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.


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.

Every click, swipe, "like," buy, comment, deposit, jog and search produces information that creates a unique virtual identity - something we call

Code Halo

Code Halo TM
Learn more »

Refugee camps and what enterprises can learn from them

Refugee camps are microcosms which develop internal dynamics as well as external relationships. Depending on the degree of intervention by authorities which control the surrounding area, they can be highly autonomous with own norms, rules and with limited enforcement of local law. The result is often a fertile environment where accelerated entrepreneurship rich on creativity and pragmatism fosters. During my visits to selected refugee camps common patterns and new lenses emerged through which these communities can be viewed and discovered.

When hearing of refugee camps, whether in conversations or in media, we tend to think of a passive group of individuals almost entirely dependent on the outside for any form of assistance. We naturally sympathise with the many who endure sometime unimaginable hardship while hoping for a better future. However a closer look into refugee camps reveals a potentially unexpected and even fascinating inner life from which we on the outside could and perhaps should learn.

In the past few years I have visited four quite distinct camps, the Zaatari camp (2013) in northern Jordan only ten miles from the Syrian border which is still home to almost one hundred thousand mainly Syrian refugees and now Jordan’s fourth largest city, the Chatsworth camp in South Africa’s KwaZulu-Natal province (2015) which at the time provided refuge from xenophobic attacks to hundreds of foreigners from within the region, the camp outside the French port city of Calais also known as the Jungle (2016) which at peak was inhabited by about six thousand mostly Africans and Asians and finally the Sahrawi Smara refugee camp (2017) which is part of a network of Sahrawi refugee camps in Algeria’s remote desert region established more than forty years ago.

The incubator

Refugee camps are unique structures as they differ in a number of ways from other established social structures from commercial organisations through communities, associations to clubs or family units. Broadly there are four key distinguishing and re-emerging internal factors and one external variable:

  • Inhabitants learn to operate in a new and highly fluid as well as volatile environment within the camp and beyond in an unfamiliar country. For instance, most of the refugees in Calais have no previous experience of living in France.
  • Inhabitants face and address almost inevitably unfamiliar issues. These can range from fixing a broken tent to organising medicine for an ill family member.
  • Inhabitants are mainly transient and the vast majority of inhabitants consider their stay merely as an interim solution. The short time horizon is likely to increase individual risk tolerance and appetite.
  • Inhabitants represent a highly diverse amalgamation of communities across various demographic dimensions.
  • Low level of regulation of camps. In the organically grown camps in Chatsworth and Calais for instance law enforcement within the community is essentially non-existent. Police presence in both camps is limited to the outside parameter and not policing within the camp (external).

These factors are creating unique environments which are ideal innovation platforms full of raw creativity, entrepreneurship and competitiveness. The Jungle with its makeshift water supplies, shower facilities, muscle powered mobile battery charging facilities, bike repair workshops, convenience stores, restaurants, tea shops, even art exhibitions and places of worship is an excellent example of most basic enterprises, unregulated and within a confined physical space. It is something that is almost impossible to observe anywhere else and if at all can only be found in the world’s least developed regions.

The autonomous organism

Services within camps typically develop organically and become increasingly sophisticated as demand increases and diversifies over time. These services are supplied by inhabitants in resource effective ways while pushing regulatory boundaries e.g. unregistered and untaxed businesses, non-compliance with existing local health and safety regulations. That results in low barriers to entry allowing entrepreneurs to start businesses with minimal investment and with ongoing low overhead costs. Combined with the lack of central planning and regulation within camps – this applies less to the Zaatari camp – this enables services within the camp to evolve and be adapted as the situation of the camp and its inhabitants change. For instance charities start to supply certain services, a large group of inhabitants leaves the camp due to new opportunities or parts of the camp are flooded.

Outside relationships

Despite its unstructured, unplanned, unregulated and diverse nature, interestingly refugee camps tend to be perceived from the outside as homogeneous entities. Like any organisation they project an image which determines which and how external relationships with for instance local residents, authorities, NGOs (non-government organisations), charities, police and security services are developing. Here few examples. Compared with those living in the Calais camp, key NGOs are heavily involved in the Zaatari camp. Those taking refuge in the Chatsworth camp experience a high degree of sympathy and support from local communities in the Durban suburbs. The Jordanian and Algerian authorities retain a relatively high degree of control over activities inside the respective camps on their territories whilst working together with various multinational agencies such as Oxfam, UNHCR or Germany’s Technisches Hilfswerk. There is collaboration with banks, too, for instance allowing refugees to set up accounts and access funds using biometric data.

Of course, camps do not run own public relations campaigns and the ability to consciously end centrally improving their image is very limited. Rather the general impression camps present to the public is a result of a variety of impacting factors which in turn shape external relations. In this context, individually and collectively, inhabitants maximise the benefit from outside interactions while pushing back external restrictions and controls.

Colourful baggage

Camps bring together a remarkable mix of people who are not only of different ethnic, cultural, religious and social backgrounds but also equipped with different skill sets and professional experiences. In the Zaatari camp for instance Christian business men from the urban north western parts of Syria are likely to live side by side with Sunni labourers from the eastern desert regions. That blending of individuals creates a unique culture with the ability to unite potentially conflicting groups under a set of clear and simple common goals. Camps quickly develop own labour markets where capabilities, competencies and skills are traded before being deployed by an entrepreneurial class. Mostly men – women are exceptions – with strong business drive who typically owned or managed enterprises previously.

But how can we learn from it?

Current trends in management, sociology, politics and other domains focus on increasing agility, responsiveness and transparency. At the same time enterprises aim at reinventing their business models while simultaneously disrupt the own and often other industries. In light of that, it may be worthwhile to take a look at the inner lives of refugee camps. Provided an open mind, some of the observations may lead to reconsidering established ways in which we innovate and to designing entirely new and unorthodox zones where ideas and human potential can thrive with these features:

  • Deregulation – allow teams to address issues by exploring solutions unrestricted as the benefit of the solution may outweigh the cost of eliminating or adjusting these restrictions.
  • New issues – allow teams to address issues which at first sight may appear to be outside their designated area of competence as it enables the application of solutions from other domains.
  • Conflict teams – bring together individuals within teams who historically weren’t working well together as the new environment and shared experience may show positive impact on attitudes and behaviours.
  • Time horizon – time-box the zone to increase risk taking by teams as this is may drive willingness to experiment beyond what would be otherwise acceptable to the individuals.

If you read this from the comfort of an air-conditioned office in any of the world’s metropolises, you may be forgiven for not recognising immediately the connection between refugee camps and the way you, the people around you and the organisations and structures you are part of work. However recreating some of the conditions may help enterprises to innovate, experiment and transform.