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May 31, 2021 | 9 Mins Read

What You Can Learn from Schneider Electric’s Unique Approach to Delivering Outcomes-Based Service

May 31, 2021 | 9 Mins Read

What You Can Learn from Schneider Electric’s Unique Approach to Delivering Outcomes-Based Service

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By Sarah Nicastro, Creator, Future of Field Service

I absolutely love sitting down to talk with different service leaders about how they are spearheading innovation and transformation within their companies. Across industries and regions, the evolution from break-fix service to delivering experiences and outcomes holds so much potential and excitement. There’s so much to learn from listening to how various organizations are tackling the complexity that comes with this migration.

I recently had the chance to sit down with Howard Bowland, VP Field Services Australia at Schneider Electric to talk about how he’s led the region on a journey to delivering power-as-a-service. He’s enlisted the help of former Hewlett-Packard Enterprise colleague Scott Weller, who is a partner at Mossrake, to use his region of Schneider Electric as a blueprint for success for the global organization.

Both Howard and Scott have experience at HPE and realize that the IT industry’s progress in outcomes-based service is just as possible in a wide variety of other industries. “Any time you have a long-lived asset that may require specialty skills to maintain, it's a perfect setup for pay-as-you-go pricing,” says Scott. “Then, if you think about a business that thinks of these assets as critical but not core, it's not the business they're in. It's not a core competency. It's very clear that this is a perfect setup for as-a-service models and really a shift to a focus to outcomes.”

When Howard joined Schneider Electric, he recognized the opportunity to introduce his learnings into the organization and transform service. “Coming into this company, a slightly different segment from the IT industry, I was coming from having worked with the IT industry in developing that cloud economics for IT assets and for really operationalizing that in the Asian Pacific theater,” he describes. “As I came into Schneider Electric, there really wasn't anything in place around providing customer greater value over and above the traditional asset-ownership model. It first started with the thought of, "Could we do this? Why couldn't we do this with the kind of assets that the customers are acquiring from Schneider Electric?"

From that initial thought has grown a project under Howard’s leadership, with Scott and Mossrake’s help, that has brought Schneider Electric’s EcoStruxure outcomes-based service model to fruition. Coming up this week and next on the Future of Field Service podcast, I do a deep dive with Howard and Scott into the project – from vision to future plans. Be sure to stay tuned for the two-part discussion, but in the meantime, here are five worthwhile aspects of their approach you may be able to learn from.

#1 – Enlist Help

Howard, having worked with Scott at HPE, knew firsthand his expertise in building an outcomes-based model. He decided that if he were to introduce this evolution into Schneider Electric, he would need to enlist help to juggle both the day-to-day work and a major transformation. “Some people might think of consultants as advisors that can write a report, for example, but, really, the Mossrake team and Scott were in the trenches actually developing the offer,” he explains. “What it gave me the opportunity to do was to have confidence that we had done it, that we had people that knew how we could navigate it in a new location, and then to bring my own people on that journey and see and learn from being part of that. What I found was that people wanted to join the team and wanted to be part of it because they saw the excitement through in the innovation, the learning opportunity to do something really quite new. And introducing a new business model into a company of any kind is even more challenging than you think even if you've done it before.”

One of the most common challenges I hear from service leaders working to progress on the outcomes-based service journey is the constraint that comes from essentially working two full-time jobs; one leading the current business, and one building the future business. Brining in outside help may be a great option to temporarily augment your team with folks that have fresh perspective and vetted skillsets. “We came into this opportunity with Howard having all that experience back at HPE, so we knew, certainly lived through, the trenches of trying to introduce a new business model like this into a large, multinational company,” says Scott. “Of course, we started with a look at the market but then quickly turned to an internal view: the culture, the appetite for innovation, the process for innovation, looking at the full value chain from sales channel, delivery operations. We came to the conclusion, that there was a huge opportunity for Schneider Electric. We built a plan, and the plan was really based on the premise of agile development.”

