Technology and New Ways of Working Will Not Be The Answer. Culture Will. Part 1.

Part 1

Many organizations now finding themselves in what is being termed the ‘fourth industrial revolution’ are looking to technology to drive the organization forward.

They want to take advantage of technology including machine learning, real-time data analytics, robotics and artificial intelligence.

One would think that with the enabling technologies for things such as artificial intelligence and machine learning being more readily available and affordable there would be a mad rush to embrace these new capabilities.

A recent report from Harvard Business Review (HBR) revealed that despite the promise of what AI could bring to organizations, it is not being leveraged.

HBR did a survey of thousands of executives about how their organizations use and organize for artificial intelligence and advanced analytics, and the data revealed that only 8% of organizations engage in core practices that support widespread adoption.

Similar research has been done by HBR on adoption of agile ways of working. This research found that most organizations have only adopted agile practices in pockets despite recognizing the enormous benefits it could bring.

Research undertaken by Statista this year revealed a similar situation with DevOps. Only 17% of respondents said that their entire organization had embraced DevOps.

Journey not a project

The reason organizations are not realizing the benefits of technology and new ways of working is due to the lack of recognition of the scale of the change.

These are not initiatives that are run as a project with a clear start and end and can be achieved in 12 months time. These initiatives are a journey of continual improvement.

These initiatives will also be dependent on the culture, structure, and mindsets within the organization. It is not a plug and play solution.

Let’s look at some of the obstacles in the way.

Cross-functional collaboration

These technologies and new ways of working will not work in an organization built around silos.

The technologies need to be deployed across the entire organization and not adopted in isolation. The technology experts need to work alongside the business and users across the organization to determine their needs and co-create the solution.

The new ways of working will have no real benefits if adopted in silos. DevOps for example is all about collaboration across traditional boundaries and removal of the barriers.

Agile is all about iterative improvements and delivery aligned with current business requirements and subject to continual feedback. This requires everyone working holistically and at the same cadence.

Cross-functional collaboration also overcomes groupthink and brings together a diverse set of views and capabilities to ensure the best solutions are introduced.

This collaboration and the involvement of a large and diverse cohort of participants means that more people have an vested interest in the outcomes and therefore the likelihood of adoption dramatically increases.


There is no place for command-and-control style of leadership in organizations that wish to embrace and reap the benefits of these technologies and new ways of working.

These technologies and working styles require and drive innovation, creativity and experimentation.

People will not have the freedom to do so if they are being directed about what to do and how to do it.

Decision-making has to be delegated throughout the organization. Artificial intelligence is providing employees with data so that they can make informed decisions. If those decisions have to go up a chain of command for authorization before they can be made, then artificial intelligence is a waste of time. 

The additional fact is that by the time the decision is made in a hierarchical manner in a rapidly changing environment, the decision becomes no longer relevant, as the world has moved on.

Everyone needs to have the autonomy to make decisions and take action based on the context they find themselves in and the information they are been provided with.


Everyone has to be adaptable in a business world of change that is volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA). The world of agile means that there are no longer 2-year projects set in stone with every requirement ticked before the project starts. Business requirements can change dynamically due to internal and external factors. This could include customer and consumer demand, increased competition or change in competition, legislation, constituent need, new technologies, global influences and changes in partner / supplier interactions.  

Change is constant and happening faster and faster. Everyone has to embrace it and be ready to adapt at the drop of a hat.

Adaptability is the key to true agility. 

When artificial intelligence tells you something you didn't expect, its time to adapt.

What to do?

Leaders need to work diligently to build a culture that embraces constant change, delegates decision making, avoids the unnecessary bureaucracy brought about by hierarchy, trust people to do the right thing, encourages collaboration, experimentation and creativity. This culture provides psychological safety where there is no negative consequence for ‘having a go’. Experimentation and risk taking is encouraged within provisioned guardrails or principles.

More on that in my next article – Part 2.

Karen FerrisComment