Learn more about Hit the Ground Running with IT: ProActive Leadership Group's Business Coaching Removes Hurdles to Enterprise Technology Adoption
Carl: Welcome to today's podcast. I'm your host, Carl Lewis, and my guest is Mike Mirau. Mike is the founder and CEO of the ProActive Leadership Group and is nationally recognized as a business consultant and coach for top executives. Mike, thank you for joining me today. Please tell us about yourself, your background, and what you're doing these days.
Mike: Thanks for having me on your podcast, Carl. I've been doing business coaching for about 18 years and have worked with over 900 businesses in 87 industries. Before that, I had a 20-year career in information technology in a dot-com startup and as the CIO for a $1.2 billion corporation in Dallas, actively seeking ways to leverage technology across the organization. As a coach, I continue to look for ways to use emerging technologies to gain a business advantage and improve profitability.
Carl: It's an exciting journey you've been on. You talk to other executives and leadership folks, and these are interesting times regarding technology. What are trends you hear about, and what are people saying?
Mike: A big challenge companies face now is knowing if they’re getting the right information to make good decisions. The challenge is wading through the noise to find useful information about what's driving things in the business. Large organizations are moving their systems to web-based, SaaS solutions that weren’t 10 or 15 years ago. The good news is that barriers to utilizing technology are being removed in costs and access, but it raises a new set of challenges in security and data control. We're shifting to tools that help people collaborate on projects and solutions, tapping into the vast data sources organizations have built over the years, and building knowledge by analyzing that data.
Carl: That’s also the news I'm hearing. What are the biggest challenges organizations face when trying to get the data? You mentioned they may have been collecting data for years but are now trying to use it. What are they struggling with on the way to that?
Mike: There are two things they're struggling with. First, “What do we do with all this data?” They’ve been collecting it for years, and with the business intelligence tools available now, they recognize that one of their greatest assets is this data about their customers, markets, and products. And that analyzing it helps them uncover ways to be more competitive, remove costs, or gain internal advantages via saving time or money.
The second thing they're struggling with is getting people to adopt new technology. I call it a generational vortex. Boomers grew up with some technology, but nothing like what’s available today. Some people struggle to use all the features on their smartphone or iPad, so gaining Boomer adoption of technology is a big challenge. But the next generation grew up with technology as a way of life; they had these tools as kids in school, etc. The expectation of tools and resources go up generationally. We're also in the “instant-information” generation – when people want an answer, they want it now. And are used to getting it.
There’s a vortex of different users and needs, which creates a challenge for the IT organizations trying to satisfy their customer base while maintaining the organizational discipline of ensuring accurate, useful information versus just throwing stuff out there and seeing if it sticks. Strategy is always a challenge because right when you have a good strategy, a new set of tools or technology comes along. It's a moving target.
Carl: The speed of change is one thing I see happening that businesses, large and small, are struggling with. And you're correct that the younger people seem to handle that speed of change much easier than some of us at the other end of the vortex.
Mike: Younger generations are demanding access to data, collaboration, etc., but the decision-makers – the people investing in those things – are still old school. They say, “Show me the value. Show me why we need this.” It creates interesting conversations about committing resources and dollars to turn this stuff into meaningful tools.
Carl: There is a danger that a technology becomes its own value.
Mike: And every organization is facing this. If you don't make those investments now, while your competition is, they’ll know more about your customers than you do and can get the message out and take advantage of those things. That puts you in catch-up mode – always trying to catch up because you didn't see it coming.
Carl: You cease to be an entrepreneur once you play catch up.
Mike: That's right.
Carl: You've touched a favorite topic: the conflagration of generations in business today. Everybody has a technology culture they either brought with them or jumped into the middle of. One of the favorite things I look at is communication and how it's changing. Have you seen changes in communication, tools, etc. that older generations – the boomers like myself – will gravitate to whereas our millennial friends will gravitate to other tools? Are there obvious differences?
Mike: Dramatic differences. It’s a combination of tools and technology. The biggest difference is mindsets around communication. Who needs to know what, when, and how. I was talking to colleagues about how people using texting as a primary means of communication – versus phone calls or emails – has skyrocketed. Why is text more favorable than a phone call? Because it's instantaneous, and you're not dependent upon someone being available to talk. The speed at which we can communicate quadruples. Texting is one of the fastest-growing communication segments I've seen. For everything.
It’s an innovative tool to use with both your customers and your team. Updates, statuses, what's going on, etc. And you can move so much faster without that barrier of “Are they available?” “Do we have time to talk?” You can facilitate the message so much faster. But many organizations aren’t sophisticated at this. It's still an immature utilization of technology – but as organizations get smarter about it, text as an instantaneous communication collaboration will become more prevalent.
Carl: I see organizations using tools like Microsoft Teams and internal social networks like Yammer. It's essential for daily communicating with staff or work groups. Something that changed is that everyone seems to need to know everything. All the information seems public now.
Carl: I'm not sure what that'll mean long term on a social basis, but it adds efficiencies to the workplace.
Mike: Yes, but it also creates a leadership challenge because everybody believes they should know everything that's happening, which requires more transparency from organizational leadership. But some organizations are hesitant to open the kimono, so to speak, with everyone inside the organization. That's one challenge when you look at how prevalent these technologies have become. I'm a huge fan of collaboration because two heads are better than one, and four are better than two. You get that mindset, but unfortunately, some people don't have the maturity to handle the information appropriately and use it as a currency or to drive an agenda. It's an intriguing situation.
