The First Rule of Leadership? Show Up!

Surely that is the quote of the UK’s recent general election...the United Kingdom, a country once prized for its stability, pragmatism and global leadership seems to be having a torrid time of late. The Scottish Referendum, Brexit, conservative leadership elections and now a “hung parliament” (i.e. no clear majority). The incumbent Prime Minister, Theresa May put “strong and stable leadership” at the centre of her campaign and then proceeded to throw way a stonking lead because the country didn’t believe her. The Tory campaign for government was in fact one of the worst in political history. The “no show” at the televised leader’s debate and the manifesto U turn really did sink them. The big lesson for me however is about leadership.

There are important lessons for leaders and the craft of leadership from the UK’s general election. Vision really, really matters. The ability to think about the future with imagination and wisdom and work hard to attract others to back it. A vision of what the country (or organization) will be and how it will capture value; how people will live (and work) together and what skills they’ll need for the future. With good timing, the Center for the Future of Work has just published a new report called Relearning Leadership in the Second Machine Age. The reason why we chose to focus on leadership is because we feel that leadership models need a reboot. Organizational value increasingly pivots around data and the blend between the physical and the virtual worlds (we’ve written about this a lot and our latest take we describe it as Europe’s Digital Imperative). Market watchers, CEOs, business leaders etc. all now recognize we are in the midst of a major economic shift; a profound realignment in how people and organizations work together to create value. So what does it mean to be a leader today?

Today’s leaders have to deal with far more complex, messy and diverse choices (and roles) than just five years ago. Our ideas articulated in the SMAC stack published in 2012 signalled the start of the digital shift. If SMAC seems easy to understand it’s because it was. Today’s rapid fire of artificial intelligence, robots, drones, virtual/augmented reality, blockchain or 3D printing creates confusion and paralysis. Business models are in a state of flux, operating models are under pressure and legacy cost structures are creating headaches in an era of stunning change. Organizations and their people need higher levels of agility, innovation and creativity than ever before. We’ve got the proof too: results from our Work Ahead survey ran at the end of last year point toward a generation of leaders finding the shift difficult (check out our findings here). An executive class is struggling to balance the promise of the new with the realities of what they have to work with while all too easy to underestimate institutional inertia. Cultures that have grown up over decades can be large, unwieldy and complex – even at times paranoid and complacent. In our report, we call them zombie organizations and they must be fought at every turn.

However, the challenge for leaders is not to throw the baby out with the bathwater (don’t get rid of something good when trying to get rid of something bad). The reason why an industry exists around management and leadership theory is that management and leadership theory generally works! My advice is don’t junk the suit just yet and turn up to work looking like Jeremy Clarkson (trainers, jeans, sharp jackets—yes, we’ve all done it) and expect kudos from your business unit or team. Don’t be tempted either to reject what’s worked before. Many would be innovators deal with the trade-off between efficiency and innovation by rejecting traditional management entirely. They repeat mantras about breaking all the rules and asking for forgiveness rather than permission. They set up skunk works (small autonomous units with a remit to innovate) and mock the big boring corporate types that actually ensure they’re paid each week. Mocking them will only encourage you to be starved of money and executive support when it’s needed.

What our report does argue is that successful leaders of the future must switch into three clear roles. Switch into software and pivot on platforms, accelerate innovation (hyper innovation we call it) and nail human insight into every single customer experience. The real challenge then is motivating your workforce to embrace the vision of change. Please do read our report, Relearning Leadership in the Second Machine Age and join the conversation.

The Future of Insecurity

Regular readers will know that we here at the Center for the Future of Work like to brand ourselves as “thinkers of the unthinkable”. This post however focuses on a topic where the vast majority of people are “unthinking the thinkable” – namely that our computers are not secure.

George Orwell’s famously said that “to see what is in front of one’s nose needs a constant struggle”; as of June 2017 it appears that most people have stopped struggling with what I would suggest is the most vexing issue of our day, namely how do we stop the Information Age imploding on itself in the wake of bad actors running amok?

In What to Do When Machines Do Everything we argue that we are on the cusp of a “great digital buildout”, in which technology becomes embedded in, and central to, every aspect of modern society; in the next 20 years (but staring this afternoon at 1:28 pm ET) banking, education, healthcare, government, transportation, and housing – all areas where technology is used, but in still somewhat marginal, supporting, low key ways – will be fundamentally re-imagined and re-wired, leveraging AI, robotics, Blockchain, A/VR, platforms, quantum computing, and new human/machine interfaces (voice and then neural). By the time I’m a greeter at the Falmouth, MA, AmazonFoods software won’t have just eaten the world, software will be the world.

This perspective though rests on one fundamental assumption; that the technology on which everything is predicated is safe.

