Episode cover art


Episode 10 Season 2020

Leadership, Culture, and Training to Mobilize Your Digital Transformation with Malcolm Jeffers (IAAE)

Length: 54 minutes

Transformation strategist, Malcolm Jeffers, explores digital operations leadership, cultural shifts, and training - the foundational elements necessary to remain competitive as a producer and an employer.




Guest(s)

Malcolm Jeffers
Digital Operations Transformation Strategist
– International Academy of Automation Engineering

Host(s)

Chad Perry

Published

28 April 2020

References

https://www.myiaae.org



Read the Transcript



[General intro omitted.]

Chad Perry:

Today we’re hearing from Malcolm Jeffers out of Johannesburg, South Africa. Malcolm represents the International Academy of automation engineering, which is a globally focused nonprofit that sits between universities and industry to ensure that graduates have the digital literacy necessary to begin making an immediate impact with their first employers.

This is especially relevant in manufacturing where small businesses underpin almost every local economy in the world but where business owners also must figure out how to get the right people into their organization to push their digital transformation and stay competitive.

So that’s what Malcolm will be sharing with us today, how small manufacturers can use thoughtful training and hiring to maximize their investments in people and technology, and how training is only one answer to a much larger question. So Malcolm, thanks for joining us today.

Malcolm Jeffers:

Thanks, Chad. Great to be with you.

Chad Perry:

So you have a very intriguing background at the intersection of both engineering and social sciences, with experience ranging from bomb disposal robotics all the way to workforce development. So can you start with a little bit more on your background and how the International Academy of automation engineering came into existence?

Malcolm Jeffers:

Certainly the way you phrase, that makes me smile. You’re right, I suppose it is a more unique background to bring to the conversation today. Before I jump in and explain more about my background on the organization, I just want to say for those taking the time to listen to this podcast today, we’re at a very interesting stage of point of history and for you taking the time to listen to this, you’re obviously committed to developing your people and both the short, medium and long term of your organization. So my hope is that in this today, you get some great concrete tangible ideas and concepts you can take and run with, and then implement in your organization.

But yeah, just to briefly share a little bit about my background. I started off with engineering, as you said, working in bomb disposal robotics. That was a great, what would you call it, first job to have. I then went into systems integration for control systems for many of the manufacturers in Ireland, in the south of Ireland, where I was born and grew up. And in my early career supported those organizations with the, what’s called systems integration. So the control systems, especially distributed control systems. Always enjoyed working with people, seeing people fulfill their potential. So it very quickly became a role that I gravitated towards in the training of operators and engineers, engineers internally, first of all with that systems integration firm. And later on looking at the training for the clients that we would develop these systems for. So the engineers, operators, technicians, personnel, project managers and others to understand and use the technologies that were being developed for them.

So that was a really interesting kind of shift in my career, and then I decided to do an undergrad in social science. I couldn’t get away from the love of learning in some of those subjects that they covered. I believe it’s given me a view on industry on technology and people, I’d like to think adds value to the organizations I work with. Because from an engineering perspective, there are enormous strengths of what we bring to society and industry. But from those who’ve studied sociology, and psychology, it’s about the workplace where people can work in multidisciplinary teams with confidence around their own domain and skill set, but also an awareness of the benefit of working in teams with others who know other, often different things from them, I can work effectively with them. So if you want to take away phrase from that statement, when you think of systems, it’s all about efficiency. When it’s about people, it’s all about effectiveness. I think that’s maybe a good way of wrapping up the two backgrounds that I have.

Chad Perry:

Yeah, that’s really interesting. I’d like to explore that a little bit more. The first time that we spoke, you mentioned this very specific phrase, growth mindset, and it sounded like it had a very very focused meaning for you. So what is this all about? And what is the broad question that kind of leads to the need for better training, as well as other lines of improvement as well?

Malcolm Jeffers:

I’d love to get into that. Actually, the researcher Carol Dweck, first with this concept out into the public with her research on growth mindset, so it doesn’t come from me, it’s been well established. In fact, Microsoft use it extensively in their culture building around helping people develop. So there’s some great case studies done by Gartner on that. But what I’d like to say on my understanding of growth mindset, if those listening can trace an infinity symbol on a page or they’re just thinking in their head about it if they’re driving, and at that middle point, that intersection of that number eight or infinity symbol, I think that growth mindset, how I see it, I see that sit at that nexus. The reason I say that is because out of the right mindset, all other opportunities unlock. So your ability to think about the past, present and future in healthy creative ways, your ability to think about your own development, as well as the development of those around you, begins to unlock in really fascinating ways.

I’d suggest there’s actually there’s two mindsets and two skill sets that you should be thinking about in developing your people. So the first is that growth mindset, and there’s great research online about that so I’m not going to go into lots more about that right now. The other is this idea of learning agility. So a lot of organizations are hiring now more on learning agility than raw skill set, the ability to transfer and transpose content from one context to another. The individuals who can do that well, really will help support your organization. So encouraging people to have more learning agility internally, and hiring specifically for learning agility are key things I’d recommend.

