A client commented to me recently that the pandemic felt like a sci-fi film. But not an apocalyptic virus film, he said. A time-travel story.
I can see what he means. It has sometimes felt like time is telescoping, as the pandemic advances digitisation in sector after sector. Years of change in months.
For those of us in the business of transformation, it’s been a testing and an exhilarating time – reshaping our own business at pace, ready to do the same for clients. Our CEO Outlook shows almost 80% of UK CEOs have experienced the same acceleration to their digital customer experience models. The journey’s taught me three things I wanted to share.
Build tech into your bones
The way we’ve had to work has changed for good the relationship between people and technology. We’re now committed to it to communicate, to collaborate, to store and to automate our work. From here on, the people we have and the tech we use are a single package, intertwined. The tech amplifies the power of our people and vice-versa.
Just look at the newest intake in our firm – every one of them trained in advanced tech skills as standard. We call them our Digital Ninjas. Nick Landesberg, something of a tech veteran at 27 years old, is the man who marshals the ninjas. He’s written here about the challenges of equipping an entire cohort with specialist know-how.
As people work differently and collaborate differently, a seamless relationship with tech will increasingly be the clearest differentiator. Tech needs to be integrated into structures and across silos, connecting the entire enterprise. When I talk to my colleagues about our own journey, I describe it as building tech into the bones of the firm.
A culture of curiosity is priceless
I’m a fan of Satya Nadella’s drive to turn Microsoft from a culture of ‘know-it-alls’ to a culture of ‘learn-it-alls’. Curiosity is a quality to be held up, high. Taking on new ideas fast and sharing them fast is what our best people do naturally.
It’s about a shift in thinking. Away from the sort of episodic learning in which we adopt a new platform or piece of software, and towards constantly absorbing and refining new skills.
Safia Mirza has been sharing her coding skills with groups of people inside and outside the firm for months. But in lockdown, she started rolling out her Python classes differently, and to many more people. As she explains here, at the last count, she’s used lockdown to train 17,000 people in 30 countries.
Coding is a foundation. It promotes learning, it triggers innovation. I think everyone could benefit from it.
The right teams then are the right teams now
Amidst the acceleration, there’s still real uncertainty about where businesses should be making their bets. Almost half of UK CEOs rate as their top obstacle to transformation the fact that future ways of operating aren’t yet clear. In short, it’s hard to draw a transformation roadmap when we don’t know what company offices are going to look like.
Anna Somaiya has for a number of years been shifting the composition of our technologists. Women were a rarity when she started It’s Her Future. Now they’re close to 50% of our tech workforce. You can follow more on her continued push for diversity of gender, ethnicity and sexuality here.
This doesn’t erase the challenge of uncertainty, but I believe a diverse workforce mitigates it. Balanced teams, drawing on a range of insight and influences, are in my experience more resilient. We can’t know what tomorrow’s scenario will be, but we can ensure that our teams are designed to be responsive.
Living in accelerated times isn’t comfortable and it isn’t predictable, but change can be energising. And I believe that – however fast time passes – companies that build technology deeply into their business models, alongside a workforce that’s adaptable and curious, will be equipped to thrive.