“Remote” – the great, but temporary, leveler

It’s November 2020 and the last 8 months have seen an unprecedented shift to remote working all over the world. Businesses that were on a 3-5 year trajectory to digitally transform their workforces, have pretty much achieved it in months, some in weeks. A year ago we couldn’t have even imagined where we are today and while a lot of it is unpleasant, there are always positives if you dig deep.

For the first time ever, remote workers don’t feel at a disadvantage to those physically in the office. Those who have worked remotely for years have historically talked about missing out on the water cooler moments, the side-bar conversations in meetings or decisions made after the phone was hung up. The worst of all was being completely forgotten about in a meeting where you were the only one on the line. In those times, you really needed someone physically in the room to advocate on your behalf, to be your eyes and ears on the ground as it were, to overcome some of these limitations.

But now, there is a new balance. Nearly everyone is remote and there are no corridor conversations, no sidebar conversations. For the first time in a long time, everyone is on a level footing. Everyone feels visible and heard! In some unique areas and little ways, COVID-19 has been a great leveler. (Of course, it has become a big divider too in other ways; a conversation for another day)

In little ways, COVID-19 has been a great leveler.

A similar situation is happening outside of the workplace with young families who live abroad. They’ve always felt at a loss when grandkids only get to speak with grandparents, and cousins with cousins, across a video line. Families abroad felt unfairly disconnected and unable to compete with other siblings living at home, physically near to parents and grandparents. This has leveled out also. In our current 5km restriction with over 70’s cocooning, most of us cannot physically visit parents/grandparents so it doesn’t matter whether you live in Australia or 10km away, it’s a video call at best for all. And when everyone joins together and gets creative about the conversation, it can be a real fun and engaging experience.

But of course, this situation is not going to last. When COVID-19 restrictions become a thing of the past, and they will, people will return to the offices in great numbers. But nothing near like they were before the pandemic, so we will most likely move forward with a hybrid situation. This is going to be more difficult to navigate and manage.

The good news is that we will have learned a lot about work, about ourselves and about what’s important, to ensure we work more empathetically, with greater consideration for the needs of others, and greater understanding of our own needs. While we will never return exactly to the pre-COVID work experience, one thing is for sure, there will be enough people “on the line” to ensure one never forgets those on the phone. In so many ways, the future of work has arrived.

Business Transformation or Digital Transformation – what’s the difference?

I know you’re wondering about the strange choice of image accompanying this blog, but let me come back to that.

While there are some distinct differences between Business and Digital Transformations, as time goes on, they are not only converging but also going hand-in-hand. It’s almost impossible now to envisage a business transformation without the introduction of automation or new technology and tools to support the changes.

Let’s look at some definitions…

Digital Transformation, according to the enterprisersproject definition (a definition I like), is “the integration of digital technology into all areas of a business resulting in fundamental changes to how businesses operate and how they deliver value to customers.

Business Transformation, according to Wikipedia, is making fundamental changes in how business is conducted in order to help cope with shifts in the market environment or to address organisational pains in ways that fundamentally alter the paradigm of the organisation.

Business Transformations are typically about radically changing the business model, even to the point of re-thinking the organisations raison d’etre or reason for being. This can be things like moving to selling online instead of through traditional physical stores or moving completely to a consumption-based revenue model.

What have they in common?

  1. They are both strong and definitive statements by the organisation that fundamental change is coming
  2. They both go way beyond incremental change and continuous improvement
  3. Both are an opportunity to re-think and arguably more importantly, completely re-imagine how the business operates
  4. A people-centric change management approach is imperative to the success of both
  5. Both are multi-year endeavours
  6. Both aim to unlock money, whether by savings or new revenue
  7. Both cause significant disruption and change
  8. Both can involve organisational restructuring and resource re-alignment
  9. Every employee plays an important role in the success of both
  10. Both are intended to drive an improved customer experience through ease-of-doing business

How are they different?

  1. Business Transformation talks to the ‘What’ and ‘Why’ the organisation will change, Digital Transformation talks more to the ‘How’.
  2. Business Transformation seeks to unlock new market opportunities, drive new growth and create new revenue streams, whereas Digital Transformation are often about unlocking new efficiencies, greater cost savings and better employee productivity and satisfaction through agile processes, digital tools and collaboration platforms.
  3. Business Transformations are more about cultural shifts and Digital Transformations often require mindset shifts.
  4. Business Transformations are often driven by external market conditions, competing against disruptive startups or new go-to-market models. Digital transformations are led by technological innovation and society’s relentless push for easier customer experiences and speedy response.

