Can Technology Enable a More Effective and Human Business Culture?

If it isn’t obvious by now, the inherent changes in the marketplace has created a domino effect in business.

Business performance is not what it once was. No industry is immune to the disruption that is happening across verticals and business functions.

Deanie Elsner, President of Kraft Snacks Business Unit said this:

Today there is a seismic disruption across all industry verticals. It’s unprecedented because it’s happening simultaneously across consumers, commerce and communication. It’s being driven by the consumer. The consumer is the new CEO…. it’s also leaving companies and industry paralyzed… today business needs to be comfortable with paradox and ambiguity.

Economic conditions compound this change…

While the economy has wreaked havoc on the perception of stability in the workplace, companies are also realizing that employee loyalty is declining. There is a survivalist mentality in the realization that careers within one organization will no longer last a lifetime. This is compounded with the rise of machines and the incessant fear perpetuated with Artificial Intelligence impacting the loss of jobs in the near and long term.

At the same time, changes in technology are also creating new positions that did not exist even a decade ago. The evolution of industry is developing a specialized talent pool that’s both highly in demand and difficult to retain long term within any one company. These days, three to five years in one company is considered “normal,” if not long, tenure.

Changes in market consumption … Economic volatility… Continuous technology disruption… plus a more agile workforce must give rise to new thinking

Companies Are Realizing They Need to Change

These factors, among many, are making businesses rethink how they operate— not only to retain their best employees but also to attract new ones in the process.

The customer is everybody’s responsibility. With the rise of social media, the consumer discussion has moved from platforms to the boardroom. Innovation is happening at lightning speed and corporations must respond just as fast as the markets that are adopting these changes.

We’ve heard the term, “Digital Fluency”. This era of change for companies means they need to close the gap and become more connected to customers and to the market. To be digitally fluent means to have much quicker market response when it comes to reputation, customer service, or just being tapped in to industry trends and emerging discussions.

No longer is one department responsible for the customer. The organization can scale market and customer connections if everyone in the company is listening and tapped in to the marketplace. Digital fluency means technology enablement that will eventually influence cultural and process changes to influence speed to market decisions.

Consider this:  Douglas McGregor wrote “The Human Side of Enterprise”, published in 1960. What he espoused was years ahead of his time.


This is how he visualized these two theories:


Today, business does not have the luxury of time. They need to build and maintain relevance in the marketplace when conversations, expectations and behaviors dictate.  The only way to do this is to leverage the scale and influence of their own employees.

Does technology enable humanity? This is more of a rhetorical question. What I have seen and what I’ve experienced (especially as a start-up with resources and partners working in remote locations) is that by embedding social technology within the organization, you end up with an eventual reduction of hierarchy and breakdown of the physical and departmental silos that impede the need for agility.

And while technology does not have a direct impact on employee engagement, over time the change within the organization will begin to shape the way the organization functions, how people relate to and communicate with one another, and how they perceive work.

I have worked with a few social business solutions. While social business continues to be an emerging concept, there is slow but promising adoption of solutions that allow organizations to be nimble and more adaptive to consumers and the market. Post Beyond is an example of solutions that enable employees to be social. These days, social scalability realistically will happen when employees (not the hired intern) leverage their individual networks to spread the company messages. While the solution provides immense possibilities for business, employee adoption is key. That is, in itself, a hurdle that many organizations must overcome.

At my company, we enable business to be more proactive and more relevant by just knowing more about their customers and their market. We are encouraging companies to move beyond labelling customers by transaction or visible parameters. More importantly we are advocating the strength of the workforce and enable them to act and respond to the voice of the customer when it’s most relevant.

It’s a chicken and egg scenario. Organizations are hesitant to implement solutions without a guarantee ROI on employee engagement.  Why would employees add more responsibility to their job description unless there wasn’t a resulting personal benefit? Is there an immediate benefit to management relinquishing control of these decisions?

