All posts by Alice Sidhu

Why Leaders Shouldn’t Leave The Stories To Marketing

Are we all too busy getting on with the business of running the business to be telling stories? It’s an easy thing to think until we understand the value and power of stories...

By Johanna Altmann/ Shutterstock

Once Upon a Time……And so the story goes….. There wouldn’t be too many of us who cannot remember even one story from our childhood. It might be something we liked to have read to us on repeat, no doubt driving our parents crazy with our enthusiasm for the same thing over and over. And as we develop our own experiences, we create our own stories to capture the big moments.

Who hasn’t been to a milestone birthday, wedding or other celebratory event where the speeches section of the evening engender dread that they will never finish? Or laughter and delight at the humour and good nature of reflection and personal insight?

On a professional level, we develop stories also. Our resume becomes the formal story of record of our work history, references the story of our previous performance. We share stories about an interview we had, a great outcome we achieved, as well as a failure for something that has not gone as intended.

Science of Stories

The science of story telling is something well out of my area of expertise. I know enough to be able to rather simply explain that there seems to be a consensus that as humans, we had storytelling in us from the get-go. Before we wrote, we spoke, and stories were the way that individuals and tribes shared achievements and tribulations, their history and their myths. 

Studying classics, I participated in more than a few heated debates on whether Homer really did author The Odyssey in the way we understand authoring today, or whether he simply documented stories told by others and deftly added his by-line to a transcript that has become a classic for many different reasons.

Organisations tell their own stories too. It is not just Hollywood that understands the commercial value and engagement of a superhero’s origin story (As big of a Marvel Universe fan that I am, I have to give it to DC for the Wonder Woman movie). How powerful is the origin story in helping us understand the culture, intent and values of an organisations?

In my time with Hewlett Packard, the story of Bill and Dave in the garage was told over and over, and with IBM, the legacy of the organisation in its role in advancing racial and gender diversity, as well as its integral role in the Apollo space mission were part of the stories that help employees understand the scale and capacity to achieve great things that the organisation is capable of.  

Organisations Telling Stories

In today’s digital world, it’s not only the mature organisations that understand the value of the story in creating and evolving their brand. Digital natives tell stories of their inspiration, entrepreneurs tell stories of the many failed attempts to become an overnight success, and if you spend any time on social media, you will have read, followed or liked personalities, products and groups for the stories they shared that would have resonated with you.

It’s actually the stories that form part of the personal or organisational brand; the idea for Facebook originating in a dorm room, Air BnB from a trip to San Francisco with no accommodation available and Space X as a lifelong ambition of a very, very young Elon Musk.

On a more practical level, organisations tell stories about their products, or their services. It might be the juxtaposition of the before versus the after scenario capturing us with the promise that we too will be able to replicate the same level of success if we buy or consume.

Or it may be the a carefully crafted script on how a product is made, the people who made it, and how it will make our lives so great we are likely to wonder how it was possible to live without it. Other times, it is much simpler.

Product placement on the screen allows us to create our own story; that we too can be like the people in the movie and share their success, superpower or characteristic that made them so memorable (I am not sure this aspiration should extend to villains however owning a car based on a great car chase may be fair game).

What Can Leaders Learn?

Savvy marketers are well aware of the impact of stories and how they can initiate dopamine and oxytocin and translate this to brand awareness, a purchase and more importantly, brand loyalty. It’s what makes consumers stick with you, even when confronted with products or services that don’t meet market expectations, and it’s also what drives profit and growth. The challenge and cost of keeping a customer is much less then the cost of attracting new ones.

So what can leaders learn from all of this? Aren’t we all too busy getting on with the business of running the business to be telling stories? It’s an easy thing to think until we understand the value and power of stories.

Attract the best talent

If it is a great strategy to attract new customers, why would it be any different for attraction of employees? In a market where employees have choice about how they work and who they work for, organisations looking to secure a reputation for employer-of-choice would do well to have their leaders understand that stories matter in attracting those who not only perform well, but also align with the values and mission of the organisation.

And as with customers, hiring the right people is only a very small part of the talent challenge. Retaining employees in environments that are challenging, constantly changing and demand more, can be a competitive advantage.

Connect and engage

When stories are shared, they can create connection and engagement. In fact, they can also create empathy. And in today’s digital environment, the constant change, always being on, and the reactiveness of many organisations means leaders need to be vigilant to signs of change fatigue and disengagement.

Storytelling can span reasons for an initiative, shared success, and even foster a learning environment from failures. They can help leaders and organisations re-write the narrative on culture, performance and why what is being done matters, helping harness purpose through inspiration and a focus on the outcome. Hopefully with some learning and laughter along the way.

The One Thing Everyone Keeps Getting Wrong About Digital Transformation

While digital technologies have made the pathway to digital transformation the opportunity that every organisation is seeking to capitalise on, what many organisations get wrong is the focus on the technology…

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There’s no doubt that we have been in the digital revolution for a while now. It may have been a slow start as we came to terms with the power and capability of our smartphones that precipitated the customer centric, anywhere-anytime shift.

Futurists pre-empted the transformation that was coming by positioning a future of mobility, IoT and artificial intelligence, while tech savvy organisations made some early investments and experimented with analytics and automation, learning very quickly how to capitalise on technologies many of us were still trying to define.

Fast forward 10 years and we surely must have everything worked out and locked down. After all, we have had enough time to observe those who have gone before and experiment ourselves, both as consumers and as leaders in organisations, irrespective of our role or industry. It should be the very definition of a no-brainer.

The Current State

Taking a look at the current state, things seem to be a little different. Yes, there have been tech-savvy organisations like John Deere who have managed to leverage digital capabilities and redefine their business model to open up new revenue streams. And we are all familiar with the digital disruptors coming from digital natives like Google, Amazon, Uber and Tesla.

