Your IT team’s most embarrassing statistic

On Wednesday I sat in on a round table discussion with some of Australia’s top CIOs at ADAPT’s CIO Edge event. Hosted by VMWare, the event started with one of their directors, Andrew Fox, sharing the following statistic:

  • 95% of IT people think they provide employees with the digital tools they need to be successful in their job
  • Only 58% of their employees agree

The problem here isn’t that people can’t always get the latest, shiniest new tech. The problem here is that one group of people think they’ve done their job…and yet the people they serve think they clearly haven’t.

So how can this be so? How can it be that there is such a disconnect? Well I dug up the research report this statistic came from. In it I found another, more embarrassing statistic:

  • 83% of IT people think they give employees a voice when it comes to which digital technologies they can use at work
  • Only 36% of employees agree

WHAT?

First, why don’t 100% of IT people feel they give people a voice? You would think that the person doing the job they’re paid to do would be well qualified to provide input on what tools they need to do it.

Second, if you’re wondering why IT isn’t treated like partners in the business, it’s because close to two thirds of people don’t think you listen. The basis of any partnership, or any meaningful relationship is communication.

Unfortunately, as I sat in this round table I noted there was almost a complete lack of embarrassment on the faces of these CIOs. Even though half of them were statistically doing worse than the figures noted above.

The problem here doesn’t lie with IT people, it lies with the way IT people get trained and developed. As pointed out by Julia Steel at the same event, IT people get trained in cables and code, not in how to have effective conversations. And perhaps a decade ago that was acceptable. The IT people did the IT and the operational people did what they were told. But we now live in a world where employees are more tech savvy than ever and job mobility is at an all time high. Now if you don’t give people the tech they need they leave (or don’t take a job with you in the first place).

It’s no longer enough for IT people to be technically competent. The ability to communicate and collaborate with end users and the ability to work in a team needs to be part of every modern IT person’s skill set.

If they aren’t teaching these skills at university (and a quick review of current IT degrees suggests they aren’t) then this needs to be a priority for the people running IT in every organisation.

Regardless of the size of the business, people need to be able to influence the technology they get.

Three ways technology can help grow your business

It’s no accident that small and medium sized businesses are investing in digital technology. Research by Xero shows businesses who spend the most on technology grow 3x faster than those that spend the least.

These are the three benefits of technology that can help you grow your business:

1. Technology drives productivity. As the production line drove down the cost of making cars, digital is driving down the cost of doing business. Information is the lifeblood of any organisation. It is how we know who is doing what work, for whom and by when. Digital technology streamlines information flows by making it easier to edit, copy, move, use and share.

This means more work can get done faster without increasing the workforce. This drives down costs, improves competitiveness and increases profitability.

2. Technology improves quality and service. Do you remember when you used to wonder if your taxi would come? And now you use Uber. As a general rule people like to get a) what they asked for and b) as soon as possible.

As well as streamlining, digital also means you need to automate information flows. This allows for a more timely, customised, and consistent customer experience. And a better customer experience is key to attracting more customers.

3. Technology means better decisions. We would all agree that more informed decisions are almost always better decisions. And making good business decisions is instrumental in driving growth. Unfortunately, collating all the information you need to make a good decision has a cost. The harder it is to find and analyse the data you need, the less likely you are to do it.

As pointed out above, digital information is easy and fast to edit, copy, move, use, and share. This means business owners can bring together the information they need, when they need it to make smart decisions that will drive growth.

What other ways have you used technology to drive growth in your business?

How small changes create big value

In 2008, UPS upgraded its routing software to discourage drivers from turning right across traffic (or left in the US). It was a small change that created massive savings in time, fuel, car accidents and money. In fact, UPS estimates this one change saves them more than $300 million per year.

You might not run a courier business or invest as much in technology as UPS but the same principles still apply. Using technology, small changes can create big improvements in efficiency and service quality.

Through the Digital Champions Club (DCC) we help growing businesses use a ‘small changes’ mindset to take their technology to the next level. And each quarter a small number of guests get to come and experience the program first hand. The next opportunity is on Friday, March 6 in Melbourne.

“The hardest part was making it think more like a driver and less like a computer.”
– Jack Levis, UPS Senior Director of Process Management.

You do not have to be a technology expert to join the DCC. We support both business people to get technology and technology people to get business.

If 2020 is the year you want to move your business from an ad-hoc to systematised approach to technology please get in touch.

