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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.

How Much Will Digital Cannibalization Eat into Your Business?

Fawn Fitter

Former Cisco CEO John Chambers predicts that 40% of companies will crumble when they fail to complete a successful digital transformation.

These legacy companies may be trying to keep up with insurgent companies that are introducing disruptive technologies, but they’re being held back by the ease of doing business the way they always have – or by how vehemently their customers object to change.

Most organizations today know that they have to embrace innovation. The question is whether they can put a digital business model in place without damaging their existing business so badly that they don’t survive the transition. We gathered a panel of experts to discuss the fine line between disruption and destruction.

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qa_qIn 2011, when Netflix hiked prices and tried to split its streaming and DVD-bymail services, it lost 3.25% of its customer base and 75% of its market capitalization.²︐³ What can we learn from that?

Scott Anthony: That debacle shows that sometimes you can get ahead of your customers. The key is to manage things at the pace of the market, not at your internal speed. You need to know what your customers are looking for and what they’re willing to tolerate. Sometimes companies forget what their customers want and care about, and they try to push things on them before they’re ready.

R. “Ray” Wang: You need to be able to split your traditional business and your growth business so that you can focus on big shifts instead of moving the needle 2%. Netflix was responding to its customers – by deciding not to define its brand too narrowly.

qa_qDoes disruption always involve cannibalizing your own business?

Wang: You can’t design new experiences in existing systems. But you have to make sure you manage the revenue stream on the way down in the old business model while managing the growth of the new one.

Merijn Helle: Traditional brick-and-mortar stores are putting a lot of capital into digital initiatives that aren’t paying enough back yet in the form of online sales, and they’re cannibalizing their profits so they can deliver a single authentic experience. Customers don’t see channels, they see brands; and they want to interact with brands seamlessly in real time, regardless of channel or format.

Lars Bastian: In manufacturing, new technologies aren’t about disrupting your business model as much as they are about expanding it. Think about predictive maintenance, the ability to warn customers when the product they’ve purchased will need service. You’re not going to lose customers by introducing new processes. You have to add these digitized services to remain competitive.

qa_qIs cannibalizing your own business better or worse than losing market share to a more innovative competitor?

Michael Liebhold: You have to create that digital business and mandate it to grow. If you cannibalize the existing business, that’s just the price you have to pay.

Wang: Companies that cannibalize their own businesses are the ones that survive. If you don’t do it, someone else will. What we’re really talking about is “Why do you exist? Why does anyone want to buy from you?”

Anthony: I’m not sure that’s the right question. The fundamental question is what you’re using disruption to do. How do you use it to strengthen what you’re doing today, and what new things does it enable? I think you can get so consumed with all the changes that reconfigure what you’re doing today that you do only that. And if you do only that, your business becomes smaller, less significant, and less interesting.

qa_qSo how should companies think about smart disruption?

Anthony: Leaders have to reconfigure today and imagine tomorrow at the same time. It’s not either/or. Every disruptive threat has an equal, if not greater, opportunity. When disruption strikes, it’s a mistake only to feel the threat to your legacy business. It’s an opportunity to expand into a different marke.

SAP_Disruption_QA_images2400x1600_4Liebhold: It starts at the top. You can’t ask a CEO for an eight-figure budget to upgrade a cloud analytics system if the C-suite doesn’t understand the power of integrating data from across all the legacy systems. So the first task is to educate the senior team so it can approve the budgets.

Scott Underwood: Some of the most interesting questions are internal organizational questions, keeping people from feeling that their livelihoods are in danger or introducing ways to keep them engaged.

Leon Segal: Absolutely. If you want to enter a new market or introduce a new product, there’s a whole chain of stakeholders – including your own employees and the distribution chain. Their experiences are also new. Once you start looking for things that affect their experience, you can’t help doing it. You walk around the office and say, “That doesn’t look right, they don’t look happy. Maybe we should change that around.”

Fawn Fitter is a freelance writer specializing in business and technology. 

To learn more about how to disrupt your business without destroying it, read the in-depth report Digital Disruption: When to Cook the Golden Goose.

Download the PDF (1.2MB)

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Automation And The Future of Work: Are Management, Creative, And Administrative Jobs At Risk?

Michael Rander

An astounding 47% of jobs in the United States alone are at high risk of being automated over the coming 20 years. A combination of new business models, technology, workforce automation, and globalization is changing the way that companies do business – and the workforce is at the crux of it all. New job categories will replace many of these automated jobs. But the real question is: What happens to the people rendered redundant, and how likely will companies help ensure their success?

Traditionally, robots and automation are associated with the displacement of more manual labor. However, the stark reality is that jobs across the workforce are at risk. Factory and construction workers may be robotized, taxi drivers could be replaced by self-driving cars, and bookkeepers have the potential to be displaced by pieces of software.

But could managerial roles, creative jobs, and administrative functions be affected as well?

R2-D2 in the corner office

With just under half of the workforce at risk of being automated, the impact will indeed be felt across a broad range of jobs. A Deloitte study suggested that as many as 56% of finance functions in the United Kingdom could be automated over the coming years. This trend will likely spread beyond the finance area into administrative and analytical jobs that are heavily centered on organizational procedures, strict business rules, and defined outputs. And this change will be felt throughout the hierarchy as well.

Your next manager may not be a shiny R2-D2 robot sitting in the corner office, but managers are certainly feeling the pressure of automation and subsequent risk to their job security. Artificial intelligence (AI) and automated information analysis, in many cases, already enable better staffing and resource allocation decisions than what humans can do on their own. Decisions can be made based on real-time changes in the environment – affecting everything from delivery truck traffic routing to coordinating global crisis management responses and making informed investment decisions on new machinery based on financial conditions, external economic factors, and expected ROI. Ultimately, it is about business optimization and efficiency as it takes human error, politics, and emotions out of the equation.

Creativity is at the fingertips of the beholder

When it comes to creative jobs, most will argue that machines can’t compete with humans precisely because of our inherent human traits such as emotions, intuition, and sensibility. Yes, you can find computers making music and robots making paintings and artificial intelligence writing code. But, it is unlikely that they can inject that special something that makes the work stand out among the masters of the arts who define our humanity.

The leap, however, may not be as big as you might think. AI can now reduce massive amounts of machine data into readable information. In fact, experimental initiatives are combining existing literature into new novels, and considering the potential for machine-generated news stories based on available data, sensors, and cameras. It might not be worthy of Hemingway and Faulkner, but writers, nonetheless, could conceivably be affected. For example, a service could provide on-demand, personalized novels based on specific literary preferences. Or automation could bypass onsite journalists by reporting news the moment it occurs, not just after the data arrives and the article is written.

The potential of automation: Workforce transformation

The jobs that are safe from this robot revolution are the ones that involve the generation of original ideas, innovation, negotiation, and a high level of social intelligence. Additionally, jobs that require human interaction – such as healthcare, physical assistance, sales, and teaching – will largely remain important parts of the workforce.

The big change to come in the digital economy will be the rise of the digital worker, which will create a whole host of new, critical roles focused on running a Live Business and reacts in the moment based on real-time changes in both the internal and external environment.

To learn more about the rise of the digital worker and how those roles will affect the Future of Work and your workforce, read the executive research white paper “Live Business: The Rise of the Digital Workforce.”

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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.