And we have all heard the catch cry of Disrupt before you are disrupted. Indeed, it has probably been the opening for many a workshop on digital transformation initiatives making their way into the leadership programs of organisations.

Is it a money question then? There’s no doubt that the global financial crises, combined with the impact of increasing customer expectations and global competition have exacerbated financial pressure on organisations.

The internet has proven to be a double edged sword for many; enabling access to markets of consumers that would have previously been impossible, while also giving the very same consumers access to competitors, feedback and reviews of others, and pricing transparency that has not previously been possible. Everyone has had to up their game.

All About the Money?

With spend in digital initiatives estimated in 2018 at $1.3 trillion, it’s a tough position to advocate that the investment and focus has not been there. Digital initiatives are defined as any digital capabilities aimed at improving customer value, new growth and monetization opportunities and driving improved efficiencies.

So the categories are pretty broad, and the digital capabilities equally so. Moving from a spreadsheet to a web based form could be loosely termed digital, as could automating a process flow, experimenting with RPA, or enabling customers to order from a website. In essence, there are a multitude of different options before we even get to chatbots, customer preference insights, predictive asset maintenance and hypotheses generation.

So why do we keep hearing about how hard it is to execute effectively with consistent research telling us that 70 per cent of transformation efforts fail?

While digital technologies have made the pathway to digital transformation, the opportunity that every organisation is seeking to capitalise on, what many organisations (70 per cent of them as noted above) get wrong is the focus on the technology.

As an innovator in the early stages of the digital era, that may have been understandable. Working with the unknown, and by definition and nature, first-of-a-kind initiatives, it was important to understand what the technology could do and its limitations.

But in 2018, why does this still account for such an overwhelming focus of an organisations digital transformation agenda? The best way to deal with that question may be by taking a look at what the organisations that are in the 30 per cent who achieve success actually do.

People and culture matter

Watching my 10 year old nephew master the iPad with a skill and confidence I can only aspire to is an exercise in amazement and humility; amazement at all the functionality he is able to access to expedite what he is doing, and humility knowing that I am not ever going to come close.

Taking the ego aside, it reflects the very important point that the technology being used has degrees of perceived value generation and productivity firstly, only when it is used and secondly, with an increasing value the greater and more extensive the use.

So when we say people matter, what we really mean is digital transformation is a change to the way a company works and for the intended value to be realised organisations must incorporate education, training, and adoption strategies that help employees understand why the transformation is happening, how it will impact them, and how accepting and adapting to the initiative will enhance the way they work and the business performs.

Process Matters

It’s very easy to dismiss the process of any function or model as the thing that happens behind the scenes. It’s not usually the subject of an extensive marketing campaign and the people in many process areas may not even have a line of sight to the end customer. 

There may be an instances where consumers may complain about steps in the process that they may need to navigate to get something resolved. I need to admit at this point to being one of those annoying customers that will challenge how something works if I am caught up in a cycle of bureaucracy with some unfortunate contact centre assistant.

But process matters because so many organisations will deploy a technology solution and not or re-engineer a process to reflect the new way of working that the technology should enable.  As a result teams end up complaining that they are stuck with a new technology which does not work at best, and creates more work at worst.

The criticism then gears towards the technology not the implementation strategy that supported it.

Challenging Fundamentals

Business models matter: How organisations arrange themselves in a digital transformation matters. Traditional models are hierarchy based and decisions are made on positional authority. Team and role structures define who does what, and everyone’s role is clear and supported by a position description. Digital transformation challenges many, if not all of these fundamentals. 

Implementing change on this scale, for at its essence this is what digital transformation is, requires different ways of working and different mindsets. It requires acknowledging that your nephew may have more experience even at 10 years old, then you do, irrespective of a long career as an executive.

It’s about who knows what, not credentials that may be impressive, however not best suited to that particular piece of work. And it involves understanding that teams are dynamic, decisions need to be made differently, and a shared focus on outcomes is how digital value is generated and how digital transformations succeed.

If Teams Become Self-directed, What’s Left For The Managers To Do?

How do you enable and oversee without having control and visibility? This is the challenge of leadership and focusing on adopting or refining these three key attributes will help get you on the right path…

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We have all heard the words and most probably used them ourselves many times over; Empowered, autonomous, self directed. Thousands of articles, publications, books, podcasts and yes, even blogs have been written about the power of enabling this type of cultural environment. And to help us get there, we have a plethora of insights, tips, roadmaps and strategies to make sure we can navigate our path through this organisational utopia. It’s how we all want to work, and how we want our teams to operate.

Despite this consensus it remains a challenge for many organisations who are struggling to find the balance between the what of the work that needs to be done, and the how which determines the way in which it actually gets done. Why exactly is this the case? With all of the research backing it up, this should be a no-brainer to want to do, and with all of the practical guides available, it should be a matter of simply applying and executing to get it done. However, given the human element, it is never quite that easy or simple and that accounts for organisations and managers who have tried and not been successful, or have chosen to not try at all.

It could be argued that if we all want to work in that way, enabling others to do so is the not only logical but also effective. But words do mean different things to different people and sometimes depending on the context, the same words also mean different things to the same people. If we can have alternative facts, we can surely have alternative interpretation. A google search of the word empowerment returns over 293 million results. Self directed tops that with 438 million. I am pretty confident in my assumption that while results may be similar, they will not all be consistent. With that in mind, the challenge can start early, because what we need to understand is that while the intent is there, that in itself may not be enough. It needs to be the right intent and the right execution, to deliver the right outcome.

Irrespective of where you are within the organisational hierarchy there is always someone in a position to direct your focus, priorities and actions.  What tends to be different is the level of direction and who the messages are coming from. In typical, traditional structures, decision making and direction tends to be determined by functional role and reporting lines. In organisations that have transformed to respond to digital challenges, are working with Agile or for digital natives, that may be more a function of expertise and specific project engagement. Notwithstanding that, even CEOs have boards to answer to, and boards in turn have shareholders to answer to. While we have seen many recent examples around the world of interference, lack of probity, and good governance in organisations and government, oversight, direction, external perspective are important foundations for effective operation.  And that in itself can become a derailing factor for many. Because how do you enable and oversee without having control and visibility?

