Please note:  The following is Part II of the conversation on technology and the workplace.  While written from an academic perspective, the author hopes to launch a conversation on integrating technology and shifting the current paradigm into a more holistic and practical approach to technology.  Please comment.  – –  Thank you!

Currently many organizations have a problem with technology integration. A new operating system, new legacy systems for employees, and new support systems for employees and customers have all been launched, but the resulting chaos needs to be addressed. Even while the legacy systems and previous technology, had problems, the new is not trusted and a culture of distrust is representing Dandira’s (2012) leadership dysfunction causing organizational cancer. The organizational leadership disconnection to the problems of both the external and internal customers reflects poor technology integration. The following evaluation aims to both highlight the problem and offer best practices to correct the problem, not from a distant point in the future, but from where the organization is now. The purpose of this document is to positively affect the technology integration, bringing forth a new culture while correcting inherent problems in the current organizational design and culture.

Problem Statement

Ropohl (1999) defines the problem advocating that all technology comes with social change. The ideal technological integration would include aspects of Ropohl (1999) to both alert organizational leaders to the change, while also supporting the new culture with leadership presence. The reality is that current front-line thinking reflects organizational leadership as never considering the problems with integration such as, the problems experienced in learning curves to learn the new technology, processes disconnected from legacy systems to the new support technology, SOP’s not current or plain wrong, and never planned for the cultural or technological shift, only the technology was important. The consequence as detailed by Dandira (2012), exasperated current problems with employee and customer frustration including more regionalism, less collaboration, higher stress, and, most disruptive, political culture growing and separating the organizational leaders more from the front-line employees and external customers. The growing feelings of disconnection are the main target of this research. Since technology disrupted an already exasperated problem, the solution can, and should, include the new technology integration. Measuring the technology integration and providing empirical evidence in where to pour resources is the aim of this document.

A Technology Integration Model

Using the core business combined with the disparate duties of each region in the business model, it remains of premier import to not ruin the business model, but restrain regionalism and political games. Thus, Wixom and Todd (2005) provide sound guidance. By focusing resources, as suggested by Wixom and Todd (2005) on both “User Satisfaction” and “Technology Acceptance” the organizational leaders may begin to gather the much needed data to empower decisions. The Wixom and Todd (2005) model is as follows:

  1. Focus early design on user interface. This includes “how work is done” and “why work processes flow the way they do.” Organizations invest many resources into the user interfaces, but the common perception is that broken processes will remain broken.  The process is how the use will interface with the technology to do the work of the organization.  Even small shifts in technology will change the processes and they will need reviewing.
  2. Practical utility. This is not a job for marketing, or a role to be onboarded by a single department or entity. The question to focus upon remains, “Will the user be able to utilize efficiently the new technology?” Other questions branch from this question, pointing to how work is accomplished, why, where, when, and a dream list of users for the new technology.
  3. Attitudes and beliefs influence behavior. Employ “object-based beliefs and attitudes” to positively affect “behavioral-based beliefs and attitudes” (Wixom and Todd, 2005, p. 86). This simply means dispelling the beliefs that one legacy is inherently bad because of a lack of training or another employee’s personal opinion, and another piece of technology is inherently good for the same ambiguous reasons. Currently on the production floor, there are thousands of these beliefs and attitudes hampering productivity. Omar, Takim, and Nawawi (2012) discuss the principles contained here, in-depth referring to this as technological capability (TC). TC is more than the sum total of training, experience, technology, and access to technology; TC is the inherent momentum building motivation into an organizational culture.  Note, motivation is more than desire and capturing motivation, including negative motivation requires leadership interfacing with front-line employees directly, not through command edicts and measuring adherence through statistics.

Trist (1981) employs similar methodology in coal mining as suggested by Wixom and Todd (2005), in improving technology, by focusing on end users, making the processes and procedures easier to adopt, decluttering screens, moving buttons and links to a more natural position on screens, defining terms, etc. practical usability increases and the attitudes and beliefs change dramatically. Ropohl (1999) extends this discussion in reminding organizational leaders of the social aspect to work, especially when work involves high-level technology to accomplish social interactions. Wixom and Todd (2005) quote Fishbein and Ajzen (1975) for the specific principle espoused by Trist (1981) and applicable here, “For accurate prediction, beliefs and attitudes, must be specified in a manner consistent in time, target, and context with behavior of interest” (Wixom and Todd, 2005, p. 89). Specificity of connections between actual instances and timely response remains one of the steps missed. For example, why three legacy systems that all customer service facing employees should be knowledgeable in; when 50% of the front-line employees have no access to one legacy system due to work design. One system is only used for a single process infrequently employed to complete work; yet all three systems are not trained, necessitating desk guides, QA controls, and more resource investment for no appreciable gain. These long-term employees, considered as subject-matter experts, receive tasking’s to train new hires, but the long-term employee spends more time passing on genetic knowledge, assumption, bias, and opinion, than actually training to a specific standard.

