Why attend?

I was invited to attend the 2018 “Excellence in leadership” conference. It was a good diverse event. I attended for my personal development and to check and challenge the winningthinking.uk process vs. alternative corporate strategies and to learn how tech artificial intelligence is being adopted.

There was nothing to allay my fears that tech / AI is fear driven undermining the associated self-fuelled fear decision making to our overall detriment. Here is a macro level summary of what we think will pan out / is materialising now:

Exec summary

200 company turnarounds later, one thing I am sure of is this: “Every action we take, should be bench marked against whether that action improves our human relationships…”

That definitely does NOT mean we have to be wet or politically correct either… Tech / artificial intelligence definitely does NOT play a part in improving relationships:

The tech responses are bizarre to the focus on mental health week, reaching full human potential, pushing trust, wellness, Psychological safety, trust etc yet actions being taken pushing the antithesis – AI, values & control that create a tyranny of tolerance and reduce psychological safety.

Digitisation and tech – what is creating value

Standard digital platforms such as Heineken are set up to control demand but make it very easy for another to replicate. This will end up with a price fight as differentiation coule be lost overnight. Hard to replicate Tech platforms such as Starling Bank are harder to to replicate. It seems obvious that the tech / data dominated platforms will ultimately dominate because this tech position differentiation is determined by scale. China best demonstrate this; Didi JD etc and in the ROW Amazon.

Best tech practice

The most persuasive strategies were human centric, IBM and Farfetch (google background). The tech and HR centred sessions in the main were far less coherent. Tech perspective was narrow and insular and there was no sign of an AI / tech business case. Starling Bank was the best example of how they used technology to achieve back office efficiency to create their offer. HR sessions setting out why HR should be at the table outlined why often they are excluded!

Winningthinking.uk learning refinements:

The content is fine. The strategy to integrate into a corporate crosses all boundaries, so presents an interesting challenge to integrate, “how does this fit in with my level 5 leadership program” etc.

In summary it replaces many tools by creating a standard set of short tools to create an outcome that is bespoke to the individual to tick the human boxes above… great news!

The sessions

If you have an attention span of a gnat like me here is a bulleted summary of the sessions.

Dyson Session

·      Artificial intelligence implementation only 10% have succeeded

·      Dyson No sign of a digital business plan

WT observation: What is the business plan for AI – is it irrational and fear driven?


·      Tools

o  Code of conduct – whistle blower: flush out ethical issues

o  Recruiting to values

o  Commitment vs culture 4 box matrix

o  Inclusive environment – all speak up

WT observation: this is a tyranny of tolerance? Qn: how much is being driven underground?


·      Engagement defined by ven diagram overlap between industry and organisation

o  businesses are 22% more profitable if people are engaged

·      Recruit for Cultural fit

·      Millennial’s are different, (or have the rest become conditioned don’t know what good looks like?)

·      Over engaged burn out

·      Regular engagement surveys (no different actions re engagement – defined wrong?)

·      Managing 5 generations, how to engage (misnomer?)

·      Less central learning decentralised and bespoke (if non std how measure?)

·      Companies with high levels of Trust outperform rest by 186%

·      Trust 4 box matrix well-being vs reliability

·      Psychological safety means to speak up (people are in a tyranny of tolerance so impossible)

WT Observation: Recruit for Cultural fit undermines diversity. This is closing much human value and will create blind spots. WT is decentralised and creates a bespoke outcome with the same input, leverages diversity. Is the question employee engagement or how do we engage with each other?


·      Front end consumption strategy to stay in control; convergent business model

o  Business led not just tech led

o  Own replenishment business, local bespoking for customers

·      Threat – with a digital replenishment interface – it’s easy to switch front end to another convergent model

·      Ferrari vs 12 fiats – centralised centre of excellence

·      Value: product; expertise; engagement (engagement hardest part of tech, still use people)

·      Digital value: new customers; increase margin; revenue / customer; new revenue streams efficiency

·      Success lousy learner: Test and learn fast

·      Decisions are reversible

·      Control your tech and product – own yourself (dilutes tech and scale vs mega convergent models such as Didi JD, amazon etc)

·      Change management most challenging aspect, mindset changes (WT…)

o  Ordinary people doing special things – best they can be (WT…)

o  Remove obstacles, deliver expectations (WT…)

o  Flea in jar can’t jump any higher than the jar (WT…)

Heineken Digital strategy is making their SAP/ERP type business model very easy to switch away from to another mega player. Will they be usurped by one of the emerging convergent giants; amazon, Alibaba, Didi, JD etc? They are unlikely to be able to stay ahead in tech. What is the value of the brand vs front value of managing demand?

