Thursday, March 31, 2016

Tech Savvy: People Management by Algorithm

by Theodore Kinni
Social media for CXOs: On March 19, Pope Francis began posting on Instagram. He uploaded 8 images in 4 days and attracted 1.9 million followers. It wasn’t the Supreme Pontiff's first social media foray. He has been tweeting since he was elected 3 years ago, and he has 8.94 million followers on his English-language Twitter account. In terms of social media savvy, the Pope is running circles around most Fortune 500 CEOs.
As of July 28, 2015, 61% of the CEOs had no social media presence at all, according toa study by that was released earlier this year. Only 10% of the CEOs were on Twitter, and only 60% of their accounts were active.
A new article, by Emily Jane Fox in Vanity Fair, plumbs the state of tweeting among high-profile CEOs and highlights the internal team — led by Nola Weinstein, Twitter’s head of executive engagement — that encourages them to join the service. But the article suggests an unexpected reason why CEOs and other execs might want to start thinking in 140 characters. “Interestingly,” writes Fox, “the number-one success Weinstein and her team see from executives on Twitter is when they connect with their own colleagues and employees — explaining the reason behind a particular project or campaign, or highlighting a job well done by one of the company’s teams or offices. ‘If you’re a C.M.O. on a global level and you give a global shout-out to a team in Tokyo or Singapore or New York, that goes a long way. The public nature can be very rewarding and gratifying,’ Weinstein said.” the rest here

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

John Elkington’s Required Reading

by Theodore Kinni
strategy+business, March 30, 2016
Tracing John Elkington’s career is akin to taking a journey through the evolution of corporate social and environmental responsibility over the past five decades. In 1978, he cofoundedEnvironmental Data Services to provide companies with news and analysis of environmental law and policy. In 1987, he cofounded SustainAbility, a think tank and consultancy that promoted sustainable development at the corporate level. And in 2008, he cofounded Volans, a “change agency” that is focused the challenge of creating a sustainable global economy.
Along the way, Elkington introduced a number of concepts that have defined the leading edge of CSR. The most notable of them is the triple bottom line. First posited in his book,Cannibals with Forks: The Triple Bottom Line of 21st Century Business (Capstone, 1997), the idea that companies measure their financial, social, and environmental results, has recently become the focus of the B corporation movement.
A prolific writer, Elkington has written 18 other books. The most recent includeThe Breakthrough Challenge: 10 Ways to Connect Today’s Profits with Tomorrow’s Bottom Line (with Jochen Zeitz, Jossey-Bass, 2014), The Zeronauts: Breaking the Sustainability Barrier (Routledge, 2012), and The Power of Unreasonable People: How Social Entrepreneurs Create Markets That Change the World (with Pamela Hartigan, Harvard Business School Press, 2008).
In addition, Elkington is a visiting professor at the Doughty Centre for Corporate Responsibility at the Cranfield School of Management, as well as at Imperial College and University College London. In 2013, he was inducted into the Sustainability Hall of Fame by the International Society of Sustainability Professionals. In 2015, he received the Ethical Corporation Lifetime Achievement Award.
Elkington is a voracious reader and serves as a walking, talking annotated bibliography to the literature of corporate social and environmental responsibility. When I asked him to recommend some of the books he has found most influential and aspirational, he called out the following titles. Beyond tracking the evolution of his thinking, they catalog the development of the sustainability movement itself.
The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt's New World, by Andrea Wulf (Knopf, 2015). “I grew up with the environmental movement. In 1961, at age 11, I was raising money for the embryonic World Wildlife Fund. Later, I met and worked with pioneers of nature conservation, including WWF cofounders Max Nicholson and Peter Scott. Yet, I was stunned by Andrea Wulf’s eye-opening account of the life and work of Alexander von Humboldt. Yes, I know about the Humboldt Current and I have lectured at Berlin’s Humboldt University, but I didn’t know that their namesake warned of the risks of climate change 200 years ago! Nor did know I about Humboldt’s influence on people ranging from Charles Darwin to another key influencer of my thinking, James Lovelock, the champion of Gaia Theory.”
The Third Wave, by Alvin Toffler (William Morrow, 1980). “No single book had a bigger impact on me than Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. It’s dated now, but it introduced me to the notion of paradigm shifts and it prepared me for Alvin Toffler’s The Third Wave. Toffler’s message: We had entered the Information Age and that was changing everything.
Toffler, who is best known for his 1970 bestseller on the acceleration of change,Future Shock, renewed my interest in the work of two economists who were often overlooked (and disparaged) in those days, Nikolai Kondratiev andJoseph Schumpeter. Both men saw economic evolution as a series of long waves of investment and disinvestment. (Witness the past investment and, now, the inexorable disinvestment in an economy driven by fossil fuels.) This line of thought spurred my thinking on the societal pressure waves affecting business since 1960. But my biggest debt to Toffler only became clear to me late in 2015, when I reread The Third Waveand stumbled across his reference to ‘multiple bottom lines,’ which no doubt played a part in my conception of the ‘triple bottom line.’”
Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future, by Ashlee Vance (Ecco Books, 2015). “During the counterculture era, I was enthralled by Stewart Brand’s Whole Earth Catalog series and by R. Buckminster Fuller, with his focus on dematerialization. Fuller’s Dymaxion car never took off and neither did most ‘sustainable’ forms of transportation that I later worked on with automakers including Volvo, Ford, and Toyota. But Elon Musk, whose ventures I’ve been tracking since he was more or less unknown, is actually commercializing ideas like these. Ashlee Vance’s extraordinary book explores what he dubs ‘the unified field theory of Musk.’ It makes clear that if there is one person who symbolizes Toffler’s Third Wave or what the World Economic Forum is now dubbing the Fourth Industrial Revolution, it’s Elon Musk.
Exponential Organizations: Why New Organizations Are Ten Times Better, Faster, and Cheaper Than Yours (And What to Do about It), by Salim Ismail, with Michael S. Malone and Yuri van Geest (Diversion Books, 2014). “If a business leader is looking for a summation of the nature and scale of the challenges that capitalism now faces, I’d recommend Salim Ismail’s Exponential Organizations because its targets are exponential in nature. (Andrew Winston’s The Big Pivot would be another.) Exponential dynamics can drive us toward breakdown, as in runaway climate change, but over the past decade, I have become convinced that they also will be needed to address the negative effects of capitalism. Incremental solutions aren’t enough. To achieve exponential results, Ismail challenges leaders to disrupt and reboot their companies. Those of us in the sustainability industry need to do the same thing.” 

