There’s An I In Team

 21st August 2018 by gihan

When my niece Abbey was ten, when she outgrew her Lego Friends toys, she sold them on Gumtree. She kept half the proceeds and donated the other half to a charity of her choice. She set an attractive price, and usually sold a kit within an hour of advertising it. At the tender age of ten, Abbey was already learning about online trading, marketing, social responsibility, and a new model of ownership.

My 19-year-old stepdaughter, also named Abbey, is in her second year of studying Physiotherapy at university. Even though she is still a teenager, she has already had six part-time jobs: coaching gymnastics, babysitting, serving at a supermarket checkout, managing events, working in hospitality at a sports stadium, and being a sports trainer for a football team.

Both of my Abbeys are still years away from entering the full-time workforce, but you already have other Abbeys in your organisation, and others assessing whether they want to join it. They are smart, talented, innovative people who want to make a difference in the world.

Are you ready for the change?

We’re already seeing significant changes in the nature of work, and the workplace of the future will be very different from the workplace now. It will be more common to change jobs more regularly, switch careers every few years, work shorter hours, and work multiple part-time jobs.

If you’re leading a team or organisation in this new world of work, you will face different responsibilities and challenges than you do now.

The biggest change is the shift to individual power and influence. We used to say “There’s no ‘I’ in ‘Team’”, but that’s no longer true. There is an ‘I’ in ‘Team’ now, because your team members have more influence, power, and access than ever before – and will bring them to work to assist you and your organisation. If you let them.

The Best Workplace on Earth

When workplace researchers Rob Goffee and Gareth Jones asked people about what makes “the best workplace on earth”, they identified six things:

  • IDENTITY: “Let me be myself”
  • TRANSPARENCY: “Tell me what I need to know to get my job done”
  • TALENT: “Help me develop my skills”
  • PRIDE: “Give me a place where I can say I’m proud to work”
  • MEANING: “Give me work that’s meaningful, not menial”
  • SUPPORT: “Don’t get in the way with stupid rules”

This is radically different from workplaces a generation ago, where, according to Gallup, employees favoured things like superannuation, flexible holidays, and good benefits.

In this podcast episode, you’ll discover more about these six key principles for creating the best workplace on earth.

Listen To the Episode

If you would like my help, please get in touch. In my Think Sharper masterclass and executive mentoring, we examine these six factors for creating the best workplace on earth, so you can attract, reward, and (most importantly) keep the best talent.

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The Fit for the Future Podcast brings you regular ideas, interviews and insights about how you, your teams and your organisation can become fit for the future.

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Know What Problem You Solve

 14th August 2018 by gihan

Jaime Casap, Google’s Education Evangelist, said this:

“Don’t ask kids what they want to be when they grow up. Ask them what problem they want to solve.”

You might be caught up in your day-to-day work, constantly trying to keep on top of everything and fighting all the everyday challenges in your job or business. But it’s worth stopping to take stock and ask the question:

“What customer problem are we solving here?”

Too many businesses fall in love with their own products, services, systems, processes, and solutions. They forget about the problems they solve for their customers and clients. They find a cure for which there’s no known disease.

Of course, you must know your stuff – what matters to you, what you stand for, what you know, and how you create value in the world. But also obsess about what your clients and customers want, and present your solutions in ways that solve their problems.

Many businesses start with a strong customer focus, and obsess about how they can solve their customers’ problems or help them achieve their goals. But over time, as the business grows and needs to support itself, that obsession fades, as other “essential” work takes its place.

For example, imagine a budding entrepreneur of primary school age selling lemonade on a hot day, from the footpath outside her home, to people walking by. All she wants to do is help solve their problem (thirst).

If her little business grows into a large organisation, she will spend more and more time solving other people’s problems, such as: the local council, ATO, other government agencies, staff members, suppliers, shareholders, media, and community groups.

The thirsty customer – who was once her top priority – soon falls down the pecking order. She spends all her time and energy serving other people to keep the business running, forgetting that its original purpose was to solve a customer’s problem.