Chad Perry:

Yeah, I’ve heard that put another way in terms of athletics and sports. So these people are hiring. They’re looking for an athlete and not necessarily a specific role like a quarterback, or I’m not actually a sports guy, but that’s how I think about it. Before we get into that, I want to go back to the reasoning for all this, because as an outsider, I would look at it and say, I mean, I’m not really an outsider, but as an outsider, I would think I would look at something like this and go, yeah, it’s important to train and hire.

But as a small business owner, a lot of successful small business owners already have training in place. So there’s this interesting intersection that we’re seeing where these businesses are already somewhat successful. But there is a new paradigm that of digital transformation, and that requires a different mindset. I believe you put it as the companies need shovel ready engineering.

Malcolm Jeffers:

Well, shovel ready engineers is a phrase that came across with some presenters that a conference from Dell and it stuck with me. I think, especially in North America, where it was, when you think of the snow that they got there, that whole idea kind of made me smile. But it’s the idea of people who can immediately add value to your organization. If we think about the graduates that you’re bringing in, and I’m hopeful that that your organization is even in this time of disruption, will be able to focus on ways that can still employ.

I think a lot of organizations are trying to think how do we address what’s happening. But as you do employ in the future, thinking about the graduates you hire to be more and more ready. So the organization that I work with, the International Academy of automation engineering, we work with academic Institute’s to help them position their graduates to be even more ready. Because what we hear from our industry connections is that they could hire really great graduates, but they still have a year or two or more of internal training to get them really geared for success in their organizations.

Chad Perry:

Yeah, so the big question is, what to do about that?

Malcolm Jeffers:

It’s gonna be very dependent on your context. So I think you’re going to know your business. But I think it’s about modeling. First of all, do practice what you preach, and very much learn about how your industry is shifting. So many of you likely are very aware of the technological paradigm shifts but there are significant shifts happening. Like we take an example and what’s happening right now in the world on 23rd of March. It’s really interesting, how with the shortage of medical equipment like ventilators, and certain valves, engineers who have the ability are now what would you call crowdsourcing expertise, coming together in global communities to develop open source solutions for valves, for ventilators. It just shows not only the willingness of people to really step up and step in at a time of crisis, but how people can work effectively distributed like that, share good designs and do it with a purpose that really brings people together.

So if you think the challenge and then the point I’m getting to is, if you’re in for example, additive manufacturing, you may have had a certain supply chain and cost kind of approach that was very established and fine. There’s both a challenge and opportunity now. There’s people who are showing that they can manufacture some of those parts so much more cheaply so much more quickly, and that’s going to put a pressure on perhaps your supply chain, if that’s your focus in the future. But there’s also an opportunity, you’re going to have more people more interested and aware of the benefits of these technologies, maybe better candidates to hire, maybe new opportunities for your business.

I think my encouragement would be, in this time of destruction, where you’re obviously putting the safety of your people first and you’re committed to the long term capability building of your people. And that’s where I get a real kick out of. Our organization really seeks to support, or organizations who are focused in that way.

Chad Perry:

Right, and just for posterity, I want to mention the issues that we’re talking about, of course, are the Coronavirus response, and the downstream economic effects. So we know that this is going to have effects on the demand side, but what this is really doing is it’s simply accelerating something that was already going on, it’s bringing the value of digital transformation into the light. I think as we go forward, over the next couple of years, it will become very, very clear who the winners were in this in terms of the ability to quickly respond.

So a government puts out an open source, or a blueprint for a ventilator, and we see that a lot of people want to help. But the people that are best positioned to help are the ones who are able to adapt quickly. Whether that means physically adapting your production, or able to do things like repurpose a 3d printer that can print anything and be able to do that on demand. This is not just about responding and improvement, this is about accelerating something that was already very much in the works.

So what I want to find out a little bit more about is when you start thinking in these broader terms, because things will go back to relative normalcy, right, but there will still be this big question of digital transformation. Now more than ever, it’s going to be important to stay competitive. So what does that cultural shift look like? What is different about this, about digital transformation than standard hiring and training practices?

Malcolm Jeffers:

That’s a great question. I like the way you gave that context. Because you’re right, this will go back to a new normal but what’s happened is, I think companies where people are working remotely with all of this, it’s bringing a spotlight on the fact that true digital transformation is not just the digitization of your paper documents and approaches, it’s the integration of your systems and it’s the new development of new business models that your people who ultimately are those who drive transformation can understand and unlock value from. We talked about mindsets earlier, I’d like to shift to the tools now. So it’s digital acumen.