And the 2020 Digital Champions Club Scholarship winners are…

Each year the Digital Champions Club offers three 12-month scholarships to amazing organisations doing wonderful things in the community. This years winners are…

…drum roll please…

FirstChance, a Newcastle based not-for-profit who provides early intervention and support for children with disabilities or developmental delay, and their families.

and

Campbell Page, a national not-for-profit who provides employment support and services to people struggling to find and keep long term jobs.

We are incredibly excited to have both these wonderful organisations join the program in 2020.

You might have picked up that there were three scholarships but only two winners. Although we hoped to award three scholarships we couldn’t. Unfortunately we didn’t have a third applicant that measured up to our expectations in terms of preparation and commitment. And it’s what you say no to that ultimately determines success.

Which leads us on to this week’s blog.

The value of doing one thing well.

A year or so ago we did a bit of DIY around our house, one of the jobs on the list was repainting our staircase. We went and got the undercoat, the paint, brushes, and drop sheets and one weekend we started painting. Like with most jobs you do the easy bits first. On the first day we started with the undercoat, we painted the treads and the uprights but didn’t get around to cutting in around fittings and the bits close to the wall.

On the second day, well actually, we haven’t got to the second day yet. Our half painted stairs have sat in the same state for the last 12 months. We haven’t found time to finish the undercoat and we found out that the top coat needs four days without use to fully cure. We keep meaning to do it right before we go away for a weekend but then we get busy and it gets postponed until next time.

But have we really not had the time? Since starting the staircase we’ve managed to complete a whole bunch of other jobs around the house. We’ve gardened, weeded, moved bedrooms around, moved other furniture around, washed walls, cleaned gutters, put up shelves, washed windows, and moved more furniture (yes there is a pattern).

The world is full of half completed and poorly implemented projects because we’d rather find new easy things to do than finish the hard things in front of us.

For members of the Digital Champions Club there is rarely a shortage of improvements they could make, but if we try to do them all at the same time we won’t do any of them well. We will eventually succumb to human nature and stop doing the hard work that’s needed to finish projects. And unlike my half painted stairs that are still usable (just not very attractive) a half completed technology project has very little use at all.

That’s why we teach Champions to only take on two projects at a time and push back if they want to start a new one before the old ones are complete. There is far more value in doing one thing well than doing multiple things badly…just as there’s value in being able to heed your own advice.

The Paradox of Growth

Alongside profitability, growth is seen as a cornerstone of organisational success. Growth implies market fit — it indicates that the world wants more of what you do. Growth is generally seen as a desirable objective for CEOs and business leaders but there is an underlying paradox to business growth: the more you grow the harder it becomes to grow.

Initially, growth makes things easier. Organisations gain certain benefits as they scale (sometimes referred to as economies of scale). For example, materials can be bought cheaper, machinery and people can be better used, and overhead costs such as rent and utilities can be spread across greater output. All these factors serve to lower the cost of doing work, which in turn makes an organisation more competitive and, as a result, improves profitability.

These benefits generally kick in quickly but then slowly dissipate (you might get a 20% discount if you double an order but you don’t get a 40% discount if you quadruple it). On the other hand, the challenges of growth start slowly but then rise rapidly. These challenges (sometimes referred to as diseconomies of scale) include maintaining communication as an organisation grows, the problems of coordinating the work of more people, more layers of management and slower decision making, and the need for more reporting, checks and balances to ensure the right work is being done in the right way.

Research suggests that as organisations grow, they reach a tipping point where complexity starts growing faster than revenue which leads to decreasing productivity, falling profits, overworked employees, and growing frustration for business owners. Eventually, they reach a point where the cost is greater than what people will pay and there is no point in the organisation growing further.

Unless…

…it can push out the point where things get harder. Obviously some organisations grow very big and very profitable, but they don’t achieve this using the same systems and processes they used when they were small. If an organisation wants to grow to its full potential it will eventually need to rethink how it does its work. Key to this renewal is bringing in the technology solutions that automate, simplify, and streamline work, allowing for further growth without increased headcount and the complexity and challenges it brings with it.

Ideally, this isn’t done when everything is already broken but done on a continual basis. Rather than identifying and fixing the things that are already broken, a continuous approach allows organisations to prepare in advance for the processes and tools they might need in the future. Perhaps the biggest challenges for growing organisations is finding the time and resources to do this proactively. This can be a real challenge when people are already feeling stretched, but committing the time up front is almost always less costly than dealing with the consequences later.

If your organisation is experiencing growing pains and you want to do something about it, consider the benefits of joining The Digital Champions Club, a community of practice that shows you all the tools you need to leverage growth through better technology use.

How complexity kills communication

The network effect is generally seen positively. It refers to the idea that as a network gets bigger it becomes more valuable.

