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The Boston Consulting Group (BCG) Managing Director Nadjia Yousif in her TEDx conference, talks about friendly uses of technology in the company.

Nadjia Yousif/Photo: Collected

Nadjia Yousif surely knows how to enthrall an audience.

In her latest TEDx Talk, she explained how “proper usage” of tech in the workplace has actually worked in favor of an employee and empowers him/her like the way a group of helpful colleague aids an employee in times of need.

Nadjia said that the tech can work well with everyone else if we can treat technology like a valued member of the team. She’s seen countless companies invest millions in technology, only to ignore or disregard it because the people using the technology are skeptical and even afraid of it. They don’t spend the time learning and training and then they get frustrated and write it off. So we need to approach our new technology as if a new colleague, believes Nadjia.

She starts telling the audience to think a company hires a new employee, best in business, who’s on a multimillion-dollar contract.

She says, “Now imagine that whenever this employee went to go meet with her team members, the appointments were ignored or dismissed, and in the meetings that did happen, she was yelled at or kicked out after a few minutes. So after a while, she just went quietly back to her desk, sat there with none of her skills being put to use, of course, being ignored by most people, and of course, still getting paid millions of dollars. This hotshot employee who can’t seem to catch a break is that company’s technology”.

“This scenario is not an exaggeration. In my job as a technology advisor, I’ve seen so many companies make the well-meaning decisions to put huge investments into technology, only to have the benefits fail to live up to the expectation. In fact, in one study I read, 25 percent of technology projects are canceled or deliver things that are never used. That’s like billions of dollars just being wasted each year,” Nadjia adds.

After a little pause, she shares her personal experience and says, “I’ve seen, the expectation from the top management is high but not unreasonable about the benefits from the technology. They expect people will use them, it will create time savings, and people will become genuinely better at their jobs. But the reality is that the people on the front line, who are supposed to be using these softwares and tools, they’re skeptical or even afraid. We postpone the online trainings, we don’t bother to learn the shortcuts, and we get frustrated at the number of tools we have to remember how to log into and use. And that frustration, that guilt rack up together. The more that technology is inserting itself into our daily working lives, which is a lot”.

Nadjia then quotes Brookings says that 70 percent of jobs today in the US require at least mid-level digital skills. So basically, to work these days, people need to be able to work with technology. But unfortunately we are not approaching this with the right mindset, says she.

While showing a chart through projector to the audience, Nadjia shares her personal experience to them. She’s spoken to people from all different industries about how they can treat their core technologies like colleagues. She’s met the people from the restaurant industry, medical professionals, teachers, bankers, people from many other sectors, and the first step with anybody that she would meet with was to draw out the structure of their teams in an organization chart.

She then says, “Now, I’m a total geek when it comes to organization charts. Org charts are really cool because, if they are drawn well, you can quickly get a sense of what individual roles are and also how a team works well together. But if you look at a typical org chart, it only includes the boxes and lines that represent people. None of the technology team members are there.

They’re all invisible. So for each of the organizations that I met with for my experiment, I had to draw a new type of org chart, one that also included the technology. And when I did this, people I spoke to could actually visualize their technologies as coworkers, and they could ask things like: “Is this software reporting to the right person?” “Does this man and machine team work well together?” “Is that technology actually the team member that everybody’s awkwardly avoiding?”

She brings an example of a catering company named Bovingdons Catering Company where top levels of people are involved to work at. Members from different department work through technology there. They use software and hardware for managing their work.

Saying so, Nadjia points a chart shown at the projector and says, “We can now explore how the human team members and the technology team members are interacting. The first thing that I’m going to look for is where there’s a human and machine relationship that’s extra critical. Usually, it’s somebody using a technology on a day-to-day basis to do his or her job. At Bovingdons, the finance director with the accounting platform would be one. Next, I would check on the status of their collaboration”.

“There may question arise”, says she, “Are they working well together? Getting alone?”

She says if the accounting platform were actually a person, the finance director would feel responsible for managing it and taking care of it.

“Well, in the same way, my first suggestion was to think about a team-building activity, maybe getting together on a specialist course. My second suggestion was to think about scheduling regular performance reviews for the accounting platform, where the finance director would literally give feedback to the company who sold it. Now, there will be several of these really important human and machine teams in every organization. So if you’re in one, it’s worth taking the time to think about ways to make those relationships truly collaborative”, tells Nadjia.

She gives the example of the sales director of the Bovingdons when they meet together. The sales director when was meeting with Nadjia, talked about five technologies and he was glad that he would be one of the members of Bovingdons.

Nadjia also lets the audience know that she experimented with 15 different professionals, and each time it sparked an idea.

Smile in face she continues, “Christopher, a very energetic human resources manager at a big consumer goods company told me a story. Technology was a new HR platform, and it had been installed for 14 months at great expense, but nobody was using it. So we were talking about how, if this had really been such a hotshot employee with amazing credentials, you would go out of your way to get to know it, maybe invite them for coffee, and get to know their background.

So in the spirit of experimentation, Christopher set up one-hour appointments, coffee optional, for his team members to have no agenda but to get to know their HR system. Some people, they clicked around menu item by menu item. Other people, they searched online for things that they weren’t clear about. A couple of them got together, gossiped about the new software in town. And a few weeks later, Christopher called to tell me that people were using the system in new ways, and he thought it was going to save them weeks of effort in the future. And they also reported feeling less intimidated by the software. I found that pretty amazing, that taking this mindset helped Christopher’s team and others that I spoke to these past few months actually feel happier about working with technology”.

She adds, “And I later found out this is backed up by research. Studies have shown that people who work in organizations that encourage them to talk about and learn about the technologies in the workplace have 20 percent lower stress levels than those in organizations that don’t. I also found it really cool that when I started to do this experiment, I started with what was happening between a person and an individual technology, but then it ultimately led to ideas about how to manage tech across entire companies. When I did this for my own job and extended it, I thought about how our data analysis tools should go on the equivalent of a job rotation program, where different parts of the company could get to know it. And I also thought about suggesting to our recruiting team that some of the technologies we work with every day should come with us on our big recruiting events.”

Nadjia finally informs that she only did those experiments because the critical skill in the 21st century workplace is going to be to collaborate with the technologies that are becoming such a big and costly part of our daily working lives. And from what I was seeing, we are struggling to cope with that”.

It might sound counterintuitive, but by embracing the idea that these machines are actually valuable colleagues, we as people will perform better and be happier, says Nadjia Yousif.

Nadjia ends her speech by offering to share a bit of humanity towards the technologies and the software and the algorithms and the robots who we work with, because we will all be the better for it.

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