So you’re going to be setting a culture from the top that says, really everybody in our organization needs to be comfortable with data. Sourcing it, knowing how it’s acquired, how it’s historicized, how it’s where it’s stored, how it’s accessed, how it’s visualized, and how its analyzed. And being able to help people just go on that journey of understanding what tool might be best for what purpose? Do I want to explore that data? Or do I want to explain that data? What tool would be best for that? How could I build a visualization once and leverage that over and over and share that tool or template with others in my organization, so that they can expand and excel whatever approach they’re working on. So it’s this type of, I’d call it there’s a digital skilling, some people call it a digital acumen, which is a nice way of putting it. And that’s one area, the other area is then the culture so we can touch on that in a minute.

But I’m wondering Chad, does that answer your question around what you’re asking?

Chad Perry:

Yeah, and actually that’s pretty consistent with what I’m hearing as well, most people who are either experts in this or who have been doing something regarding digital transformation, they inevitably end up talking about the data. You can look at people in two different buckets in a traditional manufacturing and older more established manufacturing company. You’ve kind of got the older Jedi Masters who may not necessarily be digitally native, and then you’ve got the younger generation who are considered digitally native.

However, because we’re talking about data, and the ability to use data in a business context, we’re not actually talking about technology or being able to write code or really even having an understanding of how that data gets there. Yes, that can be important. But the real opportunity here is that everybody in a business regardless of whether they’re digitally native or not regarding of whether they’re considered tech, they have the opportunity with a little bit of nudging to be extremely valuable in this transformation.

Malcolm Jeffers:

Absolutely, I really think that if you as a leader, can use that into the leadership culture of your organization, you will really accelerate the benefits of true transformation. So let me give a concrete example.

When I was doing my undergrad in Electronic Engineering in Dublin, I had a placement with the electricity supply board in Ireland. I was teamed up with a quota, what would you call it a bit more of an ageing population that you called them the Jedi’s earlier, they knew their business well, they knew what they wanted to do but they weren’t quite sure how to use the new tools to give them the value. So one little project they had that I was working on was really it was quite a fun project. It was basically capture data from sensors on the top power producers in the country at that time, and predict, in some way, failures. So track track kind of intermittent failures and predixt when you would have more significant failures so that you can send maintenance teams early.

It was kind of like before, it was cool to have predictive analytics. This was kind of like a rudimentary approach. And that was really effective. But my point is pair some of the older individuals, not necessarily older but those who are more established in your organization who understand the why of what you’re trying to achieve, with the digital native who can build a quick app within 30 minutes. Or you could literally, I think there’s a tool in Google, in 30 seconds, you can train an image classifier. 30 seconds, like that so quickly. So pair up a digital native with someone who understands the why of your business and then distribute that decision making, equip them, give them the environment to succeed, monitor, yes, give them an agile sprint, and you’ll get some early value.

Chad Perry:

So now we’re getting into the more practical aspects of cultural shift, which I want to come back to this because you had mentioned before something specific about micro learning, and this can be done at any company of any size without a lot of capital. I want to make sure that we frame this correctly. So go back to the beginning, you mentioned that there are two sides to this. One is when it comes to people, it’s about the effectiveness. So what was the other side of that?

Malcolm Jeffers:

It was with systems and efficiency. So you still want systems efficient, your data coming from a vast array of sensors through your control systems or whatever your enterprise architecture is. You want efficiency, don’t get me wrong, absolutely. And then you apply continuous improvement and lean methodologies. But with people, it’s a different way of thinking. If you try to apply the same thinking to people, you’ll end up either burning them out or losing them.

Chad Perry:

And I would add that that was very effective in the 1800s when we had an assembly line, manufacturing Industrial Revolution. But the age we’re moving into is an age in which the people who sit between art and design, so the people who can bridge the gap between the creativity and the cold heart execution, those are the people that are going to be able to add the most to the business. And you need to, not only create an atmosphere that attracts them, but develops your existing staff into that mindset as well.

Malcolm Jeffers:

Yeah, no well… And I think, to kind of expand on that phrase, what I’m seeing as a trend is that you need to have, this will depend on who in your organization is thinking about, but people who are strong technical, you have to give them. But who can apply methodologies like design thinking, like the concepts that came out of Stanford some decades ago and have really resurfaced in an age of AI technologies. If you can really practice design thinking, which really sees value through the lens of the customer, and now that could be an internal customer in your organization, or it could be your external clients or customers.

And if you apply that methodology, and it’s a kind of a five step, I won’t go into it now, but you can look it up pretty quickly, it’s a really powerful approach to make sure that Your business is laser focused on value. And then you look at your technologies and making those technologies efficient. But one thing I’ve learned from my studies in sociology and others is that systems and inefficient system, I think Bill Gates says, an inefficient system that’s automated will just automate the inefficiency. I think I’m misquoting him, but it’s that idea. It’s again, what you’re doing, understand your trends and industry, your business KPIs, and then look at how the technologies will support your people to get there.

If you’ll indulge in a short kind of metaphor or just anecdote, with one of the clients that we’re working with in the life sciences industry. They’re one of the leading organizations who are looking at really life changing medicines. And by their admission, they brought in really advanced technologies. They have fantastic technology roadmap, they invested in them heavily. But what happened was there was a disconnect, they hadn’t brought their people along at the same rate, and a lot of those people either left or reluctantly use those technologies. Now since then they’ve done fantastic steps to remedy that, and that have really brought a kind of a, not only in culture, but in the skilling around those technologies.

