How ‘social intelligence’ can guide decisions

How ‘social intelligence’ can guide decisions

Aug 14, 2017: Weekly Curated Thought-Sharing on Digital Disruption, Applied Neuroscience and Other Interesting Related Matters.

By Martin Harrysson, Hugo Sarrazin and Estelle Metayer

Curated by Helena M. Herrero Lamuedra

In many companies, marketers have been first movers in social media, tapping into it for insights on how consumers think and behave. As social technologies mature and organizations become convinced of their power, we believe they will take on a broader role: informing competitive strategy.

In particular, social media should help companies overcome some limits of old-school intelligence gathering, which typically involves collecting information from a range of public and proprietary sources, distilling insights using time-tested analytic methods, and creating reports for internal company “clients” often “siloed” by function or business unit.

Today, many people who have expert knowledge and shape perceptions about markets are freely exchanging data and viewpoints through social platforms. By identifying and engaging these players, employing potent Web-focused analytics to draw strategic meaning from social-media data, and channeling this information to people within the organization who need and want it, companies can develop a “social intelligence” that is forward looking, global in scope, and capable of playing out in real time.

This isn’t to suggest that “social” will entirely displace current methods of intelligence gathering. But it should emerge as a strong complement. As it does, social-intelligence literacy will become a critical asset for C-level executives and board members seeking the best possible basis for their decisions.

From identifying data to mapping people and conversations

Social media creates a new information map. Competitive analysts today differentiate between primary sources of information (from experts, competitors, employees, and suppliers), on the one hand, and secondary sources (such as published data, articles, and market research), on the other. Social intelligence operates on a different plane, identifying people and their conversations in social spaces. Its logic is that if you can find the right “curators” and experts collecting and channeling vital, accurate information, that eliminates the need for extensive searches of traditional databases and published information. Identifying the right people ultimately should induce companies to join existing online conversations and even shape them. This real-time information may help preempt key actions of competitors or lead to adjustments of strategy.

Intelligence analysts often report exclusively to a single department, such as communications, marketing, or strategy. That can make analysts gravitate toward the approved pattern of thinking within their function, potentially limiting the breadth of insight they distill and sometimes even interfering with their judgment. Curating a variety of perspectives from multiple social-media sources should help internal checks and balances play out more freely and, in some cases, lead to necessary whistle-blowing. To reinforce this diversity of thought, companies can embed analysts across the organization in functions ranging from strategic planning and product development to R&D, customer service, and M&A planning.

As companies make such moves, they will probably need to update the profiles of their competitive-intelligence analysts. Recruitment from outside the company or even the industry can improve the odds that analysts will pick up a variety of signals that now may be missed. Leaders, too, will need to understand that decrypting weak signals may offer better strategic insights than the familiar patterns traditional intelligence sometimes serves up.

From data gathering to engaging and tracking

Analysts typically spend 80 percent of their time gathering information before they begin to analyze it. Social intelligence radically alters this process. Numerous tools allow analysts to create dynamic maps that pinpoint where information and expertise reside and to track new data in real time. The most effective way of obtaining new information is to engage a carefully mapped network of experts on specific subjects.

Companies today normally hire people with outstanding research and analytical skills. But socially astute analysts will need more, such as the ability to manage and engage an online community of trend spotters and, above all, the curiosity to reach out for novel sources of expertise. In effect, they must become hunters of information rather than gatherers. Companies will need to invest in the tools, such as network-mapping and influence-rating metrics, that analysts need to manage these new networks—for example, by helping to assess the expertise and relevance of community members. An obvious corollary is that companies should also be trying to reduce the odds of competitors “hunting” them in social spaces by making their people aware of how easy it is to inadvertently divulge valuable information.

From analysis and synthesis to structuring and mining

Few analysts deploy tools robust enough to draw useful insights from the turbulent new streams of social data. Most use older-line approaches taught in business schools—such as standard SWOT. Even analysts who have dipped in the waters of social media often find themselves swimming upstream. Most of today’s techniques simply extract conversation flows found on the “usual suspects”: Facebook and Twitter.

Yet the availability of vast quantities of social-media data points has spawned an array of new analytic methods that can structure and derive insight from complex information. The range of analytical techniques has exploded, and to stay ahead of the game companies must tap new areas of expertise. Some may have to seek talented people from outside the organization who are familiar with the new methods or to invest heavily in upgrading the skills of current intelligence analysts. Central to this quest will be convincing senior leaders that the new methodologies are sound and the insights they provide will improve decision making. With little history and few case studies demonstrating their impact, this is often an uphill battle.

From reporting to curating and embedding

One complaint we often hear from analysts is that senior managers don’t act on the information channeled their way. There are good reasons for this inattention: intelligence reports often are formal documents sent by e-mail, broadcast by corporate newsletters, or posted on intranets. Content sometimes covers the waterfront of competitive topics, and information can be dated by the time it gets into decision makers’ hands.