#2 – Take a Pilot Approach

To introduce this type of change at a macro scale in a multi-national corporation seems a bit daunting, right? It certainly would be. Therefore, what Schneider Electric did, was allow Howard, his team, and Mossrake to essentially pilot the transformation within his region with the intent of documenting the journey in detail to serve as a blueprint for expansion to other regions. “This is also the approach we took at HP. We've done it with Howard and Schneider Electric, and we're working on a couple of other clients as well,” says Scott. “I would say the beauty of this is being able to do this in a microcosm, where if it were to fail for some reason, the risk to the company is small. The reputational risk, primarily, but even operationally, even financially, the risk is very small. It lets you learn, because inevitably you're going to learn. No two companies are the same. No two as-a-service offers are going to be the same, so you have to allow for that.”

Using the pilot approach allows you to contain those learnings to a region, so that you can adjust and improve and determine exactly what works before you take the transformation to scale. “Being able to de-risk the journey helps for a lot of companies who first consider stakeholder perception,” explains Scott. “If you think about yourself as a dividends-value company, moving to a model like this may really upset stakeholder perception, so it gives you time to succeed, learn, and really be planful about how you want to pivot the company around something like this in a way that you can talk to your stakeholders about, you can talk to your employees about. It's really, we think, the right approach.”

#3 – Leverage a SWAT Team to Build Acceptance, Foster Skill Building and Minimize Risk

Howard, Scott, and I discuss in detail within the podcast that far and away the most challenging aspect of this journey is around the go-to-market. Because the value proposition of an outcomes-based or as-a-Service model is so fundamentally different, getting this part right is absolutely critical to success. What Schneider Electric did is use a SWAT team approach to protect its customer experience and ensure buy-in was built among internal and external stakeholders.

“There's definitely complexity in migrating the go-to-market model and the sales approach is vastly different,” says Howard. “In the early stages, in fact, you want to keep the uneducated or uninitiated salespeople away from the customer conversation. The SWAT team can come and start profiling the customers before you go meet them with the salespeople, and then act as specialized resources who introduce the conversation,” explains Howard. “From there you can offer sales tools and some training to help the general sales force understand the concept better, helps us profile the customer better, and build the skill to have those conversations. But to work customers through the pipeline, we need to still have a pretty high degree of specialization.”

If you can leverage skilled resources to lead those initial conversations in this SWAT approach, you can more adeptly familiarize your talent with exactly how different of a story the outcomes-based service value proposition is. “The sale cycle is completely different, much longer, typically. They have to be accustomed to doing that. If they're more transactional, it's very difficult for those individuals to transition, and so there's just a lot of work involved in bringing the go to market around,” says Scott. “What I had to do is build a SWAT force, because you couldn't rely on bringing people along fast enough. You had to show and do and bring people along that way, figure out who could come along on the journey to this new kind of go to market. In a way, with Howard, we've done a little bit of that, injecting people who, both from our firm and other folks within the organization, to be that SWAT deployment to go after the early deals and bring the rest of the organization along.”

#4 – Adopt Agile Methodology & Strong Documentation to Refine and Expand

Howard and Scott agreed from the beginning in an agile approach. “The agile method is key. We're making this thing work. The customer sees a good outcome. Inside, we've got people running around on treadmills, but we'll replace that with systems and automation and so on at the right times,” says Howard. “It's just keeping ahead of that curve. That makes it an affordable way to develop it. If we tried to develop all the capability and have it readied and put in place so that we could cut the ribbon it, it would be a much more challenging assignment to get the investment for it.”

As with any transformation, starting with small successes and then building is a consumable, practical approach. The journey to outcomes can be similar. “Agile doesn't mean just winging it. You have to have a sense of where you're trying to get to. You have to have a fundamental vision and a belief, as Howard mentioned, and then that guides you,” says Scott. “Even though, on any given day, you might be working on pricing, or you might be working on a revised channel program, which itself takes several steps to mature through, but you know where you're going. It's just a matter of accepting that you won't have a completely finished product on day one. You've already stated that. You've got a minimum product. That's going to be good enough to have a conversation with the customer about, and even sell to them, in a pilot sense.”

