Attracting and retaining talent in a world of transformation

Attracting and retaining talent is probably the single most expensive and important element of any project planning in the current business transformation landscape. Identifying the right people who will not only have the necessary skills but also the fortitude to commit to a project which, unlike times gone by will struggle with the concept of promoting a backlog of initiatives and operating dual project methodologies (i.e a combination of Waterfall and Agile).

This is precisely why organisations need to spend time and money on their project transformation vision. The key to attracting talent is to inspire them to want to put “skin in the game”. In the startup world this might mean offering equity in replace of salary, in big business this may mean accepting lower salary or day rate than they might otherwise get working for a competitor. Equally in an industry such as financial services or government “skin in the game” may be the time they have to spend working on old technology or working in bureaucratic process environments.

The old days of; the employer sets the boundaries and in return offers money and the hope of career progression, are long gone! There may have been a financial crisis but in major capital cities around the world where progress needs to continue, technology resources have forgotten all about those dark days of potential unemployment.

So how do you inspire someone to put this “skin in the game” that I keep referring to?

  1. First you must truly understand what you are asking your employees and future employees to give up.
  2. Then you must set a clear vision that can secure emotional buy in from staff, customers and shareholders.

Your chances of attracting talent will begin with this clear vision but your hope in retaining talent will be in your ability to commit to the journey required to realise the vision.

This blog is not about all the other things that you must offer staff such as a flexible work environment, fun atmosphere, employment perks etc, as there are plenty of places to get this information. I have focused on the transformation vision as I think it is the single most important aspect of attracting and retaining talent.

People want to know WHY they are doing what they come into work to do, and they also want to know that there is commitment from everyone in the building to this WHY.

Simon Sinek wrote and excellent book Start with Why, where he explains the human need to truly understand why we do something. There are lots of businesses out there today who are existing on the belief that they know they need to change, so they aim to create a culture of – every bodies favorite word “disruption” or the equally popular term “innovation”. It is not enough to try and inspire people with the fact that a company wants to be innovative or disruptive, you must clearly articulate to people WHY you want to be this and then follow it up with HOW you are going to achieve it.

Articulating the vision for an organisations transformation is not a guarantee that you will attract talent, but without the vision I can guarantee that it will be very costly to try and retain talent.

Project success is based on clarity, consistency and commitment so start with WHY and build a map that inspires people to come on the journey.

Apple Pay and the new mobile payments experience

Sitting back watching the release of the iPhone 6 and the new Apple Watch, was both exciting and also a little frustrating (given the streaming issues). Obviously the Apple Watch was the real surprise of the day with the usual focus from Apple on providing an entirely new user experience, to a product that in essence has been on the market for quite some time.

Whilst I was quite impressed with both the new iPhone 6 and 6+,  as well as the Apple Watch, my interest levels peaked at the unveiling of Apple Pay. It was rumored for some time that Apple would release their answer to mobile wallet over NFC technology, but their presentation was what I really loved.

Again it was clear that Apple was not simply looking to add yet another mobile wallet product, into a market that has already found it extremely difficult to gain consumer and business adoption.

On the surface Apple made it look like they were looking to leverage the convenience factor, by creating a product that would increase efficiency at the point of transaction. However, if you look more closely you can see that they are simply building an interface to promote a new user experience at the point of transaction. In fact efficiency, at the starting point of the transaction might be what is gained, but ultimately with the focus on user experience, the transaction just got a whole lot longer.

An example of this is; having the capability to refer back to your receipts and purchase history digitally. Whilst Apple has promised to never store your personal shopping details it never said anything about opening up the opportunity for third party applications not to (with your permission of course!). Now all of a sudden, those poorly designed spending analytics that banks are trying to sell as “value add in a digital age”, just became front and center for creative financial mobile app designers. Look how popular Mint is, and combined with the new Apple Pay functionality, the scope for them has increased 10 fold.

Another area which will add to the lifespan of the transaction is loyalty. The capability for loyalty programs to increase customer reach and spend frequency, by integrating with Apple Pay is another very interesting area for mobile application providers, to focus their innovation efforts.

