enterprise technology

Five sayings that sound smart, but are actually dumb

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Nobody likes a smart ass, especially at work. Yet, there are common workplace sayings that people may think are smart, but they are actually dumb – I call them “dumb-smart” phrases.

When it comes to driving positive change in large organizations, language often gives a good indicator of how someone is thinking - or not thinking - when it comes to innovation. I’ve picked out my top five list of most irritating “dumb smart” things people say. I reckon there are more out there too!

 That’s above my pay grade”  This is usually said with a knowing look and a shrug. The problem is it sounds like the person saying it is humble, circumspect, and even responsible. But it’s really just another way to pass the buck and is incredibly self-limiting. After all, if you only see yourself at a low pay grade, it’s unlikely you are poised to climb higher. Moreover, it limits the discussion, so that any hope of actually solving the issue with is curtailed. Why is this dumb? Because if that’s your attitude, it always will be. You’re basically saying “I’m a cog in the machine so why bother? The machine wins every time.” 

“I told you that wouldn’t work” – I really hate this phrase. Just about all great business ideas come with risk and uncertainty. When developing and implementing innovative digital products, sometimes multiple iterations will be needed to get it right. While this process can look like its “not working”, high performing teams take the learnings from “failing safely” on board and make the next step even better. If you’re seeking to look smart by taking glory in someone else’s short-term failure —which this phrase implicitly does— then you’re going to inhabit long-term failure. People who sit back, avoid accountability and throw rocks at innovation are not as smart as they think.

“We should be using Blockchain/AI/IoT [insert latest tech buzzword]" – People might think they sound smart dropping the latest technology buzzword, but it’s not smart if you are trying to shoehorn it into your organisation. Using tech for tech’s sake is just dumb. The smart approach is to start with the customer problem and work backwards to solve it –  in fact, sometimes the best solution doesn’t even require a buzzword technical component at all! 

"We don’t care what our competitors are doing.” – While this might sound as though you’re embracing a virtue, taking the high road, living your bliss, what it actually signals is a willingness to bury your head in the sand. There’s nothing to gain and everything to lose by being ignorant of the competition. Take it from Sun Tzu, legendary Chinese general and philosopher: “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”

“Are we just training our people so they can leave?” – Talk about defeatist. You should strive to have the best people in your business and to provide them with an inspiring journey. You want partners, not prisoners! If you’re worried about upskilling employees because they might take that education and leave, then you have a culture problem to go along with your untrained staff (by the way, your staff will leave anyway). Organisations that provide their humans with opportunities to grow and to learn are those that foster the highest levels of curiosity, creativity and innovation. Now that’s smart.

Look, I don't want to sound too harsh. All of us have probably used these words or others like them at some point, but like any culture shift - and innovation is all about culture - sometimes it starts (or ends) with a single phrase. “Smart dumb” phrases don’t help anyone, especially the person who delivers the misguided wisdom!

Bring Your Humans...

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If you want a tech transformation.

Transformations are disruptive. I don’t mean this in the lazy, cliched, and sigh-inducing “X company is the Uber of Y industry, poised to disrupt the industry”, I mean it is a process of change that requires some adaptation.

Digital transformations involve overhauling processes and reimagining how an organisation does business. It’s not as simple as calling in a carpenter to renovate the office kitchen - although this too can cause some disruption - because transformations are underpinned by an aspirational vision of what the organisation could be.

This desired future state, by its very nature, is disconnected from the organisation’s current reality. It is this disconnect that is the cause of most of the disruption. Humans, being creatures of habit, become accustomed to doing things in a certain way - in a business context, this means using certain programs, processes, or resources to achieve a particular task. Transformation projects aim to overhaul this status quo and ultimately give a workforce access to tools to make it more efficient, more collaborative, and more responsive to change.  

While these are all noble aims, an organisation’s humans must be brought along for the journey so they understand why this transformation is taking place and what that desired future state looks like.

A people-first focus enables you to really listen, to ask the right questions and discover exactly what an organisation needs. This open and frank communication - devoid of any preconceptions - allows you to intimately understand what the organisation actually desires to achieve.