This is the challenge of leadership and focusing on adopting or refining three key attributes will help get you on the right path:

1. Understand and embrace risk

This is not about ignoring what is known to create a problem. Organisations need to be confident in their ability to get good outcomes in the right way without careening towards a disaster that could have easily been avoided or mitigated. The risk for many in stepping away from decision making and allowing individuals and teams to make their own decisions in relation to what is done, is problematic.  It can be seen as a leadership failure; that we somehow didn’t “own the problem”, or didn’t “step up to the plate”. Life, much less work situations are never really that simple. And enabling self directed teams is not an abdication of leadership responsibility. There are so many factors to consider including the information that was available at the time. It can also come down to a question of trust in that person as much as trust in our own judgement. It sometimes involves letting others find their own way, even if we know that it may not be the best way, or more pointedly, the way we would have done it. And equally important, it also comes down to assessing the consequence of things going awry and adding that to the factors determining whether the risk is acceptable in the context.

2. Understand capability

Applying equally to ourselves and our teams, the capability question is an important one. And a fundamental attribute of leading is assessing strengths as well as development needs in individuals and responding by making time and offering enablement to help those individuals build on their strengths and improve in areas that may need more attention. It takes time to actually spend time working on ourselves and helping others who are looking for development and improvement. In a choice between a meeting with an agenda focused on task allocation versus a meeting to develop and discuss development plans and progress, there is little question of which one would produce the more engaged employee. And with enthusiasm being contagious, it’s not a bad outcome for the rest of the team or client either.

3. Create a learning environment

Every organisation is in the process of either considering a transformation or has begun one. In the digital world, we have only started to explore the impact of the fourth industrial revolution and others are already speaking of the fifth (a great topic for another blog!) It is hard to keep up with all of the business-as-usual activities, much less everything else that is now an expectation; new projects, external research, feedback loops, workshops, to name just a few. Enabling teams and individuals with the opportunity to manage their own work and themselves to the extent that works for them and the organisation gives them a chance to learn through practical means, by hearing about the experiences of others, and in turn sharing their own stories. It fosters trust in the culture of the team and the organisation and a willingness to go beyond the simple instruction that they would have otherwise been given. Diversity. Creativity. Productivity. They can all thrive in this environment when leaders understand the opportunity of truly leading.

5 Days Without Technology

I spent five days disconnected from technology; this is how, and what I did instead…

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Irrespective of what time of the day you are reading this blog, there is one certainty. You would have spent some time on line whether it was for business purposes or for personal engagement. If you are anything like me, you would have checked the weather before heading out on an early morning run. Not exactly sure why given we all know what Melbourne is like in winter. Cold! You might have gone with some social media scanning. Liked something on Instagram? So have 3.5 billion others. Checked your facebook? You’ve joined 1.5 billion users. Looking for professional connection or posts of interest amongst LinkedIn’s 575+ million users? Let’s not even get to all of the other platforms that have proliferated. After all, it’s not just the social, social media. Chances are you have also been on email, read the news on line, messaged or What’s App’d a connection, or possibly had a call via Zoom or Skype. Even likelier you have had to make your way somewhere and needed an Uber. Phew, busy morning, even busier day! But with so much to do, isn’t it lucky that it is all there on our smartphones or laptops, smart TV’s, or home assistants,  making our lives so much easier. Or is it?

Last year I had the opportunity to be in Asia for a trip that was intended to be a holiday. It seemed smart to tie in business meetings to make the most of the fact that I was in the region. I rescheduled work commitments, let colleagues know I was away and shared my itinerary with family and friends. There was no question of whether I would take my phone and my laptop with me. After all, that’s what the modern day break looks like and with the business tied in, it wasn’t even an option to think about leaving even my laptop behind.

Admittedly and somewhat proudly, I can admit that by the end of week one the laptop had not exactly been in overdrive. It languished after a couple of video calls and a handful of emails. The phone was a different proposition altogether. Rides to organise, destinations to get to, places to eat to check out, messages to family. A combination of business and leisure that made the time not just busy but always-on.

Fast forward another week and an opportune trip for work has unexpectedly taken me to Myanmar. The great thing about being digital that we all know, is that anywhere, anytime, can make all sorts of options possible. So when a friend suggested staying a little longer and exploring what is a fascinating country, I was in. Able to work from anywhere, subject to time zones and availability, makes so many things possible. Wi-fi and mobile data (which can be a financial minefield) make the possible, practical. 

Sounds like a great trip so far, but where is the disconnect you may be wondering? Well that’s got something to do with a trip to a place in Myingyan. You most likely have no idea where that is, and that’s ok, as neither did I. What I did know was that it was wonderful eco-lodge nestled in the heart of a village that offered a unique opportunity to immerse yourself in local life. What I didn’t know until we got there? There was no wi-fi.  I had just arrived for a 4 night stay in a picturesque, but remote village, without a way to get on-line except for a very inconvenient overseas mobile data plan. So what I did I do? I messaged everyone to share the contact phone number and let them know I would be out of touch for the next few days. And then I put my phone and my laptop away.

When I got back to Melbourne a few weeks later and was telling friends about my experience, responses ranged from humour, to dismay, to fascination; How did I survive? How did I spend the time? And unexpectedly from others Would I do it again? Here are the three things I shared with everyone that have stayed with me even now

1. Nothing beats personal connection

It seems simple enough and we all know it to be true, but the flipside of technology means that we often choose to digitally engage with someone instead of actually talking to them. Staying in this wonderful place, talking to the people who lived and worked there, and wandering through the local village created an interpersonal connection that would not have otherwise been possible.  There was laughter, compassion and empathy as well as intellectual challenge and thought. It took me back to being in Greece during the GFC and talking to people about the impact on them. Understanding that a country is its people, and not always its government is something we forget.

