Category Archives: Leadership

The Rise of Smart Technology

The Rise of Smart Technology
Is the Rise of Smart Technology really a laughing matter?

by Kerry Stackpole FASAE CAE

Where does your life intersect with the rise of smart technology? As you approach the office tower, you access your smartphone to call for a building elevator to arrive in the lobby to take you to a specific floor at a specific time of your convenience. The elevator will arrive when you need it. If this sounds like the Uber of elevators, that suits Otis Elevators‘ smart technology just fine.

When the mid-engine 2020 Corvette Stingray arrives, it will come with a new option – front lift. When you need to pull into a steep driveway or drive over a speed bump, the feature raises the front end about two inches to avoid potential damage to the lower fascia. The feature is programmable with up to 1,000 waypoints, so you can note where these potential hazards may be through GPS and the car will adjust automatically.

As someone who has spent a fair amount of my life engaging with and mastering new technology, I’ve heard more than my share of tech shorthand. The “last mile” was used in telecommunications to refer to the final leg of the networks that deliver services to customers. Today, it’s often used to describe the toughest part of a journey –the delay in disembarking an aircraft or assuring on-time delivery to a customer. The “last mile” is prone to delay and discord, and it’s also a rich opportunity.

In regard to e-commerce retailing, Industry Week reports that a year ago, home improvement retailer Home Depot announced plans to spend $1.2 billion over a five-year period to improve its supply chain operations. According to Industry Week, the company has already leveraged its distribution network to the point where it can reach 95% of the U.S. population within two days, and 30% within one day. By adding 170 distribution facilities, the retailer hopes to reach 90% of the U.S. population in one day or less.

FedEx ships 15 million packages every business day. UPS delivers 20.7 million packages daily. Amazon ships 1.6 million of those packages. Getting close to the customer isn’t a slogan or just a nice thing to do. It is now a business imperative. In all this hustle-bustle it’s easy to be overwhelmed by the rapid pace of change and overlook the smart technology and key certainties driving our business.

One thing for certain – the baby boomers are going to continue their retirement exodus. That means having and using knowledge management tools are an essential part of your workforce development. Machine intelligence is going to continue its rise and application across an array of services. It’s somewhat ironic that getting a human being to answer the telephone at the telephone company is getting increasingly difficult. “Chat Now!” is becoming the standard.

It’s fair to say there will be increased globalization of laws, regulations, codes and standards. Our laws will not become less complex. The regulatory challenges will continue to multiply as smart technology advances. It’s also clear that cloud computing will continue its sweep for individuals and businesses, supporting increased mobility for people across a growing range of occupations and professions.

There is little doubt the American workforce will become more diverse and require an ongoing schedule of training and re-training in the years to come. Rolling these ideas into your department strategy and plans will accelerate your competitive advantage. Creating a mentor program before the baby boomers sail off into retirement is another solid strategy based on a hard fact.

Artificial intelligence (AI) is the de facto way Netflix makes movie recommendations, and Amazon makes product recommendations including pricing and promotions. Today, AI technologies support diagnostics and create management plans for oncology patients. Johnson & Johnson and IBM are using AI to analyze scientific papers to find new connections for drug development.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology has created a platform for gathering human perspective on moral decisions that will have to be made by machine intelligence, such as that included in self-driving cars. The Moral Machine (moralmachine.mit.edu) lets you experience and experiment with the moral dilemmas associated with machine intelligence. There’s more than a little uncertainty in what choices you have to meet in the simulations. Feeling creative? You can design your own scenarios for others to navigate as well.

While it is easy to be overwhelmed by unpredictability and uncertainty, it’s equally important to bring focus to what you do know. I know with complete certainty there will be a full moon on January 29, 2040, that will surely illuminate the work at hand.

The Rise of the CEO

What if your organization’s CEO was the most trusted person among the staff? Among citizens in your community? In the United States or around the globe? If you are the CEO, what if it was you?