This free-flow of information is something we encourage our clients to undertake with their staff during a digital transformation. It is a disruptive time for any organisation, but below are a few tips to ensure employees understand what changes are coming and - most importantly - why they’re coming;   

  • Collaborative Enthusiasm. During a transformative project, every employee has a role to play and needs to be ready to collaborate across teams and disciplines. For example, the marketing team may need to start promoting the tech transformation before it’s implemented, and needs to mesh with the IT team to make sure their message is accurate and timely. Make these roles clear, and ensure the teams understand what they need to do and why they need to do it.

  • Common Vision. Building enthusiasm and cross-department collaboration is far more successful when the entire enterprise shares a common vision and understanding of the project. Outlining the project and its goals in a product development framework document is one important way for key stakeholders to gain an overview of the project and to communicate the cogent information effectively to employees.

  • Technical Skill. This encompasses not only the skills and knowledge of your employees but also your managers’ ability to evaluate potential vendors and the tech they’re providing. Sometimes the “best-dressed” vendor isn’t the best choice for a project; do your people have the knowledge to determine this? It is important to have an honest conversation with your technical team before evaluating any transformation initiative - what skills do they have and where are the blind spots?

These components won’t fall into place overnight. They require planning and a clear view of the organisation’s strategy and desired future state, but each needs to be addressed. Ask the hard questions: Do your people have the technical skill required for their particular piece of the project? Are they excited to join in the process of transforming your enterprise’s technology? Does everyone share the vision of the enterprise’s future that this technology will usher in?

Also apply these concepts when choosing vendors or consultants, who each contribute a piece to the overall project. How well do they know the product or technology they’re working with? Are they enthusiastic about the project and able to collaborate effectively with your humans? Inasmuch as you can share the details of the project with them, do they understand their role in making the company’s vision become a reality?

Evaluate the answers to these questions before launching a project, and return to them periodically throughout the process to make sure your people’s skill sets, enthusiasm, knowledge and collaboration - as well as those of your technology providers - are on track.

After all, technology is only as effective as the people using it. Bringing your people onboard early in the process ensures your organisation can navigate the coming changes as seamlessly as possible.  

Architecting Culture at Scale

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Last week, we proudly welcomed Angus Dorney to the Kablamo family.  In his blog post, Angus did an awesome job expressing the significance of his joining, and the much-needed step-change that Kablamo brings to enterprise. We're on the precipice of something new, something great, it's a very exciting time for us.

But thanks to his inherent humility, Angus did a pretty darn average job of expressing one of the more outstanding gifts he brings to us.  Please allow me to explain. 

Angus is known industry-wide for his effectiveness as a tech leader, but what truly distinguishes him in my opinion is his ability to maintain culture at scale.  Angus knows how to grow a business, just Google his name to see a shopping list of distinguished achievements. But he also knows a much more profound thing, how to grow a great culture that matches business growth.  

"Company Culture” these days is 101 level HR marketing fodder, an afterthought. The ideal of company culture is too often tossed around as a concept that sounds great but doesn’t necessarily mean much. 

Kablamo is built around our humans.  We didn’t buy them.  We gravitated together because we share a single vision, we have a single purpose: Deliver cloud software in a way that absolutely knocks the socks off our loyal enterprise customers.  We don’t have dispensable people any more than we have dispensable ethics or values.  Our humans are exceptionally bright and deliver outcomes with unwavering humility. We don’t need or want undeserved monikers like “we’re the best”, “the biggest”, “the fastest”, “the most cloudiest/devopsiest/secopsiest” — we just get on with it. Our team builds really valuable software, we solve problems.  We work really hard, but we maintain balance —and we don’t just say it, we do it. And we enjoy it. 

Our new Co-CEO embodies the ideal of servant leadership. Angus is the safe pair of hands to grow something culturally unique like Kablamo into something much bigger. What’s so critical here is that scaling the Kablamo culture will mean huge benefits for organisations looking for a trusted accountable partner to drive truly valuable enterprise solutions at scale. (Just for fun , try saying that 5 x with a mouth full of marbles)

So, welcome, Angus.  Kablamo’s culture is on the launch pad for the next stage of our journey and the mission is clear.

— Allan Waddell, Co-CEO (Proudly) and Founder Kablamo