Impact

This is a terrible time, challenging in almost every respect for people and companies alike, but it does also offer an opportunity to do something symbolic and high-impact to help our customers, colleagues and society at large.

I re-read this famous little story in HBR and want to relay it here, because it makes me smile but equally because it defines ambition and determination and impact.

When Apple founder and CEO Steve Jobs was presented the first iPod by the designers, he said the device was too big. The designers replied that they could not fit the components into anything smaller, so Jobs took the iPod over to an aquarium and dropped it into the water, pointing to the air bubbles floating to the top and explaining that it had some air inside it, which meant that it did indeed have some free space.

To do anything show-stopping, but especially today, you need to move up and out of the normal flow of organisational life. Incidentally, I showed my kids the first iPod I bought and they were mesmerised by it. Next week I will show them a cassette tape.

43 pages

This wont take long, but I think it is an important metaphor for the world returning to some semblance of normality. If companies think everything will fall back into place, just as it all used to be, they may be in for a bumpy ride.

A friend recently left the banking world (his choice) and we talked about the bank’s dress code policy, a document of 43 pages. What does it say? Do they prescribe sock colour to tone of shoe leather? Is that the way to attract the next generation of talent, as the loosening of lockdowns around the world are gradually introduced?

Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff talks not about a version (of its software) but a vision for Salesforce, and a company centred entirely around its values. No wonder there are queues of people wanting to work there.

Strange & Change

These are strange times that we live in. Technology has truly come to the fore, helping people connect, not just for work purposes, but to stay in touch with family members and those not able or allowed to travel.

I’ve said repeatedly that technology has and will continue to influence the way we live, work and learn, but nobody quite expected this; although humans are largely very good at change and we have adapted again, working from home, balancing lives and being productive. I wonder how much this unique period in history will alter work for the long-term? Will organisations eschew the large, central corporate office and branding, for a smaller core that serves only as a place to meet and strategise? Will workforces be more dispersed and will technology services like Teams and Zoom restructure how we operate forever? Aside from dealing with bandwidth and having to coordinate when kids are watching Netflix and gaming online, and waiting anxiously as our video conference meeting stutters for a minute or two, is this the new modus operandi? It wouldn’t surprise me.

I wonder also if people will question why they commute for hours each day when they can start earlier, work for longer and still accomplish more. I have talked to more customers since the lockdown than in any single month before it and we have had time to think and explore the future – in a strange way it has helped to manage the work day.

In adversity you see true colours and I close by saying I have witnessed the true essence and culture at Pearson first hand, from John at the very top putting our people first, to the testing centre team prepared and ready to go back and open the doors to allow frontline health workers to take their exams and help the nation. Technology has been a super aid in this lockdown period, but it has been about the people yet again.

Thank you to our NHS and all the care workers. You are remarkable.

Skills not just degrees

I want to make a triangle of points and echo what Jamie Dimon, CEO of JPMorgan Chase, said earlier this month: the future of work is about skills not just degrees.

Mr Dimon claims this is one of the reasons young people are held back and not progressing. The next point of this is that employers’ needs are not being met and as we well know a team is made up of diverse people and skill sets.

But technology is shifting everything, especially in the pace and ways of conducting business, which creates a pressure on companies to stay in touch with change, so we need to open the doors to everybody, not just the degree students.

The third point in the triangle is the role that universities have to play, because that is critical to this – the Higher Education sector is perfectly positioned to interpret employer needs and to help develop curriculum and training programmes that meet the on-the-job needs, even and especially as they change. As non-technology companies emerge as the source of many new technology roles – automotive, aerospace, retail, healthcare – Higher Education will have an opportunity to build more industry ties with vocational offerings, as employees and their employers will look for proof of their skills, which in turn will lead to more demand for continuing education.

It may not be a triangle but a circle that is ongoing, with opportunities for employers to get the skills they need, for the education providers to play a pivotal role in teaching and for people to find work in an area that suits their skills and helps them flourish.

Can you smell the roses?

Day in the life of corporate vs startupHow many of us can remember the New Year or what we did in December?

We are well into 2019 and have launched straight into the roller-coaster of another year. Whether we are employed by a large organisation or self-employed, it seems everybody complains of the same thing; taxi drivers share anecdotes of people rushing in and out of their cabs with no time to eat or think, but nobody appears to be doing much about it.