The value of owning the first fax machine is effectively zero because there is no one to send a fax to. But add a second fax machine and there are two faxes that can now be sent (A to B and B to A).  Add a third and it goes up to six, add a fourth and it increases to 12. By the time you add a fifth fax machine there are 20 different faxing possibilities. Buying a fax machine when there is already a large network of fax machines is far more valuable than buying the first. The value of the network grows as it gets bigger.

But there is a flip side  to the network effect. As networks grow in size and complexity, maintaining communication and coordinating activity becomes harder. If we were to frame this in terms of business, by the time you reach the status of ‘medium sized business’ and hire your 20th member of staff, you have created the potential for 380 different one on one interactions within your organisation. This means that for every message that is sent there are 379 opportunities for another message to conflict with yours.

Complexity grows exponentially as your business grows and as complexity increases communication suffers. That’s why we end up spending so much time in email and (often pointless) meetings. Research by organisations such as McKinseys and Harvard Business School indicate that in larger organisations, less than 45% of the average employee’s time is spent doing the work that matters to customers.

The rule of three and 10

Hiroshi Mikitani, the CEO of Japanese online retail giant Rakuten, came up with a rule that elegantly captures the challenge of growth. The rule of three and 10 simply stated is ‘Every time a company triples in size – Everything breaks’.

The processes and systems that work well for a sole operator won’t suit a team of three. What works for a team of three will be ultimately unsuitable for a team of 10, and if that team of 10 grows to 30 everything will break again.

Although the organisation only got three times bigger, at each point it becomes 10 times more complex and difficult to manage. This means that as the organisation grows, each member of staff spends more time managing (or being managed) and less time doing the work that matters.

The digital advantage

Thankfully, just as the industrial revolution created new ways to scale production, the digital revolution is creating solutions to address these information challenges.

The digital revolution is a broad shift away from people using predominantly analogue technologies such as pens, paper, typewriters and Australia Post to using Information Technologies such as apps, tablets, keyboards and email.

These Information Technologies, or I.T., have three distinct advantages over analogue technologies in terms of speed (information can be shared faster), cost (common processes can be automated), and accuracy (information is less likely to be misunderstood).

Put another way, digital is the antidote to things that are either slow, expensive or potentially wrong. All of which are considerable barriers to future growth.

If you represent a Not-for-Profit or values-driven business dealing with the challenges of growth, you might be interested in applying for the 2020 Digital Champions Club scholarships. The Digital Champions Club is where I help SMEs find and implement digital solutions to growth problems. If you don’t represent one of these types of organisations you might be interested in checking out the program anyway.

Altruism is dead. Long live altruism.

There’s not a lot I remember from my first year of university but one thing that stuck is our inability to prove altruism. Altruism is the idea we could do something that is completely selfless. Yet when we act selflessly there is almost always a potential benefit that flows back to us, whether it be reputation, respect or just the release of brain chemicals that make us feel good about ourselves.

I most recently experienced this at an event I was speaking at last week in Vietnam. The Genesys CX Leaders Council event had C Suite executives fly in from across the Asia Pacific region to share stories and ideas on how to create great customer experience. Yet the whole afternoon on the first day of the event was spent working on community based CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) activities. These activities had delegates either constructing play equipment and painting at a nearby children’s community centre or building bicycles to be donated to a local charity that supported children saved from human trafficking. Participating in these activities felt great and provided a nice change from the normal ‘action packed’ conferences I speak at.

Although their generosity is not to be understated, it is also true that Genesys doesn’t run these activities for completely altruistic reasons. These activities provide delegates the chance to talk and build relationships in a way that most conferences don’t provide. In doing so, they provide the opportunity for more open and valuable business conversations to take place, which in turn resulted in value to delegates. The value to delegates ultimately reflects well on Genesys who enabled all this to take place. Although perhaps not intended to be altruistic, Genesys’s approach highlights that we can do well by doing good.

A little closer to home, I have seen a similar pattern play out with the Digital Champions Club scholarships we launched last year. Initially intended as a way of providing help and support to Not-For-Profits and other values-driven organisations, the scholarships have also resulted in significant benefit to the rest of the digital champions community. I think the whole community has wanted to see the scholarships recipients succeed and in turn the recipients have sought to provide value and energy back to the community. Without a doubt, the energy and culture within the program is the best it’s ever been.

Applications for the 2020 scholarships open next week and I’d encourage you to help out deserving organisations by sharing this with your network. Not for altruistic reasons obviously, but because we are all selfish, self-centred scoundrels who only do things that benefit ourselves.

Now click share and feel that oxytocin hit kick in!

