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Courage in the Time of Technology

October 25, 2016 | By Amanda Jensen

  • Transitioning people and organizations through technology adoption requires strong leadership skills
  • Effective technology adoption is a psychological and skills-based process that requires good planning and execution
  • As the rate of technology adoption increases, a good adoption process becomes more critical

Courage isn’t a word we commonly associate with technology. We save courage for talks of epic battles and events long past, or of family and friends who bravely endure difficult times. But courage has a bigger role to play in technology than you might think. Technology is incredibly disruptive in a variety of ways and often assaults our organizations, our people, our industries, our markets and our buyers all at the same time. Worst of all, that disruption is not all bad, or all good. It’s a mixed bag of benefits, change, frustration, more change and amazing opportunities – all in one. Most importantly, the mechanisms we have for organically processing and adapting to change work best with other humans. We can’t exactly take a new piece of software out for lunch, ask about its kids and find some common ground. When you add to these challenges the fact that organizations are in a near constant state of technological adoption, and thus a near constant state of disruption, it’s not surprising that good intentions, or even good communication and teamwork, don’t always suffice.

Leading people through this level of disruption requires courage, because as non-human as technologies are, their selection, purchase, adoption, integration, rollout and absorption into an organization are fundamentally human activities. And you cannot successfully lead human beings through that kind of transformation without courage – “the strength of mind to face hardship resolutely,” to paraphrase Merriam-Webster.

Consider, for a moment, the impact of technology on the sales profession. An entire culture built on relationships, people,human psychology and behavior is shifting into one that responds to digital, data-driven customer and buyer signals. For a rep who has already shifted to sales force automation systems, real-time forecasting, social selling and the digitization of process, the shift to analyzing data patterns instead of people may just be a bridge too far. Or think about the impact of technology on something like content marketing. What happens to the profession when buyer data and machine learning combine to create auto-generated, adaptive, personalized content on demand, as the buyer scrolls down a page? Where does the art of marketing go when content becomes a self-teaching algorithm? These fundamentally human impacts and changes are going to happen, and we are going to ask and pay for them, and yet we classify them as technological impacts, which obscures how much the skills, the knowledge, the attitudes, the behaviors and the emotions of the people in an organization contribute to a piece of technology’s success or failure, and thus to the organization’s success or failure.

If you find yourself leading a group or organization that is navigating a major technological shift (internal, external or both), take a moment to consider how critical courage will be in the following areas:

  • Planning for the impact on everyone in the organization, and not just those who are quick to adopt or adjust
  • Accounting for the potential negative impact from the shift, and not just how people will benefit
  • Motivating people to acquire the new competencies they will need to succeed in their changed roles, rather than leaving them to sink or swim
  • Educating them in a way that helps drive strong performance, instead of dictating to them
  • Anticipating the points of failure and resistance that come with change, rather than avoiding confrontations

Courage is not the absence of fear. It is the ability to look clearly at that fear and act in spite of it, to resist the self-protective instinct to be silent. Technological change, by its very nature, is human change, and human change never goes well when it’s led by fear or by silence. So if you find yourself leading in times of technological change, take a moment to contact us to discuss what exactly it means to lead your organization with courage in the time of technology. You may not be fighting the epic battles of history, but if you are a technology leader today, you are inherently leading people through an enormous, courageous transition.