An App Alone Can’t Fix Your Organizational Culture

organizational culture app

In a world where we’ve been saying “there’s an app for that” for years, it follows that many assume the same is true when it comes to organizational culture and employee engagement.

And sure enough, there are plenty of apps that claim to do that. They promise real-time feedback from your organization, ranging from capturing mood through emoticons to custom survey questions.

This insight is attractive, but how do you know that these apps will provide valuable solutions for your organization? They sell relatable expertise, promising all of the benefits of an OD consultant wrapped into the accessibility of a DIY smartphone app. But how do you know whether the developers behind the curtain are actually experts?

Deploying an off the shelf app and expecting it to solve a problem is a lot like deploying an off the shelf training session within your organization and expecting immediate change in your participants’ behaviors and performance. In both of these scenarios, you haven’t actually evaluated whether the tool is appropriate for your organization and its unique problem(s).

This situation makes me think of diet pills: it’s a lot easier to spend a few bucks on a magic bullet weight loss pill than it is to begin to eat right and exercise. The catch? The pills might not work; results shown aren’t typical. Exercising and a healthy diet take more effort and long term commitment, but the investment in yourself will be more beneficial in the long term.

This holds true in organizations: doing the upfront evaluation work to determine if the app you are considering—or any app or tool available—can fit your organization’s needs may save you thousands of dollars and hours of headache. This also prevents you from having to explain to the CEO why technology failed to fix your organization. You’ll be well served by doing some upfront leg work before you spend a dollar on anything.

What should this process look like? If you’ve never been involved in an engagement like this before, you may not know where to start. Below are some questions and to help you start down the right path.

How Do You Know This App is the Right Tool for the Right Job?

You’ve seen the demo and heard the pitch, and now you’re caught up in the whirlwind of the latest and greatest app.

Before you get too excited, however, you need to sit down with your stakeholders to discuss what your organization’s true needs are, and if this app can realistically help meet them. You need to understand the problem before you begin considering solutions.

Further, without identifying the problem you’re trying to address with the app and assessing where the organization is starting from, you won’t be able to gauge whether or not the app has had the intended impact. You’ll be left guessing about what ROI your intervention had, without enough information to surmise whether you should continue to champion the app or spend your time (and money) pursuing another solution.

The App Looks Slick, But Will Employees Use it and Provide Good Data?

organizational culture appA key component to any organizational initiative is buy-in from employees. With a tool like an app, employees must actively use it for there to be any value. An attitude of “build it (or buy it) and they will come” may have worked in Field of Dreams, but it most likely won’t in your organization.

Integrating the app into workflow for employees means they will be more likely to engage with it. They won’t view the app as an extra thing they have to use, but instead an integral part of their work and something that helps them more effectively do their job or help the organization perform better as a whole.

In many cases, employees must also share or provide information through the app, and they will be hesitant if they don’t understand how that information will be used. Moreover, if employees don’t feel comfortable or confident that the information they share will be treated with respect, or if they’re required to provide it without a choice to opt out, they may provide inaccurate information, leaving you with unhelpful information and leading you to inaccurate conclusions.

How Do You Know You’re Asking the Right Questions of the Right People?

Another key to successful implementation is identifying who should participate. Will you be targeting a specific department within the organization, or do you need to include everyone? Can you pilot the app with a smaller segment of the intended audience to get initial reactions and work out kinks, both with functionality and content? All of this will impact cost and the communication strategy you develop around the deployment. It will also help you determine shortcomings of the tool so you can address them before you roll it out to the larger audience.

Your decisions should be driven by business needs as well as budget. You will need to determine if this (or any) app will help you best reach your intended audience given your budget, timeline, and other resource constraints.

You’ve Got the Data, But What Do You Do with It?

You’ve launched the app and collected the data, but your work isn’t done yet. You need to communicate what you learned and identify what next steps can and should look like.

Without developing a plan for change or impact, all the the work you’ve done up to this point may be for naught. Further, you asked employees for their time to engage with your app, and many will be curious to know what you’ve learned. Engaging them in this next step will help them stay engaged in the process and may help you better understand what you found through your work.

Knowing what you know—and what you don’t—is crucial to successfully addressing any problem that needs attention. So, if you aren’t leveraging high tech tools like apps as part of well-reasoned, bigger picture plan, start asking yourself these questions.

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Claire Taylor

Associate at gothamCulture
Claire Taylor is committed to explaining complicated and technical concepts in ways that are simple and actionable. She enjoys partnering with clients to better understand their organizational development needs so solutions can be developed and delivered to address their unique circumstances.