Get your copy of the 2020 Scholarship Information Pack by signing up at www.digitalchampionsclub.com.au/scholarship and learn more details to guide you through your application process.

Digital Champions Scholarships: Half the cost, twice the value

Twelve months ago, I decided to offer a series of scholarships to my Digital Champions Club. The decision was based on conversations with my good friend Mykel Dixon who strongly felt that the people who most deserve to be in a program are sometimes people who can’t afford it. With the support of my fellow coaches, Kate Fuelling and Gabe Alves, we offered two half and one full 12-month scholarship to the program.

The outcome has been A-MAZ-ING

Not only have we had the opportunity to support three incredible Not-for-Profit organisations, their champions have delivered back to both their organisations and the program in spades. Their enthusiasm has been infectious and their energy levels have been off the charts. It’s as if the scholarships have provided them an opportunity and they aren’t going to waste it. They might be paying half the cost (or none of it) but through their effort and commitment they seem to be getting twice the value.

It is for that reason Kate, Gabe and I are pumped to be launching our scholarship program for 2020. Scholarships are open to Australian Not-for-Profits and other values-driven organisations (you don’t need to have any particular status, you just need to be doing meaningful work). Applications open on the 1st October and run through until the 31st of October but if you’re interested in applying (or know someone who is) we encourage you to start the ball rolling earlier rather than later. Joining the Digital Champions Club requires a significant internal commitment and the sooner you get started the sooner you’ll be ready.

To make it easier for potential applicants, we’ve created an information pack that can be sent to your inbox, printed (if necessary), and shared with potential sponsors and other stakeholders.

Finally, if you don’t work for a suitable organisation but you know someone who does I encourage you to forward this email on or use the share buttons below to help spread the word.

Let’s get this message out to the people who deserve it the most!

Just in case you need any further motivation check out this testimonial video from Julia Gregg from Contemporary Arts Precinct Ltd.

 

 

PS – If you’ve already signed up to receive updates on the scholarships we will shoot you out a copy of the Information Pack via email.

IT is not a cost centre

I have ranted before about the shortfalls of budgeting and how budgeting encourages us to think of projects in terms of cost rather than in terms of value creation. This is particularly troubling for parts of the organisation known as Corporate (or Shared) Services. Corporate Services generally include areas such as Legal, Human Resources, Procurement and IT. These services are necessary for the smooth operation of the business, but unlike Operations, they are generally not considered to be income generating. As they aren’t directly involved in income generation, they are often seen by the rest of the business as a necessary evil where their cost (and often their involvement) needs to be minimised (for IT this challenge is often particularly acute because in many large organisations the Head of IT reports into the CFO).

The problem with this approach is by focusing on cost minimisation, organisations inadvertently also reduce value generation.

In the modern workplace, technology improvements have become an increasingly fertile ground for innovation but ‘innovation’ is often in direct conflict to the IT department’s primary objective of platform stability and security. Perhaps the simplest definition of innovation is ‘change that creates value’, but change both contradicts the goal of stability and also necessarily comes with attached risk, and risk is often viewed in conflict with the goal of security.

This perceived conflict has created a certain inertia in how IT departments operate that somewhat ironically results in more but different types of risk. Organisations might think they are reducing short-term operational risk by focusing on stability and security, but in doing so they are creating medium-term implementation risks (as change shifts from being small, relatively simple and continuous to large, relatively complex and sporadic) and longer-term strategic risks (as competitors identify and implement technology innovations at a faster rate).

An alternative is to re position IT (and perhaps all corporate services) as innovation catalysts. Rather than passively waiting for people to tell them what they need, IT could be proactively engaging with the business to find out what could be done better (and then working in partnership to make it happen). I often talk of IT as being Digital Champions but like many terms that have entered our collective lexicon, its familiarity has led to it losing some of its meaning. A Digital Champion is someone who keeps abreast of emerging technology opportunities and then champions its potential within the organisation. Championing something is unavoidably and unashamedly proactive. It requires constant engagement, education and ultimately a sense of (shared) service.

If this feels like a seismic shift, it doesn’t need to be. Like any change it is best if it’s started small. It should not be focused on investing in or developing new platforms and instead aim to unlock the latent potential in the platforms an organisation has already invested in. Perhaps the biggest change requires is a change of mindset. Like other Corporate functions, IT are often treated as second class citizens, and as a result many have come to believe it. But by giving the IT team the tools and training, and subsequently the belief that they can drive innovation and add ridiculous amounts of value to the organisation, we can change this perception.

