Show Notes

Article critiqued in this episode:

Harvard Business Review – Future-Proofing Your Organization
By Michael Mankins, Eric Garton, and Dan Schwartz
September – October 2021

From this episode:

Kind of drilling back down into the actual practice that’s on offer. This is really about trying to get people to be more productive without having them be connected to customers and stakeholders, right as a contrast to what Carol’s saying. So as a business owner, it’s actually really hard for me to conceive of being so disconnected from my team and our audience, that I need to use big data to interface with everyone as a filter.

In this episode:

This article provides six suggestions for future proofing business against large scale disruptions like the ongoing global pandemic. Their focus on how to prepare for skills in people and get the right talent is not a sufficient answer. We offer six practices from a regenerative paradigm that are show to make a business non-displaceable.

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Welcome back to business Second Opinion podcast, we are always excited to bring you another episode. This is a second opinion podcast digs deep to explore questions about business and business practice. And the process of examining them, we give you a second opinion. You know, by now, contrary in opinion, for when it’s well tested, and proven to give you the outcomes you want, without the nasty side effects. And by the way, if you want to learn how to work more closely with us, stay tuned to the end of the show. I’m Zac Swartout. And with me, as always, is Carol Sanford, our in house positive contrarian, responding to big and hard questions with a radically different take. Hey, Carol.

Carol: Hi, Zac, I’m really fascinated by the article we got this time because it’s about future proofing, which is a word I actually used for my work a long, long time ago. And I have an issue with the idea that we want to be futurist because that somehow sounds like we’re fixing the future for us. But anyway, I think we do have an attachment to the idea of living longer. And somehow our institutions are an extension of us. And we want to figure out how we can be immune to any disruption. And that’s what this article was about, what what did you think about this article? And this message?

Zac: I mean, we do always rag on HBR. There’s quite a bit to dig into with this one. So let me let me tell everyone which article we’re talking about first before we get started. So it’s entitled for future proofing organization. And it’s it’s from September, October 2021, HBR Magazine. So it just came out. And it’s written by Michael Minkus, Eric Garten and Dan Schwartz, who are all senior leaders of Bain and Company, which is actually one of the world’s largest global consulting firms. So in it, they give a pretty substantial overview of how they see these large disruptions kind of affecting the future of work or future proofing work. And so they’re looking at kind of through the lens of COVID, and work from home and new technologies like data science, big data, machine learning and AI, necessitating shifts and how businesses work now and into the future. But before we really dig in here, what do you think about the article, Carol?

Carol: Well, I mean, I always have an issue when anyone talks about talent, and skills. And the primary reason for that is, it’s narrowed everything down to kind of a fixed worldview, humans are fixed, you have Jim Collins says find the right people get the right people in the bus. All of that assumes you can’t build all the right people, and fill up your bus with what they need and who they’re coming from. Anyway, I’m not really impressed. And I think you and I have something to offer here as a contrast, which is what we might call six practices for nondisplaceability or being able to not some weeks fix the future, is give ourselves the ability to not be knocked out of place from where we are.

Zac: Sure. So to Carol’s point, let me let me give the six practices as they define them in the article first.

So number one, think ahead when defining business critical roles, number two, redefine what great looks like. Number three, don’t cut back on Management Development. Number four, tech up the HR function is in like technology technology, technology up the HR function. Number five, get people to engage with tech technology. Number six, work out what tomorrow stars want from you.

So we’ll get into the nitty gritty of each of these. But first off, I want to recommend you listeners read this article in particular, we always do but this one particular so why am I saying that? So this is from a top global consulting firm in the world with an article written from this month, and is tackling topics that cannot be more current. So this is the first thing that struck me about this article. And secondly, these practices are being utilized right now by huge companies that they actually cite in the article and this article, and then the taxes that are happening within those companies because of the data that’s coming out of them, they will convince others to use these practices as well, to be sure. So I think some of these practices, if not all of them are shocking to say the least. But I really would encourage you all to stop the podcast, read this article first, and then come back, we’ll have a conversation.

Carol: Yeah, that’s a really great suggestion. And every time we go out with our client, it’s all about technology, and pushing that as forefront and then getting the right kind of people prepared, I’m always nervous that we’re going to, well, let’s see how to say this, we’re going to be really calling out the current consulting practices in HBR. But this one does feel egregious.

