Women in Learning & Leadership

I was proud to be invited to speak at the Women in Learning & Leadership (WILL) event today in Manchester. It was a great meet with some very good speakers and lots of interaction and participation – Pearson at its best!

I opened with a quote from Accenture that stated digital is the main reason half the companies have disappeared from the Fortune 500 since the year 2000, and we delved into technologies impacting the workplace, education trends we need to be cognisant of and especially the need to attract and retain the best talent.

I referenced one well-known UK businessman who said, “You have to Kill Your Business,” and whilst dramatic, I agree that you have to embrace digital transformation and do business totally differently. We lamented the demise of Nokia and a former CEO made a great comment that they didn’t do anything wrong necessarily, but somehow the industry disrupted around them. The frightening aspect of this is that the traditional graph with a 30-degree growth line is now even referred to as the “path of doom;” in other words, if you are only growing at that rate, you may not survive the disruption. Plus those that are complacent are at greatest risk.

We don’t own our ideas for very long either, according to a former Marketing Officer of McDonalds – today we own our ideas “for about an hour and a half” before somebody is snapping at our heels updating and improving what we started. A simple yet great line cited from Cisco Chairman John Chambers summed it up: “It’s no longer a question of if or when the digital revolution will happen, we are in the middle of it.”

Somebody asked about AI in education: educators and teachers must not stop the drive of AI in the classroom; it is in the real world so if we don’t introduce it into our learning, the next generation wont be ready when they go out to the workplace – we must think of the future.

I closed by using the Fox and Hedgehog story to answer a question about why Pearson VUE is so successful at what we do – we have a laser focus on what we do and we hire and develop the best people.

Silver is worth more than gold

I read a series of articles and opinion pieces about developing young leaders and the importance of doing so in light of the retirement statistics of Baby Boomers.

According to Harvard Business Review, 10,000 Boomers will retire every day over the next decade. This is great for young people, who will have the opportunity, and have to be ready, to assume some of the roles made vacant; plus in many cases they will be fast-tracked by their companies into these positions to address skills gaps.

So with that companies are targeting millennials with the majority of their advertising, after all by 2030 the millennials will make up almost 3 out of 4 members of the workforce.

But pause for thought – are we ignoring some people? We know that the silver surfers have all the money and they know how to spend it (largely on leisure). In addition, as Tom Peters tells us in his inspiring way, women make most of the key decisions, so why does advertising continue to ignore them? I think we may be missing a trick here and not just for allocation of advertising spend. Sure millennials will be an important audience in 10 years, but why wait? Target the most important groups today, because they are ready to spend.

It seems to me the silvers are worth more than gold futures, at least for now.

One size fits One

bootsOne of the most exciting opportunities that technology brings to the table for businesses of every size is the utilisation of data to tailor their offering to each individual customer.

Although we are told that 95% of business data in the UK still remains untapped (Forrster Research), the opportunity to serve each individual’s needs and offer a truly bespoke service is mouth-watering at the prospect. This isn’t Harvey Specter and made-to-measure suits (for fans of the brilliant legal drama Suits), but more about understanding preferences, buying-patterns and data in the aggregate to shape future sales.

I have talked before about the correlation that WalMart made in the US between thunderstorms with sales of torches and pop-tarts! No in-store manager could ever have worked out the link, but the data made it sound obvious.

For those of us in a B2B environment, the dynamic is somewhat different, but we have an additional layer to use to our advantage. We don’t need to make over-the-top sales presentations to our prospects; customers tend to know who we are, they do their own research and they can find pretty much anything they want online. Plus in many cases today they reject sales people outright.

You can tell your story online – your website, blog, videos and customer case studies all wrapped up in your social presence will do as much talking as any salesperson. But augment this by building relationships at a human level, person to person, team to team over time, patiently and with integrity, and you have a formula that is very hard to beat.

One size fits one: the one thing technology can support every business with.

True Grit

JohnWayneI spent today at a client, talking futures and opportunities: smart people, open discussion, transparency; the most productive forum for communication.

As I travelled back (reading The Culture Code by Daniel Coyle and doing 3 things at once), I remembered something about people making connections and it is worth a note.

Many commentators talk about the human side being just as important, if not more so, than skills or IQ these days. Recruiters look for accomplishments outside the norm, such as inventions, entrepreneurial achievements and especially how an individual has come from or dealt with difficult circumstances.

With soft skills carrying more weight in hiring decisions, those that can show courage, perseverance, resilience as well as an openness and willingness to learn, will win the day in future. This is defined as grit, and some even pattern-match to find people that have these gritty characteristics. It’s part of our evolution and only today we talked about traditional education transforming in response to digital technology and culture – industries will move ahead without us if we don’t change.

One final consideration – no mention of the word “technology” in grit. We are in the people business. We always will be.

(Image to the right: the legendary John Wayne from the Western ‘True Grit’, 1969).

The answer is in the room

Most people think that to generate and brainstorm the next big idea has to involve far-reaching experts nobody has ever met, when in fact, regardless of age or generation, the answer to our needs is normally in the room – all we have to do is find the most effective way to facilitate the discussion and identify it.