2. Your perspective drives your context

For those who know that I have been known to buy a pair, or five, of designer shoes in my time, the idea of me spending time in a remote village with no wif-fi, dirt roads and mosquitos seems unfathomable. The bet may have been that I would have been in desperate need to get back to the city and return to something a little more ‘normal’. What in fact happened, was the opposite. I was humbled by the simplicity of those I met, their stories, and their community and it serves as a wonderful reminder to me even today, that we all define the context we operate in, and what we choose to call a challenge or opportunity.

3. Make time to think, plan, act

Free from reaching for my phone, checking emails, the weather (yes, I did attempt a run on those very treacherous roads), I was able to be completely present every day through every interaction. And it was a valuable way to create space in my mind for things I had been putting off, challenges I needed to work through in my head, even ideas I wanted to explore more but did not have time to think about. Going old school with pen and paper (although I did take photos of my notes) inspired me to refresh and get clarity on what I needed to do when I got back home. All the work was done and well thought through without the distraction of the competing priorities we often have to manage.

It was not a complete surprise to reach the end of the stay and realise it wasn’t enough time so the four nights actually became five. Who would have thought that would be the case on day one. And finally getting to the next destination? I’m pleased to say that it took another day for the technology to really come on again.

AI And The Future Of Work: Why It’s Not Oblivion That Keeps Me Optimistic

With AI encompassing a broad range of technologies, it is unlikely that there will be a role that will not feel the potential impact.

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With all the media focus and conversation about the impact of technology on the work we do, it can sometimes be a wonder to think that any of us will have anything left to do in the digital world once the machines take over. With the success of AI development from companies like Alphabet’s Deepmind and IBM’s Watson, it seems that the performance and contribution of humans raises some significant and confronting questions about what the future of work will look like, not only for us in the existing workforce, but for the generations that have just entered, or are soon to enter. With four nephews in primary school and just starting high school, this is very much a personal question, as much as a professional one.

In May this year, I had the opportunity to facilitate a panel discussion at the Future Work Summit. The topic, Capitalising on Australia’s Talent, was an interesting one. After all, with all of the talk of the professional wilderness that awaits us, how could we possibly discuss this topic without sending the audience members into a spiral of hoplessness? Thankfully, the speakers on the panel were three very passionate and amazing people who were putting their efforts and experience into addressing this exact question. Notwithstanding different roles and organisations, all are connected in their commitment to improve the potential of individuals in the workplace by enabling training and skills development that will help the navigation through the digital age.

With AI encompassing a broad range of technologies, it is unlikely that there will be a role that will not feel the potential impact. Rules based, repetitive tasks are ripe for the application of Robotics Process Automation. It’s impossible to imagine that any person, no matter their level of skill, attention or capability would be able to compete with an automated application that can process transactions within seconds, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. More sophisticated technologies including Machine Learning and Deep Learning can now look for patterns that would be either indiscernible to humans, or take so long to be identified that organisations shift priorities half way through. Add the ability for simulations and visual processing and it makes for a very compelling, and potentially threatening perspective about how people fit.

That’s certainly one perspective. The other perspective is the one that the panellists and I chose to explore. That is that while the nature of work may be changing, this change is an evolution and we as humans are impacted but we are not redundant. In an analysis of roles, McKinsey found that only about 5 per cent of roles can be fully automated and that 30 per cent of 60 per cent of the roles assessed could be automated. Yes, some roles will go, and along with that, some skills will no longer be needed. The future of work however, presents an opportunity to understand the impact of digital currently and in the future. It is an evolution that will allow us to adapt what we know and the skills we have developed or need to develop in order to position ourselves for what is coming.

As we talk about transformation in industry and organisations and make demands as consumers for organisations to get more in line with what we want to see, we have seen the rise of the ‘woke’ consumer. We all want to think we are one. So, it’s time to apply this thinking to our own personal and professional development. The future of work requires a transformation of how we perceive our place in the world. Skills and learning are not something we did in the past and left behind. The transformation required for us to stay relevant is adopting a mindset that embraces the idea of lifelong learning. Taking any formal learning we have undertaken and combining it with practical experience gets us to the place we are now. In the future of work, we continue to build. That may be through a combination of additional formal learning which is undertaken in a self-paced digital environment; welcome to the world of on-line learning that incorporates elements of gamification, animation and virtual reality. It’s here already although not as accessible as I hope it gets to be soon. What a way to learn. 

In other cases, it may be through experience. We are all familiar with the principle of learning 70-20-10. What if you could choose how you spent the 70? Would you want to spend it on administrative and operational tasks like crunching through a data activity, or would you want to spend the time validating and understanding insights and recommendations to be able to execute strategies that create value for your business? What about the opportunity to spend more time developing your team or engaging with your customers?

Even while we are concerned about machines and technology, we are embracing it when it comes to helping us expedite personal decisions and tasks. Many people are happy to engage with a chatbot to help them solve a query if it means not going through an arduous contact centre protocol. Smart algorithms are being mastered by savvy retailers. Organisations like Spotify and Netflix are personalising the customer experience and helping us discover preferences we didn’t know we had. In my case, I’m observing my experimentation with Spotify opening me up to music by artists I would not have otherwise come across. In leadership terms we call this curiosity, and we welcome it because it is a sign that we are open to understanding that we do not know everything and that learning makes us better. When it comes to the future of work, this is the mindset that will facilitate understanding and success in the man + machine interchange. It will be some time before the machines are really able to do what the hype says they will. In the meantime, what an opportunity to understand how they can help improve how we work and the type of work we do.

Still Trying To Understand Blockchain? Here’s The One Thing You Really Need To Know

Blockchain is so much more then cryptocurrency, and despite the scepticism, it is here to stay.

