Bright Sparks with… Andrew Ramwell, Know & Do
For our second instalment of the Bright Sparks series, we’ve enlisted the brain of Andrew Ramwell, leadership expert and founder of specialist SME consultancy Know and Do.
Andrew is well-known in his field for tapping into the elements of workplace productivity that can really make a big impact on the performance of small businesses. In other words, he helps businesses get a clearer understanding of what they want, and how to do something about it.
BrightHR: Andrew, we’d first like to get your take on the impact of technology on people management and communication in the modern workplace.
Andrew Ramwell: I’d have to say that although many new technologies speed up the process of communication, it still doesn’t solve the challenge of clarity outright.
Any message has to be clear if it is going to be understood, no matter how many channels of communication you reinforce it through. In fact, it’s better to limit the number of programs or software we are using wherever possible and look for the ones that are able to house several different functionalities in one place.
The technologies that really engage people these days are the ones that are personable and borne out of the human element. They enable a clearer and enriching person-to-person interaction. Those are the technologies that reach people and can inspire them to think differently.
Would you say that technology has blurred the lines between work and home life – and is that a good thing?
First of all, it certainly has blurred the lines between work and home life, particularly for slightly older employees who wouldn’t necessarily classify themselves as digital natives.
In today’s world, you can’t imagine living without your smartphone, tablet, and laptop; but the danger for some employers and employees is that it promotes a sense of always being ‘on-call’. We all need downtime. We all need regular intervals when we can switch off, literally, and so technology needs to be kept in check in that respect.
In that case, how do you mitigate the risk of becoming over-connected?
If working day and night develops into a regular habit then it can easily become counterproductive. It’s like trying to sprint a marathon, which might seem like a good idea at first, but you really start to pay for it further down the line.
I speak to so many people who now feel compelled to check their emails first thing in the morning and last thing at night. You might think to yourself that you’re working extra hard, or staying on top of things, but it simply isn’t helping our mental state to recuperate before the next day’s hard graft. That’s why we need more types of technology that acknowledge how humans are wired and is designed with productivity in mind, rather than compulsion.
At Know and Do, you’re constantly supporting businesses to achieve their central mission. How does technology fit into the central strategy of a business in their quest for success?
A lot of businesses make assumptions about software, often signing up to a year’s subscription to something without first completing a solid value proposition and taking into consideration how well it is going to fit their business. There is no one-size-fits-all solution, so technology has to be tailored and whittled down to meet the central objectives of each individual business.
It’s the same thing with going to the gym. It’s all well and good having a yearly subscription, but unless you’re using the equipment in the right way, and have the right plan for progression, then it can easily end up being a waste of money. You have to look at your overall mission, your KPIs and how technology aligns with your central strategy.
Technology isn’t a starting point, but it is playing an increasingly pivotal role in how able a business is to achieve its goals.
And then if we’re talking about the wider small business economy, would you say that technology has revolutionised the outlook for SMEs in general?
Absolutely. The vast majority of businesses in the UK would fall into the SME bracket, and technology has afforded these smaller businesses a wealth of opportunities that previously weren’t there twenty years ago. It’s a massive enabler.
As a prime example, there are two of us at our business, Know and Do, but we can do business around the globe by using things like email and Skype. I conducted a coaching seminar in Egypt a few months ago. I didn’t need to fly to Egypt to do that, which I would’ve done twenty years ago. Video calling allows for a better person-to-person interaction than telephone because you can see how people react to a particular question, or what their body language is saying.
Technology has enabled all companies of all sizes to start doing the things that used to be the sole preserve of larger corporations with a hefty budget behind them. You don’t have to create a bespoke digital system from scratch now that the market has plenty of options already packaged up and ready to go. The challenge then becomes a matter of taking stock of your own situation and working out which package offers the best fit for you and your business.
Looking ahead, what technological trends do you expect to see more of in the coming years?
The important thing for businesses is to invest more time in understanding what the future of technology can do for their business. Right now. To not bother, or to wait, is likely to be the difference between having a profitable business and a business that’s forever playing catch-up.
A lot of businesses we speak to simply don’t scan the horizon enough. We always recommend the PESTLE analysis approach when determining the effectiveness of any given system: political, economic, social, technological, legal and environmental. By taking into account these factors on a regular basis, businesses can really drill down into the impact of their major business decisions, particularly when it comes to technology.
At BrightHR, one of our main areas of focus is the mobile optimisation of our HR management software. How important do you think a focus on mobile technology is in the realm of modern business?
I think we’re well past the stage where every organisation should be thinking about mobile optimisation for their digital assets. Everybody wants a system that integrates across multiple platforms. The modern business, no matter the size, needs to have its key systems and applications readily available at any given time, anywhere with a decent Internet connection. For instance, the fact that we plan most of our holidays at home means that it makes perfect sense to have your HR software optimised for mobile.
Data is another big one. If we’re currently in the age of big data and the Internet of Things then surely the next phase will be taking a sophisticated approach to filtering that data into information. Businesses can then use that information as knowledge to inform their business strategy and build stronger connections within their market. The fact is that, right now, businesses probably have more data at their disposal than ever before, but they haven’t quite worked out how to use it as a tool for growth.
Understanding return on investment is absolutely essential. Too many people dabble in new technologies without first researching how good a fit they will be for their business. Ultimately, business owners hold the key. They have to decide the best way to utilise technology to get ahead within their industry.