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.

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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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.

Aug 02

I attended the Certiport Global Partner Summit and the MOS and ACA World Championships this week in California. Let me explain.

Each year, hundreds of thousands of young people enter competitions, at a national level, to see who are the most creative Adobe and most proficient Microsoft Office Specialist users. After months of competition and excitement, around 130 competitors gathered in a hotel at Disney in California this week for an intense conclusion to proceedings. As the results were announced, the young winners ran to the stage to earn their medals and prizes as family, friends and those watching from afar via live broadcast jumped into raptures. So what does this all mean?

For the winners, no doubt fame awaits them in their countries when they return home and probably a gateway to a nice job role in the near future. That is very well deserved. For the IT industry, even more. These world championships highlight everything that is good in our industry. The work the Adobe competitors delivered as part of the Kiva project, for example, could easily have been created by a professional agency. The fact that most of the kids were not native English speakers made it even more remarkable.

I saw the future. It lies with those excited kids having a fantastic time, representing the next generation of IT workers, innovators and companies. My summary of the week was that every IT vendor should have a competition, should invest in the next generation in this way, because it is some of the most powerful and compelling branding and engagement I have ever seen.

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Jun 02

cricket

I am technology’s biggest fan, but this weekend was a reminder about perspective. I went to Lords to watch the one-day international between England and Sri Lanka and met some great new people from Blenheim Chalcot, Hewlett Packard, Aetna, IAB and Disney to name a few. Such varied conversations, different walks of life but all good people.

It reminded me that whilst racking-up contacts on social spaces can be important and networking online does work, nothing comes even close to shaking hands with real people and getting to know them. It is genuine and lays foundations for a stronger, long-term bond.

My take-away from the cricket is this – for every 3 connections you make online, pick up the phone and call an important contact or old acquaintance and ask how they are; and keep some loose change in your pocket and invite somebody different in your industry to a tea/coffee twice a month. It outsmarts technology all day long.

My Dad used to take me to the Oval to watch Surrey on Sunday afternoons and some things don’t change. The spectators had a reminder about good old-fashioned determination and resilience as Jos Buttler worked relentlessly to make up the runs. What a performance. That is one of life’s lessons that will never be affected by technology.

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Apr 22

As far back as 2001, when Jim Collins wrote Good to Great, he said “technology by itself is never a primary root cause of either greatness or decline.” That rings true even today, despite the massive disruption taking place as new generations of workers launch their brilliant ideas – think of Halo, Snapchat and Vine. All of these came about as a result of an individual or a group thinking differently.

When Collins and his team of researchers set out to establish what made companies ‘great,’ they expected that leaders would set out the strategy and the vision, and make it compelling enough that their employees would follow. Instead they discovered something different, that they first got the right people on the bus and in the right seats – and then they figured out where to drive it.

One of the early birds in the revolution was Circuit City, the company that pioneered the electronics superstore in the US (sadly not around today), and the one of the protagonists in their success was asked to name the top 5 factors that led to their transition to a great organisation.

He replied, “One would be people.”

“Two would be people.”

“Three would be people.”

“Four would be people.”

“And five would be people.”

It seems we need to correct the old adage “People are your most important asset.” People are not your most important asset. The right people are.

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Jan 20

Apollo_13_Mailbox_at_Mission_Control

As someone with an interest in space, I was transfixed as the team in Houston pulled together to generate ideas when Apollo 13 ran into trouble, particularly how they brainstormed to fix the carbon dioxide removal system.

Part of Mission Control’s method to find a solution was to discover what the spare parts were and not just recycle the same old ingredients. They chose not to sit around in isolation but get more parts on the table to give them options. Eventually they found the answer and saved the crew.

Their approach lends itself nicely to the tech world we are immersed in today. How do we get lots of parts – ideas, even people – to the table? Proctor & Gamble figure that for every senior scientist it employs, there are two hundred others working somewhere else in the world, just as good. Using technology platforms such as Innocentive and Kaggle, it can reach those minds and get access to some brilliant ideas to keep it at the leading edge of its industry.

However we connect, network, generate ideas or discover new products, we must do the same.

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Jan 03

sparkling_2014_lights

The new year is one of the busiest times in the calendar for people looking for inspiration, exploring change and opening at least one eye to new jobs.

I spent most of 2013 talking about talent and the value of our people as our number one differentiator. I will kick off 2014 by helping integrate a division into our business and welcoming a few new people into my team, and with technological change increasing its influence on our work and home lives, it is important to maintain focus on our talent pool.

One of the last presentations I delivered in 2013 was at the cool offices of ITV, thanks to Andy Kyriacou who set up the event. I was inspired by the people who work at ITV but most importantly by how engaged they all were.

The CEO at ITV, Adam Crozier, the man that led much of the cultural change made in the last few years there, once said:

Silver bullets rarely exist – when great things happen, they happen because of good people, teamwork, fantastic amounts of hard work and a giant dose of luck.”

So this has become my chief principle for 2014: look after our people and create the theatre for them to deliver, for they are the best thing we’ve got.

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