Just to be clear, it’s not inherently wrong to solve other people’s problems in the business, especially if you’re in a leadership role. It only becomes a problem when that doesn’t ultimately help a customer solve their problem as well.

Be sure you identify their real problem, and don’t just offer a convenient solution to an easier problem. For example, if you offer a loyalty discount to regular customers, that might represent a real benefit to those customers (and helps them save money, which does solve a real problem). But if you force them to bring their membership card to gain the discount, that doesn’t solve their problem (it solves yours).

As a simple (but possibly sobering) exercise, look at all your activity in the past week, and count how many hours you spent on work that solved real customer problems. If you don’t deal directly with customers, you can include time helping other people who do, but be sure you only include activities that help them solve customer problems. Then ruthlessly work at eliminating all this other “dead time”.

Do You Really Know Their Problems?

Do you really know what problems your customers and clients have now? Are you sure? The products and services you offer now might have solved your customer’s problems in the past, but the customer of the future might be very different. So be sure you know what they want, and then build new products and services to solve their problems.

Exercise: What’s Your Problem?

Make a list of the things you do regularly in your job or business – for example, reading and deleting e-mail, making sales appointments, running a weekly staff meeting, filling in a form, recording expenses, following up customers after a sale, and so on.

For each, rate them from 0-5 based on how much they really solve a customer’s problem:

  • 5: Customers say this this solves a real problem in their life
  • 4: This is required by some external party (e.g. completing a form for the ATO or ASIC)
  • 3: This solves a team member’s problem (e.g. a weekly staff meeting that helps the team collaborate better)
  • 2: This solves a problem for me (e.g. keeping my inbox empty to reduce stress)
  • 1: This solves another department’s problem (e.g. completing a purchasing request form)
  • 0: This doesn’t solve any problem at all!

Then, for anything that doesn’t rate a 5, decide how to improve, adapt, or eliminate it. The lower the rating, the more it’s likely to be a candidate for the chopping block.

Remember: If you don’t solve their problems, they will find somebody else who will!

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How to Future-Proof Your HR Career

 7th August 2018 by gihan

Later this month, I’ll be delivering the opening keynote presentation at the AHRI National Convention and Exhibition – Australia’s leading conference for HR professionals.

Because organisations are fighting it out among themselves to attract, engage, and retain the top talent, HR is a fast-changing role in a fast-changing world. If you’re an HR professional, your role is becoming more important than ever before – but only if you change your mindset and behaviour.

The biggest change is a shift in mindset from “supporting resources” to “managing talent”.

Talented people want jobs that give them meaning, not just money. They care more about their careers than ever before, and they want their employer to care more about their careers.

They see HR professionals as a vital intermediary between them and their employer. A smart HR professional becomes indispensable to the organisation by being a talent manager rather than just somebody who manages compliance and regulation. That makes you valuable, because the future is very much about people, not just technology.

With all the talk of robotics and automation, that last statement might seem surprising. But we’re not yet at the point where most jobs are at risk. That time will come, so it’s important to be preparing for it. But don’t let that stop you from excelling at what you’re supposed to do: Look after your talent!

Here are three practical things you can do to future-proof your career.

1. Engage a reverse mentor.

In traditional mentoring, you are mentored by more experienced people; reverse mentoring turns that on its head, and you get mentored by more junior people. Your experience used to be one of your most valuable assets. It still is, to some extent, but in the future, the skills we value more than longevity and experience will be flexibility, critical thinking and taking different perspectives.

If you’re not doing this already, engage a smart, savvy younger person to be your reverse mentor for the next three months. Listen to their insights, follow their advice, and resist the temptation to think you are smarter just because you’re older and more experienced.

Then use your influence in HR to extend reverse mentoring throughout your organisation, so everybody has the opportunity to be involved in it.

2. Think like a business owner.

Imagine you are the owner of your organisation, then ask yourself: Do I have the best people right now? How can I get – and retain – the best people?

Sometimes that means changing some of the standards, policies, procedures and systems. It might even mean breaking the rules and championing the cause of your people who want to break the rules.