By contrast, new social software now on the market lets companies rapidly, even automatically, curate highly pertinent information—from news sources, Web discussions by experts and influencers, freshly minted market data, and customer feedback. This software allows companies to produce “micro-publications” that can be dispatched to decision makers instantly. Almost any user within a company can therefore create a personalized information dashboard, which “democratizes” intelligence and embeds relevant data deep within the organization.


The information that companies need to meet competitive challenges is moving quickly from published and proprietary sources to the open, chaotic world of social platforms. Navigating this new environment effectively will require new skills and a willingness to engage in social conversations rather than merely assemble information. This is a mission that should extend across the organization. Senior executives can’t leave such important work to specialists. Social intelligence will sharpen strategic insights, and leaders must be immersed in the new information currents.

Get Ready — Your Next Boss Could Be a Teenager.

Get Ready — Your Next Boss Could Be a Teenager.

Aug 7, 2017: Weekly Curated Thought-Sharing on Digital Disruption, Applied Neuroscience and Other Interesting Related Matters.

By Fiona Zublin

Curated by Helena M. Herrero Lamuedra

The middle-schoolers of today, aka Generation Z, aren’t without entrepreneurial role models. In fact, with the news full of stories about teen inventors, teen creatives and teen businesspeople, thinking of yourself as a potential startup genius before you can legally drive a tractor is ever more a reality.

“If [a] tween is spending a lot of time with a hobby, or just on social media, why not look to see how they can make money from it?” says Brittany Galla, editorial director of Teen Boss magazine, which launched last month. Galla says focus groups about what teens and parents wanted led Hamburg-based Bauer Media to the idea of a 96-page quarterly mag that retails for $6 and has a circulation of about 200,000 — so far. Teens interviewed, she says, were excited about their business ideas — sometimes mentioning shows like Shark Tank as inspiration — and wanted something to help them start Etsy stores and side hustles. Teen Boss, accordingly, provides kids with business card templates and vision boards that’ll help get them started, and Galla says she’s heard zero pushback from parents who might feel weird about encouraging their kids to monetize every hobby or talent.

But it’s not always so straightforward running a business as a teenager. Ed Hardy and his friend Kit Logan were only 16 when their skiing companion app, Edge, took off. Partly as a response to the steep learning curve, they then worked together to start Young Founders, a summer training program for would-be teen entrepreneurs, attempting to prepare them for the world of startups. “We had next to no idea what we were doing,” Hardy explains, saying rookie tycoons who don’t know what they don’t know can run into big problems quickly when it comes to accounting, hiring, taxes and myriad other administrative and structural issues that startups face.

The British education system, like that in the U.S., can also stymie young people with ideas by nagging them that if they don’t focus on certain exams they’ll be on the wrong track for life. Young Founders, which is on a yearlong hiatus while Hardy and Logan concentrate on their university degrees — the training program will restart in 2018 — is an intro to best practices of running a business and a way to give confidence to young people. Last year there were so many applicants that only 1 in 14 got a place in the free program, and Hardy says working directly with schools and communities helped them find more applicants of diverse backgrounds and shift the gender balance from only 27 percent female the first year to 40 percent female the second year.

Young Founders is about teaching people to be successful, but it’s also about teaching them to be successful in a healthy way. While part of the program is learning how to break down a startup idea — and understanding what makes a good one — it also try to instill a sense of balance and the importance of mental health. “The image portrayed by Silicon Valley at large is that it’s all or nothing, and that doesn’t need to be the case,” Hardy says. While the all-consuming burnout work schedule is part of the startup myth, he’s hoping that participants in the program learn to sustain themselves as well — and with 90 percent of their first year’s cohort still involved in early-stage businesses a year later, the method seems to be working.

To be sure, as many TV sitcom attest, teens and tweens have had jobs for as long as there have been teens and tweens. Adolescence as a concept is relatively recent, and even after teenhood was given its halcyon glow, many teenagers then and now have needed jobs to support themselves and their families, while wealthier teens have had jobs to build character, enhance college applications or just to have something to do. Melissa Milkie, a professor of sociology at the University of Toronto, says that while there may be a philosophy that says kids should be allowed to be kids, “it is likely competing with [a mentality that says] … kids need to be in a competition to excel at an early age and compete for a narrowing range of good jobs.”

But there may be a reason teenagers, aware of the future they’re careening into, are drawn to startups: It’s a self-directed way of problem solving. Though some young people may be creating Uber for laundry, Hardy — who is now working toward a geography degree — says many are aware that climate change and other “huge, huge global problems” are going to require a generation equipped with the tools to solve them. “You’re far better dying to try to solve something tricky,” he says, “than dying trying to solve a very niche problem.”

Leadership in Context

Leadership in Context

Jul 25, 2017: Weekly Curated Thought-Sharing on Digital Disruption, Applied Neuroscience and Other Interesting Related Matters.

