Culture Trumps Technology

At last year's Enterprise Connect conference I had the opportunity to participate in a fireside chat on the role of enterprise collaboration in digital transformation. The moderator asked a question that has stuck with me since: Which is easier, technology or people? My immediate answer was technology is easy -- people are hard. The answer got a few laughs because I think we all have experienced some variation on that theme. Changing people, or changing the culture, is a much slower process than delivering a new collaboration system or new technology.

This was brought home to me recently when I traveled to New York City for a meeting. I flew into Newark on a direct flight, and had arranged for shared van transportation to get me into the city. On landing, I received a text message saying my shuttle was assigned, giving me the driver's contact information and location. It even included a link to a map that showed the van in real time. I was impressed. I texted the driver saying that I was on the ground but still taxiing to the gate.

I only had a carry-on, so I left the plane and made my way to the pickup location noted. Once there, I saw a couple of company vans by the curb. There was a driver nearby and I thought I'd check with him to be sure I was in the right spot. His response was confusion -- why was I out here? I should be inside. No one comes to the curb until their driver comes to get them from the waiting area.

I explained that I'd been told in the text message what to do and nothing was said about going to an inside waiting area. He told me he knew nothing about any text messages and suggested strongly again (in a manner only someone from Jersey can do) that I didn't know what I was doing and to go inside. Being somewhat stubborn, I showed him the text and asked him to tell me where it said anything about going inside. He wouldn't even read it. "Text, schmext -- you gotta follow the process. Go inside."

So my euphoria at what seemed to be a slick, simple communication to find my ride became a cluster. I was frustrated at being told to retrace my steps, to follow a process that I believed was unnecessary, and wait somewhere when I could plainly see the van on the map heading toward my current location.

Another company rep, seeing my frustration, escorted me back to the waiting area, explaining as we walked that the automated system must be new and airport crew didn't know anything about it. Then a light went off over my head. Technology is easy -- people are hard. I'd just experienced a technology shift that hadn't yet been fully adopted by the people. They were still relying on the old process -- either the message hadn't been shared with them or they weren't ready to change. For me as the customer, I was left confused and unhappy. Not a great impression, and one I'm sure the people behind the new system wouldn't expect.

All this is to say that until companies can work the people side of the equation holding back on the technology launch to customers may be best. The best-intended solution will only lead to frustration if the people and processes aren't in sync. Culture has to lead, with technology supporting and enabling it.

Hear from other enterprise IT professionals at Enterprise Connect 2018, March 12 to 15, in Orlando, Fla., including in a mainstage panel discussion on "Your Next Job Today" and the annual "Enterprise Summit." Register now using the code NOJITTER to save an additional $200 off the Early Bird Pricing or get a free Expo Plus pass.

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