One would have to be a very good advocate to argue that today. Consider;

The list could go on and on. See this site for more of the gory detail (artfully presented) if you’re so inclined;

As an aside, this list clearly doesn’t reference “fake news” and other activity that though technically not illegal is clearly a scam and undermines confidence in the virtual world. Also, the list doesn’t reference terrorist activity on-line, which is highly illegal and profoundly troubling for the continuance of the “open” Internet, as it is currently constructed.

It is clear that the computer technology we are using today is entirely unsafe. Fortunes and fates rest on the most flimsy of foundations; even the most blue-chip of corporations (and the most deep-pocketed) admit (off the record) that they have been (and continue to be) repeatedly hacked.

Our ability to function amidst this truth stems from our individual and collective ability to ignore and deny it - abilities hardwired into us from time immemorial. No one and nothing is really safe. If high-class hackers want to hack you, they probably can. Personally, most of us take comfort in “security through obscurity”. Collectively, most of us take comfort in “that’s John - or Vivek’s - problem, not mine”.

But these thoughts take us back to where I started this blog; that most of us are not struggling to think about this stuff anymore. It’s too scary and too difficult. Life is too short, it’s Friday afternoon, it’s summertime and the living is easy.

So, if we do pause and think about it this for a moment, what should we think?

Well, this is why we don’t think about it, because when we do we quickly realize that knowing what to think about all this is very, verydifficult ...

On the one hand I think, and have repeatedly commented on, how amazing our modern technology marvels are But on the other, I worry deeply that a la Oppenheimer we (e.g. the collective “we” of the tech army, and me personally as a mere foot soldier) are becoming the destroyer of worlds

What to do, what to do, what to do, the outlook was decidedly grey ...

I see three scenarios ahead;

1 the “white hats” win – all is well; the great digital build out proceeds and though there are bumps in the night society is upgraded and we all sleep well at night

2 the “black hats” win – society retreats from a technology mediated world; owners of pigeons and quills become the new masters of the universe

3 victory in the battle between white and black hats is ambiguous – the cat and mouse between good and bad actors carries on ad-infinitum; bad things continue to happen; we – a la frogs – learn to live with them; because there are no “real” solutions we (i.e. society) continue to reside on the banks of denial and make the most of the view and the bathing.

Scenarios 1 and 2 seem unlikely, non? Crime has existed since before recorded time (or least since before the establishment of the Daily Express and will (pre-crime notwithstanding presumably be with us until the last human walks the earth (The final crime? Murdered by an AI?). That we would retreat entirely from technology also seems unlikely. Though perhaps The Walkaways will grow in number Certainly, any significant M&A deal is now conducted behind an “Internet airlock” in a Manhattan hotel room or lawyers office.

Which leaves us with scenario 3 aka “The Muddling Through” scenario, in which the battle continues to rage, both sides finding new ways to attack and defend, leveraging systems of intelligence until we begin to sense a taste of Armageddon A scenario in which the benefits of technology just about outweigh the costs but in which nobody is really sure that this is true; or sure about anything else either. In which there are identifiable “White Hats” and “Black Hats” but the real damage is done by “Grey Hats” – franchised freelancers whose very “rouge-ness” got them the gig in the first place (recruited in Las Vegas – who nobody really understands or can control.

Maybe the perspective of scenario 3 is too pessimistic; maybe quantum security will bring about scenario 1; maybe a Digital Geneva Convention will bring an end to the cyber arms race that escalates, and escalates, and escalates. Maybe Edward Snowden’s revelations about the extent of governments’ (plural) involvement (talking of Grey Hats) in these domains will break the, ahem, denial (distributed, of service).

Maybe. Not holding my breath.

As Aaron Levie, CEO of Box, put it, “If you want a job in 5 years, study computer science. If you want a job for life, study computer security” Clearly, every IT service provider of note (including Cognizant) has fired up every recruiter on speed-dial to load up on security talent. Fixing “insecurity” may make fixing Y2K look like a hors d’oeuvre. Making them safe = making lots of money.

Hopefully our connected homes, cars (particularly of the flying variety, buildings, planes (definitely of the flying variety), operating theatres, parliaments, bank vaults, classrooms, and VR environments, will be safe and secure. They’d better be; stuff will hit the (connected) fan if they’re not.

As someone once said (provenance uncertain; ping me if you know), “If you’re not thoroughly confused, you’re not adequately informed”. If you’re not thoroughly insecure about the state – and future of – computer security you’re either inadequately informed, or more likely, just like the rest of us; having too much fun watching the slow motion nervous breakdown in Washington D.C.

Enjoy. While you can. The problems ahead may make our current ones seem far from huge.

