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Don’t Overlook The Well-Rounded Employee

Ed Pierce

When working with my HR teams or reviewing job listings, I’ve noticed a trend: Each role seems to require such specialized, specific experience that candidates are often not entertained because they are not the exact puzzle piece that fit into a “complex” matrix-ed organization. The concept of a well-rounded employee isn’t even thought about.

Yet when I was watching the television “filler” pieces during a rain delay of a recent NASCAR race, Hendrick Motorsports was profiled for recruiting college football players for their pit crews.  For people who don’t understand the sport, the pit crew team not only directly supports the driver. More importantly, they directly support and adjust the car during the race to adapt it to the current racing conditions.

So, wait. That means in a professional sport that ranks in the top 5 of most popular sports, and one that relies on and wins because of mechanical, material, and chemical engineering, top teams like Hendrick Motorsports (winner of 15 championships) don’t seek highly specialized engineers to man their pits. Instead, they look for general qualities like performance under pressure, training regimen, team and leadership experience, and then train to the specifics of the tasks. I took a moment to self-reflect: Who do I look for on my teams?

When I build a team, I look for foundational qualities like curiosity, passion, team skills and a sense of humor – not expert qualities. Why these traits? Simple: curiosity means the ability to take risk, fail learn, and try again; passion comes with giving a crap and having resilience; a sense of humor means you’re smart (and nothing breaks a stressful situation like a good belly laugh!)

These qualities are found in generalists, in people with well-rounded experience. To expand upon that: Curiosity enables people to try new stuff and yes, sometimes fail. But they learn and do so differently. Passion drives people to try, try, and try again to complete the task at hand and not stop at the first roadblock. And a sense of humor not only stops egos from getting in the way, it brings hope to a desperate situation. It also conveys an ability to infer and link non-linear items. That said, try to get HR to provide you with a generalist job description, let alone build a pipeline of generalists for you to interview.

So, do generalists as leaders have merit? I can quickly think of one example – military leaders. In the Army, thetop leaders are generals who sit with the president or in front of Congress. Let’s look at this very prescriptive rank: they are general officers. Not only do our generals shed the colors of their previous branch with their first star (technically they wear no color, or black), they are also required to have a strategic understanding of over 20 military branches. What’s the saying by Napoleon… “An army runs on its belly”? No quartermaster means no food and therefore no army; not as sexy as combat but just as important in winning a war.

But this is opposite of the trend I see professionally. I recently read a book that discussed how business has spent the last 100 years moving away from the general manager (GM) and toward specialization. This all started with Henry Ford’s expansion of mass production in the 1920’s, and was elevated to the C-suite by Peter Drucker’s 1950’s managerial revolution; he nearly singlehandedly set the cast for the millions of MBA-toting business people (of whom I am one) and the entire business consulting industry.

There’s a reason why scale was so sexy then: It reduced costs (which, by the way, enabled every line worker to own a Model T). But here’s a pragmatic question: Is production more complex now than during the industrial revolution? I daresay no, as production really has not changed; we continue to take harvested raw materials and manufacture finished goods through the same process Ford implemented almost 100 years ago.

Are the production lines today more complex with their robots? Again, no, as no robot is more complex than a human. Are the machines we make more complicated? Yes and no: No because the machines we use every day, like the internal combustion engine and electrical motors, were functioning in the mid-1800s. Modern-day automobiles and airplanes were invented between 1885 and 1905. And yes, because the systems around these designs that lead to much improved efficiency are more complicated.

When you think about it, life is not really that different than it was 75 years ago with cars on the roads, planes in the sky, news and music available in the home. It’s just that their scale has changed: The average household now has 2 cars with 88% of people 15 or older reported as drivers, almost doubling in 50 years; more people use air transport; and people are plugged into mini-TVs everywhere with the modern iPhone versus the living room radio).

So why the difference? In my view, this happened because business and production were not getting more complex; they were just getting bigger. And once line of sight from the GM’s office to the production worker became obscured, complexity was confused with loss of direct control. In this perceived complexity, many GMs looked for “silver bullets,” and these specialization industries (MBAs, biz consulting, etc.) were more than ready to sell their wares.

And why is specialization so attractive? In my humble opinion, it provides people with an age-old “guild-type” barrier to entry and a sense of security. Prior to this age of specialization, college degrees were more general, based on a firm belief that leaders should be well-rounded individuals who were well versed in not only science, but also in the classics. You received an education in thinking, not a topical one. (European institutions that embody this approach go back to the University of Bologna, founded in 1088, and Oxford, as far back as 1096.