Also key to Schneider Electric’s initiative was impeccable documentation so that this pilot-approach transformation could be followed by any region to come. “I felt that it was important that this be repeatable and we document our journey,” says Howard. “As we went on this journey as well, we, strengthened our existing process documentation for just our regular bricks of service capability. There was a systematic approach to building out the blueprint for how to do this and document that, and that was a key part of what Mossrake brought to us, what our team worked on, and we've created that repository of documentation and learnings and insights, which has been really useful to keep us on track and will be useful as other regions of Schneider replicate what we're doing here.”

The deliverable of this documentation and blueprint was another area of value from brining in expert help. “One of the key deliverables from our work together is this operational blueprint, which covers every aspect of the value chain, and then, on top of that, the operational description for actually how the run what's effectively an engagement with the customer,” explains Scott. “As-a-service ends up looking like a consulting engagement that just doesn't necessarily have an endpoint. All of that is what, in our conversations with other countries and regions within Schneider, that's the foundational element is that operational blueprint.”

#5 – Be Tenacious in Your Pursuit of Potential

Finally, know that the journey will not be smooth sailing. “I have to give a lot of credit to Howard,” says Scott. “It takes a lot of stamina and tenacity to really navigate this into a big company, especially if you're sitting in a region. You're not at worldwide, where a lot of the innovation is expected to come from.”

Howard reflects on his experiences at HPE as motivation for seeing this potential come to life at Schneider Electric. “We’d had this success at HPE, and so I knew it was challenging but I also understood it could be done,” he explains. “I had the advantage of my upstream management being open to discussions and then ultimately finding a global leader that was really passionate about it as well to help the funding. But there's a lot of people between that person and getting it done, and that's where it takes a lot of energy. You have to understand the importance of not taking no as the answer. You've got to find the person that can say yes and get support. We could easily have stopped at various points because it looked like it wasn't going to be possible to do what we wanted to do. That tenacity comes in in making sure you continue to look for the way.”

Click on the link for more information on Schneider Electric’s innovative aaS offer EcoStruxure Outcomes: Secure Power as a Service - www.se.com/au/outcomes

May 28, 2021 | 4 Mins Read

Living with COVID: Decentralizing Dispatch

May 28, 2021 | 4 Mins Read

Living with COVID: Decentralizing Dispatch

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By Tom Paquin

Office work sure ain’t what it used to be (eighteen months ago). Businesses are hybrid-izing work expectations and streamlining office space for a more streamlined in-office staff, ISPs are being pushed to the brink to support home office videoconferencing on a whole new level, and many people are discovering what some of us have known for a while: Working from home can be really, truly, what you need to (literally) get the job done.

I’ve written about the service ramifications of this from ITSM, wherein businesses now need to think very carefully about supply chain, device management, and triage in order to manage how, where, and why service vehicles are deployed at all. But this new paradigm has internal and external ramifications across a wide array of different axes. Let’s explore one of them.

The truth of the matter is that service businesses may be just as likely as any other busines to want to limit the amount of physical footprint that they have, chiefly within the context of the backoffice. Obviously this is less of a possibility for manufacturers, telco providers, or utilities, where there’s more of a need of physical infrastructure. For straight service providers, though, there are certainly some possibilities.

Is the prospect of shuttering a great deal of physical real estate a unique challenge? Obviously, yes, but with a set plan of how you’re going to proceed, and what you need to do to make these moves equitable to your staff, there are a lot of tools that can support. As we always say here, your business’ unique needs will shift marginally from certain elements of what we outline here. Nevertheless, it’s worth considering. Let’s break down some elements:

Getting a holistic view

Service businesses can’t build a coherent strategy if dispatch centers are siloed islands of data and operational utilities. If, for instance, you have a telco that has commercial tower services disconnected from consumer services, you’re doing it wrong. Systems feed off of a shared resource base, even if the technicians or parts will never cross over between two groups. Businesses looking to decentralize their understanding of their business need to start by centralizing the insights of service, parts, and asset management.

