Dharma Hacker, Future of Work, Sense Making

How to respond to global challenges mindfully and the 3 stakeholders in success

The title of this post is hopefully not too oblique and its clear I’m referring in part, to the challenge of our time – COVID-19. And when I say mindfully, my principle context is the practice of meditation, where paying attention is key. By paying attention you become more aware. You become more concentrated and achieve states of natural clarity. All the better to manage responses (or non responses) to circumstances effectively. By stakeholders I mean the individual and groups, like organisations and broader societies.

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Customer Success, Future of Work

Corona as a catalyst for teamwork customer success and AI

I wouldn’t be the first to jump on the Corona Virus bandwagon, if that’s what I was trying to. No, I’m simply observing the ways I see others doing so, with varying degrees of success, and for good and bad reasons. Mostly it’s a way to conflate the unintended impact it is having, or where it is catalysing efforts and could impact several areas I personally have an interest in.

Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face.

Mike Tyson

Corona has provided the punch. The world has stood up and taken notice and its plans are being put to the test. Reactions vary from the predictable to the bizzare.

Not to make light of a serious situation but who would have been able to predict that toilet paper would have been one of the highest items on the stockpiling list. My local grocery store shelf this morning > 🧻 ⛔ I wonder how public and commercial toilet facilities are coping.

I’m sure someone, somewhere in the pandemic planning world probably foresaw this. I cannot find evidence of it but it makes good sense for predictive planning systems to anticipate precisely these kinds of things. Especially with the help of AI these days but more on that later.

Or, to come back to the Mike Tyson quote and a real story based on it, after being punched in the face, you react with an effective riposte. Small aside, Buster Douglas did precisely that after a Mike Tyson uppercut in the 8th downed him. He recovered and came back to win in the 10th. He is one of the few opponents ever to beat Tyson, let alone recover from one of his fearsome punches – watch the incredible fight here.

The makers of Corona beer have had mostly bad fortune but their reactions have been questionable at a time when sensitivity is heightened. Good account of it here: Corona hits back at ‘misinformation’ about brand damage from coronavirus.

So what has this to do with the three related topics. Lets dig in.

Teamwork

Matt Mullenweg heads up Automattic which is the company behind the development of WordPress and he is a founding developer of the platform. He has long been a proponent of remote work, he calls it distributed work.

Automattic is a fully distributed company, not a single employee works from an office. They ceased renting office space some time ago although they still focus on regular physical meetups. A key element of distributed work is how to enable remote teams to be productive – to work together as a team.

WordPress is also one of the most successful open source platforms ever built. A large element of this depends on synchronising the efforts of remote and distributed contributors that don’t formally belong to the core organisation or team.

Technology and organising systems play a large role but no amount of technology is going to help teams that don’t want to or are not naturally inclined to work together as a team. Good outcomes management is also critical which I wrote about here: Workplace collaboration has an outcomes challenge – get intentional to overcome it.

Matt writes a fantastic summary of how Corona is catalysing a trend that he foresaw a long time ago and has been working on perfecting a strategy for: Coronavirus and the Remote Work Experiment No One Asked For.

The main point is that remote teamwork is going to become a really important aspect of the future of work. We would all do well to learn from the likes of Matt and his distributed company đź‘Ź

Customer Success

Nick Mehta who heads up Gainsight, one of the leading vendors of software that customer success professional like myself use, gets it too: 5 Positive Things SaaS CEOs And Leaders Should Do To Get Through COVID-19.

Number 4 of his 5 points is: “Success for All” means customer success has NEVER been more important.

They are all good points but point 4, alongside effective remote teamwork coalescing around the customer, plus add a splash of AI (see next point), are going to be the things that sets not only leaders, but companies apart.

This also takes an understanding that there is no single owner of the customer. Success has to be a “all in” thing. We are not yet there but I relish the day software facilitates this better as Gainsight are trying to do. More importantly, that warring factions within organisations over who owns the customer and customer activities cease.

Advance notice to old school Account Managers out there and if you are of the same mind, Tweet about it:

To old school account managers: the customer is not your sales target but our collective livelihood. You do not “manage the customer” and we can all take responsibility to lead them to successful outcomes, dependent on the right moment, skill and activity.

AI

If ever there was a moment for AI to shine, this would be it.

When we need to work better as a team, how can it help us do that? At Microsoft where I work, its no secret that AI is infusing everything and especially the platforms we offer to support Teamwork: The future of meetings – using AI to improve team collaboration.

Coming back to more effective teamwork around the customer and their success with your technologies and their business. Microsoft’s Dynamics 365 Customer Insights helps teams have a single view of the customer and work better together on customer activities and their needs. It is infused with AI throughout.

Last but certainly not least. In fact this could be the most important use of AI to support our efforts around combating the virus. When we need to use AI to understand, predict and respond there are probably lots of things going on but I found this great account. Its mostly in a video although I cannot embed it here. Head on over to the ABC news site to find out more: Coronavirus research: Menlo Park lab using robots, AI to find COVID-19 medication.

