Workforce Planning in the Digital Age

Digital is plunging HRDs into numerous quandaries. How can they predict what new roles will arise and which will disappear? How can they train staff accordingly, and where will they find talent to plug the gaps? These questions are putting greater emphasis on data analytics and the role of strategic workforce planning.

“As well as the impact of a contingent workforce, we’re seeing a rise in remote working – which can potentially offer 24/7 online capacity. This approach to flexible working will change the nature of the workplace,” says Mark Spelman, Member of the Executive Committee at The World Economic Forum (WEF), who has spoken at a number of Criticaleye events on global changes to the workforce.

“We’re also about to move into an era in which everything is connected, online and real time. We’ll be in a hugely different place. I’m not sure our workforce strategies are focused enough on the exponential disruption of technology,” Mark adds.

In a world where digital innovation regularly makes the unpredictable a reality, how can businesses successfully plan their workforce requirements?

Find the right person for the right role

As Executive Director for People Advisory Services and Data Analytics at EY, it’s Nathan Sasto’s job to find practical solutions for tomorrow’s talent dilemmas. One of which is how best to access the gig economy – a pool of specialist employees who can drop into a business to deliver a specific, short-term project.

“The trend towards the gig economy is certainly one of the major impetuses we’re seeing from a client perspective. We’re doing a lot of work in financial services on this, helping them to understand which roles are feasible for them to outsource,” Nathan says.

Crisis, a charity that offers temporary accommodation and support to the homeless, is one of the many organisations to regularly tap into the community of temporary workers.

Jane Furniss, Criticaleye Board Mentor and former Deputy Chair at the organisation explains: “Crisis employs around 10,000 volunteers each autumn to run their Christmas events. Choice and having control over when and where they work is a huge factor in whether they come back to volunteer again. Because they aren’t paid, they need to feel engaged and be happy with the team they work with.”

Engaging an unpaid workforce means offering roles uniquely enticing to each volunteer – and that requires a lot of data crunching. Nathan knows all too well how complicated, yet rewarding, that task can be.

When he joined EY in 2012, Nathan’s first project was to plan the volunteer workforce requirements for the London Olympics. “They needed 70,000 volunteers to run the Olympic and Paralympic games, covering 3,500 jobs ranging from medics to drivers,” he explains.

“The HR Director at the time compared it to building a Fortune 500 company in three months and then tearing it down – that was the scale of the problem.”

To address this, Nathan and his team built an artificial intelligence-based matching system, comparing over 500 million data points on languages, skills, experience and preference to reach an optimal workforce distribution. He explains: “Once we were up and running, a HR allocation task that previously took 13 people one month to carry out, took a single person just four hours.”

Analytics such as this allow organisations to map their staff requirements against a pool of talent – be that internal or external – and do it in a way that caters to different personalities, desires and skills.

Train your staff to be digitally fluent

Another critical dilemma for HRDs is the need to re-educate the workforce for tomorrow’s employment landscape.

“One of the issues we face is in retraining for digital fluency. We must work out how to move people who were trained to work in one way into a digital world,” says Mark. “Half of the people coming into the workforce today will live until they’re 100. Life-long learning will be critical going forward. I’d argue that the ability to keep your top 30 per cent of staff will depend on your long-term corporate training.”

David Grounds, who supports corporate business leaders in his role as Relationship Manager at Criticaleye, says: “Continuous learning is becoming an economic imperative, it’s no longer enough to come into an industry with a qualification and think you’re the finished article. I see that need at a senior leadership level and right through the business.”

“While constant self-improvement has always been a worthy pursuit, the rate at which technology is changing the business environment means it’s now a priority.”

According to Nathan, a common problem is predicting where best to invest your efforts. “We talk about digital skills a lot but it’s quite a challenge to take that esoteric concept into practical measures, roles and functions,” he explains.

Again, data can help. Analytics capabilities similar to those used by Crisis and the London Olympics to map talent, can be employed to determine what skills will be required for newly developing jobs.

“Imagine all the available roles were on a platter and you could see what skills and attributes were needed for each – you could tell very easily which you’re suited to and what you’d need to do to move between those roles. That’s changing the vertical succession plan and really empowering people to plan their careers effectively,” says Nathan.

Address the fear of uncertainty

This kind of insight can help protect individuals from what the WEFs predicts will be five million job losses due to automation by 2020. HRDs must play their part in supporting staff through that uncomfortable process, quelling concerns and retraining where possible.

As Mark says: “When looking at strategic workforce planning we need to recognise that it’s not just about opportunity and the upside, it’s also about managing the fears associated with the downside.”

Jane warns that if businesses fail to address these insecurities they may see their talent drain away. “Fear of uncertainty about job security can lead some of your best people to go. You can end up with people who either don’t understand the change that is happening or aren’t able to get jobs elsewhere,” she says.

“Your worst case scenario is that you lose the really good people who can obtain jobs elsewhere, while retaining the not-so-good who can’t.”

These thoughts were shared during a recent Criticaleye Global Conference Call on Making Sense of Strategic Workforce Planning.

