Apr 21

piggy bankI enjoyed the Certiport EMEA Partner conference last week and presented my thoughts on how we can turn some of the current tech-education trends into opportunities for our regional distributors.

As usual I talked about the new mobile workforce, the mismatch between skills available and employer needs, and the importance of young people owning their learning paths and skills portfolio, but I also opened the door to one of my favourite concepts of the emotional bank account, originally defined by Stephen Covey.

When you work in consultative sales, it is all about building a strong and long-term relationship with your customers. The work you do, the time you commit, the actions you take, all deposit into an emotional account with the customer that builds your reputation and cements the partnership. Over time, you deposit enough into the account to have lots of credit and if something happens that causes the account to need a withdrawal (a technical error, a mistake, a bit of bad service) then you have enough in the account to keep the relationship strong.

As technology takes over more of the fact- and rules-based decisions, the people who excel at building and maintaining relationships and the emotional bank account with their customers, are the ones who will stand out – this is how people will make a difference in future and where technology is less likely to have a say.

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Mar 20

The ShardI have traversed three continents these last few weeks, from Europe to the west coast of America, then back and across to the Middle East.

The trips all centred around assessment and skills events – culminating in apprentices week in the UK. “Everyone is worried about skills” said the BBC’s Steph McGovern at the CITB Building Futures conference. The challenges are different but the concerns are the same – whether you sit in the US or UK with their growing economies or the Middle East with their large numbers of young people, a shortage of the right skills to meet the needs of employers and their evolving industries will impact progress.

I believe technology doesn’t always help – young people make choices based on cultural changes and technological influences, and yet industries, jobs and the needs of employers are not the same. They must be aligned.

We do have a solution – young people learn from other young people, so let’s showcase our stars and use technology to promote them as case studies of success. In other words, a career in IT can mean working at Sky TV or motor racing, a career in construction might give somebody the opportunity to be in the team that builds the next Shard or Premier League football stadium. Let’s create success stories of young people who love their work and promote them as role models – then use technology to spread the word.

I close with real hope – I was very impressed by the enthusiasm and desire to succeed shown by the apprentices at the JustIT learner awards night where I shared my thoughts on the fusion of technology and education – I will continue to shout from the rooftops, that if you wake up with the attitude, desire and motivation to do a great job, invariably you will do well.

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Mar 05

robot-takeover-130412-office-worker-200x200There is a Future of Work event taking place this week, so I will add my remarks to this field of discussion. It is important to keep perspective and recognise that in this race between computers and people – people need to win. It is key that we find the things that humans are really good at, to make our pitch for the long term.

The work environment is changing. More than 1 billion people will work virtually this year; mobile will extend its dominant position; artificial intelligence and robots could automate 40% of jobs within 20 years. Those most at risk include security guards and financial advisers, but just about every clerical and administrative role is at risk.

Technology is pervading every work environment and so people have to take charge of their careers and re-skill and up-skill themselves for the next role or project in hand. Everyone has to be responsible for their own development.

For the lower skilled or those starting out, I am concerned. There will be fewer job opportunities and weakened job security for them, plus how do they take their first step on the work-progress-skills cycle?

With the need for lower-skilled roles drying up, the most worrying paradox is that we are struggling to fill jobs at a time when we have a record number of people available to fill them. The mismatch shows no signs of abating and parts of Europe have very high unemployment rates for young people. We need to do something about it and give everybody a chance.

Feb 16

checking phoneA taxi driver laughed at me as I dodged traffic to run to his vehicle, pulling behind me a small suitcase with a laptop bag that was hanging off to one side, plus one phone in each hand. “Those things have created this non-stop society,” he declared. He is right.

We are always switched on, trying to do more in less time. It makes me laugh how the red light of a Blackberry or the ringtone from an iPhone makes people suddenly jump to action, obsessively responding to the latest message. People wait at the ready the moment a plane’s wheels touch down to sigh with relief as they are happily reconnected.

Head of Ariadne Capital Julie Meyer once said society operates at 2 speeds: start-up and history. I agree, but will we ever get control of it? One major UK consultancy has banned employees from sending internal email on a Friday, but we are caught in a circle of connectivity from which we cannot extricate ourselves.