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I’ve had a blog on blockchain on my mind for a while. As far as business buzzwords and hype, it has to be right up there with the best of them. Everyone is talking about it, or asking about it. Questions can be quite generic ranging from what exactly is it, what does it do and do I need to care about? And then then are the questions of scepticism and challenge including; is it even real, and does it even do anything? Amongst all of that, is the one we have all heard, or perhaps been the one we have actually asked; that’s got something to do with bitcoin, doesn’t it?

Ah, bitcoin.  We’ve all heard about it now and many who have followed the heady rise have had the dream of making millions from the cryptocurrency. Hitting dizzying heights of USD$19,000+ in 2017, we were all wondering why we had not invested in 2016 when it was hovering around the USD$600 mark. Thankfully, we were able to quickly congratulate ourselves for not being susceptible to the whims of the market when it fell to USD$3,000 earlier this year. And if you’ve been watching it over the last few months? Well it’s back at USD$10,000+, so you may be either celebrating or experiencing another round of FOMO.

So, what has all this got to do with blockchain? For many, the two are essentially the same, or the mention of one prompts an association with the other. If you only feel like you need to know one thing about blockchain, it should be that it is not bitcoin. Is it connected to bitcoin?  Yes, in so far that the technology that underpins bitcoin is what we call blockchain. But blockchain is so much more then cryptocurrency, and despite the scepticism, it is here to stay. Here are a few other considerations that may be helpful once you make the disassociation from bitcoin:

Understand the maturity level

The demand and potential for blockchain application saw Venture Capital firms invest more then $1 billion in blockchain start ups as early as 2017. McKinsey classifies blockchain as being in the Pioneering stage of technology development. While there are a plethora of use cases that have been identified by organisations and also by governments, many are at ideation stage. Others have progressed to proof of concept stage. As with anything that is new, there has not been enough time to implement at scale and observe the impact across a whole industry or organisation. That is a question of time and opportunity more than likelihood or value, and there is no doubt that as the technology matures and more experimentation takes place, the more we will learn. The prediction from many industry leaders is that it will become as ubiquitous as the internet. Until then, it is important to manage expectations around what it can and will do. 

Know what to use it for

As with many emerging technologies, the temptation to pioneer and innovate has led many organisations to force a solution of blockchain into a problem or opportunity that it may not be right for. We need blockchain or blockchain will solve this is a refrain that has been heard in many a meeting across industries and geographies. And it could be exactly right. But the important thing to remember is that the principle of value and outcome applies to all new technology, even one as cool as blockchain. Work out what problem you are trying to solve; if it involves many parties, transparency, and trust, it may be exactly what you need. The financial sector has been leading the way with blockchain in KYC (Know Your Customer) initiatives to improve detection of fraud and integrity of financial transactions. In addition to the commercial benefits of mitigating monetary losses, banks and other financial institutions are also expecting to realise efficiencies from process savings. With savings of between 20-30 per cent estimated, it is an experiment worth undertaking.

It will change industries and practices

Blockchain provides a level of transparency, validation and security that has been needed, but has not been able to be achieved previously. Why are these important?  Questions of origin and ownership have become increasingly important as we become more digital savvy. In some processes, it has always been a critical dependency with onerous and time consuming operational activity to execute it. Property is a great example of this. Do you have a right to sell this property, will I be the legal owner if I proceed with the transaction?  In other cases, it may be a factor in a decision making process. As a consumer, how do I really know where this food item has come from? Is it really organic, or is it simply a marketing strategy? Luxury brands like Louis Vuitton and Dior are leveraging blockchain as part of an offensive strategy to deal with counterfeit goods. Initially applying to new items, the eventual intent is to be able to authenticate the item through the resale process and therefore manage it throughout its lifetime.

So, is blockchain more then bitcoin? Absolutely. And while it is still in its very early stages, keep watching. As a technology, there is no doubt that it in its infancy but this should only temper expectations and not prevent experimentation.

But wait, the blockchain action doesn’t stop here! Join us on October 15 with blockchain experts Shari Diaz, Innovation Strategy and Operations Program Director, IBM Watson Supply Chain and Professor Olinga Ta’eed, Director of the Centre for Citizenship, Enterprise and Governance in this webinar brought to you by IBM and Procurious. Click here to register for Blockchain: Supply Chain’s 21st Century Truthsayer.

Is Data A Promise Or A Peril? 3 Things That Really Matter

Why do organisations and leaders face such a challenge in using data at all, much less using it effectively.

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It’s everywhere and it’s generated every second. Just texted someone? You created data. Just booked an Uber. You created data. Did some grocery shopping? You created data. And that’s before we even get to your professional context. Sending an email, making notes in a meeting, paying invoices, assessing your business strategy. It’s all data.

With ninety per cent of the world’s data having been created in the last two years, Domo’s recent report shares some staggering facts about the explosion of information; equivalent to approximately 2.5 quintillion bytes per day. Not quite sure what quintillion is? If I say a massive, it’s a huge understatement. But you get the idea.

So, with all of this data, why do organisations and leaders face such a challenge in using data at all, much less using it effectively. And with all the talk of digital transformation and the role of analytics driving new insights, why is it proving so hard to translate data into meaningful actions and outcomes? These three things really do matter:

1. Upgrade your business and your thinking

Historically, legacy systems, fragmented business models and poor documentation are all elements that contributed to the difficulty of accessing meaningful data. Historically, organisations would have to work for months to collate important data on every aspect of the business; customers, sales, financials, and forecasting to name a few. Data would often be incomplete, unclear, or in some instances, missing. If you weren’t looking for it, you would be working on cleansing it, a painful by-product of the adage of ‘garbage in, garbage out’. The paradox of the digital world is that this becomes so much easier and harder at the same time. Easier because the capabilities of technology allow analysis of data to be faster and more insightful than ever before. We can now find patterns in historical information, and create predictions that help businesses position resources where demand and customer expectations intersect. And prediction is the alchemy of organisational success. Studying classics at university, I understand that prophecy and prediction are all about enabling the competitive advantage. And technology can enable that with thankfully a lot more clarity than a Delphic oracle.