Increasing the ratio of technicians to dispatchers

Thinking about reducing the size of internal offices means naturally thinking about how resource allocation meets the dispatch. We of course already know how businesses succeed at doing this: They employ true scheduling optimization. Not drag-and-drop schedules and pretty colors, like what some companies call “optimization”, but AI-powered utilities that offer a single view of asset performance, available resources, and SLA-powered job expectations, all synthesized in a system that can update in real-time across the whole of your company, not just a single location.

Getting in all on mobile

Yeah, I know that I’m a broken record on mobile supremacy, but whether or not your technicians have office time, they need 100% of their desktop resources on their mobile devices, no exceptions. Mobile field service is so mature that treating it like some sort of ornamental dongle is just plain reckless. What it will take to make this work for your business will depend a lot on what you do, obviously, but at the very least, systems need to be unified across all platforms. No redundancies, no forgotten work order submissions or part requests.

Rethinking parts and logistics

I love a good depot, don’t get me wrong. Be it a train depot, where I spent a lot of my young commuter life, or a Home Depot, where I dump thousands of dollars a year into landscape fabric and screwdrivers, there’s something very nice about a place that has a confluence of all the things. Whether that depot needs to be within spitting distance of a technician’s truck or not is another question. If you’re disseminating service and limiting office space, you have an opportunity to expand service territories out much farther. You just have to think about how you get parts to technicians, or, conversely, how you get materials from technicians available for repair and remanufacturing. You’ll find the mix that works best for you, but with a holistic view, you shouldn’t have a problem employing parts and reverse logistics systems to meet employees wherever you find them, including their homes, or the homes of your customers. The right tools are right in front of you, waiting for you to set the criterial for what they do.

These are but a few small considerations for what the future of work might look like for service, and there are a lot of others worth evaluating as we continue on our post-pandemic journey. While the last year and change has not been particularly fun, the ripples of change offer us all an opportunity to reflect, and reposition ourselves to make the future a lot brighter than it was before.

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May 26, 2021 | 26 Mins Read

Destigmatizing, Normalizing and Prioritizing Mental Health in the Workplace

May 26, 2021 | 26 Mins Read

Destigmatizing, Normalizing and Prioritizing Mental Health in the Workplace

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Sarah welcomes Johnny Crowder, suicide/abuse survivor, TEDx speaker, touring musician, mental health and sobriety advocate, and the Founder & CEO of Cope Notes, a text-based mental health platform that provides daily support to users in nearly 100 countries across the globe, to discuss the criticality of prioritizing mental health in the workplace.

Sarah Nicastro: Welcome to the Future of Field Service podcast. I'm your host, Sarah Nicastro. Today, we are going to be talking about the need to de-stigmatize, normalize and prioritize mental health in the workplace. Hopefully you are aware that this month, May, is mental health awareness month. Those of you that listen to the podcast regularly or read our content, know that this is a very important topic to me. And I am thrilled to have here with me today, Johnny Crowder. Johnny is a TEDx speaker, touring musician, mental health and sobriety advocate, as well as the founder and CEO of Cope Notes, which is a text-based mental health platform that provides daily support to users in nearly a hundred countries. Johnny, welcome to the Future of Field Service podcast.

Johnny Crowder: Thank you for having me. I'm pumped up.

Sarah Nicastro: Thank you for being here. So I found Johnny on LinkedIn and I am a big fan of his content and messages. I'm also a big fan in general, about how mental health is something that you see discussed more and more on LinkedIn, right? I think that's kind of a bit of what we're going to talk about today is this is not needed to be a conversation that you reserve for Facebook or Instagram or whatever your personal social media platform is of choice, it is a conversation that is important for us to be discussing in professional forums as well. So Johnny, tell us a little bit about yourself and your background and your journey and how you got to the point of becoming a mental health advocate and public speaker.

Johnny Crowder: Yeah. So the short version, I'll tell you the short version. The long version, I have a TEDx talk. So if you want to go listen to that, that's like an 18 minute breakdown of how the heck I got here.

Sarah Nicastro: Okay.

