Archive for September, 2016

Leading Digital Transformation

September 29, 2016


Innovation is that buzz word, that separator between leaders, especially in tech companies. Having lived in Silicon Valley these past three decades and having seen scores of innovation leaders and wannabes, my conclusion is that independent of industry, digital transformation is key. In addition, the TRUE innovation leaders are those who have leveraged the digital to optimize people, processes and technology and THEY are the ones who are positioned to transform individuals, teams, companies and even industries. Below is a summary of thoughts and ideas I’ve compiled in working with these TRUE innovation leaders.

Digital Transformation around People

Leveraging digital solutions to transform the people and culture of an organization is no easy task. Emotions generally run high, and politics is inevitable. However, if the executives provide a vision of where the company is going and why it is a great place to be, if all stakeholders can get aligned on vision, mission and values, if everyone could park their egos and agendas for the greater cause, it is a great starting point. From there, embracing the digital means everything from assessments of people-fit, motivations, and talent mapped to current and ongoing needs, to the alignment of roles with talent and the empowerment of the next generation of leaders. Start any digital transformation with the people side of the equation. For it’s the people, the leaders at all levels who will see that need and pivot and shift to meet that meet. Leveraging digital solutions to transform the people and culture of an organization is no easy task. Emotions generally run high, and politics is inevitable. However, if the executives provide a vision of where the company is going and why it is a great place to be, if all stakeholders can get aligned on vision, mission and values, if everyone could park their egos and agendas for the greater cause, it is a great starting point. From there, embracing the digital means everything from assessments of people-fit, motivations, and talent mapped to current and ongoing needs, to the alignment of roles with talent and the empowerment of the next generation of leaders. Start any digital transformation with the people side of the equation. For it’s the people, the leaders at all levels who will see that need and pivot and shift to meet that meet. 

Digital Transformation around Process  
Once the vision is confirmed and aligned, review the processes involved in the implementation of all business operations. Know who’s involved in doing what in all parts of the business – from sales to marketing, engineering and operations, from legal to finance, HR to administration. Knowing who’s involved, how actions and items are processed, how long it takes to get things done, what the impact of processes are on development, delivery and service will position leaders to understand how to better optimize everything digital. Optimizing processes makes them more dynamic, more cross-functional, more collaborative, more interactive, more engaging, more streamlined, more scalable, more integrated and more responsive to changes. 

Digital Transformation around Technology
When the people and vision are set, when the processes are defined and mapped, then select the technologies that best support the processes and people. The tech must be agile, scalable, sustainable, secure, compliant, flexible, and accepted as an industry standard. Many times organizations and leaders start with the tech, but having the people buy-in first, and understanding the processes and needs will facilitate the adoption of the best tech solutions.

Integrating People, Process and Technology 
So it’s not so simple, right? It can’t be just about first the people, then the process, then the tech! It integrates the three vectors throughout the cycle! You have to align a wide range of stakeholders on a shared vision for the company throughout the process; get buy-in on how you can integrate people, process and technology goals; continue to deliver win-win, tangible, measurable and scalable results across people, process and tech; update goals for each through inevitable change; and respond real-time to customer and market changes as they impact people, process and tech.

This is why digital transformation leaders are so REAL and so TRUE and so RARE. This is why I glom on to every transformational leader I’ve ever met, for I learn so much and see how they impact all those around them.


Level Up Your Listening

September 28, 2016


I was commiserating with my mentor a couple of weeks back on how one trait separates true leaders from the rest of us – the ability to listen deeply enough so that the speaker feels heard. This post builds on a March 2015 blog I wrote entitled Listen Up, and is stimulated by a exceptional September 2016 HBR article entitled What Great Listeners Actually Do, and suggests ways on how to improve listening for leaders of all levels.

Safety First:

  • A relationship must be established so that people feel comfortable speaking. What you say, what you do, and who you are helps create such an environment. And how you show up under trying circumstances is the litmus test for the type of leader you are. Remember that people are watching, especially when the waters are murky and the circumstances are complex. Act with morality and competence, exercise grace under pressure, do the right thing even when it’s painful in the short term.

Focus is Key:

  • It goes without saying that distractions such as phones, laptops and shiny objects should take second seat to someone sitting in front of you, wanting your full attention.
  • But beyond this obvious fact, remember that all your energy and focus should be on the person in front of you, so that she/he feels comfortable and safe communicating ANYTHING to you.

