The 20th century will probably be remembered for many things – two world wars, the hippy (peace) movement, democracy, the establishment of human rights, the space age, global financial crises,  exploration and the subsequent growth in knowledge. Perhaps, however, it will most be remembered for amazing advances in science and technology. In fact, Time Magazine chose Jeff Bezos of as their “Person of the Year” and Albert Einstein as their “Person of the 20th Century” in their evaluation of 1999 – interestingly, not statesmen, politicians or other world leaders, but people who operated in the science and technology fields.

Technology has indeed changed our lives – the way we live, communicate, remember things, produce, manufacture, commute, eat, drink and process information. The first mobile phone was invented in 1973, but weighed a few kilogrammes, had a rather extended charge time (more than a day) and only 15 minutes talk time – we have progressed well beyond that now, with extraordinary computing power within the new smart phones. We now struggle to exist and operate effectively without the latest technology at hand and the crashing of a system renders us ineffective and inefficient and incapable of producing anything of perceived or perhaps real value. Everybody seems to understand that technology and its application within societies is an important force of change and most people and companies are trying to stay abreast of any developments that occur.

Technology, in and of itself, however, will not necessarily make a person more effective or more productive. In fact, the opposite may well be true – in my travels, I am finding it increasingly more difficult to get people to focus on the issues at hand, on problem-solving and involved in creative thinking. The lure of the LED reminder on the mobile or the ping of yet another e-mail arriving in the inbox seems to distract the best of us and to diffuse our focus. Companies, too, perhaps have fallen into the trap of overly relying on technological advances, state of the art equipment and production-enhancing efficiencies to stimulate and maintain growth in an ever-competitive global environment without taking cognisance of the need to focus on people development and the establishment of an internal culture that will support and maintain this growth.

Perhaps the following cultural values need to be taken into consideration to prevent an over-reliance on technology to advance growth:

  • The development of an environment of trust – leadership integrity is critical here in demonstrating trustworthiness and extending trust appropriately
  • A commitment to care for all employees – current research (Etsko Schuitema) suggests that one of the key things an employee wants to know is “does my boss care for me?”
  • A rigorous performance management system – all staff want to know how well they are doing and be helped to develop and grow
  • A sense of ownership needs to be bred – accountability for the business operations and decisions made cannot be overemphasised
  • Getting the right leaders in place – leaders, as opposed to “managers of functional roles”, are needed to impart vision and gain commitment in terms of work ethic
  • The dismantling of bureaucracy – getting decision-making to the lowest possible levels within the organisation, the same instilling a sense of pride and personal value in employees
  • An environment where ideas are welcomed and rewarded – recognition for creativity and innovation is important to stimulate growth and on-going development

Technological advances are great – necessary to implement in an ever-increasingly competitive global business arena – but not necessarily supporters and platforms on which to build sustainable growth. A culture of trust, involvement, inclusivity, creativity and good communication is necessary to lay the foundations for ever-increasing sustainable growth and development.

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