The flipside of this however is that systems, processes and models are not necessarily well positioned to take advantage of what is now possible.  Doing things the same way is not designed to deliver a different outcome and for many organisations looking for quick wins, the foundational and cultural changes required to achieve foundational transformation are too complex. It’s easier to implement a digital technology. While that will improve the current state, the absence of a more comprehensive improvement strategy means an organisation will only go so far. To capitalise on the real opportunity data must become part of the DNA.

2. Don’t tell me more, tell me what matters

Along with internal and market data, organisations are now able to access a new world of data. Social media, third party data including weather and GPS, IoT and devices. Today data is literally and metaphorically, Big. The opportunity for an organisation here is that they can learn and use so much information that was previously unavailable. The agriculture industry can use weather and IoT to identify optimal harvest time, and retailers can use their own loyalty and purchase data with social media to target customers with highly personalised promotions and offers. And so with the quantum of data being so big, leaders are faced with another well known conundrum; that of analysis-paralysis. Where the challenge previously may have been not knowing enough because it wasn’t available or feasible to access, leaders are now confronted with the proliferation of data that creates a risk around not knowing enough because there is likely more that should be known. The organisational problem this creates then is that leaders are unable or unwilling to make a decision because the breadth of information is just too confusing or because there is personal risk in making a decision that may be proven to be incorrect if more data presents itself. Another mindset shift is required here and that is for leaders to make a decision based on the best possible facts at the time, and be ready to adapt and course correct should new data provide a different option.

3. How you use it matters even more than what you have

Data and big tech companies present very interesting case studies for cross-industry insight on how data can be used, and misused.  Some companies, like Apple’s Tim Cook, have come out very publicly to discuss privacy and how consumer data should be used, and how it should be protected. Others, like Facebook, have been conspicuous in their silence and their absence on their use of data given it underpins their business model. The last two years have seen a significant change in sentiment on what we, as citizens and as consumers, are willing to accept and condone. And while the conversation is still being played out, and the resolution is unclear at this time, it does provide valuable insight for any organisation that is collecting data and contemplating options for how it can be used. Trust in brand, and trust in leaders cannot be separated from how an organisation conducts itself.

4 Strategies For Managing Change The Right Way

If you think change is easy, you must be doing it wrong! These 4 strategies can help…

Why do we say change is hard when we make changes every day; we change clothes, what we eat, where we go. We change meetings, appointments, schedules constantly. So what is it about change that makes us put the brakes on anything and everything that requires us to act, work, interact, and think a little differently? In the digital era, change is everywhere. There’s new technology, new initiatives, new customers, new opportunities and new risks. And all of them require some sort of change whether it be to our priorities, our time, or how we go about doing our work. And yet, with a recent Harvard Business Review finding that 70 per cent of digital transformations do not realise their expected outcome, it’s clear that we have a challenge around a change in mindset, business model and approach.

Time to get out of our comfort zones; digital is all about transformation and innovation, which at it’s core requires varying degrees of change and adaptability. And yet so many of us are still uncomfortable with it. Even something as basic as shared work spaces was initially a confronting change to many that signalled the end of something that was comfortable and familiar.   The idea to many, is that change means that there is something that has not been done well or right, previously. But what if we changed our mindset and saw change as an opportunity to engage differently and learn new things? What if we saw it as the way to get things done, and the way to inspire us, help us learn, and help us achieve?  Fred Emery articulates this brilliantly “Instead of constantly adapting to change, why not change to be adaptive?”

Understanding this may be easy however making it happen is another thing altogether. So where to start? Here are four strategies that will help shift mindsets and perspectives for organisations and leaders who want to get this right.

1. Make it make sense

Context matters. Change cannot and should not happen in isolation. When a company or team undertake any initiative without the benefit of alignment to a functional or organisational strategy, it can create confusion or a disconnect between what is happening and the broader priorities. Alternatively, being able to clearly articulate how one enables the other creates clarity and purpose. Dan Pink’s amazing book Drive, explores the powerful motivating force of purpose in creating inspiring and engaging commitment. Everyone wants to know they are moving in the right direction, and that it’s a direction that matters.

2. Make it matter

Change becomes very personal when we are asked, or expected to do something that requires us to be different from what we are.  The question we all inevitably ask ourselves when we are presented with something that requires us to do something different is What’s in it for me?  If this question cannot be answered then probability suggests success is going to be unlikely. It’s not that as individuals we are singularly selfish, or wish to be difficult (although I am sure we all have our moments), it’s just that a change usually does seem like more effort. And effort involves energy and attention that can be too much in the plethora of some many other competing priorities we have in both our professional and personal lives. Being able to explain the benefits of what’s coming and what it might mean in a before versus after scenario can create a powerful force in the direction the change is needed. Too often leaders and organisations expect people to simply get it and don’t take the time to communicate and break this down meaningfully. Doing so can make all the difference.

3. Make it simple

Even if context is set and personalisation has been defined, it’s easy to get caught up in the confusion around the how. Best intentions are often abandoned because we are derailed by competing priorities, or simply because it seems really hard; as noted above, so much of change requires what we interpret to be exponential and often unnecessary effort. In their book Switch, Chip and Dan Heath explore the importance of providing a simple and clear path for those who want to implement a successful change. In the corporate world, we all know the conversation around SMART goals.  Our approach to change should not be any different. Set small milestones that are well defined and achievable. Celebrate the success upon achievement before moving on to the next one. And acknowledge that a setback is not a failure, or a reason to give up. In fact, in the digital dialogue, it’s simply an initiative of testing and learning. 

