How to assess your organization's technological maturity

Implementing new communications technologies can make your organization more open. Use this worksheet to determine whether your organization—and its people—are prepared.
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New communication technologies can promote and improve open organizational principles and practices—both within a company and between customers and strategic partners, leading to greater sales and business opportunities.

Previously, I've discussed how companies adopting new communication technologies tend to fall into four basic categories of investment and utilization. In this article, I'll demonstrate how someone might assess an organization's level of preparedness for technological innovations and the cultural changes it requires.

Becoming a superstar

For the purpose of this exercise, imagine you're a salesperson working for a company that provides communication or information technology solutions to companies that need advanced information systems and would benefit by becoming "communication superstars." You'll likely want to impress upon your customers the benefits of becoming this type of user—benefits such as:

  • Enhanced customer interaction: When our customers' salespeople visit their customers, they'll need to make the best impression they can to build some level of trust. Therefore—before offering any product—a salesperson must get a customer talking about his situation in order to discover his particular needs, concerns, and opportunities for growth. When the customer asks the salesperson questions about what he can do to address these issues, imagine our customer's salespeople being able to answer him in seconds with detailed information, instead of making the customer wait for hours, day, or even weeks for the answers. Such technologies can increase one's capacity to make proposals, lead to faster and wiser purchasing decisions, and maximize salesperson-customer interactions—all extremely important benefits.
  • Better operations: In manufacturing especially, production bottlenecks can be a drain on in-process inventory costs, and alleviating those bottlenecks is critical. Knowing exactly the situation (in-process inventory levels and processing speed, for example) of every stage of a production line in real time can greatly improve productivity.
  • Development of new business strategies: With new communication technology expertise, a company could open up new markets and opportunities that would have historically been out of its reach.

Let's do some research

Armed with knowledge of those benefits, again imagine you're a salesperson at an enterprise communication or information technology company. You meet a potential customer at an exhibition or business summit, and she describes the following situation to you:

"I'm the Operations Manager of a small, local transportation company that makes deliveries within and between several of the surrounding cities. We have a fleet of 30 trucks, all of various sizes and makes. I know the company's information system must to be improved; much of our communication is done through email attachments, texting, and mobile phone calls. We have no central information operating system."

A large, public, national trucking company has set up in her area. She's studied this competitor and read several of its news releases and annual reports. She's learned the company has a centralized communications system, and that all its trucks have tracking technologies that monitor the location of every truck in operation. Trucks also feature sensors that monitor many vehicle operations, including average and specific engine RPM per route by vehicle and driver, and miles travelled in particular conditions (to determine fuel economy and maintenance schedules). An electronic parts delivery system connects this company's service operations with a network of dealers to reduce the time service technicians must wait for parts.

This is what the small local trucking company must compete against. So its operations manager asks you, the IT company salesperson, what you can do to help.

You decide that your first step is to conduct a survey to learn more about both the company's current communication technology system and the personnel's attitude toward this system in order to see what could and should be done to improve the situation. While there, you want to learn this trucking company's IT status before making any recommendations.

I've created a worksheet you might use to facilitate this conversation.

Download the Worksheet

Taking the temperature

The first part of the worksheet can help you develop a baseline assessment of an organization's readiness for technological change.

Part 1: Baseline maturity relative to competitors

Generally, if the customer scores between 10 and 42, then that customer needs more assistance adopting new communication technology, but this varies by industry. If the score is between 43 and 70, then (when compared to competitors the customer is likely already mature in its use of communication technologies.

Part 2: Leaders' relationship to communication technologies

Next, you need to assess the company leadership's relationship to technologies, associated processes, and cultural changes. So let's make those calculations in Part 2 of the worksheet.

Here again, depending on the competitive environment, if the score is between 10 and 42, then the company is generally not completely utilizing the communication technology it has. If the score is between 43 and 70, then generally the company puts the communication technology it has to good, creative use.

Organizational leaders must lead the conversation about using more advanced communication systems in the organization. Therefore management must establish training programs to teach everyone in the organization the skills required to use that technology (a step often forgotten or poorly implemented).

Part 3: Awareness of challenges and opportunities

We now need to help the organization think more strategically about its use of communication technologies to implement open processes and open culture. We'll do this with Part 3 of the worksheet.

If an organization scores higher than 15, the company understands the communication technology landscape fairly well. If the score is between 9 and 15, the organization needs to isolate its weakest areas and remedy them. A score of less than 9 indicates that the organization should consider conducting new awareness exercises and/or communication technology discovery programs.

Part 4: Technological mastery relative to competitors

Next, we need to better understand the trucking company's current strategic assets and its level of technological mastery relative to competitors. We'll do that with Part 4 of the worksheet.

An organization that scores above 16 in this section likely knows where it stands and what its innovation trajectory is in comparison to competitors. A score of 7 to 16 means the organization needs to build alignment around a viable renewal path. A score of less than 7 might mean the organization should conduct a communication technology maturity assessment and update its best practices.

Part 5: Ability to articulate technological vision

Now let's explore how well the organization's senior leaders can articulate a vision for the role communication technology will play in the company's future. That's Part 5 of the worksheet.

If the organization scores over 24, then its members likely believe its executives are aligned on a technological vision (and are considering competitors). A score of 14 to 24 should prompt us to isolate the root causes of the concerns and work with the team to remedy them. Anything less than 14 should spur a structured senior executive alignment initiative.

