Technology Selection, Acceptance & Culture

Technology Selection, Adoption & CultureIn my article titled¬†Technology Selection and Cultural Fit, I argue that cultural fit is an important aspect to consider when undertaking Technology Selection projects. While the article was well received by most folks, I did have a few people comment (privately via email and twitter DM) that I was making some broad statements that couldn’t be backed up with hard proof.

I’m all for backing up claims with evidence. I mean I am working on my doctorate you know…nothing like a doctorate program to teach you how to base theories on evidence right? ūüôā

So…let’s take a second to revisit my theory that cultural fit is important to¬†technology selection projects.¬†We’ll start by taking a second to review the idea of Technology Acceptance.

To get started, let’s take a second to review a highlight from my previous article:

…failure to consider organizational culture prior to or during a technology selection project can be disastrous…

Now…the rest of this article dives into why I think culture is a key component of technology acceptance.

Technology Acceptance within Organizations

The Technology Acceptance Model (which I linked to in my previous post but didn’t really discuss) was introduced and popularized by Davis and Bagozzi in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. ¬†You can find a brief discussion of the model on Wikipedia or you can dig through the following papers:

All are great papers and provide a good introduction to the Technology Acceptance Model (TAM for short) and how it can be used in organizations.

The model boils down to two major points for consideration during technology selection. A quick discussion of these points follows.

  1. Perceived Usefulness -The understanding / belief by a user that by using a new technology they will be able to do their job better / faster / more effectively.
  2. Perceived Ease of Use – The understanding / belief by a user that a new technology will be easy to learn and use and will require little effort to use on a regular basis.

Notice that the model uses the word “perceived” for both major issues affecting technology acceptance. ¬†Perception is key….if the users perceive that something is difficult to use or that it will not make their job easier, they will not use it to its full potential…if they use it at all.

The TAM has been built upon many research projects, all of which are very rigorous and the model has been the basis of a ton of other research projects with similar results.

Based on my research and my experience, I believe the Technology Acceptance Model is a fairly good model to use as a rule-of-thumb while looking at an organization’s ability to accept a new technology. ¬†In fact, in most of my technology selection projects, I’ve used the TAM as a starting point when surveying organizations to help determine a baseline for the organizations willingness to accept new technology.

Acceptance is an important aspect to technology selection wouldn’t you agree? ¬†Without acceptance, technology is useless.

Technology Selection, Acceptance & Culture

Now that we all have a baseline understanding of one theory around technology acceptance (there are other more complicated theories than the TAM), let’s take a second to look at how culture plays into this and how it can greatly affect technology selection.

I think we can all agree that acceptance of any new technology is important. ¬†The perception of the usefulness and ease of use of any new platform is extremely important. ¬†Definitely something to consider during technology selection projects, no?¬†I believe these two areas (usefulness and ease of use) are considered during selection projects, but I don’t think the real underlying cultural aspects are well understood. ¬†¬†What do I mean by the ‘underlying cultural aspects’ behind ease of use and usefulness?

Organizational culture plays a large role in creating the concept of ease of use and usefulness to an individual. ¬†Think about it this way…ease of use and usefulness is a factor of how a person perceives technology as a whole and for the most part, that perception is shaped and driven by the underlying organizational culture.¬†While the TAM is a bit too simplistic to model every individual’s reaction to new technology, it can be used as a baseline heuristic for how well the organization will accept new technology.

The culture of an organization plays a large part in the individual’s reaction to new technology and platforms.¬†Before undertaking a technology selection project, if you can take some time to understand the the cultural proclivity towards acceptance of technology, the selection project might be more successful. ¬† ¬†With the culture of the organization better understood, you can add some additional filters a more robust selection criteria.

Have I provided “proof” that my idea of culture playing a large part in technology selection project outcomes? Nope…but I might find a way to do so in the future ūüôā ¬†Sometimes you need proof…sometimes you can just go with faith that something feels ‘right’ and you should go with it.¬†With this particular issue, I feel that¬†organizational¬†culture has played such a large role in the success and failure of technology selection projects that it feels ‘right’ to say culture and technology selection are intertwined.

Stay tuned for more on this topic…I’m hoping to put together another post with some actionable items for use in your next technology selection project.

Technology Selection and Cultural Fit

technology selectionDid you know that technology selection is about much more than technology?

Yep…its true…..but most people don’t realize it.

Many in the IT world love to get asked to be a part of a technology selection project. These types of projects usually provide a learning opportunity for everyone on the team and an chance to really help drive the platforms used within the enterprise.

The basic question at hand for most technology selection projects really comes down to “‘what do we need and how much is it?”

With that question in mind, most IT professionals approach technology selection with the following three questions in mind:

These three questions definitely cover a great deal of requirements….but one major area is missing. ¬†I’d add the following:

Does the technology fit the culture?

Pretty broad question but one that’s extremely important to answer.

Now…one could argue that cultural fit should fit into the non-functional requirements or selection criteria selection questions…and I’d agree. That said, very few people really consider organizational culture when choosing technology.

Cultural Fit – why worry?

Why should we worry about cultural fit when selecting technology?