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Focus on the Front Office to Get Customers Back... Again and Again

In some ways, modernizing customer experience processes is “the story of digital” so far. It has been a powerful catalyst for redesigning and re-imagining sales and the customer experience in general. And brand experience has been a huge motivator for customers – liking Netflix, crafting your own Starbucks signature drink, feeling the cool verve of Richard Branson’s Virgin empire of products and services. The more customers like the experience, the more they want to engage, give feedback and collaborate with it. For many products and services, co-creation with favorite brands is the name of the B2C or B2B game.

So, why are so many of us at our wit’s end when we experience bad customer care? Have we grown too blasé at the amazing potential of digital technologies? As customers, it’s frustrating when we see the obvious blind spots our favorite, trusted brands have failed to address when we interact with them – whether it’s the bad self-checkout robot at the grocery store, or the automated kiosk at the airline you’ve used for 20 years asking you to “Press 1 for English,” or robo-calls from your favorite charity asking for a donation, even though you made a PayPal contribution last week.

Our new research from the Cognizant Center for the Future of Work entitled “The Work Ahead: Soaring Out of the Process Silo” highlights data-based insights and tactical advice on applying new digital technologies to front-, middle- and back-office work processes to realize new levels of business performance.

We analyzed the responses from 136 senior sales and customer service executives in our dataset on how they think digital will transform work between now and 2020.

With killer apps, beautifully designed websites or even sensor-enabled soda bottles, many companies are already moving in this direction, Still, much more can be done to drive digital at the heart of the value chains surrounding customer-facing and front-office functions. Based on the responses from sales and customer service executives , it’s clear that many levers connected to data will be critical to improving processes over the next decade. Approximately 61% cited cybersecurity as pre-eminent by 2025, followed closely by big data (60%) and sensors/IoT (48%). However, for many, some basic foundational engagement technologies (such as telepresence, nanotechnologies and wearables) are perceived as being far from promising in the long term.

The more customers like the experience, the
more they want to engage, give feedback and
collaborate with it. For many products and
services, co-creation with favorite brands is
the name of the B2C or B2B game.

SaaS platforms like Salesforce have proved the concept for sales enablement software. Already, cloud-based platforms such as Cognizant’s Onvida are powering next-generation, omnichannel BPaaS solutions and digital customer experience processes. Case in point: Onvida is helping a leading global food and beverage company drive $37 million in cost savings and over $150 million in revenue uplift. Other companies, such as Zendesk, are turning reviews, comments and messages into two-way customer service conversations. Still others, such as Afiniti, are using AI to optimize interpersonal behavior with “super agents” when nothing less than a top-flight, human-to-human call is called for.

Keep Confronting the Front Office Digitally

Practice makes perfect. Even if your customer-facing functions have been on the vanguard of your organization’s digital process change efforts, your team needs to keep refining them. The days of forcing customers to align with your company’s (often bad) processes are numbered, so it’s high time to re-imagine all front-, middle and back-office processes to support your customers.

Here are some steps to anticipate and accelerate change:

TODAY: Get a mirror – see the ugliness (your customers already do).

If your company’s customer experience processes are ugly, there’s never been a better time (and better digital process tools) to fix them. Take a good, long look. Acceptance is half the battle. And even if your processes aren’t exactly ugly, but could stand to be even more beautiful, don’t stop! What’s “perfect” is always in a state of change, so keep looking, keep changing and keep perfecting. Your customers will reward you.

TOMORROW: Beauty is more than skin-deep – customer-facing process change needs to be outside and inside.

Digital allows opportunities to be unlocked in real time. By having meaningful data about how customers have interacted with customer support in the past, sales people can be made “smart,” and can proactively serve customers. Processes found in customer experience centers will need to re-calibrate around “handling sessions,” using the digital fingerprint (or “Code Halo” ) that is generated by every customer click, like, swipe, comment, call, inquiry and so on. Chat-bots especially are starting to emerge as a useful plumb-bob in the digital world to cohere these interactions. Patterns will emerge, such as the types of interventions and clarifications conducted, yielding a powerful lever for customer service, speed, efficiency and effectiveness. Gone is the need to complete the typical 15-step process to ascertain things like, “Why’d you call? What do you want? Where are you located?” Instead, a tangible sense of efficiency and experience is substituted – to get business moving faster and smarter.

ONE TO TWO YEARS: Turn the mirror on customers – watch them watching you.

Imagine the richness of process data – known and unknown – and how you could unlock it using digital technologies or new process platforms. Imagine crafting an algorithm for 10, 100 or 1,000 of the top 1% of your customers, all of whom share certain common characteristics. Like digital stalwarts Amazon, Apple and many others, you need to use new technologies such as sensors or big data analytics to gauge how customers may be interacting with your sales or customer service processes differently. Laser-focus on aspects of your best customers’ digital interactions and transpose them, either by demographic, region or sectors of your sales force, to drive outsized results for the business.