I was also excited to see the security focus from Apple. The push to finally start using Passbook as an everyday application, (whilst scary for some customers) will definitely gain traction with its integration into Apple Pay.

I believe the reason mobile payments has had poor adoption to date, is because companies have been trying to use it to solve the problem of transaction processes being inefficient. Josh Silverman was quoted in a recent online article appearing on Payments Cards and Mobile as saying  “The problem, is that mobile wallets don’t solve a real problem, because swiping a payment card isn’t a big imposition. It’s my opinion that the swipe isn’t especially broken,”. It’s important to note that Josh is Amex’ President of consumer products and services.

Banks and credit card companies have been researching mobile payments for years, and some have invested heavily in technology and business projects, to identify how they can capitalise on this opportunity. Again though, they focused on the tried and tested industrial revolution concept of “its all about greater processing efficiency”. They were looking to save time and money in a new age, an age that is about increasing experience in the most disruptive and innovative way possible.

By envisioning a user experience of spending, budgeting, loyalty, online shopping, convenience, security as a complete package, Apple Pay has started out on the right path to gaining the elusive consumer adoption that has plagued mobile payments to date.  For reference, these areas are by no means the definitive list of what could and will be covered in the evolution of the mobile payments experience – but it’s just the start, and I can’t wait to see what’s next from both Apple and its competitors.

Thanks Professor Brian Cox for inspiring me!

My Father once told me there are two things you never discuss in public – Politics and Religion.  I am going to break from this advice for this post as I want to share an experience I had earlier this week.

Level39 at Canary Wharf is a technology hub for up and coming Fin Tech and Smart Tech startups and investors. I was lucky enough to attend an event they ran on Wednesday night which was a talk by Professor Brian Cox. For those who don’t know Professor Cox, check out the link I have connected. To sum it up – he is one of those amazing people who is so committed to his industry, that he has learned the art of being able to explain extremely complex scientific concepts, to a person with an extremely NON scientific brain – like me!

Professor Cox went into detail about the possibility of life on other planets, an explanation of the Large Hadron Collider activity that he works on, and an attempt at explaining how much we know about what may have happened before the big bang. Whilst all of this was fascinating and his talk was extremely entertaining, it was the last 5 minutes of question time that made me sit up in my seat.

There were some interesting questions from a few people who were obviously quite involved in the scientific community, and Professor Cox managed, to not only answer their questions, but also explain the questions for the lay-people in the room (again, such as myself!).  The final question of the night was one that at first made me cringe. It was more a comment than a question and it was an opinion on the need to believe in God especially with all the fighting currently going on in the world.

Now the reason this comment made me cringe was not because I have a strong opinion for or against God (or a God’s) presence in the world at the moment. It was because I had made a terrible assumption that if you are pro-science then you must be against religion. I thought this question might raise the heat in the room and put Professor Cox under pressure, to get into a verbal stoush about God vs Science.

Stupid of me to make assumptions, because not only was the response Professor Cox gave brilliant, but he really proved me wrong! Without paraphrasing, his response was to say that he does not particularly know what we do with the information that Science uncovers, but he does know that it is the job of all of us to do something with it. That the world needs art, literature, psychology, philosophy and theology to help understand what it is that we can do with the information that scientists make sense of.

Professor Cox went on further to explain that scientists take small concepts, and explore and prove or disprove theories in incremental steps. They do not propose to know all the answers and believe that their industries job is a lifelong journey of small steps.

I thought this answer was graceful, informative and it set the challenge for everyone regardless of your belief system to take action and play your part in using the information which scientists help to discover, to make a difference.

If I am going to break my dad’s rule I may as well do it well. One thing that Professor Cox pointed out in his talk was the small amount which politicians in the UK allocate to scientific research in their annual budget. Part of the discussion was to inform the audience that scientific research is important and that one of the ways in which he along with social entrepreneur Lord Andrew Mawson are raising this awareness, is through the Science Summer School, set up via the St Pauls Way Transformation project.