By Michael Bazigos, Chris Gagnon, and Bill Schaninger

Curated by Helena M. Herrero Lamuedra

In the corporate context, effectiveness depends less on the traits of any one executive (or of that person’s direct reports) and more on a company’s competitive challenges, legacies, and other shifting forces. If only we had a clear set of keys to effective organizational leadership—a “decoder ring” to understand which practices produce the best outcomes. McKinsey’s research, however, does point to one major element of the equation: organizational health. For people seeking to lead companies effectively and for organizations seeking to develop managers who can deploy different kinds of leadership behavior when appropriate, recognizing and responding to a company’s health is far more important than following scripts written by or about great leaders. And that’s true even of great leaders whose circumstances might, on the surface, seem relevant under a given set of conditions.

To be sure, certain normative qualities, such as demonstrating a concern for people and offering a critical perspective, will always be part of what it takes to be a leader. But the importance of other elements, such as keeping groups on task and bringing out the best in others, vary in importance depending upon an organization’s circumstances. Organizational health changes over time. Effective situational leadership adapts to these changes by identifying and marshaling the kinds of behavior needed to transition a company from its present state to a stronger, healthier one.

‘How healthy are we?’

All this presupposes, of course, that leaders have an accurate sense of how healthy their organizations are. Developing such a view is easier said than done: it’s only natural for leaders to overestimate the health of their organizations and the effectiveness of their leadership, given the way many of them identify with their companies and roles. Too many executives default to describing their companies as good and striving to be great. But this can’t be true; by definition, more companies can’t be above the median line of organizational health than below it. When survey data is examined through the lens of the different levels of an organization, we find that leading executives typically have more favorable views of its health than do its line workers—who are, after all, much closer to the true center of gravity.

What’s more, surveys, interviews, and a significant amount of honest self-reflection all go into more robust assessments of organizational health. In ailing organizations, for example, the leadership tends to rely on very detailed instructions and monitoring—a symptom of excessively tight control. A healthier organization’s leadership, by contrast, shows greater support for colleagues and subordinates, and sensitivity to their needs. And the leaders at elite organizations challenge employees to aspire higher still by setting stretch goals that inspire them to reach their full potential.

The situational-leadership staircase

The analysis performed by McKinsey yielded what they call a leadership staircase—a pyramid of behavior analogous to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. In this hierarchy, like similar ones, some kinds of behavior are always essential. As organizational health improves, quartile to quartile, additional behaviors become apparent. More tellingly, some appear to be differentiators: emphasizing them in different situations can lift the organizational health of a fourth-quartile company to the third quartile, a third-quartile company to the second quartile, and so on.

Baseline behavior

For companies at every level above the truly dysfunctional, a set of threshold forms of behavior appears to be essential -“baseline behavior.” Others may also be called for, depending upon an organization’s state of health, but the following practices are appropriate no matter what a company’s health may be: effectiveness at facilitating group collaboration, demonstrating concern for people, championing desired change, and offering critical perspectives. The absence of such fundamentals of healthy interpersonal interaction invites disorder; shoring up these behaviors, on the other hand, serves to keep organizations from sliding backward into organizational trouble. But in themselves, they don’t spell the difference between mediocre and top-tier organizational health. Companies need additional practices to climb the staircase.

Digging out

Companies in the lowest (fourth) health quartile confront stark—even existential—challenges, such as low levels of innovation, declining customer loyalty, wilting employee morale, the loss of major talent, and critical cash constraints. Typically, these companies lack some or even all of the baseline forms of behavior. Implementing the full complement is essential. But under trying conditions, the most effective forms of leadership behavior are making fact-based decisions, solving problems effectively, and focusing positively on recovery. Ironically, these additional behaviors are often the opposite of what distressed organizations actually do. Leaders at too many fourth-quartile companies, in their urgency to act, seek quick top-down fixes (such as replacing senior executives one or more times) but forego granular, fact-based analyses or well-rooted strategies. Those missteps often mark a company in its death spiral.

Moving on up

A major differentiating leadership characteristic of companies on the upswing seems to be the ability to take practices that are already used at some levels of the organization and use them more systematically, more reliably, and more quickly. This shift calls for behavior that places a special emphasis on keeping groups on task and orienting them toward well-defined results. Such situations also favor leaders who embrace agility and seek different perspectives to help ensure that their companies don’t overlook possibly better ways of doing things. But under these circumstances, qualities (such as the ability to motivate and bring out the best in others and to model company values) found at the top tier of organizational health typically have a less pronounced effect.

Why not start at the top?

If identifiable forms of leadership behavior are associated with companies in the higher quartiles, can an organization in the lower ones apply them immediately and leap to the top? McKinsey research and experience suggest that attempts to do so typically end poorly. Emphasizing kinds of behavior that are not attuned to an organization’s specific situation can waste time and resources and reinforce bad behavior. Worse, it can make an upgrade to a higher health quartile even more difficult. This makes intuitive sense: the leaders of a company in deep trouble should not prioritize, for example, modeling organizational values, a first-quartile behavior.