Most organisations don’t start out to create a system of stupid rules, processes, and procedures – but many do end up that way. This gets in the way of productive work, and generates resentment and ridicule.

Instead of policies, create guidelines, and encourage leaders and managers to build good judgement in their team members.

3. Be a lifelong learner

Every HR professional should be doing online training. This is important for your own development, of course, but it also helps you understand how training itself is changing.

In my conference presentations, I often ask how many people have done any online courses. Typically, fewer than 10% of people raise their hands. If you’re in the 90% majority and haven’t yet attended any online courses yourself, now is the time to start!

There are large online course providers like, but don’t start there. Instead, start with a smaller – but still highly reputable – provider such as, which is backed by leading Australian and New Zealand academic institutions. The courses are shorter and less intensive, but still give you a taste for online learning.

Start with a topic that interests you and might be useful as well, so you can stay motivated during the course and get something valuable from the time and effort you invest in it.

What are you doing to future-proof your career?

As an HR professional, you spend a lot of time looking after other people’s careers. It’s time to look after your own as well!

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Ask For Customer Feedback Sooner

 31st July 2018 by gihan

As a young software developer working for a small software company in Perth in the 1990s, I was involved in building some of the infrastructure of the early Internet.

Our company was subcontracted to STC Submarine Systems, which laid telecommunications cables along the seabed of the world’s oceans, carrying early Internet traffic. Our job was to build the software systems at each end of an optical fibre cable system, monitoring the health of the lasers and other equipment along the cable.

We would work for years developing the software in our office, then carefully integrates it with our client’s software in the U.K., until we thought it was working well enough to connect to a live cable. We would then travel overseas to the telecommunications stations – in remote locations around the world, where the undersea cable would come ashore – to install and test our software in “the real world”.

I remember when, as part of our software installation team in Hong Kong, I watched nervously as our end customer pored over the automatically generated reports every day, checking for any errors in the operation of the system. Sometimes they would ask for more information in the report, and we would work frantically overnight to add this new feature to the software.

Software development in the 1990s worked very differently than it does now! In those days, it took years (literally) before the customer had the chance to see our product and provide feedback. Now, software app developers publish an early release of their app one day, get customer feedback instantly, and release another version almost immediately.

Ask for feedback – as soon as possible.

Your customers are already marketing experts for your business, so ask for their feedback. They don’t expect you to be perfect, but they expect the opportunity to provide feedback, and want you to fix problems fast.

Unfortunately, most businesses ask for feedback too late, when there’s no benefit to the customer. That’s why most people ignore e-mail requests for online reviews of restaurants hotels, online shopping, and other such services. These reviews only help the service provider, not the customer, so customers tend to ignore them, or only make negative reviews as revenge.

So, ask for customer feedback as early as possible, at a point where you can actually change their experience, and make sure you act on it.

Follow these four stages of soliciting feedback:

  1. Ask early: Ask as early as possible in the customer journey.
  2. Listen openly: Listen without judgement, and record all feedback.
  3. Assess fairly: Not all feedback is useful or practical, but don’t discard it just because you don’t like it or because it’s not easy to address.
  4. Act swiftly: Act on the feedback, and ideally in a way that helps the customer who gave the feedback.

How can you get better feedback – sooner – from your customers?

Asking for feedback earlier doesn’t mean you can release a sloppy product or service, with the excuse that you’re just doing it for customer feedback! It’s still your responsibility to deliver quality – but you don’t have to get it “perfect” before you ask for feedback.

As a rule of thumb, follow the guideline “80% is near enough to be good enough”. You can apply that in different ways – for example:

  • Release a “beta” version when you think it’s 80% ready.
  • Release it to a carefully-chosen list of 20% of your customers first.
  • Hold back the final 20% as “bells and whistles” you can add later.

If you would like my help, please get in touch. In my Think Sharper masterclass and executive mentoring, we examine six different touchpoints in the customer journey where you can involve them more as partners in your business.