Before the talk I was not overly interested in science other than to read through the occasional head line items in major press. However I was wrong – because science and the work these scientists are doing, is innovation but in a different field. After the talk I want to say thank you to Professor Brian Cox for opening my eyes and inspiring me to find out what I can do to support the scientific community, and the journey they have undertaken on behalf of all of us.

I would urge you to have a look at some of the links I have included on this page as well as Professor Cox’ website

You might just be inspired too…

What I learnt from reading the Jony Ive Bio

I just finished a great biography by Leander Kahney on Jonathan Ive the brilliant mind behind the product design of groundbreaking apple products like the iMac, iPhone, iPod and iPad.

It’s an excellent view into both the way Jony Ive thinks about design, and user experience, and how Apple adopted his methods, and built a team culture and leadership art centered around it.

One of the philosophies that is made quite clear in the book is that Jony immerses himself in the user needs and expectations when he is designing – before writing the story that will dictate the concept of a product. Steve Jobs was well known for telling partners and employees of Apple; that customers do not know what they want and so it’s Apples job to tell them.

I don’t think Jony Ive shared this same mentality. His view, was that customers do in fact know what they want and that it is a designer’s job to help them communicate this, through a lifetime of iterative product designs which the customer can experience, and ultimately build trust in the brand that their needs are being met.

Jony Ive and Apple push boundaries. Their commitment to reversing the product design process to allow design and user experience to dictate operations, and engineering, was their true innovation. This is what allowed them to claw back from being within the grasps of bankruptcy, to be one of the most successful companies in history, in just over a decade.

Every advertising company will tell you that at least one new client a week tells them they want to look and feel just like Apple. We all use their products, and we all read the articles and books published in their honour. Yet very few of the major brands out there have the same commitment to innovation that Apple do.

Having spent majority of my career in Financial Services, I can tell you that there is not one brand that has inspired me like Apple has, nor have I seen a commitment from an organisation in the industry, to change their operating model so drastically that it has re-written history.

With the amount of business change happening at the moment due to the technology industry providing greater connectivity, transparency and automation, why are there no standout brands re-writing history in the way Apple did, with its product design from the very late 90’s to the year the iPad came out in 2010?

Banking has remained the same for over 50 years. Sure we have created some new innovative products and our operational efficiency gains have been rapid due to the introduction of the Internet, but really has much changed from a customer experience point of view across lending, transacting and managing wealth?

My questions are important because like it or not customer needs change, but they do know what they want. Like Apple, it is up to the leadership of companies to foster a culture that strives to inspire with design and user experience first, and only then followed by operations and engineering.

If you believe that your company can not do this because of cost constraints or change management challenges, then it’s time to give up now otherwise you are just delaying the inevitable – which is your customers walk away never to return!

A quote out of Kahney’s book “The thing is, its very easy to be different, but very difficult to be better” – Jony Ive

That is the challenge to organisations wanting to build a successful future. My advice to leaders who are concerned with the amount of change and where to start is simply this; JUST START!

London Fin Tech leading the way

There is some serious disruption happening in the London Tech scene at the moment, and financial services seems to be a core focus for a lot of this disruption. With the increasing popularity of micro-finance, alternative currencies like bitcoin and stellar , as well as P2P and B2B lending, there are plenty of options for startup technology companies looking to get involved.

The larger financial institutions also face increased competition from challenger organisations; like Aldermore, Shawbrook and even Tesco who have set up their own bank and have around 7 million customer accounts.

In the race towards growth and dominance, the challenger banks have two major advantages; firstly they do not share the legacy issues of contributing to the financial crisis, in the way the major banks did. Secondly, and probably more importantly, they do not have the legacy technology footprint the major banks have.

The age old saying of what goes up must come down is true, and for most part this is a sweeping explanation for the role which major financial institutions all around the world played in the recent global financial crisis. For this reason, issues relating to the cause of the crisis may be forgiven over time, however, sleeping at the wheel when it comes to technology advancement will not be forgiven.

A recent McKinsey&Co publication stated; that due to a lack of spending and delayed digitization of retail banking processes, most European banks “have relatively shallow digital offerings focused on enabling basic customer transactions”.

