Can technology drive organizational culture?


Can you enhance your company’s culture with technology? Businesses are certainly trying.

As companies realize their success relies on creating an environment where “soft skills” like communication, collaboration and innovation thrive, companies are seeking out their business models for the future — becoming more digital, tech savvy and agile in adapting to change, says Christa Degnan Manning, VP of solution provider research, Bersin, Deloitte Consulting LLP.

“By the nature of changing the business, changing the strategy and getting the culture to facilitate and drive that change, they are embracing newer technologies in and of themselves to be the mechanism of the culture shift,” Manning says.

Establishing a culture; reinforcing it with technology
An organization’s culture is being set and reset every day, says Jordan Birnbaum, VP and chief behavioral economist at ADP.

“To the extent that you want certain principles to be a bedrock of your organizational culture, that means you have to make them available to people every time,” he said. “Technology offers an opportunity to make sure that the organization’s intentions for the kind of culture it wants are communicated with regularity. If a company establishes that collaboration is important, how do you support it? What tools facilitate it?”

When Capital One wanted to increase collaboration both within teams and between teams, it began using Slack, a communication and collaboration software platform, in its tech department, enabling employees to have real-time interactions to exchange code and share ideas, recommendations and presentations.

Companies large and small are adopting tech tools to support their culture. Buffer, a social media management platform, already used Slack for communication, but also uses a transparency dashboard as a hub to provide details on employee salaries, pricing, revenue, fundraising and diversity.

Time for a change?
Technology is most often used to change a culture or sustain and reinforce a culture when an organization is at a turning point, says Manning. Mergers or divestitures, a new CEO coming on board, difficulty attracting or retaining employees or a need to incorporate nontraditional employees into the organization may trigger the need to consciously develop the culture, she says.

But companies can’t always update entire HR platforms, says Manning. Instead, they may use specific pieces to address the biggest cultural pain points.

Tech tools for improving culture fall into three main areas: performance management, employee recognition, or listening through feedback, says Raphael Crawford-Marks, co-founder and CEO of Bonusly, an employee recognition platform. Although technology isn’t always necessary to attain these improvements in culture, it ultimately will be helpful, he says.

“It could be done with pen and paper, but as companies scale up, it gets harder and harder. It also is harder to mine the data in aggregate to gain insights,” Crawford-Marks said. Using technology to help engage the workforce in a scalable way improves the workplace. And as companies grow and become more dispersed, recognition is the hardest to scale without using technology, he says.

Using the right tools…effectively
Company initiatives can fail when the tools used don’t recognize true human behavior, cautions Birnbaum. Drawing on his background as a behavioral economist, Birnbaum says that HR initiatives are frequently designed for the way we wish people were, not the way they truly are.

He helps build software tools that incorporate behavioral economics to steer people toward positive behavior. Whether it’s using new knowledge on how the brain learns (i.e. short, frequent training) or how long it takes to create buy-in from users before they will accept recommendations or how framing a choice can influence the employee to truly act in self-interest, Birnbaum says that understanding our inherent “predictable irrationality” will help create tech tools that are more effective in driving cultural change.

The health of a company’s culture is difficult to measure, but employee engagement is necessary for a positive employee experience. Tech tools are a key part of managing an era of coming change. The percentage of employees participating in the programs and the feedback they are providing, along with other statistics like changes in turnover and absenteeism, or in the achievement of business objectives are indications of whether a company is making progress.


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