By Mary-Anne Baldwin, Editor, Corporate

Don’t miss our next Community Update on the importance of apprenticeships.


The Evolution of the Workforce

Evolution is typically energised by a single but significant change, the effects of which are radical but slow coming. Language, the ability to walk upright and the introduction of money each happened in pockets spread over land and generations. Yet now we’re being hit by numerous and instant technological changes that affect us worldwide, and employers are struggling to keep up.

“Due to exponential technological disruption, digital can completely transform a business within a year,” warned Nils Michaelis, Managing Director for Digital within the APAC Products Operating Group at Accenture.

Speaking at Criticaleye’s Asia Leadership Retreat, held in association with Accenture and CEIBS (China Europe International Business School), Nils went onto explain how another important factor — the consumer — has been a catalyst for the creation and evolution of many jobs, even among the top roles.

“A couple of years ago, the then CEO of Macy’s gave himself the title of Chief Customer Officer and was one of the first CEOs to do so. This got the whole company to rotate towards being customer-centric,” Nils explained.

From a leadership perspective, the difficulty lies in creating a talent pipeline that is able to deal with these changes. “As leaders, we need to turn our attention to how we bring the workforce together, and how we reskill them,” said Chris Harvey, Managing Director for Financial Services across APAC at Accenture, who led the keynote address.

However, in a Criticaleye survey of attendees at the Asia Leadership Retreat, only around half said their executive team are collaborative and 85 per cent said the behaviour of their executives can create silos.

While it’s a global business issue, it’s particularly important in Asia where talent is in dangerous demand, competition has led to high staff turnover, and many of the family and founder led businesses aren’t doing enough to train and promote talent. So, how can we progress?

From aptitude to attitude

For many business leaders, including Alan Armitage, CEO for Standard Life (Asia), the spotlight has turned from highlighting an employee’s functional aptitude to their attitude.

“I used to focus on the project plan, but realised more effort had to be put into behaviours and people,” said Alan. “We’ve put a strong emphasis on behaviours, both individually and collectively, especially on whether we have the right blend of individuals within the team and if they will work together in a productive manner.”

In her work with businesses both in the UK and Asia, Jamie Wilson, Managing Director at Criticaleye, has found that “high performing teams show collaboration, innovation, trust and the ability to handle the ambiguity of change”. She added: “It’s these traits that will see them through today’s fast-changing business environment.”

Alan recognises that in order to attract the best talent, Standard Life needs to offer its staff the opportunity to develop in a way that suits them. By doing this, the organisation will also reap the benefits of having a diverse range of skills across its workforce.

“The next generation have less affiliation to the company itself but more to those that develop their skills and brand at a personal level,” Alan noted.

“Every single member of our team has an individual development plan. Those plans need to be absolutely distinct from the individual’s day job and their performance-related plan. They are focused on where the individual would like to be in three years’ time. They need to be challenging and also outline the steps an individual needs to take.”

The fluid workforce

Leaders must acknowledge their workforce will be more fluid than ever before; that may mean hiring more people on a part-time or consultative basis, and also acknowledging that an employee’s development might result in them leaving the company.

This is something Criticaleye Board Mentor, David Comeau, realised back when he was President for Asia Pacific at Mondelez International. Rather than being afraid of the fluid workforce, he saw it as a way to improve the company’s reputation as an employer.

“People need to own their own career and development,” said David. “We realised people would leave the company, so we told them we would celebrate when they leave − but also when they return.”

David explained that three-years ago the company launched a programme through social media that openly recognised employees who chose to develop their careers by moving on. “This allowed both us and them to promote their skills and success to those outside of the business. It’s helped their development while also getting the word out on the great things going on at our company,” he said.

Planning ahead

This kind of attitude teaches leaders to embrace, rather than fear, mobility and succession planning. Indeed, it’s an increasingly crucial way to manage tomorrow’s liquid workforce. “Succession can be a great exercise as it forces honest discussions about building the team,” said David.

Neil Galloway, Executive and Group Finance Director at Dairy Farm Group, said that “we’re increasingly trying to learn from exit interviews with people who we didn’t expect would leave the company”.

One of the things he discovered was that employees wanted to see there are opportunities for them to grow within the organisation. “In some cases, we had to create mobility through forced changes in order to make room for talent to move up the business. This has meant putting all roles − including mine − into a succession plan. It was a surprise to some that I was already talking about finding an internal successor within a few months of joining the group, but it sent a strong message,” Neil explained.

Although the requirements on your workforce – be they skills or entire roles – are both changeable and unpredictable, your employees will want reassurance.

“You need honest, transparent discussions with external candidates, so they understand the situation they are signing up for,” said Neil. “And you need to give colleagues candid feedback on their capabilities and potential, both the opportunities and limitations.”

These views were shared during Criticaleye’s Asia Leadership Retreat 2016, held in association with Accenture and CEIBS.

By Mary-Anne Baldwin, Editor, Corporate

Do you have any experiences of the changing workforce you would like to share? If so, please email

Read more from our interviewees as Nils Michaelis discusses the customer experience and Alan Armitage reveals how to motivate the executive team.

