Why you should treat the tech you use at work like a colleague | Nadjia Yousif

So, imagine a company hires
a new employee, best in the business, who’s on a multimillion-dollar contract. Now imagine that whenever this employee
went to go meet with her team members, the appointments
were ignored or dismissed, and in the meetings that did happen, she was yelled at or kicked out
after a few minutes. So after a while, she just
went quietly back to her desk, sat there with none of her skills
being put to use, of course, being ignored by most people, and of course, still getting paid
millions of dollars. This hotshot employee
who can’t seem to catch a break is that company’s technology. This scenario is not an exaggeration. In my job as a technology advisor, I’ve seen so many companies
make the well-meaning decisions to put huge investments into technology, only to have the benefits
fail to live up to the expectation. In fact, in one study I read, 25 percent of technology projects are canceled or deliver things
that are never used. That’s like billions of dollars
just being wasted each year. So why is this? Well, from what I’ve seen, the expectation from the top management
is high but not unreasonable about the benefits from the technology. They expect people will use them, it will create time savings, and people will become
genuinely better at their jobs. But the reality is that
the people on the front line, who are supposed to be using
these softwares and tools, they’re skeptical or even afraid. We postpone the online trainings, we don’t bother to learn the shortcuts, and we get frustrated
at the number of tools we have to remember
how to log into and use. Right? And that frustration,
that guilt — it’s racking up, the more that technology is inserting
itself into our daily working lives, which is a lot. Brookings says that 70 percent
of jobs today in the US require at least mid-level digital skills. So basically, to work these days, you need to be able
to work with technology. But from what I’ve seen, we are not approaching this
with the right mindset. So here’s the idea
that I’ve been toying with: What if we treated technology
like a team member? I’ve been writing my own
personal experiment about this. I’ve spoken to people
from all different industries about how they can treat
their core technologies like colleagues. I’ve met with people
from the restaurant industry, medical professionals, teachers, bankers, people from many other sectors, and the first step with anybody
that I would meet with was to draw out
the structure of their teams in an organization chart. Now, I’m a total geek
when it comes to organization charts. Org charts are really cool
because, if they are drawn well, you can quickly get a sense
of what individual roles are and also how a team works well together. But if you look at a typical org chart, it only includes the boxes and lines
that represent people. None of the technology
team members are there. They’re all invisible. So for each of the organizations
that I met with for my experiment, I had to draw a new type of org chart, one that also included the technology. And when I did this, people I spoke to could actually visualize
their technologies as coworkers, and they could ask things like: “Is this software reporting
to the right person?” “Does this man and machine team
work well together?” “Is that technology
actually the team member that everybody’s awkwardly avoiding?” So I will walk you through an example
of a small catering company to bring this experiment to life. This is the top layer of people
who work at Bovingdons Catering Company. There’s a sales director, who manages
all of the customer interactions, and there’s an operations director,
who manages all the internal activities. And here’s the people who report
to the sales and operations directors. And finally, here’s the view where we’ve overlaid
the software and the hardware that’s used by the Bovingdons staff. Using this amazing org chart,
we can now explore how the human team members
and the technology team members are interacting. So the first thing
that I’m going to look for is where there’s a human
and machine relationship that’s extra critical. Usually, it’s somebody using a technology on a day-to-day basis
to do his or her job. At Bovingdons, the finance director with
the accounting platform would be one. Next, I would check on the status
of their collaboration. Are they working well together? Getting along? In this case, it turned out to be
a tenuous relationship. So, what to do? Well, if the accounting platform
were actually a person, the finance director would feel
responsible for managing it and taking care of it. Well, in the same way, my first suggestion was to think
about a team-building activity, maybe getting together
on a specialist course. My second suggestion was to think about
scheduling regular performance reviews for the accounting platform, where the finance director
would literally give feedback to the company who sold it. Now, there will be several of these
really important human and machine teams in every organization. So if you’re in one,
it’s worth taking the time to think about ways to make
those relationships truly collaborative. Next, I’ll look on the chart
for any human role which might be overloaded by technology, let’s say, interacting with four