So since they gave us their six practices, I thought we might, then this may take a couple of episodes, we might offer our own version of there really more like eight, but let’s say six right now. And let’s start with the first one, because I don’t believe that is the six a offer actually do anything to ensure a better, more stable future. The first one I would recommend comes straight from a developmental point of view is knowing that if you stay with who you are, the authenticity, the core of your business and its corporate direction, then you will be able to be more resilient, more creative, innovative from the place stabilizes you, which is your essence. Now, what that means is that you, you really connect with your essence with specific audiences, the thing that gets people lost, as the world changes as they try and move into what is often called adaptations. We adapt to the changes out there. No, we adapt who how we take on who we are in the world.

Now, let me give you an example that you’ve suggested, I remind people of this example. DuPont Corporation has is over 200 years old, 215 years old, almost, their essence work has been managed risk and from day one, and when it was founded. Now, that doesn’t mean suddenly, when the world goes crazy, you change you it means you go back to who you are. In the case of the you may remember some years ago, airbags were breaking and killing babies, small children’s small women. And what they did is went back and said, Alright, if what we want to do here is not trying to build better airbags straight out of the chute, we need to really understand what the essence of managing risk is, for people who are sitting behind the air bag. And what they found was there really had a lot to do not with someone’s seeming, but the weaving of the fiber. And if you say with and say, where’s the risk in the fiber? Where’s the risk? How do we make it so that all those people that are going to sew and cut and install airbags really understand where the risk is for each of them.

Now we have a really good chance of responding to this brand crashing kind of news, I mean, no one wanted to buy a car with an airbag because nobody knew what was happening. But as a result of going back and pulling together, they have six major automakers at that time, and talking about where are the risks, what risks need to be managed. In this system, we have the system of the dashboard, it turned out, they were able to do pod to rise up and do the equivalent of an open source solution so that everyone can figure out how to work on this problem and do a different kind of weaving to the fabric that was made into airbag. So first essence connected and have that be your stabilizing point, not becoming a responder and adapted to the changes out there.

Zac: So yes, this is great, right? So let’s contrast this against the author’s idea, which is think ahead when defining critical roles. So the authors are speaking to the idea that not all jobs are equally important, which kind of floored me as a small business owner, actually. So their research indicates that fewer than 5% of an organization’s roles account for more than 95% of its ability to execute on its strategy and deliver results. So I’m gonna repeat myself two times in this article just so everyone can understand me and hear clearly the stuff that is being written here. But here we go one more time.

Their research indicates that fewer than 5% of an organization’s roles account for more than 95% of its ability to execute on a strategy and deliver results. So I have no idea where they got this data. But if that’s true, then why shouldn’t business leaders fire 95% of their staff and see how things go? Right like, or maybe start working with us to reconsider what a hole means and how it works? With the example they give. This is more about how to incorporate big data into currently existing roles to improve safety and productivity, bolting on New Tech to basically help people with this. But overall, I’m struggling with the paradigm they’re pulling this from Carol, can you help me with that one a little bit as kind of contrast to your DuPont story?

Carol: Well, yeah, I mean, they even say up the front of the article that the new behavioral and technology tools are what are they going to save you. And basically, they mean, get better at position your people to behave in a way that responds to you when things come out. That’s not where we want to go. What I think is probably in the best part of this story of DuPont, there relates to this is when DuPont worked on what its essence what our work from its managing risk x essence, we asked all the other automaker, what we ask all the automakers who were there to identify what their essence was, once we did that, and you heard in the room, everyone describing what their essence was, and we had worked with a couple of them. So we had them pretty on point.

You can hear how easy they each were part of a larger puzzle, there was an instant understanding of why they needed to collaborate and not compete in order to take on this really planetary question. I mean, no matter what country you when you had airbags that were not working. So I think the advantage here not only do you not dumb people down more, which they’re suggesting that you give everybody an opportunity to be a part of some greater hole.

Zac: And, and so I think, you know, kind of drilling back down into the actual practice that’s on offer. This is really about trying to get people to be more productive, without having them be connected to customers and stakeholders, right as a contrast to what Carol saying. So as a business owner, it’s actually really hard for me to conceive of being so disconnected from my team and our audience, that I need to use big data to interface with everyone as a filter. And so I feel like the downside here on the business side is a real loss of innovation. Like big data isn’t a source of creativity it is a tool. And I think that’s kind of getting lost a bit here.