Even the best scripts can ring hollow in the wrong settings. McKinsey’s research suggests that the most effective leadership behavior reflects the state of a company’s organizational health. Top-management teams that are serious about developing vibrant businesses and effective leaders must be prepared to look inward, assess the organization’s health objectively, and ask themselves frankly whether their leadership behavior is strong enough in the ways that matter most at the time. This question has implications not just for developing but also for assessing a company’s leaders. However much an executive may seem to have a leadership “it” factor, the organization’s health, not the claims of individuals, should come first when companies determine which kinds of behavior will be most effective for them. In short, they should spotlight different sets of actions in different situations. Fortunately for aspiring leaders, they don’t have to do everything at once

Preparing for a new era of work

Preparing for a new era of work

Jul 17, 2017: Weekly Curated Thought-Sharing on Digital Disruption, Applied Neuroscience and Other Interesting Related Matters.

By Susan Lund, James Manyika, and Sree Ramaswamy

Curated by Helena M. Herrero Lamuedra

The past three decades saw companies in developed economies make huge strides improving the productivity and organizational performance of an array of jobs. Aided by advances in technology and digital communications, companies automated, reengineered, and outsourced numerous tasks that had once required full-time, on-site employees. The trend, which began on production floors, moved next to offices, where a range of transaction-based jobs that could be standardized or scripted were automated, shifted to workers in low-wage countries, or both.

Through all such changes, a broad swath of employment remained largely untouched: work requiring extensive human interactions. Among these positions are the jobs held by knowledge workers—the doctors, engineers, lawyers, managers, sales representatives, teachers, and other skilled professionals who together serve as the engine of the knowledge economy. Research has shown that such interaction workers are vital to the competitive success of companies and countries alike. Interaction work is the fastest-growing category of employment in developed countries, where it already accounts for a large proportion of jobs. Because technology has tended to complement, not replace, labor in interaction work, until recently many of these jobs had essentially been performed in the same ways for decades.

Not anymore. Today, interaction work is at an inflection point as global competition, emerging skill shortages, and changing demographics force companies to use their most highly paid talent more effectively. Employers in advanced economies may soon, for example, be unable to find as many college-educated workers as they require. Research finds that in the United States, the gap could reach 1.5 million graduates by decade’s end. China, where many global companies have staked growth plans, faces a shortage of 23 million college-educated workers in 2020.

The causes of this looming talent crunch are diverse. In some advanced economies, notably Japan, stagnant population growth means there soon won’t be enough young workers to replace retirees. The underrepresentation of women, particularly in the ranks of managers and executives, remains a problem in some economies, notably Germany. And despite technological advances in communications, geographic mismatches persist between the supply of workers and the demand for them.

A changing world

Against this backdrop, leading companies —in aviation, business services, financial services, health care, high-tech manufacturing, and other industries—are exploring ways to revamp how, where, and by whom interaction work is performed. Companies that succeed in these efforts will enjoy productivity gains, greater flexibility in responding to opportunities, and better access to scarce talent. But to get there, they must rethink how they manage their workforces. Let’s look at three approaches companies are taking, along with the implications for managers.

1. Break jobs down

Nearly all high-skill interaction jobs include tasks that can be hived off to allow the best-paid workers to focus on the most value-creating activities. A classic example was the introduction of paralegals into the legal profession, relieving attorneys of research and litigation-support tasks while allowing them to spend more time in the courtroom or serving clients. This shift created a middle-income profession that now employs more than one-quarter of a million people in the United States. Medicine is a field that is ripe for this type of job modification.

Traditional corporate line positions are also splintering. An obvious example of the disaggregation that’s been under way for some time comes from the human-resources (HR) function, now being broken into disciplines such as compensation, recruiting, and benefits administration. Specialists (who may be full-time employees, contractors, or employees of service providers) can bring the expertise that generalists lack, often at a far lower cost.

We believe the trend to disaggregate jobs will pick up speed as skill shortages take hold. The effects will be most strongly felt in corporate roles, such as marketing, that are quickly being transformed by digital technology. In such cases, breaking jobs down into more specialized tasks will not only help companies economize on scarce talent but also make it possible to perform those tasks more efficiently and effectively.

2. Go virtual

Employers first began ramping up their use of remote-work arrangements in the 1990s, in part to retain the services of mothers who preferred not to commute or who wanted to work part time. As technology evolved, companies such as IBM found they could eliminate permanent offices for sales reps and other customer-facing employees. Such moves yielded huge cost savings on real estate while increasing the time reps could spend with customers. Now, thanks to broadband, cloud computing, and a burgeoning market for online collaboration tools, many more jobs that once required in-person interactions can be performed anywhere. These jobs range from administrative assistants and insurance claims processors to law associates and corporate workers in functions such as finance or HR.

Increasingly, new hires may not even come into the office for training, which is also delivered electronically. And because the rites of social media are so familiar to many employees, members of remote teams and their managers often establish relationships quickly.

Virtual approaches to work are attractive to a wide array of employees, including working mothers, older workers, and younger, Generation Y professionals who want flexible lifestyles from the start. Younger workers are often particularly suited to work remotely, having grown up socializing and collaborating online.

