Technology & Culture: Two sides of the same coin

“The biggest risk that we run with digitalisation is that it is the perfect recipe for the cultural fabric to get weaker, if not executed and adopted properly”

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By DN Prasad, Founder & Executive Coach, Noetic Step
(Formerly, Director, People Operations, Google)

HR. Tech. Transformation. Digitalization. Cultural Transformation. Digital Leadership.

Sounds familiar? There isn’t a day in the current times when we do not hear about or experience, one or many of these. And, “where you stand (on these) depends on where you sit (in the organization)”.

As I reflect on this topic, I feel that this Digital Transformation is a confluence of Technology, Culture and Leadership with People at the heart of it.

Technology: There is a lot of talk around Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML). And, it won’t be wrong to say that they are being treated with caution as they could become a possible cause for extinction of jobs. Sounds dramatic. Well, let us remember that there was technology yesterday, there is technology today and there will be, tomorrow. It evolves, and, with it, our thoughts, our approach, and our ways to work, engage, and deliver a great experience… It is critical to look at and treat “tech” as an enabler. And, shift the mindset from one of fear and apprehension to openness to evolve.

Culture: The period between the old and the new is a dangerous place in which we could lose the hearts and minds of employees and users. For a recent Singapore Management University (SMU) Executive Development study, I shared that “the biggest risk that we run with digitalisation is that it is the perfect recipe for the cultural fabric to get weaker, if not executed and adopted properly”. It is never about “lifting and shifting”. It is about what works in the context of the values and therefore, culture of the organization.

Organizations also exist in a larger culture where consumer behavior is shifting, and expectation is changing to a one-click seamless & personalized experiences. In the past decade, the way we travel, shop, transact and even buy our groceries has completely changed. Organizations need to mirror this in their processes to keep pace and create experiences which are designed to reflect the needs and expectations of the workforce today.

Leadership: CXOs and Leaders are crucial for orchestration, to provide a “license to play” and give “meaning” to the symphony. Leadership mindsets/behaviors centering around learning, small-scale experiments and democratization are crucial for the transformation journey. Studies by Development Dimensions International (DDI) suggests that acting decisively, anticipating/being nimble and using data to guide decisions are crucial for digital pioneers. And, being an “always-on” coach is crucial for leaders who are leading their organizations through this journey. It is also important for leaders to create a culture of ‘safety’ where people have the implicit trust in the leader and organization to make decisions with care and empathy. This trust will build the confidence to learn and experiment and help take people along on a journey where the path is often unclear, dynamic and evolving.

People: In a leadership intervention that I was facilitating recently, a (soon-to-be-retiring) leader quotes, “It’s just not about the know-how, it is equally important to focus on the know-who”. While this nugget of wisdom was shared in the context of working in a rather complex Asian ecosystem, it cannot be truer for the space of “Digital Transformation”.

It is important to not lose focus on people and use tech to simplify and enhance their experience be it as a candidate or an employee. Also, there will always be people who are not ready for the next stage... change is resisted and feared. We need to share information transparently, educate, truly listen and take people along... even, if it takes effort. There must be an intentional care that we must show towards people especially in times of change. The biggest differentiator as tech evolves is going to be empathy and we must not lose sight of the human element as we power our processes and experiences through tech.

In conclusion… the question to constantly ask ourselves as leaders is, “Are we doing enough to build trust with people, keep a culture of empathy alive and truly leverage technology as an enabler for building a better future for everyone?”

At the end of the day, are we going to master tech or allow tech to master us?

prasad_blog D N Prasad (DNP) is an Executive Coach (PCC, International Coach Federation), transformational HR Leader, Culture builder, and Mentor/Advisor. DNP was chosen as and awarded the Best HR Leader in the Tenth Annual Singapore HRM Awards 2013; featured as one of the Best HR leaders to watch out for in 2013 in a cover story by HRM Asia; and as one of the Captains of HR in APAC in the 150th edition of HRM magazine in 2014. He serves on the HR Core Advisory Committee for NASSCOM - India, the HR Advisory team for Enterprise Singapore, Singapore and on the Board of Management Studies of T.A. Pai Management Institute, Manipal – India.

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