To Digitally Transform, Think like Clive Davis

If you’re a music fan you probably know the name Clive Davis. If you’re not though – and heaven help you - Clive Davis is one of the most successful music producers and record industry executives of all time. He’s worked with a who’s who of rock and pop musicians from Janis Joplin to Rod Stewart to Whitney Houston over the last 50 years. Now 85, he’s still in the game and is the Chief Creative Officer of Sony Music Entertainment. By any measure of success and longevity, in what is after all an extremely precarious and fickle business, Davis has earned his place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

What you may be wondering though does the archetypal A&R man have to do “digital transformation”? Well, let me explain ...

The “digital” alarm bell has been going off (literally and figuratively) now for 20 + years. The transition to the cloud, the slow decline of ERP, the rise of Google and Apple and Amazon, the primacy of “consumer IT”, the move to Agile and Containers, the awakening to the power of data, the importance of design thinking – none of these things are new, and yet in the second half of 2017 many, many organizations are still struggling to master them, let alone leverage them to thrive in markets changing all around them faster than ever.

The question is, why? The answer – in my humble opinion – is because the executives running these organizations don’t think like Clive Davis.

Clive Davis’s success can be put down, in no small measure, to his ability to separate his own personal tastes from the tastes of the market. As an octogenarian, Davis probably favors Frank Sinatra or Tony Bennett when he’s doing the dishes or mowing the lawn (as if). But when he’s working he’s listening like an 18 year old and can hear the magic in Lil Uzi Vert or Rex Orange County - music that to his contemporaries must sound like the aural equivalent of a dislocated shoulder. Or at least the decline and fall of western civilization.

Davis recognizes that he is not the target audience; that the music is not aimed at him and has nothing to say to him. He knows that he wouldn’t buy the music. But yet he can still make judgments about its quality and its commercial appeal. And he can do this precisely because he knows that the music isn’t being made for him.

This is the mistake that is hampering so many executives in so many businesses facing the onslaught of change being rendered by digital technology. They don’t personally like the new generation of technology and technology mediated solutions and they don’t appreciate that the new technology/solutions aren’t aimed at them.

Twitter is ridiculous. Facebook is for egotistical blowhards. What even is Snap? Why do my kids spend so much time on it? Social media is destroying a generation. We can’t do this transaction on-line because of the threat of hackers. Pokémon Go? Give me a break. Virtual Reality? What are these guys on? The Cloud? But we’ve got a data center. Monetize our customer’s data? Why? Isn’t that illegal? How does this Slack thing even work? What’s wrong with email?

To the average 50 year old, running an insurance company, a bank, an airline, a retailer, contemporary technology, contemporary business approaches, and contemporary norms are the commercial equivalent of Lil Uzi Vert – terrible, ugly, ridiculous, not nearly as good as the things we listened to aka the technology solutions we built and used.

These executives fail to see that they are not the target audience. That new solutions shouldn’t be built for their contemporaries but for their kids. They fail to separate their own personal tastes from the tastes of the where the market is going.

Doing this – separating your own personal judgments from those of the market – is terribly hard (hence why so few executives can do it). It’s tough for people who have ascended slippery career ladders to admit they don’t know something. It’s tough for them to even contemplate that they are “aging out”. That they are no longer “hip to the hop”, in touch, on fleek. But mostly it’s hard to admit – privately to yourself let alone publically to your staff/boss/board – that you’re no longer that interested in something and that you don’t really like x or y.

To truly grasp the promise of the Fourth Industrial Revolution you’ve got to really love it – and everything about it. Or, if you can’t, you’ve got to surround yourself with people who do. In Clive Davis’s case, A&R people who trawl the clubs and Soundcloud and YouTube and Spotify and SXSW. In your case digital whisperers from Cognizant’s Center for the Future of Work.

So next time you’re in a meeting with your team trying to inch forward with your digital transformation initiative, remember to think like Clive Davis. Remember, it’s not about you. It’s about the next generation and the stupid things they’re interested in. Play your Sinatra or Costello or Counting Crows tunes all you like at home. But don’t pretend that, now that you have the turn table (aka the digital transformation budget) the kids are going to dig what you all say. They ain’t lit with that.

Does HR Deserve its Stake in the Digital Board Room?

The global workforce is in crisis. The shortage of talent, demands of four unique generations, virtual teams and continuous changes in legislation – all of these forces have created a perfect storm as organizations look to build a productive and engaged workforce. All this is occurring at a time when companies themselves are facing massive upheaval due to digital disruption permeating every corner of the business world.

Job seekers are also facing disruption, with fears of redundancy and displacement due to AI, ever-changing skill set requirements and increasing numbers turning to gig work, all of which are influencing workforces to become disparate, disconnected and increasingly unproductive. Further, the power dynamic is shifting in the job market, with digitally skilled (and often young) workers in the driving seat. In what is now a seller’s market for talent, organizations need to not only source, recruit and onboard talent quickly, but also display an attractive and enticing culture for would-be associates.

At the center of this storm is HR. HR now has a seat at the table, but with the eyes of the C-suite firmly upon it, is HR up to the challenge in its current guise? Many would say not. The data indicates that HR is still bogged down in administrative and transactional activities that suck the lifeblood out of the function, and for the workers having to deal with HR, the frustration is apparent, with the majority rating HR performance poorly.

A New Age for HR

So what is going to pull HR out of the dark ages and enable it to provide an engaged, inspired and fluid workforce that organizations so desperately require? Is the stereotypical image of the HR “green screen” still a reality?

Well, as we enter the second machine age, the answer seems obvious. HR needs to be augmented by digital tools that empower HR professionals to focus on the strategic aspects of talent acquisition and management. Organizations today need to focus just as much on digitally enabling their workforce as they do their customers. HR departments need to be able to deliver a standardized user experience that is personalized, transparent and available anytime anywhere.

