Some Things, Like Workplace Culture, Should Never Be Automated by Forbes – Entrepreneurs

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Workplace culture isn’t about motivational neon signs

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Workplace culture is all about people: that’s a statement we can all agree with. We also know that culture can’t be bought with motivational neon signs, table football or free beer.

It’s an ever-morphing beast, as often healthy as it is toxic. It calls for planning and forethought to work out: What do we stand for? What are our values? And how can we get them across?

But it’s also hard to measure. Cultural success has to be reduced to metrics like employee retention or customer loyalty or winning awards.

As such, there are businesses that want an easy fix. ‘Make us a culture’ they tell consultants, branding experts, and internal communicators, as they simultaneously hunt for software that could help.

There are tech ‘solutions’, like chatbots that crack jokes and banter with customers, mimicking a brand’s fun, frivolous tone. Or programs that remind companies to celebrate major staff anniversaries. Or employee benefits platforms that offer gym memberships, discounts and freebies – promising happier, more engaged people to boot.

But Noelle Johnson, founder of My Interview Buddy, believes such tools fail to address one vital part of culture: intention. Employees, she told me, have to feel like their managers care and that they are more than just “a butt in a seat”.

She added: “We can make sure that people get a gift card on their work anniversary, but did their direct report acknowledge them personally? We can schedule a fun activity in everyone’s calendar once a week, but did we allow the single father to leave early to get to his daughter’s game?”

Workplace culture is all about people, but it can be supported with technology

Antenna on Unsplash

There’s an argument that commoditizing workplace culture makes it easier to control, and less time-consuming to analyze. Meanwhile, the increasing intelligence of robots has led some to hope for a new kind of automation-assisted culture.

We’re at a point in time when machines could legitimately be used to manufacture culture – but it’s a dangerous way to go.

Kraig Martin, commercial director at Storage Vault Work Space, says he is normally an enthusiastic defender of automation, but when it comes to automating culture, he has some serious concerns about what it means for human expression.

He added:

It’s a become a bit of a cliché to compare everything to George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984 but automating culture is legitimately veering into that territory, where mass culture like books, films, and even pornography, is created on machines with hardly any human input. No creativity or expression goes into the process. Different elements are just assembled, put into the machines and then rolled out. But culture is what makes us human; it’s how we reflect on the world around us. I think we’d be surrendering a key part of what makes us different to other animals if we automated culture.”

The answer may be to use ‘light touch’ technology as a conduit to carry culture beyond the office to those workers who work remotely, to stakeholders and customers too.

When we think about what culture is, it’s traditionally defined as the beliefs, behaviors and interactions of employees with management, peers and customers. All of that translates into the realm of the digital workplace – great news for virtual workers, some of whom interact almost exclusively through their screens.

Edoardo Binda Zane, founder of EBZ Coaching, says automation can play an important supporting role in maintaining culture.

He explained: “Culture is based on values, it’s pervasive and it’s not measurable. This means there are a number of areas or ‘blind spots’ where a company’s values and culture play a key role that are completely invisible and intangible, but that have real and tangible impacts.”

He cites as an example the informal interactions that workers have during lunch and coffee breaks giving rise to innovative or new ideas. These watercooler moments cannot be automated but their importance, once recognized and accepted by the company, can be supported by automation.

Some businesses, for example, have virtual suggestions boxes or host employee forums dedicated to the topic of innovation on their intranets.

Binda Zane said:

Once values are clear, any company can recognize what skills it would need the most to support or maintain those values and, at that point, automation becomes an invaluable weapon. One example could be bringing in automation to the hiring process – using a system to screen and select candidates that already show high compatibility with the requested skills. This would pre-select candidates in the first round and allow recruiters to focus on more technical skills having almost the certainty of a cultural fit for every candidate they see.”


April 29, 2019 at 09:06AM
Forbes – Entrepreneurs