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Why can't organizations learn and innovate fast enough?

We're living in the era of acceleration, and technology is the main driver. Technology has changed the way we communicate, shop, find a parking space, do our banking, date, exercise, learn... you name it. And the technological advancements from the last one or two years are more numerous and carry a greater impact on our lives than those from the last 10 to 15 years.

Everything seems to be galloping towards the future.

At least on an individual level. Because many companies, educational institutions, and other types of organizations seem to be stuck in the past, technology-wise. If they're not stuck, a lot of them are having a hard time keeping up.

Many people juggle with two smartphones, a tablet, a laptop, a Kindle, and a smartwatch in their personal lives like a pro, yet when they go to work they have to use a decade-old PC. They may even have to use an older version of a browser because some internal program works best with that particular browser version.

How come so many companies miss the high-speed train of technology?

Why can't organizations learn and innovate fast enough?

Perhaps the answers lie in both the micro and the macro levels of organizations. In other words, it's all related to each employee and manager, and it's all part of the system.

The innate resistance to change

We're all guilty as charged with this. Every human being has this instinct of conservation, which can be really useful at times, but raises plenty of barriers in front of change.

Too many times employees in a business organization don't want to shake up the status quo of any situation and go with the mantra

If it's not broken, why fix it?

The problem with this approach is that things don't always need to be broken in order to become better. Why wait for a problem to become serious when you can prevent it to become a problem in the first place?! Ask any doctor in this world, and he/she will tell you that it's always easier to prevent than to cure. This principle applies not only to physical diseases, but to organizational ones too.

Change can be good. Change makes the difference between being efficient and being effective. These terms are often used interchangeable, but they are not exactly the same.

Being effective is better than being efficient.

Employees are efficient when they do things the way they've always been done, because that way leads to good results. Effectiveness is when they find a better way to do those same things, and get even better results. And more often than not, some sort of technology is involved in getting things done more effectively.

But people's innate resistance to change gets in the way of many more effective approaches to various workplace issues.

Employee levels of engagement

A Gallup survey after another regarding employee engagement rates at work show some grim statistics for American employers. The majority of employees are disengaged with their jobs, and some are actively sabotaging their workplace.

The rough numbers are the following:

  • :) 20% of employees are engaged. They like what the do at work, are happy with their work conditions and compensations, and are eager to drive their team and the entire organization forward. They are effective.
  • :| 60% of employees are not engaged. They are in a continuous Meh... state. They show up to work and do their jobs, but no more than necessary. They are not particularly interested in the well-being of their company. These people are, at most, efficient.
  • :( 20% of employees are actively disengaged. This means they are not just disengaged with their work, but they constantly corrupt their colleagues to be the same. They focus only on negative things going on at the workplace and sabotage the success of their team.

Guess which category of employees has the highest resistance to change? That's right, the middle one. The actively disengaged employees can be easily identified and replaced if companies want it. But even so, the 20% of positive, engaged employees can't turn around the remainder of 60%.

Any new initiative, any new technology must shake up the resistance to change of those Meh... employees in order to lead to good results fast.

The power of managers

Perhaps younger and smaller organizations don't have a strong managerial hierarchy in place, like bigger and seasoned ones do. But every manager plays an important role in how fast — or slow — their teams learn and innovate.

The trouble is, if a manager belongs to the 60% disengaged employees, or worse, to those 20% actively disengaged, their teams and entire organization suffer. Decisions like replacing all PCs older than a decade with brand new and more powerful laptops, moving on to a new CRM that works the same on all browsers and browser versions, or implementing a new learning management system for better employee training, are serious and demand considerable resources. If managers that have the power to take these and other decisions don't see any significant ROI in replacing old PCs and programs or go for a blended approach to company training, these things won't happen any time soon, regardless of the opinion of the engaged 20%.

But if they don't see it, it doesn't mean that a significant ROI for these changes doesn't exist. Not every business aspect can fit perfectly in a spreadsheet cell, pie chart, or percentage. In fact, employee engagement rates are influenced by plenty subjective, organic, humanely energetic things that are impossible to measure. And they all influence not only employee engagement, but also go further to better employee performance, team success, and business profitability.

If managers belong to the engaged 20%, things get easier, as more employees embrace technology and learn to use it as a powerful tool to innovate their workplace.

Closing thoughts

So, why can't organizations learn and innovate fast enough?

Because the movers and shakers, those people — be they employees or managers — that are engaged with their jobs and love their workplaces, those that do learn and do want to innovate, those 20% are not enough.

They hit a brick wall of Meh... attitudes and they are sabotaged by those actively disengaged. They don't have enough power to move and shake their entire organization to respond to the fast-paced business environment, learn and innovate.

The good news is that sometimes they break the percentages, become more powerful, and propel their organization towards future success.

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