Academic Insight: Being Intentional and Purposeful With Technology

Written by: Shontarius D. Aikens

Photo by Hillary Ehlen

Over the years, I am finding myself relying more and more on different types of technology to enhance and improve both my personal and professional life. I’ll be the first to admit that when it comes to adopting new technology, I am a slow mover. A very slow mover. If you want further evidence, ask my students! Recently, I shared with my students my two latest technological triumphs, or what I would call technological triumphs, after years of resistance and fighting: 1) My upgrading from a basic cell phone to a smartphone (iPhone) and 2) me switching from cable to streaming. Definitely funny stories indeed, but I’ll save them for another day!

As I was thinking about this month’s technology theme for the Fargo INC magazine and as I started preparing to write my article, I began to think about technology and the role it plays in my field of management. During my research, I came across a comment made by Derek Gillette stating that technology in its simplest form helps us to close three gaps:

  1. The distance gap (i.e. communication)
  2. The knowledge gap (i.e. education)
  3. The outcome gap (i.e. performance measures and standards)

Within each of these areas, there is point A (current status) and point B (desired status). Technology is a vehicle to get from one point to the other.

While the field of management has evolved over time, the core underlying principle of managing is essentially the same: to accomplish results through other people. The increasing use of technology adds another layer of complexity for managers. This is especially true for some managers who might be resistant to change and the ever increasing role and need for technological integration into work processes. Considering the gap analogies provided earlier, specifically when it comes to the outcome gap, the bottom line is that technology is essential in helping organizations achieve a competitive advantage in the market. Having said that, I think it is equally important to stress the need for being intentional about the purpose or implementation of technology in the workplace, specifically when it comes to daily tasks and work in organizations.  While the word technology has broad meaning and implications, I’m referring to technology as an object, a tool, or a set of means to accomplish a task. Below are some insights I’d like to contribute to this conversation for managers to consider:

  1. Awareness of technological advances.  From a management perspective, a manager should be aware of the general environment or context within which they operate. The general environment consists of various dimensions, one of which includes the technological dimension consisting of “scientific and technological advancements in a specific industry, as well as in society at large.” One way that managers can stay alert is to utilize the younger generation of workers entering the workplace—the millennial generation. Research and statistics are clear that the millennial generation is the most tech-savvy and knowledgeable generation and the most comfortable with technology. 
  2. Effectiveness first, then Efficiency. From a management perspective when considering performance outcomes, the two key things to focus on are effectiveness (achieving a stated goal) and efficiency (the amount of resources used in the process to achieve a stated goal). The issue is to determine if application of technology will help or hurt the situation. In my opinion, Bill Gates has the best comments on the use of technology in this regard: “The first rule of any technology used in a business is that automation applied to an efficient operation will magnify the efficiency. The second is that automation applied to an inefficient operation will magnify the inefficiency.” Careful consideration would be on examining and fixing work processes first (effectiveness) before the application of a technological tool (efficiency).
  3. Assessing technological training needs beforehand. So, your organization has decided to adopt a new technology. Are existing employees capable of utilizing it right away? What about new employees? Often times, what can be underestimated is the training needs and costs that will be involved with getting existing employees up to speed as well as onboarding for new employees.
  4. Overcoming Resistance. Whenever introducing a new technology in the workplace, there will be resistance. Sources of that resistance come from uncertainty, fear of the unknown, established routines and a lack of understanding and trust. I’ve seen situations where organizations will invest significant time and money on new technology or systems only for it to not be utilized as intended or to not be utilized at all. In order to be intentional and purposeful when it comes to technology integration, three approaches can be considered ahead of time to deal with these resistance factors. 
    • First, an incremental innovation approach-  This simply means introducing changes in small steps or phases over time rather than all at once.
    • Second, through education and communication– which involves showing and illustrating how the new technology will make an employee more productive and make their life easier.  
    • Third, using a co-creation approach– which involves including employees on selecting the new technology that will be utilized. Research suggests that any time managers can include employees in the change process, they are more likely to support the change rather than resist it.

To submit questions you would like answered in future editions of “Academic Insight”, email Dr. Aikens at: [email protected]

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