And, don’t miss next week’s Community Update on how to tackle international expansion.

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Unlocking the Value of Data


Mastering data analytics can reveal a multitude of business learnings and the means to improve your products and services, yet the sheer volume of data available often leaves companies immobilised. Here, we detail five simple steps to unlock the value in your data.

1) Be Clear on What You Want to Achieve 

The difference between sitting on a gold mine of information or drowning in it depends on how you approach big data analysis.

Criticaleye’s Managing Director, Charlie Wagstaff, explains: “As is the case in so many aspects of business, it pays to have a clear strategy; it’s no different with data analytics. By knowing what you want to achieve you can hone in on the data you need to accomplish it. Go in as though it’s a treasure hunt and you’ll soon find yourself lost in a sea of information.”

Catriona Marshall, CEO of Hobbycraft, has learned that the best way to benefit from data analytics is to set clear objectives: “We cottoned on to having a customer club a couple of years ago and through it we rapidly built a database of over two million people − and we use really smart analytics with that.

“We haven’t gone for big data and got swamped with finding our way through, or had to put a lot of resources into understanding it, we’ve been really clear on what we were looking to deliver. While we have a mass of data that we can drill into to answer numerous questions, we tend to focus just on what we really need to know to drive specific behaviour.”

2) Present the Information in a Meaningful Way 

The second trick to analytics is to present the information in a meaningful way, explains Peter Lumley, Head of Business Intelligence & Analytics at PA Consulting Group.

“People want something visually rich. They don’t want a flat table of numbers but something they can interact with,” he says.

“You need to pick the right tools for the job. With products like Qlik, Microsoft, Tableau and Niagara Files, there are a whole set of offerings that give you opportunities to do new things.”

As an example, Peter describes how his team at PA Consulting Group worked with the UK’s local Government: “In under an hour we were able to extract their public data, put it into a dashboard and start to build insights. The intriguing part is that if you really understand how a local government works you can bring that data to life. There’s a theme developing on the use of analytics alongside business understanding.”

3) Understand the Etiquette of Big Data 

“Access to swathes of online information has raised public questions about the big brother nature of data analytics and whether it will be used it to ‘spy’ on people,” says Criticaleye’s Charlie. Be aware that you will have to find a balance between interaction and intrusion.

This is something Ruchir Rodrigues, Managing Director of Digital Banking at Barclays, knows first-hand having had to reassure the public of its intentions following the recent release of its data analytics tool, SmartBusiness.

Using transaction information, SmartBusiness allows UK SMEs to track their financial performance, compare themselves with other local businesses and then use Barclay’s online tools to reduce costs and grow the business.

“We’ve got permission from the customer so we’re legally compliant but that is not enough. You have to be very cautious that everyone understands that it’s anonymised information and the customer’s privacy is secure. You have to spend time and energy reassuring the customer, even if you have permission,” says Ruchir.

4) Partner for Quick Progress

Norman Bell, Group strategy and IT Director at Travis Perkins, highlights the widespread challenge of finding the talent needed to support the data function. “Not having enough of that technical capability is a major limitation. There just aren’t enough data analysts coming out of university to meet the growth in demand – which is almost as big as the growth in data.”

At Hobbycraft, Catriona has tackled staffing constraints by partnering with external companies. She explains: “One of the ways that we’ve overcome resource is to contract out to really good partners – these being younger, smaller, really hungry partners who would give us a good deal financially but were really keen to prove themselves.”

Harnessing innovation through partners is at the heart of Barclays’ strategy. Ruchir explains: “We let partners develop on an open platform, which makes it easier for them to show the relevance of their intellectual property and also makes it a more efficient model.”

Through its programme, Accelerator, Barclays supports fintech companies by offering investment, mentoring and business connections and in return gains the latest insights into machine learning, digital banking solutions, cyber security, payments, cryptocurrency, and wealth management.

5) Build an Army of Analysts

Partnering with external companies can build momentum and create a drive for further change internally, yet it’s not enough to support long-term growth and innovation. “As businesses become more inherently digital, so too must their workforce and that means building up the talent from within,” says Charlie.

Peter at PA Consulting Group advocates that talent be built internally. “In our business recruitment is challenging, the people who have the right skills are in high demand, which also affects the market,” he says.

“I think companies are missing a trick in not building the resource internally. Reskill the people you have by building communities around a few very skilled people, it could make a big difference in the long run.”

Ruchir – who sees data and digital as becoming integral to every aspect of business at Barclays − stresses the same point. He says: “It’s difficult to find people who really understand data sciences so we’re encouraging everyone in the business to be analysts. We need to change the culture from going to ask the nerdy people in the corner what the data means, to everyone in the business becoming a data expert.

“If we can change the organisation’s mind set and culture to become more data led then we can get scale behind using information.”

Do you have an interesting story to tell about data analytics? Share your experiences and opinions with

Read more about fintech partnerships and dial into our upcoming Global Conference Call to hear Catriona Marshall discuss the challenges of being a first-time CEO.

