Process, Technology and … oh yeah, People!!

Technology is nothing.

What’s important is that you have faith in people, that they’re basically good and smart and if you give them tools they’ll do wonderful things.”

Steve Jobs

 

When we talk about the adoption of digital working, we often talk in terms of People, Process and Technology. In reality we inevitably get hung up on the Process and Technology and forget about the people. At best we think about how we’ll give people the process and the technology and call those who reject it luddites or laggards. This is normal, the process and technology, the “hard systems” are the easiest and most tangible to tackle. Whereas the *people* bit, the “soft system”, is – somewhat ironically – the hardest. The Steve Jobs quote really hits home what all this is about, we put process and technologies in place to make people better at what they do; whether that’s improving the delivery of assets and facilities or providing a built environment which allows economies and societies to flourish.

The urgent digital aspects of a project require people who can speak many languages, firstly the language of technology, next the language of the process and sometimes the language of business case and investment. It’s no wonder we have little time in our schedule to develop the languages of psychology and sociology.

This blog isn’t going to give you any of the answers, but if you (like me) are a technical person who has responsibilities for culture in their job description, what are the fundamental things to bear in mind when tackling the people issues?

  • Most professionals are actually very good at what they do and are proud about it
  • Projects involve a massive number of stakeholders who are all busy and constantly being stretched in all directions
  • Everyone sees the world from a different point of view
  • As a sector we tolerate disobedience, if someone really, really doesn’t want to do something we let them get away with it
  • Our low cost culture makes us shy away from trying new things

In general we are terrible at seeing the world through other people’s eyes, but my favourite of Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People is “seek first to understand then be understood”. It’s important to consider all the stakeholders and try and understand their world view before imposing a new process or technology on to them. Construction projects involve a vast number of people, each of whom have their own responsibility on the project and have a different outlook on the world in terms of:

  • What is important
  • Experience
  • Skills
  • Risk appetite
  • Self-confidence
  • Trust in others
  • Conceptualisation
  • Desire to learn
  • Creativity
  • Language
  • Preferred ways of working

And that’s a good thing! If we didn’t have this diversity we wouldn’t get anything done. The key thing to remember is there is no other person on the project who views the world in the same way you do and you’ll need to develop skills to work with that. There will be no one-sized-fits-all procedure for getting others to change, some are screaming for new ways of doing things whilst others are too busy raising a new-born child or too close to retirement to want to think about change in depth. People generally think about doing the best job they can and not factoring how that helps or hinders others to do theirs. Your interpersonal skills will have a big part to play in this, each person has a different leadership style and what works for one person cannot easily be copied by another.

 

Diving into these issues you will quickly understand that this is a messy, complicated world, full of wonderful, messy complicated people. If you want to really engage with these people you will need to develop an armoury to help you deal with all these issues. I’d start with Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People and seek first to understand what the issues are and then develop strategies for how to deal with them.

 

Tom Bartley, Vice Chair BIM 2050 Group

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