But is it the same with our CEOs? Absolutely. The news is full of reports of security breaches, and note the number of resignations soon after the breach. Were any experts in security?  None were, but all were clearly held responsible for it. And that brings us full circle: Maybe it’s time to bring generalists into the ranks again. You find the generalists in people with a wide, well-rounded experience.

Want more on hiring strategies that boost the bottom line? See 4 Key Steps To An Extraordinary Workforce.

The post Don’t Overlook the Well-Rounded Employee appeared first on Switch & Shift.

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How To Design Your Company’s Digital Transformation

Sam Yen

The September issue of the Harvard Business Review features a cover story on design thinking’s coming of age. We have been applying design thinking within SAP for the past 10 years, and I’ve witnessed the growth of this human-centered approach to innovation first hand.

Design thinking is, as the HBR piece points out, “the best tool we have for … developing a responsive, flexible organizational culture.”

This means businesses are doing more to learn about their customers by interacting directly with them. We’re seeing this change in our work on d.forum — a community of design thinking champions and “disruptors” from across industries.

Meanwhile, technology is making it possible to know exponentially more about a customer. Businesses can now make increasingly accurate predictions about customers’ needs well into the future. The businesses best able to access and pull insights from this growing volume of data will win. That requires a fundamental change for our own industry; it necessitates a digital transformation.

So, how do we design this digital transformation?

It starts with the customer and an application of design thinking throughout an organization – blending business, technology and human values to generate innovation. Business is already incorporating design thinking, as the HBR cover story shows. We in technology need to do the same.

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Design thinking plays an important role because it helps articulate what the end customer’s experience is going to be like. It helps focus all aspects of the business on understanding and articulating that future experience.

Once an organization is able to do that, the insights from that consumer experience need to be drawn down into the business, with the central question becoming: What does this future customer experience mean for us as an organization? What barriers do we need to remove? Do we need to organize ourselves differently? Does our process need to change – if it does, how? What kind of new technology do we need?

Then an organization must look carefully at roles within itself. What does this knowledge of the end customer’s future experience mean for an individual in human resources, for example, or finance? Those roles can then be viewed as end experiences unto themselves, with organizations applying design thinking to learn about the needs inherent to those roles. They can then change roles to better meet the end customer’s future needs. This end customer-centered approach is what drives change.

This also means design thinking is more important than ever for IT organizations.

We, in the IT industry, have been charged with being responsive to business, using technology to solve the problems business presents. Unfortunately, business sometimes views IT as the organization keeping the lights on. If we make the analogy of a store: business is responsible for the front office, focused on growing the business where consumers directly interact with products and marketing; while the perception is that IT focuses on the back office, keeping servers running and the distribution system humming. The key is to have business and IT align to meet the needs of the front office together.

Remember what I said about the growing availability of consumer data? The business best able to access and learn from that data will win. Those of us in IT organizations have the technology to make that win possible, but the way we are seen and our very nature needs to change if we want to remain relevant to business and participate in crafting the winning strategy.

We need to become more front office and less back office, proving to business that we are innovation partners in technology.

This means, in order to communicate with businesses today, we need to take a design thinking approach. We in IT need to show we have an understanding of the end consumer’s needs and experience, and we must align that knowledge and understanding with technological solutions. When this works — when the front office and back office come together in this way — it can lead to solutions that a company could otherwise never have realized.

There’s different qualities, of course, between front office and back office requirements. The back office is the foundation of a company and requires robustness, stability, and reliability. The front office, on the other hand, moves much more quickly. It is always changing with new product offerings and marketing campaigns. Technology must also show agility, flexibility, and speed. The business needs both functions to survive. This is a challenge for IT organizations, but it is not an impossible shift for us to make.

Here’s the breakdown of our challenge.

1. We need to better understand the real needs of the business.

This means learning more about the experience and needs of the end customer and then translating that information into technological solutions.

2. We need to be involved in more of the strategic discussions of the business.

Use the regular invitations to meetings with business as an opportunity to surface the deeper learning about the end consumer and the technology solutions that business may otherwise not know to ask for or how to implement.

The IT industry overall may not have a track record of operating in this way, but if we are not involved in the strategic direction of companies and shedding light on the future path, we risk not being considered innovation partners for the business.

