by Fred Ode

Editor's Note: The following is the third in a ten-part series called "Technology Traps and Mishaps." To read part two, click here. To read part four, click here.

The book, Younger Next Year, by Chris Crowley and Henry Lodge M.D., is based on the premise that by the time you reach age fifty you have two choices about how your body will age: growth or decay. You can choose to lead a healthy, proactive lifestyle that promotes growth, or you can become sedentary and allow yourself to decay.

I believe the same concept applies to business. If you are not proactively working to grow your business, then it is only a matter of time until the business contracts. Compare the success of Wal-Mart to the deterioration of Kmart in recent years, and you have just one example of how a static "hold-the-line" business philosophy can lead to decline and decay.

Technology is just one type of change that requires our constant attention. The only way a company can grow and thrive is to embrace technology and use these new tools to its advantage. The organization that is neither able nor willing to adapt to emerging technologies is simply on the accelerated path to failure.

From my experience, there are five top reasons why technology change doesn't happen within a company:

 

1. Status quo thinking: Managers and owners don't see the benefit or appreciate the need to make technology changes. "Let's just do things the way we've always done them" is the mantra. And since "the way we've always done it" once worked really well, the temptation to keep things status quo is clearly present.

In order to avoid complacency and grow your company, it takes a constant willingness to ask, "Can this be done in a better/cost-effective/more efficient way?" In construction, for example, a contractor may still be using spreadsheets for estimating, job costing and financial reporting. Unaware that current technologies can instantaneously produce these same reports in a fraction of the time they now spend, this company is probably spending more money and more resources than it needs to, thereby putting itself at a real competitive disadvantage.

2. Saboteur in the ranks: We all know this person. She is the person who is very comfortable in the job. He knows exactly how to use Brand X software and sees no reason to change. She regards new technology tools as a threat to her position.  Consciously or not, employees like this can poison the company's efforts to adapt and survive.

No one ever said managing technology change (including employees' attitudes about new technology) would be easy. Involving employees in the process, creating a message about the positive outcomes of change and listening to feedback are all ways that companies can initiate successful change. If, however, employees still cannot get "on board" with new technology initiatives, sometimes there is no choice but to cut these people loose. After all, no company initiative can be successful without the full cooperation of employees.

3. Cost or time barriers: Executives and business managers often complain that they have neither the time nor money to initiate new technology changes. This says that the company tends to take a pragmatic, yet shortsighted, approach to change.

 

Consider, for example, the contractor who manually estimates all excavating jobs for bidding. Having to spend four or five hours preparing each site estimate leaves little time in his busy day to investigate the "cut and fill" software technology that could significantly reduce his workload  and win more jobs for the company. Contractors that complain they don't have the money to spend on a job cost accounting system, for example, might also be surprised to learn that their entry-level system is actually costing more to run through inefficient duplicate data entry tasks, payroll fees and other associated costs. But when you look at technology as tools for boosting productivity and profitability, it often becomes time and money well spent to help meet long-range company goals.

4. The fear factor: Franklin D. Roosevelt could very well have been talking about emerging technology when he said, "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself."  Fear of change, no matter how unfounded, is a very real emotion that can immobilize even the greatest of leaders. And when it comes to changes in technology, fear plus intimidation of what we don't understand can often lead to outright paralysis.

To conquer that fear, take a deep breath, take a step back and initiate a thoughtful approach. In a recently published article on just this topic, I wrote about the steps that business owners can take to select and implement technologies right for their business. It involves three phases for selecting technologies that will act as accelerators of your company's strengths. The key is to take the first step. Start reading books and articles on subjects of interest and ask industry peers, consultants and association contacts for their opinions. Remember, companies that don't adapt to change are the ones most likely to fail. Now that's something to really fear!

5. Success breeds failure: Did you know that the average life of a corporation is only fourteen years, and it's growing shorter? Successful companies usually emerge because they are in the right place at the right time and have found their niche. But there is the overriding tendency of successful companies to become arrogant and complacent, alienate their customers and become almost impervious to learning new methods and changing markets.

So, what's a successful company to do? Believe it or not, the best time to pursue new technology solutions is when business is good and profits are steady.  Proactive decisions tend to be goal-oriented and produce better results than those made in times of crisis. In any event, companies should view technological changes not as a series of "programs," but as an ongoing "philosophy."

 

Still think there is no reason to implement new technology? Just as the "over-fifty" set can "grow younger" with a proactive plan for living, you can also kick-start your company on the path to success.

Construction Business Owner, September 2006