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Questioning Digital Transformation

Forget legacy systems, many corporates are holding onto legacy revenue streams – meanwhile agile start-ups are nibbling away at their profits. The development of digital technology waits for no one, so CEOs and their teams need to instigate change.

The average life span of an S&P 500 company will decrease from 60 to less than 15 years by 2020 and, at the current churn rate, 75 per cent will be replaced by 2027. These stats echoed through the room during our recent Digital Retreat, held in association with Accenture Digital, where attendees gathered to discuss what digital means to them.

Capturing what was said at the event, here we highlight four questions that leaders should ask themselves when faced with digital transformation:

What problem are we trying to fix? 

Figure out what you want to do before you roll out new technology.
Arabel Bailey, Managing Director and Digital Lead for the UK & Ireland at Accenture, says you must start with the problem you’re trying to solve. “Traditional organisations are often organised around product lines rather than customer needs.

“Many understand the theory of digital and being more customer centric but don’t know how to execute it.”

Ashok Vaswani, CEO of Barclays UK, spoke of his company’s digital journey, which for a business established over 300 years ago has been a difficult undertaking. He believes that it’s all down to strategy and a focus on the customer: “Strategy is three questions: Where are we now? Where do we want to go? How are we going to get there?

“We set up two groups of 10 to 12 people to come up with the answers. One thing to come out of it was that every product we provide is a means to an end, rather than an end itself.”

Another key finding was that customers want speed and convenience. “We realised mobile was the way to go. We built a mobile app and launched it in July 2012,” Ashok explained. “Ninety-two per cent of all payments are now done on mobile, it’s an incredible force.”

Do we know what’s happening in other companies and sectors? 

It’s important to have antenna pointed to the outside world. This is particularly the case when agile start-ups are springing up all around you.

Narry Singh, Managing Director and Head of Digital Strategy for EALA at Accenture, who spent 20 years living and working in Silicon Valley before relocating to London in 2014, likened these start-ups to a thousand mice nibbling away at the profits of those too slow to brush them off.

Using a home improvement retailer as an example, he listed over 15 platforms − such as Pinterest, TaskRabbit and Houzz – that could disrupt its industry.

“The biggest risk to incumbents from start-ups is their speed, talent, capital and fresh brands,” Narry said. “Look at funding sources like and see where the ‘smart’ money is going.”

As fintech companies rise seemingly from nothing, established businesses must place more focus on price and margin. Speaking about Barclays, Ashok explained: “For every £1 of revenue my expenses are 51p. For companies that are digitised it’s around 22p. There is a sense of urgency to move from 51p to 22p, it’s in our interest to drop prices before we are forced to.”

From 2013 to 2015, Barclays made a cost base saving of £600 million. However, Ashok said there’s still much more to do.

Are we prepared for new ways of working? 

Adapting to the challenges and opportunities new technology brings often requires major organisational change.

Bal Samra Commercial Director at the BBC and Managing Director of BBC Television, relayed his experience of leading projects such as BBC Online, the iPlayer and BBC Store. He advised leaders to challenge the traditional boundaries and skills within the organisation.

“We have combined roles at BBC Three – we’ve developed new ones by mixing up social media and content,” he said. “We set up an academy to reskill the organisation and also launched an apprentice scheme that allows us to tap into a completely new pool of people.”

Bal also endorsed the creation of incubated teams whose sole purpose is innovating with new technology. “Separate teams work for big change,” he said. “It can be hard to identify measures of success at the beginning. Support them and let people get on with it, but have a gated approach. If nothing happens in six months’ time, it needs to be looked at.”

How do we get everyone within the organisation to work together? 

Legacy systems and getting buy-in from the board were cited as two of the main obstacles. Andrew Minton, Managing Director at Criticaleye, said: “Digital transformation is a tough job for traditional organisations with long-established operating models and legacy technology infrastructures. Every organisation will be at a different stage when it comes to digital maturity, but it’s a task leaders can’t ignore.”

Whether it’s being spurred on by the chief digital officer, chief technology officer or the chief exec, they need to translate it into something the board can understand.

For Arabel, examples can bring ideas to life: “Build a prototype, get customer feedback and present it to the board. Do things in a small way and then think about how to scale it, rather than thinking about full blown digital transformation all at once.”

Yet it’s critical to stress the sense of urgency for change. “Forget legacy systems, we have legacy revenue streams and they are declining. We need to have the courage to say: ‘Let’s move ahead’,” Ashok explained. “I have to go to the board and say: ‘Let’s get rid of those legacy revenue streams.’ If I don’t, the business will disappear before our eyes.”

It’s not just about the board and leadership team, colleagues across the business need to be aligned. Ashok demonstrated the importance of this by revealing that when Barclays’ mobile app was first launched it didn’t get the pickup they’d anticipated – staff weren’t telling customers about it.

“We needed to get colleagues excited about it,” he said. “But how could we get them excited about it if they didn’t have wi-fi in branches? So, we put wi-fi and 10,000 iPads into branches. The board asked how this would make money; it wouldn’t but it was something we had to do.”