We must collaborate with business, understand the strategic direction and highlight the technical challenges and opportunities. When we do, IT will become a hybrid organization – able to maintain the back office while capitalizing on the front office’s growing technical needs. We will highlight solutions that business could otherwise have missed, ushering in a digital transformation.

Digital transformation goes beyond just technology; it requires a mindset. See What It Really Means To Be A Digital Organization.

This story originally appeared on SAP Business Trends.

Top image via Shutterstock

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Sam Yen

About Sam Yen

Sam Yen is the Chief Design Officer for SAP and the Managing Director of SAP Labs Silicon Valley. He is focused on driving a renewed commitment to design and user experience at SAP. Under his leadership, SAP further strengthens its mission of listening to customers´ needs leading to tangible results, including SAP Fiori, SAP Screen Personas and SAP´s UX design services.

How Productive Could You Be With 45 Minutes More Per Day?

Michael Rander

Chances are that you are already feeling your fair share of organizational complexity when navigating your current company, but have you ever considered just how much time is spent across all companies on managing complexity? According to a recent study by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), the global impact of complexity is mind-blowing – and not in a good way.

The study revealed that 38% of respondents spent 16%-25% of their time just dealing with organizational complexity, and 17% spent a staggering 26%-50% of their time doing so. To put that into more concrete numbers, in the US alone, if executives could cut their time spent managing complexity in half, an estimated 8.6 million hours could be saved a week. That corresponds to 45 minutes per executive per day.

The potential productivity impact of every executive having 45 minutes more to work every single day is clearly significant, and considering that 55% say that their organization is either very or extremely complex, why are we then not making the reduction of complexity one or our top of mind issues?

The problem is that identifying the sources of complexity is complex in of itself. Key sources of complexity include organizational size, executive priorities, pace of innovation, decision-making processes, vastly increasing amounts of data to manage, organizational structures, and the pure culture of the company. As a consequence, answers are not universal by any means.

That being said, the negative productivity impact of complexity, regardless of the specific source, is felt similarly across a very large segment of the respondents, with 55% stating that complexity has taken a direct toll on profitability over the past three years.  This is such a serious problem that 8% of respondents actually slowed down their company growth in order to deal with complexity.

So, if complexity oftentimes impacts productivity and subsequently profitability, what are some of the more successful initiatives that companies are taking to combat these effects? Among the answers from the EIU survey, the following were highlighted among the most likely initiatives to reduce complexity and ultimately increase productivity:

  • Making it a company-wide goal to reduce complexity means that the executive level has to live and breathe simplification in order for the rest of the organization to get behind it. Changing behaviors across the organization requires strong leadership, commitment, and change management, and these initiatives ultimately lead to improved decision-making processes, which was reported by respondents as the top benefit of reducing complexity. From a leadership perspective this also requires setting appropriate metrics for measuring outcomes, and for metrics, productivity and efficiency were by far the most popular choices amongst respondents though strangely collaboration related metrics where not ranking high in spite of collaboration being a high level priority.
  • Promoting a culture of collaboration means enabling employees and management alike to collaborate not only within their teams but also across the organization, with partners, and with customers. Creating cross-functional roles to facilitate collaboration was cited by 56% as the most helpful strategy in achieving this goal.
  • More than half (54%) of respondents found the implementation of new technology and tools to be a successful step towards reducing complexity and improving productivity. Enabling collaboration, reducing information overload, building scenarios and prognoses, and enabling real-time decision-making are all key issues that technology can help to reduce complexity at all levels of the organization.

While these initiatives won’t help everyone, it is interesting to see that more than half of companies believe that if they could cut complexity in half they could be at least 11%-25% more productive. That nearly one in five respondents indicated that they could be 26%-50% more productive is a massive improvement.

The question then becomes whether we can make complexity and its impact on productivity not only more visible as a key issue for companies to address, but (even more importantly) also something that every company and every employee should be actively working to reduce. The potential productivity gains listed by respondents certainly provide food for thought, and few other corporate activities are likely to gain that level of ROI.

Just imagine having 45 minutes each and every day for actively pursuing new projects, getting innovative, collaborating, mentoring, learning, reducing stress, etc. What would you do? The vision is certainly compelling, and the question is are we as companies, leaders, and employees going to do something about it?

