ROBERT BRENNAN HART
“Nothing will work unless you do.” – Maya Angelou
Throughout history, women have had an often overlooked, but crucial role in the development of technology. There are countless examples of women who were pioneers in their fields. These women, through tireless effort and solidarity, give us all an example to live by through their work to move the world forward and make space for other women to succeed.
‘The World’s First Computer Programmer,’ Ada Lovelace, invented the algorithm for the first computer program machine in the 1800s. Her work over a hundred years ago is poised to change the world yet again — a truly inspiring legacy.
Melba Roy Mouton, defying the immense inequality women and people of colour experienced in the 1960s, went on to lead a group of mathematicians known as “human computers”—the job title designated someone who performed mathematical equations and calculations by hand, notably in a segregated environment. These “computers” tracked the Echo satellites and space missions in the 1960s and helped turn around the space race. Melba and her team played a major role in keeping NASA personnel safe and advanced the science of space travel.
Katherine Johnson, one of these “computers,” did trajectory analysis for NASA Astronaut John Glenn’s Mercury mission. Despite the astronaut’s trajectory being planned by hardware computers, Glenn reportedly wanted Johnson herself to run through the equations to make sure they were right. Any organization could only be so lucky to have someone with the skill and aptitude of Katherine Johnson.
Fereshteh Forough, is an inspiring modern example of this legacy with her “Code To Inspire” initiative. Code To Inspire empowers women and girls in the Middle East by teaching them how to code, and supporting their journeys towards socio-economic independence.
I sat down with three incredibly bright and talented women and asked them about the present, the past, and the future; the struggle to find diversity, spirit, soul, and meaning in this dystopian world we’ve created. These three leaders will be asked these very questions again at Control in May. But for now, listen, learn, and be humbled.
THE RECKLESS ADVANCEMENT OF INNOVATION
To respond to change today, many organizations have invested heavily in capital intensive, soon-to-be-obsolete expenditures in the hope that these investments will reduce costs and increase productivity. Alternatively, they have adhered to a century-old belief, which has since been largely debunked, that has said that through technological innovation alone, survival and prosperity will be assured. Unfortunately, the prevailing belief is that the shiny new thing is more “sexy” and easy to sell to customers who are looking for the one thing that will solve all their profitability and survivability issues.
Much of the recent academic research has shown that it is not the “hard” technology acquisitions by themselves that guide organizational success, but the integration of these assets into organizational change management processes that elevate the importance of the human system.
Robert Brennan Hart: Does an effective integration of technology and people really make a difference? Or is the breakneck advancement of innovation at any and all costs the overriding factor that will allow the modern enterprise to avoid extinction?
Jennifer Schaffer, CIO of Athabasca University: At a research-intensive digital university, the effective integration of technology and people is essential to helping learners achieve their highest potential. Technology has never and can never exist for its own sake. Athabasca University operates 100% people-focused technology.
Yet while technology improves quickly, people’s use of improved technology range from early adopters piloting ideas in the online courses they teach to administrators who cling to legacy technology because they have built a decades-old human process that is familiar to them around it. We too-often focus on the people (change management) or the technology (systems management) but, and to expensive failure, overlook the key layer between – the processes (business process re-engineering management).
When an enterprise does not re-engineer its human-created and clung-to business processes, yet brings in innovative technology, it will fail. It does not fail because of the technology or because of the humans. It fails because the familiar processes aren’t examined, re-engineered and rethought in larger contexts than the typical functional silos of even modern organizations.
THE LAW OF UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES
In 2018, we are finally waking up to what economists call “externalities” and social scientists call “the law of unintended consequences”; or what most of us would call side effects.
Business has two primary stakeholders — the people you pay and the people who pay you. Everyone else who is impacted by your business has been traditionally thought of as unimportant.
In many modern organizations, however, deliberate thought is given to this third group; generally called the community. They may include “users”, who take advantage of a business but don’t actually pay for it. They may also include “contributors” who help to develop or support a product, even though the company doesn’t develop or support them. At least, not directly.
Most companies are not well structured to operate as part of a larger community. As a brief look at any typical organizational chart will show you, we arrange roles and responsibilities and titles around our two classic stakeholders. But if today’s enterprise is not able to radically transform its operating structure to serve a greater purpose than serving two traditional group of shareholders, what are the unintended consequences to the global community? Are truly innovative advancements in science and technology being commercially road blocked in order to continue to serve and benefit an oligarchic few?
RBH: Should the use of open source technology and adoption of community-based business practices become a moral, measured and fiduciary obligation of the modern enterprise?
Kristina Cleary, CMO of Ceridian: The traditional organizational structure is becoming obsolete. With the end customer becoming what could arguably be the most important stakeholder in the modern business, businesses are changing the way they operate. There’s a shift occurring toward a customer-centric model – one where an organization supports, communicates and reacts to its customers’ needs first.
In order to support this shift, businesses must be agile, and therefore their hierarchy and structure must also be agile, especially to support the needs of this customer focused operating environment. It is critical organizations are not encumbered or plagued by the traditional operating rules that typically accompany a more structured organization that includes levels and internal stakeholders.