Simple…organizational culture is a key driver of technology acceptance and adoption.

Company culture will dictate how much support for a new technology is required. It will make a difference whether your users will take it upon themselves to learn a new technology or expect to have their hands through detailed training classes.

Culture will also determine how technology is used. Will the technology you select and implement by used in some new, innovative way or will it barely be used for its intended purpose?

Cultural fit is just as important to an organization as functional requirements but its an often overlooked  step in technology selection.

A Case Study in Cultural Fit and Technology Selection

I was hired by a large organization a few years ago to implement and manage development and customization for Sitecore CMS. ¬†The project was an interesting one…the organization hadn’t used a content management system prior to their selection of Sitecore and had been building all websites using HTML and flat-file databases through a two person web team.

The team responsible for the selection and implementation of Sitecore CMS had assumed that the platform could be rolled out and anyone / everyone in the organization would be allowed into the system to input and manage their own content.

Now…with the proper people and culture, this might not have been a bad idea. ¬†But the culture of this organization at the time was top-down command and control where everyone had been conditioned to do as they were told. ¬†At the time there was even a paper based communication approval process that required at least 5 signatures (sometimes more) before anything was allowed to be published to the web (this process has since changed for the better).

Can you imagine implementing a technology like Sitecore with built in workflow processes, approval processes and publishing capabilities and to not really use those processes because a paper-based approval system existed?  I will note that the Sitecore driven workflow processes were considered as a replacement for the paper-based system but never properly embraced or used.

With a culture built around waiting for your boss to tell you what to do, do you think the CMS platform was accepted and embraced by the users?

Another issue that was obvious from the beginning of this project was the complete lack of understanding of everything ‘web’ within this organization. ¬†This was very much an¬†organization¬†with a “print” mentality and modern digital communications and marketing concepts weren’t well understood by most.

Needless to say, the plans to roll out Sitecore to the entire organization never really panned out. There were pockets of people and teams within the organization that were chomping at the bit to get into Sitecore but that was the exception rather than the rule.

Technology Selection – Lessons learned

What can we learn from this example? ¬†The strategic objective behind selecting and implementing Sitecore was sound. ¬†So were the functional requirements…the platform is an excellent platform and fit into the organization’s overall technology architecture and roadmap.

A failure¬†occurred¬†when the technology met the culture of the organization. ¬† The culture was rooted in ‘do nothing wrong’ and ‘receive approval for everything’. ¬†This culture let the¬†inability for the people within the organization to understand, embrace and use a technology that allowed individual achievement, initiative and innovation.

If the real goal of this organization was to put the power of digital communications and marketing technology in the hands of individuals (with proper workflow processes of course), a first step should have been to take on some form of organizational readiness study prior to technology selection.  If this had been done, perhaps a different technology would have been selected or at least a different plan for rolling out the selected technology could have been created.  Perhaps some organizational & cultural changes could have been implemented to allow this technology to better serve the needs of the company & people.

Regardless of what could have been done differently, the basic lesson is this: failure to consider organizational culture prior to or during a technology selection project can be¬†disastrous. ¬†Next time you take on a selection project, add the ‘cultural¬†fit’ question to your list of things to consider…you may just be surprised at how differently your selection criteria and project turn out with this in mind.

Culture and the CIO

Did you catch the news earlier this week?¬†¬† Gene De Libero and I started a new blog titled “CIO Essentials“.¬† Gene and I have known each other for a few years now and recently collaborated on an article for Cutter IT Journal titled “The Futureproof CIO“.¬† That collaboration has turned into CIO Essentials (CIOE).

I had the pleasure of writing the first article to be published on CIOE and wanted to share it here for my regular readers/subscribers.¬† I hope you decide to join Gene and I over at CIOEssentials.com where we’ll be writing more on the topics of business, leadership, technology, and the people technology serves.

Culture and the CIO was first published on CIOEssentials.com on March 1 2010.

What’s the culture of your organization?

Have you built a hard-charging, do anything organization that demands things get done now? Or are you working in an organization that thinks things through, plans them out and takes years to get anything done? Perhaps you’re somewhere between these two extremes.

Personally, I’d rather be closer to the get it done (and get it done right) scenario than planning everything to death, but I’ve seen both types of cultures work. As the CIO, before you can deliver value to your organization, you must understand the culture within your organization.

‚ÄúWhen planning for a year, plant corn. When planning for a decade, plant trees. When planning for life, train and educate people.‚ÄĚ – Chinese Proverb

Culture and the CIO

What is culture within an organization? Most agree that organizational culture is the shared beliefs, values and norms that are held by the people within an organization.

What are the shared beliefs of your organization? Are you focused on moving quickly to beat your competition? Are you an innovative organization that wants to be at the forefront of the market? Or are you one of those companies that like to plan things to death and take years to get anything done?

Whatever your organizational culture, you’ve got to stay in sync with that culture or you might find yourself out of a job.

Story Time

Patty is a newly hired VP of IT for a mid-sized business in Chicago. Patty’s previous employer was a large, demanding company and Patty really thrived in that type of environment – she essentially grew-up in that hard driving organization.