But my point is this, align your technology roadmap with your people capability building roadmap, also.

Chad Perry:

Yeah, and that seems to be the hardest part of industry 4. 0 is, you’ve got this massive amount of data and technology available. But if you don’t have the fundamentals of your business figured out, and I don’t mean just like we know how to manufacturer or whatever it is, but the understanding of why you do certain things in a certain way, you’re being forced to understand those. Because as you said, if you apply automation to an inefficient process, you just get better at being inefficient. That’s a negative return on investment. That’s a really bad idea. You might as well just be using pen and paper or whatever it is, that would be the stone age equivalent of that. Can you give me a little bit more detail around this idea of micro learning?

Malcolm Jeffers:

Micro learning, I suppose, is a phrase that’s come out, a lot of people have used the phrase e-learning for a while that’s kind of maybe come and gone, still prevalent, obviously. But let’s call it blended learning. So you can have face to face classroom kind of that contact time, which is obviously under challenge right now, and then you have more digital media that help you learn. So that’s all sorts of formats across the spectrum. And there are just two two forms of learning and I really want to get this point across well around micro learning. Micro learning is where you’re bringing a key concept or skill in a very well packaged way that allows someone access that and digest it, not just consume it but truly digested and apply it quickly.

One of the leaders in learning in a company in Singapore that I’ve been following, her name is Su Yung Kun, and she has a fantastic framework around micro learning. She puts it like this. She says it’s MPPG. So it’s Mobile Micro learning in Participatory Personalized ways in Groups. And that’s the approach our organization also tries to adopt where it’s discrete, digestible portions of learning. It’s participatory, so people can engage with it. It’s personalized, so it’s actually a crafted with a kind of a learning plan for the individual. And it’s in groups, so you have this peer or cohort element. And that could be distributed as we have across continents, but it’s still in a group. So you have some element of group, what would you call it encouragement, sharing, motivation, and sometimes healthy competition, because it’s about which group is absorbing and applying stuff well, and then sharing that with the others.

So does that help, that kind of phrase?

Chad Perry:

Yeah, yeah, absolutely. I mean, that was a mouthful, and I think we’ve thrown out a whole lot of stuff just kind of on the wall and now I want to try to piece it together because I remember when we first spoke, you had mentioned there was this concept of this larger question. The answer to which is multi-part and only one of those parts is training. What I want to do is back up just a little bit and look at this in terms of practical steps.

So given everything we’ve talked about so far, as a manufacturing business owner, who is no doubt, long term mindset, growth oriented, so these are very savvy people. I’m an engineer, personally, I’m listening to this thinking, wow, the social sciences part of this feels very foreign to me. So what is a structured approach that we can take to this to start implementing some of these ideas?

Malcolm Jeffers:

That’s really important, it’s about taking early solid steps that get you value fast. So I would suggest the key steps at least three. You would have one would be understand where you are. So understand, we use tools like digital plants maturity model. So some tools like that are similar for your industry context. How mature is your organization in digital transformation? So you have three components, people, technology and process. So of those three, and you can go into subsets, how mature is your organization. The tools I use typically have a five scale where it’s very manual, through to siloed, integrated and all the way through to adaptive.

So first of all, get a good handle on how mature your organization is. You will know a lot of that anecdotally, but apply a few tools, maybe assign a small SWOT team to do that for a couple of weeks and get that done so you know where you are. And then you’re going to look at things the second step of that. It’s going to be around communication to your organization about the vision of where you’re going. So a lot of people get overwhelmed with digital transformation. I think it’s a one and done thing. I’ve got to go from that one on the scale to five and it’s not. It’s you do this in waves and instead steps of maturity. Anything in life, whether it’s individual human development, or whether it’s an organization, it’s maturing your people and your systems in a way that is a healthy growth.

So my suggestion would be, begin to think, what’s the vision of growth for that first step for your organization. So it might be that you’re taking one particular system and you’re digitizing it, you’re just making that data more visible and available to others. But the step you need to do, as a leader behind the scenes, is you need to figure out which of those projects is going to get you best value first. Because it’s about proving value in a small area, and then widening it. So I’m gonna list out a couple of tools that you could look for, a couple of maybe thought starters.

So one is McKinsey have done some great work on, they call them lighthouse sites, lighthouse manufacturers. They brought out a report at the end of December 2019 called Global Lighthouse Network, insights from the forefront of the fourth industrial revolution. And in that you’ve got fantastic data around the KPIs that certain companies are focused on moving in terms of whether it’s overall equipment effectiveness, or throughput or energy, whatever it might be. Look for a comparable industry or business, maybe different scale, but the KPIs are very transferable. And then look at the case studies they give around the different digital projects.

