Should we disconnect organisational change and technology?

17 July, 2018
Organisational change and technology

Organisational change – process or culture?

Organisational change and technology often go hand in hand, and you may consider that technology should make the process of change less burdensome. However, there is a growing body of evidence that reliance on technology is impeding the ability to navigate change. In this article, you’ll learn why.


Change is a people business, not a technological process

In our recent article, we examined what’s the best staff engagement strategy for sustainable change, noting how McKinsey & Company had found that communication is both central and essential to success in transformational change initiatives. This is because change is a people business, in which emotions shape response and the organisational change landscape.

A problem facing many organisations today – and one which may become worse with the progression of time – is that people are losing the ability to think for themselves.

The reason? We are placing too much faith in technology and processes. People are unlearning the ability to pay attention to their environment. Thus, if something goes wrong, people are less able to think innovatively and navigate a new course.

The lesson is that, while you will probably use technology in the change process, it’s essential to also prepare to disconnect organisational change and technology.


The GPS and mobile phones – destroying our ability to think for ourselves

The GPS is a marvellous innovation. I am certain that it has prevented many an argument between driver and navigator, and countless hours of being lost in the wilderness of a big city’s web of one-way roads and dead ends. But, there are also many stories that evidence the error of tuning out the environment and blindly following GPS directions – failing to think for ourselves.

Here are three examples, from an amusing and simultaneously disturbing article I read recently detailing nine car accidents caused by Google Maps and GPS:

  • A bus transporting a girls’ softball team got stuck under a bridge in Washington Park. Intent on following his GPS instructions, the driver failed to notice multiple warnings of the low bridge ahead. Consequently, the top of the bus was crushed, and five passengers were injured.
  • Closer to home, UK drivers are constantly becoming stuck on narrow roads in the villages around Winchester, following the route their GPSs suggest rather than seeing that the road ahead is not wide enough.
  • A woman tried to sue Google after being hit by a car in Park City, Utah. She was using Google Maps to walk to a chosen destination, and the app led her into a stream of oncoming traffic. She had walked onto a road. Fortunately, she wasn’t badly hurt.

People are losing environmental awareness

Sir Anthony Seldon, Vice-Chancellor of The University of Buckingham, has recently warned that children are losing the ability to read maps, thanks to their mobile phones and GPS. Could this be a warning to those who put excessive emphasis on organisational change and technology?

At a conference on artificial intelligence, he warned that young people “don’t think what is the landscape I’m going through? What is the topography, what are the buildings?

He observed that:

Maps are not only a joy in life, but they’re also important to understand how space relates to other space. How different parts of the town relate to other parts of the town.

You can see it all in two dimensions. If it is simply a transactional space, they’re losing a powerful grip on reality and my worry is that this is a parable for what could happen in a thousand other applications, whereby these machines that think for you take over our thinking insidiously, they worm their way into our minds and they take over our thinking and make our lives easier, more comfortable, more convenient but less meaningful, worthwhile and profound.


Organisational change and technology – what the US Navy can teach us

Reliance on technology is an issue that the US Naval Academy recognised as problematic. Its personnel had lost the art of navigation, because of the GPS technology used on its crafts. The solution was to revert to training officers to navigate by sextants– a backup to technological failure, and providing their navigators with a deeper understanding of what the technology is doing. In other words, ensuring that its navigators are able to think for themselves.

Food for thought when it comes to navigating the landscape of organisational change and technology.


Is technology informing or dictating your organisational change?

In the examples of accidents caused by tunnel vision on GPS, if the GPS user had been paying more attention to their environment and what they were doing, the accident would more than likely have been avoided. Attentive drivers avoid errors. If the GPS directs a driver to a road but it is clear that the road is too narrow, the driver would find another route and not become stuck.

The same is true when combining organisational change and technology. People who are environmentally aware will use technology to smooth the process of change, but not to dictate it. If adjustments are needed, good change leaders will pull over, take time to review the current course, and navigate a new direction to their destination.


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