New Technology? Don’t Forget The Humans.

Steve Boese Coaching, Conferences, Employee Coaching, HR Tech, Steve Boese

Coming to you live (sort of live), from the Globoforce WorkHuman Conference in Orlando, Florida, where a few of your pals from FOT (and a bunch of other HR thought leaders), have gathered for a couple of days at what is a really different kind of event.

I heard a great line in one of the keynotes at the event: “Don’t confuse technology with innovation.” I think it is really easy to confuse the two, and it is probably one of the main themes of the event.

Tools and technologies have seen incredible levels of investment and attention, but have they really delivered on their promises?

If not, then why not?

Globoforce’s CEO Eric Mosley had some ideas as to why technology has failed in some areas to lead to better workplaces, sustained increases in levels of engagement, and more meaningfully contributions to organizational outcomes.

Some of this failure is that, for many organizations, we have simply applied modern technologies to very traditional and often ineffective “industrial” HR practices.

For example, the annual bonus given to employees is a time-tested and honored tradition at many companies. Let’s say the employee receives an end-of-the-year award of $5,000. While the employee is excited and happy to receive the bonus, Mosley suggests that the “good will” or happiness with the award fades back to the baseline after about six weeks. So maybe instead of simply applying technology to automate and manage an annual bonus process, you should apply technology to improve the process—perhaps breaking up the annual bonus to smaller amounts, given at more frequent intervals, thus distributing the good feelings over a longer time frame.

Similarly, many organizations have invested time and resources automating the annual performance-review process. But unlike the annual bonus process, which produces at least some short-term spikes in enthusiasm and engagement, the annual performance process almost never creates much in the way of excitement amongst employees and managers alike.

With so much attention being paid to the news reports of how many large organizations like Deloitte, GE, Adobe and more are eliminating the annual performance process and replacing it with something more aligned with how employees (at least most of them) prefer to give and receive feedback—and think about development—it seems natural (and smart) to think about how to migrate or modify the approach to performance management in this new paradigm.

And technology certainly plays a role here. Many more recently developed technology solutions (like the ones from Globoforce) can support this ideas of more frequent, lighter, and inclusive performance management. Like in the “break up the annual bonus into a dozen smaller rewards” example, the simplest way to think of how these changes in performance management are being approached is to make performance management a more frequent event—-and not only that, but to think of it more as ongoing performance coaching, and not management per se.

But again, we have to be careful here in thinking that simply applying a technology solution to a process, even a new tool that can do real-time performance and feedback, will somehow magically solve the issues—the underlying issues—with employee performance management. Creating more opportunities for managers to provide feedback, maybe by deploying a cool-looking new app for that purpose, doesn’t magically make them any better at giving valuable feedback and coaching. Sure, they might get better over time, just by conducting the exercise itself more often, but that certainly is no guarantee. I could practice the violin every day for the next 20 years, but I can tell you for sure that without really skilled professional tutoring, I am never ever going to be able to play even a passable version of any song you would recognize.

I will let this point go but want to close with this—one of the key messages, I think, from the WorkHuman event.

Don’t confuse technology with innovation. Don’t be beguiled that technology can “solve” your fundamental issues with your workplace.

And don’t ever forget that it is people who design, build, deploy, and use any technology. Think about them as much, if not more, than you spend on the technology itself.

Thanks to Globoforce for having me out at WorkHuman, definitely not your Mom’s HR conference.