There are more than a billion mentions of CEOs on Google. CEOs going to jail. CEOs threatening to “axe” mediocre staff. CEOs who are the best performing executives in the world. CEOs accused of sexual harassment and misogyny. CEOs who are activist leaders. There are debates about the merits of female CEOs in a world overwhelmingly populated by male CEOs. There are stories of high-profile companies with low-profile CEOs. All manner of debate, conversation, and confounding analysis.

None of it explains the recently released 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer, which reveals trust has changed profoundly in the past year. People have shifted their trust to the relationships within their control, most notably their “employers.” Globally, 75% of people trust “my employer” to do what is right.

• 58% of employees look to their employers to be a trustworthy source of information about contentious societal issues.
• 67% of employees expect employers will join them in taking action on societal issues.
• 71% of employees believe it’s critically important for “my CEO” to respond to challenging times.
• 76% of the general population concur – they say they want CEOs to take the lead on change instead of waiting for government to impose it.

Uncertainty Is The Only Certainty

Stephen Kehoe, chair of the reputation practice at Edelman, points out that “in the face of heightened expectations on CEOs to step into the trust vacuum left by government, pressure is on them to do more – and quickly – to invoke a sense of certainty, reassurance and confidence with employees as well as the general public.”

If, as Kehoe writes, “CEOs must clearly also consider the significantly heightened expectations on them to be advocates for change in a world that is still confused and uncertain,” a critical question remains. How does a CEO lead in a world that is “still confused and uncertain?” As writer Kirsten Ludowig cleverly noted, “For CEOs, uncertainty is the only certainty.”

Michael Ventura’s new book “Applied Empathy, The New Language of Leadership.” explores the significant improvements in customer satisfaction and new business opportunities when companies deploy empathy as part of their overall product and service development cycles. Consumers are increasingly savvy about what makes truly great products and services. Under the right circumstances, when asked to contribute their ideas and opinions, consumers – residential and commercial alike – will happily share their insights.

The momentary discomfort of a cold toilet seat brought about several innovations to warm things up. The push to eliminate the use of toilet paper will drive others. The commercial application of automatic flush toilets, hands-free faucets, towel dispensers, hand dryers, and even those nifty paper dispensers next to the bathroom door, keeping customers from grabbing the door pull bare handed, reflect empathy for the concerns (and fears) shared by travelers, hotel guests, and consumers. While most of us believe our sense of empathy is well-developed, there are always lessons to be learned. The effort by U.S. airlines to shrink the size of the standard airplane bathroom from 48 inches to 24 inches wide may be distancing empathy for and from travelers.

Are Best Performing CEOs Empathetic?

Assuming empathy is a critical component of leadership, so too is performance. In seeking to assess the best performing global CEOs, Harvard Business Review (HBR) examined companies in the S&P Global 1200 Index. The top 100 roster is full of well-known brands from around the globe—Marriott, Salesforce, JPMorgan Chase, Disney, Northrup Grumman, Thermo Fisher Scientific, Microsoft, Accenture, and 92 other firms.

With the rise and potency of populism in the global political environment, business leaders are facing the reality of a range of dynamic business conditions. Whether it is government tariffs, a long-term trade war, or citizen push-back on tax incentives for corporate relocation or growth, CEO’s are finding fresh uncertainty.

The significant amount of push-back aimed at Amazon and its selection of a new HQ in Long Island City, New York further illuminates the point. Amazon was set to receive $1.2 billion in refundable tax credits and an additional $505 million grant assuming the company created 25,000 net new jobs in New York by 2028. The deal broke down over protests by  residents, unions, and political leaders concerned about increased housing costs, congestion, and the scale of the taxpayer funded incentives.

Asking HBR’s high performing CEOs for their take on how best to manage this and other uncertainty was instructive. JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon pointed out that, “If you want the right public policy, you have to be an advocate…you can’t be parochial. You can’t talk only about that one little regulation that’s going to help your company. You need to talk about tax policy, trade, immigration, technology.” In other words, you need to build trust and that’s how you earn a place on the barometer.


