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Our future of work blog 

31/01/2019, 10:43



THE-FUTURE-CIO


 We’re in the midst of game-changing transition. Technology has, in recent years, transformed how we behave both at work and at home, and Moore’s Law argues that that the pace of technological progress will only ever speed up from here on in.



Today I offloaded some CDs at the charity shop. I was asked what condition they were in. Since I haven’t owned a CD player in over 5 years, I said that I thought they were good, but that they’d need to check themselves. This led to a conversation about the pace of technology now. It’s mad that streaming has rendered the CD and DVD player obsolete. Perhaps I’m just old now. 

We’re in the midst of game-changing transition. Technology has, in recent years, transformed how we behave both at work and at home, and Moore’s Law argues that that the pace of technological progress will only ever speed up from here on in.  

We know that commercial landscapes are set to become infinitely more technology-centric - digital transformation promises untold efficiency to improve both profitability and customer experience. 

Given the pace and scope of technology innovation, however, how does a CIO remain on top of an accelerating digital landscape? 

As little as five years ago, a CIO CV would demonstrate the skills and experience gained in a highly bespoke commercial environment, with much of the IT infrastructure stack designed, built and managed in-house. Today, from an ROI perspective, low-cost PAYG technology options challenge the business case for building in-house. It’s far more commercially appealing to take advantage of the myriad cloud-based business offerings. 

Furthermore, the range of technology available across every aspect of both commercial and consumer life has changed the very relationship that humans have with tech. Its pervasive nature makes most users far more willing to experiment with apps and readily available web-based tools that improve the way we do things. More than ever, it’s now the height of cool to be a "geek" and an early adopter of emerging technology. It used to be trainers; now it’s gadgets. 

How we engage with technology in our personal lives transforms our expectations of it in the workplace. Younger cohorts expect technology to be instantly accessible and to be able to access the applications they want, whenever and from wherever. BYOD is old-school, we’re now in the age of BYOA - "Bring your own Anything."  These younger cohorts will move jobs if they feel career progression is hindered by a limiting technology environment.

So, what can an IT leader do? He or she is faced with countless technology options, a boardroom mandate to crack on and use technology to create commercial advantage, faster than the competition, at reduced cost, and of course while maintaining a robust and secure 24/7/365 uptime environment. No pressure. Total exposure. 

We can ponder the lexicon of this brave new landscape, and perhaps consider hiring a Chief Digital Officer alongside or instead of the traditional CIO. But this is just tinkering. 

Limitless choice renders it impossible to retain expert status across the technology piste. As Kevin Kelly wrote in The Inevitable

"Endless Newbie is the new default for everyone, no matter your age or your experience." 

To remain ahead of the game in technology leadership, the royal jelly of future success will be a constant figuring out of how to maintain a stable yet constantly evolving technology environment where all data is safe and secure. It will be a constant evaluation of where to go next, what to allow, what to dismiss, all the while continuously justifying your arguments in front of an audience that a) wants immediate access to quick fixes and b) doesn’t always care about the business imperative of safety, security and governance. 

This requires a new set of human skills. It requires pragmatism, dexterity, advocacy and above all, the tenacity to hold steady in the wake of constant disruption. Your new world landscape will be like constantly trying to complete a 5000-piece jigsaw when you can’t even find the edges.  

The pre-eminent skill for the future CIO will be the humility to recognise that it’s no longer humanly possible to keep on top of all the emergent technology options in micro-detail. That would be like trying to drink from a fire hydrant.

Equally, trying to inhibit the creeping uptake of the latest business applications within a commercial environment is a waste of time, and will arguably be perceived as an outdated attempt at power and control. 

Far easier would be to assume the role of advocacy and education - asking colleagues to consider the following before being lured by the next time-saving or experience-improving application. 