So you can see, they have more in common that they do different.

But is it a Business Transformation or Digital Transformation your organisations needs? It’s probably both. You could argue digital transformations are an important element of business transformations. Can you do one without the other? In some cases – yes! A Digital Transformation on its own is hugely beneficial, if you already have a sound and future-proofed business model, however, a business transformation without a corresponding digital transformation is unlikely to achieve its full potential.

But remember, if both are needed, Business Transformation must start first, otherwise you are just putting lipstick on a pig 🙂

Business Transformations – Do they always deliver?

First of all, let’s explore what people mean by Business Transformation…

If the word “Transformation” can be defined as radical, profound or fundamental change to something, then applying this is a business sense means making large, widespread and fundamental changes to the way your business operates. Reasons you might do this range from coping with market changes or new market entrants to reducing complexity in your processes, pursuing greater scale or future-proofing the business. Whatever the reasons, business transformations are significant and should not be undertaken lightly or without the right leadership and commitment. Do they always deliver? No! Let’s look at some of the reasons why not and provide insight into why many do.

A compelling Why – Any significant evolution needs to have a compelling reason for change and it helps if it’s an urgent one too. Change is hard at the best of times and most people don’t choose it willingly, but if the reason is clear, compelling and understood by all, you maximise your chances of success. Once defined, it must be communicated and re-communicated at every opportunity. People need to hear things many times before they truly stick. If the reason for change feels personal and heartfelt by the organisation, it enables employees to make an emotional connection to the changes and success is more likely.

People, Process, Technology – Successful business transformation happens at the intersection of People, Process and Technology. This “sweetspot” means all

three areas must be addressed thoughtfully and deliberately. For example, if you drive significant process changes and/or introduce new technologies without bringing the employees on the journey with you, you are increasing the likelihood of failure or lack of adoption. I cannot stress enough the important role that culture plays in successful business transformations.

All-in Leadership and a guiding coalition – While the majority of business transformations are led from the top down, the most successful ones are led by an aligned and committed leadership team who walk the talk and have a high Say:Do ratio. They lead by example thereby inspiring a group of people, a guiding coalition, who become effective influencers and advocates of the change.

Investment: Business transformations don’t happen overnight and they can’t be turned around on a dime. They are typically multi-year projects and attempts to skip steps or declare success too fast can result in failure or not reaching their potential. Financial investment must also be made. If employees think that all the cost is on their side, they are likely to resent the changes. The level of investment should be a smart one though. Throwing endless cash at it does not guarantee success as it drives the wrong behaviours. ‘Reinvent to reinvest‘ programs should be championed in order to encourage employees to think differently so savings can be made and re-invested in new solutions. This works best when savings made in one area are reinvested in the same area.

Business transformations are complex, fast-paced and lengthy. Planned and executed well, they can result in the transformation desired and future-proof your organisation for years to come. Rushed or half-committed can result in failure and employee disengagement. If you’re not sure where to start, give thought to culture and lead with the people stuff!

Put ALL the balls down

A time to recharge and reset

It’s been a while since I’ve written a blog but on a rainy Sunday and day 30 in national lockdown, I find myself thinking about what happens when we come out the other side of COVID-19. Part of me looks forward to life returning to normal and part hopes we hang on to some of the learnings and behaviours that we’ve developed during this short but impactful time. The ones that make us better people; behaviours like protecting the elderly and the vulnerable, greater tolerance and patience, empathy and support for doctors, nurses, carers, teachers and those we maybe took for granted before; a respect for freedom and democracy, a sense of wonder and appreciation for nature, a renewed and deeper connection with family and friends and what happens when countries and organisations put their differences aside and work together for all of humanity. Sometimes we have long memories and other times we forget far too fast.

For many, this lockdown is an opportunity to recharge and more importantly reset. I’ve often been asked, ‘how do you keep so many balls in the air?’ My answer is usually ‘some balls are rubber, some are glass. I make sure to never drop the glass ones. They are time-sensitive and fragile. If you drop them, they break. A rubber ball however bounces back up. This means when things get crazy, you can safely drop one of these in the knowledge that you can and will pick it up again soon. It’s important you know which of yours are glass and which are rubber.’

As social distancing forces us to slow down, we are presented with an even greater opportunity; to consciously put ALL the balls down, at least temporarily, and think deeply about the ones we pick back up. Is this a behaviour, task, meeting, commitment you want to pick back up? If yes, why it is important to you? Is it important for the right reasons? If it’s something you don’t want to pick back up, understand why you are choosing to leave it behind. Some balls are in the air just because they’ve always been there, and you’ve never thought to consciously put them down. Maybe now is the time and maybe new and exciting ones even appear.