Carl: And only time will tell where it will go.
Carl: Mike, one thing I see regarding how fast things change and new technologies come forward is that there's an increasing need to work with consultants outside our company. We can't get people who know this new stuff fast enough – there are fewer of them because it changes so quickly. What are the challenges regarding technology that companies struggle with when trying to work with third parties?
Mike: One problem is a global shortage of skilled labor. Nobody out there has the skill sets we need. I live in a town with a university, and I was talking to the president about how the universities aren’t producing the skilled talent companies need fast enough. By the time they get through school, the skills they learned are obsolete.
When I was in IT, we recruited on the campus, but it would take several years to get somebody productive because the things they learned weren’t in line with where we were. To access skilled talent, two things happen. One: you must pay a lot for it, so it's a supply and demand thing. People with specific skills are commanding ridiculous amounts of money. And two: it's a 50/50 crapshoot whether they have the talent you need and can do the job.
Assessing whether people can do the job and having access to talent are the top issues companies face from a technology standpoint. Being up to speed with the latest and greatest technology, like the Microsoft Office 365 infrastructure, is a state-of-the-art skill. Most people in companies are behind the curve – they can't utilize their internal resources and expertise because they’re overloaded, so IT leaders must find those resources outside the company. It puts IT in a difficult situation because they must fight for the dollars to deliver business objectives and remain competitive. There’s a battle for talent out there, and it's enormous.
Some organizations are taking a page out of major league baseball’s book and creating farm teams. They bring in people who can communicate/problem solve and have a great attitude/work ethic and develop those skills internally. The organizations can then train them in the values and skills they’ll need later – which creates a more loyal team member – and the organization’s methodologies – versus having them unlearn bad habits or obsolete tools. And at a much lower cost. That's one of the smartest things I've seen organizations do recently.
Carl: Also, this ongoing educational track every employee must be on because our skills evaporate so quickly in a workplace that changes so quickly means employees are more likely to stay long term. No young person wants to work in an organization with old tools.
Mike: Right. You must stay current on the tools and training because that keeps them valuable in the marketplace. But the number one reason talented individuals leave an organization is their leaders, so organizations must invest in creating a culture and developing leadership that will make people want to stay and do the work. Organizations invest considerable dollars in training people but fail to develop the leadership to support those folks. Everything comes down to “What’s our product?” “What’s our process?” And, most important, “Who are our people?” Organizations skimp on developing the next generation of leadership to make these people want to invest their lives in an organization they feel matters.
Carl: I'm getting off track, but this is a fascinating topic. I've heard that the typical millennial stays in their first three jobs less than 18 months each. They hop, hop, hop before finding a place to land. Is that a generational thing? Are people innately looking for the right fit, or is it just what happens in society these days?
Mike: I think it's indicative of society. The days of someone working for an organization for 30 years are over. Most organizations don't even last that long. If you look at the Fortune 500 from 25 years ago, a third of them no longer exist. Businesses are changing. Nobody is sticking around that long. We've become a gig economy because we move from gig to gig as opposed to planting roots and finding an organization to be with for 20 years. It's a challenging situation.
It's a generational thing, too. People want to get involved in organizations that align with their values. If you're an old school organization, you have more traditional mindsets and ways of doing business. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s not attractive to the next generation. They want fun, exciting opportunities. Organizations that fail to adapt are always on the outside looking in to attract talent. That drives their costs up and puts them in a negative competitive situation that wreaks havoc on their economic model.
People are the largest line item on the P&L, and because that cost continues to rise, it forces them to shift. Some organizations are tired of fighting, so they look for a partner who's better equipped or more willing to battle for that. Companies that have been around for 30 or 40 years are struggling with this change.
Carl: They have enough mechanism around them that they can't move quickly. The boat is too big.
Mike: Their mindset is, “This has worked for us. We've been successful doing it this way, so we have to keep doing it this way.” Marshall Goldsmith wrote a book called What Got You Here Won't Get You There, and there's a lot of truth in that. What allowed organizations to succeed over the last 40 years will leave them dinosaurs. We're in a global economy now. Thanks to the internet, it's not just competing with businesses down the street – it’s competing with businesses on the other side of the planet. It’s tough to be nimble and current. The organizations that understand that are more likely to continue to succeed, as opposed to those that are reluctant to change.
Carl: It seems like you used to create success and live on it for a while, but success doesn't last like it used to.
Mike: When I was coming up through the technology ranks, the pace of change was ridiculous. It's ten times that now. New players are highly educated and intelligent and can solve business problems so much faster with technology that about the time you implement something in your organization, it's obsolete. Organizations must adopt a mindset of change management to stay competitive in the marketplace and the battle for talent.
Mike: Even some old school CEOs are recognizing this and struggling with what to do. That's where having an outside coach, advisor, or board of directors that’s up to speed on this stuff can be incredibly valuable. I encourage people to develop a group of advisors – people who know what’s going on, can offer insight, and will tell you the truth. Trying to figure everything out on your own is hard.
Carl: It's hard.
Mike: Having someone who can ask, “Have you thought about this? Or this?” That's valuable. I have coaches in my business, and it's very helpful to have those resources.
Carl: Well, I thank you for being with us today, Mike. Our conversation will help our listeners. It’s my goal to keep these short so people can listen on their way to work or lunch or home. Thanks for joining us; I’d love to have you back someday to discuss this topic again on the Connected Enterprise Podcast.
Mike: I’d love to do that.
Carl: All right, then. Until next time, everyone stay connected.