Panel – I can’t wait for my boss to be a robot!

·      access to data is central to success: google facebook etc

o  Google etc have the data to lead, and influence decision making

o  Data right up front

·      People not investing in AI, no long-term view of risks, don’t know etc!

o  Is it OK not to know?

·      If engagement is so low working for a human will working for a machine be a problem

·      Blackstone VC operates with almost zero people!

WT observations: narrow tech view or risks, piecemeal approach, very little knowledge of people well-being or management / leadership. Working for a machine better – scary lack of insight into the people aspects and likely broader impact.

Farfetch Kym Wylie

·      chasm between – “Who wants change” vs “who wants TO change?”

o  push – push back

o  people are wired to resist change – safety response

o  uncertainty – we can’t process, worst state

§ tell bad news better than NOT – avoid uncertainty

o  inclusion – excluded triggers brain in the same way as physical pain

§ contribute – be part of it

o  problem solving

§ adrenaline feel good, solve own problems

o  realistic expectations

§ not fulfilled cheated

o  simplify – fight of flight

§ so much complexity kills innovation

§ how balance sharing without overwhelming

o  leadership actively and visibly involved, led by example

·      ranked – best characteristics for performance (google project oxygen)

a.      psychological safety

b.      dependability

c.      structure and clarity

d.      meaningful

e.      personal impact

·      change structure

a.      head – rational why relevant

b.      heart – include emotional connection

c.      feet – have the skills / knowledge to move forwards

·      greatest danger is not turbulence but to act with yesterday’s logic

Starling Bank

·      deployed digital to streamline back office processes,

o  open accounts etc, ease of use

o  leverage other products through same platform

§ reducing need to input the same data multiple times and create common credit approval links etc

o  revenue model, interest on deposits, intro fees etc

o  free banking accounts

§ some challenged if overseas, bank statements etc

o  no IT department – business focus

o  others leverage tech platform

WT comment: very impressive use of tech to create differentiation through simplification that is probably hard to replicate but for how long? land grab – “free banking” driving margins down

Session Accelerating delivery and performance

·      Wargaming – Royal Marines approach – predict and prepare for challenges (WT – cluster / review approach)

o  Pressure test solutions off line

·      former GSK change lead – change processes in parallel;

o  Project management, agile, six sigma, organisation

WT comment: WT does all in parallel, relationship transformation holds change together in tough times

IBM session

·      Interaction of tech and people +/-

·      Change is always somebody’s else’s challenge?

·      Status quo is very strong

·      2000 UK retail stores closed: multi pressures, 25% UK people employees in retail

·      Retail is all about people

·      Reach full potential humanity

·      Issues start in board room: not teams, inconsistent

·      Grant head-space to do better, permission to challenge

o  Step over boundaries

o  Shrinkage 21 factors in 13 teams no one owns

o  Capital allocation from front

o  Mix it up discomfort

o  Provocative – identify opportunities – requires permission to challenge

Role of technology in HR

·      Mckinsey 2017 50% of jobs automated by 2030, WEF 2018 52% jobs automated by 2025

·      HR not have an appetite low adoption for technology (have no choice in tech?)

·      Tech coaching content – accessibility and bespoke

·      Wellness vs AI!?

·      Business plans for AI – retain people side

WT comment: Asked: what in the workplace enables mental wellness and how does tech affect mental wellness? No answer – ridiculously flawed


·      Vision PC on everyone’s desk – lost its impact for years, so new CEO reinvented to define purpose against

·      Product optimise ops, empower, engage new org – feeds product

·      Scarcity of talent – management of pipeline

o  Process to get talent faster

o  Recruit for behaviours not skills

o  Growth mindset; more fail more learn

o  Don’t recruit silver bullets – manage headroom and transition to fill gaps

·      Accelerate learning a-z

·      Recruit to fit with organisation not boss

WT comment: top level vision must be simple and relevant. growth mentality and means of closing gap is the means to realise potential.

SIG HRD – Justification for HR being on the board

·      Backfired by yerfectly illustrated demonstrated how HR follow and don’t lead

WT Comment: talent management / growth mentality, are enabled through the right behaviours must be executed at line management level. WT does that

The www.winningthinking.uk website will be back up tomorrow sometime!

Cheers Tom