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Ilya Tulvio

Technology isn’t going to save your company culture

These days, it seems like there is a tech solution for everything. Want to get rid of bias in your interview process? Some platforms do that for you. Hoping to weed out bad behavior and harassment in your company? There’s an app for that. But introducing large-scale technology solutions can end up magnifying your company’s cultural problems, especially if you do it haphazardly.

As a new generation has entered the workplace, companies feel the need to adapt to multiple generations working together, seemingly with varying levels of technical literacy. At the same time, the demands on enterprise tools have changed. The apps and services that employees use in their personal lives have raised the bar for how powerful and easy they expect their tools in the workplace to be.

On the surface, this seems like a technology problem. But if you look closer, you’ll realize that the underlying issues are soft and squishy human ones. If you ignore the root and go straight to implement tech solutions, you’re risking a cascade of unintended and undesirable consequences. Here’s an example.

A TOOL FOR COLLABORATION CAN END UP PITTING EMPLOYEES AGAINST EACH OTHER A well-known international consumer goods company (who shall remain nameless) once rolled out an internal social networking tool for its salesforce to share tips, techniques, and “best practice” in the field. While working with this company, we heard from staff that the social network had become something very different than was intended. “It is a place to brag,” several salespeople said. “It certainly isn’t a place to ask questions.”

Salespeople didn’t provide a thought-out explanation of how they’d achieve their result. Instead, they took photos to “prove” how much work they had done. Not only was this content unhelpful, but its braggart-like nature also made participation repellent to many. But people felt like they were obliged to post updates.

“My manager says I should post more, it makes me more visible,” one salesperson said. Indeed, we heard that managers have looked at the volume of activity as a way to gauge who they should promote.

From the other side, we heard one manager tell a story of how hurt one of his team members was when he hadn’t liked his updates. Since then, the manager had set up a recurring daily reminder to like all his team’s posts. Most worryingly, we heard that the unhelpful bragging was spreading to other channels of communication in the business, including personal ones like WhatsApp.

The project failed because the company didn’t manage the rollout properly and was unable to communicate the purpose of the technology.

TECHNOLOGY CAN END UP HURTING PRODUCTIVITY Over the past 10 years, the prominent social enterprise collaboration tool vendors–IBM, Salesforce, Microsoft–have all furiously copied features from the social networking giants–namely Twitter, Facebook, and more recently, Slack.

Employers might be envious of the stickiness of Facebook and other social platforms. But they need to acknowledge that engagement with a tool doesn’t necessarily translate to productivity in the workplace. Think about it: Facebook’s goal is to maximize the time users spend on it. How much time do you want your employees spending on internal networking tools? “Who has time to read all those updates?” was a question we heard from many employees.

UNDERSTAND CULTURE AND THEN CHOOSE YOUR TECH, NOT THE OTHER WAY AROUND You might argue that in this day and age, you can’t expect your employees to use unintuitive and outdated software. That is true. But the thing is, you have to fix your culture before you change your technology. Getting a new piece of fancy software isn’t going to turn your bad apples into good ones, nor will it get rid of any built-up resentment between employees and managers.

The key is to work with staff and cocreate the solution with your employees. This means listening to your workforce with an open mind and understanding the problems that exist. That way, your employees can buy into your vision of the culture you want to create, as well as the tools that you choose to adopt. They’ll also be more likely to use the tools appropriately.

You can’t create a good company culture overnight, and you can’t expect a piece of technology to fix your problems instantly. To do that, you need to be prepared to dedicate significant time and resources to get to the roots of the issue and decide how to move forward. When you have your company culture under control, then you can start thinking about technology. Just don’t use it as a Band-Aid solution. You’ll probably regret it.