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Understanding Where Technology Culture and Workforce Meet

September 8, 2022
Min Read
Woman across the table from 2 men talking

How well do you understand your organization's capacity for cultural and workforce change and how it intersects with a technology you want to implement? Within the infrastructure world, there's a strong desire to stick with the rational nuts and bolts of the work that is measurable. In a rational world, work can be scheduled, costed, and tracked. The people side of work can be decidedly 'squishy' and tough to describe in the same rational terms. We might want to avoid the messy but when that people 'stuff' intersects with the technical, it can cause even the best planned projects to fail.

How does culture impact technology?

Individually we act in our own context based on our experience, talents, and skills. Organizationally, this context may be framed as culture. Culture will often determine whether a technical solution will work in each organizational setting, such as whether you have open-minded software advocates willing to bring forth new solutions. Here is an example of a technology that seems to have a lot of promise and where a specific culture type could derail it.

Keeping mission critical systems online

Traditionally, many teams would take a break-fix approach to making repairs. However, break-fix can be very expensive because the immediacy of the issue often requires an all-hands type effort to fix. Quickly finding parts, people, and the equipment required to make repairs can take time and delay other scheduled work. More importantly, a break-fix incident may damage other equipment and impact or stop the provisioning of critical services.

On the other hand, predictive maintenance, when applied to mission critical system constraints, can prevent future incidents from impacting production. In addition, you are using up the actual life of a piece of equipment or a subcomponent of an assembly.  

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Predictive maintenance is based on the ability to detect an initial signal coming from a piece of equipment indicating that failure is expected within a specific timeframe. Think of the distinctive noise your brakes make when they need to be replaced. With this type of advanced notice, resources (labor and materials) can be marshaled and scheduled to bring the equipment down at a convenient time for repairs before the equipment fails.  

Thus, predictive maintenance seems to provide a high value proposition for organizations with significant infrastructure and would be a good idea to put on your digital roadmap for select mission critical equipment. However, what if your culture runs contrary to the technology?

digital water journey workshop

The ‘Red-Cape’ Culture

red cape culture

In a ‘red-cape’ culture, ‘heroes’ commonly run equipment until it fails and put out the ‘fires’ as needed. Rewards (implicit or explicit) are given to individuals or crews who perform the repairs and maintenance (best speeds to complete the ‘fix’ are often used as a measure of success). In this case, extensive use of predictive maintenance would not be welcome because it would preclude heroics.

The point here is not to rail against a particular type of culture. Cultures are very difficult to change. The point is to understand your culture and any sub-cultures you may have within your organization and how that culture may interact with any new technology or change in process.

A couple of tips for mixing culture and technology changes for your workforce

Find outside help: Getting a handle on culture can be difficult if you are part of the culture or are very close to it. Specific classification of a culture and its attributes may require a professional to assess and interpret culture. If you anticipate a good bit of technology or process change in your organization's future, this type of professional assessment may be invaluable.

Anticipate the discomfort with change: Change brought about by technology or process can produce angst within your workforce. If you are working toward change, communicate effectively with your workforce what you are doing, what changes can be expected, when they can be expected, who may be affected, and if training will be available. Most importantly, you must give an understanding of why the change is being made. Why's are often very hard to articulate but you must get them right and be consistent with the explanation. Incomplete whys are where the headwaters of rumors lie. Understand how the measures of your technology status can actually slow your progress - we talk about this more on our blog post on ladder and laggard traps.

Need more help?

The Trinnex team is available to help you understand technology, workforce, and culture as you tackle new digital projects. Reach out today with your questions.

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Written by
Cliff Brandon, CBIP
Senior Management Specialist
Cliff has worked with mining, exploration, EPCM, utilities, & finance organizations on systems design, data, and analytics for 30 years.

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