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i4cp 2017 Conference Day One: 7 Quotes

Day one of i4cp’s 2017 conference began with  a familiar tune: we live in a world of disruptive and accelerating change. Our organizations -- and personal lives -- are being assaulted by a record rate of government uncertain, global instability, wild economic swings, social unrest, and more technology, technology, technology!

Next up would be a chorus of “It’s a VUCA World After All” and “You Gotta Innovate.” But as the morning unfolded, it quickly moved from that commonplace rally cry to a less common turn.

The message of each presenter was:  “Yes, there is more change but get over it and let’s get on with it.” Some of the highlights of what was heard and shared::

“Culture is Game, Set and Match”

Marc Lautenbach, CEO of Pitney Bowes, shared a personal story of 13 moments in his organization’s journey to turnaround the business, and most importantly, the culture of his company. Most impressive was Marc’s recounting of weaving a story and engaging his employees with teddy bears that represented their customers, shipwrecks, obituaries, and the WWE to drive home the critical element of the CEO leading culture transformation.  His insight of boiling it all down to a simple message of desired culture was an opening refrain revisited throughout the day.

“Culture is in service to our mission and that is how we are defining success.”

Kathleen Hogan, CHRO of Microsoft, continued the view from the top on cultural transformation.  In sharing her 10 lessons learned, she also provided a personal and quite authentic story of partnering with CEO Satya Nadella to bring about an impressive shift in what was an internally competitive (and dysfunctional) culture to a more inspired, collaborative place where employees are experiencing real change. Among her many lessons, most notable was her reminder of mission-purpose with growth mindset to center the new way.

“We don’t need to bring all the answers, but no more ‘people vs. robots’ or ‘freelancers vs. employees’.”  

John Boudreau, Professor and Research Director, University of Southern California, author and HR guru, participated in a “pop-up” interview with i4cp CEO Kevin Oakes on the evolving use of AI in the workplace.  He reminded us that the future is both more technology for efficiency and also positioning our boundaryless workforce of the future for more purposeful contributions. While it might take some of us a bit of time to figure out how to practically “liberate the work” from the job, he is on to something important. 

“Are you really up for cultural transformation as that will be hard and take three or four years or should we devote our time and energy elsewhere?” 

Steven Rice, CHRO, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, brought the morning topic of real cultural transformation to a close by teaming up with Dr. Rob Cross, Professor of Global Business at Babson College and expert on the nature of networks. Steven’s CEO was up for the culture challenge and what followed was a fascinating look at moving the world’s largest private family foundation by leveraging Cross’ solid tools for networking analysis and emerging practice of productive collaboration. Cross encouraged us to help employees make their networks visible and intentional.

“We had to get rid of our clutter”

In an afternoon panel discussion of transformation stories, while the business and HR changes varied, a number of common themes emerged.  Jeff Blair of Ingersoll Rand discussed the need to conduct a realistic assessment of the HR “junk in the garage” that needed to be cleaned out to make room for transformation.  Sekhar Ramaswamy of Prudential provided the example of positioning line leaders to lead and own the culture and talent transformation. HR shifted to a facilitating, consultative, enabling support role.  While he admitted there might have been a short-term trade-off of HR expertise, there was a more important long-term sustainable business impact. 

“We are leading empathy program with impact.”
“I can’t do a presentation without data.”

Cigna’s Karen Kocher and Alexis Fink of Intel provided two very different yet harmonizing themes in the profession touched upon throughout the day.  The purpose-mission-feeling movement of high touch and authentic leadership is becoming central to winning organizations today while an equal and seemingly opposite force of hard nose data analytics linked to business outcomes continues to march ahead.  Perhaps we need a new balance of both.  Rather than the old black and white thinking, perhaps we should consider Ramaswamy’s encouragement that ‘gray is good’ and we need to get comfortable with the ambiguity of it all.

“You can teach a turkey to climb a tree but it’s much easier to choose a squirrel.”

Kevin Oakes brought the first day to a close by moderating conversations with four i4cp practice area leaders to reflect on their latest research and discussions with practitioners.  His turkey vs. squirrel quote, while referring to the talent make-or-buy decision, might serve as challenge to our profession.  Yes, there’s lots of change afoot, but perhaps we need to get on with the transformation to an agile tree-climber of the future. The alternative to remain stuck and dazed with change will not end with a welcome turn come Thanksgiving. 

Kevin Wilde
Kevin D. Wilde is a strategic business advisor to the Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp) and currently serves as an executive leadership fellow at the University of Minnesota. His prior 34-year corporate career includes serving as the head of learning and talent management at General Mills. Chief Learning Officer magazine named him CLO of the Year in 2007. His most recent award-winning book is, “Coachability: The Leadership Superpower.”