In every crisis, there is opportunity. For many, this crisis is an opportunity to slow down, to get off the hamster wheel that is life and make conscious changes about how you choose to move forward when the wheel starts again. The important difference here is that you choose.

When the moment feels right, put ALL the balls down, get off the unicycle and take a rest. As our social restrictions lift and the time comes to pick each ball back up, think wisely about which ones you pick back up and why.

Maybe some are best left on the ground.

Paid to be human


Ever hear a friend say they are being paid to be a robot because so much of their job is repetitive? The bad news for these people is that, with advancements in robotics and artificial intelligence, these jobs ARE going away. The good news for these people is that these jobs are going away!  But things are never that black and white. It’s more about tasks and activities going away. Most of the jobs themselves will remain (that is, those people will remain in employment) but the “job” will look nothing like what it does today.  Not only will the majority of jobs stay and be transformed, but a significant number of never-seen-before jobs will also be created. If you are a person who is comfortable with change, life-learning and excited by the idea of moving outside your comfort zone, then you can consider your future income safe. If you excel at these things, you stand to be quite successful. However, fear of change and avoiding change are common. The human brain, by its nature, likes repetition because it allows it to create neural shortcuts. These shortcuts require less brain power, freeing up the processing power to be applied elsewhere, to other not so familiar activities. Ever drive to work in the morning and think, gosh I can hardly remember that journey? That’s a neural shortcut!

We are living in exciting times technologically-speaking, and change is happening at an alarming pace. The skills we will need for the future will be dramatically different to the ones that were valued in the past. Anything that can be digitized or automated will be. It stands to reason then, that the skills not easily digitized and automated are the ones that will become most valuable. Traits like creativity, imagination, intuition, emotion and ethics. These things that come so naturally to us as humans, will be what sets us apart in the future world of work as we try to maintain our humanity in a digital world. We will become next-generation knowledge workers, paid to think and paid to understand how others think. But more than that, we will be paid to think ethically, paid to think empathetically, paid to understand and appeal to human emotions, paid to decipher human psychology and behaviours (the good and the bad).

For our children entering the workforce a few years from now, we must encourage them to consider having aspects of these human skills in their education and experience. Subject combinations, that in my college days might have been perceived as “unusual combinations with difficult job prospects” will become more the norm. Expect to see more of technology + psychology, technology + sociology, criminology + systems science, technology + art, occupational health +  telemetry, biology and circuitry, cybersecurity + town planning, machine learning + ethics, speech therapy and A.I., virtual assistant design + counselling. Expect to see exciting new jobs advertised like personality design engineer, facial features specialists, bias detective, virtual holiday designer, digital twin consultant, human emulation engineer etc. In the future, you may be paid just to be human. Why? Because…

Machines are very good at being robots, but they are only average at being human.

Check out this Change2 video by Futurist Gerd Leonhard, TFAStudios or 21 unusual but probable jobs of the future according to Ben Pring of Cognizant’s Center for Future of Work. Interesting stuff.

There is enough success for everyone!

I was at a conference recently where the guest speaker, Mel Robbins (the 5-second rule) said

“You are not in competition with anyone – there is enough success out there for everyone”.

At first I thought, brilliant! Good to know. That’s a relief. Then I thought, well hang on a minute, is that actually true? Is there really enough success out there for everyone? If there is, why aren’t there more ✌️successful people✌️?

OK so, we have to start by understanding that everyone’s version of success is different. Some people see success as being able to retire early, some see it as financial independence, climbing the corporate ladder, fame, power, getting married, having children, changing the world, saving the world, helping others, becoming a scratch golfer or just getting to be your authentic self every day. And if that’s not complicated enough, our definition of success changes throughout our lives. It’s not that one is more right than another or that we grow wiser with age; they are all valid definitions of success for that time in our life. If success is different for everyone, then it stands to reason that we are not all looking for it in the same places or in the same things. This is good! It cuts the competition significantly straight away.

Secondly, not everyone wants success. Let me reposition that. Not everyone wants to pay the price for it. Achieving success typically takes prolonged effort, hard work and often sacrifice. Some people don’t pursue that. It’s not that they are lazy. It’s often that they don’t see the return on investment as worth the effort, or maybe the personal or family cost is too high. They may not be willing to sacrifice what it takes to get there because they value other things greatly too. That’s their prerogative. So people are actively choosing not to pursue success. This is good [right?] and cuts the competition again.

