By Sarah Nicastro, Creator, Future of Fied Service
Guiding a field service organization through new technology adoption can be a challenge for company leadership. Employees can respond to these deployments in a lot of ways - sometimes with excitement, sometimes with apprehension, sometimes with frustration, sometimes with fear, sometimes with a combination of all of these emotions and more.
Leadership style has a big impact on how successful a technology deployment will be. I recently spoke to Dr. John Chrisentary, former Director of Global Technical Services and Technical Fellow at Medtronic, about this intersection of leadership approaches and technology, particularly how a transformational vs. transactional leadership approach can impact projects.
According to Dr. John, there are three basic leadership styles. The laissez-faire model, which is very hands-off and basically involves leadership taking credit for everyone else’s work, is what he calls the worst of the three. More common is a transactional leader, which takes a carrot and stick approach – team members are motivated solely by rewards or avoiding punishment (like being fired or demoted). While that model has been the norm at a lot of organizations, it is quickly falling by the wayside because of generational shifts and technological shifts that have made it much less effective.
Transformational leadership, on the other hand, involves listening, collaboration, building connections, and figuring out what individuals in the organization really need to not only be successful, but also help make the entire organization more successful. “[H]ow can I influence/change a person's way of thinking about themselves, about a process – how can I encourage them? And then also, how can I get them to move to a higher level?” Dr. John explains.
Taking this approach is becoming critical for service leaders to meet evolving customer expectations and to help inspire their team members to meet those expectations. As Dr. John puts it, leaders must have a good grasp of the vision or purpose of what the service organization is doing. The team wants to know why you are changing technologies or processes, which can not only inspire them, but also help encourage urgency.
This can be a difficult transition for transactional leaders, because they feel like they are giving up control. They have used their position to empower themselves, not their employees. That approach will be increasingly difficult with younger workers (who are much more likely to chafe at that type of management) but also in origin with customers and partners in other countries.
“[I]f you're not a transformational leader, you're going to have a hard time working in the international realm because one of the things you have to create internationally are relationships. And this is where that transformational leader really comes into play because they understand that every person brings value to the process. And if they can help the person understand their value, that person has a higher probability of success.”
So how does this come into play for advanced technology deployments? I asked Dr. John how transformational leadership is better positioned to take advantage of things like artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, augmented reality, etc.
Technology requires leaders to understand how new tools will affect the workforce, how team members will use those tools, and what technologies might be required in the future. Getting that type of insight requires all of the communication and listening skills typical of a transformational leader. The leader also has to be able to help the team see that getting through these sometimes painful new technology deployments will help everyone be more effective several months to a year down the road.
AI presents a specific challenge, in that many people across an organization may fear the technology will render part of their workforce obsolete and may even be intimidating to customers. According to Dr. John, the important thing is to evaluate your customer base demographics and take that into account when deploying AI-based service solutions, the idea being that younger customers may be more open and accepting to this level of automation. But personal touch is still important, and as I have discussed before, too much reliance on automation can leave a bad taste in the customer's mouth.
Internally, AI and other types of automation need to be positioned as tools that will help the team do their jobs better – not technology that will take their jobs away.
“[P]eople want to do a good job if you give them an opportunity, and technology is a tool to make you effective. It is not a silver bullet to make your organization or even your position Kevlar-enforced. It doesn't work that way. You're using these tools to make your organization the best it can be, and you're providing opportunities for people to learn to master the tools.”
We covered a lot of ground in our discussion, and you can listen to the whole interview here.