1)     Is the application secure? 
2)     Will it compromise the business in any way? 
3)     Does it pass on any proprietary data to 3rd parties (particularly pertinent in the case of any low cost / no cost applications) 
4)     What is its likely shelf-life? 
5)     How easy would it be to migrate away from this application if it becomes unworkable for any reason? 

Having users ask these questions creates an environment where people are thinking more holistically (and sensibly) about new technologies, and demonstrates leadership capability that transcends the 20th Century paradigm of hierarchy, power and control. 

The future of work is fluid; technology will irrevocably change the nature of organisational structures and of work itself. Leaders who have the self-awareness to adapt to a collaborative approach, working with all stakeholders in true partnership to embrace continuous learning are, to our mind, far more likely to be successful than those who maintain a hierarchical (and perceivably authoritarian) stand in an effort to maintain status and control. 

References: 
Kelly, K. (2016) - The Inevitable:  Understanding the 12 technological forces that will shape our future. New York: Penguin Random House   

Inspirations: 
Conversations with several forward-thinking CIOs across the past few months have informed this blog. Guys - you know who you are. Thank you.
13/12/2018, 06:36



PEOPLE-LIKE-US


 The need for certainty and reassurance causes us, I think, to seek out ‘people like us’. People who, because they share similar thoughts and beliefs about the world in which we operate, help us to feel safe and more certain about the future.



It’s an understatement to say that the world has changed dramatically in the last three years. It’s extraordinary to consider that as little as 30 months ago, we had no idea that the UK would be in a Brexit deadlock, or that the leader of the most developed country in the Western world would continually show himself to be narrow-minded, sexist, racist and all manner of un-presidential things in between.  In parallel, we’re hearing incontrovertible truths about climate change and our increasingly erratic weather patterns are testament to the fact that our human behaviour is becoming, bluntly, more and more destructive. 

Never in recent history have things seemed so precarious. 

Increasingly, it feels that the world is torn and divided. We’ve become fixed in our worldviews and as precarity increases, we seem more and more certain about things, to the point of myopia. It’s as if when we can’t be certain what the future holds for us, we gain comfort in being certain about what we think. 

This need for certainty and reassurance causes us, I think, to seek out ’people like us’. People who, because they share similar thoughts and beliefs about the world in which we operate, help us to feel safe and more certain about the future. 

Surrounding ourselves with ’people like us’ doesn’t necessarily serve us well, however, and never more so than in the world of work. 

Digital Transformation, the widespread adoption of commercial technology, is creating vast efficiency and automating all manner of transactional functionality, leaving us humans to focus on the non-replicable aspects of business. This is arguably higher value stuff, creating new products and services to delight our customers. 

This is great, as long as within our organisations, we have the neuro-diversity to mirror the segments of customers we want to attract and serve. 

It’s my view that workplace discrimination hides in plain sight. When I worked in technology staffing, candidate CVs were often rejected for nonsensical reasons, but as an intermediary, if I wanted to get paid, to some extent, I had to suck it up. In the more recent past, with the new-found focus on corporate culture, it’s been far too easy to dismiss great candidates for lack of ’cultural fit’.  But this, in my opinion, thinly masks the bias that cuts across the commercial world. 

As we sail into increasingly volatile commercial waters, it’s never been easier to look for ’people like us’ when we go to market to source talent and collaboration partners. ’People like us’ will understand us, get up to speed faster, fit in easier, and bluntly be far more malleable when it comes to getting them to do what we want. 

This is entirely short-sighted, however. Right now, it’s never been more important to seek out people who challenge our thinking, test the boundaries of our worldviews and push us to do things differently. When we face the opposing views of others, it’s fair to say that it can be pretty uncomfortable at times, and often quite hard work, but then again, learning anything new and worthwhile has never been easy. 

Building and monetising new products and services will require vast amounts of creativity, which in turn only exists when we think differently. As Marshall Goldsmith succinctly wrote, "What got you here won’t get you there". And here’s another thing. If we want to market and sell our products and services to a diverse customer base (and if I’ve learned one thing in business, it’s not to put all your eggs in one basket), then what we create should be designed with differing worldviews and perspectives in mind. If we can’t apply diversity in our thinking, then we’re in trouble, as we’ll never manage to create stuff that appeals widely. 

