark Powell said, “Whatever the change, relate it to business, not technology”.

Relating change to business

When you start to think about it, this statement makes more and more sense. Technology is a tool, not an end in itself – unless, of course, you’re a developer.  It is what the technology allows you to do that matters – we admire the hand-woven carpet, not the loom the craftsman has used.

We have allowed technology to become god-like, conveniently ignoring the fact that it’s just a few bits of electronic gadgetry and some data. Yes, it can streamline our processes, connect our people, save us money, help us spot opportunities, boost our creativity – the number of things it can help us with is only limited by our imagination, but on its own, tech can’t save us. We’re still important, and we’re still the key to progress.

And this is good news, even for technology businesses, because, let’s face it, a lot of people are either change-averse or are nervous around technology, and some display both of those characteristics. If you get these people to buy-in – ensure they still feel like the key to progress –  you can make progress.  When people learn that they’re still in control of the things they’ve always been able to control themselves, the power of the technology to scare them dissipates. Our artisan carpet weaver is still creating the designs, selecting the colours, haggling over the price of the yarn – but now, with the loom, the work of manufacturing something lasting, beautiful and unique isn’t quite so backbreaking.

Reframing change management

Switching the focus from the technology itself to the technology’s capabilities may seem like a subtle point, but it’s a critical one. Going back to Mark Powell’s presentation again, most people in business would like to be more efficient, more insightful, to serve their clients better and spend less energy on routine admin. All of these things can be products of technology, but not everyone will be thrilled by having to change to a digital solution. By reframing the change management project so that less emphasis is placed on the method and more on the outcomes, resistance can be reduced.

Organisations should think about these issues at the outset of a project, especially where a workforce is diverse in age and culture. A young, digitally-confident branch of a business may take up new technology like the proverbial duck takes to water. A longer-established and more hierarchical branch with entrenched admin processes will need to be convinced by the business benefits, not by the quality of the graphics or the speed of the sync.

How learning works

Even though there can be a great deal of difference between user groups and their reasons for getting to grips with technology, all users face some sort of learning curve when they encounter a new business tool.

We’re always hearing that today’s workers are self-starters when it comes to learning and that they ‘pull’ the info they need rather than waiting for it to be pushed towards them. But again, it’s too simplistic to think that this is the learning style of all potential users. To help understand, HR Tech World came up with the goods once again with a fascinating talk entitled The Neuroscience of Learning given by Wipro BPS’s Surya Prakash Mohapatra.

Despite differences in background, age and digital skills, our basic brain biology is the same. It’s been shown many times, already, that learning can change the structure of the brain, but Mohapatra identified a key series of processes that must be undergone before changes in behaviour and performance are observed.  These include:

  • Gathering information
  • Reflecting
  • Discovering insights
  • Sparking creativity
  • Developing ideas – the innovation phase
  • Active testing.

Although these steps aren’t necessarily missing from more traditional push-based teaching styles, they are clearly more consistent with what we are seeing now in terms of a move to the more interactive, bite-sized, immediate and learner-driven methods.

Mohapatra says that for our brains to learn, we need to be engaged with the process and to do that, of course, we have to see a benefit.

We’re back to the idea of the effective business tool.

The lessons

There are differences in attitudes to technology, but we can all appreciate the benefits it can bring. We utilise different methods of learning, but for every one of us, our brains need to be engaged in all areas to ensure that the learning lasts.

There are always lessons to be learned at HR Tech World events, and perhaps the most intriguing of them all is that while we’re all different, we’re also remarkably similar.

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