By Dr. Francis Eberle
Have you ever used a GPS to navigate to a location and found yourself wondering just where you are? How can that be? Having moved several times in a two-year period, I’ve used my GPS more frequently. But when I used it, rarely did I have confidence in where I was. If anyone asked me to reverse my steps without the GPS, I wouldn’t have been able to do it. This is because when I use my GPS I rely fully on it to tell me when to turn and on what street. I occasionally glance at the screen to make sure I’m on the right track, and I don’t pay attention landmarks. The reference points for a return trip are lost because I follow rather than see.
This phenomenon can also occur in the workplace. Technology provides us with tools that are very beneficial. It makes us more efficient in many ways. As we embrace new tech, it is important to remember that they can be flashy and seem to help, but in actuality may be limiting your view. A mistake that leaders sometimes make is depending on the benefits of these technologies to the detriment of the people around them. Email, a complicated multiuser project management tool, or video communication platforms can help us greatly, but aren’t a substitute for the real communication. The ubiquitous nature of apps and software can shade our judgement about the nature of our communication and how it promotes or limits interactions among people in our company.
The digitization of companies has happened and will continue to happen. Mark Johnson in his 2019 Harvard Business Reviewarticle, Digital Growth Depends More on Business Models than Technology addresses my concern about the replacement of people by technology. He described the digitization of Dominos and why it was successful. Dominos’ transformation was a game-changer, but the technology is not what changed its game. It only facilitated the change. Dominos strengthened its cost-volume profitby adding more convenience for customers and associates, and more fun for people. It also upgraded its resources and processes to support its people. Customers and employees were a part of the digitization calculus.
To check if you are using technology to improve your leadership, and not substitute it, here are some questions you can ask:
- How will the technology help me promote connections or interaction with and among employees and customers? More than one client has told me that the primary way they interact with their team is through email. When they do hold meetings, the staff isn’t engaged and often misses performance benchmarks. The introduction of casual “in the hall” interactions, one-on-one check-ins, or formal meetings increases interactions. Ask your team what ideas they have to complete the work. Create sub-team work groups to solve specific problems. Use email for periodic updates, an article or report, the things that aren’t time sensitive.
- In what ways does the technology build more opportunities for my team to observe the processes or important functions people are carrying out? Are you limiting your view because of the perspective provided by the technology platform? Like a GPS mapping program, does it limit the big picture? Ubiquitous performance management systems can do this. If Goals, Key Performance Results and Comments are the only information used for an annual or biannual performance review, then the system is limiting your opportunities for more regular feedback, performance check-ins, or your “view” of the company and its people. Instead take time to learn about day-to-day successes and challenges. You could be walking around talking with your people, listening, asking questions and providing feedback. Even using SCRUM-type meetings or short meetings for quick decisions and actions.
There are terrific project management tools, and they are very helpful for one or more people to be able to track tasks, people, milestones and time. If they become a substitute for check-ins, informal discussions, and formal meetings, leaders will miss the backstory or potential challenges and opportunities. The focus on accomplishing the numbers and checking boxes misses opportunities to move faster and more effectively by being in touch when support is needed.
- How does the technology help with time-sensitive concerns? When things are moving fast and you need responses quickly, what message does it send if the leader emails, texts or notes a comment about a problem? What if you called the employee instead? Which approach do you think will get your message across better? Checking in informally is a great way to get a pulse about what is happening. You can call someone and share your ideas in 15 minutes or less. How does that compare to the other methods listed here, including the back and forth because the message is not clear? If something is time sensitive, walk or use the phone.
Keeping technological tools in perspective can free you up and reduce stress. Sending an email and then waiting for a response builds stress, particularly if you are not in the office. Direct contact is faster and has its benefits, both at work and off-site. Staying attentive to preventing tech from lulling you into complacency or increasing your stress is a good use of time.
I don’t always use my GPS now, and I have gotten lost much more often. But that is changing as I learn more about where I am, and obtain a vision for the route, the people and landmarks. Isn’t that what we want as leaders?
To talk more about personal connection, email Francis at email@example.com.