At a key client meeting this week, the chair asked for a short break. Most people just dropped their heads into their devices and emailed the entire time. One person took out an old Nokia Lumia phone, which sent the group into raptures.

FT columnist Gillian Tett recently wrote, “The challenge of the cyber revolution is that the pace of change is so fast that few pundits have good answers about how institutions – let alone societies – can adapt.” She was referring to the changing face of employment, but it applies across the board. We all just run with it. Nobody knows how to manage it appropriately.

In the end, I had to ask the taxi driver for his advice. He looked so calm, despite having to make his living driving bumper to bumper in London’s traffic. “I just handle it day by day,” he said, “one action at a time”.

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Jan 21

smart-pill-technology-marketThe Consumer Electronics Show this month has led to lots of press on the internet of things, where every gadget and device is connected to the internet, and sending and receiving data.

Samsung’s Chief Executive pledged that every single piece of Samsung hardware will be connected to the internet within five years, including TVs and domestic appliances. This is very much science fact, not science fiction, and while many will yell is there no privacy left in this world, I would like to suggest my top 3, the first of which I presented for the first time back in 2008:

1. The kitchen – imagine if you are on a controlled diet and you decide to break the rules and cook a ready-meal in the microwave followed by sticky-toffee pudding. Your fridge sensors notice what has been removed from the freezer compartment and the microwave tells your fridge you are about to cook that high-fat, sugar-and-salt meal. The microwave declines your request. You are the system administrator of your kitchen, so you override the microwave and instruct it to cook the food. Your microwave obeys, but it then notifies the fridge, which as the central processing unit of the kitchen sends a note to your doctor and your insurance company, and now you are no longer insured.

2. Fruit & Vegetables – coming from a background of food, I always wondered why my father had to keep a box of fruit that was always bruised or damaged to one side. With RFID chips on the cartons plus tighter planning with transportation schedules, more fruit makes it to its destination intact and bad apples cannot influence the rest of the crate.

3. The health pill – my favourite of the three, which is a tiny pill that you take weekly that monitors your wellbeing and sends a weekly status check to your doctor over wifi via a traffic light system. If it displays green you continue as normal; amber and you are sent a text message asking you to make an appointment; if the doctor receives a red signal, you are called within the hour. Preventative action can save the health services millions and technology must be used to help facilitate change.

I am all for the internet of things because the possibilities are endless, I just think they could have found a more interesting name for it.

Jan 05

Maslow_2014_revised.jpgThe Christmas holidays are just about at an end and people are turning their attentions to the new year and their work. Gifts have been exchanged, clementines and chocolate devoured and the gyms have started their annual marketing campaigns to entice more of us to exercise, if only for two weeks in January.

As the new year rolls in we have other matters to deal with – new terms and skills, even new anxieties. The future of work may well mean no CVs, no performance reviews, no permanence. Business Intelligence might easily be shared in real time via wearable devices, mobile certainly could dominate everything and many business services crowdsourced.

Topping the LinkedIn hottest skills list last year was ‘Statistical Analysis and Data Mining’ and the most popular coding language was ‘Python.’ All of this was new to the average person and business.

The standout thing for me was the sudden loss of time yet it became even more important to assign time to networking, speaking to and meeting important customers and key influencers in our lives. The image above right made me chuckle – I enjoyed my Business Administration classes back in the 80s the most, and no class was complete without Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, but last year we added 3 new rows to life’s necessities.

The biggest change of all this year will be ‘FORO’ – the fear of running out, and so our briefcases and satchels will need to include even more cables and devices.

A Happy New Year to everyone.

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Dec 01

CCALast week I presented at the CCA Annual Conference at the Edinburgh Assembly Rooms. An excellent event. Despite all the noise around technology – big data, wearables, the internet of things – our audience created more conversation around my stories and emphasis on talent. I liked that. This was a crowd of deep thinkers.

The greatest mix is that of old and new. Whilst I implore companies to give young talent a chance and to watch how the net generation will flourish if we attract and engage them on their terms (normally with technology in mind), I equally underlined the value of the older worker. The more experienced employee has a lot to offer, they are committed, they know the ropes and their experience is telling; and they are staying in post for longer, so the younger generations need to be better skilled to displace them.