or more types of applications. At Bovingdons, the operations director
was interacting with five technologies. Now, he told me that he’d always felt
overwhelmed by his job, but it wasn’t until our conversation that he thought it might be because
of the technologies he was overseeing. And we were talking that, if the operations director had actually
had a lot of people reporting to him, he probably would have done
something about it, because it was stretching him too thin, like, move some of them
to report to somebody else. So in the same way, we talked about
moving some of the technologies to report to someone else, like the food inventory to go to the chef. The last thing that I’ll look for
is any technology that seems to be on the org chart
without a real home. Sometimes they’re floating around
without an owner. Sometimes they’re reporting
to so many different areas that you can’t tell
who’s actually using it. Now, at Bovingdons, nobody appeared to be looking after
the marketing software. It was like someone had hired it
and then didn’t give it a desk or any instructions on what to do. So clearly, it needed a job description, maybe someone to manage it. But in other companies, you might find that a technology
has been sidelined for a reason, like it’s time for it
to leave or be retired. Now, retiring applications
is something that all companies do. But maybe taking the mindset that those
applications are actually coworkers could help them to decide when and how
to retire those applications in the way that would be least destructive
to the rest of the team. I did this experiment
with 15 different professionals, and each time it sparked an idea. Sometimes, a bit more. You remember that hotshot employee
I was telling you about, that everybody was ignoring? That was a real story
told to me by Christopher, a very energetic human resources manager
at a big consumer goods company. Technology was a new HR platform, and it had been installed
for 14 months at great expense, but nobody was using it. So we were talking about how, if this had really been such a hotshot
employee with amazing credentials, you would go out of your way
to get to know it, maybe invite them for coffee, get to know their background. So in the spirit of experimentation, Christopher set up one-hour appointments, coffee optional, for his team members to have no agenda
but to get to know their HR system. Some people, they clicked around
menu item by menu item. Other people, they searched online
for things that they weren’t clear about. A couple of them got together,
gossiped about the new software in town. And a few weeks later,
Christopher called to tell me that people were using
the system in new ways, and he thought it was going to save them
weeks of effort in the future. And they also reported feeling
less intimidated by the software. I found that pretty amazing, that taking this mindset
helped Christopher’s team and others that I spoke to
these past few months actually feel happier
about working with technology. And I later found out
this is backed up by research. Studies have shown that people
who work in organizations that encourage them to talk about
and learn about the technologies in the workplace have 20 percent lower stress levels than those in organizations that don’t. I also found it really cool
that when I started to do this experiment, I started with what was happening
between a person and an individual technology, but then it ultimately led to ideas
about how to manage tech across entire companies. Like, when I did this
for my own job and extended it, I thought about how
our data analysis tools should go on the equivalent
of a job rotation program, where different parts of the company
could get to know it. And I also thought about suggesting
to our recruiting team that some of the technologies
we work with every day should come with us
on our big recruiting events. If you were a university student, how cool would it be to not
only get to know the people you might be working with, but also the technologies? Now, all of this begs the question: What have we been missing by keeping the technologies
that we work with day to day invisible, and what, beyond those
billions of dollars in value, might we be leaving on the table? The good news is, you don’t need to be
an org chart geek like me to take this experiment forward. It will take a matter
of minutes for most people to draw out a structure
of who they work with, a little bit longer
to add in the technologies to get a view of the entire team, and then you can have fun
asking questions like, “Which are the technologies
that I’ll be taking out for coffee?” Now, I didn’t do this experiment for kicks or for the coffee. I did it because the critical skill
in the 21st-century workplace is going to be to collaborate
with the technologies that are becoming such a big and costly
part of our daily working lives. And from what I was seeing,
we are struggling to cope with that. So it might sound counterintuitive, but by embracing the idea that these
machines are actually valuable colleagues, we as people will perform better and be happier. So let’s all share a bit of humanity towards the technologies
and the softwares and the algorithms and the robots who we work with, because we will all be the better for it. Thank you. (Applause)