3. Make work more flexible

By breaking some jobs into components and using technology to virtualize others, employers can engage labor far more efficiently. Some companies are already exploring a spectrum of mix-and-match work arrangements: traditional full-time workers in the office, part-time or temporary workers, and contingent, remote workers who can help meet spikes in demand. Companies that optimize such configurations and manage them effectively can begin engaging talent as needed, thereby lowering overhead costs and improving response times. The key to this talent-on-demand model is the availability of workers with specialized skills who are willing to work on a contingent basis.

The workforce appears ready. An expanding industry of intermediaries and “talent aggregators” has cropped up to supply interaction workers ranging from drug-development scientists to advertising copywriters to investment bankers and attorneys. In the United States, 45 percent of temporary employees work in management, in IT or technical occupations, or in health care, and contract work has grown four times faster than total employment over the past decade. Moreover, while many less-skilled temporary workers were laid off during the recent recession, contingent work among more highly skilled professionals has continued to grow.

Implications for senior executives

Savvy senior executives will recognize that managing the shift currently under way is analogous to leading a major change-management program and that managers, at all levels, will be the ones most keenly affected. The first priority for executives seeking to lead their organizations into the new world of work should be helping their management teams improve—or in some cases develop—abilities such as these:

  • Coordinate and sequence. Managing diverse groups of on-site and remote employees will be challenging in a world where the composition of teams changes rapidly as project-based contractors and temporary staff come and go. Managers must become nimble coordinators and better coaches to ensure that all tasks, wherever they occur, mesh smoothly and that information is shared effectively among colleagues. Group interactions, in particular, will require more careful planning and structuring.
  • (Over)communicate. Some companies require offsite workers to be available for a certain period each day to handle team catch-ups and check-ins with colleagues; other companies set aside regular times for in-person meetings.
  • Observe and listen. While some employees thrive in independent, remote work environments, others wither in the absence of daily contact with coworkers or the camaraderie of working in a traditional team. Likewise, some managers worry that remote workers will identify less fully with their companies. The best managers will vigilantly observe how their people adjust and respond accordingly.
  • Let go. Some managers already struggle when they evaluate the performance of knowledge workers. It’s a perennial challenge to judge employees on outcomes, not hours, since defining clear goals and determining reasonable time lines are difficult. Yet in an environment where some employees work in a central office and others are time zones away, managers have no choice but to define goals and step back.

As with all change programs, the role of senior management will include communicating a clear rationale for any moves and creating a compelling vision of how they will help the company reach its goals. Managers must be convinced of the benefits—higher performance for their teams—if they are to become enthusiastic leaders of change. Above all, senior executives should encourage managers to think big: the new world of work opens up new possibilities for how companies define their boundaries and organize work. Distinctions among employers, employees, and customers are blurring. Innovation happens and tasks get done in new ways. Companies that take advantage of these trends—and indeed pioneer them—can lower their costs while significantly enhancing their value proposition to employees.

The expanding role of design in creating an end-to-end customer experience

The expanding role of design in creating an end-to-end customer experience

Jul 10, 2017: Weekly Curated Thought-Sharing on Digital Disruption, Applied Neuroscience and Other Interesting Related Matters.

By By Raffaele Breschi, Tjark Freundt, Malin Orebäck, and Kai Vollhardt

Curated by Helena M. Herrero Lamuedra

Lines between products, services, and user environments are blurring. The ability to craft an integrated customer experience will open enormous opportunities to build new businesses.

Time was, a company could rely on a superior product’s features and functions to coast for a year or more before competitors could catch up. Or a well-honed service advantage could single-handedly buffer a company from start-up challengers looking to nip at its heels. No more. As digitization drives more and faster disruptions—and as customers increasingly desire the immediacy, personalization, and convenience of dealing with digital-marketing leaders—the business landscape is undergoing an upheaval.

Products, services, and environments—both physical and online—are converging to anticipate and meet rising customer expectations. That’s giving birth to a proliferation of new products, often from unexpected sources. It is also stirring up a storm of new, unanticipated competitors. In this novel mix, product companies will be pushed to create services and service providers to incorporate products into their offerings. Both will face the challenge of developing great user environments as part of customer-centric strategies.

The signs have been apparent for some time. Technologies regularly compound each other’s effects, with a dynamism and speed of innovation that has become unpredictable: for example, the combination of global positioning systems (GPS), radar, video object recognition, and infrared sensors gave birth to the development of self-driving cars. In smartphones, manufacturers once focused on features and functions as selling points. Today that emphasis has shifted completely to style, lifestyle, and simplicity of use. These permeate the customer experience and define the value proposition for such products.

This evolving convergence of products, services, and environments affects some industries more than others. Telecommunications, automotive, and consumer-product companies, for example, have already embarked on a convergence journey; other industries, such as insurance, banking, and energy, lag behind them. Understanding the way this phenomenon is taking shape can help companies prepare for the comopetitive opportunities and challenges.