Here is a summary of a story I told last week where two generations didn’t quite gel, or understand each other: a young lady beat off other applicants to make it to the final stage of interview and meet the CEO of the hiring company. She arrived on time and was immaculately presented. All good so far.

She was invited into the office of the CEO, a gentleman with years of success on his sleeve and decades her senior. The interview was progressing well, as planned, and then her phone start buzzing in her bag. The young lady pulled out the device mid-interview and started texting in reply, oblivious to the sudden stop in proceedings. This is what she was used to doing. The CEO waiting patiently for her to stop and then ended the interview, thanked her for her time, and saw her to the door. The interview process was about to start again, for this lady did not get the job.

I can see that the net generation does things in its own way and communicates differently, but there are certain rules of etiquette, respect and simple good manners that stand the test of time. I hope those things will never change.

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Nov 10

Big cheese

American inventor Charles Kettering said, “We should all be concerned about the future because we will spend the rest of our lives there.” With that, more of us are sitting up and taking note.

Technology continues to disrupt all industries and no more so than where it intersects with education. The idea of a single education followed by a single career is long in the past, so we have to take control of our portfolio of skills and continue to upgrade and refine it regardless of the work we do. We have to stay in touch, not just with gadgets and technology but what we know, as the sector we work in evolves at pace.

MOOCs such as FutureLearn are examples of technology helping us managing this requirement – short bursts of learning relevant to an immediate work need – or even an interest. Learning about photography, about wine, film or an historical event, can be the most pleasurable of all, plus it makes for a well-rounded individual.

With careers no longer linear and tenure within job roles around the 3-4 year range, we must learn to adapt, constantly learn, move sideways and even be prepared for downward steps, before we make upward moves on the long journey to the “big cheese” position.

Get ready for the ride, it will be different and is likely to be bumpy.

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Oct 11

fishStandard thinking is that technology has made our lives easier, that it takes care of communication for us, that we can broadcast our messages on multiple platforms from one place. That is not altogether accurate.

Technology is a gateway to communication, it is the oxygen of our net generation, that much is true, and allows us to reach people plus gather and share ideas like never before. In fact crowdsourcing is still hugely under-utilised in my book. But technology has lowered the barriers to entry, it allows more companies to compete regardless of size, and more people apply for the same jobs. Add to the mix the recovery in the markets and we now have to work even harder to stand out from the crowd.

When you look at LinkedIn, you are one in 300 million potential job seekers. One executive search agency said recently they receive up to 200 emails from job seekers each day. The agency continued to say if an email comes in with a straightforward CV attached, they are unlikely to even look at it. So what impresses?

Handwritten notes, an individual who clearly has undertaken vast amounts of research and a unique characteristic, personal interest or achievement is what it takes.

Technology has made life easier in many ways, but it is harder to differentiate. What are you doing to stand out?

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Sep 16

DSC_7552I had a great time presenting at the Learning Live Conference in London last week and engaged in some great discussion afterwards. I wanted to share one of my points here, and how we can use change to our advantage.

Our work environment is evolving and more than 1 billion people will work virtually by 2015. Are we thinking about this – can it help us attract new talent, from further afield, and save operational costs?

At the same time, artificial intelligence and robots could automate a high percentage of jobs (40% of jobs within 20 years across the board), as technology pervades every work environment – this means it is down to us as individuals to continue to up-skill and stay in touch, particularly as more and more low-skilled positions are taken over by technology. This will result in fewer job opportunities and weakened job security for the low-skilled. Coupled with that is those who do work hard and seek the next step may well be trapped in low-level entry positions as older workers stay in post longer. Just because the older generation have the cash to spend doesn’t mean they want to retire. In fact, older workers are better engaged and can add more value in the workplace than ever before. In many cases their experience is priceless.

But with change, automation and new technology comes opportunity – we have to believe that – and as Ashok Vaswani, Barclays CEO for Retail Banking said recently, “People are not designed to do the same thing again and again and again. Utilise people where it requires the mind and the application of judgement.”

Let’s think about that.

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