Now think about the timing of success. Some people pursue and achieve success early in their lives and some people pursue or achieve it later. Some relinquish early success in favour of enjoyment and travelling the world; Others forgo late success in favour of quality of life and opportunity to spend more time with family and friends. So we are not all looking for success at the same time. This is also good and cuts the competition even further.

What about the scale of success? Is it only real success if it’s generally accepted by others? Some people are happier with small personal successes; being able to get out of bed every morning, being pain free, being healthy, buying your first home, getting into college, not drinking today. Others need large public life-changing wins to feel success and validation.

And then there is the role of luck or karma in success. Achieving success is sometimes about being in the right place at the right time or meeting someone who sees something in your abilities and takes a chance on you. Sometimes it’s about getting exactly the right advice, just when you need it.

If success is truly a product of so many moving parts, and not everyone wants it, then surely there is enough out there for all those who do. Food for thought anyway!

Be Amazing!

We often hear inspiring leaders telling us to ‘Be Amazing” but what exactly does that mean? Surely, we can’t all be the next Sheryl Sandberg, Jurgen Klopp or Jeff Bezos. For most of us, that looks like a very heart stopping leap into the scary zone.

Here’s the thing though – being amazing doesn’t mean being famous or writing a bestseller. Being amazing happens every day of the week, in every size and in everyone.

  • Amazing are the parents who walk the floor all night with sick children
  • Amazing are people who embrace growing old with elegance and vitality
  • Amazing are people who choose to care for others because they are good at it
  • Amazing are kids who work hard to turn a C  into a B on a subject they don’t like
  • Amazing are single moms, single dads and stay-at-home parents
  • Amazing are the families who beat homelessness
  • Amazing are people who lose weight and beat obesity
  • Amazing are people who do the right thing, because it is the right thing to do
  • Amazing are those who protect the planet, stand up for what’s right and are courageous enough to be their true selves

Amazing is all around us. It often only makes itself known when we look in the rear-view mirror – when we look back and see that we got through something difficult and we held it together. We came out the other side and that was amazing!

So YES, BE AMAZING. Be strong. Be resilient. Be optimistic. Be grateful. Be kind to yourself. Celebrate amazing in others, recognise it in yourself and look forward to your next one.

And when someone tells you to Be Amazing! Tell them you already are.

Celebrate multi-generational workplaces in 2019 with effective communications

New Years Eve 2018

What is the first thing you are taught in communicating and presenting?

Know your audience! 

How well do we truly know our audience when we send out email after email to our employees? Most companies have a good sense of gender split, nationalities etc. but how many are taking time to look at the number of generations in their workplace, and more importantly, how they think and what they value? You see, what we experience during our lives influences not only who we are, but also how we think, what we value and how we choose to spend our time. When we know and understand these things about our employees and work colleagues, we stand a greater chance of not only getting our messages heard but people being open to truly listening, absorbing and remembering.

If we take 18 to 65 years as being the typical “working years(for now at least), then it’s safe enough to assume that many large workplaces today have up to 4 generations, shown below, working together at any given time.

GenerationsLet’s consider what someone from each of these categories might look like according to what we see around us and what research tells us about generational influences.

These are not real people of course 🙂

Larry, a Baby-boomer, is an optimist or a ‘glass half-full‘ person. He’s been in the workplace for 40 years now and has spent most of that time working for one employer. He has a strong work ethic and enjoys sharing his experience with more junior employees through mentoring or career advice. He values employer loyalty most and will work hard for a manager that treats him with respect and values his contributions.

Tracy, a Gen X-er, is an independent thinker, an innovator and a strong communicator. In the workplace for nigh on 30 years, she wants trust and autonomy from her employer. Success to her, is years of working hard  in her early career, in order to achieve work-life balance later and ultimately a comfortable retirement when the time comes. To Tracy, work is  a ‘place you go‘ for a defined number of hours per day; time off is at home; and there is a distinct difference between the two .

Megan, a Millennial, is a melting pot of technology, empathy and sustainability. She fully expects to work for a number of employers during her working career, but will be naturally drawn to organisations led by inspirational leaders, that facilitate flexible working arrangements and demonstrate a genuine focus on the Greater Good. For Megan, work is ‘a thing you do‘. She wants to be measured by productivity; her ability to get the job done and meet goals, not by how many hours she spends in the office or the time of the day she works. The flexibility to balance work, life and community in her daily life is important.

Zoey, a Gen Z-er, has been immersed in technology and diversity from birth. She is both digitally-fluent and culturally intelligent. In this world, the internet has always existed and there is an app for everything. Zoey’s idea of a great employer is one that gives her space to explore and discover, to take risks, to fail early, and to iterate towards success. She is part of the ‘Always On‘ generation where the lines between work and rest are blurred. Work is merely ‘a state of mind‘ that one steps in and out of as needed. Her ability to successfully disconnect from work will be core to her mental health and career happiness.

