Published July 7, 2024 . 8 mins read

Good Tech Can’t Fix Bad Culture

With so many new cutting-edge technologies available, it’s easy to get swept up in the excitement of wanting to modernize your company and implement everything from advanced project management software to drone surveillance and AI-driven analytics. Despite the amazing construction technology on the market, many companies struggle to see significant improvements in efficiency and productivity. Why? Because technology alone isn’t a magic wand—it’s the culture within a company that truly determines its success.

I have spoken with hundreds of construction professionals who desperately want to elevate their companies by purchasing more tools to cultivate a savvy workforce. They often see their lack of technology as the issue when the problem is much deeper and more difficult to fix. And what would that problem be? Often, it is the organizational culture.

Here’s a scenario I have heard about repeatedly. A company will invest heavily in a sophisticated project management tool only to find that project delays and communication issues persist. The reason? A resistant company culture that was unprepared to adapt to new working methods. When you have technology that isn’t being adopted by your workforce or isn’t solving the problem as intended, you need to assess your culture and focus on fixing the root cause. Until you do that, no technology will ever be successful.

How do you know if your company culture needs work before implementing new technology? Below are seven signs you should be on the lookout for:

Samantha Lake

1. Resistance to Change

• Persistent reluctance from employees to adopt new processes or tools.

• Previous initiatives failed due to a lack of buy-in from staff.

• General skepticism towards change and innovation within the workforce.

2. Poor Communication Channels

• Inadequate communication from leadership about the reasons and benefits behind technology adoption.

• Departments or teams work in isolation, leading to fragmented knowledge and efforts.

Limited opportunities for employees to provide feedback or voice concerns about new technologies.

3. Insufficient Training and Development

• Lack of comprehensive training sessions to educate employees about new technologies.

• Absence of ongoing education or professional development opportunities.

Significant gaps in the required skills among employees to effectively use new technologies.

4. Inflexible Processes

• Strict adherence to traditional methods and reluctance to modify existing workflows.

• Excessive red tape and bureaucracy hinder swift decision-making and implementation of new tools.

Quickly adapting to changes or integrating new technologies into existing processes.

5. Leadership Misalignment

• Leaders not demonstrating a clear commitment to technology adoption or cultural change.

• Mixed messages from management regarding the importance and impact of new technologies.

Absence of leaders or champions who actively advocate for and use new technologies.

6. Low Employee Engagement

• Employees show low levels of engagement, motivation, and enthusiasm about their work.

• Frequent employee turnover, indicating dissatisfaction and a lack of long-term commitment.

General low morale and lack of trust in the company’s direction and decisions.

7. Reactive Rather Than Proactive Approach

• Tendency to implement changes only in response to crises rather than through proactive planning.

• Emphasis on immediate results rather than long-term strategic goals and investments.

There is an absence of a clear, forward-looking vision that includes technological advancement as a key component.

The Role of Culture in Technology

So, what exactly is organizational culture? Organizational culture encompasses the values, beliefs, and behaviors that shape how work gets done within an organization. Often, there is a culture that leadership believes it has created, and then there are subcultures, which often more realistically represent the actual culture. Organizational subculture forms when people of common situations, identities, or job functions gather around their own interpretations of the dominant company culture. These subcultures most commonly form when employees find they need to develop idiosyncratic behaviors, values, and goals to fulfill specific functions of their disciplines. Unless you solicit open and honest feedback from your employees, you will not know the reality of your culture. To do this, you can conduct regular employee surveys, hold focus groups and town hall meetings, utilize third-party audits and consultants, and monitor employee turnover and retention rates.

One of the most important aspects of cultivating a culture that embraces technology is ensuring that leadership’s actions reflect cultural values. You can’t have a “do as I say, not as I do” culture if you want your technology to be successful. Leaders must consistently model the behaviors and values they wish to see in the company culture. For instance, I once had a CEO who supported a massive investment in a new technology stack, but they would still ask for reports to be exported to Excel and then wanted those printed out. This undermined the value of technology and often left staff wondering why we were using this new technology if the end result was to have it appear the way it always did in Excel.

Clear and consistent communication around technology is imperative. Doing this from the beginning will go a long way. Communicate with your employees about what is happening and why. This is also a great opportunity to discuss the investment in technology and tie it back to your cultural values.