ANGLING FOR SOUL AMONGST THE ONES AND ZEROES
The chorus of CEOs, academics, and deep thinkers calling for more innovation in Canada is drowned out only when other CEOs and CTOs call for leadership talent that is not only versed in STEM disciplines (science, technology, engineering, math), but both numerate and literate. It is a national problem that they rightfully address to the education system. And yet, their organizations continue to favour and hire MBAs disproportionately over anyone else.
The challenge for many modern organizations is to find and recruit critical thinkers that can create innovation. So, how about STEM graduates instead of MBAs? How about Arts majors who may not be “job ready” with business-specific training but are often creative, emphatic and critical thinkers? Can these obviously bright and teachable people be retrieved from the barista and Uber driver positions they are destined for, to learn corporate-specific and business functional knowledge? Could they then contribute at the higher level that CEO’s say they want and need?
RBH: What hiring and cultural changes need to occur in the modern organization to encourage more diverse, empathetic, and meaningful paths of innovation?
Rhonda Vetre, former CTO of Estee Lauder: My executive leadership role in the male-dominated tech sphere not only calls for frequent global travel, but moreover, demands that I collaborate with people of many different cultures on a regular basis, which has offered inspiring learning and unique leadership experiences that have had a measurable impact on my career and my ability to adapt and drive change.
With regards to organizational changes that should occur, businesses across industry must remember that its people are always going to be the heart of an organization regardless of disruption, so it’s important to, firstly, set the cultural bar high with diversity of thought, people, and culture by hiring leaders of different genders and backgrounds at the top of the executive chain if possible, who can then collaborate to create and execute new meaningful, innovative projects.
Then, you must measure and monitor how those key influencers at your executive table are personally exemplifying your established corporate mission around diversity and inclusion, paired with professional mentorship for their teams, that should have a positive domino effect downward and throughout the organization.
Jennifer Schaffer, CIO of Athabasca University: I believe it really needs to begin at the root of the hiring process with internships. Interns can and should be college or university students studying any discipline. The organization needs to effectively measure the abilities of those interns and encourage presentations, cross-functional exposure in the organization and healthy competition in the cohort. Those individuals, or teams if it is a large enough cohort, who stand out in terms of their work, presentation, and curiosity should be the winners of the cohort competition for entry-level jobs when they graduate.
What I describe is not new, but rather a process utilized by many financial firms on Wall Street today. I saw first-hand how the process worked back in the 1990s, and yes, some of the best new recruits into my team at that time were non-BCom and non-STEM majors. But each person was inquisitive, hard-working, collaborative and responsible.
This internship-to-employee process requires a deep and focused commitment from the employer to set up a laddered approach to recruiting and upskilling talent. But in an environment where you need talent and your fundamental business is esoteric, so the specifics of it are not taught in college or university, this approach is critical. It seems that many employers have cut their internal professional development focus, and instead expect colleges and universities to graduate people who can easily slot into their specific business esoterica. I don’t think this approach is working as, at best, colleges and universities can provide generalist awareness education at the undergraduate level. Hence, we witness that in many parts of the world, you must continue and get a Masters degree as well – even the undergraduate degree isn’t enough.
I believe employers need to re-invest in their talent development programs which would help prevent degree-glut and ensure they get the right talent regardless of that individual’s focus of study.
How? Co-create with online learning design experts those micro-credentials that do teach the esoterica the organization needs their entry-level employees to have. Use that online coursework in the internship cohorts along with the face-to-face cross-functional exposure of the cohort to each other and areas across the organization. The result for the organization is confidence the cohort talent selected for entry-level positions are the right fit. The result for the interns is knowing that it doesn’t matter what they study in college or university; that what matters is how they can apply their inquisitive, innovative and collaborative nature to interesting challenges in organizations.
Kristina Cleary, CMO of Ceridian: In Canada, we have a wealth of candidates. Diversity, of backgrounds and educational opportunities, is everywhere we look.
We know innovation is fueled by fresh ideas and fresh minds. But how do you build this diversity into a workforce and how do you set people up for success once they join?
Success today requires a strong foundational culture inviting all groups to participate in an organization’s mission. That’s how a modern company stays modern: by recruiting and hiring employees with a range of skillsets and backgrounds, who in turn expand the larger group’s perspective. It’s about identifying talent anywhere and everywhere – looking for skillsets transferable across roles and industries. This breeds a collaborative ecosystem that can identify and nurture all types of innovation – not just those most salient to the bottom line.
Of course, this scenario can’t blossom in a vacuum; all groups must be committed to common goals, and at times organizations may need to look outside and work with partners to make meaningful change happen. Our work with #MoveTheDial is an example of us taking a step in the right direction. We want to bring new ideas, new people, new opinions, and beliefs into the conversation.
By the same token, hiring processes have to evolve to make room for unique and, at times, less traditional candidates and skillsets. I’m by no means dismissing work experiences and academic successes – however, we need to adjust our hiring processes as the tech industry evolves. Those candidates with startup experience may have a different perspective and skillset than those from a more established tech company. Today’s candidates also need to be convinced an organization is the right fit before they sign on, especially those coming from non-corporate backgrounds. That’s when marketing comes in—the organization that can best showcase its devotion to innovation in the workplace will have a huge leg-up in hiring those most desired candidates.