I saw Jacob Morgan’s interview with Centro CEO Shawn Riegsecker. For Shawn, he was emphatic in his statement, (quote)

Being engaged does NOT mean you are happy

Traditionally, it has been commonplace to check your emotions at the door the minute you entered the workplace. No longer is that the case. Organizations are starting to realize that employee happiness is key to productivity, reduced churn, and increased profitability.

There have been endless articles written about the social organization. Companies that truly understand this also know that the up and coming Millennials have grown up with the same technologies that allow them to have conversations and develop relationships across the web. The future managers and leaders mandate the latest technology to facilitate digital water cooler discussions and collaboration that ties employees together, and hastens the movement of information across the company.

How do we measure happiness? There is currently no direct correlation to technology but traditional measures can provide indicators that the company is doing everything right: Low attrition rates, referral percentages, plus the ability to attract the best talent.

But still…. Is there proof of employee engagement?

Data science has the ability to make highly accurate interpretations of human perceptions, personality, and team dynamics by analyzing simple text.

It stands to reason that even in its nascent stages, the use of cognitive systems can measure happiness within departments and across organizations.

I’ve spoken to Co-founder, Jonathan Kreindler, from Receptiviti, a “natural language personality analytics API” that can detect human personality, emotion, and tone from unstructured data, email, voice, chat etc. It’s systems such as these that allow companies to have the capability to marry language and psychology with their impact on organizational performance.

If companies need the ROI of social business engagement, we now have the ability to come ever closer to validating this.

Evidence of Happiness Isn’t Necessarily Measured By the Numbers

For those companies trying to understand the value of digital fluency and the impending cultural shifts, there will be more obvious signs that a company is flourishing.

Shawn Riegsecker says this:

The biggest harm to the organization has traditionally been to increase value to shareholders… That is a very empty way to think about human beings achieving things for the company.

Over and above culture, systems, and frameworks that need to shift, the soft measures that result from these changes should also be counted. Shawn provided a list of these important traits:

  • Does every individual believe the CEO and organization authentically cares about him/her?
  • Are people free to do great work?
  • Do they have a greater feeling of teamwork and collaboration?
  • Do they feel comfortable moving forward without fear of making mistakes?
  • Do they have a sense of well-being?
  • Do they feel they belong?
  • Do they have greater friendships at work?
  • Is there a greater appreciation from management for the work they do?
  • Do they feel empowered to do more and think outside of their immediate responsibility?
  • Are they encouraged to be creative?
  • Do they have a sense of personal growth?

Technology is not the solution. My belief is that companies will employ technology because the times call for it. What they will witness over time, though, is an inherent change that allows the organization to care about the well-being of its employees—and prioritize this over and above shareholder value.

What do you think? Do we focus too much on technology at the cost of the human beings actually working in our companies? Is happiness valued and promoted where you work? Is your organization “digitally fluent?”

Marketing to Gen C: How Companies Need to Evolve

Image source: the mountain and customer 

What Happens When No One Is Replaceable?

Treating employees as faceless cogs can be toxic to workplace culture and hazardous to quality control, but the opposite approach takes special finesse and skill.

If you’re like me, you’ve probably heard many variations of it throughout your work career: “Everyone is replaceable.” In practice, it sounds like this…

  • “If you don’t want to do the job, there are hundreds—maybe thousands!—of people who are desperate for work and we’ll go find them.”
  • “If you can’t do the job, there are tons of applicants out there that have your identical skills and we can bring them in to do it instead.”
  • “If you aren’t energized by the job… well, we don’t really care about that, actually. Just go do what we hired you to do!”

While we are used to hearing these sentiments—if they’re not plainly spoken, they’re often clearly implied—there’s a serious problem here: If you are a leader and you think like this, you are slowly rotting your organization from the inside out.

First, the idea that “everyone can be replaced” has never been completely accurate. Case in point: Imagine you’re a factory worker. Essentially, the company owners just need your hands to perform a specific task; if you don’t want to do the job, can’t do the job, or aren’t energized by the job, it’s relatively easy to replace you. Or, at least, it seems easy.