As much as there is increased focus on workforce diversity, it does feel as though bias and discrimination are still as manifest as ever. Lack of gender parity is testament to that and I absolutely believe, based on my experience in staffing, that cultural and age discrimination are still rife. But until we improve on this, we will never create offerings that truly appeal to multiple market segments. 

Our primary business goal is to grow a company that thrives well into the future. For us to do this, however, we think it’s important to regularly step outside our comfort zones, to push against the boundaries of what we think we know and strive to think differently. We’re facilitating this by building a human eco-system of trusted collaborators who hold different worldviews because of their diverse backgrounds and life experiences. 

As consumers, we’ve entered an age of mass customisation. As technology becomes ubiquitous, it’ll provide diminishing competitive advantage. It’ll never be more important, then, to create bespoke and experiential offerings that somehow change the lives of those who buy them. We can only do this when we step beyond our comfort zones to embrace plurality of perspective and recognise that keeping ’people like us’ in close orbit is only one tiny aspect of a kaleidoscopic landscape.
08/11/2018, 14:10



DIGITAL-TRANSFORMATION:-THE-HUMAN-IMPERATIVE


 2018 was the year that Digital Transformation became a mainstream topic within most boardrooms. It can still appear an ambiguous term, however – what is it, how is it measured and what defines its success?



2018 was the year that Digital Transformation became a mainstream topic within most boardrooms. It can still appear an ambiguous term however - what is it, how is it measured and what defines its success?  

For us, digital transformation represents the inexorable march of technology and its pervasive creep into every corner of the workplace. It includes automation, AI and robotics and is quite simply the way we will do things from here on in.  

In 1970, Alvin Toffler described "Future Shock" as: 

"...the shattering stress and disorientation that we induce in individuals by subjecting them to too much change in too short a time." 

Back then Toffler was considering very different societal changes to the ones posed today by technology and the Future of Work. The psychology of change however remains the same, and to our mind, is largely overlooked in the prevailing narrative about the rise and rise of technology. 

Over 70% of transformation programmes fail due to lack of engagement. But what does this mean exactly? We asked Helen Crosby of Nimble Results to help us with this. Helen has worked on Transformational Efficiency since 2000, so is well placed to comment. Here’s what she had to say. 

1] What, in your view, makes for a successful digital transformation programme?   
Business often assumes that digital transformation will provide the silver bullet to deliver competitive edge.  But digital transformation on its own won’t deliver this unless the technical transformation is underpinned by a clear plan to transform the way people work and the processes they follow.  While technology has opened up endless new possibilities, the problems I perceive in companies are invariably the same: the need for an internal execution capability that joins up the functions and the people so that everyone is aligned and focused on delivering the same outcomes:

  • Are you really listening to your customers and what they think about your offerings, or are you hearing what you want to hear? 
  • Do you have a clearly defined and widely understood Product roadmap that is realistic, prioritised and focused on maximising benefits, or are you trying to do too much at once? 
  • Are the Sales strategy and targets aligned to the product strategy and the ability to deliver technically, or are Sales selling capabilities and features that you don’t have?  
  • Is your Support operation trained and geared up to manage the volume and type of customer queries, or do they learn about new product features once they’ve already gone live?  
  • Are Tech onboard with the programme and adding valuable insights, or are they fighting to keep up?   

In essence, are you a learning organisation that is working cross-functionally to deliver business and customer benefits quickly, or is your organisation functionally siloed with the customer a distant voice in the background?  You can have excellent digital transformation but the ability to reap the benefits will depend on your overall operating model and people buy-in to the changes.   