So how should we communicate to such a diverse audience?

We cannot communicate every message in four or five different ways in order to appeal to everyone so the key, in my opinion, is to mix and merge different communications methods into each communication, so at least some part of every message appeals to and resonates with each of the generations. This means mixing text with images, style with substance, video with photos, hashtags with emoji’s and podcasts with hyperlinks. This works and works best when the ‘what’ of the message itself is clear and the ‘why’ is compelling. What’s are clear when the message is kept short, the language simple and the presentation memorable. Why’s are compelling when the message feels true and honest with intent for the greater good.

While the generations have many differences, there are also many commonalities; core values that stand firm throughout all the generations. Things like great leadership, integrity, meaningful work, appreciation and gratitude for work well done. Regular communication that appeal to these foundational values are sure to resonate.

Take time to celebrate multi-generational workplaces in 2019 with effective communications.

Happy New Year!

The World Cup, Artificial Intelligence and Blueberry Muffins!

When it comes to disruptive technologies, nothing is more on trend right now than Artificial Intelligence or AI as it’s commonly known because it’s one of those technologies that we know will impact business, economic and social models as well as our own personal lives. AI is just one part of the larger field of Data Science, where at its simplest, is the art of ‘extracting value or business insights from data’.

While Artificial Intelligence is a term first coined by John McCarthy in 1956, the concept of computers performing cognitive functions to mirror those of humans is around for decades. English mathematician Alan Turing’s paper ‘Computing Machinery and Intelligence’ published in 1950 posed the question ‘can machines think?’ and introduced the ‘Turing test’, a model for measuring intelligence. Called ‘the Imitation Game’, it gave notion to the idea of machines being able to move beyond just logical thinking and into the realm of cognitive thinking using skills like learning, reasoning, remembering, understanding and deduction/inference.

Despite decades of progress, only one computer is generally believed to have successfully passed the Turing test (a long term goal of AI researchers) i.e. the ability to make a computer successfully imitate human behaviour to the point of it being indistinguishable from human responses, even by expert judges.

But if AI is around so long, why the big fuss now? Well, because suddenly AI looks far more accessible, moving it from the realms of Science Fiction to plausible reality. This is predominantly due to…

  • Advances in processing power or computational infrastructure
  • The Internet of things (IOT) – billions of connected devices.
  • The availability of vast amounts of data
  • Ability to handle unstructured data (images, video etc.)

The problem I see now though, is that in the global race to embrace AI and get first mover advantage, people and businesses are trying to solve non-AI problems with AI solutions when simpler solutions are sufficient. It’s not that there is a lack of understanding of the problem being solved, but more that there is an urgent desire to create case-studies in order to experiment and grow a proficiency in AI. Time and time again, I hear people use the words Artificial Intelligence when they really mean RPA (Robotic Process Automation), visual inspection systems, general robotics and much more.

As I sat watching the world cup soccer over the weekend (hosted in Russia), it struck me that a lot of Data Science terminology might be easily illustrated using the Russian nesting dolls, (also known as Babushkas or Matryoshkas), in that AI is the broader field with Machine Learning and Deep Learning being subsets of the field and systems become increasingly ‘more human-like’ the deeper you go.


Fig 1.0 Data Science hierarchy


Fig. 2.0 Data Science definitions

In Machine Learning, the idea that machines would learn new things independently of humans explicitly programming them, would mean they essentially become what we call ‘smart’. Despite great progress, it’s not as easy as it sounds. Even teaching computers to distinguish between similar images is complex because what we humans see as obvious identifiable markers (colour, form, distribution etc.) are not so obvious (or more importantly, not so unique) when viewed through a computer logic and statistical data lens. This was illustrated in a viral tweet a couple of years ago by Karen Zack’s (@tinybiscuit) by comparing images of animals and food.


While these examples are funny, this type of identification error is common and could have far reaching implications in areas like precision medicine, autonomous vehicles and science in general.

There’s no doubt that we are entering an era where Artificial Intelligence will make a big impact sooner rather than later because the speed of progress and its adoption is increasing. It has taken decades to get this point in the AI journey but the next phase could look more like years and while this generation treads carefully with its outcomes, future generations will accept and trust faster, as it become ubiquitous and every day.

Our biggest hurdles may be yet to come, in the form of eliminating bias and overcoming legal and ethical challenges but that’s a blog for another day.