The Substance of the Message

  • Focusing on the speaker helps you capture the substance of the message in detail. Asking clarifying questions and restating what’s communicated will help ensure that you have heard the full message, as intended, which is a foundational platform for listening.

The Implications of the Message

  • Beyond the message itself, listen for the implications of the message for them physically, socially, emotionally, in the short term and for the long term.
  • Listen also for why the message is given to YOU and why the message is given NOW. What is the understanding and the expectations and in what timeframe?

What’s NOT Said

  • Non-verbal cues such as facial expressions, perspiration, gestures, posture, as well as verbal cues like tone, emphasis, pace, and other factors may help you understand the message beyond the verbal message.
  • Being curious and asking the deeper questions based on these non verbal cues will help you better understand the given and the intended message.

The Feelings Behind the Message

  • Often the emotions and feelings behind the message is more important than the message itself. Helping the speaker feel comfortable sharing the full and complete message along with the emotions and feelings beyond the message, even if it dredges up uncomfortable experiences and experiences, is the mark of a superior listener and an exceptional leader and friend for that matter!

Support Without Judgment

  • A true hallmark of the best listeners is the ability to help the speaker better understand all aspects of what they are communicating, especially those around the emotions, without judgment, no matter how urgent, dire, emotional, distressing, confounding, annoying . . . it can be.

Looking Beyond Yourself and Your Circumstances

  • If there is trust beyond measure, support without judgment, and experience beyond the realm of the speaker, both the listener and the speaker can see the problem or issue in a new light, see new possibilities and opportunities and open up one more path.

We all have our hot spots and bad days, but may we all have good listeners around us to help us pick ourselves up, take a deep breath, pull our shoulders back and say ‘What’s Next?’

We hope that this post helps YOU level-up to see and hear what’s next for yourself, and for all those who listen to you and speak to you.

Make Your Own Rules

September 10, 2016

Screen Shot 2016-09-09 at 3.43.02 PM.pngFountainBlue’s September 9 When She Speaks, Women in Leadership Series event, on the topic of Make Your Own Rules. Below are notes from the conversation. 

We were fortunate to have such feisty, rule-breaking execs on our panel, representing a wide range of companies, experience and roles. They had much in common:

  • They are confident and clear on who they are and what they want to do.
  • They communicate directly and clearly to advocate for rule-changes.
  • They enlist support and advocates to make the case, highlighting the logical benefits and tangible results.
  • They challenge the status quo and question why things are done, while focusing on the best way things could be done.

Below is a compilation of their advice and recommendations.

Be Strategic

  • There are rules which are necessary, so accept them as such.
  • With that said, make a stand against social norms which limit what people think and how people perform. This benefits nobody.
  • Know yourself first – what you’re good at, what you’d like to do, what challenges you, what your limits are, etc. Then see the rules of the world framed from your perspective.
  • Know what to ask for in order to make small steps toward a bigger change.
  • Accept that sometimes you can’t change the people, the culture, the circumstances, and make the best of it or find a way to elegantly leave.
  • Set the expectations beforehand about what your values are, what you would put up with, what you stand for.

Be Collaborative

  • Know the motivations of those around you, especially if they are tied to rules that you think should be changed. Know also why others think a rule should be changed so that you can collectively advocate for that change.
  • Enlist the support of peers, mentors, champions and sponsors.
  • With that said, take ownership of your own career, your own battles.
  • Invite diversity, creativity and inclusion in the workforce.

Be Proactive

  • Take the initiative and define success criteria for a change you’d like to foster. Lobby with stakeholders to make that change stick. Adopt a culture, product, company that would be receptive to that sort of change.
  • Sometimes choosing to stay on the same path is like ‘playing with the pigs’, with the danger that you could get dirty. So stop choosing that same-old path and make the proactive choices which would set you up for success. 
  • Ask for specific feedback. Don’t let someone just say you need more scope or more visibility or more strategic vision or more networking ability. Have them define specific, achievable objectives.
  • Be plan-ful when you’re trying to redefine rules. Know why you want to do it, why other stakeholders also want it done, how it would be done, who would stand in the way and why, etc.,

Be Persistent 

  • Rule-breakers don’t always win. And rule-breaking is not always fun. In fact it’s sometimes painful. Accept that’s the case and be selective about which rules to change, which battles to fight.
  • Mindfulness, meditation and yoga may help people get centered and see some of the unconscious biases, the accepted assumptions which are limiting our realities. Question the unconscious biases and assumptions and perspectives we all have as they limiting what we as people, teams, companies and industries can do.
  • Embrace periodic refreshes in your life and career. Learning new things, adopting new projects will help build a larger perspective and more visibility and impact. Plus it’s more enjoyable.
  • Drivers, pioneers, integrators and guardians see the world from different lenses. Yet each plays a role in the changing of rules, and each must be brought into the larger game so that rules can be changed and those changes stick.

