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.

It’s about people, it always is

My internet

Here’s an interesting clipping from a newspaper. As funny as it reads, there is an underlying message that however technology is helping and enhancing how we communicate, work and do business, ultimately it is about the relationships we build with people that create loyalty and the long-term partnerships we crave.

Business isn’t about B2B or B2C, but about the human-to-human relationships we build and nurture over time.

Tech has given us an excuse to think short-term. Life and real success isn’t like that.

Make our jobs better

The General Manager of Deloitte UK, robotssaid “We should automate work and humanise jobs; give the mundane to the machines and the purpose back to people,” as part of Deloitte research called Essential Skills for Working in the Machine Age.

We need to make our jobs better (different) and add more value to the human side of what we are truly good at. It is not simply a case of putting technology in place of people; Starbucks could quite easily replace people with robot coffee machines in its outlets, but the conversation that takes place in a Starbucks shop, the smell of coffee beans and even the individualisation of your name written on a cup, is part of the carefully crafted Starbucks experience.

We must learn to understand what technology can do for our business and then use it to enhance the customer, but also the employee, experience. Every company has the opportunity to apply technology to make it better.

No question that both customers and employees will be better engaged.

Humans: a case for the opposition

humansThe Future of Jobs report from the World Economic Forum highlighted that over 7m jobs will be lost to redundancy, automation or disintermediation, although they did also state that some of this loss will be offset by 2m jobs in new areas.

We know that as industries evolve and technology puts its arms around a business model and disrupts it, that jobs are created elsewhere, just as retail and services have replaced the factory and manufacturing, so the message to us as employers is invest in the skills of our people, rather than hire more workers, as the key to managing disruptions to the labour market long-term.

Jobs aren’t going away, they’re just changing. We know that softer skills like empathy, communications and prioritisation are essentially human. The future of work is not about jobs going away, it’s about redesigning what we do to make better use of the tools and technology at our disposal.

My point? Robots and technology are already in place. They trade on the stock markets, they drive cars in some cities and they are persistently recommending what we buy next. What they can’t do is serve the delicious loaves of bread in St Albans market with a chat on a Saturday morning or provide that extra bit of care and attention when you’re not feeling at your best – so work with the humans in our teams to find the things they are good at, the tasks and roles that require thinking, judgement and emotion.

Finally, is Nike really launching self-tying shoelaces on sneakers/trainers? Isn’t learning to tie a shoelace an important step in our childhood?

School as base camp

subbuteo

My team co-hosted a great seminar with the Professional Associations Research Network (PARN) this month, and it underlines what technology will never replace – the benefit that people gain from being in a room networking, asking questions and sharing best practice with each other – in other words learning in the real world.

In his book, Open, David Price talks about learning becoming authentic when it has a specific purpose, impact beyond schooling and supports a student’s communities.

What is school about, if it isn’t helping prepare young people for the real world, however small the steps of progress? My daughter returned from her Duke of Edinburgh trek this weekend tired, frazzled and aching from the backpack which stood almost as tall as her. But the experience was priceless and taught her how set up camp, prepare food and work in a team to navigate walks and hazards to reach their destination – the greatest challenge for them was the intermittent phone signal.

Education has to reflect what industry is looking for in skills. It has a tough time keeping up as it is, with first year degree material becoming out of date before graduation, so there has to be a genuine link between what is taught and its relevance to the real world – after all, kids are already more engaged via devices and the online world than we ever will be.

I do wonder, however, how these kids would have coped in the 70s; with just Subbuteo, a bicycle and local park to contend with.

Final score: People 1-0 Spreadsheets

tea

I recently returned from a trip where I met with the most senior heart surgeon in the country and I was hugely impressed by his humility and leadership. Very few possess the combination of exceptional business acumen plus the people skills to lead from the very top. He certainly had those and he was also keen to innovate and lead from the front. Meeting him and his team, being encouraged by them, talking about the past and visions for the future, are what makes business tick, but also why people never fail to inspire.

Working in a technology-led business it reminded me of the importance of fundamentals in doing business and why people can never lose out to tech in the development of relationships. We have a philosophy which is when you are seeking long-term business relationships (contracts, agreements, partnerships), you have to earn the trust of the economic buyer (read: Miller Heiman selling skills) in some cases a year or two before they have even decided they want to make a purchase.

Technology can certainly go some way to impressing a prospect buyer that you have the tools and the solution to their needs, but in a world where we will see more contractors around the table, more crowdsourced services and just about most things moving to mobile, it will be the people telling the stories, shaking hands, drinking tea and building rapport that ultimately win the day.

This has been going on since time immemorial. Tech can’t match that.