4. Make it the way things get done

Change should never be an afterthought. It should be ingrained into the organisational DNA.  Understanding that not everyone is going to be on board from day one is one thing. Working out what to do about it and create the impetus to move in the right direction is a challenging proposition but as many organisations and teams have shown before, it is possible. In the digital world, it is very easy to be distracted by the technology and its potential, losing sight that it is man + machine that realise the true potential of transformation. Understanding this and incorporating it into the ways of working will enable the cultural engagement that is required to become an organisation that is adaptive and agile at heart. Leverage the expertise and willingness of those have become a part of an initiative to build stories and share learnings from what worked and what didn’t. Then integrate the learning into the next program and the next, continuing to build until there is a shift of momentum towards the change, as opposed to resisting it. 

When Did Podcasting Become So Cool?

50 per cent of the population can’t be wrong, right? But just why is podcasting so popular and why do we keep listening?

By Syda Productions/ Shutterstock

In 2017, when I received a call from Colin Beattie, one of the best leadership and cultural transformation architects I know, I had no idea at all about podcasts. So when Colin told me that he had an idea for an innovative podcast format exploring leadership dilemmas, and asked if I wanted to be one of his executive speakers, it was more my enthusiasm at having a chance to work with Colin again that had me saying yes. Two great conversations facilitated by Colin with the wonderful Simone Carroll, some improvisation from the talented Rik Brown and Amanda Buckley, and two more episodes of the podcast series LeaderShip of Fools were created. From my end, I was a convert.

With the advent of digital technology, the way we work, socialise and engage has changed dramatically. So it’s no surprise therefore that the way we consume information, listen and learn has also changed. What may however be a surprise is that what we now commonly refer to as podcasting, has its origins in the 1980s. For those of us who were around at the time, we may remember it referred to as audioblogging (among other names). For its time, it was a ground-breaking way of recording and communicating information and messages. It wasn’t until the early 2000s and the introduction of the Apple iPod however, that momentum started to build around this digital platform. With a diverse library of 000’s of recordings being made available via the iPod, digital recordings became that much easier to access and started being more consistently being referred to as podcasts.

In this age of digital where only some things really stick and embed, and others join a cycle of hype before finding oblivion, what is it about podcasting that has not only endured but thrived? Nielsen estimates that in 2017, 44 per cent of Americans have listened to a podcast, with 80 per cent or more listening to one podcast each week.  If you think that sounds only vaguely interesting, and it’s simply a US-inspired phenomena, think again. According to Statista The State of Podcasting, would you have guessed that South Korea is firmly at the top of list of countries? With 58 per cent of people having listened to podcast in the last month, they are followed by Spain with 40 per cent. We Australians aren’t doing too poorly at 33 per cent, matching the US in percentage, if not in population numbers.  So irrespective of the range and location of listeners, it seems that podcasts are global and they are here to stay. Which raises the question of why exactly are we listening?

  1. Our need for connection. There does seem to be an irony here that I am very aware of. Does that really make sense? How can podcasting, a digital format helps us connect?  With over 600,000 podcasts out there, there are many topics and formats, as a well as a diversity of content. Done well, a podcast captures a conversation and invites us to be part of it. It can allow us to feel that we are listening and learning as active participants, even though we have not been there at the time. The authenticity of an open conversation, different perspectives from what we may otherwise be exposed to, and discussion that could confirm or challenge what we think we know, is a unique experience. Importantly, the challenge is non-confrontational and we give speakers a chance to explain themselves (unless we decide to pause them, or even more drastically, delete them from our library). They provoke our curiosity, and hopefully our admiration. Many times, and this has happened to me, they also provoke disbelief and ire. What? or Are you kidding me? is something I know I have said out loud while listening to more than one podcast.
  2. Interested in politics, starting a business, functional expertise, marketing, popular culture, music, crime, gardening, a discussion of your favourite TV show (yes, even if it is from the 90s and a guilty pleasure and therefore destined to remain unnamed)?  Well, you get the idea. Almost every, and any topic is likely to have a podcast associated with it. Note to readers: I have included “almost” to qualify my comment given that I am sure there will be someone out there who will be able to find a gap in the podcast market for a subject of interest. Applying a digital lens, podcasts have become a highly personalised way for us to choose what we want to consume, and how we want to consume it.  The breadth of content is extraordinary and the access to expertise so great. As someone navigating the business world whether in your own start up or in a large organisation, where else would you be able to hear about the challenges of entrepreneurship, digital transformation, leadership and customer engagement from those who have innovated, succeeded, and failed at scale? Similarly, where else would you be able to access the breadth of experiences and insights of people who are influencing the agenda on science, social justice, politics, economics and the environment be it locally, nationally or globally?
  3. If digital is redefining the idea of anywhere, anytime, then podcasting exemplifies this. Just as the options for content are endless, as a listener, I have the choice as to when and how, I listen. There are a multiplicity of listening platforms and devices; desktop, smartphone via iTunes, Spotify, Podbean. Something to suit everyone. Choices can be based on location, the time that is available and what is of interest at that particular day, week, or even moment. You can choose to be educated, entertained, moved, or inspired. Sometimes, a great podcast can achieve all of those things. There are many times that I have found myself laughing out loud as I listen to a podcast while I am walking. So a note to those who are new to podcasting; it does take a special type of confidence to walk down the street and not be disturbed by the curious looks of other pedestrians as you smile or laugh out loud. If you aren’t quite there yet, there are many other locations and time options for you to think about and get started with.

My podcast library is highly versatile depending on what I am interested in learning more about. A few current favourites from me that I am talking to friends about: npr’s Hidden Brain, Freakonomics Radio, HBR Ideacast, and of course, LeaderShip of Fools.

Great things happen when we seize the opportunity to be curious. If you haven’t become a podcast listener yet, it’s not too late to make a start. And if you have and lost some momentum, tune in to one on a topic of interest and reignite your learning and inspiration.