To read more about the EIU study, please see:

Feel free to follow me on Twitter: @michaelrander

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About Michael Rander

Michael Rander is the Global Research Director for Future Of Work at SAP. He is an experienced project manager, strategic and competitive market researcher, operations manager as well as an avid photographer, athlete, traveler and entrepreneur. Share your thoughts with Michael on Twitter @michaelrander.

The Robotics Race

Stephanie Overby

As robotic technologies continue to advance, along with related technologies such as speech and image recognition, memory and analytics, and virtual and augmented reality, better, faster, and cheaper robots will emerge. These machines – sophisticated, discerning, and increasingly autonomous – are certain to have an impact on business and society. But will they bring job displacement and danger or create new categories of employment and protect humankind?

We talked to SAP’s Kai Goerlich, along with Doug Stephen of the Institute for Human and Machine Cognition and Brett Kennedy from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, about the advances we can expect in robotics, robots’ limitations, and their likely impact on the world.

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qa_qWhat are the biggest drivers of the robot future?

Kai Goerlich: Several trends will come together to drive the robotics market in the next 15 to 20 years. The number of connected things and sensors will grow to the billions and the data universe will likewise explode. We think the speed of analytics will increase, with queries answered in milliseconds. Image and voice recognition – already quite good – will surpass human capabilities. And the virtual and augmented reality businesses will take off. These technologies are all building blocks for a new form of robotics that will vastly expand today’s capabilities in a diversity of forms and applications.

Brett Kennedy: When I was getting out of school, there weren’t that many people working in robotics. Now kids in grade school are exposed to a lot of things that I had to learn on the job, so they come into the workplace with a lot more knowledge and fewer preconceptions about what robots can or can’t do based on their experiences in different industries. That results in a much better-trained workforce in robotics, which I think is the most important thing.

In addition, many of the parts that we need for more sophisticated robots are coming out of other fields. We could never create enough critical mass to develop these technologies specifically for robotics. But we’re getting them from other places. Improvements in battery technology, which enable a robot to function without being plugged in, are being driven by industries such as mobile electronics and automotive, for example. Our RoboSimian has a battery drive originally designed for an electric motorcycle.

qa_qDo you anticipate a limit to the tasks robots will be able to master as these core technologies evolve?

Goerlich: Robots will take over more and more complex functions, but I think the ultimate result will be that new forms of human-machine interactions will emerge. Robots have advantages in crunching numbers, lifting heavy objects, working in dangerous environments, moving with precision, and performing repetitive tasks. However, humans still have advantages in areas such as abstraction, curiosity, creativity, dexterity, fast and multidimensional feedback, self-motivation, goal setting, and empathy. We’re also comparatively lightweight and efficient.

Doug Stephen: We’re moving toward a human-machine collaboration approach, which I think will become the norm for more complex tasks for a very long time. Even when we get to the point of creating more-complex and general-purpose robots, they won’t be autonomous. They’ll have a great deal of interaction with some sort of human teammate or operator.

qa_qHow about the Mars Rover? It’s relatively autonomous already.

Kennedy: The Mars Rover is autonomous to a certain degree. It is capable of supervised autonomy because there’s no way to control it at that distance with a joystick. But it’s really just executing the intent of the operator here on the ground.

In 2010, DARPA launched its four-year Autonomous Robotic Manipulator Challenge to create machines capable of carrying out complex tasks with only high-level human involvement. Some robots completed the challenge, but they were incredibly slow. We may get to a point where robots can do these sorts of things on their own. But they’re just not as good as people at this point. I don’t think we’re all going to be coming home to robot butlers anytime soon.

Stephen: It’s extremely difficult to program robots to behave as humans do. When we trip over something, we can recover quickly, but a robot will topple over and damage itself. The problem is that our understanding of our human abilities is limited. We have to figure out how to formally define the processes that human beings or any legged animals use to maintain balance or to walk and then tell a robot how to do it.

You have to be really explicit in the instructions that you give to these machines. Amazon has been working on these problems for a while with its “picking challenge”: How do you teach a robot to pick and pack boxes the way a human does? Right now, it’s a challenge for robots to identify what each item is.

qa_qSo if I’m not coming home to a robot butler in 20 years, what am I coming home to?

Goerlich: We naturally tend to imagine humanoid robots, but I think the emphasis will be on human-controlled robots, not necessarily humanshaped units. Independent robots will make sense in some niches, but they are more complex and expensive. The symbiosis of human and machine is more logical. It will be the most efficient way forward. Robotic suits, exoskeletons, and robotic limbs with all kinds of human support functions will be the norm. The future will be more Iron Man than Terminator.

qa_qWhat will be the impact on the job market as robots become more advanced?