2] We feel that the flipside of digital transformation is workforce transformation. When business adopts digital technology to deliver both efficiency and enhanced customer offering, it’s inevitable that both how people work and the work itself will change. What do you perceive as the obstacles to a successful transformation programme?   
For teams to truly back a digital transformation programme they have to really understand what you’re trying to achieve and why, together with their role and future in that organisation.  If people don’t feel valued and fulfilled you won’t get the benefits.  So how you introduce and manage change is key to success.  Top-down communication is not enough.   

  • Sell your vision!  Be clear about what sort of organisation you want to be and why, and what you are trying to achieve.  Keep reinforcing your message in everything you say and do. 
  • Breed infectious enthusiasm!  Role model change with passion.  Sell the excitement of where you’re trying to get to and how the changes will benefit not just the company but the individuals working there.  
  • Show you mean it!  Make your office look like a digitally transformed company, and change how you interact with your teams to match your vision and values. 
  • Make time for the people changes!  Coach and support your teams in how they need to change the way they work.  Give them examples of what you expect, and provide regular constructive feedback and positive reinforcement. 
  • Listen and let go!  Listen to your teams and let them work out the detail for themselves.  A bit of gentle nurturing is often enough.  
  • Showcase the quick wins!  Show the transformation is real by celebrating some early successes.   
  • Stick to your vision!  Finish what you started and make it clear that the status quo isn’t an option, but give people a chance to get on board.  People need time to absorb the implications and work out how this benefits them.  Once they engage, they will add value and improve on your ideas for change.   

3] As the pace of technology evolution accelerates, we foresee successive transformation cycles overlapping previous ones, such that change becomes constant. What challenge does this create?   
There’s a real risk of transformation fatigue.  Digital companies need to be agile and flexible, able to respond quickly to changing circumstances.  But people get turned off if they feel you’ve moved onto the next big idea before finishing implementing the previous one.  Remember, you’ll have been thinking about digital transformation for a lot longer than your teams.  

It’s essential that your digital transformation forms part of a broader vision and direction, with each transformation cycle taking your company closer to that end goal.  Keep making changes in incremental steps rather than via large-scale programmes that take months to deliver or never end.  And when you need to change direction and priority, explain the change rationale to your people.  Managed well, successive change can soon become part of "the way we work"; managed badly, people perceive chaos and confusion.        

4] If you could impart any advice to CIOs considering digital transformation strategy, what would it be?   
Design your operating model first so that your tech transformation is aligned with your people and process transformation.  All three need to work well for digital transformation to be a success. 

Make it someone’s job to act as the glue of the organisation - align what everyone is doing and ensure that the technology strategy and product roadmap are backed up with the capability to deliver across the whole business.  

Remember the people.  How you implement your digital transformation is just as crucial as what you implement.   It’s unlikely that you will get your system changes right first time, however well you specify and plan them.  You need your people to be fully engaged in finding the areas that aren’t working well and brainstorming ways to fix them.  Continuous improvement and acting on real learnings are the only ways to capitalise on your digital investment.  Without team buy-in, this won’t happen.       

Finally, but most importantly, your people are key to delighting your customers.  Do you really understand what your customers think about your products, services and your brand?  Your teams need to be your customer champions, constantly finding out what your customers do or don’t like, and brainstorming ways to make things better, be it the product itself, or how customers feel every time they have to contact you.  Analytics and research systems are key here to gaining objective feedback.  But acting on true customer insights will not come from systems alone - they need your people to really care.  And to care they need to feel part of your digital transformation.    

***** 

Mainstream narrative rarely addresses the people aspect of digital transformation. It’s easy to think digital transformation is all about technology, but at a time when technological efficiencies are more likely than ever to displace or disrupt human contribution, it’s critical to consider the people element of transformation, as ultimately, your workforce will have a significant impact on your transformational success. And it’s worth considering that the way you manage your digital transformation strategy has the potential to impact your brand reputation for generations to come.   

References: Toffler, Alvin. (1970). Future Shock. New York: Random House


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