· 2 min read · Features

Behaviour, not technology, must be primary driver of change


HR directors and their CEOs are increasingly coming to terms with the fact that as many as one in four of the people they employ are either consciously or unconsciously undermining their organisations. Such is the power of disengagement at work.

We learnt from yet another recent survey of NHS nurses that only 14% were actually happy in their current role and an astonishing 57% were considering looking for a position elsewhere. We regularly hear that similar figures are observed in other industries and professions too.

In responding to this challenge, an increasing number of today’s leaders are turning to technology. Social media-style tools are being deployed to deliver online ‘crowdsourcing’ conversations to include employees in the process of strategic planning and problem solving. This move away from command and control management styles is something to be welcomed and celebrated. These tools have incredible potential. 

Unfortunately, few are managing to deliver on the promise of this leadership approach. Too many leaders still think that if you buy the right piece of technology and give it to your comms and HR people, staff will automatically start using it and become more engaged as a consequence. 

This myth is further propagated by software vendors who claim that their software can help you achieve great things, but neglect to mention that it won’t happen without some serious planning. You still need strong leadership, a clear strategy, carefully designed processes and internal capability to get value from these breakthrough communication channels. Technology is just a tool; it’s only part of the solution. 

In the NHS, the repercussions of failed IT procurement projects are still being felt. Unsurprisingly, ever since the Department of Health abandoned the £7 billion National Programme for IT in 2011, NHS staff and patients across the country have viewed tech-led projects with scepticism. Most tech-led initiatives have little to show for their investment.

Getting technology investment right 

So who is getting this right and what does it take? An example can be taken from Julian Hartley, CEO of The Leeds Teaching Hospitals, and his team who have co-developed the trust’s five-year strategy in partnership with staff, stakeholders and members. 

They used a blend of technology and face-to-face interaction to facilitate a Trust-wide conversation, within a carefully designed engagement approach.

Technology really was the easy bit. Integrating it into processes was harder, but Leeds got it right. Over 5,000 people took part, making 40,000 contributions to deliver the corporate strategy in less than 200 days, and the Trust reported an almost immediate 11% jump in staff satisfaction with comms. Hartley and his team recognised the incredible potential for technology to scale the conversation, but they didn’t see it as a replacement for their leadership duties. 

As other leaders jump to integrate technology, without deeper consideration of their approach or internal capabilities, what results is anything from ‘consultation fatigue’ to higher disengagement.  

Too much technology and not enough experience and process undermines the organisation and alienates staff. Where staff disengagement is identified, all-too-often it is the tools, not the leadership style, which are called into question. But technology by itself cannot bring change to an organisation, the people within it do. And sadly, some styles of leadership have been designed around spending power rather than the power to listen. 

Real organisational change must be behaviour-led. It is reliant on engaged staff who work together to change process. Technology can help to involve more people in defining and delivering change, but don’t let the tail wag the dog. You need capability to use these powerful tools properly and real leadership to take action.

Jackie Green is director of Jackie Green Consulting. She was ?formerly HR director of The Leeds Teaching Hospitals. Dr Peter Thomond is a managing partner of Clever Together, a crowdsourcing specialists.