A convergence triad

Three basic types of convergences reshaping the landscape for customer-centric strategies:

  • Traditional product companies are transforming themselves into providers of services and ecosystems. Some innovators, such as Rolls-Royce, some time ago moved beyond merely selling jet engines to selling engine hours in a lifetime service relationship with customers. Elevator operators, such as KONE, emphasize the number of floors their products will serve over time, not just their physical products. Microsoft Azure sells computing as a service, not as software; Philips is transforming the home-lighting business into a “connected business” to improve sustainability, cost of ownership, and smart control by integrating applications such as scene personalization, home automation, security services, and sleep quality into its core product.
  • Service companies are integrating physical products into their customer experience. Amazon’s Echo, for example, provides quick access to the company’s services. Evernote and Moleskine have collaborated to create notebooks that seamlessly integrate physical notes; capturing handwritten ones with the Evernote camera allows you to search and organize them digitally. Progressive Insurance’s connected-car devices allow the company to charge drivers according to their driving behavior.
  • Companies are investing to create a customer environment that builds a connection with their products. Online players such as Amazon open physical stores; car manufacturers (Tesla, for example) open fancy showrooms in shopping malls and prime locations, with a completely transformed customer experience. Electronics companies, like Apple, stage the customer experience with open-space concepts, a sprawling Genius Bar, and diverse sales staffs.

In essence, highly successful companies have realized that the boundaries between products, services, and environments have blurred. They know as well that they need an integrated view to design end-to-end experiences that are truly valuable to consumers and successful in the market. It’s not just about designing the best product or service but rather about striking the right combination and making sure the integrated customer experience is compelling. This kind of successful, convergence-designed strategy can deliver a durable competitive advantage. Done well, the strategy will also make implementation more intuitive for the company and more seamless for the customers who engage with the product or service. In this evolving environment, maintaining an integrated customer-experience perspective is necessary right from the beginning of any improvement or transformation effort.

Today’s consumers do not buy just products or services—more and more, their purchase decisions revolve around buying into an idea and an experience. This change in expectations will give product and service businesses opportunities to create new revenue streams by expanding into adjacent territories. Given these complexities, the shift also requires an innovative approach to business models and a new look at how companies provide value to customers.

Five principles of the design-led customer experience

Each company’s efforts to shape design-led experiences will unfold differently. But it is possible to draw lessons—several principles for shaping a design-led customer-experience strategy—from these examples, unique as they are. As companies increasingly turn to design strategies, it is helpful to keep the principles in mind to guide their efforts.

1. Understand the customer’s needs and perspectives. Companies often approach innovation from a technological point of view and already, at the outset, have strong ideas about what the solution should be. To arrive at a new, integrated solution that taps into the power of convergence, it’s better to start from a people perspective. Companies can begin to study key aspects of the customer’s experience and try to understand and resolve core pain points by answering a few questions:

  • What do customers really need, desire, and aspire to?
  • What are they trying to achieve by consuming a product or service?
  • What kinds of behavior are connected to the experience, natural or constructed?
  • What do customers think about the product, the service, and the experience? And why do they think the way they do?

Often a company ought to consider shifting its mind-set: away from a technological solution (“what product or service can we provide to the market?”) to a consumer-oriented one (“what customer needs do we aim to fulfill through this integrated solution?”). An unmet need, even if for the most part unexpressed, frequently turns out to be a company’s next business opportunity.

2. Draw inspiration from other industries. Companies increasingly look beyond existing industry boundaries and try to adopt better approaches from unrelated contexts. Some examples:

  • A hotel company that wanted to improve its customer experience drew inspiration from the world of senior-executive assistants. The company reasoned that the best assistants anticipate the needs of their executives, sometimes even before the executives are aware of those needs. By applying that principle to its customers, the hotel company emphasized service that anticipated their needs, as though it already knew even first-time visitors.
  • A software provider of e-trading platforms wanted to redesign its core product. When it decided which information to place centrally and which could be relegated to a peripheral view, it took a hard look at airplane cockpits.

3. Get a glimpse of what’s on the horizon. By definition, design is a creative and exploratory process. Looking into the future allows a team to project an industry’s circumstances as far as 15 to 20 years away by framing the landscape of products and services. The primary elements to consider are typically societal shifts, such as changes in behavior, demographics, and social norms, as well as technological improvements.

The exercise can also be useful with a much shorter time frame by projecting emergent trends that can already be observed to a certain degree: for example, the new EU payment directives in banking—PSD2—will remove the banks’ monopoly and allow nonbanking players to initiate payments and access account information. How will this change the landscape of the banking industry? What if you could use Facebook or Google to pay your bills? What about the effects on other industries? What new business opportunities could be created when these developments combine with other shifts that happen simultaneously?

4. Empower multidisciplinary teams. Designing a convergent, end-to-end customer experience requires the broad involvement of stakeholders across the organization and beyond. They will have expertise in fields such as design research, anthropology, and business, and spheres of influence, such as product development, marketing, or finance. Creating a multilayered experience requires a variety of design capabilities, such as designing products, services, user experiences, and interactivity. Such multidisciplinary teams can break through silos and foster cross-disciplinary collaboration. Decision makers from all stakeholder groups should align together and embrace uncertainty together, developing capabilities throughout the entire design process. The use of existing resources can keep the investment in time and costs low.