Plus you don’t need a focus group; the world talking and debating online every day, customers talking about your company and product and service, is the biggest focus group you will ever need.

People are our biggest problem

A lot is being written about robotics and the impact on the workplace, as well as the form and structure of tomorrow’s workforce.

I think we are all in agreement that technology is increasing the pace of innovation and forcing us to think differently: be more customer centric, open via multiple channels to customers, and collaborate more and differently. But what underpins this is that it is always people that companies need to drive that change – exceptional, creative people.

However placing an even greater responsibility on people means the pendulum can quickly swing from people as our greatest asset to our biggest problem. My Pearson colleague Andy Stockinger, Manager of our Product Strategy Team and I presented this at the eATP conference last week. Technology is impacting how we work and disrupting old ways of doing business, so people have to change too, but you can’t simply retrain staff – an organisation needs to think and operate differently, with an entirely new attitude.

With that comes changes to how people learn and how we assess their suitability for the job. We will need to understand how technology has changed their role day to day, and figure out how to reach them accordingly, most likely introducing learning as part of their daily work, integrating training-module updates at more regular intervals and in smaller bite-sized pieces; and then testing and assessment will follow suit, quite possibly taking place live in the workplace.

Finally, let me add: Gen Z, iGen, Next Gen or however we label them, ultimately want the same thing as other generations such as Millenials and Boomers before them, namely job satisfaction, decent pay and career development.

Does your company have a fusbol table?

fusbol

I read a stat recently that said 24.1 per cent of start-ups have a fusbol (football) table in their office. Is this the new silver bullet, the difference between company success and failure? Are we missing out?

We have all seen the images of the coolest offices in Silicon Valley or Old Street with young hipsters in torn jeans and suede boots, mismatched colours painted on the walls and a corner set aside for unpronounceable coffees, portrayed as the best places to work, fuelled by leading-edge technology. But how real is this?

Does a fusbol table really attract the right people? I don’t think so. Aren’t the old values of making a genuine contribution and a clear career plan still the most important factors, regardless of generation? I believe they are.

Non-technology

Be present slideTo end a busy week and help lead us into the weekend with some downtime (a term I had never heard until technology made its play on our time), I’d like to call out two things to help focus us away from gadgets and devices.

The first relates to this great little photo (on the right). A crowd has gathered to watch a parade, a celebrity or some runners and everybody has jumped to their phones to catch the moment. But isn’t it interesting that nobody is actually watching the event unfold, nobody except one little old lady who is very content to take in that special moment. The look on her face speaks a thousand words. Occasionally, leave your phone in your pocket and just be present.

The other item relates to something I posted on social spaces earlier in the week that received a most positive reaction – handwritten notes. Despite all the wonders of technology most electronic communication lacks the personal touch and if valued, lasts only a short time. Instead people truly value and often keep a handwritten note. I first read this during the 1990s when a famous rugby coach left handwritten notes under the door of each team member before a crucial game. It rallied the troops to great success.

So go on, send somebody a ‘Thank You’ note today. It will please you as much as it does them.

 

A 3-layer cake worth sharing

cakeI recently returned from participating on a global advisory board on education and certification and we debated not just the future but how we can pin it down long enough to be able to describe it and build a strategy around it.

Tech refuses to stand still and while it isn’t quite the bedlam that the comedy series Silicon Valley portrays, it isn’t a million miles away. On my journey back I deliberated and concluded one thing for certain – the larger the audience we try to reach, the simpler the message has to be, otherwise it flies over our heads along with the rest of the information box labelled “overload.”

So what is the next wave? I summarised it as a 3-layer cake with all manner of ingredients built around intelligence, security and people.

The first, top layer, a segment called ‘intelligence,’ is the topping that will propel us into creative new spaces – AI, AR, VR, 3D, (already too many acronyms), drones, robots and my favourite internet of things. This will lead us towards everything cloud, everything connected and everything mobile.

The foundation or base is the security that will be necessary to hold things together, protect the safe business transition to the above and without which we can expect a myriad of challenges that could well hold back progress.

The flavouring in the middle, always the best bit, is where we come in – the people and the skills that underpin the change, the brainpower to drive it forward and the mindfulness to ensure things are done correctly, competitively and for the long-term.

Hewlett and Packard: the difference

I blogged about Intel a couple of posts ago and today I will blog about another IT-industry stalwart, Hewlett Packard.bill_and_dave_21c

Quite simply, this is a brand that I have always liked. I have only ever bought HP printers and I like the story of the founders, William Hewlett and David Packard (take note, no shortening of names taking place here – the two gentlemen deserve full name spelling). They started HP in 1939 out of a garage in Palo Alto where the company was born.

What really stands out, however, is their reaction to the market soon after the war began. Not surprisingly, the government labs were shutting down and the engineers leaving their employment. But Hewlett and Packard saw the opportunity. Although they were going through staff layoffs themselves, they realised that the greatest opportunity their company ever had wasn’t that of technology.

So instead they went out and hired those engineers.