So what we do in our conversations with our clients is we encourage them to list down the areas, group them, rank them, and then look at which one is going to add value most and focus on that. Get early wins on that, and then leverage the hell out of that. So in other words, promote that internally to others as an example of what you mean when you talk about digital transformation, build an excitement. And this is the people part. Most likely you’ve got people in your organization who are leaning towards this anyway, they just need that permission or freedom to kind of go in that direction. So find them, support them. They will be your pocket or agent of transformation in that setting. And then promote what they’ve done to others in the organization in a good way. So they can share the insights and leverage the thinking, not the exact example because it’ll differ, but leverage the thinking about how they approached it, how they came together as a team to implement that and get value quickly. Simple example. QR codes on equipment that you can just get the latest SOP about that equipment rather than constantly being outdated. You just have a simple database with a QR tracker and then you can go around your facility. I don’t know what state that’s in or what SOP you need to apply, just as a one random example.

Chad Perry:

Yeah, and value in this case, it sounds like it’s very much. It’s about, not only the tangible, not only the measurable financial impact, but also the intangible. Because it could be that the thing that is most painful doesn’t necessarily have that much financial ROI. But it could be that by solving that problem, you derive champions that will push your organization forward and push this message on your behalf.

Malcolm Jeffers:

And could I give two examples? Again, I want people to go away with something they can go, I want to apply that today. They don’t need any funding, they don’t need a front case study. So there’s a leader here in South Africa, where I live, incidentally, a lot of my work is international, but I live here in South Africa. And there’s a leader here called Inteto Enyati, he leads a great company called Ultron. He says he does this to get stuff more involved in the company, I held monthly lunch sessions with employees called roundtable. Managers were excluded so staff could openly discuss their problems and concerns. I take out a notebook, he’d leave his PA behind and he’d ask questions. What would you do differently if you weren’t me? What is it that management is doing right and should do more of? Participants have to answer both questions, they couldn’t be passive.

You’d be amazed at the insights one gets about business from these two questions. And then the last statement is that the key thing was to act on those suggestions and attributes change directly to those who issued ideas. Otherwise, it’s a waste of time. So I hope that’s helpful as one concrete way, just as you could interact with your teams differently in the coming weeks.

Chad Perry:

Yeah, and this really gets into something else that we talked about before, you and I, when we spoke on our first intro call, is that there’s this idea of a hybrid approach. So digital transformation, one of the things that makes it different from other transformations in business, is that it requires a top down plus bottom up approach, where the leaders set the executive agenda and then encourage creative pathfinding to that agenda. Give me a little bit more context around what that actually looks like. How do you get people at the bottom?

It’s one thing to ask and to say, what do you need, what can we do differently. But how do you move from an organization that’s been around for decades, or maybe even longer, maybe 100 years or more, to this organization where people who were previously doing very routine tasks now have creative freedom? That can be scary for everyone.

Malcolm Jeffers:

It is, and I think many of you are probably thinking, the ideas I got I’m not sure how many of them are like, and that’s, I suppose, a mindset shift for us as leaders is kind of going, I need to run towards people’s pain, truly hear it, and understand how that can shape the solutions that can help them. And I think that works in any area of life. It’s that discipline of mind and thinking that says, I need to hear the truth feedback so that I can really understand it. Again, that leader, I was at a talk, where he spoke and he said, if you listen carefully enough, they’ll design half your solution for you.

So it’s again about say for example, you’re looking at something you’re trying to solve internally, truly understand that need, really at the whole idea of divergent thinking before convergent. Ask questions that really understand the need. And that’s going to help you solve that, and the process of doing that will set a precedent for how you solve problems and how others who watch you do that will solve problems in your organization of the future.

Chad Perry:

Yeah, and it sounds like that’s very much about letting go of this command and control mentality, which is something that you also previously mentioned. Where you’re really developing a culture where people are eager to learn and share because there’s something more than just financial incentive out of it. They get peer recognition, they get to free themselves up to do more of what they enjoy, and less of the routine boring stuff. Because I mean, let’s be frank, like, I don’t know anybody who, I mean, maybe they exist, but I don’t know anybody who enjoys doing the same thing over and over and over again for eight hours a day.

Malcolm Jeffers:

Researcher Amy Edmondson has a phrase of psychological safety. So you need the safety to have these conversations. So if you’re going to jump on the idea of how to tear it apart quickly, I don’t think anyone listening to this will do that. But it’s about giving people the opportunity and the freedom to raise and air the ideas, even if they’re not fully formed. That iterative process of doing that will give them the comfort to do it more and better in the future. And if you can take those and act on those, then it’s a great way forward. Now, this is in the context of people internally, with good ideas around the internal.

You, as a leader also need to have that view towards the future, and what’s coming your way as an organization because of technological change. So that’s a different way of thinking and that’s where you need to be out in front and proactive. A lot of what we’ve just discussed is more internal and helping people in where they are now but you also need to see the waves of change coming and that’s where you need to as a leader be well read. Again, it’s not about necessarily time, it’s the channels of information coming at you. Make sure you have the right information with the right value. So get two or three key weekly emails from organizations you trust, one or two podcasts, one or two, whatever it might be, digest that and act on it. Because there’s just so much information we need to be more disciplined about what we allow come at us.