5. Use agile techniques to prototype experiences and business models. The challenge of mastering many convergent opportunities is that solutions often reside in complex ecosystems that either stand alone or depend on other, related systems. Think of air travel, for instance, as a combined experience of products, services, and environments. Despite this level of complexity, companies can achieve rapid progress through prototyping, which quickly brings to life new opportunities and perspectives for effective implementation.

An experience can be prototyped through simple cardboard models, role playing, or clickable digital prototypes. This approach focuses on eliminating mistakes and highlighting possibilities for further development. Alternative business models can be visualized and prototyped to explore where value is added, costs occur, and efficiencies or new revenue streams lie in wait. We find that it’s most efficient to iterate a prototype of the customer experience and the business model—these pilot efforts can secure the best outcomes before scaling. The goal should be managing prototypes in an agile way, through sprints and frequent feedback from users, with a focus on developing business value.


The convergence of products, services, and user environments is just taking flight. In this environment, large and unexpected business opportunities will appear, along with unlikely competitors. To prosper, companies must balance agile, design-led development processes with the continual redesign of customer journeys

Who Is in Charge of Driving Organizational Change?

Who Is in Charge of Driving Organizational Change?

Jul 3, 2017: Weekly Curated Thought-Sharing on Digital Disruption, Applied Neuroscience and Other Interesting Related Matters.

By Chuck Leddy

Curated by Helena M. Herrero Lamuedra

Change is about the complex interactions between people, processes and systems — and the people component of that “change triangle” is often the most challenging and the most important.

A great Harvard Business Review article, HR Can’t Change Company Culture by Itself, makes the point in its title, explaining: “True culture change means altering the way the organization lives and breathes. It shapes the way people make decisions, get their work done, what they prioritize, and how they interact with colleagues, clients and customers.”

The way your people think about change is a big part of your culture, but everyone from the top down must be in the business of managing change. The capacity to change in order to meet ever-evolving market and technological needs is where competitive advantage lives today, both for organizations and for talent. So the obvious question suggests itself: Who “owns” organizational change?

All Departments Must Collaboratively Drive Change

Organizational change is a business imperative that can be led from the top, but effective change cannot be imposed from the top. It only happens when everyone (all employees in each department/functional area) understands the reasons for the change, believes in its necessity and modifies their behaviors to sustain the new way of doing things. This process needs to happen both in the minds of people and across the entire organization.

As organizations analyze and meet their talent needs, for instance, adopting a more blended approach, HR will increasingly become a strategic partner with financial, IT, legal and procurement leaders. An Ernst & Young report makes this strategic partnership clear: HR, finance, IT and procurement leaders will each, “Bring insight and analysis…in a way that helps the business to strike the right balance between building, buying and deploying talent to support the business strategy.”

HR must be involved but so must other business areas such as finance, procurement, IT/technology, operations, legal and sales. When it comes to change, culture matters, but so do financial incentives, leadership communication, investments in talent and systems, skills development/training and more.

The Example of HP: IT, HR & Procurement Collaborate to Transform Global Sales

Deloitte’s Global Human Capital Trends 2016 report offers a fine example of interdepartmental collaboration to drive business change. HP, the California-based technology company, drove change by reinventing its sales culture and fostering a workplace ecosystem that supports high-performing sales behaviors for its 6,500 global sales employees.

HP took a multidisciplinary and systematic approach, which involved several areas of the business beyond just sales, including technology, HR, procurement, legal, and finance and using its own data to assess sales behaviors for the entire organization. What HP actions led to sales? What actions had the most impact on what customers, and why? Could these actions be scaled across the global sales team? By analyzing the complex intersection of sales behaviors, activities, competencies, compensation and outcomes, HP gained actionable insights that led to a more effective sales team.

As Deloitte’s Global Human Capital Trends 2016 report explains, “The findings from this multifaceted analysis has enabled HP’s top sales leaders to make ‘culture commitments’ at their global sales meeting in an effort to begin to transform the company’s sales culture.” HP is doing more of what works and less of what isn’t.

Workforce Management and the Blended Future: How HR Works with Procurement

The future of work will be a blending of full-time employees with on-demand external talent that companies can access on an as-needed basis using digital platforms. Easy access to on-demand talent allows organizations to remain agile as they meet their fast-evolving talent and business needs.

As author and keynote speaker Jacob Morgan explains, “The gig economy has transformed into highly adopted technology-based human capital solutions that connect nimble and innovative enterprises to a network of independent business professionals. Leveraging the gig economy gives businesses a chance to access a broader talent pool than with a traditional workforce model.” What’s more is that they can do it in a cost-effective and timely way.

Clearly, HR needs to play a big role in talent acquisition, but they can’t do it alone. Procurement, for instance, will also be a crucial component in any strategic partnership to acquire talent. While HR and the business identify specific talent needs they wish to bring in, procurement adds business value by understanding how to buy solutions (whether it’s talent platforms or accessing the talent itself) that contain costs and optimize efficiency.