Fixing Cultural Issues Before Implementing Technology

Let’s revisit the example of investing in a project management tool that didn’t resolve the intended issues. If the leadership team had assessed the culture, they would have noticed a lack of cross-departmental collaboration, siloed processes, and communication issues. Understanding why these problems occur and how they impact the business is crucial. For this scenario, let’s say the reason is an experienced workforce that excels at doing the job their way and is resistant to change. This results in each project being run differently, leading to siloed information and a lack of collaboration. Technology alone won’t solve these issues since they are rooted in behavior.

The solution lies in understanding the behavior and elements of their individual processes that contribute to their success. Leadership should collaborate with project managers to develop a standard operating procedure that everyone can follow. By involving employees in this process, you gain insights into what works and why, resulting in a well-thought-out process and making them more likely to shift their mindsets and support a culture of innovation and change, essential for leveraging new technologies.

I can anticipate some comments now: “This takes time, and time is of the essence in construction.” You are right; this does take time. However, it’s essential to remember the old adage, “measure twice and cut once.” Investing time in building a strong cultural foundation ensures that the money spent on technology is effective and yields the desired results. By prioritizing culture first, you ensure that the implementation is done correctly the first time, ultimately saving time and resources in the long run.

Acknowledging Resistance and Providing Training

You have a workforce that is great at their job, but they might not be the types of people who know why they are great; they just know it in their gut. So when new technologies are introduced, they have to think differently and do things they aren’t familiar with, and this ambiguity creates anxiety. While their way might be manual and more labor-intensive, they will choose that over the modern tech-savvy process because that process is unknown and creates cognitive dissonance. As a leader, you are responsible for acknowledging and validating these feelings. Next, you will want to help them shift their mindset and move away from these feelings. You can do that by providing ample training because they are more likely to embrace new tools and processes when they feel supported and valued.

Creating Task Forces for Technology Implementation

You can build goodwill with your employees by creating task forces to get insights and feedback from those using the technology. It is easier and faster to skip this step and have senior leaders or the IT team make technology decisions. However, you will lose the opportunity to cultivate champions who support and encourage their peers to use the new technology. Task forces should comprise diverse members from various departments and levels, bringing various perspectives and expertise. This diversity helps identify potential challenges and benefits that might not be apparent from a single viewpoint. Moreover, involving employees in these task forces fosters a sense of ownership and buy-in, as they feel their voices are heard and valued in the decision-making process. Task forces can also facilitate better communication and coordination across the company, ensuring that the implementation of new technology aligns with the organizational goals and culture. Ultimately, this collaborative approach enhances the likelihood of successful technology adoption and integration, driving productivity and innovation.

The Importance of Early Training

Training early, even before new technology is fully ready for use, is essential for a smooth and effective implementation. Early training allows employees to familiarize themselves with the upcoming technology, reducing apprehension and resistance to change. It provides ample time for them to develop the necessary skills and confidence to use the new tools effectively, leading to a more seamless transition once the technology is deployed. Early training sessions can uncover potential issues and knowledge gaps, allowing for adjustments and improvements in the training program. This proactive approach ensures that by the time the technology is operational, the workforce is well-prepared, minimizing disruptions to productivity and maximizing the benefits of the new system from day one.

Leadership’s Role in Cultural and Technological Transformation

At this point, it should be clear that leadership plays a vital role in shaping company culture. When leaders are visibly committed to cultural and technological transformation, it sets a precedent for the entire organization. Leaders need strategies for fostering open communication about the benefits and challenges of new technology. They must be willing to hear and address their employees’ concerns about new technology. The best way to do this is to have a solid technology plan and roadmap. This demonstrates that this has been well thought out and gives employees an idea of what to expect, rather than seeming as if the technology is being purchased without any forethought regarding how it will interact with existing processes.

While open communication about new technology’s benefits and potential challenges is important, leaders must go beyond just talking about it. They have to embed it into the company by incorporating it into meetings and performance reviews. When technology is out of sight and out of mind, it will be seen as something optional instead of a critical business function.

Along with the investment in technology, your organization needs to create a continuous improvement culture. This means valuing lifelong learning and finding ways to encourage a mindset of continuous improvement.

In conclusion, while technology can benefit the construction industry immensely, its success hinges on the foundation of a strong, supportive company culture. Construction firms must prioritize cultural change and employee engagement to harness the power of technology. As the saying goes, ‘Culture eats strategy for breakfast’—in this case, it eats technology for breakfast too.

Want to learn how your peers are adopting new technology? Hear from Joe Bonacci, CFO of GLY Construction, as he discusses their technology journey and how they overcame resistance to change, fostered organizational buy-in, and integrated cutting-edge technology into their financial processes for maximum impact.