It feels like we've just got started, but our first Leaders in Change breakfast was over a year ago. Over the last twelve months, we’ve enabled some amazing conversations on everything from diversity and product development through to Ai and telling stories with data.
It began with a conversation with a good friend of mine who was leading a complex digital transformation project. I learnt two things.
- Leading change is really hard
- Leaders lacked access to peer groups where they could share experiences and insights
So, fast forward to September 2017, when I invited a selection of clients along to Futureheads HQ alongside Executive and Leadership Team Coach Julia Whitney, and Andrew Rolf of Cursive Consulting to talk about trends and challenges found within today’s workplace when preparing and delivering change.
And it was there that the spark was lit. From there, Andrew kindly joined us to lead further conversations on communication, and preparation for change, and word began to spread.
We then partnered with Capital One, which gave us the freedom to expand the events, and broaden our community – which we are so grateful for.
We’ve deliberately kept the topics broad, responding to feedback from our attendees, from our clients and candidates, and from our news feed to deliver events that educate and inspire.
However, the common thread – alongside change of course, for me, has been the idea of connections.
Creating a sense of safety
In our first session with Andrew and Julia, they talked about the importance of creating a sense of psychological safety. Being part of a big transformation can be unsettling for employees, and create feelings of anxiety, and worries that they won't have the support they need to succeed, leading to entrenched resistance. For leaders, it is vital that they connect with their teams meaningfully. One important part of this is working together to create a vision for the transformation piece that connects everyone – a great diagram can go a long way.
Communication is key
At our February event, Andrew talked about the importance of communication, and the need to be authentic, and approachable. Spend time with all parts of the business, and be open about mistakes and learnings - you'll show that it's okay to do so. Data storyteller Emily Hunt explored the power of storytelling to convey complex ideas. With data on just about everything to look at, there are patterns and trends to be seen in just about everything. But it is where the pattern is broken that we can often see the inspiration we need – and make those connections clear for your audience.
Focus on results
In our largest event of the year led by author, speaker and executive coach Jeff Gothelf, we explored the importance of focusing on the insights, rather than the research process to do more with less. Keeping the focus on getting insights as easily as possible frees up time and resource to actually respond and make improvements.
He gave the great example of Ford's testing of human reactions to self-driving cars on the road. Rather than invest months of prototyping, engineering and legal legwork to get a working vehicle out on the road, they decided to disguise a human as a car seat. A simple solution that can be repeated and expanded on easily, and gives them the same insight.
Co-founder of research specialists Versiti, Dr Marie-Claude Gervais led an eye-opening session on the importance of diversity. Research shows that companies with more diverse teams are more likely to have greater financial returns than those who don't. It's a complex issue, but those from diverse backgrounds can often to see different opportunities, and ultimately better connect with an increasingly diverse audience.
Building more diverse teams is an important piece of building a high performing business. I think we still have a lot of work to do as an industry to get there, but as issues of diversity, inclusion and representation have been at the forefront of many conversations I've had this year on recruitment, I'm excited to see a continued change in this space.
Teamwork makes the dream work
Of course, hiring a great team will only get you so far.
Jeff's session focused on the lack of alignment between product teams. Technical teams are learning Agile. Product teams are learning Lean. Design teams are learning Design Thinking. Each of these approaches has different cadences, different goals, and different incentives. This creates a real challenge for leaders - they are asking teams to change behaviours but rewarding them for their existing behaviours, which can make staff retention difficult in periods of big change.
In order to 'healthily' incentivise cross-functional teams, leaders need to look at how they can align measures of success, and incentivise collaboration. This is where transparency can be really helpful. Stand ups, demo days, Scrum of Scrums - these are familiar 'rituals' for teams that help align everyone in the same direction - to the customer.
Taking it outside
Andrew also raised this important point around reframing change around the user. There's a lot of discussion about the purpose and impact of change - but sometimes the language of transformation focuses more on internal changes and process rather than external users. This means that different teams can have different deliverables. Positioning the purpose of change around the users of your product ensures everyone can comfortably answer the question 'what am I trying to achieve?', and makes it a lot easier to define and action KPIs that align across the organisation.
Connecting through technology
Marie-Claude made a great point around the changing social contract between brands and people. Increasingly consumers are demanding products and services from organisations that not only reflect their needs but also their values and priorities - they want to trust the brands they interact with.
In our October event, technology consultant and software engineer Rhian Lewis walked us through a fast-growing technology which has the power to build trust - blockchain. It's a much-hyped area of technology, but a lack of trust is fostering resistance. The challenge will be keeping everyone focused on where blockchain should be used (and where it shouldn't) and building trust with users.
Pete Trainor's inspiring talk on the reality of Ai also looked this idea of trust. He demonstrated some of the amazing uses of Ai, from detecting precancerous tumours in medical imaging, through to analysing cognitive biometrics to learn how people are feeling to spot signs of mental health issues. But, there's been a lot of damage done to the reputation of Ai among the public, and as it becomes an ever more important part of our lives, it's important that it serves everyone. This requires that businesses approach it with the interests of everyone at heart, and work together as an industry to share best practices.
The human-machine interlace
Technology like Ai has the power to bring people together in new, exciting ways - if it's done right. Our last event of 2018, led by the founder of product strategy consultancy Plan Kevin McCullagh traversed the historical relationship of humans and machines, and gave the case for thinking about the future of automation in a positive way. While work will need to be redesigned, interlacing machine strengths with those of humans has the potential to unlock economic growth and fuel innovation.
Pete ended his presentation with a great quote by the author Adrian Tchaikovsky: "progress is made by the improvement of people, not the improvement of machines". Technology is an amazing tool, but to drive big changes that serve everyone, we need to build meaningful connections - between colleagues, other organisations, and consumers.
Fittingly, our first event of 2019 will be led by designer and tech ethics consultant Cennydd Bowles on the future of ethics. As technology increases its impact on all our lives, technologists are faced with moral challenges. Cennydd will explore some of these challenges, and discuss how we can create more thoughtful, ethical products and services for future generations.
If you'd like to attend this event, please get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org as seats are limited and we expect a lot of interest.