Our illustrious rule-breaking panelists are stand-out real-world examples of leaders who stand up and question and redefine the rules we live by, stretching the envelop of possibilities for each of us. We are in their debt.  

Please join me in thanking our gracious hosts at PayPal and our panelists!

  • Facilitator Linda Holroyd, CEO, FountainBlue – Executive Coach, Tech Adviser and Leadership Consultant
  • Panelist Deepa Bajaj, Senior Director, Business Intelligence & Data Management, Finance Technology, PayPal and Head of Affiliations for Unity, Women@PayPal
  • Panelist Mary Emerton, Senior Director of Fulfillment Operations, Nutanix
  • Panelist Tonie Hansen, Senior Director, Corporate Social Responsibility, NVIDIA
  • Panelist Kaaren Hanson, VP Design, Medallia
  • Panelist Nithya A. Ruff, Director, SanDisk Open Source Strategy, CTO Office, WIN Board Member, SanDisk

Age of the Customer

September 7, 2016


FountainBlue’s September 2 VIP roundtable was on the topic of Embracing the Age of Personalization. Please join us in thanking our gracious hosts at Hitachi. The executives in attendance at this month’s roundtable represented a wide range of industries, roles, functions and company sizes. Therefore, their perspectives on who the customer is, what the customers’ needs are, and how best to address them varied widely. Below is a compilation of their collective thoughts regarding serving the needs of the customer.

  • Companies can’t be everything for everyone. They must have a clear idea of which customers they serve and know how to serve them well, to the point of even anticipating their needs.
  • Serving the customer means also that the business must morph, depending on the needs of the customer. This in general means offering more customized professional services, offering platforms for customizations, offering integrated products and services, etc.,
  • Companies from all industries are better leveraging technology to deliver to the needs of the customer.
  • Companies must adhere to the policies and requirements of the company where their headquarters are located, as well as all the countries where their customers reside. Interactions and services may become quite complex and complicated.
  • Gone are the days when people await the formal glossy newsletter. Real-time, social communications and interactive mobile applications are the best ways to connect with your customers, partners and other stakeholders.
  • The attention span of the customer has gotten really short. Think about offering a 20 second sound bite as a teaser so that they will see a 14 minute video show.

Here are some predictions from our group of execs:

  • Pay-as-you-go software-as-a-service offerings will become an essential requirement for vendors.
  • Customer expectations will continue to rise exponentially and companies will be continuing to scramble to get customers the level of instantaneous, detailed information and analysis they seek.
  • The Intelligence of Things will be focused on solving real-world problems.
  • The role of the channel will become much more important and channel leaders will be chartered with translating the needs of the customer and simplifying and mapping these to solutions which are scalable, leveraging technology.
  • Immersion experiences will become more integral to better understanding the needs of the customer.
  • Ease of use and intuitiveness of flow will be so much more important as customers will have low tolerance for things that are too complex, confusing or complicated to be usable. It’s an Age of Convenience!
  • Configuration platforms will help customers customize to their own needs, following an architecture and structure designed by companies.
  • Companies which offer integrated services from soup to nuts will earn a large and loyal customer base.
  • Companies who can best understand and sell to niche international markets will see better returns. An example is Coke, who has a separate formula for different locations. In fact, most companies already do this, with the BMW3 series being an exception.
  • The same can be said for companies who can successfully connect with specific industry verticals.
  • There will be more money available in general, but it would be offered to fewer companies who truly understand the needs of the customer and seamlessly deliver to those needs.


    • 5 Tech Trends Redefining the Customer Experience, Information Week, August 2016 
      • Create Multi-modal instant content, integrating words, images, sounds and video.
      • Think of IoT as devices that provide the next major channel of communication.
      • Leverage data science to deliver differentiated and personalized experiences. 
      • Automate business processes with bots, agents and supervisors.

      • Invest in a modern microservice cloud architecture, where applications are divided into hundreds of independent microservices. 

    • The Age of Personalization: Why Curated Content Is Good For Business, Magnify Team, July 21, 2016
      • Personalization has transformed from a marketing objective to a larger value system that guides how we produce and consume content