London and Beatty (1993) offer sound counsel for the remedy in suggesting 360-degree feedback loops tailed to the end of each tasking. These feedback loops should be end user controlled, so if additional questions, comments, and concerns arise, the problem does not sit in a manager’s workload, but becomes part of the directors tasking to complete to the satisfaction of the front-line employee, not the director. Wixom and Todd’s (2005) model specifies both a need for practical utility and employing technology to change end used behaviors and attitudes. Integrating technology requires building trust. Trist (1981) discusses this topic obliquely when discussing how employees treated researchers until trust and relationships of trust were established. The same trust issues arise in Wixom and Todd (2005) and Ertmer (1999) capitulates that end user trust is a critical building block in socio-technical systems (STS), without this element, all the specialized technology in the world cannot overcome the inherent mistrust and thus lack of usage of technological solutions.

While discussing safety in the workplace, Budworth and Cox (2005) provide sound guidance applicable to technology integration by insisting that trust involves four elements: “Commitment throughout the organisation [sic] (especially from the top); Competence at all levels of the organisation [sic], through directors, managers, advisors and employees; A structure; and A high level of involvement” (Budworth and Cox, 2005, 46). These elements form the bedrock of any relationship in an organization requiring trust and receive reference in Trist (1981) when discussing the organizational changes required when performing STS successfully.

Scoring the Integration

London and Beatty (1993) demonstrate a valuable insight by describing many “360-Degree Feedback” loops as only “270-Degree” (p. 353). Thus, the first effort in scoring technological integration is ‘360-Degree’s’ of feedback. Those initiating the technological shift, regardless of the technology or lack thereof need to understand the social implications of the change.  A simple scorecard is an effortless tracking system and should be made available to all parties involved in the change. Budworth and Cox (2005) expound upon trust, developing trust, and keeping trust, this is a day-to-day action an organizational leader initiates to followers.

Coombs and Bierly (2006) provide the next items for measurement in scoring technology and the integration process is as follows, “The following six measures of performance are used as dependent variables: return on assets, return on equity, return on sales, market value, market value added, and economic value added” (Coombs and Bierly, 2006, p. 421). Several of these ‘six measures of performance’ include human elements to which McKinnon (2003) and Ropohl (1999) both espouse as critical to technology and integrating technology into an organization. For example, a return on assets for computers purchased to interact with server and intranet technology requires end users. If the end user is unable to effectively use the tool, maximum return on assets remains unachievable, linking back to Wixom and Todd (2005) placing premier emphasis upon “Practical Utility” (p. 86). The same process remains traceable from each of the ‘six measures’ (Coombs and Bierly, 2006, p. 421) to the model espoused and delineated by Wixom and Todd (2005) mentioned above. The same pattern then expanded to each of the items on the scorecard. Leadership, inferred from Robinson (1999) and Toor and Ofori (2008), requires action, differentiation, and risk, along with active empathic listening, to build committed followers. The leader must be a follower and their actions transparent to build the committed trust advocated by London and Beatty (1993).

Suggestions from Research for Best Practices

Ropohl (1999) advocates, Trist (1981) implies, Coombs and Bierly (2006) infer, yet Omar, Takim and Nawawi (2012) emphatically state, a holistic approach to technology integration in STS remains a primary goal.

“…Technological capability refers to an organisation’s [sic] capacity to deploy, develop and utilise [sic] technological resources and integrate them with other complementary resources to supply the differentiated products and services. Technological capability is embodied not only in the employees’ knowledge and skills and the technical system, but also in the managerial system, values and norms” (Omar et al., 2012, p. 211).

More simply summarized, get everyone involved, allow for suggestions from outside the core group of developers and programmers, and keep the three main principles expounded upon by Wixom and Todd (2005) to be the focal point of energy. Technology must first focus on how work is done currently and designed for how work ‘will be done’ eventually. Include the SOP’s in the design; operating procedures develop from both technology and human element exposure. By not including upgrades and revisions to operating procedures while designing and integrating critical design steps, opportunities will be missed and greater expense incurred.