This has to be the year to slow ourselves down and build some time into the schedule to think; not to stop or do less necessarily, but to focus on what delivers most impact and brings in the results to achieve more.

I had a few decent ideas in 2018, how to help one of my clients, how to better position a team of people for their future, how to add value at home, but these ideas came on train and plane journeys. Journeys with quiet time where I couldn’t be interrupted.

There is no irony that my post on social spaces which received the most feedback was one where technology should be put down for a moment to savour what life has to offer. Can we learn from this: should we introduce ‘make a connection Monday,’ ‘talk to a human Tuesday’ or ‘work on a solution Wednesday?’

Whatever it is, and with spring in sight, we need to slow down to create time to ponder, to think a little more long-term and to stop and smell the roses.

Customer Experience

netflixWhen you consider the brands that genuinely stand out, they do so due to customer experience.

Why do people buy from Apple? For the product and design experience.

Why do people so many subscribe to Netflix? The experience of watching quality TV anytime, anywhere.

Why do people go to Selfridges? For the ‘yellow bag’ shopping experience.

How can technology help enhance the experience for your customers?

Digital transformation: voice and choice

Following my story about the legendary Andy Grove and how he transformed Intel, all companies are now encountering the six stages of digital transformation, according to research by Altimeter; and right at the top of the list of key drivers is customer experience.

It is important to understand ‘digital’ here: it is the application of information and technology to bolster human performance.

The customer experience is also more than just marketing to your audience via different media; it is building the most personalised customer journey across sales, service, apps, communities and channels and even the huge opportunity that is the connectivity of every device defined as the internet of things.

It also includes learning and getting to grips with this is really important. The next generation will “consume” on the devices they are glued to all day – they will digest news, connect, network and purchase in this way, and they will insist on learning in the same fashion: when and where they want.

Technology has given the customer a voice and choices. The tables have turned. Customers are defining the marketplace and with 75% of our workforce being next gen by 2025, we had better listen if we want to be a part of it.

Technology and our leaders of tomorrow

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I was thrilled to be asked by the Pearson Diversity team to present to the interns who joined our organisation this week and I was even more pleased to see how positive they were.

I chose to present something different – with our company tagline being ‘Always Learning’ I didn’t want to just talk about our division and the business we are in, so I told them why I think they are our future! I sprinkled my story with technology of course, but my emphasis was on talent.

I took this direction because I was enthused by a person who inspires me, CEO of Burberry Angela Ahrendts. She recently posted on the importance of storytelling. Each time I have been truly uplifted by a presentation, it was because of the story told and shared, and in the current digitally-driven world, where are we are often overwhelmed with information, rediscovering the age-old principles of storytelling will help us connect and differentiate, so I took that course.

It paid off – I met some great young people, our workforce of now and our leaders of tomorrow, and I had fun telling sharing story.

A view on the latest trends

Annual Trends

I gathered a lot of useful information from my travels this summer and particularly liked a story around global trends. I have mashed some of this with my own thoughts on how technology is at the heart of change:

  1. Rising demand for resources as the world’s population grows – the large emerging markets will drive this need, and as well as staple food and clothing, they will insist on smartphones, online shopping and the fastest connectivity.
  2. A growing urban middle-class in emerging economies – this huge group of people knows what it wants and it buys the latest trends; as the generations grow up, technology will very much be a part of their day-to-day existence.
  3. The population in those economies will experience lifestyle changes – lifestyle means quality of life and this implies disposable income to buy and consume – technology sits at the centre of this movement, be it phones and gadgetry or purchasing via smartphones.
  4. More online shopping everywhere – my key message here is where in the past people went through a process before purchasing something, now we are online all the time, so in effect we are always shopping, especially via mobiles.
  5. The percentage of the world’s population that is over 60 will be a third bigger by 2050 than it is today – let’s not wait for 2050; right now, people over 60 know what they want, they purchase leisure-related goods and services like never before, and they have the cash – this demographic needs to be targeted starting now.

 I like to stay grounded, so as I lead a global project for the company looking to the future, I have started by looking back, as I think the future will be best served by a mix of old-fashioned values and people interacting, combined with the evolution and speed that technology brings.