Johnny Crowder: But the short version, I'm going to leave out a lot of details here, but essentially I grew up in an abusive home and I learned all the wrong things about myself at a very young age, started developing symptoms of mental illness much, much younger than most people. So I'm talking like toddler years, elementary school, middle school. So I never really had like a normal day, that like childhood day where you go play soccer and you eat a freezer pop or whatever. I had a lot of trauma and a lot of illness at a really young age. And it kept me from performing daily tasks for a long time.

Johnny Crowder: So like any child would I resisted treatment for like 10 whole years. I just wouldn't touch it. And then I started mandatory treatment in high school because of some behavior issues. And then I wound up taking psychology courses to prove my doctors wrong. It turns out they were right. And then I took more psychology courses, eventually got a degree from the University of Central Florida in psychology. And then I switched. The big shift was thinking that I wanted to become a clinician to realizing the power of peer support and just using what I had been through to employ empathy. So now instead of being a doctor, I just work with doctors and then I provide that peer perspective from someone who's actually been through it firsthand. And then those doctors can provide the book learn inside.

Sarah Nicastro: Yes. Okay, good. So when did you do your first, I guess, public speaking thing related to this topic? How old were you, what was kind of the... how did that come to be? Was it your TED talk, or I'm assuming you've been speaking before that?

Johnny Crowder: No. I can't imagine the TED talk being like my first time talking about it. Well, I think, so it started, it's a really unglamorous start. I found out about NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, when I was in college and I was like performing, I was teaching and performing improv and I was in a band and we were touring and stuff. So I was a little bit familiar with stage, but definitely not talking about my own personal mental health on stage. And I met NAMI greater Orlando when I was in school, and they were like, "Yeah, we have people come up and speak at events and schools just about what they've been through," and I was like, "Oh, well, I'm still really sick. So like, can I participate while I'm still having a lot of issues?" And they were like, "Definitely, come get involved and volunteer."

Johnny Crowder: So I actually just got a LinkedIn notification that my 10 year anniversary with NAMI was this month. So literally 10 years ago. You got to picture me. I'm 18, still have pimples. I'm still trying to figure out the chest hair situation, whether or not I'm going to grow any. And I just started getting on stage at these really small, local volunteer type events and just trying to awkwardly share what I had been through. And over time it became... it started feeling more and more natural to the point now where if someone asks me about my mental health in a professional setting, I'm not like, bah, but they're seriously when I would apply to jobs, I would try to do everything within my power to prevent my employer from learning that I was taking anti-psychotic medication or seeing a therapist and so on, so the stigma was real.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. And I think, going back to what I mentioned in the introduction with some of the content you see come up on LinkedIn and some of the conversations we've had even on this podcast, that dialogue is changing and I'm very grateful for that, but there's a long way to go. There's a long way to go. And there's a couple points in what you just said that I think are important. One is, normalizing this topic is everyone's responsibility, right? And it's not just if you struggle with it and it's not just if you don't, right? It's sort of understanding that collectively is how we make more progress in making this a more normal part of dialogue and a more normal part of our professional lives.

Sarah Nicastro: The other thing is, I like what you said about sharing even though you were still struggling. Right? I mean, I know when you and I connected last, I told you there's a woman, Glennon Doyle, for anyone that is not familiar with her, she has been a writer and a public speaker and an activist in different ways. She wrote a book in 2013 called Carry on Warrior that really, really changed my life. I read it on an airplane rides in California. And I remember I just had tears streaming down my face, but it was talking about her experiences with anxiety and depression. And it was really the first time in my life I felt that it was okay that I wasn't okay. Do you know what I mean? And it was, 2013 doesn't sound so long ago to me, but really it was before there was as much open dialogue about this in, whether it's blogs or podcasts or just on social media. It was huge.

Sarah Nicastro: She actually just launched a podcast and the first episode was last week. And one of the listeners asked something about her coping mechanisms for anxiety. And she said, "Well, the first thing is I had to admit I'm never getting better. It is who I am and it's not going to go away. So once I could stop waiting for it to disappear, I could breathe again, because I wasn't trying to fundamentally change who I am as a person. And then I could actually look at, okay, how can I cope with this? Not how can I wish it away?" And I thought that was super powerful. But anyway, all of that to say, you never know when sharing your own experience or being open to listening to someone else's struggles is going to really, really change things for someone. And so it's important for us to all acknowledge the role we can play in this topic. Does that make sense? That was a lot of me babbling. I'm sorry.

