Companies Left In The Dark On Customer And Employee Needs

By, Stuart R. Levine

Published In, Forbes

This past summer we had the pleasure of inviting Jason Washing, Google’s Director of Global Partnerships – News, Publishing and Local Media, to participate in our Passageways learning webinars. The topic for discussion was innovation, culture and decision-making in the digital age.

With the intense focus these days on transparency, an interesting statistic is that by the year 2022, most people in mature economies will consume more false information than true information. Gartner warns that AI is good at creating information, but is just as effective at creating false information. AI will drive this counterfeit reality by its inability to detect the difference. On the positive side of AI, smaller companies will be able to launch faster and test things in virtual environments with fewer employees, lessening the cost of failure.

Organizations are going to need to ramp up their data science and data/analytics programs to ensure an understanding of both present and future customer needs. Of the webinar participants, over 50% were not sure, or didn’t think their organizations were focused on this. Absent data, it will be near to impossible to anticipate consumer needs and develop coherent strategies.

Companies have a long way to go in a very short time period in order to remain competitive. This moment in time is real and coming very quickly. The changes in both machine learning and AI will be profound. Most people and companies have a hard time getting their arms around it. However, it should be a top priority for boards and senior leadership, and it’s even trickier if you have thousands of employees. How companies are constructed needs to change and how learning takes place needs to become a priority as well. Companies like AT&T are rehauling the re-training of its 280,000 employees to reinvent itself.

Many people will have a tough time making the adjustment despite all the tools that are provided to them. Seniority will no longer remain a vital factor, and new words like “latticing” is becoming the metaphor for talent development instead of moving up the “corporate ladder.” Being able to continually learn and adapt through multidirectional zigzag movements are what’s now required of the entire workforce. Now, often people who are newest to companies are becoming change agents to make things happen.

Today Google is focused on transparency across teams that comprise its 75,000 employee workforce to ensure that everyone understands what they are doing, why they are doing it and how it affects everyone across the board. Everyone has a voice and questions can be answered in real time through global meetings, surveys and forums that enable communication and clarity. They focus on setting ambitious goals, and then spend 30% of their time on what’s needed to achieve to hit the targets. Thinking big undoubtedly brings both successes and failures, but from those failures is where the next big idea can be generated.

When asked how comfortable webinar participants were with the accuracy of information they were using to make strategic decisions, over 40% said they were either not sure or less than 25% sure of its accuracy. This creates an incredible gap between the data being used to make decisions and interface with customers, employees and shareholders. When skepticism creeps in, it is difficult to maintain cultures of trust within organizations. Senior leaders have the responsibility of gathering and sharing information that they may or may not be comfortable with. Listening and hearing what people are saying is even more key today to effective leadership.

Jason’s perspective on leadership is that “People don’t work for managers. Managers work for their people.” The role of leaders becomes removing obstacles for people to be able to do their work and achieve their goals. The first responsibility of a leader is doing an exception job in hiring. Then, giving people the tools and environment to do their work faster and providing them the space to think as big as they are able to think.

When webinar participants were asked how frequently their board reviews consumer and employees future needs, over 50% said either they were not sure, only once a year or never. Directors of boards often do not focus on the cultures of their organizations. This is a problem. The state of the organization’s culture is a critical component for both the creation and execution of strategy and the potential to innovate. Culture needs to become a regular topic of conversation to ensure there is an environment where the best work possible can be done and where people feel an ownership in the organization. If the CEO is solely focused on the financials or the next earnings report, there is a missing and vital piece. By regularizing these conversations at the board level, the dialogue can contribute to the constant reshaping of the company to stay relevant on both technology and the way people work.

When webinar participants were asked whether they trusted the news they were receiving was accurate and unbiased, 60%, a big number, were not sure, didn’t think so or were absolutely sure it was not accurate or unbiased. This creates a significant challenge for organizational cultures which require trust to create any kind of innovation, movement or change required to keep pace with the future.

Jason explains that the focus of the Google News Initiative was born out of the idea that people need to seek information and points of views from as many sources as possible to ensure accuracy. When news is designed solely to perpetuate a certain point of view or to make people feel good, it has major implications for decision-making both personally and professionally within companies. Taking risks in order to innovate requires trust that the data you are using is sound and valid. How information is gathered, disseminated and utilized will have major impact on leaders, organizations and society in the future.