SAP_Robotics_QA_images2400x16004Goerlich: The default fear is of a labor-light economy where robots do most of the work and humans take what’s left over. But that’s lastcentury thinking. Robots won’t simply replace workers on the assembly line. In fact, we may not have centralized factories anymore; 3D printing and the maker movement could change all that. And it is probably not the Terminator scenario either, where humanoid robots take over the world and threaten humankind. The indicators instead point to human-machine coevolution.

There’s no denying that advances in robotics and artificial intelligence will displace some jobs performed by humans today. But for every repetitive job that is lost to automation, it’s possible that a more interesting, creative job will take its place. This will require humans to focus on the skills that robots can’t replicate – and, of course, rethink how we do things and how the economy works.

qa_qWhat can businesses do today to embrace the projected benefits of advanced robotics?

Kennedy: Experiment. The very best things that we’ve been able to produce have come from people having the tools an d then figuring out how they can be used. I don’t think we understand the future well enough to be able to predict exactly how robots are going to be used, but I think we can say that they certainly will be used. Stephanie Overby is an independent writer and editor focused on the intersection of business and technology.

Stephanie Overby  is an independent writer and editor focused on the intersection of business and technology

To learn more about how humans and robots will co-evolve, read the in-depth report Bring Your Robot to Work.

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What Is The Key To Rapid Innovation In Healthcare?

Paul Clark

Healthcare technology has already made incredible advancements, but digital transformation of the healthcare industry is still considered in its infancy. According to the SAP eBook, Connected Care: The Digital Pulse of Global Healthcare, the possibilities and opportunities that lie ahead for the Internet of Healthcare Things (IoHT) are astounding.

Many health organizations recognize the importance of going digital and have already deployed programs involving IoT, cloud, Big Data, analytics, and mobile technologies. However, over the last decade, investments in many e-health programs have delivered only modest returns, so the progress of healthcare technology has been slow out of the gate.

What’s slowing the pace of healthcare innovation?

In the past, attempts at rapid innovation in healthcare have been bogged down by a slew of stakeholders, legacy systems, and regulations that are inherent to the industry. This presents some Big Data challenges with connected healthcare, such as gathering data from disparate silos of medical information. Secrecy is also an ongoing challenge, as healthcare providers, researchers, pharmaceutical companies, and academic institutions tend to protect personal and proprietary data. These issues have caused enormous complexity and have delayed or deterred attempts to build fully integrated digital healthcare systems.

So what is the key to rapid innovation?

According to the Connected Care eBook, healthcare organizations can overcome these challenges by using new technologies and collaborating with other players in the healthcare industry, as well as partners outside of the industry, to get the most benefit out of digital technology.

To move forward with digital transformation in healthcare, there is a need for digital architectures and platforms where a number of different technologies can work together from both a technical and a business perspective.

The secret to healthcare innovation: connected health platforms

New platforms are emerging that foster collaboration between different technologies and healthcare organizations to solve complex medical system challenges. These platforms can support a broad ecosystem of partners, including developers, researchers, and healthcare organizations. Healthcare networks that are connected through this type of technology will be able to accelerate the development and delivery of innovative, patient-centered solutions.

Platforms and other digital advancements present exciting new business opportunities for numerous healthcare stakeholders striving to meet the increasing expectations of tech-savvy patients.

The digital evolution of the healthcare industry may still be in its infancy, but it is growing up fast as new advancements in technology quickly develop. Are you ready for the next phase of digital transformation in the global healthcare industry?

For an in-depth look at how technology is changing the face of healthcare, download the SAP eBook Connected Care: The Digital Pulse of Global Healthcare.

See how the digital era is affecting the business environment in the SAP eBook The Digital Economy: Reinventing the Business World.

Discover the driving forces behind digital transformation in the SAP eBook Digital Disruption: How Digital Technology is Transforming Our World.

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About Paul Clark

Paul Clark is the Senior Director of Technology Partner Marketing at SAP. He is responsible for developing and executing partner marketing strategies, activities, and programs in joint go-to-market plans with global technology partners. The goal is to increase opportunities, pipeline, and revenue through demand generation via SAP's global and local partner ecosystems.