Discussed extensively has been some manner of ‘360-Degree Feedback’ loop in communication. Organizational leaders need to face the fact that they do not have all the answers and feedback is valuable to building the type of trust needed in a constantly changing atmosphere. While feedback loops are part of best practices, the importance of these types of communication requires realization and action. Consider the external customer, as a valuable stakeholder, stop presuming organizational leaders know what is required in every process, procedure, and organizational action taken by every employee at every organizational level, obtain feedback and then market who suggested it e.g. the actual customer gets credit, to build trust and affection for the leadership and the organization by all outside the organization. The same principle applies to internal customers or employees; when a suggestion warrants inclusion, advertise who made the suggestion, when, and display how this is an improvement. 360-Degree Feedback loops also include policies, procedures, work processes, etc. Wixom and Todd (2005) along with Omar et al., (2012) advocate this action as initially prescribed by Toor and Ofori (2008).

Omar et al., (2012) provides the concluding and paramount best practice in technological integration into an STS model, “keep it simple.” Many times an axiom a useful to remember this principle is ‘KISS’ or ‘Keep It Supremely Simple.’ Trist (1981) exemplified this principle by keeping the pieces small, the approach simple, and allowing as much holistic growth from inside the organization as possible. Organizational leaders do not need to ‘dumb down’ the message, but simplify. The difference is vast; the approach declares the difference between ‘dumbing down’ and simplified communications. Consider a ‘dumbed down’ message originates from the position of, “I am better than you, you are too stupid to bother with, and I must talk to you in small terms for your benefit;” whereas, a simple message originates from a position of equality with a desire to be understood primarily. Dandira (2012) places the responsibility for simplicity at the feet of the CEO. When the entire organization, led by the CEO, is engaged in simplification, less political games occur, less regionalism, lowered stress, and higher productivity result. Dandira (2012) calls this approach a cure for organizational cancer, discovery of an organizational cancer cure and a best practice renders itself bench-marketable.

Conclusion

            This document has presented a STS integration model designed by Wixom and Todd (2005) as a preferred set of principles to launch STS. Many organizations are currently engaged upon a major or minor technology shift, thus some of the early design work has been done on the technology, but none of the processes control work have been revamped and new SOP’s published. This woeful lapse will continue to hamper STS until rectified and while this primarily will rest upon organizational leaders, purchasing buy-in from employees and other major stakeholders remains an advocated best practice. By calling upon other IT integration researchers, namely Omar et al., (2012), Wixom and Todd (2005), along with Ertmer (1999), other factors discussed include measurement tools and additional principles for design, implementation, and ultimately integration. The author advocates a holistic approach as supported by the research to embolden employees, value customers, and enhance the brand experience, regardless of position or role in the organization.

References

Budworth, N., & Cox, S. (2005). Trusting tools. The Safety & Health Practitioner, 23(7), 46-48. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/201021810?accountid=458

Coombs, J. E., & Bierly, P. E. (2006). Measuring technological capability and performance. R&D Management, 36(4), 421-438. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9310.2006.00444.x

Dandira, M. (2012). Dysfunctional leadership: Organizational cancer. Business Strategy Series, 13(4), 187-192. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1108/17515631211246267

Ertmer, P. A. (1999). Addressing first- and second-order barriers to change: Strategies for technology integration. Educational Technology, Research and Development, 47(4), 47. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/218016186?accountid=458

London, M., & Beatty, R. W. (1993). 360-degree feedback as a competitive advantage. Human Resource Management (1986-1998), 32(2-3), 353. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/224341530?accountid=458

Omar, R., Takim, R., & Nawawi, A. H. (2012). Measuring of technological capabilities in technology transfer (TT) projects. Asian Social Science, 8(15), 211-221. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/1338249931?accountid=458

Robinson, G. (1999). Leadership vs management. The British Journal of Administrative Management, 20-21. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/224620071?accountid=458

Ropohl, G. (1999). Philosophy of Socio-Technical Systems. Society for Philosophy and Technology, 4. Retrieved June 29, 2014, from: http://scholar.lib.vt.edu/ejournals/SPT/v4_n3html/ROPOHL.html

Toor, S., & Ofori, G. (2008). Leadership versus Management: How They Are Different, and Why. Leadership & Management in Engineering, 8(2), 61-71. doi:10.1061/(ASCE)1532-6748(2008)8:2(61)

Trist, E. (1981). The evolution of socio-technical systems: A conceptual framework and an action program. Occasional Paper. Retrieved June 29, 2014, from: http://www.sociotech.net/wiki/images/9/94/Evolution_of_socio_technical_systems.pdf

Wixom, B. H., & Todd, P. A. (2005). A theoretical integration of user satisfaction and technology acceptance. Information Systems Research, 16(1), 85-102. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/208159952?accountid=458

© 2014 M. Dave Salisbury

All Rights Reserved

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