Johnny Crowder: No, I specifically remember clarifying with NAMI before I... I have really bad memory loss from medication like long-term, but this is one thing that I specifically remember. I was quadruple checking with one of the organizers before I first started sharing it, like in a peer support setting. I'm like, "Are you sure it's okay? Because I'm still pretty in the thick of everything and trying to figure stuff out." And they were saying, "That's actually great because you're not so far out of it that you're saying, 'Oh yeah, dude, read this book and take this vitamin and you'll be fine. And I'm fine. Look at me now.'" That doesn't help as much as someone explaining to you what they're going through and you're going, "Holy crap. Yeah, exactly. It is really complicated. I wish it was that easy, but it's not," like that is the essence of peer support.

Sarah Nicastro: Right. So in terms of peer support, not only do you public speak and advocate yourself, but you've also created Cope Notes. So tell the people listening a little bit about what Cope Notes is and why it exists.

Johnny Crowder: Yeah. So Cope Notes uses daily text messages to improve mental and emotional health. And the whole reason we're doing that is because a lot of people don't have time for like an hour appointment or they don't know what their schedule is going to be like, so it's hard to plan for traditional mental health services. Or they have privacy concerns. I know that that's something that I was pretty concerned with when I was first starting to use some online digital mental health supports. And then it's also for people who struggle with consistency like me. So I'm the kind of person who, with all the best intentions, I either over commit or under commit and the under committing is a result of over-committing. So I'll be like, okay, I'm going to run seven miles every day for the whole year. And it's like, dude, that's such a bad plan.

Sarah Nicastro: Right.

Johnny Crowder: Like you're going to burn out, you're going to... It's not going to work long-term. So I wanted to create something that could sustain the consistency necessary to improve mental health long term. So Cope Notes, one thing I want to clarify is Cope Notes isn't like a magical, it'll make you better overnight. This is something that, we're investing in you a year from now. Just like if you brush your teeth every day, it's not going to magically get rid of cavities, but over time it will prevent you from getting cavities. And Cope Notes is kind of the same thing, like low effort. There's a low threshold, low barrier to entry and it's pretty passive. So these texts come to you. It's not like you have to remember to use the tool, and over time, it literally trains your brain to think in healthier patterns.

Sarah Nicastro: Cool. Very cool. Okay. We've both shared a little bit about ourselves. And let's talk though, let's start talking about why it's so important to de-stigmatize mental health issues in the workplace. So as you know, most of the people listening to this podcast are in the business world and responsible for teams and responsible for employees, and we probably have people from different ends of the spectrum, people that are like, "Yeah, let's normalize mental health," and then people that are like, "What? I don't want to talk about that or think about that or address that." So let's talk about why it's important to commit to de-stigmatizing this topic.

Johnny Crowder: Well, I'm thinking if you're a leader right now, you're listening and you are a manager, you have a team, picture yourself like a coach for a second. So you're the coach of a soccer team. Because I mentioned soccer earlier. How important is it for you as a coach to create an atmosphere, an environment for your team to let you know if they're hurt? Like imagine if you were the type of coach... and this is what's happening in the corporate world, by the way, we have coaches proverbially who are saying, if you break your ankle, I don't want to hear about it. Your team doesn't want to hear about it. Don't show weakness, get back out there on the field and crush the opponent no matter what. And what you're doing is guaranteeing that you will lose the game. And you're guaranteeing that you will lose a star player. Because he only thing that will make a broken ankle worse is continuing to play on the broken ankle.

Johnny Crowder: And a lot of people who are in a corporate environment, they'll start experiencing like crippling OCD to where it's interfering with their, it's not only interfering with their work, but also with their work-life balance. And then that's affecting their sleep and it's affecting their eating, and then that's affecting their performance. And we have leaders who are saying that's personal stuff. No, it's not. No, it's not. If it's affecting work performance, it is not a purely personal matter. Anyone... And you know what I've seen, there's a little more talk about this lately, which I think is important, divorce. When someone is going through a divorce, have you ever met someone who was going through a divorce and it didn't affect their work performance?

