Organization follows Technology ? LO13434

Mariann Jelinek (
Fri, 2 May 1997 10:56:35 -0400

Replying to LO13408 --

Responding to LO13408, Patrick Vice's comments about technology and

I'm struck that issues of whether or not massive technology
investment has increased productivity and this question of whether or not
technology will make one a better manager both seem slightly off the mark
let me see if I can unravel just how. For one thing, technology has
potential to dramatically shift the nature of interaction: people at
different times or different places can interact, in a medium somewhat
stripped of status indicators (as orglearners do in this list). Secondly,
there's potential not only for information capture, but for access and
reaccess, processing and reprocessing.
Patrick's point that information would be/might be available from
a library is a good one, yet the timeliness of information per se gives it
additional value. This year, for the first time, I accepted all my
students' (MBA) writing - tests, papers, notes and summaries - in
electronic form only. This meant that the system retained a copy so that
if something were "lost," the original submission could be readily
duplicated. (It also meant that the onus was on students to learn to
upload their documents successfully, sometimes a problem.) It was possible
to contact students quickly (so long as they read their email and checked
our course website), so changes in schedule or important announcements
could be distributed effectively. Students could personally and privately
comment to me about the class, their work, etc. Timeliness was greatly
facilitated in this regard.
Timeliness was impeded, however, because I had 100 students to
manage, and grading 100 papers in electronic form was relatively slow
work! I felt swamped!
The potential seems great, but the workload remains a real issue
that I know I will again meet in the Fall, when my undergraduate class is
projected to be three sections of 50 students (!) in a capstone course for
graduating seniors.
A key issue in the world of work: the sheer number of layoffs in
mid-level managerial jobs over the past decade or so is in the hundreds of
thousands in the U.S., and much of that has been possible because of
technology: computers that capture information, process it and distribute
it immediately and automatically, obviating the need for all the middle
managers who used to perform these functions. Clearly, there has been a
shift, albeit it has been a slowly building wave. Productivity has, I
think, been improved, as more work is being done by many measures
(complexity, SKUs, sites, elaboration of designs and so on, for example)
typically by fewer people. GE's downsizing in personnel has not been
accompanied by any downsizing in revenues; on the contrary.
As to "better" management, here we need to define: better in what
terms? For financial results, the outcomes seem very promising. On the
other hand, there is a serious issue of burnout and overwork that has not
been well addressed as of yet. How long can people run full out, in the
interests of high efficiency? How much information can be absorbed before
overload sets in? How much technology can distant workteam members put up
with before the "touch" factor breaks down? What preliminaries of
interpersonal trust and predictability need to be built (and how?) before
technology-mediated management can effectively take place, or take place
without unacceptable by-products (quality shortfalls, communication
snafus, interpersonal problems, ethical lapses due to poor morale or
There are plenty of questions and issues between the perception of
possibility and its realization!


Mariann Jelinek, Ph.D.
Richard C. Kraemer Professor of
Business Administration
Graduate School of Business | The only real, enduring strategic advantage
College of Williiam and Mary |comes from changing the game.
P.O. Box 8795
Williamsburg, VA 23185-8795

(804) 221-2882 FAX: (804) 229-6135


Mariann Jelinek <>

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