New tech? Don’t forget the human element

By Graeme Derby, WLP
I started working life as a salesman, and we had a simple rule for dividing our workload; a third of the time was spent travelling, a third on completing administration and a third in front of customers.
Published in Suffolk Director Magazine Winter 2023

Business Growth & Improvement: WLP

This outdated method of operation has been changed by technology, which should mean we can spend more time with customers. But what has not changed, at least not to the same extent, is the most important part of the process, the human being, which glues together the whole process.

A simple example illustrates this. It’s a given that salespeople dislike administration. Still, technology tools such as CRM (Customer Relationship Management) solutions should help, providing accurate, timely information and the management information required to oversee the sales process.

Yet it’s naive to think sales teams will simply implement any CRM tool and keep it up to date without significant management oversight. Is today’s sales team better at administration than its predecessor? I very much doubt it, and if we do not help the human being to adapt to the new technology, then we risk failing to use the technology correctly, and the investment is wasted.

Don’t assume human behaviour

Helping people adapt to technology is one point; the second is being flexible and recognising that not everything will go as intended. When McDonald’s introduced self-service kiosks, it did so to reduce order point queues. The kiosks achieved this, but the company had not anticipated a 30% increase in basket size for orders; humans behaved differently when confronted by technology rather than ordering face to face. Because of this, McDonald’s faced the unintended consequence of revising cooking and service delivery times to cope with increased demand.

This seems like a good problem to have, and of course, it is, but it illustrates that introducing technology will never be a straightforward process, and humans can make it more complicated if they are not considered as part of the solution.

I am a technology advocate, and I can see the huge benefits. I am also a pragmatist who believes that technology alone cannot solve every problem. Chris Dobbrow, VP of Augury, who makes his living from championing digital transformation in manufacturing, has his own rule of thumb, which I am happy to follow.

 “Digital transformation is 30 per cent technology and 70 per cent people.”

None of this means using new technology should be avoided. Still, it does illustrate that there should be a complete project plan, including human interaction and impact before investment decisions are made.

A few key questions should make the decision a little easier.

So, before making the investment, ask yourself:

  • How will this technology improve my operation?
  • What must it achieve?
  • How will I analyse the impact?

And most importantly of all:

  • How will I help my staff or other stakeholders manage the change?

New tech? Don’t forget the human element 1


Graeme Derby is a business mentor at WLP which helps SME businesses across East Anglia to grow and improve. If you would like some help developing and implementing your technology plans, please contact us for an initial discussion:

Or visit

Share This

Sign up for your free copy of the magazine

Sign up to receive your free hard copy or E-Copy of the magazine by post or email.