The greatest word

wordI had a great conversation with Simon Perriton this week – he is the CEO of Just IT and we serve on a global education committee together – and he mentioned that he hires for attitude and can teach skills. Wise words.

Later in the day I thought about what might be the greatest word that we have at our disposal (a close run thing when words such as “love,” “thanks,” “family” and BBQ are considered). That word is “define.”

We can search and find the meaning of any word by using the word “define.” We can action this whenever and wherever we may be, and we get our answer. Let’s put our focus, therefore, on the skills that make a difference – the application of learning, the softer skills, the human side. People can search and find the meaning of anything, how to make things and fix them, on their own.

Don’t teach them what, teach them how, and give them skills employers are calling out for.

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.

 

Be the disruptor, not the disrupted

Here is a great story from one of pioneers of the IT industry, Andy Grove, former Chairman and CEO of Intel. It comes from his book Only the Paranoid Survive and is well worth retelling.

In a discussion with then Chief Executive Gordon Moore, he asked what would happen if the board kicked them out and started anew. They agreed that a new CEO would no doubt leave the past behind and detach them from their memories.

So Grove and Moore decided there and then to do that themselves. They left the business of chips behind, moving into microprocessors and thereby set the stage for the next generation of the Intel business.

It was, and remains, a lesson in management: leave the past behind, don’t let a single line of business define you and be the disruptor, not the disrupted.

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?

Dispel the Myth

75 per cent of next gen

Within 10 years, 75% of the global workforce will be from the ‘next generation’, so are we prepared for a different style of management, perhaps a different type of human?

A number of studies have looked into the workplace needs of the next gen and it is reassuring to learn that they are not that much different to previous generations preparing for work. Yes, they have grown up in the digital era, and yes, they live and breathe social media, plus there is a new emphasis on corporate social responsibility magnified by social spaces and platforms (not such a bad thing) but are they allergic to being managed the traditional way?

In reality, the race for talent is no different than it always was, except that there will be fewer skilled people to take the ever increasing number of jobs, and the millennials’ attitudes to work are as conventional as they ever were.

They want to be given a chance and they want to be rewarded for their contributions. So what is the formula for the future? Combine the classic reward system with openness and transparency, help them attain skills that are relevant and give them the opportunity to flourish. And because they are so good with technology, allow them to be creative with it for the betterment of the business. And as my friend Martin Bean, Vice Chancellor and President of the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, always told me – companies that ask, “What if I train and certify my people and they leave,” you have to reply, “What if you don’t train and certify your staff, and they stay!”

Everyone is worried about skills

The ShardI have traversed three continents these last few weeks, from Europe to the west coast of America, then back and across to the Middle East.

The trips all centred around assessment and skills events – culminating in apprentices week in the UK. “Everyone is worried about skills” said the BBC’s Steph McGovern at the CITB Building Futures conference. The challenges are different but the concerns are the same – whether you sit in the US or UK with their growing economies or the Middle East with their large numbers of young people, a shortage of the right skills to meet the needs of employers and their evolving industries will impact progress.

I believe technology doesn’t always help – young people make choices based on cultural changes and technological influences, and yet industries, jobs and the needs of employers are not the same. They must be aligned.

We do have a solution – young people learn from other young people, so let’s showcase our stars and use technology to promote them as case studies of success. In other words, a career in IT can mean working at Sky TV or motor racing, a career in construction might give somebody the opportunity to be in the team that builds the next Shard or Premier League football stadium. Let’s create success stories of young people who love their work and promote them as role models – then use technology to spread the word.

I close with real hope – I was very impressed by the enthusiasm and desire to succeed shown by the apprentices at the JustIT learner awards night where I shared my thoughts on the fusion of technology and education – I will continue to shout from the rooftops, that if you wake up with the attitude, desire and motivation to do a great job, invariably you will do well.

A story for this time of year

CCALast week I presented at the CCA Annual Conference at the Edinburgh Assembly Rooms. An excellent event. Despite all the noise around technology – big data, wearables, the internet of things – our audience created more conversation around my stories and emphasis on talent. I liked that. This was a crowd of deep thinkers.

The greatest mix is that of old and new. Whilst I implore companies to give young talent a chance and to watch how the net generation will flourish if we attract and engage them on their terms (normally with technology in mind), I equally underlined the value of the older worker. The more experienced employee has a lot to offer, they are committed, they know the ropes and their experience is telling; and they are staying in post for longer, so the younger generations need to be better skilled to displace them.

Here is a summary of a story I told last week where two generations didn’t quite gel, or understand each other: a young lady beat off other applicants to make it to the final stage of interview and meet the CEO of the hiring company. She arrived on time and was immaculately presented. All good so far.

She was invited into the office of the CEO, a gentleman with years of success on his sleeve and decades her senior. The interview was progressing well, as planned, and then her phone start buzzing in her bag. The young lady pulled out the device mid-interview and started texting in reply, oblivious to the sudden stop in proceedings. This is what she was used to doing. The CEO waiting patiently for her to stop and then ended the interview, thanked her for her time, and saw her to the door. The interview process was about to start again, for this lady did not get the job.

I can see that the net generation does things in its own way and communicates differently, but there are certain rules of etiquette, respect and simple good manners that stand the test of time. I hope those things will never change.

It’s about people – it always is

As far back as 2001, when Jim Collins wrote Good to Great, he said “technology by itself is never a primary root cause of either greatness or decline.” That rings true even today, despite the massive disruption taking place as new generations of workers launch their brilliant ideas – think of Halo, Snapchat and Vine. All of these came about as a result of an individual or a group thinking differently.

When Collins and his team of researchers set out to establish what made companies ‘great,’ they expected that leaders would set out the strategy and the vision, and make it compelling enough that their employees would follow. Instead they discovered something different, that they first got the right people on the bus and in the right seats – and then they figured out where to drive it.

One of the early birds in the revolution was Circuit City, the company that pioneered the electronics superstore in the US (sadly not around today), and the one of the protagonists in their success was asked to name the top 5 factors that led to their transition to a great organisation.

He replied, “One would be people.”

“Two would be people.”

“Three would be people.”

“Four would be people.”

“And five would be people.”

It seems we need to correct the old adage “People are your most important asset.” People are not your most important asset. The right people are.

Borrowing ideas from Apollo 13

Apollo_13_Mailbox_at_Mission_Control

As someone with an interest in space, I was transfixed as the team in Houston pulled together to generate ideas when Apollo 13 ran into trouble, particularly how they brainstormed to fix the carbon dioxide removal system.

Part of Mission Control’s method to find a solution was to discover what the spare parts were and not just recycle the same old ingredients. They chose not to sit around in isolation but get more parts on the table to give them options. Eventually they found the answer and saved the crew.

Their approach lends itself nicely to the tech world we are immersed in today. How do we get lots of parts – ideas, even people – to the table? Proctor & Gamble figure that for every senior scientist it employs, there are two hundred others working somewhere else in the world, just as good. Using technology platforms such as Innocentive and Kaggle, it can reach those minds and get access to some brilliant ideas to keep it at the leading edge of its industry.

However we connect, network, generate ideas or discover new products, we must do the same.