My personal opinion and one of the major factors in my decision to recently move from Australia to London, is that the UK FinTech scene is such a buzz at the moment because there is so much pressure on the oldest financial hub in the world, to lead the way into the new banking and finance era. Innovation support from heavily backed organisations like Innovate Finance are being set up to promote the evolution of the financial services sector into a technology driven industry, as opposed to the relationship and manual process driven industry of decades gone by.

The internet movement has created connectivity, more personalised service, and overall transparency. These are all much needed factors in financial services. To see the combination of consumer demand and startup technologists focusing their efforts on disrupting the control held by so few, will be a very interesting development to watch.

The rapidly advancing Self-Driving Car

I love everything to do with technology and innovation. I particularly love hearing about entire industries being disrupted. I regularly include companies like Uber, Airbnb and Amazon in my blog, simply because they are such good case studies for learning about disruption.

I have been reading a lot lately about the Self-Driving-Car and the impact this technology will have over the next 5-10 years. I had really not taken any notice before, mainly because my mind struggled to contemplate the huge challenge in addressing the divide between the current infrastructure supporting the auto industry, and what the future would need to look like. Entire industries working together both private and government. Throw in the oil companies as well, and it all just gets far too complicated.

You may have read about Googles version which is all encompassing and if you haven’t seen the video here it is Google Self-Driving Car. In this video they focus on the convenience factor of a Self-Driving Car, with one lady saying how much more time she will be able to now spend with her children, and a blind person talking about how this could enrich his life. This is all great, but there is a question about how serious Google is about the project. Is it just another way to test their innovation capabilities and show off with a “feel good” PR message?

Let’s leave Google for a minute and think about some of the other organisations who are focusing on Self-Driving capability. I recently read a few tweets from Marc Andreessen and sent him a message to ask; who else was doing anything besides Google in this space? Marc responded to say that most of the major car companies are looking at this capability, and Mercedes are most of the way there. I decided to have a look around a bit and found this article from NitroBahn Merces-Benz Dominates Self-Driving Cars Features in the Industry

After reading this article and a few others, I managed to find about similar innovations from car companies, it’s a lot clearer to me now the huge disruption Self-Driving Cars will have. However as opposed to waking up one day and seeing hundreds of cars minus steering wheels (a la Google’s version) – this will be more a step change or rapid creep.

Companies are working on safety first and cherry picking minor accident avoidance, like assisted parking and cross traffic assist. There will be a rush on patents and given how interlinked the auto industry is, there will be technology created by one manufacturer sold at the highest price to the laggards.

Car companies will want to continue to develop the technology at a pace that aligns with their financial interests, and oil companies are most certainly keen to see optimised fuel efficiency via a machine driving the car, as a low priority advancement.

So back to Google. It is clear that their intentions are not simply to corner the entire Self-Driving Car market and become the new car manufacturer of choice. Their advancement however is going to put the car manufacturers under pressure to pick up the pace.

The global road safety record is appalling and if we have now reached a tipping point where Self-Driving Car capability is going to significantly disrupt this, then I am definitely going to be watching this space a lot closer.

Strategy and execution on the path to Digital

Over the past 6 months I have been absorbed in research around where the business world is at with regards to transitioning to digital. It is safe to say that digital is probably the most overused word at the moment and it means very different things to different people. Digital could be seen as a buzz word but I like to think of it as a reference to the movement from old to new.

Digital is not just about technology, it is not just about creating efficiency and it is not a summary word for mobile or online. Digital is all of these things and more.

The transition to digital is re-imagining a world where there is greater connectivity, greater value in the interaction between supplier and customer and greater value in using technological advancement as a vehicle for change.

My most interesting observation over the past 6 months has been that big business is struggling to cope with transition to digital far more than the small business’ and startups. You would think this is obvious given how much more complex the challenge faced by big business is. However I do not believe complexity is behind why there is such a struggle.

After consultation with a number of large organisations it is clear that one of their biggest challenges is not only how to get started, but importantly, who owns this transition to digital? Is it technology, marketing, product, operations or a new breed of capability all together known as “Mr or Mrs Innovation”?

