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Leaders must consider the impact of tech on their people, not just their profits

By Ben Dansie

"It has become appallingly obvious that our technology has exceeded our humanity" - Albert Einstein (Scientist)

It is not controversial to say that every large corporate we serve is going through some kind of technology transformation. Forrester believe 42% of all CEOs have begun ‘digital business transformation’. 56% say it is already improving profits and nearly a quarter are taking it to the very heart of their business model. Few, however, are able to speak to the impact that these technology changes have on their workforce, or the manner in which they communicate about the impact of this change with their colleagues.

It is a fascinating, difficult challenge. One of the unique dimensions of our work at Omobono is that we straddle both external and internal communication at corporate brands. A senior executive at one of world’s largest pharmaceutical companies told us that it is just this perspective that makes us valuable to them. We bring experience from outside of the organisation to how we help large enterprises communicate effectively.

Many leaders it seems use technology as a Trojan horse. Often for all the right reasons. Look at Aviva’s CEO Mark Wilson’s Digital Garage in Hoxton. Mr. Wilson gave them, admirably, the brief to cannibalise their own business to build a new one. A more obvious agent for change is hard to think of. No doubt it is being successful but how to bring the rest of the company along with it, learn at the same speed, develop the new behaviours and buy into the thinking. Much harder.

Clients come to us and ask the same questions. As Libby Larsen (a US composer says); “the great myth of our times is that technology is communication”. Building a technology transformation programme without considering the human impact is almost bound to fail. Where our clients are beginning to get it right is their CEOs are seeking the answers to this question at the start of technology programme. The vision of leadership, the articulation of that vision, their visibility, commitment and tone all can have an impact. How leadership communicates with each other is also something where we have seen great success at bringing cross-divisional buy-in.

Indeed the with technology transformation and the rise of AI, the real danger is not that computers will begin to think like men, but that men will begin to think like computers (not my line, but that of Sydney Harris). As we race towards more technology not less, it is enshrining the humanity, creativity and empathy of a workforce that is the essence of long-term success. Omobono believes culture will always remain the enduring source of competitive differentiation. Whether it’s the culture of innovation at Google, the culture of customer happiness at Zappos or the culture of freedom and responsibility at Netflix, it’s likely the management teams from those companies point to the employees and the DNA of the organisations as the primary reasons for their success.

So whilst technology will revolutionise organisations, Schlesinger puts it nicely when he says that memory, tradition and myth frame our response. Clients are getting it right where they reframe these big, hairy, technology plays around pillars like customers, brand, technology, people, values and growth. Clients are succeeding when they can explain technology to their colleagues as a story where their roles are clearly scripted.

Digital transformation is not human transformation. Over the years we have seen many approaches succeed from helping the C Suite ‘sell’ change to each other, to ambassadors, town halls, physical and digital communication hotspots. There are even tools now ( for example) that can help splice an individual’s goals to the organisations. You wouldn’t build a new factory without training a workforce. The same goes for these big digital plays, more than ever we need a map for the new landscape. And corporate brands do differ from consumer brands – the role and value of people still has primacy in the corporate world. Mostly technology is about enable people to be the best they can possibly be.

Richard Gingras is the boss of Google News and he believes that whilst technology is powerful it is not malevolent and is not about to eat our lunches in our corporate canteens. Einstein did say technology is exceeding humanity; but he also said that the human spirit must prevail over technology. For large organisations that are planning major technology change; take note.

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