This article is part of our Essential Guide: A guide to HR technology

Technology will make businesses more 'human'

Technology will make organisations less hierarchical, more decentralised and more democratic – in other words, more human

Costas Markides, professor of strategy and entrepreneurship at the London Business School, predicts that technology will make organisations less hierarchical, more decentralised and more democratic – in other words more human.

“The implication is becoming very clear. We are running away from running organisations like a machine to running them like a brain. We are moving from a rules-based world to a purpose-based world,” he said in an interview with Computer Weekly.

The trend will have radical implications for the way organisations manage their employees.

Markides (pictured) argues that companies, and IT departments in particular, should give up trying to control and restrict how employees use technology and should instead refocus their energies in developing a sense of corporate purpose.

“People ask me how I make sure that when my employees work, they are working on company projects, rather than sending emails to their friends or using Facebook. My answer is that you can’t,” he said, speaking in advance of a major conference on HR and technology.

The solution is to help employees buy in to the organisation's corporate goals. If they feel passionate about what the organisation is trying to do, they will devote their energy to the company’s goals rather than their own, says Markides.

Knowing your onions

He cites the example of a French supermarket, LeClerc, which he says has managed to instill a level of passion that is rare in an organisation devoted to selling tomatoes and onions.

“If you talk to the employees, they claim to be modern-day crusaders, taking from the rich and giving to the poor. The organisation has told them 'we are taking on the big suppliers, we are breaking monopolies',” he said. “People laugh, but the idea is to sell a sense of corporate purpose to employees.”

As social media and consumer technology becomes more embedded in organisations, companies will need to recognise that every employee now has the potential to damage or enhance the company’s reputation.

Reputation is priceless

One American Airlines passenger, for example, generated a storm of good publicity for the company on Twitter. The airline had picked up his tweet that his flight was running late, and booked him a new connection, prompting admiration from other Twitter users.

But things can go the other way too. A hapless TV engineer became the subject of a viral video after he fell asleep on a customer’s couch for an hour, waiting for his firm's helpline to answer the phone – and was filmed by the householder.

“That video has now been seen by 10 million people. Think of the damage that has done to the company,” he said.

The IT department cannot control social media, he suggests. Instead, IT professionals will need to work with the human resources (HR) department and the rest of the company to make sure that every employee realises they are responsible for customer care, even if they don’t work with customers.

“You can’t stop what people say on the internet, or on Twitter. You just have to accept it and ask 'How can I make sure in a decentralised world, that every single employee tries to keep customers satisfied?,” he said.

How social media is changing companies

  • Hierarchy to networks
  • Centralised to decentralised
  • Closed innovation to open innovation
  • Autocratic to democratic

Source: Costas Markides

Risk of losing data

The risks will become greater for IT departments.  Bring your own device (BYOD) schemes will mean that employees are more at risk of losing company data. And IT departments will face higher costs if they support more devices. But companies will benefit by becoming more decentralised. They will be able to hire freelance experts working in other parts of the world and have them work alongside permanent members of staff.

And they will increasingly turn to crowdsourcing on the internet to help them solve problems or generate innovative ideas.

“Before you only had internal employees working on company projects. Now you have internal and external people working on the same project," he said.

Internet is changing the brain

And there is evidence that technology is changing the way people, not just companies, think. Use of the internet, says Markides, is making physical changes to the brain.

“All of our brains are physically changing. Our attention span is becoming very small. We pay attention for 30 seconds and then our brain moves on to something else,” he said.

That could have implications for the type of people organisations hire in the future, and the way they train them, he said.

Costas Markides is speaking at HR Technology Europe, which takes place on 24 and 25 October 2013.

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