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Practise Being a Possibility Thinker

 24th July 2018 by gihan

When I show a picture of a self-driving car to a child, their first reaction is usually, “Cute!” or “Cool”. But when I show the same picture to adults in my conference presentations, their first reaction is usually “Scary!”

Of course, that’s partly because adults anticipate some of the risks and dangers. But it’s also because children are often more open to possibilities than adults.

If your initial reaction to self-driving cars is more at the Scary end (in other words, you immediately think of problems, difficulties, challenges, risks, or threats), you will struggle more when driverless cars hit our roads. Not to mention 3-D printing body parts, the dismantling of the education system, embedding chips in newborn babies, the end of offices, and Australia becoming an Asian country.

On the other hand, if you start by thinking “Cool!” – or even “Hmmm … Interesting!” – then you’re a possibility thinker, and you’ll be better able to adapt, embrace and even lead these changes.

Credit: smoothgroover22

Of course, neither of these reactions – “Scary!” or “Cool!” – tells the full story. But practise thinking about what’s possible rather than what could go wrong. Don’t worry – there are plenty of people who can tell you why something won’t work! But the people who will be most valuable in the future are the possibility thinkers.

Here’s a short video I recorded about being a possibility thinker:

Exercise: Yes, And …

Choose any new technology or trend – such as self-driving cars, Snapchat, or same-sex marriage – and brainstorm as many ideas as possible about how it could have a positive impact on your career, your business, and your life.

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Better Than Referrals – Share the Customer Experience

 17th July 2018 by gihan

In the highly-competitive world of financial advice, financial planning businesses must work harder than ever before to attract new clients. This has become especially important since recent changes to the industry in Australia, where advisers have to charge a fee for their service (rather than earning commissions from products they recommend to clients) and have to demonstrate ongoing value to clients for those fees.

One business has seen this as an opportunity rather than a problem, and combines these two ideas in a way that adds value to existing clients while also attracting new clients.

They host a quarterly “Market Update” webinar for their clients, reporting on the state of the market, describing the impact of recent events (such as an election or change to legislation), and highlighting important future trends.

Their webinar software allows a virtually unlimited number of attendees, so the business could throw open the webinar to everybody, and use it as a public marketing channel.

Instead, they want to offer this as an exclusive value-added benefit to clients, so they restrict the webinar to clients only. However, they do still use it as a marketing opportunity, because each client is given two “free tickets” to invite somebody from their network: family, friends, work colleagues, or anybody else they wish.

By doing this, each webinar becomes a win-win-win opportunity:

  • The clients get exclusive access to valuable information from their financial adviser, and get to extend this to two friends.
  • The friends also get access to this valuable information, with no obligation or pressure to buy anything or switch financial advisers.
  • The financial planning business adds value to their clients and gets the chance to demonstrate their value to a new, warm, friendly audience.

This is better than a referral.

The idea of asking your customers for referrals is not new, and of course somebody referred to you is a “warm” prospect, and usually easier to convert than most other prospects.

But most businesses don’t ask for referrals consistently. Sometimes they don’t have a consistent system for it, but more often it’s because the process seems “icky”: The salesperson feels awkward asking for a referral, and even happy customers are highly protective of their friends.

Think of the three ways you attract new customers:

  1. Without: You reach out to them independently of any relationship they might have with existing customers.
  2. Through: You ask existing customers for referrals.
  3. With: You ask existing customers to invite prospects to share the same experience as the customers themselves.

This third method is more powerful than a simple referral, because the prospect genuinely shares the same experience, in a low-pressure, no-obligation way.

This hasn’t been as easy in the past, because providing an experience comes at a cost for each extra person. But in our digital, social, connected world, it’s easier than ever to provide high-quality experiences at a low – or zero – marginal cost.

How can you extend your customer experience to prospects?

Here are three thinking points for you to bring in more new customers this way:

  1. What are you already doing for customers that you could easily extend to prospects?
  2. What more could you do that adds extra value for customers (that you could also extend to prospects)?
  3. How can you enrol your customers in inviting these prospects to share these experiences?

