As technology becomes increasingly advanced, there is a growing need to consider how different technologies can optimise business outcomes while supporting workforce engagement, enhancing job quality and providing ‘good work’.
Macro external factors such as the global pandemic, which accelerated changes in how technology is used in many organisations, as well as rising skills and labour shortages and the need to operate more sustainably, make responsible investment in technology even more important.
This guide, developed in collaboration with Carnegie UK and Institute for the Future of Work, is for people professionals and business leaders who are looking to invest in technology in ways that benefit both their organisation and its people. It provides a framework for examining the critical stages of investment and outlines the critical considerations for embedding technology responsibly into the workplace. The full guide can be accessed from the download link below. An executive summary of the contents and the guide's key points follows further on this page.
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Technology is one of the key drivers of change in both work and many other aspects of life. If designed and deployed responsibly, it has the potential to boost productivity and secure better outcomes for both an organisation and its people. Being responsible means having ethical and sustainable practices that consider and involve the workforce and other stakeholders during business decision-making.
As organisations work through the process of investing in and implementing technology, they should remember that success will depend more on supporting people through the change than on the technology itself.
This means that technology introduction must be aligned with and complemented by relevant changes to the other key elements that make up an organisation – its people, culture, structure and tasks. This will maximise benefits and minimise risks across the organisation.
Our framework to guide people professionals and business leaders in their decision-making around technology investment follows five broad stages.
These stages may overlap or occur concurrently in practice. Each stage should be viewed as iterative in nature, requiring consultation, feedback, review and adjustment throughout.
Stage 1: Understanding why you are investing in technology
Whether the investment is large or small, articulate what investment is seen to be necessary and why. Revisit your organisational objectives and priorities, and assess how the investment would further those aims.
Understand your operational context including consumer expectations and labour market trends. Consider the broader opportunities and challenges presented by external forces, developments or events.
It will be especially important to get the right people involved in defining the problem. Use the tasks that may be most impacted by the potential investment as a focal point and take an inclusive approach. Involve those who have responsibility for or input into the tasks but also others who may be indirectly connected.
Stage 2: Considering the impact on your people
Investigate and weigh up the impact of the technology change on your people. Remember that they are normally involved with or exposed to more than one type of technology, so ensure you consider the overall impact of different technologies in your assessment.
Technology can impact jobs in different ways: intensification, augmentation, substitution, creation, telepresence, transference. Work through the applicable categories, and consider what is needed to capture the benefits and address potential risks.
As with other stages throughout the technology investment process, active consultation and engagement with workers will be vital, especially for assessing impact in a meaningful way. Open and honest dialogue will help build trust and engagement, which will be critical for the latter stages, especially when it comes to rollout.
Stage 3: Choosing the right solution
Choosing the right solution doesn’t always mean buying new technology. It could mean using existing technology in a different way, upgrading existing technology or developing something in-house. It could also mean investing in people’s skills, shaping a new culture, updating the structure or redesigning how work is done.
Ensure you are fully aware of what the technology can or can’t do. Reconvene the stakeholders who helped define the problem and solicit their views on the possible solutions or proposals. If there are stakeholders who were not involved in the initial process, consider this an opportunity to bring them in. Remember that a successful solution requires cohesion among people, culture, structure and tasks with technology.
If buying is the best solution, ensure thorough research is done as you consider possible products, services and vendors. Choosing the right vendor will be particularly important for post-purchase or post-implementation support.
Stage 4: Addressing legal obligations and responsibilities
Responsible investment in technology should not compromise employment rights in any way. It is important to take stock of the underpinning principles to ensure they are not undermined by hasty decision-making.
Employers have a duty of care for the health, safety and welfare of their people, alongside other legal obligations including those relating to employee relations, equality and discrimination, data protection and privacy.
One of the biggest minefields will be for employers operating in multiple jurisdictions with different requirements. Organisations should be particularly alert if technology they intend to adopt has been developed outside of their jurisdiction where there are different legal standards.
In addition to fulfilling legal obligations, responsible investment also extends to taking care of your people. If it becomes clear that technology implementation will lead to jobs being replaced, look at opportunities to retrain and redeploy workers within the organisation before considering redundancies.
Stage 5: Rolling out, supporting and reviewing
Preparation and anticipation of potential sticking points will be essential. Technology implementation often involves a level of uncertainty and a ‘fail fast’ mindset that not everyone may be comfortable with. Build in sufficient time for embedding new processes, remembering that the time needed will likely be longer than you expect.
Identify who or what may be potential blockers that will hinder your rollout and the enablers that will assist it. Think again through the five elements of people, culture, structure, tasks and (existing) technology.
Manage the change by developing a relational rather than a top–down model of leadership. Focus on building trust, engaging your people, and being honest and transparent. Consultation should already be happening, but particularly in the build-up to rollout, maintain continuous dialogue. Help people gain a greater understanding of the implications so that when the investment is made, there is less fear and more constructive conversation.
Equip leaders to manage emotion, sustain energy and momentum. Allocate time and budget up front to support workers to internalise the new ways of working. This includes freeing up time for workers to adapt to the change and time to fix problems. Be sensitive to change fatigue from past initiatives and cognitively overloading workers.
Ensure the same attention to detail is given to physical installation and associated logistics, and routinely conduct impact assessments during and after implementation, considering performance and user experience.
Technology investment may be large or small, vary in complexity and take place in organisations of differing sizes and resources. Adopted responsibly, it can boost productivity and secure better outcomes for both the organisation and its people.
As people professionals and business leaders adapt the principles outlined in this guide to their specific circumstances, our hope is that the exercise would prompt valuable conversations and encourage responsible decision-making around technology investment – ultimately to promote and further the development of ‘good work’ for all.
Read our full guide for further details of the above steps with case study examples.
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