Cultural Lag: Human Factors in Implementing New Technology

Cultural Lag: Human Factors in Implementing New Technology


Business progress feeds on continuous innovations in technology. The projected potential of an individual technological application can be factored, based on a wealth of associated metric information. What is frequently reported, however, is that the projected advantages are seldom fully realized. Studies are now providing insight as to why this occurs.

In a recent extensive study by Deloitte’s 2017 Global Human Capital Trends; “Rewriting the rules for the digital age”; Four trends are graphically plotted, in descending order; The rate of technological development; the rate of individual adaptation of new technology; the rate of business and organization adaptation; and finally the rate of public policy adaptation.

Since these trends are exponential, the gaps are widening. The purpose of this brief paper is to discuss potential advantages to businesses that can strategically close these gaps; both between the rates of individual adaptation to technology and business adaptation; as well as to create and nurture the context for improvements in individual adaptation.

Businesses that achieve and maintain this advantage will be technologically and culturally ahead of their competitors. They will obtain the sales, attract the talent, advance their stock, and expand. This is easier said than done.

Some of the essential issues that arise involve historic vertical business structural models verses decades of evolution in culture and technology; underlying motivations and expectations in our workforce; and the more decentralized and horizontal models effective in modern business.

The symptoms of cultural lag may include some of the following: lack of improvement in performance despite implementation of proven technology, staff retention, slow hiring or questions regarding applicant qualifications, apparent lack of motivation, poor team performance, delays, departmental silos or turf battles, defensiveness, and lack of risk-taking or innovation.

When a business is experiencing the symptoms of cultural lag; resolution starts with their unique set of cultural expectations and behaviors.

Management will need to recognize the set of expectations they are modeling by their own example; verses a set of characteristics which will provide more effective performance. In an age of increasing focus on authentic management; accessible, accountable, and participative management appears to bridge many of the limitations of the top-down organizational models.

Structural change of this magnitude is revolutionary, however, so is the current technology and the marketplace. We will not return to the first industrial age, and business has made ongoing improvements. Taking a hard look at the culture and expectations of new hires verses the management structure can provide valuable clues as to the success of management in keeping pace with technological progress. The question is not one of tradition or who is right; it is a question regarding the cost of cognitive dissonance, the cost of a lack of empowerment.

The good news is that we have technologies and processes for change and evolution in organizational culture and management models. The first step is awareness of the need for such changes.

It appears that new qualified potential employees, who will drive our technological systems going forward, come with a coherent set of preferences in their work. They tend to gravitate more to autonomy; authentic and transparent management structures; the congruency and significance of their work; and inclusion in shaping their job. They are interested in deepening their understanding of how their work fits with the bigger picture, and how to improve that picture. They tend to become more technically capable, and are interested in group and team cohesion. These preferences are the antecedents of positive change, and can shape the successful, inclusive structure of business going forward.