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Tech Savvy: What AlphaGo Means to the Future of Management

by Theodore Kinni
AI as management assistant: The artificial intelligence program AlphaGo got a lot of attention for beating 18-time Go world champion Lee Sedol four out of five games last week. The significance of this achievement is rooted in the extraordinary number of possible moves in Go: 2.08168199382 … × 10170, reportedly more than the number of atoms in the universe.
That’s too many possibilities for brute computing force to handle (which is how IBM’s Deep Blue beat chess master Garry Kasparov 20 years ago). Yet AlphaGo, created by Google DeepMind, formerly British AI company DeepMind Technologies, mastered the 2,500-year-old board game on its own in a matter of months. “It started by studying a database of about 100,000 human matches, and then continued by playing against itself millions of times,” reported science correspondent Geoff Brumfiel at NPR.
Go bragging rights are nice for Google, but what does AlphaGo’s victory mean for management? “These machine-learning methods will also have significant impact on how we perform unstructured and complex business processes and decision-making tasks in day-to-day work,” explains Lei Tang, chief data scientist at Clari, a sales analytics company, in VentureBeat. “AI routinely considers options ignored by human beings … In this sense, AI is creative, helping humans achieve more.”
Tang says that “self-driving” enterprise applications will be managerial assistants that “detect relevant context changes (location, target customer, timing) and deliver relevant information at the moment it is most helpful.” Better yet, like AlphaGo, they will “become smarter as they analyze the results of ongoing operations, such as marketing campaigns, lead conversions, sales meetings, email flows, interactions with customer success teams, or customer churn.” the rest here

Friday, March 18, 2016

Tech Savvy: Is It Time to Build Your Own Platform?

by Theodore Kinni 
Identifying an industry ripe for platform disruption: If you really want to create value, forget about burning platforms and start building them. A platform, explain Geoffrey Parker and Marshall Van Alstyne (professors at Tulane and Boston University associated with the MIT Initiative on the Digital Economy), and Sangeet Choudary, founder and CEO of Platform Strategy Labs, in Platform Revolution: How Networked Markets are Transforming the Economy and How to Make Them Work for You, is a “business model that uses technology to connect people, organizations, and resources in an interactive ecosystem.”
They contend that the ranks of today’s most valuable companies are increasing populated with those that successfully build and control platforms. Think Apple with iTunes, John Deere with its My John Deere Operations Center, and a host of other platform-based companies as diverse as McCormick Foods, Amazon, and Uber.
The problem with platforms is context. The authors think platform-based businesses eventually will come to dominate every industry, but they caution readers that the window of opportunity for launching a successful platform will vary according to the characteristics of a specific industry.
How do you know if and when your industry is ripe for platform disruption? As this excerpt from the forthcoming book (reprinted with permission) details, the emergence of platform businesses is most likely in highly-fragmented industries with non-scalable gatekeepers in which information is both a significant source of value and extremely asymmetrical. The emergence of platform disruption is less likely in resource-intensive industries that are subject to high levels of regulatory control and high failure the rest here

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

External Talent Needs Management, Too

by Theodore Kinni
strategy+business, March 15, 2016
Did you hear the one about the senior executive who didn’t think much of the external consultants hired for a project at his Fortune 100 company? He called them “insultants” in meetings in which they were present. Unsurprisingly, his staff picked up and echoed his attitude. The project failed.