Carol: So let’s give folks a second practice here. And was and I think these are all in contrast to but I’ll I’ll leave that up to you. So first, we said know what your essence is as a business and stick to it. Because essence is something that is you it’s not a practice that anybody can do. No one can be you when you really get there. Get clarity what that is. Secondly, as you begin to put that out in the world and have it be a part of what your offerings are in the world, learn to be able to see things before they’re trans learn to see what David Bohm called the implicant order. And that means like the energies that are forming, that are moving toward a predictive the direction that if you really look at what’s happening in the world, you are not in existence, we’re more like, pre anything is this thing.

Well, let me give you an example make it easier Procter and Gamble, years ago, and you know, syncing P&G and some other things based off the same principle. But was they held a set of meanings I was found in them but my colleague who brought me more into this work was a say what they said in ask is, what is it that is moving in the world that is the right thing for for the health of the plan for the health of people, what’s already moving, and how do we know that and they sat and looked at that a lot of farmers in the room they had people who are going to water quality, they were noticing how those two are running into each other because cows in extra water grade phosphate contamination. And they knew that that phosphate contamination was contaminated drinking water, bathing water, and there’s something need to be done.

There were all the other companies that were their, quote, competitors, or fighting any regulation on this. But P&G said, look, this is where it’s gonna go where we could fight, maybe hold things off for a while. But why would we do that? What you want to do if you really want to be there for the future, and the voice in the future you want to be doing what you can see is the natural pole and direction. And energies are going to go there and you help everything go sooner. So P&G rode legislation, and they propose into the Michigan legislature. But they also did all the work in business advantage is because they could see that they had prepared the ability to pull all their product off the shelf as everyone else was, but they were ready to create the new alternative the earth healthy, human healthy solution. So learning to read these energies in the import cut order, the implied order that which is coming, and you can see it and you can help make it happen.

Zac: So again, let’s contrast this against number two from the author. So they, it’s called redefine what great looks like. So here, the authors are talking about simply deploying behavioral and data science techniques, more like surveys and personality assessments if I had to guess, and then deploying those to crash, what they call more robust job descriptions. The authors say this will help businesses find better people to fit better roles. They build these profiles of people. And then according to them, find people with potential, and then use module like training modules and less people to kind of quote unquote, get them ready. I’m sure our longtime listeners are gonna know where we stand on these kinds of assessments. But suffice it to say, we don’t believe potential can be assessed or personality profiles and data. Right. This is once again, the behavioral paradigm at work.

Carol: Yeah. We don’t like those do we? Now, let’s talk about partly why I mean, there’s a business reason, and I’ll let you speak to that. But when you think about what I described with P&G, and that was the soap group, by the way, not all a P&G was the soap group, seeing this need to get phosphates out, and there were other chemicals they worked on removing also. What they were doing was moving ahead of where all the restraints were, and try and finally, were able to sell other soap makers because they said, look, it’s gonna be expensive for all of us to go into non phosphate cleaning. Because it doesn’t right now, as well, it’s going to need a new kind of r&d, a new kind of chemistry applied to cleaning. But if we get legislation which mandates we all do it at the same time, it won’t break any of our piggy banks, because we’re all in this together. But they came from seeing that’s where it needed to go, was gonna go. And so let’s help it go there.

Zac: In the case of actually, again, contrasted against kind of the business side of things. Like in the example they gave from the article of this large mobile phone company, management went about identifying what customers wanted, and then hired and trained employees accordingly. But again, we see this like this real loss of opportunity and the retail folks actually being able to be connected to customers, to then be able to assess this change that management says they see, validated, and then kind of innovate accordingly. Instead management tell people what to do, and then change their behavior based on that. So I think that’s actually the loss here.

Carol: And you know, the other thing that the P&G story does to inform what you just said is because p&g sees what was needed, what they were able to do better, is the prediction of the ecosystem with their products. They walked into the shelf today, the legislation passed, pulled all their products off the shelf, but had already spent a year preparing because they can see that this needed to happen, was gonna happen, maybe five years from now, but they move that up, and they were able to literally start to dominate what we call the end cap of an aisle. So financially, they did really well too when they can see this way. Alright, so let’s talk about a third of our six here quickly be able to have a really based on the essence of the company being able to have a really clear idea about what you’re going to offer, as a result of your essence, knowing what your product offering is going to be.

