Technology vs people – when the company culture fails your business

By Stig Olsen
5 June 2019

“Culture eats talent for breakfast”. It has showed up in my LinkedIn feed several times lately. It’s written by people that are proud of their strong company culture. It’s great that companies have a strong culture, and that the employees are proud of it. Everyone should be proud of the company they work for. But, I’m not sure I agree with that culture beats talent. Is Barcelona better without Messi? Or, does the strong Barcelona culture help Messi grow, while Messi contributes significantly to a strong winning culture? I think a strong culture and great talent are dependent of each other, and that striking the right balance is necessary for companies to thrive.

However, what I often see, is that legacy company culture eats top notch technology for breakfast, and that is not a good thing. Technology is not an easy game, and unfortunately legacy culture often prevents companies from getting the most out of their technology stack. Owning and using technology is not for amateurs!

We all know that things change fast, and that competition is tough – in the financial industry and elsewhere. The company culture plays a very important part in dealing with this from a technology point of view, when it comes to acquiring, leveraging and developing technology.

Acquiring technology is often a cumbersome process, and RFPs are commonly used. Still, many of these RFPs are stuck in the past. They address a current situation or a current problem, but often don’t address any of the future needs. Changes happened slower in the past, so even if your needs changed while you were implementing new systems, you would still remain competitive while trying to update your technology stack. That is not the case in our current environment of constant change. Tomorrow’s challenges and opportunities should get just as much attention, or probably even more, in the RFPs than the current situation.

Leveraging technology requires access to talented people. Every time you want to do something new, or improve something, you need to have people that understands the capabilities across your entire technology stack, not just one or a few individual systems. With the right people, not only will you be able to swiftly adapt to new market situations, but probably also avoid buying technology that you don’t need, since capable people knows how to make the most of the technology that you already have. Technologies are more integrated and dependent on each other than ever, but the old-school “system super user” still exists. Their influence on your technology stack can have severe impact on your operations, lacking the holistic view and even preventing optimal use of technology. You need the curious and annoying people that have competence to connect all the dots between your business processes and your systems!

Developing technology is massively connected to your overall business strategy. What to develop? What to buy? Perhaps outsourcing makes more sense? Yesterday’s “buy or build” strategy is getting dated, as technology is becoming more easily accessible to everyone, and options are many. Buying everything will likely leave you with no competitive differentiators, while building everything yourself will slow you down and is also very expensive. Ultimately, it’s your business strategy that should dictate your technology strategy. It’s about time to move away from the legacy “buy or build” approach, and find a more balanced path to make the most of your technology investment.

So, how can you get away from a legacy culture that prevents you from driving your business forward? As scary as it might seem to someone, the answer is to get away from your desk and out of your office, to find out how companies like yours are using technology, old and new. Learn what your options are, now and in the future. Talk to your peers, your competitors and to vendors. And most importantly, talk to your clients. Going offline to have these conversations could be the most important thing you do in order to understand what you need to do online.

I often read that companies today tend to involve vendors and others later and later in their buying process, probably because a lot of information is available online and people prefer to do most of the research that way. Well, although google can help you with many things, it will never give you enough insight to successfully navigate the fintech landscape. You need to meet people too. Meet relevant people on a regular basis, even if you are not buying new technology. That’s the only way to capture real information and develop the right competence. How else can you be sure that your technology is right for your business? So get out of the office, meet relevant people, and learn! Besides, nothing really important happens in the office anyway, so perhaps it’s time to get out there, leave the legacy behind and build a company culture for the future?