Customer Success, Future of Work

Workplace collaboration has an outcomes challenge – get intentional to overcome it

With the coronavirus, workplace collaboration is getting a big boost. Just check Zoom’s stock price in the last two months. Workplace collaboration is hardly new but it does have a slew of new angles, technology vendors, experts, etc. The ingredient often missing in all the hubbub (literally and in the market) are effective outcomes.

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Future of Work, Sense Making, Startup Innovation

Workplace collaboration on fire but distribution uneven

Some interesting articles and research have just been published about this exploding market. This is where it started for me: Mapping Workplace Collaboration Startups.

That article as the title suggests, focuses on startups. I haven’t even heard of many of the companies/tools. It got me thinking they are either very early stage or niche products. I tried to make some sense and created this doodle.

I’m not saying this is the way to define the market, for the moment it was just a way to make sense of where the batch of startups in that first article fell. As you can see, I’m suggesting they are for early adopters and small companies, startups themselves probably.

The post rightfully points out the dominance of the big players like Microsoft and Google with their suites. Which led me to think about another big factor on which one could slice the market: best of breed versus suites or bundled solutions like Office 365.

These are clearly dominant players but here too its debateable where these would fit. I would say O365 predominantly with large customers and with over 200 million active users is probably in the upper right quadrant. Google’s G Suite perhaps lower down in that quadrant.

Playing a positioning game in this fast moving market is pretty ambiguous. Having said that I have played it before: Thought rocket: state of enterprise collaboration.

The first article linked to has done a pretty good job of slicing the market up into categories. Admittedly the focus is “private companies that rely on network-driven growth rather than enterprise sales.”

Positioning games aside, that article also mentioned a “report from Zapier on remote work which found that 74% of American knowledge workers would quit their jobs to work remotely. Since only 3% of American workers in 2017 worked from home, there’s a huge, aspirational gap between today and the future of work.” That, if it is to be believed as a driver of workplace collaboration and extrapolated to the rest of the world, says there is still huge amounts of growth to go.

Another interesting report just out is from Okta: Businesses @ Work 2020: New Decade, New Apps, and New Ways to Work.

This article touches on the best of breed versus suite debate and also gives a nod to startups and incumbents. But the real point of this article is it’s focus on Apps and not just the ready made ones provided by startups and incumbents alike.

This year, the number of apps per customer is up 6% from last year — 10% of our customers now use 200 apps or more to power productive, secure collaboration.

I’m pretty sure a lot of those Apps are custom built. What this points to is the increasing number of companies that are providing App development platforms. Like Microsoft’s Power Apps but more broadly Azure, AWS, Google Cloud Platform, etc. Another interesting point from the Okta report:

App FOMO is real: More so than ever before, customers are “double-dipping” by purchasing best-of-breed apps in addition to bundles. 78% of Okta’s Office 365 customers have adopted one or more best-of-breed apps with the same functionality as the Office 365 suite, up from 76% last year. When it comes to the trade-off between a centralized provider and individual solutions, functionality, ease of use, and employee needs come first.

All of which leads to an even greater explosion. I don’t believe any of this is actually helping productivity, possibly even hindering, if improved productivity is even something you should target. I doubt that as I’ve written about here: Why selling productivity is hard and what to focus on instead.

Future of Work

Favourite demos from Microsoft Ready and Inspire 2019

Ready is an annual employee focused event run by Microsoft and Inspire is partner focused. We generally run them in July and present some really cool demos and content and so here is some public facing material I can share and my favourites from a bunch.

Notice in the case of the Teams in the Classroom demo, how rich the scenario is in terms of the technology being put to use to achieve really useful outcomes for the lecturer and students. And don’t let the Classrooms in the title put you off, this shows how Teams can be used to drive learning in any organisation. Its a great example of the approach described in this previous post: Beyond technology adoption – business scenarios with Microsoft Teams.

And there are some pretty cool adoption hacks in there – more about adoption hacks here and I’m tracking them with this tag.

Sense Making

Thought Rocket: The Conversation is the Collaboration

Workplace chat is something I am heavily focused on at the moment, i.e. my customers use of Microsoft Teams. Either through lack of knowledge or legacy thinking, I’m faced with initial confusion. This quick video aims to tackle that.

I’m trying to emphasise that it’s not about the many things I get asked to address first. After doing a demo, often the immediate questions are around how to structure files and folders, Teams and the different environments themselves, how to organise Teams and Channels, Tabs, etc.

I try get to the essence of a tool like Teams. For me it’s first and foremost about the conversations – in channels or chats. That is where the essence of teamwork and collaboration happen. Get that right and then the structure will flow – that is the right order and based on getting the hard but most impactful stuff done first.

That is the essence I am trying to distil in the short video which is a play on Marshall McLuhan’ famous view on the Medium is the Message. So since this is a thought rocket, a super quick view on things expressed in a short video, doodle or blog post, I’ll leave it at that and for you to make of it what you will.