Smaller businesses tend to have one or a few people responsible for all these departments and therefore the mission is just to get in and get the job done. The big businesses on the other hand want to plan, plan, plan. They want to clearly define the map before they start, when the truth is, in this new world all you have is a compass there are no maps yet.*

Eric Ries‘ book The Lean Startup shows us that this method of defining the perfect plan with all the hypothetical assumptions driving a big bang transformation, is far less effective than breaking down these hypothetical assumptions and testing them via a series of experiments, before wading into the depths of transformation. This is difficult for big business who want to believe that there is a definitive start and end date to a transformation. They equally want to believe that there is a definitive budget that can be signed off. The fact is with technology, customer demand and emerging markets changing so quickly, these definitive plans are like a ball and chain weighing down an organisations ability to thrive in the new digital world.

It is clear to me that large organisations need the support and leadership of an advice group who is charged with regularly challenging the assumptions and old process methods, as well as educating the business leaders through the journey to a new digital existence.

The advice group needs to be made up of people who would be considered themselves early adopters. There must be a healthy balance of technology, design, creative, operational and finance/legal representation in the advice group. There must also be an influential leader preferably from outside the organisation who has the ability to link all these personalities together and challenge the challengers.

The key is to remember that customer trends and emerging markets are moving at such a pace, that knowing your customers present and future demands can no longer be solely via statistical research and bench marking. This means that strategy is moving on from the old SWOT analysis planning with a big bang delivery, and being replaced by experimental planning directly involving target customers supported by fast paced, iterative releases of always evolving products and services.

*I did steal this reference of compasses and maps from a truly inspirational leader in the digital and change space, Joi Ito – Director of the MIT Media Lab. If you have not heard of Joi, I encourage you to watch his TED talk Want to innovate? Become a “now-ist”

Efficiency vs Experience in the Digital Age

I recently read a blog by design and innovation company Fjord, about insights they took away from a recent Forrester information forum on customer experience. I’ve posted the link below. There is a great perspective on why it is so important, to walk in the customers shoes and inspire a digital mindset, into a companies core culture.

For years, businesses have swapped out one efficiency methodology for another. Six Sigma for Kaizen, Kaizen for Lean etc. What originally started out as an effective way of defining process improvement in areas like manufacturing and hospitality, quickly moved into banking, retail operations, and before we knew it customer experience.

In the age of digital, where customers expect an “Always On” service and experience, companies are having to rethink their definition of process re-engineering. Once upon a time, it was about getting the product to the customer as quickly as possible. Then, it was about getting it to the customer with minimal touch points. Following that, it was about off-shoring the left over touch points to reduce cost.  All these were part of a race to increased efficiencies.

Today however, in the digital age the product is no longer the highest priority for customers. It is now a mixture of the product combined with the buying and owning experience. This means that companies who can adopt emerging digital technology, to create new buying and ownership experiences for customers, are not caught up in the race for efficiency that has been the focal point for major businesses in years gone by.

Take a company like Airbnb for example. They have removed the cleaning process, the check in process, the asset management process (to name just a few) as they relate to accommodation for hire – all through their use of technology to create a user experience that has resonated with millions of customers. In times gone by, hotels that had the best location, cleanest facilities and efficient staff were leaders in their field. Now, their market share is being eaten up by an accommodation leasing company, that decided it would create a completely different experience and go Over The Top – OTT.

My point in all of this, is that it is important for businesses to first and foremost look at the customer experience they want to offer, and how they can use technology and digital transformation to disrupt their market.

What once was first and foremost about efficiency, is now about experience first.

If you choose to focus on efficiency in your operations as your highest priority in the digital transformation, you just might find your competition has reinvented the expectations of your customer base, while you were off defining how to better meet the demands of yesterday.

Digital is about self-expression

It is fair to say that I’m truly captivated with the way the world is changing so dramatically, in every way. We were all so used to the 20th century environment which was commonly referred to as the industrial revolution, whereas now we are having to get our heads around the changes in the new 21st century, most recently referred to as the digital age.

I read recently that it takes between 15-20 years to move into the next revolution once one has ended. This means when the internet was born and mobile phones became apart of every day life – we were in a state of limbo, but now we are finally at the starting line of the new digital revolution.