At the end of the day, the best way for IT departments to change the perception that they’re more than a cost centre is to prove it. All they need to do is take the time to understand people’s challenges and then share the know how they already have.  Person by person, team by team, department by department.

 

I’ll be hosting a two-day intensive program on 15-16 October in Sydney where we will take your champions through the process of identifying, investigating and delivering technology improvements with sustainable success. As a special offer, use the promo code INTENSIVE20 to avail of a 20% discount on the ticket price. Click here for tickets and further information on this insanely practical event. 

Some things are good in theory but better in practice

A couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to deliver a brand new keynote for the first time. As a professional speaker, a new keynote is like a newborn child. About 12 months ago, I was talking to my team and suggested we should try for another keynote. We already had a couple of keynotes that we loved and it was difficult to see how we were going to have time for another one. More content to change, more sleepless nights wondering if they’re OK, and ongoing concerns about how you will love them all equally. But once you have the idea in your head, it’s hard to shake. So after a couple more discussions we decided to take the leap and get serious about it.

Between that point of inception and the delivery date (which again, just like a newborn was also about nine months), it felt like this keynote could be anything it wanted to be — the possibilities were endless. But as the delivery date draws closer, the reality starts to kick in, your fears start to kick in.

What if it’s ugly? 

Will other people still love it? 

Will I still love it? 


What if I neglect it, and as it gets older it starts hanging out with the wrong sort of keynotes — the ones that mumble and are hard to understand. 


Or even worse, the boring ones that send everyone to sleep, or the weird looking ones with dot points all over their slides and who are always trying to say too much…

…hmmm, I think that analogy is done. Let’s move on.

This new keynote was called Thrive on Disruption and my idea was to explore the characteristics of organisations that not only propelled them to outperform their peers, but who (in doing so) often drove the disruption of whole industries or created entirely new ones. The good news was this related to a whole bunch of research I’d done as part of my Master of Leadership thesis a few years ago. The bad news was I had no idea about how to present such big and complex ideas in a truly engaging and meaningful way.

Enter storytelling

There is little doubt that the idea of corporate storytelling is having its day in the sun. Incredible books such as Hooked: How Leaders Connect, Engage and Inspire with Storytelling by Yamini Naidu and Gabrielle Dolan, as well as Gabrielle’s follow up book Stories for Work, and Shawn Callahan’s Putting Stories to Work (just to name a handful written in Melbourne) have all highlighted the power of storytelling in making ideas memorable and relatable and I was keen to see how I could use storytelling in my new keynote. So as part of the keynote development process, I worked with an incredible story crafter in Megan Davis to help design the narrative of the keynote.

The outcome was uncomfortable

Although I’ve read extensively on the power of storytelling and even engaged a story telling consultant to help me, the outcome (more so than the process) was incredibly challenging. In reflection, the biggest challenge was to my self-perception. I had felt that as a professional speaker I was meant to be the ‘expert’, someone with the answers, or at least, with thoughtful and thought provoking ideas to share. And yet, for the first 20 minutes of my new keynote I wasn’t going to share anything thoughtful at all. I wasn’t going to share any of my expertise. I was just going to tell a story of the time I went hiking in the mountains of New Zealand with seven friends (there is more to the story than this but I don’t want to ruin it for you). To say the least this felt incredibly awkward.

And yet it entirely worked

The saying goes that some things are good in theory but not so good in practice. I can only suggest that my experience of storytelling is entirely the opposite. Although I already knew that storytelling was good in theory, the experience in practice was far better than I could have imagined. Ultimately, the hiking story served as an easily understandable analogy for how organisations operate in disruptive and challenging environments. It provided a safe way for participants to reflect on their own organisation’s behaviours and practices, to better understand what is working and also what could be improved, and it provided a relatable way for sharing how cutting edge organisations operate differently. Finally, I think the story shed light on my own mistakes and my own vulnerabilities, which in turn perhaps made the ideas I did share more relatable and achievable. In hindsight, this is everything you get told about storytelling, but sometimes struggle to believe.

And why do I share this with you all? It’s not because I want you to use more story telling in your work, though I sincerely hope you do (and please check out some of the links to the great books and people above). It’s because theory and practice often bear little similarity to each other. It’s not just that some things are good in theory and yet bad in practice. It’s just as likely that something is bad in theory but good in practice or, as in this case, something I believed to be good in theory was in fact incredible in practice. Ultimately, the only thing that matters is practice, not theory. So if you really want to know if an idea is a good idea you need to stop reading about it and thinking about it…and actually do it.

Check out Simon’s LIVE Speaking Guide to get a taste for what he does or get in touch to discuss how he can add something special to your organisation’s next event.