Getting the organisational mindset to shift is a difficult task, but it has to be done. Ashok concluded: “It’s always a heavier challenge at the beginning. It’s about saying: ‘Trust me’.

“Now, it’s about saying: ‘Look what we’ve done,’ and to continue beating that drum.”
By Dawn Murden, Editor, Advisory

What are your thoughts on digital transformation? If you have an opinion that you’d like to share, please email Dawn at 

Read more from Bal Samra on leading breakthrough innovation

Find out more about our upcoming CEO Retreat, in association with Accenture Strategy.


How CEOs Set the Pace in Asia

Reimagining the customer experience is especially difficult for Asia’s CEOs and senior executives. It’s harder for them to justify a radical overhaul of product or service delivery because, unlike those in the more mature markets of Europe and North America, their organisation is likely to be growing rapidly.

But that’s not an excuse to shy away from change. China already has the world’s largest population of digital consumers, with over 550 million mobile internet users and an infrastructure that’s improving through the adoption of 3G and 4G networks. The rise of cloud computing, big data and the Internet of Things is also completely reshaping delivery models in numerous industries, from financial services to retail and healthcare.

At Criticaleye’s Asia Leadership Retreat 2015, held in association with Accenture, Cisco Systems and the China Europe International Business School (CEIBS), the focus was on how regional business leaders are adjusting their strategies to remain customer-focused in the face of new technology.

During the course of the two-day, Hong Kong-based Retreat, five themes emerged that executives need to bear in mind in order to succeed:

We’re entering the next era of digital 

Businesses will lose market share if they don’t provide customers with the latest digital services. Olof Schybergson, CEO and co-founder of design consultancy Fjord, which is part of Accenture Interactive, believes “we are now entering the third phase of digital – it will be as disruptive as mobile was and the web before that”.

A significant element of this new era will be the connectivity of devices, which is why Xiangli Chen, Vice-President & Chief Technology Officer of GE China, argues that success will rely on the ability to integrate information and the industrial internet. “Less than one per cent of the data generated by machines is actually used at present. As this changes, data will become a goldmine.

There’s no question that investment in digital is accelerating. During the first nine months of this year, organisations in the Asia Pacific region invested approximately $3.5 billion in financial technology, this compares to $880 million throughout the whole of 2014, according to a report by Accenture.

Calling design gurus, social hackers and mobile evangelists 

The onus is on organisations to be far more imaginative about recruitment at all levels. John Brisco, Senior Vice President, Chief Information Officer and Chief Operations Officer for Manulife Asia, says the financial services company has introduced new roles in order to disrupt the business’ status-quo, including “design gurus, social hackers and mobile evangelists”.

He said: “They have enthusiasm and are passionate about what they are trying to create; they don’t think within the traditional boundaries. The challenge is to deliver at pace – if you fail to do that, the type of talent you’re bringing in will walk.

It’s all part of a broader, strategic reappraisal of how services are delivered. “The way a life insurer and bank might traditionally go about a project would actually not allow us to win in the future,” said John. “How do we create a mindset that lets us change the speed at which we do things?”

This is not only applicable to those in financial services. Hera Siu, Managing Director of Greater China for education company Pearson, described how she brought in six new people to form her top team, each from a different industry. She explained how “they were tasked with transforming the business by introducing a new service model, and they had to do this while moving at a faster pace than the organisation was used to”.

From Shanghai to Silicon Valley, start-ups are changing the game 

Corporates are paying serious attention to start-ups. David Schillmoeller, Chief Customer Officer of Prudential Corporation Asia, said there is an emphasis on cross-functional collaboration and partnerships that stimulate innovation: “It’s helping with completely new ecosystem propositions – we have a great business model and we believe, by embracing disruption, we can make it better.”

John of Manulife Asia commented: “We are developing a number of different partnerships with a variety of firms. This includes boutique start-ups in Silicon Valley and Shanghai that have pieces of the ecosystem which, in the future, might just differentiate us. We might not do something straight away, but we are creating relationships.”

In Asia, China is the market that really matters

Although China’s GDP may have fallen to 7.2 per cent, it would be foolhardy to suggest its economic power is waning.

Hellmut Schütte, Dean Emeritus of CEIBS, noted that for most companies, China continues to make up over 50 per cent of revenue in the region: “When you look at your global portfolio as a multinational and then survey economic GDP growth over the next ten years, only two countries matter: China and the US. They are the only countries where there will be a significant amount of additional money to grow your business.”

China demands respect. Martin Cubbon, Finance and Corporate Development Director of the diversified conglomerate Swire Pacific, commented: “The first thing you need to acknowledge when you enter a new market, such as China, is the odds are always stacked against you… There is asymmetry of information as the locals will always know more than you.”

It’s important to coolly assess whether an organisation has the right culture for doing business and if the market dynamics are favourable. “In China, you need to be very cost competitive in whatever you do… because seemingly there is never an end to new capacity. No matter how good your product, if you can’t compete on cost you’ve no chance of making money,” Martin added.

