Employee Motivation: getting Competitive Advantage from New Technology

Employee Motivation

Getting Competitive Advantage from New Technology

by Bay Jordan

Instead of inspiring employee motivation, technological progress can actually sabotage it for many whose livelihood does not depend on introducing change. This article explores reasons why employee motivation has to be a key driver for commercial success, and in particular it will:

  1. Explain the great paradox of technology
  2. Explore its fundamental consequence
  3. Emphasise the need for more proactive management.

The Great Paradox of Technology

It is old hat now to talk of the "Information Age". Some thiry years or so after its birth, the term generates as little excitement as the launch of a space shuttle in a world that has become blasé about geo-orbital space travel. The metaphor is perhaps doubly apt for, just as we are very much in the formative stages of space exploration, we are still on the periphery of the potential benefits of computer technology.

Nowhere is this more evident that in the history of poor returns generated from IT investment, where most projects fail to deliver the full benefits forecast.

Employee Motivation expert Bay Jordan

Employee Motivation expert: Bay Jordan

Bay Jordan is the author of "Lean Organisations Need FAT People" and founder of Zealise Limited, a consulting firm that inspires organisational zeal and teamwork, and enables organisations to remove the barriers to empowerment built into remuneration and recognition schemes.

Contact Bay Jordan.

Even as modern alchemy attempts to create wisdom from silicon in the great quest to develop artificial intelligence, we remain dependent on people. Digital development has created a 24/7 economy, transferring terabytes of data around the world in milliseconds, but the fact remains that ultimately mankind consumes more than data, and some sort of human interaction is inevitable.

The acclaimed benefits of technology are efficiency savings: greater volumes handled, at greater speeds, with fewer resources. Yet each of these actually creates more pressure on the people within the organisation. They have to deal with the increased volumes and competitive pressures that technology creates.

This problem is compounded by the fact that "fewer resources" is a euphemism for less people. The invetment in technology investment is invariably followed by a scaling back of staff numbers. Such organisational downsizing inevitably means greater responsibility devolving on those that remain.

Thus: the greater the role of technology, the more important people become.

A Second Paradox

Successfully introducing technology is not the only cause of people becoming more important. Management is naturally reluctant to admit to any failure of technology to deliver forecast returns, and so may resort to one, or both, of the following:

Consequently, the net effect is that staff numbers are reduced regardless of whether or not the technology implementation is successful.

In either case the net effect is a greater burden of responsibility placed on the remaining staff. This is seldom, if ever, recognised so staff feel hard done by. Not the best way to engender employee motivation and commitment!

The New Organisational Paradigm

If there is any doubt about increased responsibility of people in a technologically advanced operation, a simple example will prove the point.

Imagine that you are one of those able to place a grocery order directly from a panel on your fridge at any time of the day or night. Even if every step of the process was fully automated and the supermarket could guarantee that every item you order was actually available, you still depend on someone delivering the order or it being ready for you to collect at a specific time. If the order is not ready when you call to collect it or delivered precisely when requested and you have had to go out, the entire service is nullified. So, the system is ultimately dependent on a human being.

This not only confirms the increasing importance of people within the organisation, but it also illustrates how the actions or decisions of any individual can have a significant impact on organisational performance. In a 24/7 digital age where speed is a major element of competition, decisions have to be made instantly and cannot be passed up a bureaucratic, management hierarchy. Yet the consequences of a wrong decision, say a mistake by the lowliest computer programmer, can impact the organisation just as severely as a strategic error by executive management.

Thus, more now than ever before: The organisation has to be recognised as a single team.

The divisional/departmental silos that have historically characterised organisations are no longer valid and may be a recipe for disaster. Even the concept of teams within teams will only work in the context of the overall organisational team.


Many executives consider themselves to be good team builders and team workers. Usually, however, this is in the context of their peers and direct reports. Below that, they have been able to rely on intermediaries. The new organisational team means dispensing with traditional "command and control" techniques. Management has to:

For more information, contact Bay Jordan.

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