However, if you’ve worked in manufacturing environments, like I have, you know there’s a lot more finesse and grace to this kind of work than it seems from the outside. There are nuances to the machines that newbies just can’t know. There are tricks of the trade that seasoned operators pick up on over time. Some people have a greater capacity for doing repetitive work than others. And some people naturally pay more attention to details, safety, and quality.

No matter what kind of work you are doing, the most “basic” work to some is not necessarily “basic” at all—it all depends on whose shoes you’re standing in.

That’s because human beings have a staggering amount of variation built in. Historically, this has been an incredible annoyance in business, because variation is the scourge of operational efficiency. So to address this, we leaders often focus on trying to get “good work” from everyone.

The problem is that “good work” in this sense just means lowering the bar of what’s acceptable to a place where everyone can hit it—the lowest common denominator.

As a result, that’s where many organizations live; we’ve got the research to prove it. There is a whole lot of “good” to go around, but surprisingly little “great.”

If “everyone is replaceable” gets us only to mediocrity (and no further), what do we do instead? If we want to be exceptional, what can we do? Could we do the opposite? That is, could we say that no one is replaceable?

There are a few specific things that would need to change in order to adopt this philosophy in the modern business organization:

  1. We’d have to actually get to know our people.

As a leader or manager, it’s your job to foster a culture that produces great work. If you believe there are people in your team who CAN be easily replaced, it’s likely you who has failed, not them.

If our people seem replaceable, it’s simply because we haven’t thought deeply enough about how that person can bring their unique strengths to their job (or we hired the wrong person). We’ve not allowing them to bring their distinctive “energizers” into the workplace. Something about the way we are managing is keeping them from reaching their peak performance.

This has a direct impact on our organization, because the exceptional strengths employees possess create the most value for customers. If we see our people as replaceable, we are standing in the way of peak customer engagement.

Action item: Have a one-on-one conversation with your people. Ask them a simple question: “When are you at your best?”—and then do your best to help them do more of whatever makes them come alive.

  1. We’d have to change the way we use job descriptions.

Understanding expectations at work is of utmost importance; unfortunately, job descriptions rarely create real clarity. Most people find out what’s expected of them at work by screwing up, via company politics, and through trial and error. This is because most of us don’t have a “factory” kind of job—our jobs are infinitely more complex than “Stand here, put this object there, and then push the button.”

When we start with the understanding that no one is replaceable, we also see tasks differently. We realize that just “getting things done” isn’t the same as doing those things in a way that honorably reflects our values and brand.

Any new hire you bring in will change what the job looks like. Your conception of the role is tied to the last person, not the next.This has a direct impact on our organization, because customers are not rational. The people who buy our products and services are intensely emotional about how they spend their money, and the manner in which employees interact with the customer either attracts them closer to your brand or pushes them further away; it never does both.

Action item: Understand that any new hire you bring in will change what the job looks like. Your conception of the role is tied to the last person, not the next. Ideally, you can use this knowledge to your advantage—it’s a perfect opportunity to leverage the unique strengths of your new person (refer back to #1).

  1. We’d have to rethink career paths and performance management.

Tasks may stay the same as time passes, but the people doing them most certainly don’t. Nothing about the world is static, including all the human beings that make up our organizations; they are always looking to grow and learn (at least, the people we want to hire are).

We get caught in a bit of irony here, because at the same time as we spread the “you are replaceable” myth, we try to keep our best people from leaving by subconsciously obscuring their advancement opportunities, or simply by not being open about the fact that their career will probably not begin and end at our company.

This has a direct impact on our organization, because our lack of transparency gradually erodes engagement. Counterintuitively, the more openly we can accept the fact that our best employees will likely leave eventually, the better work we’ll get from them while they’re with us.

Action item: The best hires will have plenty of ideas for how to continually improve their sector of the company—and, as the person closest to the work, their ideas will generally be better than ours. When we accept that no one is replaceable, we commit to getting out of the way and supporting their plans. We need to support their career ambitions as well, even if it means seeing our best people move on.

By doing this, we can create the kind of reputation that continually attracts perfectly irreplaceable new talent.

This post was first published on Fast Company.