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Bringing People and Technology Together
Minh Hua, Chief Talent Officer, Stanley Black & Decker
It’s never just about the technology,” says Rhonda Gass, CIO for Stanley Black & Decker. “The technology is the easy part -- it’s technology activation that brings a source code to life.” Rhonda echoes a sentiment I have heard from chief information officers and chief technology officers at other companies like JP Morgan, Amazon, and General Electric. They have learned through hard-earned experience that technology rarely solves a problem by itself. According to a McKinsey & Company research report, “17 percent of IT projects go so badly that they can threaten the very existence of the company.”
There’s the big visible project debacle and there’s thousands of smaller tech projects that continue to survive but does not deliver on the original promise. The latter is just as harmful to the health of a company; and you can map the cause of languishing to a lack of integration with human behavior. Technology needs people. The term artificial intelligence was coined in 1956 and there are now abundant examples of machines doing tasks formerly done by human labor -- but technology still needs people to realize a full value chain. Take autonomous driving as an example. It can’t independently pilot your daily commute or take you to date night without human intervention along the way. There are still unresolved questions on the scalability of lidar mapping, the depth perception of cameras, and the ability of the neural network to adapt to bad drivers. Both hands on the wheel is where we are with technology.
…And that’s not such a bad thing. The full power of technology is unleashed when the goodness of both people and technology are brought together. Think about an Amazon fulfillment center where robots and people work to get you same-day shipping. Remove the technology or the people and you’re not getting your package for quite a while.
The technology was designed with humans in mind, and the people were hired with the technology process in mind – investment codependency. According to Gartner, $4.5 trillion will be spent on Information Technology in 2022. “Technology is a big part of our investment spend and an important part of our future,” said Jim Loree, Chief Executive Officer for Stanley Black & Decker. “We need to maximize the value of our investments by making sure technology works for people, and that people will work with it.”
A typical conversation between the CEO and CIO will include a discussion on financials, scalability, security, and the customer experience. But, as Jim alluded, there’s a fifth line of inquiry: How are we bringing people and technology together?
Getting that answer right can create a competitive advantage for your business operations. For instance, it’s easy for your competitor to buy technology (Level 1). Motivating a workforce to try new technology can be difficult (Level 2). Getting a workforce to immerse with technology in a way that helps them move faster, work smarter, or perform better is incredibly difficult (Level 3). If you’re having success with any type of technology, your competitors can fast-follow and match you at Level 1 in weeks and Level 2 in months. Level 3 is where you start to have a more durable competitive advantage.
Case Study for Those Who Make the World
How do we capture the know-how of experienced workers before losing them? How can we expand our talent pool by hiring the almost-fully-qualified-candidates? These were questions Stanley Black & Decker wanted to answer.
After extensive research, we partnered with a startup called DeepHow to deploy AI-based technology to help with knowledge transfer (learning with a specific purpose) and knowledge spread (learning through osmosis). The work motion of an experienced practitioner or subject matter expert (SME) is recorded, edited into bite-sized segments, translated into multiple languages, and tagged for easy searching for everyone at the company to access. It effectively brought the goodness of YouTube to workplace training.
Prior to deploying this peer-to-peer learning strategy, our training approach centered around pulling a top performer off a production line to train others. This adversely impacted the productivity of that production line, and it wasn’t scalable. With AI technology, we can capture the know-how of SMEs across the world and give learners in any location – including in their homes or on a factory floor – the flexibility to acquire a new skill on their own terms. When someone sees a step they don’t quite understand, they can re-watch the video or walk over to a more experienced colleague to ask for help.
With peer-to-peer technology, you don’t need a film crew, language translators or training gatekeepers. The AI-based tech does that work in seconds and the ROI is measurable. For example, at a CRAFTSMAN Storage plant in Sedalia, MO, the team was able to reduce training time on a critical pacemaker process from 2 hours to 10 minutes!
The artificial intelligence is novel and exciting, but the magic doesn’t work as well without the human element. For instance, the SME narrates during the recording in a manner of speaking that is relatable to their colleagues. We have seen jokes, vulnerability, and enthusiasm – all in the right organic places. Having a corporate trainer say, “Don’t put your hand on this part of the machine,” is informative, but having a peer say, “Touch that and it will hurt so much” carries more sway.
Peer-to-peer learning also catalyzes a social connection that sparks collaboration and a sense of belonging. For example, engineers in Towson (US), Reynosa (Mexico) and Suzhou (China) can collaborate more effectively across time zones and multiple languages. They use artificial intelligence to document their techniques and instantly have them translated and available for review. This has saved days for replicating test results in laboratories spread around the world.
Companies that can bring people and technology together are more likely to get the best out of both, and win in the marketplace
“People are embracing technology,” said Audrey Van de Castle, an influence for the maker space. “Our colleagues at all levels and in different roles are benefiting from augmenting the way they work.”
How to Get Started
Winning in today’s marketplace requires unity of technology and people. For example, one of the most advanced tool manufacturing plants in the world is located at our Dallas Fort Worth site. This plant brings together skilled workers, AI-based learning technology and robotics. It’s innovation like this that helped Stanley Black & Decker set historic highs for revenue and net income in 2021. As illustrated below, our operating model puts people and technology at the center.
If your company is in the early stages of bringing people and technology together, here are 3 steps that can go a long way:
• Embed the Big Question: Add “How are we bringing people and technology together?” as a standard question in your design and investment approval process.
• Agitate the Process: Eliminate groupthink by designating an angel’s advocate for your tech investment committee. This advocate is responsible for pressure testing how the team plans to bring people and technology together.
• Ask the Extra Question: Ask additional questions to show you care about bringing together people and technology. This is something you need to do yourself because your company will pay attention to the questions you ask.
Final Thought: Corporate Culture
It’s common for conversations on people topics to regress to platitudes that can obfuscate what’s really happening or how people truly feel. That’s a big problem and quiet source of frustration for the more analytical thinkers. “Are people and technology simply adjacent or are they synergistic?” asks Mark Maybury, Chief Technology Officer for Stanley Black & Decker. “Does the technical solution enlighten, inspire, and empower the user?” Those are two follow-up questions that can stir great conversations. Listen carefully to the response and decide for yourself if your team has thought deeply enough about the question.
CIOs and CTOs are right when they say it’s never just about the technology. Companies that can bring people and technology together are more likely to get the best out of both, and win in the marketplace.