The Leadership Imperative in Front of Us
When it comes to the human side of digital, technology firms, enterprises, organizations and corporate technology teams are lagging where we should be leading. There is a clear relationship between organizational culture and a broad set of business outcomes, including: company reputation, analyst stock recommendations, employee engagement, retention and attrition rates, and, of course, financial performance.
Leadership in terms of the human dimension of your enterprise and how that relates to its growth potential is needed in the here and now. In the past, culture may have been considered a “squishy” or “soft” term, but this is no longer the case. Enterprises need a thoughtful, deliberate plan to address the opportunities this moment presents.
A COVID-19-induced Focus on Culture
While people began to crave community in the fallout of the 2020 zeitgeist, individuals realized or strengthened their desire to be acknowledged as just that: individuals. It suddenly became acceptable to be supremely unique above any other label. Still, striving for a sense of belonging can push up against trying to “fit in” at work, and it’s all made more complex by technologies that redefine where and how we get work done.
The global pandemic increased sensitivity and willingness to discuss practical ways of building wellness, wellbeing and safety, including psychological safety, into our workplaces. But working from home now feels more like “home-ing” from work, exposing the work-life balance as a myth of the before-COVID times. For many workers today, home plays double duty as living space and office space, erasing many of the daily rituals of getting ready for work and the physical barriers of going to work. There is less and less of a shift – in everything from attire to attitude – that would distinguish for us our “home selves” to our “work selves.”
What does this mean? It means people have never been more themselves at work, and it means that companies need to be more introspective than they are used to being – and engage in rewriting some long-held ideas about how an enterprise should run.
What We Mean by Diversity
Bias can be defined as “predictive laziness on cognitive auto-pilot.” Generally speaking, bias is an innately human trait. The oldest part of our brain, the amygdala, attaches emotional significance to events and memories and often lives in a state of fear. If something is unknown, the amygdala identifies it as threatening in an attempt to protect us, keep us safe and keep us alive. This is where bias comes from. And, if we take a good, conscious look at our biases, we will see that they are operative in everything we do.
Traditional hiring practices, lack of STEM in schools, systemic racism – these are born out of unexamined biases, prejudgments and stereotypes. They are the result of mental and physical shortcuts that work, often without conscious thought. We typically only stop taking shortcuts when they don’t save time or render the necessary outcomes.
Bias operates in how we build our workplaces, too. Especially, as we build them for the future of work – for the home-office hybrid model that is becoming widespread – and as we build them for the future workforce. An enterprise’s organizational culture can be enhanced deeply by taking a conscious look at how bias may be playing out without our awareness.
Specifically, in relation to how we use technology, issues around unexamined bias can creep in and undermine the transformation – and even its return on investment. We go to great trouble to train IT teams on technology, tools and processes, but we often fail to train or coach technologists on what we call “the human side of digital.” This is the organizational, cultural and individual change that must accompany advances in technology if a company wants to develop the kinds of conversational and emotional agility to lead the workforce of the future.
It's a challenge to sufficiently address underlying behaviors and habits as quickly as technology evolves and potentially exposes more, and different, parts of our humanity.
Continuing the Conversation for Better Outcomes
Most researchers agree that unconscious bias is everywhere – and unconscious bias remains when it isn’t challenged. If no one actively refutes bias, then it does not go away. While foundational programs like affinity groups can quicken internal team-building by bringing unconscious bias into awareness for people who share the affinity and amplify the voices of adversely affected consumers, customers and clients, they are just a start.
We look forward to stepping you through further opportunities to address the diversity digital demands throughout this special Human Side of Digital series. Look for future articles about leadership diversity, supplier diversity and our research and advisory when we talk about diversity in the workforce of the future.
At ISG, we don’t just accept difference — we celebrate it, we support it, and we thrive on it for the benefit of our employees, clients and communities. We are committed to building a team that represents a variety of backgrounds, perspectives and skills. ISG is proud to be an equal opportunity workplace, and we are committed to creating an inclusive environment for all employees. We believe the more diverse and inclusive we are, the better our work, and our lives, will be.
Contact us to find out how we can help you achieve your digital objectives with greater workforce diversity.
About the authors
Missy Lawrence-Johnston is a Culture & Change-Leadership expert with a passion for organizational effectiveness and human capital optimization. A recognized speaker and executive coach leading our Americas Operating Models Capability, Missy’s distinct competency is in corporate culture, Executive Coaching, Product Models & Mindset, and cultural change-leadership programs. Her zeal for agile and product team dynamics, C-suite coaching, and empowering psychologically safe environments have landed her on Business First’s Top 40 under 40 Professionals for her Digital Culture and Human Behavior Dynamics Playbooks. Her 20 years of experience are grounded in Brain-based Leadership, Operating Models, IT HRBP, Neuroscience, HCM, HR Mergers and Acquisitions, Organizational Effectiveness & OD, Culture Change, CMMI, enterprise agility, DevOps, and Productizing/Product Oriented Delivery in a variety of industries.
Scott is Partner and Regional Leader, ANZ and Asia Pacific. He has more than 25 years of experience as a network, telecom and IT technology provider and advisor supporting over 60 Fortune 1000 clients including several top banking, financial services and insurance clients AIG, Bank of America, BB&T, BNY Mellon, TSYS, US Bank and Wells Fargo, leading utilities including Pacific Gas & Electric, American Electric Power, Florida Power and Light, NextEra Energy as well as other industry leaders such as Boeing, Dell, ExxonMobil, Ford Motor Company, GE Healthcare, HP, Johnson & Johnson and Kaiser Permanente.