Sourcing talent and creating the capacity to do so takes an interdepartmental, cross-functional approach. As individual business areas identify their on-demand talent needs, HR should be working with IT, procurement, finance, legal and other business functions to meet those ongoing talent needs.

The Need to Experiment and Learn

Agility is largely about the ability to learn and apply lessons moving forward. The goal of organizations should be to learn fast and in a way that doesn’t break the bank. An obvious course might be to set up pilot projects that involve a blended workforce. How will you find the on-demand talent you need? How will you manage and blend this talent? How will you integrate it into your overall culture and project needs? Learning starts with good questions like these, and then implementation of the experiments that begin to offer feedback and answers. This feedback supports continuous learning.

Agility is a mindset that must be supported, as change must be supported, by people, processes and systems acting together. Silos are anathema to building agility, not just departmental silos. The better the business areas coordinate their functions as they pursue change, the more agile the organization becomes.

In today’s business landscape of uncertainty, volatility and constant competitive pressures, readiness for organizational change is essential. If you’re slow and flat-footed, you’re already facing huge disadvantages against nimbler, more adaptable rivals. Successful organizations are ones that can learn, work in agile ways and access and leverage talent to meet ever-evolving market needs.

Resilience is a collective skill that Leaders can teach their Teams

Resilience is a collective skill that Leaders can teach their Teams

Jun 26, 2017: Weekly Curated Thought-Sharing on Digital Disruption, Applied Neuroscience and Other Interesting Related Matters.

By Luis Gallardo, Be-Yond

Curated by Helena M. Herrero Lamuedra

We tend to think about resilience as something individuals learn through experience: Get knocked down and figure out how to brush yourself off, and chances are, you’ll be back on your feet faster the next time you’re thrown for a loop. But the truth is that resilience is as much a characteristic of high-performing groups as of high-performing individuals. And many of the leaders I know aren’t quite sure what resilience is in the first place, much less how to imbue their workers with it.

Resilience, according to the American Psychological Association, is “the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats, or significant sources of stress.”

Unfortunately, business throws some hard punches—not just at individuals, but at entire teams and companies, too. We’ve seen structural changes, angry clients, and missed sales opportunities cause companywide tension. Left unaddressed, these stressors snowball, creating toxic work environments. This can lead workers to mismanage stress, become disengaged, or even give up.

That puts the burden on leaders to take a proactive approach toward building team resilience. Here are three simple techniques that can help.

1. BE AN ALLY, NOT A CRITIC

To build workers’ resilience, you need to buffer their collective stress. Researchers at the Mayo Clinic have confirmed that social support is essential for stress management within and among groups.

While you don’t need to be everyone’s best friend, you do have to cultivate a sense of belonging and self-worth among employees so they can thrive. That doesn’t mean withholding constructive feedback—just ensuring that you give it alongside encouragement and in a spirit of support.

Google CEO Sundar Pichai embodies that ally-to-all mentality. A former project manager described his leadership style to Forbes as inclusive and relationship-focused, saying, “He has great relationships. He’s just not a polarizing figure.” Last October, Pichai made his first round of promotions as CEO and, in sharp contrast with CEO Larry Page, picked company veterans based primarily on their congenial, amiable personalities rather than sheer technical abilities.

To counter stress, encourage employees to take time off, express your confidence in them, and don’t admonish them when they struggle—help them through it. Kindness costs nothing, and it can pay incredible dividends by building up team resilience.

2. REMIND EMPLOYEES WHY YOU’RE ALL IN IT TOGETHER

Working eight-hour days, five days per week, for 50 weeks each year is hard—and that’s if your company still abides by the fading standard workweek. No matter how hard you work, if you’re just in it for the money, keeping up productivity and engagement is nearly impossible. Your teams will weaken and their work will suffer, especially when rough patches hit. To shore up their resilience, you need to continuously remind them why they work as hard as they do.

Bocconi University researcher Nicola Bellé confirmed this with an experiment on nurses assembling surgical kits—a tedious job with potentially life-altering consequences. Nurses who met the health care practitioners who were using the kits made 15% fewer errors and worked 64% longer than their peers. Simply seeing their own impact boosted the nurses’ resilience.

To increase employees’ stamina and coping skills, remind them how their work contributes to the larger purpose that animates your team and your company. Office-bound teams should visit job sites or clients’ headquarters so they can see and hear about their impact firsthand. Encourage happy clients to email compliments directly to those responsible for their accounts.

3. LET TRUSTED TEAMMATES CHOOSE THEIR DUTIES

While inflexible, overstressed workers don’t manage crises very well, more resilient people function better collectively, sharing the pressures of change and uncertainty among themselves. But it’s up to leaders to give their team members the latitude required to form that group resilience. Communicate the company’s end goals, then step back and encourage employees to work toward them in self-directed ways.

Holacracy isn’t for every organization, but all leaders should afford their most trusted employees the flexibility to choose how to execute their own duties. Newer employees might need more direction at first, but veteran team members know what needs to be done, and how they can contribute.

Sometimes the most supportive thing you can do is step back. The skills your employees can gain when you do will serve all of you better when the going gets tough.