Monday, July 17, 2017

On Vacation, does the Company miss the Employee more or Employee miss the company ?

It was a long overdue vacation after having put in almost three years of relentless effort towards the digital transformation of the company, the fruits were visible. It was a much deserved vacation, as his manager told him packing him off for a couple of weeks. He was anxious as he planned his sojourn, worried a bit, what if things fell apart or an exception brought down the system or impacted the business. He feebly voiced his concerns to his team, who reassured him of full support during his leave of absence.

His family was delighted and off they went to their long pending and promised vacation; on his part he packed his work gear hoping to stay in touch with the team and his customers, ready to intervene should anything require his attention. Days passed by uneventfully as he frequently checked his email and messages – they revealed nothing untoward. Unable to control his anxiety, he called his trusted lieutenant; he was surprised to hear that there indeed had been some issues, which the team resolved but did not disturb him.

In another part of the world a slightly different situation played itself out; the CXO was going off for his scheduled bi-annual vacation, something he never missed. Every six months he took off with family, at times to locations that had no modern amenities like internet access or cellphone network. His coordinates were always known and in case of an emergency, he could be contacted; the occasion never occurred as nothing was seen as so critical that required his intervention or could not wait until his return.

Credit to him, he had built an able and professional team that did not require their leader to keep the company running. Without exception they were empowered to take decisions which they did and sought validation at a later date upon his return. Until this time, when his Assistant frantically contacted him breaking the golden rule only to be greeted by a crisp response on why she bothered to disturb his R&R (Rest & Recreation/Rest & Relaxation, a military term now used by the corporate world for senior executive leaves).

In both cases the company continued to function with insignificant disruption by events that unfolded during the respective absences. It would be false to say that they were not missed, but the organizations had the resilience to continue to operate. The differences quite stark between the two corporate high achievers, the first could not disconnect from his work and the second could create a clean break. As a matter of record, they were both equally loved and respected by their team, peers, bosses and their customers.

Was the first leader insecure or did not trust the team to manage the operations effectively ? Did he feel the lack of control during his absence cut out from the day to day hullabaloo and fighting crisis like situations ? Had he got addicted to the adrenaline rush and importance was making his life miserable ? It was a matter of prioritization between work and life; he had lived through his career focused only on getting results in his professional life, which he did get with movement up the corporate ladder quicker than others.

The latter case was about confidence, conviction, delegation, and a firm belief that that the best course is to work hard with clearly demarcated lines between work and family. His rise through the ranks was equally fast and the future looked bright with more to come; he had consciously worked to balance his corporate commitments with the time spent with his family. He was unwilling to compromise this while proving the cynics wrong that such an attitude will adversely impact career growth and opportunities.

Enterprises demonstrate and have resilience far higher than individuals believe in their belief of self-importance to their role, responsibility and impact to the company. People come and go, planned and abruptly, at times fired, and in all cases they do leave a gap; the company self-heals and moves on irrespective of hierarchy, location, position of power, there are others who fill in. With time some leave their mark – to be remembered for the legacy they leave behind – positive or negative, the others fade into oblivion.

It is up to every individual to decide how we react to incidences, what we portray ourselves as, dependencies we build at workplace, work in a team and manage one in our professional lives. We also determine how we present ourselves to our families, friends and society; our identity unfolds in many ways though we are largely known by our professional identities. The work-life balance is no longer an enigma, it is a moving target which keeps shifting; there is no right or wrong or benchmark to follow, it’s a mirage !

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Mass personalization is dead; welcome to the age of nano segmentation !

Attending this conference around analytics, marketing and understanding the customer behavior using segmentation as a discipline, almost all the speakers talked about targeting improvements as the segment sizes got smaller. Complexity of algorithms and the availability of hardware resources on the cloud as well as lower cost of acquisition has made it possible to churn data – a lot more data – than it was possible not too long ago. Marketing effectiveness is waking up and is moving away from the conventional world.

Companies that engage customers directly and those with high volumes of transactions have already begun to garner benefits from these technologies. Even others with a few degrees of separation between the brand and the consumer are exploring alternative strategies and business benefits. Almost every conference also has a mandatory presentation from a research house. The analyst on stage is expected to shower thought leadership on the audience; it is a rare occurrence when they actually make any practical sense.

One such session started with anecdotes of individual attention to the consumer in the pre-technology days and predicted the return of individualization in the near term. Given enough data points, oodles of hardware and highly optimized algorithms around machine superintelligence (the next level after deep learning according to the speaker), the engine will be able to segment the large volume of data into buckets of one, i.e. identify and predict behavior and thus target individuals and capture wallet share.

It has been an aspiration of software and solution builders to use technology to predict the future; we have all seen demand forecasts and revenue predictors with Sales & Operations Planning, most of which hovered in the 70 percent range with a swing of 10 percent on either side. Definitely better than the binary state of tossing a coin or 50 percent, these solutions removed error rates when 70 percent was off target to 70 being on target ! Predictive analytics has had better success than fortune tellers on accuracy levels.

Artificial intelligence at some levels is already influencing our behaviors with our every keystroke and click being recorded by some websites and mobile apps whose terms and conditions we hardly read and comprehend. Changing privacy policies and updates render our choices ineffective with every update leaving us exposed and vulnerable. Data privacy coupled with sieve like security allows the good, the bad and the ugly equal opportunity to use our digital footprint to coerce and nudge us to buy at one end and pay up on the other end.

Enterprises mired in Paleolithic technology, archaic mindsets and rusted skills are struggling to deploy and use such solutions effectively ethically, at times veering away from virtue. Consultants and technology providers are effectively creating Fear Uncertainty & Doubt with a promise to bring the Holy Grail to them. Despite their inability to deliver any credible design or strategy, many large consulting companies continue to rake in the moolah; CXOs and Promoters are shy of accepting they have been taken for a ride.

On the sides of the conference a conversation thread discussed the waste of precious resources and lost time with one of the premier consulting companies. The angst of the CMO was palpable, the drinks brought together a few other victims of the same company whose voluminous reports were gathering dust in their cupboards. Common sorrows bring feelings of brotherhood that only misery can keep together; they found light at the end of the tunnel with success that one of them had with a frugal startup solution.

Nano-segmented Earth’s billions, does provide individual as the atomic unit who can be observed and experimented upon to identify triggers that work. As the number of attributes rise, effectiveness improves, but we have known this for a long time and that contemporary solutions did not have the ability to provide the actionable insights in a timeframe that makes the action relevant. Lack of data integrity and clean data rendered analytics ineffective; algorithms did not know how to overcome these limitations.

The future of consumerism, customer behavior, segmentation, marketing, engagement, targeting, influencing, shadowing, nudging, bombarding, and swamping the hapless customer is closer than we think. Look around your behavior across life stages, daily innocuous decisions, and how they are being shaped by invisible forces. As an enterprise there are too many choices and options; the company with better quality data, compute and algorithms will be the winner albeit with a short window until competition catches up.

As an individual I am worried that have limited choices !