In her previous role, she expected her staff to be as demanding and driven as she was, and for the most part, they were. Patty had worked her way up the ranks to a Director level role but was itching to move further up the ladder. After some internal review, she quickly found a VP role that seemed like a good fit and after a few months of negotiation, she accepted the position as the top IT person within the organization.

Patty was excited to have to an opportunity to finally run her own shop. After all, she’d been working towards this opportunity her entire career. Patty had finally arrived. She was the head of IT and could implement all the really cool processes and technologies that she’d been hearing about.

Patty brought her driven, hard-charging approach to IT to her new position – and immediately flopped. The culture of her new company was a slow-moving one. The people were methodical and planned things out to the ‘nth’ degree before moving forward with a project. There were committees and task forces for everything and not a single decision was made without going through a few rounds of committee discussions. Change was tough.

The Slow Pace of Progress

Patty railed against the slow pace of progress. She drove her IT staff to ‘pick up the pace’ and drove her managers into a frenzy trying to accomplish everything she wanted to get done as quickly as possible.

Sadly (and predictably), after six months, Patty had accomplished nothing. None of the high-priority projects had been completed and most hadn’t even been started. Patty’s boss, the CFO, pulled her into his office one day and suggested that she reign things in. He shared that the organization had always taken the slow approach and that wasn’t something that was likely to change any time soon.

This slow-and-steady approach had proven to be the success factor for them. He went on to explain that, while they weren’t the industry leader, they were extremely profitable. It was their organizational culture that was the driving factor behind that success.

Patty countered with her standard argument that the organization moved too slow and that she couldn’t get anything done at that pace. She couldn’t fund any of the projects that she’d made a priority. All projects were well-vetted before being funded because every project that was funded took money away from other parts of the business.

Outcomes

While there are actually a few points that can be made with this story, the one I want to highlight is the cultural issues apparent.

Patty didn’t understand the role of organizational culture within the company. She didn’t understand that culture exists for a reason and that the culture is made up of the values and belief systems of the people within the organization.

Patty thought she was railing against the snail’s pace of progress, but she was actually telling every single person within that company that they were wrong. Nobody likes to be told that they’re wrong, but telling an entire organization that they way they’ve done business for years is wrong is a career suicide mission. It can be difficult to recover once you’ve alienated enough people within the organization.

Patty never recovered. She was shown the door withing a few months of her meeting with the CFO. The reason for her dismissal? She didn’t fit the ‘culture’ of the organization.

Focus on Culture

Whether you’re looking to move another organization or you’ve moved into a new role at your current company, you’ve got to consider the organizational culture while considering how you’ll reach your objectives. You can’t be successful as a fast-moving IT manager if your team’s spent the last 20 years moving slowly.

Keep organizational culture in mind while planning out your next project, job or strategic plan.

Culture and the CIO was first published on CIOEssentials.com on March 1 2010.

Participative Management

When I first heard of participative management, I thought that it must be some ‘new fad’ (which isn’t true at all) and after reading a few things about this management model, I decided to dive a little deeper.

Participative management has been defined by Barron’s as:

An open form of management where employees have a strong decision-making role. Participative management is developed by managers who actively seek a strong cooperative relationship with their employees. The advantages of participative management include increased productivity, improved quality, and reduced costs

To get a good look at this type of management style, all you need to do is read the book Maverick by Ricardo Semler. The book has been around for quite some time…it was originally published in 1988 as Turning the Tables and republished in 1993 as Maverick. The book does a good job of explaining the transformation of Semco into a large, profitable conglomerate. The key to Semco’s success, according to Semler, is their implementation of participative management.

There are other examples of companies who have been successful using this type of organizational mentality are. The most well known is probably W.L. Gore & Associates (makers of Gore-Tex), who have embraced participative management methods for many years.

The W.L. Gore website provides the following as an example of their corporate culture:

Our founder, Bill Gore created a flat lattice organization. There are no chains of command nor pre-determined channels of communication. Instead, we communicate directly with each other and are accountable to fellow members of our multi-disciplined teams.

How does all this happen? Associates (not employees) are hired for general work areas. With the guidance of their sponsors (not bosses) and a growing understanding of opportunities and team objectives, associates commit to projects that match their skills. All of this takes place in an environment that combines freedom with cooperation and autonomy with synergy.

The ideas behind participative management are fairly straightforward and something that I agree with. I’ve always believed in open and honest communications, freedom and transparency.

I’m sure that there are people out there that look at this type of management model as being ‘soft’, but I look at it and see some things that I like. Namely:

  • Transparency of business operations
  • Employee growth through job rotation
  • Open & Honest Communications
  • Employee involvement in their career

There are some things that I don’t like (or perhaps I just don’t understand them) about the Semco version of participative management though. Some of the things described in Maverick are hard for me to swallow…especially the fact that the employees have the ability to set their own salaries. Somehow this just doesn’t sit well with me.

But who am I to argue…it seems to have worked for Semco and W.L. Gore and possibly other organizations. If you know of any other organizations that have succeeded using a participative management model, I’d love to hear about them.

[tags] W.L. Gore, Semco, Participative Management, Ricardo Semler, Maverick [/tags]

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