Three Key Mindset Shifts To Lead In The Digital Age

The wonder of digital is the array of choice and opportunity it brings. To drive a successful digital agenda and succeed in the digital age however, mindsets need to build on leadership fundamentals while also shifting to respond to the new environment.

By Brian Lasenby / Shutterstock

Digital, the awe and the promise, filling us with inspiration and fear at the same time. Initially, the digital discussion was all about technology. After all, technology is cool, and we all want the cool factor. It demonstrates that we are at the forefront, leading the way, innovating. All great things when organisations and individuals are in a highly competitive environment and looking for a point of differentiation.

The wonder of digital is the array of choice and opportunity it brings. RPA? A great place to start. Mobility? It’s all about anytime, anywhere. AI? Not quite sure what it means, but let’s go with it anyway.

As many organisations sought to implement technology and transform themselves, the promised utopia did not quite eventuate. Technology moves fast and the innovation of today is tomorrow’s nostalgia (Any 80’s movie featuring a brick cleverly masquerading as a mobile phone will make this point all too well for those of us who were there to remember it the first time). That’s because digital requires a reinvention in how an organisation operates from business models, to systems and processes, through to engaging with the market and customers. It turns out that without a mindset and cultural shift, the full benefits of the technology are never realised or sustained. And so, for leaders this poses an interesting question. What does leadership look like in this digital age?

There is a multitude of research, writing and discussions on leadership in general. It is no surprise therefore that the conversation around digital mindset is met with cynicism, or fatigue. Don’t throw out those books yet (unless you received a kindle for Christmas). The fundamentals of what we know to be great leadership endure; humility, curiosity, emotional intelligence among others are key call outs and are as relevant today as when they were first identified. To drive a successful digital agenda and succeed in the digital landscape however, mindsets need to build on leadership fundamentals while also shifting to respond to the new environment. So where can you start to make a shift like this?

1. Experiment and embrace learning, not failure

Everybody knows about this one. In the strive to be innovative, there is a focus on experimentation. Experimentation is a call out for me because it brings together a number of attributes that differentiate digital leaders; challenging the status quo, creativity in seeing something the rest of us do not, courage to advocate for it, curiosity and determination to pursue it.

Interestingly enough, this also requires what might be considered a high tolerance for risk (which is why I mentioned courage). The default position for many leaders and organisations is to say “no” in a variety of ways.  I am not sure how many times I have heard “that’s not been done before”, “that won’t work here” or “we tried it and it didn’t work”. And there were times when I listened, and others when I thought there was something worth pursuing and did, demonstrating probably more hope and naivety , than courage.

The real issue of risk in experimentation arises because we need to be comfortable with  failure. Failure here is not an aspiration, it is simply highly likely when trying something new or doing something for the first time, even if it has worked somewhere else. Failure is problematic because it makes us susceptible to self-doubt, and the critique of others. Both are tough. And the idea that we celebrate failure in the digital world is a confusing and honestly, a little ridiculous to many. So, let’s be clear, that with experimentation, it’s the learning that needs to be celebrated, not the failure. Gary Pisano makes this point clearly in his book “Creative Construction: The DNA of Sustained Innovation”.  Try something new, take what worked, evolve it and get it right. Or work out whether it is even worth pursuing further, or call it quits and move on.

2. Understand skills, cultivate expertise

There is no shortage of dystopian views of the end of the human workforce as the result of automation and AI. If failure incites fear, there is no doubt that human redundancy as a result of technology amps up the anxiety level. The McKinsey Global Institute estimates that workforce transitions due to automation will impact approximately 14 per cent of the world’s workforce, so the scale of the impact is significant. My first implementation of digital analytics was in 2011, long before we were even having the conversation so I have seen the potential and the limitations. Developing an executive dashboard of key business metrics including daily sales, was a great start to automating analytics and producing actionable insights. So much more would be possible today. I am optimistic about the future of humanity and the ability of the man + machine interchange.

There is no doubt that many tasks will be automated. Many routine ones in fact already have been. At the same time, demand for new skills is emerging. And these skills present an opportunity to generate value in ways that may not have been possible previously. Digital savvy leaders adopt a mindset that see this threat as an opportunity. They understand the impact for themselves, their teams and the organisation. Anticipating what is coming, they identify the skills and behaviours that are needed and develop them, positioning themselves at the forefront through different ways of learning. With so much being so new to so many, expertise and differentiation comes to those who are willing to learn, try, and apply. Equally important, they cultivate this mindset with their employees and enable them with the skills and attributes needed.

3. Operate within new models, divest old paradigms

Welcome to the new world of work. Expertise exists in unlikely places; traditional reporting structures don’t always work and teams operate with autonomy and accountability. It takes a distinct mindset shift to relinquish decision making and control. The more important the initiative, the greater the risk, the harder it becomes. Yet the digital world values and rewards expertise, speed and adaptability. That means setting the agenda and outcome, defining parameters and empowering the team with expertise to execute. It does not mean abdicating accountability for progress and delivery, nor does it mean micro-managing the team because things aren’t being done as you would do them.

For many leaders, the paradigm shift to new models of leadership is challenging. The results however are inspiring. When I was tasked with working on the National Emergency Warning Project with the amazing Joe Buffone who was leading the Government’s Emergency Services response, we both knew that we needed to assemble an A-team, give them guidance and clear direction, and then let them do their thing while we did ours. The result? A first-of-a-kind initiative, with media attention, up and running (and more importantly working) on time and within budget, which is practically unheard of in either public or private sector, was the result.

There is no doubt that the digital landscape presents challenges that many may find uncomfortable at best. Embracing new ways of thinking and applying mindset shifts is a tremendous opportunity for leaders to transform themselves, their teams and their organisations. Time to be inspired by the potential of what is possible.