Great leaders give their employees the training, the resources, and tools to excel at their jobs. Naturally you want to provide the tech tools that keep your employees productive and happy.

But spending money on new technology can actually hinder productivity. Sometimes a new tool can force employees to change how they do their jobs to suit the tool instead of allowing employees to do their jobs in the most efficient and effective way possible.

Tools should support a best process, not "enforce" a process.

And at times, upgrading technology doesn't actually help your employees perform their jobs at a higher level. Sometimes the latest, greatest, and shiniest new toys aren't worth the cost.

New Isn't Always the Best Bet

"New" is appealing, but new isn't always better. For example, early on we purchased inexpensive Chromebooks for our customer service team. Yes, they were old. Yes, they were used. But they did everything our customer service reps needed. When we found that our customer service managers needed to use Photoshop for certain tasks, we purchased faster machines.

While others may have wanted a newer, faster computer, did everyone need a newer, faster computer? No. So we matched the tool -- and the investment required to purchase the tool --with the need, not the want.

As with any spending, the decision to purchase new technology should be based on the return on investment. If the purchase results in quantifiably faster, cheaper, or better, then it may make sense.

If not, that money should be put to better use elsewhere.

Think about the last high-tech facility you visited. You probably saw sophisticated data collection systems, thoughtfully-designed touch-screen user interfaces, and plenty of automation. Significant sums were spent on the latest in technology. Clearly the company was committed to giving its employees every imaginable tool to do their jobs well.

Investment vs. Productivity

But does that investment automatically increase productivity? Oftentimes not. For example, plenty of facilities rely on employees entering data on spreadsheets instead of automated data collection systems.

Employee productivity is much more likely to be the result of skill, experience, and hard work -- not new technology. 

Technology supports an employee's skill, experience, and effort; it doesn't drive it.

Buying new simply for the sake of new is always a bad investment. Buying new computers doesn't automatically make your social media marketing team more effective. Buying new smartphones doesn't automatically make your managers better leaders.

Before you spend money on new technology designed to help your employees better do their jobs, consider spending money on the employees themselves. Spend that money on training. Or on making it possible for employees to attend conferences. Or to work with mentors, whether inside or outside the company.

Sometimes the best investment you can make is on growing the skills of your people -- not "improving" the tools they use.

Just like every other expense, every technology investment should result in quantifiable improvements, demonstrated efficiencies, or improved productivity.

Otherwise, you're just making excuses to buy new things -- and those are the kinds of excuses no small business can afford.

Published on: Mar 19, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.