Jon Younger and Norm Smallwood, respectively partner emeritus and president of RBL Group, a human resources consulting and development firm, tell this story in their new book, Agile Talent: How to Source and Manage Outside Experts (Harvard Business Review Press, 2016). Agile Talent is a book of particular interest to me for two reasons. First, I am one tiny drop in the ever-swelling ocean of external talent used by companies around the world. Second, on occasion, I have worked for corporate clients who seem hell-bent on getting less than what they are paying me for. This may sound improbable, but it’s happened often enough over the past 25 years that I now try to proactively identify such clients and avoid the lose-lose propositions they present — in my case, writing and editing assignments in which the client will not get full value and I will get agita.
Business leaders should care about these issues. For whether or not they think the economy of tomorrow will be a gig-driven one in which everyone is a freelancer, the corporate use of external talent across sectors and geographies is more common than ever. Younger and Smallwood tick off the reasons why: External talent can provide companies with access to new capabilities and technologies; it can enable faster and more agile response to markets; it can be used to test new opportunities before making major investments; it can be used to respond to demand peaks and to attain scale quickly; and, perhaps most commonly, it can reduce costs.
The problem, to which I can attest, is that most companies don’t have a system in place to ensure that they are optimizing their return on external talent. Instead, they treat external talent with the same narrow “you work, we pay you” mind-set that they abandoned long ago with their own full-time employees because of its negative effects on productivity, loyalty and retention, and quality and customer experience.
The solution, which Younger and Smallwood lay out in rather dry, academic terms in Agile Talent, requires applying many of the same kinds of recruiting and development programs most companies have in place for their internal talent to their external talent: strategic resourcing analysis; onboarding programs; development opportunities; etc. It seems to me that the authors get a little carried away in this regard, transforming the management of external talent into a full-blown functional silo. They suggest, for example, that companies consider appointing a “chief external talent officer.” But then, much of the prescriptive content in this book is aimed at senior human resource professionals in big companies that are using lots of external talent to attain strategic goals. If that describes you and your company, the authors’ advice may be entirely appropriate.
If, however, your company uses external talent to a lesser degree, Agile Talent will pose a bit more of a challenge. You may have to decipher the professional jargon and apply it on a smaller scale. But that would be well worth the effort, because any manager charged with overseeing external talent could improve the return on the company’s investment by adopting some simple practices based on Younger and Smallwood’s thinking.
One such practice would be to devote a bit of time to ensuring that the external talent working in your company understands the strategic context of the tasks they have been hired to conduct. Another would be to break down the “us versus them” wall that too often exists between employees and external talent. A third would be the provision of ongoing performance appraisals.
Regardless of the approach, companies should be taking a fresh look at how they manage external talent. Outsourcing should not mean out of sight and out of mind.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Tech Savvy: When to Hire a Robot

by Theodore Kinni
When to hire a robot: Robotics have reached their tipping point, according to International Data Corp. In a newly-released research report, the firm forecasts a near doubling of the worldwide robotics market over the next 4 years — from $71 billion in 2015 to $135.4 billion in 2019. Almost simultaneously, President Obama sent The Annual Report of the Council of Economic Advisors to Congress. It says advances in robotics technology are “presaging the rise of a potentially paradigm-shifting innovation in the productivity process.”
Tongue-twisting alliteration aside, this feeds fears that robots may eventually replace most employees (a thesis argued persuasively by Mark Ford in his award-winning book, Rise of the Robots). But how should your company use robotics between now and then? One answer, highlighted in two recent stories, is to hire robots for supporting, rather than primary, roles.
Mercedes-Benz came to this conclusion in a backward sort of way. As the company expanded the number of models and options it offers, it discovered that its existing assembly-line robots could not be adapted quickly and economically enough. So it’s hiring people to replace some of its robots, report Elisabeth Behrmann and Christoph Rauwald inBloombergBusiness, and equipping them “with an array of little machines,” a solution that the car maker calls “robot farming.”
Mark Rolston, the cofounder and chief creative officer of argodesign, sees the design industry following a similar strategy. “It’s easy to see how an AI-infused computer algorithm such as the future Netflix — after a human has completed the initial design and programming — could do the hard work of improving and evolving to accommodate user preferences largely on its own,” he writes in Fast Company’s Co.Design. “Moreover, 90% of product design today happens in the ‘fat middle ground’ between purely aesthetic and purely technical — incrementally tweaking designs, optimizing column widths, and experimenting with color schemes. These tasks are bread and butter for much of the design industry, and they are progressively being automated.” the rest here

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Tech Savvy: March 3, 2016

by Theodore Kinni
Wearables at work: It’s hard to believe that it’s nearly three years since the much-discussed and often-derided beta version of Google Glass was released. Since then, the Apple watch has made the cover of Time and there’s been a lot of hype about the future of wearable computing. But how — and where — are wearables actually being used in the workplace?
Mary Pratt offers three examples in a ComputerWorld article. DHL is conducting a pilot program in a Netherlands warehouse, where employees are wearing smart glasses to pick orders — with a 25% improvement in efficiency. After a successful pilot, Lee Company, in the commercial building services space, is in the midst of a full rollout of smart glasses that connect its on-site plumbing and electrical tradespeople to senior techs back in its triage center. And, energy utility Southern Co. is using head-mounted and wrist-mounted devices to record work as a means of ensuring and enhancing employee compliance with procedures in plants and in the the rest here