When we look back at business systems from the 20th century and wonder how they coped without email, or mobile technology, and we criticise the processes that were designed to limit creativity and encourage subservience to the quality controller, or outdated autocratic manager. So when did we begin to think outside this big business process?

When did we decide to build businesses in our garages that took the personal computer into the homes of every day people? Why did a few of us feel that rebellion over “the man” was more important than just fitting in? I’m sure you have your answers, maybe early 90’s, 80’s even as far back as the early 70’s.

Those questions however are really only to set the scene that a few people decided to think outside the square, go against the grain and they changed an entire revolution. I’m not just talking about technology changes. I am talking about anyone who chose to shake up the way business was designed in the early 1900’s, when the industrial revolution was born, and modern-day management practice became essential. The ones that chose to rebel, because to them, it didn’t allow for enough self-expression.

That’s what this new revolution is about, isn’t it, self-expression? Customers now dictate the user experience, employees dictate one way or another the environment they thrive in, and age is no longer the yard-stick for experience, it seems that imagination, (or self-expression) is.

Where the industrial revolution was about designing process to generate efficiency and mass production, the digital revolution is about designing experiences, that create connection between people and products. The beauty of the digital revolution is, that it is not just big business responsible for the design, this time it is everyone.

Of course that is a challenge for Governments, and the big corporations who found it easier to create policy and make money when everyone wasn’t involved in the design.

The fact is we are here now, and we need to identify how we work together.

Big business can no longer dictate to customers, or even their own staff. They must learn to encourage creativity and self-expression in everything, from; organisational structure, operational process, and project management practices, through to design and delivery of new products and communication, to, and from customers.

Equally, Governments must learn to work with business and the public, to define how policy and governing principles can be designed to be transparent and agile enough, to cope with regular change.

The key difference between the old revolution and the new one, is that there is no “best practice” to strive for. Everything is always changing and will be for the foreseeable future. This we know, because of the rapid advancement in technology which has removed the barriers to ensure everyone has the opportunity to shape how we exist in this new world.

Big business’ fascination with start-up culture

There is a real fascination with the start-up culture today. Some of the reasons are because of the success stories you hear in the media about newly formed technology start-up businesses being bought by giants like Facebook and Google for a billion dollars or more. Another reason we are fascinated with start-ups is because we read about the significant disruption to entire industries they create like Airbnb or Uber have done.

Almost certainly when we hear the word start-up we think of technology companies. We don’t think about the start-up retail store or the start-up cafe down the road (unless of coarse it’s because we heard they made it big because they created their very own virtual cafe mobile app).

My point is that to really be considered a start-up in today’s world you need to be known for doing something disruptive, hence why we think of technology companies in this digital age. Otherwise you’re not a start-up you’re just a new business.

Now you might think this is just semantics and it’s different peoples interpretation of the word “start-up” but when you go into a big corporate environment and someone at a steering committee says “We need to inject a start-up culture into this project” or the marketing team say “We operate like an agile start-up just look at the brainstorming we draw on our glass walls”. They aren’t referring to the underfunded monotonous environment that the local business toiled away in for years.

This is why big corporate business’ who are trying to influence their culture by painting walls red and installing glass to write on, so they can call it a “start-up” culture, are missing the point.

The focus for them should not be to start something new, it should be to disrupt something. They need to act like an evangelist just like Uber have acted to the transportation industry or Amazon did to the…well just about every industry.

This is what customers want to see and it is what they want to talk about. They are not talking about the start-up new business they are talking about the start-up disruptive purpose driven business.

It is not about turning back the clock to once again be young and new and fresh. It is about articulating a mission to disrupt, identifying a path inside your value chain (or if you are bold enough outside it) and putting the entire organisations energy into re-defining how your customers and your industry experiences what you have to offer.

Redefining an organisations purpose to be that of a disruptive force is the perfect platform to inspire employees and create new energy. Just remember that if you want to be genuine the glass walls and video game machines come after the new vision, the clearly articulated growth plans, and the engaging customer presentations.