There is a renewed emphasis on leadership 

Finding people with the right technical skills is only half of the battle for corporates in the region. Matthew Blagg, CEO of Criticaleye, noted: “There is no doubt that technology is changing the business landscape in Asia. However, I firmly believe that digital is an enabler and that an organisation’s ability to succeed absolutely depends on the leadership qualities of the CEO and their senior executive team.”

Hera of Pearson commented on how important it is to remember that “hiring a team doesn’t mean you have teamwork”. She explained that “you need each team member to work together and have a shared sense of purpose”. As a way of creating this dynamic, she brought in KPIs and a scorecard for the team she had hired, using both quantitative and qualitative information to find out if they were aligned.

For Ian Stone, Criticaleye Board Mentor and Non-executive Director of Chinese internet giant Tencent, it comes back to the CEO and their ability to build trust: “In my experience, the great leaders are able to demonstrate they really know the business to investors and stakeholders. They also respect the knowledge and expertise that’s within the company and, in turn, command respect back.”

By Marc Barber, Managing Editor, Criticaleye

Do you have a view on this subject? If you have an opinion you’d like to share, please email Marc at:


Making Big Bets on Digital

Conversations about ‘digital business’ can be confusing. No doubt there will be reference to a burning platform, followed by the dark art of culture change. You can also almost guarantee a warning that unless a strategy is in place, digitally savvy competitors will devour you and your industry.

For large organisations with long-established operating models, adapting to digital is tough. In the past five years, online and mobile have transformed consumer behaviour and it’s evident that the Internet of Things – which will bring us wearable devices, smart homes and driverless cars – will continue this disruption.

“It’s clear how much digital technology has become a part of our everyday lives and how much it has changed them,” says Andrew Minton, Executive Director at Criticaleye.

“Reflecting on the technological advances we’ve already witnessed should quash any fears we might have about change and help us visualise the positive impact current digital innovations could have on the future,” he adds. “Digital is no longer a choice. It’s a necessity that no company can afford to ignore.”

At a recent Criticaleye Discussion Group, Competing to Win in the Digital Age, held in association with Accenture Strategy, attendees fought through the fog around digitisation by sharing practical experiences of what it means to them and their businesses.

Here are three key themes that emerged:

1) Digitisation improves efficiency 

If there’s logic behind technology improving service delivery, don’t be afraid to embrace it. At Network Rail, there’s a multimillion pound project underway to digitise information systems that date back to the 1830s. “Data and understanding are vital as they will help improve efficiency,” says Jane Simpson, Chief Engineer at Network Rail.

This includes a wide variety of changes, from the introduction of apps for staff to report faults, to the adoption of track recognition technology that compares one data run to another. The latter saves an individual from having to walk miles upon miles of track, trying to spot if anything is awry.

But often, such changes won’t occur unless everyone sees the logic. “Never underestimate the buy-in you need from the end-user and the leaders in an organisation,” Jane warns.

2) There is a skills shortage…

…well, sort of.

It seems almost anyone born with an iPod in their mouth has star quality.

Martin Hess, Vice President of Enterprise Services Sales for UK&I at IT concern Hewlett-Packard, states there is a notable generation gap when it comes to digital.

“Organisations are trying to find ways to exploit technology but the leaders don’t necessarily get it,” he says. “They may know how to use social media but they think about it in a very different way. On the flipside, younger people don’t yet have the business acumen and, as a consequence, the hierarchy of digital knowledge in organisations is upside down.”

While fast-tracking millennials to the boardroom may be a step too far, the demand for a digital environment is making other companies revisit the traditional model for career progression. At the very least, the onus is on directors to boost their digital brainpower.

“People still think you need a NED in the boardroom to cover all of these issues,” says Samantha Barber, Non-executive Director of electricity company Iberdrola. According to her, what’s important is “the way the board interacts with external experts and sets aside strategic time to make sure they get the right analysis on trends in order to stay ahead of the game”.

Jonathan Hunter, Managing Director of Accenture Strategy, states that one of the biggest barriers is people being unable to conceptualise how a business can operate differently: “There is a degree of disconnect between the way people think about how work has to be done and the way that new technology can enable them.”

It’s too easy to attribute this to a ‘generational thing’, claims Jonathan. “It’s more about an individual’s choice and comfort around the way they engage with digital platforms and new technology,” he adds.

3) Only a few can moonwalk

Google’s Larry Page likes to talk about ‘moon shots’, whereby big bets are made on revolutionary ideas.

It’s fair to say that not every company can approach innovation in the same way. Talk about ‘going for the moon’ will get little airtime when the daily focus is on targets and performance.

The thing is, when competitors emerge seemingly from nowhere, winning customers and operating at minimal marginal cost, something has to change. “New entrants are able to have a dramatic effect on the market due to how quickly they can scale consumer use, whereas previously it took a lot longer to get traction,” says Jonathan.

This is where finding the balance between the old business model and the new really tests executives’ leadership abilities.

Claudio Righetti, Managing Director and CEO of consumer goods company Fontem Ventures, acknowledges that so-called agility in decision-making should be welcomed, but it can be difficult to execute, especially in industries that still have long lead times in production. This is when you need buy-in from the top, whereby people are encouraged to test new ideas early and take calculated risks.

