We almost failed!
One of the first major change projects I led was an office automation system for Whirlpool. It was the company’s foray into automating the workplace. After a false start with lackluster results, we recognized that the technology required people to think differently even about administrative elements of their work. I engaged the CEO’s assistant, Mindy. Once she put the word out that she would only use this new system to communicate with others in the organization, use of the system grew rapidly. We signed up more than 2000 employees in a few months. We calculated that the system delivered about $90 million in cost avoidance as people began to interact more productively.
Even though this wasn’t a complex system – it provided basic messaging and calendaring functions – this change was more about culture than technology. We can talk until we are blue in the face about the benefits of the technology change, but until we recognize and act upon it as a cultural shift, we receive lackluster results.
When you focus only on technology, you miss out on how the new system requires employees to work and interact differently. This is the essence of cultural change, and without considering its impacts, you end up with:
- Unengaged employees who don’t understand what is required of them
- Middle managers caught in the middle – trying to keep the business running while helping employees through change they don’t understand
- Leaders who are disenchanted with the results of their new system
Instead, when leaders recognize that technology change induces cultural change, and apply adequate attention to lead through this change, the results are quite different.
- Employees have input to how the change will impact them, and how they will now need to work together across departments.
- Middle managers will lead more effectively, supporting employees who are now actively driving the change.
- Leaders will achieve, and likely exceed, the profitability targets they established for the new system.
Even though this project was completed long ago, there are still lots of false starts out there when it comes to implementing new technology. Just this week, I spoke with an agent at a call center, and they expressed how frustrated they were with their new system. As we talked, I could see that not enough attention was given to the cultural impact of the change.
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