If you would like my help, please get in touch. In my Think Sharper masterclass and executive mentoring, we examine six different touchpoints in the customer journey where you can involve them more as partners in your business.

Customers On Your Side

 10th July 2018 by gihan

There’s a lot of buzz about being more customer-centric, but most experts and advisers miss the most important element of customer-centricity. Without it, you will almost certainly be disrupted by competitors inside or outside your industry.

Listen To the Episode

More Resources

The Fit for the Future Podcast brings you regular ideas, interviews and insights about how you, your teams and your organisation can become fit for the future.

More ways to engage with me:

Turn Your Customers Into Innovators

 3rd July 2018 by gihan

In Auckland, there’s some discussion now about building a light rail system. Like many topics that are open for public discussion, interested residents can have their say in online forums, and of course they do – with comments like this:

  • “From building face to building face, all Dominion Road stations would have 21m of width to play with. We can fit a central island platform if we want.”
  • “If we absolutely have to keep through traffic in both directions, then we cannot have cycle, general, and LRT lanes at those three of four locations, and for 100m or so, cyclists will have to share the lane with motorists.”
  • “I would envisage the parking lane stopping at a station/stop and the drive lane moving over to it so the platform could be where the drive lane is.”

But these residents didn’t just make their comment in writing. They demonstrated their ideas in pictures, like this:

They are using the Streetmix service, which allows local councils to publish a proposed transport layout online, which anybody can then adjust – directly from their Web browser – to contribute their suggestions. Then, when Auckland Transport starts work designing the light rail layout, they can take all these ideas into account.

That’s what being “customer-centric” really means.

There’s a lot of talk now about businesses needing to be more “customer-centric”. That’s good, but what does that really mean?

It’s not just about customer feedback surveys and your Net Promoter Score.
It’s not just about delivering better experiences.
It’s not just about customer empathy mapping and customer journey mapping.

All those things are useful and valuable, but they still treat the customer as somebody outside your business.

Being customer-centric means bringing your customers inside, and involving them earlier in your internal processes.

In the past, there was a clear “wall” between you and your customers, with your team inside the wall and customers outside. You engaged with customers only in a narrow band of interactions – such as marketing campaigns, sales meetings, feedback surveys, customer support, and of course the sales transaction itself.

But that isn’t enough anymore.

In our more social, highly-connected, information-rich world, the most successful organisations break down this wall and let customers in.

Turn your customers into innovators.

Your best customers already have years of experience using your products and services, so why wouldn’t you draw on that experience when designing them? That wasn’t easy to do in the past, but technology makes it much easier now.

If you can provide easy-to-use tools for them to provide design input (these are known as “mass-customisation toolkits” or “MC toolkits”), your customers will gladly help out. An example is the Streetmix service above.

Of course, your customers aren’t design experts, so they might suggest design ideas that just won’t work. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ask them for any ideas at all!

Great design is a combination of experience and expertise.

In the past, you relied on your internal resources for both, but now you can call on your customers for their experience. And then add your expertise to make it happen.

Of course, it’s not enough to just ask your customers for their ideas – you also need to use them! And that might mean changes to your systems, processes, and even your team culture. So it’s not as simple as clicking your fingers today and magically making this happen overnight.

In the Harvard Business Review article “Customers as Innovators: A New Way to Create Value”, authors Stefan Thomke and Eric von Hippel suggest these five steps for turning your customers into innovators:

  1. Develop a user-friendly tool kit for customers.
  2. Increase the flexibility of your production processes.
  3. Carefully select the first customers to use the tool kit.
  4. Evolve your tool kit continually and rapidly to satisfy your leading-edge customers.
  5. Adapt your business practices accordingly.

But that was written more than 15 years ago, and now that process is way too slow! You might be able to find a toolkit (rather than developing your own), you can open it up to all customers (not just a few), and you will have to adapt your business practices much faster now.

The most important first step is to make the decision today to be more customer-centric, and set that direction for your future.

If you would like my help, please get in touch. In my Think Sharper masterclass and executive mentoring, we examine six different touchpoints in the customer journey where you can involve them as innovators.

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