“You can only be successful if you are willing to fail. But if you fail, you need to do this cheaply and move on quickly,” says Claudio. “If you have the right leadership you can establish this way of working and overcome the typical organisational push-back.”

Regardless of the sector or transformation being delivered, this is the message that keeps being told.

Want to find out more about digital? Read Staying Ahead of the Game

By Marc Barber, Editor

Do you have a view on this subject? If you have an opinion that you’d like to share, please email Marc at:


The Millennial Mindset

It’s not all hashtags and selfies when it comes to the millennial generation. Beyond their comfort and ease with new technology, those born between 1980 and the early 2000s think differently about the world of work. This is something boards need to understand as these digital natives inevitably replace older employees and, in the not too distant future, become the leaders of tomorrow.

It’s predicted this demographic will make up approximately 40-50 per cent of the workforce by 2020. Jo Whitfield, Vice President of Operations, eCommerce and Strategy for George at Asda, says: “Businesses are adapting but at a slower rate than customers and millennials expect… You’ve got to change your mindset and understand the world that millennials have grown up in is actually the world we are trading in.”

Being born into an environment of rapidly evolving consumer electronics – from laptops and MP3 players, to tablets and smartphones – means new technology has become second nature. “We have individuals who have grown up with technological advancement at a pace never seen before, with information at their fingertips,” comments Kris Webb, Senior Vice President of Pharma Europe and Emerging Markets, Asia Pacific & Japan at GlaxoSmithKline.

Payal Vasudeva, Managing Director for Accenture Strategy and UK & Ireland Talent & Organisation Lead, says: “The way they integrate with technology is more seamless and they expect to use the same devices at work as they do in their social lives, with the majority using two or three devices a day.

“They want greater flexibility, with better work/life integration… They are also less inclined to work within hierarchies and would rather form networks and communities to actively collaborate and problem solve.”

This point is echoed by Susan Pointer, Senior Director for Public Policy & Government Relations across Asia Pacific, Middle East, Africa & Russia at Google: “Millennials expect straight-talking openness; interesting, meaningful and impactful work and flexible work conditions – measured by quality of output, rather than by strictly managed hours of input. There is little time for unnecessary hierarchy and the expectation is that they will be empowered to contribute to the maximum of their ability regardless of level or title.”

Digital on the inside

Businesses have been busy creating a seamless multichannel experience externally for customers, but it’s time leaders turn their focus inside the organisation. Clodagh Murphy, Managing Director of technology services provider Eclipse Internet says senior executives need to “embrace technology and think: How can I use it to make our organisation a better place to work so that I can attract and retain the best talent?”

Payal agrees: “We need to challenge our thinking on the talent lifecycle in order to foster a culture of knowledge sharing, innovation and engagement, with processes and tools that truly enable this.”

This should start at recruitment and go right through to daily operations. “A number of companies use app-based recruitment which attracts those with a ‘millennial mindset’ by putting the experience in the palm of the candidate’s hand,” adds Payal. “Workplace content sharing is on the rise, catering to how employees engage with an organisation, consume information and problem solve… Gamification of learning on-the-go appeals to the consumer in all of us and is transforming how we develop skills and capabilities.”

Mike Tye, CEO at hospitality concern Spirit Pub Company, says: “Our online training is designed to deliver bite-sized, fun, interactive learning – using the principles of gamification. This is most suitable to younger generations… but hopefully older people are used to mobile devices [as well].

“We have a closed Facebook group with around 6,000 members, which is very much run by employees for recognition, questions and support. We have also recently given all staff access to the company intranet.”

It’s about empowering staff through technology. “Engagement will not be sufficient to deliver top-class results,” adds Mike. “For that to be the case there needs to be more: a true commitment from employees to the ambition of the organisation and a belief that they can make a difference.”

Susan from Google says: “Collaboration should be as wide as possible… consciously embracing the fact that the best ideas do not always emerge from the most obvious places – and that’s OK.”

Board’s eye view  

It’s imperative that the board take the issue of talent seriously in order to bring in the right mixture of skills. “One of the most important things that a company needs to drive future value is good talent,” says Iain Ferguson, Chairman of employment services company Optionis Group and information management firm EDM Group. “It is a very competitive market, and so it’s an important board level requirement to make sure that we’re competitive and attracting the best talent, no matter what age they are…

“I’m interested in who they are, what they bring to the company and how we can help them perform better.”

Susan comments: “Businesses should focus on attracting the best talent for their current and future needs, regardless of age. Build a great organisation and people will want to come – the best talent will always be attracted to exciting and impactful organisations.”

The point is that executive and non-executive directors must have a clear line of sight when it comes to the different needs and expectations of a diverse, multigenerational workforce. Payal says: “Boards needs to ensure they are building inclusive environments that all of their employees… thrive in by creating a more customised value proposition.”

Jo says: “A diverse workforce is important. We do business in a diverse world and you need to reflect the diversity of your customer base.

“Leaders need to understand… the differences that exist between generations, and use that to create value. It’s finding the knit between your current culture for all employees.”

I hope to see you soon.