Chad Perry:

Yeah. So I’m curious, how does that external focus translate into how you would develop your culture? Like how does that actually have an impact on your people? Because that sounds very much like, on the surface of it, you’re saying, well, I have to be as a business owner, I have to be an expert, or at least aware of things that are coming down the pipeline. I’ve already got so much other stuff to do. And the younger generation that you’re bringing in that is more digitally native, they are just inherently more likely to see technology that may have a disruptive effect.

I mean, we all know about 3d printing by now, right. But there could be simple things like the Google Image classifier that you mentioned. I didn’t even know that existed. I know that they have the AI to do that, but that’s something that if you can take that and apply it to some very small piece of the business, you could end up having a pretty substantial competitive benefit. So tell me a little bit more about how that outward focus affects how you work with your people inside?

Malcolm Jeffers:

Yeah, good question. So I think it’s about sourcing good ideas, discussing them, and then putting them through a decision framework that quickly identifies what’s going to work. So I’d suggest, if you’ve got a key leadership team, assign them an area that they’re going to be kind of like focused on. So maybe they’ve got a specific conference or standards organization or technology organization that they’re learning from. They take the key ideas and present that as a briefing to the rest of the SLT, our leadership team. With others in your organization, this is the bottom up approach.

Why not follow the example of whether it’s like Novartis or others who are doing these kind of almost like hackathons? They’re having these kind of hackathons, maybe it could be as simple as you free up some of your key engineers for a breakfast where they brainstorm around a new idea that they just don’t get time to do during the normal day. And just let them air ideas, get someone to capture that and then put it through a decision making process where it’s like, yeah, that needs more research, that’s interesting and shiny, but it’s not ready for us. Or that’s a must, why didn’t we think it about earlier? If we simply invest money, we save so much opportunity cost or actual cost.

Chad Perry:

And that actually goes back to something that I see a lot in success books and self help literature is that this idea that ideas are most fragile in their infancy. So if you don’t even give those ideas a chance to get out there and be aired, then they’re going to die on the vine. Some of those ideas may be a complete waste, but you just don’t know until you get those out there. So those can actually have exponential benefits as well. So I would imagine that once you get a little bit of momentum on this cultural shift, people start to see the changes that are happening. In fact, some of the other small business owners that I’ve interviewed have said this, they just accidentally or intentionally got one person looking at some sort of tool, they made that first investment or that first change. And it just was infectious.

Malcolm Jeffers:

That’s brilliant to hear. There’s a phrase, curiosity feeds itself. When you show you’re curious about making your organization better, those around you will pick that up. I think I’ve become more and more bold in my statements over the last few years. Because of the type of work I do, I have to research heavily on what works well in industry.

So I’ve even been reading a great book recently by some of the key founders of Google, Eric Schmidt, Jonathan Rosenberg, and others who are on the alphabet or were on the alphabet board. They talk about the value of a coach and you wouldn’t believe this, they attribute a lot of their success to having an individual who was literally a coach who sat in number of meetings, watched the interpersonal interactions, notice the impact of decisions and was able to encourage and advise and all of that. I think we’re going to see almost in a kind of a counterintuitive way, as industries, as organizations become more digital, they’re going to be employing people who are more human.

It’s that ability to encourage the potential and others to identify the roadblocks. Not necessarily the technological ones, but the people roadblocks, whether it’s ego or, or whatever it might be, and help coach them through that in a way that unlocks value for everyone.

Chad Perry:

Yeah, and I would add to that by suggesting that the digital transformation that we’re seeing now, we’ve gone from steam power to various other forms of power to the microchip, which enabled faster information flow, but now, we’re really just now getting to the point where we can sit down and say, okay, well what can we actually do as humans differently now? I see this as being all about freeing up humans to do what they’re still better than machines are doing, and that is to be creative and to solve problems.

Malcolm Jeffers:

Absolutely. And that culture is infectious. So when you get people who are good problem solvers. And I’ve been lucky to work with some engineers through the years, where you just watch how they think, and they just have this patience, and systematic way of thinking through problems, and that’s going to be so valuable. But then also those who can pull together teams, because the best teams are not those necessarily with the star performers, it’s the teams who can share and benefit help each other and work well together can really, really bring forward functions in your organization.

Chad Perry:

Yeah, this is it’s a counterintuitive narrative, as you mentioned earlier, but this idea that technology is replacing humans or replacing jobs, it’s really just about replacing routine stuff that’s either dangerous or just isn’t good for humans, or I would say isn’t good for them psychologically. And that’s actually where this is so subjective, right. Because it feels very nebulous to start talking about how people feel and what we’re going to do to change the culture. And as an engineer, that actually is hard for me, because I like to think in terms of structure and system. Of course, you have the intersection of both, which is what I find so fascinating.