Questions like these can clarify the extent to which employees must be involved in communication technology investment decision-making and utilization. Front-line members typically know what's necessary, what's available, and what the organization should introduce.

From vision to action

I've seen first-hand that in situations like these, purchasing technologies is only half the problem. Getting people to buy into the system and use it to full capacity are far bigger challenges.

In this section, we'll assess the organization's ability to translate technological vision into action.

Part 6: Ability to translate vision to action

First, let's see how the company is currently converting its vision into an action plan relative to competitors. We'll return to the worksheet, specifically Part 6.

A company scoring more than 17 points likely has a robust plan and evaluation system in place, and is focused on engaging people in executing technological adoption efforts relative to competitors. Organizations scoring 7 to 17 should review the action plan and milestone checklist weekly for content and alignment. Those scoring less than 7 should conduct a full review of its milestone checklist and action plan processes.

Part 7: Supervision strategies

Few plans succeed without proper supervision, so you'll want to assess the organization's plans to oversee change management efforts. We'll use the trusty worksheet—this time, Part 7.

Did the company score something greater than 15? Then its supervision model is in good shape. Maybe 8 to 15? It should check its governance principles and/or program leadership. Less than 8? Time to rework (or design for the first time) its supervision principles.

Part 8: Funding strategy for implementation

Of course, organizational initiatives like these require funding. So you'll want to assess the organization's financial commitment to technological change. Once again, let's use our worksheet (Part 8 this time).

Scoring more than 16 points means the company's funding for new communication technologies is strong. Scoring 8 to 16 means the company should work to ensure that the company portfolio, funding, and business strategy are better aligned. Anything less than 8 means company needs to rework its investment and funding strategy for new technologies.

Part 9: Clarity and promotion of vision

Organizational leaders should constantly be clarifying and advocating plans to adopt new technologies. How are they doing? Let's review Part 9 of our worksheet.

If the company scores over 17, then it's likely doing a good job of marketing its ambitions. If it scores somewhere between 7 and 17, it should isolate dimensions of its messaging that need refinement and work with the team to remedy them. If it scores less than 7, it should consider developing a specific program to convey the company's ambition more broadly.

Part 10: Ability to build and sustain engagement

Changes to technological systems and processes don't happen automatically. People need to invest in them, and leaders need to sustain their engagement in the organizational changes. Not everyone will buy in (as I've written previously). We can assess how well the organization is doing this with Part 10 of the worksheet.

A score over 23 indicates that the company is doing a good job building momentum while introducing communication technologies. A score of 12 to 23 means that organization might need to isolate some part of the process that's not proceeding satisfactorily and remedy that component. Less than 12? The company needs to design and conduct a full engagement program.

Organizational considerations

This final section assesses specific organizational capacities—that is, the organization's culture, its structure, and its processes. Becoming more open by adopting new communication technologies is only possible if the organization itself is flexible and willing to change.

Part 11: Organizational culture

Is the organizational environment amenable to the kinds of changes necessary for effectively adopting new communication activities? We'll assess that in Part 11 of our worksheet.

An organization scoring more than 16 points is already shifting its organizational behaviors and culture ahead of competitors. One scoring between 7 and 16 points should investigate root causes of concerns about cultural changes and work with the team to remedy problems. An organization scoring less than 7 should begin working to shift its culture around communication practices and expectations.

Part 12: Organizational structure

Does the organization's current structure allow it to sustain communication technology innovations? Use Part 12 of the worksheet to gather an initial impression.

Scoring over 16 means the company possesses the basic structural capabilities necessary for sustained, steady, technical changes. Scoring between 8 and 16 means the company has only begun implementing projects aimed at developing necessary structural capabilities, but more effort is needed. And a score of less than 8 indicates that the company needs to consider specific programs for improving basic structural capabilities.

Part 13: Reward and incentive structures

Are the organization's reward and incentive structures aligned with the organization's goals for introducing and adopting new communication technologies? Let's look at the worksheet one last time.

A score over 14 indicates that the company's current reward structures are aligned with its communication technology objectives. A score between 6 and 14 tells us that the organization should build stronger consensus around a viable reward strategy aligned to communication technology renewal. And a score of less than 6 should prompt leadership to implement specific reward structures that accomplish its communication technology adoption goals.

Post-survey debrief

After collecting those data, you're now in a position to ask how your information technology company can help your potential customer in four areas:

  1. Data gathering and company strategy analytics
  2. Social media, internet utilization, and interaction internally
  3. Telecommunication utilization within company (to avoid excess and unnecessary traveling for meetings, etc.)
  4. Automation technology utilization within the company

You're also able to inquire within your company (among solution architects, for example) who we potentially should partner with if need be in order to achieve this transportation company's goals in these four areas."

In these kinds of strategic partnerships, open organization principles—especially transparency, inclusivity, collaboration, and community—come alive. One person cannot do this kind of work alone.

I've seen first-hand that in situations like these, purchasing technologies is only half the problem. Getting people to buy into the system and use it to full capacity are far bigger challenges. These challenges are cultural, not technological. Being a "communication superstar" means being great in both those areas—both the communication technology itself, as well as the culture and process expertise necesasry for actual utilization.

Read the first part

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Ron McFarland has been working in Japan for over 40 years, and he's spent more than 30 of them in international sales, sales management training, and expanding sales worldwide. He's worked in or been to more than 80 countries.

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