The Future of Change

Has the nature of change really changed? In her just released book, “Imagine It Forward,” former General Electric Vice Chair Beth Comstock points out that “what started out as seemingly isolated, episodic incidents has come to resemble an epidemic…the nature of today’s challenges cannot be solved by yesteryear’s tried-and-true expertise.” Our world no longer works that way. She writes, “The coming onslaught of ever more digitization, and automation, and artificial intelligence – it means virtually every industry is coming to its point of reckoning.”

Future of Change Sphere

Why does this matter? One reason is that human beings are bad at changing. Yet, they are surprisingly capable of adapting. Wait, what? Isn’t changing the same as adapting? Actually no. Adapting is becoming accustomed to new conditions, while changing is all about becoming something entirely different. It has been said that it is not the strongest of the species, nor the most intelligent, that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.

Steps To Change

Have you ever noticed that special, warm, certain feeling you get when visiting with an old friend, a mentor, or perhaps that special member of the family? I got that feeling in abundance this week when I had the opportunity to discuss John Kotter’s work on change with a great group of leaders. Kotter is a favorite among business people. The quality and caliber of his thinking – the wisdom he has extracted from his experiences – resonates at so many different levels. His work is both thoughtful and profound.

Kotter, trained as an electrical engineer at MIT, earned his doctorate at Harvard, and joined the faculty of the Harvard Business School. In the universe of “publish or perish,” Kotter has excelled. He wrote one of the Harvard Business Review’s all-time best-selling articles and has, over the past 30 years, produced 18 books, many of which rank in the top 1% of sales on Amazon.com. His work speaks authentically to the challenge of leadership and change. So, what does it take to create real lasting change? Kotter offers a road map of sorts in his best-seller, “Leading Change.” Kotter says there are eight crucial steps leaders must take to assure success:

  • Establish a sense of urgency
  • Build a guiding coalition throughout the organization
  • Develop a vision and strategy
  • Communicate the change vision
  • Empower employees to take broad-based action
  • Generate short-term wins
  • Consolidate gains to produce more change
  • Anchor the new approaches into the culture

If you’ve ever undertaken a change effort, you know it is not for the faint-hearted. There are just so many opportunities for sabotage at so many levels within an organization. On more than one occasion – even in the face of certain collapse – individuals and organizations cannot and will not muster the necessary resources and energy to change. Need an example? Look no further than Sears Roebuck. Frustration doesn’t begin to describe the feeling.

Change is daunting. It is often thrust upon us – these days without much warning it seems. It is an enormous catalyst for expanding your success and assuring continuity. Unexpected change created by the actions and decisions of individuals or entities outside our control is the most challenging, oftentimes because it is so unexpected. Oddly enough, change you can see on the horizon is challenging too. Fear, paralysis and resistance often force poor choices.

Think about public and private colleges and universities for a moment. First, there was the rise of private, for-profit colleges and universities vying for students, financial aid funds and prestige. Then came the growth of the lifetime learning movement catching colleges off-guard. Both the non-profit and private sector took to the marketplace with fresh offerings. Then came online degree programs. With the fast rise in popularity and the benefit of education software, online payment systems and high-speed Internet access, public and private colleges were able to ride the wave.

MOOC Future

And now it’s MOOC – massive open online courses offered by leading colleges and universities such as MIT, Harvard, George Washington University, Rice, Emory, Brown and others. While still in its infancy, MOOC certainly suggests investments in “bricks and mortar” may be coming to an end. MOOC proffers a dramatic rise in quality, diversity and depth of educational content not seen outside the walls of the Ivy League ever.

Change from the outside. Adaptation. Small victories. Innovation. And now, change from the inside. It’s worth pondering your own organization’s future in the context of both types of change. It’s also worth thinking about the ways in which current business models no longer fit our collective futures. Bring your sense of mindfulness, awareness and imagination to bear on what’s to come. Be part of the future.