Leading a Digital Culture

Comm update_14 JanuaryAs new technology continues to turn traditional business models upside down, the onus is on executive teams to embrace change while encouraging employees to think and act differently. It means challenging conventional approaches, testing ideas and creating a ‘digital culture’ within an organisation which is attuned to and reflective of changing customer expectations. It’s inevitable that the companies that fail to adapt will struggle to compete effectively.

For large, well-established organisations, deep-rooted changes are required. Julian Payne, Line of Business Director for Solutions at De La Rue, a supplier of identity and product authentication services to governments and multinationals, says: “If you’re a first-generation digital start-up business or technology company, you don’t have to think about digital culture, you just have it. You have an agile development team… and you are open to change.

“Whereas if you’re working in a bigger business or a business with a significant non-digital legacy… you’ve got to think about the DNA of the culture that you want to create… It means thinking about what’s happening in the wider context around everything from hosting, to the cloud and big data analytics.”

Laura Haynes, Chairman of brand consultancy Appetite, explains that digital needs to be part of the core business: “People think about digital as being something outside their regular business issues, but it is time to think differently and recognise that the first way to reap the benefits of a digital culture is to break down silos and integrate digital thinking and processes throughout the business.

“Sure, there will be parts of digital that may need new technical expertise, but there is the opportunity to explore the potential to improve processes and communications, but this means embracing digital.”

It’s about connecting the established practices with the new, and reaching a balance which allows digital to enhance or adapt the traditional offering. Bal Samra, BBC Commercial Director and Managing Director of BBC Television, who is leading major digital projects such as BBC3 Online, the iPlayer and BBC Store, comments: “Our values at the BBC are always going to be the same… but we are in a different world – it feels like everything is speeding up… You need to create a culture in your organisation to evolve from the old to the new.”

Executives on point 

Senior executives in an organisation need to take the lead on digital. Bal says: “The CEO has to set the pace of the vision… So that means constantly talking about the world around us and how it’s changing, and moving that from being scary to being an opportunity.”

Leaders need to be open-minded. Laura says: “The challenges are understandable because if you take a lot of senior leadership, they’re having to relearn a way of thinking that doesn’t come naturally… it’s not just about learning techniques; it’s about learning to think differently about processes, about truly interactive and real-time communications, about the utilisation of information and how to analyse what’s in front of us, as well as new media.”

Julian says you have to “remove fear and de-risk digital” through experimentation and education: “Get them to play at home more. Ask them to use some of the modern apps that, frankly, kids are using.

“You need an interpreter role, it might be your CTO or it might be head of R&D. Someone who can take relatively complex concepts of digital and introduce them to a board… [Crucially] you have to be really clear about where the customer value lies, the cost to achieve it and the steps to take.”

Younger employees are increasingly being turned in order to share their digital expertise, acting as reverse mentors for an older generation. Paul Brennan, Chairman of cloud infrastructure software provider OnApp, comments: “You need to utilise younger people who are going to be the consumers of your products and services in ten years’ time, to understand how they want to communicate with you.”

Allied to this, employees should be allowed to experiment and test ideas. “You fail fast and learn,” says Bal. “What you want is an innovation kind of culture which says if you fail… and if something doesn’t work, you move on. You’ve got to create a culture that allows people to challenge the conventions.”

For this ‘digital culture’ to be meaningful, it has to be joined-up with how the information generated by technology is being used to bring about collaboration, experimentation and to inform decision-making. “New technologies enable us to act in a very different way,” says Emma Cooper, Managing Director of UK Health and Public Sector, and Organisational Change Lead for the UK and Ireland, at Accenture.

“They allow us to tap into workers anytime, anywhere… Digital is changing organisations, silos and hierarchies.”

Helen Murray, Chief Customer Solutions Officer at Webhelp UK, a company that provides outsource customer services, says: “Huge insights can be gained from analysing conversations, utilising voice and text analytics, to truly understand customers’ emotions, frustrations and behaviours, and combining that with more traditional, structured data analytics… You need to ensure all customer engagements consistently reflect and represent the brand.”

In order to fully endorse digital, leaders have to understand the tangible business benefits. Paul comments: “A lack of awareness of the value proposition means you could miss opportunities, so education is important for senior executives to fully embrace digital. You need to understand the benefit to your organisation.”

At the very least, they have to be honest about where gaps in knowledge and expertise may lie. Mike Greene, Chairman of pharmaceutical and consumer healthcare company WinchPharma Group, says: “Boards need a diverse mix of experience, energy and ambition… If they haven’t got someone who’s digitally savvy and digitally confident then their board is missing something, but unfortunately they often recruit in their own image.”

Helen comments: “Digital is so critical to businesses… It’s essential that digital is in its DNA, not a separate operating unit; not an adjunct… It needs to interface seamlessly with the rest of the organisation.”

Large corporates may struggle to embrace a truly digital culture, but senior executives must rise to the challenge. Ultimately, leaders need to ensure they are open-minded and willing to learn, while utilising new technologies and data in order to empower employees to meet changing customer demand.

I hope to see you soon