That’s the real lesson here is that the organizations that understand and embrace this idea of creativity, of making people freeing people up to do what they’re better at doing, are the ones that are going to be more competitive going forward at every level.

Malcolm Jeffers:

Absolutely. And I think the leaders who get that are really going to, not only are they going to adopt these 4. 0 Technologies well, they will have organizations that are culturally mature, who have an environment that people enjoy working in. And if I could give one thought and I’d love to, you know, these ideas and questions that echo, let me put this question this way. How are you as a leader going to change? How do you think about framing value? What do I mean by that? With the people you work with, the corridor conversations, are you going to see that as an opportunity of value to encourage and motivate and inspire or just a random hi?

As a leader, we need to think very intentionally about all of our conversations, because every act as a leader is an act of influence. But then also with technologies, am I properly framing the value? Because am I really thinking through the implications of how that technology equips and elevates your organization? How it can be integrated? And yes, there’s all the key due diligence around systems and security and data integrity and all those good stuff that that’s a given. But are you framing value with both perspectives in mind? And if that’s the key takeaway that I’d like to get from this podcast, I’d encourage you frame your value.

Chad Perry:

That’s perfect. Yeah, and there’s two sides to that value too, right. There’s the value, or it’s relative to those hallway conversations is the value to the person and to their job and how they feel about coming to work every day. And then there’s the downstream value that impacts the customer. So I see it as an opportunity to have a conversation, not only around how do you, if you’re a business owner, and you’re talking to an employee say, how is this making you feel? Like how do you feel about your job? Is it easier? Is it making you feel more empowered? But also, do you feel like you’re making an impact? Do you have a reason to be, this reason to exist in this role?

Malcolm Jeffers:

Yeah, well, first, I suppose because again, it’s about leading through questions as in like find good questions to ask people rather than again, the top down approach is command control, I’ll tell you what to do. But it’s more, ask people, ask them around what they’re thinking about. How are they thinking about what they’re experiencing in a way that can frame value better? So are they talking to the right people? Have they thought about, maybe is there a different way that can help them faster? And again, doing that in a way of showing support and leadership and coaching.

Chad Perry:

Alright, so I want to touch on two more topics before we wrap up. One is, you had mentioned an example of a client that went from, I believe you called it design consensus, all the way through to implementation, over maybe a 6 to 12 month duration. And I don’t remember any of the other details about that. But I would like to look at a specific example if you have one in mind. And then I’d also like to talk about how small businesses can get access to this kind of talent that we’re talking about.

Malcolm Jeffers:

Yeah, happy to, Chad. So I think the example I’d like to give, it’s one of the clients we have in the life sciences industry. What we did with them initially was we worked with their senior stakeholders, their global engineering team, and then their local site leadership team to explain… To hear, first of all, very importantly. Hear what their technology roadmap is? What their capability building need was? And in this case, it was around automation technologies. Then to design a program for I think it was about 30 people in the end across two manufacturing sites, to develop them around a course called essentials of automation for bio manufacturing in that context. What we did then was we had a kickoff with the stakeholders.

So again, they had an opportunity to ask and hear and understand what it is, put their support behind it, because again, that local sponsorship is essential. And then meet with the participants, chat with them hear where their needs are and what they enjoyed about their work, where they see technology is going, just getting an understanding of their perspective. Designing individual learning plans for each person and then meeting with them month by month and a kind of an opportunity not to chase them how they’re doing on their progress with the learning but be a sounding board, discuss a topic of interest to them in industry motivated, encouraged.

Again, modeling and encouraging might growth mindset around the content they were learning. And that we found to be a very powerful approach. So it goes back to that MPPG, Micro learning Participatory Personalized and in Groups. And then that cohort finished, I think the one site finished at about seven-month mark. The other side is ongoing, actually will finish in a few months’ time. That first group who finished they got digital certification of what they’ve done, they had a great closeout session, a lot of very positive feedback that recommended to anyone else in the organization, that was really positive, obviously, from a metrics point of view. And then three of that group went on to do a formal certification exam that where they could really benchmark their ability for the future. So that was a kind of like a just a quick case study of how we’ve helped one client.

Chad Perry:

Yeah, that’s really interesting. I’m curious more about what that conversation look like in the very beginning. What was the question on the mind of the executive leadership team when they came to your organization? How did they know that they even needed that help?

Malcolm Jeffers:

That’s a good question. So I think in this particular instance, we have an advisory board made up of top clients in the life sciences, and they had raised where they’re going, what problems they see. A lot of people had recognized that there was no identified credentialing path for automation engineers, and as the conversation widened, they realized it’s not just the automation engineers, it’s what we call automation peers.

So those who now need to understand how to talk to automation engineers, what language and standards they use. And we found that the conversations coming from those stakeholders where we want people to speak the same language, we want people to be equipped and empowered with the technologies that we’re bringing into our organization, and we want them to become champions.

