SSA & Company Notebook | Spring 2018

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A note from our President:

Experts have dubbed 2018 as the “year of data.” Artificial intelligence and machine learning shifted from emerging technologies to expected touchpoint for many companies, and most CEOs and executives have blockchain on their minds. Amid this changing technology landscape, a company’s success continues to stem from its ability to bring its strategy to life. This notebook issue is dedicated to the new tools and techniques that help get companies there.

As always, we feature a special section on executive leadership and talent from Stephen Miles, founder and CEO of TMG. I am pleased to share these stories and practical insights with you.

– David Niles

Ideas That Made Us Think


Sprint to Digital Transformation

“Many companies start off thinking about digital transformation as a means of cutting costs,” shares Sprint Chief Digital Officer, Rob Roy. Companies undergoing successful digital transformation understand their journey is a larger, more holistic undertaking. Sprint’s focus on reshaping its internal organization, building new capabilities, and implementing a digitally-centric change across processes and culture helped propel its rapid progress. For example, Sprint reorganized its product management team, adding AI experts to ensure a data-driven approach to building customer experiences. The company also built a digital adoption team that keeps everyone focused on “what’s next” in technologies. Sprint’s journey mirrors numerous legacy companies who seek to win the business of today and the business of tomorrow. SSA & Company recently released a digital transformation guide for CEOs to thrive in today’s world of constant and unprecedented disruption.

How Companies Can Thrive in the Battle for AI Talent

With the battle for AI supremacy underway, companies have deployed sky-high salaries as their current choice of weapon to recruit and retain AI talent. With a scarce talent pool of AI experts, companies must evaluate whether to hire an in-house AI team and system or rely on outside experts. Given the ever-increasing salaries and dearth of talent in this rapidly changing discipline, some pundits suggest that governments and universities should fund undergraduate and graduate programs so talent supply can meet companies’ demands. Should these recommendations come to fruition, internal AI training programs and steep salaries from tech giants will no longer be enough to retain the innovators of the future; rather, companies will need to strategically align AI to their operating strategy and set the framework for success, providing a purpose to attract tomorrow’s AI superstars.

Look to Digital Leaders for Inspiration, Not a Roadmap

Post-World War II, Japan’s industrials’ leaders tapped W. Edwards Deming’s teachings to become a global manufacturing leader. Companies implemented a management system that empowered factory-floor workers and stressed the importance of continuously fixing problems to boost production quality, leading to Japan’s success. However, even the best management system can fail unless uniquely tailored and actively managed. For example, continuous improvement cannot work if management becomes out of touch with the front line. As businesses converge and transform around digital, many will be tempted to simply replicate the approach of digital leaders. But there is no panacea. When optimizing any system, companies must design and execute properly against their own business goals and culture. Successful leaders and companies must understand customers, build and cascade the right KPIs, resource properly, and actively manage processes within the context of their business.

The Pathway to Reach the Digital Gold Standard

Fintech’s rise has redefined the financial services landscape. Digital pure plays like SoFi and Oscar have successfully addressed the widening gap between older and younger customers’ needs. Consequently, many legacy companies have either built new, expensive divisions or acquired fintech startups. Yet an old approach appears to have newfound helium. Radius Bank has improved decision-making and better-served customers by partnering with numerous fintech firms to collect more data on customers’ banking behaviors. Fintech startup AutoGravity recently announced partnerships with US Bank and TD Auto Finance to offer customers a quicker, more seamless car loan process. Strategically developing new partnerships between startups and incumbents let both parties reap internal operations and external marketplace benefits. The incumbent receives exposure to new innovation, and the partner receives significantly expanded distribution.

Building a Pilot and Experimental Culture

Blockchain’s meteoric rise has created a fervor in many executive suites and boardrooms. Fearing obsolescence or missing out, major financial institutions, health, food safety, and other companies launched scores of pilots. L.L. Bean announced, and then canceled, plans to sew flexible sensors into products to collect data on wear frequency, outside temperature, and more. While blockchain is extremely disruptive, too many companies view it as an entirely new strategy and invest in it as such, forcing significant rework and opportunity loss. At its core, blockchain simply provides information provenance and helps decentralize trust. Successful leaders and companies endeavor to best understand their business and then tap the right tools to propel it, fueling a culture of measured experimentation. Over-rotating on disruptive technologies without tying them into overall business strategy is no better than ignoring them completely.


SSA & Company Quick Hits


Thought starters from the business world

  1. Blockchain is forever. De Beers announced a blockchain system pilot for the diamond industry to add a layer of assurance for producers, retailers, and customers.
  2. Microsoft’s AI can paint a picture worth almost a thousand words if you just give it a few. But it still has a lot to learn.
  3. America’s boards are gaining traction in women board members. Our Deb Henretta shares why it’s still not enough.
  4. Human vs. machine brains. Humans teach machines how to think—but not how a parent would teach a toddler.
  5. Why is there metal in my burger? Robots are now flipping your burgers.
  6. In the post-text world, brands need to understand which digital medium(s) work(s) best.


Exclusive Content on Modern Leadership


Stephen Miles, CEO of our sister firm The Miles Group (TMG), offers frank, pertinent insights on modern leadership. TMG develops talent strategies for organizations, teams, and individuals—focusing on high-performance, world-class leadership.


10 Talent Management Mistakes CEOs Can't Afford to Make in 2018


10 Talent Management Mistakes CEOs Can’t Afford to Make in 2018

With many industries constantly shifting their business models and goals to evolve with the digital revolution, companies must avoid certain mistakes while managing talent. “Boards and investors are pressuring CEOs not only to set the right tone at the top, but also to make sure talent throughout the organization is completely aligned both in performance goals and in cultural fit. But many companies, if they are not already in the middle of one, are on the brink of a talent failure–and they might not see the mistakes that got them there,” shares Stephen Miles.

The full article discusses the talent management mistakes CEOs can’t afford to make in detail.

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