The toolsets to do this are available in abundance (think of the usual suspects of SAP SuccessFactors and Workday), but HR technology is going further and is now moving beyond social, mobile, analytics and cloud technologies (the SMAC stack). Artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things, predictive/prescriptive analytics and augmented reality are all beginning to make their presence felt in the HR value chain.

Fundamentally, the solution cannot be purely technology focused. HR now needs to rethink and adapt its processes and culture to fit with not only this new breed of HR tech but also by changing company cultures and workers.

The Complete Picture

As companies get to grips with a limited talent supply and more complex business environments (due to the impact of digital), it is paramount to attract, retain and increase the productivity and longevity of talent. The failure to do so will leave businesses vulnerable to competitive forces in the market and ultimately stifle the revenue and margin gains made possible by digital. The question is, to what extent do organizations see the value in cutting-edge HR technologies and new processes? To what degree are they adopting these new tools and approaches? Are they seen as gimmicks, or are they viewed as a critical component to delivering on business objectives through effective talent management?

Organizations need to think about how these objectives can be met through the application of digital HR. By combining connected employees through technology with HR processes that facilitate the modern workforce, organizations will become optimized for collaboration, innovation, productivity and employee well-being. These outcomes will ultimately define HR and cement its place in the C-suite.

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People, Place, Work.

By now you know the score: we’re moving through a significant economic shift; Business value increasingly accrues at the intersection of the physical and virtual worlds; Our connected cars, intelligent homes, emerging crypto currencies together signal a raft of new market niches and commercial opportunities that were unheard-of a mere 5 years ago. The power behind economic performance is irrevocably linked to how well a company innovates and marshal’s data around its value chain versus its competitors. The prize is lucrative for those that get it right. And the number of organizations that are beginning to get it right is growing (Bosch, GE, DHL etc. See my previous post).

Those lumbering organizations once struggling with legacy business models, bloated cost structures and zombie workforces are, we think turning a corner. They’re getting “match fit” for the opportunities ahead. The metabolism for innovation is rising as agile ways of working, higher rates of collaborating, and partnering proliferate while the platform becomes the default organizing principle for work. I think the job is only half done however. Until organizations radically change form to follow function, then they risk a digital stall. I’m keen to know if there is a radical need to realign not only people but also the places where people go and get work done. After all, place is still a proxy for culture.

I am beginning to think that the relationship between the places where work gets done and the people that work there is starting to change. This is because the dynamics surrounding how we work—nomadic work cultures, the growth of the gig economy, and the rise of talent clusters in many smaller, regional cities—are changing the concept of place and space for an organization and triggering a profound set of questions about what constitutes the corporate norms of how and where we work. Leaders have to ask themselves not just how employees will work together but where they will work together? What skills and capabilities does your firm need and how and where will it locate them? I think there is something more profound happening and its shows the relentless march of technology into every aspect of our lives. Our cities where people traditionally work are starting to change their look and feel.

Check out how the world’s tech giants, dripping with money and power, are changing the dynamics in and around our largest cities. From California to London, Google, Facebook and Apple are employing the world’s best architects to build awe inspiring symbols of their immense wealth and global power. Your jaw will drop when you see Apple Park: it’s a circle of glass designed to foster creativity and innovation and its obsession with detail is mindboggling: Its (German manufactured) windows provide the largest panels of curved glass anywhere on the planet while the planned underground theatre is truly something to behold. Then go and explore Google’s newly announced plans for its London HQ in the once seedy Kings Cross. It’s being called a “land scraper” with 92,000 square meters complete with a running track installed on its roof. These symbols of wealth and power could well be the smartest office space on the planet. But how far will the interaction between people and the place they work evolve? Will it be the shiny new world of Buck Rogers or the ominous territory staked out by Black Mirror?

Expect the tension between employers and their employees to grow. The implicit contract of trust sitting between both sides skews as intelligence grows around buildings and the occupants that work within them. A recent news story backs this up—Three Square, a US technology company wants to microchip its employees. The chip is the size of a grain of rice and will be implanted underneath the skin between thumb and forefinger (a bit like the bead inserted behind the ear in the ever ominous Black Mirror). The chip is optional (for now) and uses the same NFC technology that’s found in our contactless cards. With the chip employees can pay for food and drink, open doors, log onto computers and use other corporate resources. It makes sense when you consider that Three Square writes software for vending machines. That said, is there a danger that our employees become bits and bytes that can be tracked and gamified across the company? Would that work for you in your place of work?

Last year’s Future of Talent described a new work platform enabling employers to better understand the productive behavioral patterns of their workforce. We wrote how Bank of America uses sensory data to better understand employee performance dynamics and learned that; call center performance increased when staff had “hang time” with others in their social circle during lunch breaks. It then deliberately overlapped these lunch breaks, leading to a 23% increase in performance. So if we were to extrapolate...who would you choose to have in your team? The rabid “Brexiteer” or a bleeding heart liberal? What if a clever algorithm could augment your teams or co-locate staff to ensure space at work is harmonious and productive. Or perhaps you think a little “grit” makes a pearl.

Whatever you think, the places where we work are being supercharged with technology but the truth is they act as cultural barometers for people and the companies that inhabit them. Our previous work offered insights on how to enable people and how to enable leaders. Now we’re going to explore how to enable place?

PS. If you think chipping people won’t happen here in Europe then think again. A Swedish rail company started offering it’s passengers options of using a chip implanted into their hand in lieu of a paper train ticket...and we’re getting used to handing over our bodies to make our lives frictionless! The UK’s TSB bank announced it would become the first bank in Europe to introduce iris recognition on its mobile banking app. This stuff is creeping up on us fast.