In fact, they use many of the times use phrases like digital automation champion or digital champion, as a way of developing these pockets of change that people kind of see whether it’s a laptop sticker or a Yammer group or whatever it might be. They see oh, wow, these people, they’re doing something. It’s new, it’s cutting edge, it’s relevant technologies, but it’s not overwhelming. So it’s not gonna be a whatever. It’s got like a key focused learning on technologies that we use.

Chad Perry:

Yeah, and that brings us to our second question, which was around how small businesses get access to this kind of talent, because you’re not just putting out a request for resumes that says… I mean, maybe you are maybe that’s the wrong approach. You’re putting out a resume request for a job role called digital manufacturing engineer. That’s the one I see a lot. We’re fortunate that that has now developed some meaning behind it. But what would maybe be an alternate approach, if that’s not working, or maybe a more thoughtful way of finding that talent?

Malcolm Jeffers:

Yeah, that’s a great question. So the organizations that I follow who supply talent at scale, they talk about the bridge, build, buy or borrow approach. You can either buy in the talent, which may not be an option for every organization. You can bridge, helping people go from one skill set to another. Borrow from another function, but then that could be impacting the other function quite badly. What was the other one? Buy, build, bridge and borrow.

Build is the one that I want to talk about. So there’s a great book called The Technology Fallacy. It came out a while back, I’ll just tell you the authors, Gerald Kane is one of the authors. The Technology Fallacy, how people are the real key to digital transformation. It’s a super book and one of the phrases in there that really struck me. What I’ve noticed a lot of organizations want to do, they want to bring in people that they think are just going to solve the problem for them. They want to hire like a really great data scientists, they want to hire such and such because that’s where they see industry going, and that’s what they want to do.

But what I found interesting about this book was that their emphasis was, and in this particular point, turning a data scientist into an effective leader is more difficult than making a good leader digitally literate. To create the best environment for change, empower your employees, manifest the focus well and determination to get through the change process. These strategies matter more than mastering the technology.

Chad Perry:

Yeah, that to me sounds like the absolute number one lesson from this conversation is, if you don’t take anything else away, understand that you’re probably not going to have the kind of success that you want or need to stay competitive. If you’re just thinking that you can task somebody with being a digital master or hire that role, instead of thinking about it in terms of developing leadership, human skills, creativity, that then leverage technology in a way that benefits your organization.

Malcolm Jeffers:

You got it.

Chad Perry:

I just want to sit with that for a minute. And in fact, I would normally ask like, okay, what’s the key takeaway that you want to leave our audience with? But that to me sounds like you’ve just summed it up really well. So I guess instead, since we need to wrap up here, I would ask you, just in general. If we’ve got a small business owner or manager, anybody in a leadership position, who is sitting here, we’re recording this on March 23rd. The Coronavirus response is in full effect. We don’t know what the downstream consequences are going to be but we have an idea. So there’s going to be massive opportunities, there’s going to be massive challenges. What would you encourage, a small business owner, to be thinking about at this point in time?

Malcolm Jeffers:

Use this time carefully. Use this time so so carefully. Equip your people with new skills, ready for that moment where you will go back into full production. Give them a mix of curated intent, where you know what you want them to know, and individual freedom to choose something they know they’re maybe not as strong at, but they don’t really want to tell you, but they need time to get better at. So give them a little bit of a mix of that.

If you’ve asked people to work remotely for a while, give them a goal. And this is key, not just a passive, I’m going through some learning. I’m going to learn something. And then in a briefing to another kind of maybe in smaller groups of four to six max, share your key takeaways with that smaller audience. Because they’re likely have a similar way of thinking to you so your epiphanies will be profound for them. So use this time so so carefully.

Chad Perry:

Yeah, thank you. I think that’s a really powerful lesson as well. So what I’m thinking is, right now there’s going to be a lot of tendency to be in survival mode to be thinking about how you’re going to make payroll, and there may be some redundancies made. But if you focus on making the most out of the people that are still there, then this will be a massive opportunity.

Malcolm Jeffers:

Yeah. And my hope is that you go back stronger and that you can re hire and hire more. I think if anyone wants to follow me on LinkedIn, they’re very welcome to, I try to post information like what I’ve described today every now and again.

If you want to connect in a more formal way, just reach out on LinkedIn and maybe message me and I can advise them, if we can help you and how we can help you. But it’s been a real pleasure taking part in this. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the conversation, Chad. Thank you for the invitation.

I really want to leave your listenership without encouragement. Keep a steady head, clear mind, lead with passion and effectiveness. I wish you all the very best in your organizations.

Chad Perry:

Alright, in one quick point. So you are Malcolm Jeffers on LinkedIn. That is Malcolm Jeffers, and the best way to get in touch with you is on LinkedIn.

Malcolm Jeffers:

Yeah, that’d be perfect.

Chad Perry:

Great. All right. Well, thank you so much, Malcolm. I really appreciate it.

Malcolm Jeffers:

Super, great talking with you Chad. Have a great day.

[General outro omitted.]