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Stephen Walker

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Technology, work and management pt2


Stephen Walker concludes his piece about the highs and lows of embracing technology. Read part one here.


What the technology doesn’t do is guide us in the sensible use of the information. That requires wisdom. The expert who can judge between the competing theoretical descriptions to choose the one most relevant right now. When knowledge is so cheaply and widely available, valuing wisdom can be easily overlooked.


All this technology does allow more communication. We are all slaves to our email inbox now. Widely dispersed teams can communicate over social media like Yammer. These are good ways to glue communities together. This allows the ability to put together a collection of global experts to work on a project that may be very short-lived. Those experts’ working lives will consist of a constant melée of projects as they focus more tightly on their expertise and the wisdom they have to share.

The more does perhaps mean the less though: how do you maintain your involvement, motivation and commitment to something that only exists on-screen? There is nothing like some physical eyeball time to build a team, who are involved in achieving something of significance.

The boring stuff about making people work, or management, with computers

Hands up if you ever have a problem with your computer. As a business transformation consultant I see a lot of instances where the IT just doesn’t work properly and is a source of intense frustration. The fact that management ignore this malfunction makes the people feel less valued to add to the lost capability.

Somehow people have become secondary to IT: have we forgotten which the tool is and which the motive power? The remoteness, the greater span of control and the software tools allow managers to monitor their people more precisely. Activity is easier to measure than achievement of course, as achievement implies a judgement, requiring wisdom. Some years ago I wrote an April Fools' day article which promoted two highly irrelevant products which would destroy any intrinsic motivation in the people the products were used to monitor. That was the April Fool joke, it doesn’t seem so funny now.

I even dreamt up great product names and before publishing thought I should check if the those names were being used already. And they were. Exactly as I imagined those two demoralising products were being sold to control people working on computers. Just because some things are possible is not a sufficient reason to do them and create more harm than good.

Management in the Cloud

We have outsourced HR, outsourced manufacturing, outsourced IT, and outsourced fulfilment so all we have left is management and the brand. Why not outsource management? If you can sit at a workstation and virtually be anywhere in the world, why not outsource those expensive executives? Then our products and services would all be provided by the marketing department, with everything else outsourced.

Think of the profits. Then look at the companies that did outsource too much and now don’t exist. Management needs to add value like every other function.


The world is moving toward loose coalitions of specialists, forming and reforming to meet particular needs. There is a danger of 'cached reality' blinding us to the hard physical reality that exists. Computer-based systems are based on a model of the real world and the real world is not compliant for long. The remoteness that IT-based communications bring leaves people bereft of personal relationships. People want to communicate with a person not live their working lives struggling to get a spreadsheet cell to go from red to green. Although, done in the right non-threatening almost trivial way that can be fun.

Finally I’ve concentrated on the internet and computing power. But this is yesterday’s revolution. Tomorrow will see the breaking of the dawn of DNA manipulation technology. The ability to repair, adapt and augment our natural functions. Anyone eager for an implant so they can type directly onscreen simply by thinking?

Stephen is a co-founder of Motivation Matters, set up in 2004 to develop organisation behaviour to drive greater performance. He has worked for notable organisations such as Corning, De La Rue and Buhler and has been hired to help Philips, Lloyds TSB and a raft of others. He is a published author of articles and now a book, “The Manager's Guide to Conducting Interviews”. He speaks at Conferences and is a Keynote speaker on organisational performance and the managerial behaviour needed for success. It is all about “upgrading organization performance by improving the manager-employee relationship” he says. You can follow Stephen on LinkedInTwitterFacebookYouTube and Blog


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