And sinking in, you may change corporate direction a little in these unstable times that these dancers are thinking about. But you want to have your essence be steady. But it’s a little like the in the middle of the gyroscope. So it’s always there as part of what’s moving. And again, that ability to stay clear about your offerings unfolding and breathed new offerings. And it’s true in the P&G story. But let me give you one from Merida used to be called Merida Meridian. They are a textile design company, who had to deal with huge fluctuations that were happening with big box stores who were driving small designers out of business, and Merida had been selling all their design products.

Even though they were custom designed by incredible artisans, they were being put into big box stores without even their label on them. So we went back and look to their essence, which was enable conscious design. So it didn’t mean they designed everything. They are always been working with creative artisans, and enable the artisan and the artists who was going to convert it into a textile to work together. So they had people come out of Southeast Asia, and out of more agricultural parts of Brazil, what they were looking to do was get out of big box stores and start working directly with the kind of artisans in mostly, I guess you called the interior design business.

These were the people who were had the direct contacts with the people who were building hotels, homes, subdivisions, stores, and they they shifted their corporate direction but kept their essence which was enabling this conscious design collaboration. They created labs and studios to bring these people in. And then there are listen to we’re learning English, but had translators. And a literally living was very exciting to see bespoke designers, a trend designers, people were collecting designers each come into this lab and could do this co creating conscious design, which was at the heart of who Merida was that part didn’t move, but their ability to move their direction is what moves.

Zac: So again, kind of taking that real core of kind of what Carol is kind of talking to in the story. But then contrasting it against number three that’s being outlined in the article, don’t cut back on Management Development again. So I agree with the idea of the practice, right. And by that I mean the description of what they’re saying I agree with, and that ongoing development is critical to the growth and success of any business.

And their point about reskilling is cheaper than a hire and fire strategy. This is also completely true. However, it’s clear from the example with Guardian, which is this massive life insurance company that they cite in the article that management decided to tell their actuaries it’s actually time to learn customer data science now, rather than considering an actual developmental path. Well, this is externally once again, externally determining something for someone else, based on behavior change, again, with the you know, last example is behavior is network.

Carol: Wow. This external thing just keeps going on and I along with somebody else who decides for the rest of the workers what they do. They sort of, I guess you’d call it the socially responsible side of what I’m talking about, where Merida was able to take their artisans and grow them, their leaders. What you’re really doing is creating a working democracy because these people learn to think together, to create together, to collaborate when they go back in their communities. Many of them went back into the community and ran for office because at a local level immigrants could still sit on the city council on a board of education. They were building that capacity ongoingly not prescribed.

Being what these people should be doing, and that the immigrants who were working there as artists, and we’re building a looms, they were building patterns, they were building and dying, different kinds of fibers that were going into this. The excitement of those people becoming, we’ll live contributors, not only the company, but to the designers which were out in the world and then going out into communities. That’s the way you want to develop people not impose on them what they ought to be doing.

Zac: And to your point, too, I think it’s, it’s like it drops out this opportunity for people to understand the overall direction of the company relative to markets in which it’s nested. But also these kind of core capabilities to be a better person and contributing society. Right? It’s like all of this kind of works in concert together. And it’s not about kind of externally determining technical training, right, which is, while useful, it’s really useful and necessary the business, but it continues to have people function like robots relative to a position rather than actually building core capabilities to contribute on larger scale.

Carol: Alright, so Zac, we could say a whole lot more. And this and I think we should I think, let’s make this part one, because they’ve got three more practices. And we have three more, which we think putting them side by side is really instructive. So I plan to come back and join this in two weeks. Our follow up part two will be here.

If you’ve read the Regenerative Life, you may have been very curious about the people whose stories I tell in the book, including Zac and his family are in there. If you would like to engage in those workshops they went through, including video recordings, workbooks, and the opportunity to give me back your story which this time would not necessarily go into the book as the book is done. It could go into blogs, but there also might go into Regenerative Life hacks. Our new YouTube channel, which will be starting up the first of the year, email me at Carolyn Carol Sanford calm. And if you’d like to become a part of a book club that’s related to the Regenerative Life, let me know about that because I’ve worked with to go with it also.

Zac: Also, don’t forget to check out the Regenerative business summit on Wednesday, December 8 2021. The subject this year is called the three underpinnings of systemic racism, divisive conflict and planetary genocide, and how to accelerate their transformation this decade.

Carol: We also are doing a Regenerative parent community that October 23, but if you don’t make that you could listen to it later. If you’re interested in how to apply all the things we talked about, to parenting and building communities, which are called parenting, let us know all of those you can reach me at

Zac: This has been Business Second Opinion.