Sarah Nicastro: Right. No.

Johnny Crowder: So you can't... It's important to establish work-life balance. But also leaders are in a position where, I mean, if they actually care about their company, they actually care about the progress of what they're building and they care about their team, you don't even have to have a heart for the people. Even if you're like this cold calculated spreadsheet person, you don't give a crap about how people feel, you should still care about de-stigmatizing mental health. Because imagine if you were in a boat that had a hole and you couldn't find it, and the boat was going down and you couldn't find it because none of the people on the boat would want to tell you where the hole was because they were afraid to get in trouble or get judged. Your boat's going to sink, period.

Sarah Nicastro: Right. So that's it, that's a good point. I mean, hopefully you care because you care about people.

Johnny Crowder: Yeah, definitely

Sarah Nicastro: But for anyone that's listening that doesn't... No. But I mean, it is a good point that this is, you can care, and let's say that's the warm, fuzzy side of it, right? Like I really care about my team or my employees, but there's also an element of needing to realize the impact on performance and looking at it strategically in the sense of it isn't just about being a warm, fuzzy, I care about my people thing, it is also an element of the same way that you... A lot of companies have programs that help employees with their physical health because they want people to be healthy and they want people to show up and feel good and be able to do their work. It's the same idea with the mental health, right? It's maybe not as visible in some ways as physical ailments, but it's certainly just as important.

Sarah Nicastro: And I would say, with everything that's gone on in the past year, pro and con. Pro is, I think even companies that before weren't acknowledging the criticality of this topic have realized that they need to. Con is, people are a bit more stressed, burned out and struggling than they ever have been, right? So I said this earlier, we all have a responsibility in this, but let me hear from your perspective. Why is it everyone's job to normalize and prioritize mental health within a business?

Johnny Crowder: Well, you can either be an example or a non-example. And I know that for myself, if I ever had a non-example, I would cling to that. So I'm trying to think when I was in college, if I knew nine people, this is hypothetical, if I knew nine other students who were engaging with mental health services, and I knew nine teachers who are opening up about mental health, but I knew one student and one teacher that didn't want to talk about it, that's it. "Oh, that's not for me. And I'm actually good." I would identify with that person every single time, because people are naturally looking for an excuse not to work on themselves. They're always sure. Yesterday I had a sunburn. I still have one. I don't know if you can see it. It's mostly on my shoulders.

Sarah Nicastro: You don't even look red.

Johnny Crowder: But it was a real sunburn and I wanted ice cream because I was so hot. And I had ice cream, and it was great. And I can virtually guarantee you that if I wasn't sunburned, I would have found another reason to have ice cream, because I wanted it. It works the same way with something, I'll relate this to physical health as well, exercise. I can find a reason not to exercise. I've been working out forever and I can find a reason to be like, oh, you know what? Well, today is Monday. And maybe I should start working on organizing my closet because I've been meaning to do that for a while. I will avoid working out when I'm tired. And if I have a friend who says, "Oh yeah, I skip the gym a lot." I say, "Oh, I identify with that person."

Johnny Crowder: So each time you turn down the opportunity to share about yourself, or you turn down the opportunity to engage in a mental health conversation, you are providing a, it's not even a safe haven, it's a danger Haven. I don't even know if that's a thing, but you're giving someone who might need genuine help and support an opportunity to not engage by setting the wrong example. So no one is exempt from this. Like kids, trust me, if you have an eight year old who's talking to you about feeling anxious, that'll change a parent. So forget status roles or forget ages or demographics. Everyone has an opportunity to lead by example. And by choosing to not lead by example, you are accidentally still leading by example, you're just leading by the wrong one.

Sarah Nicastro: Right. Right. Yes. And it's, I think a recognition that you don't know when or how you're going to help someone in a significant way, but guaranteed, if you're avoiding, consciously avoiding the opportunity to do that, then you're not going to help someone, right? It is important for everyone to understand the role they play in normalizing these conversations and making this a priority within organizations. And I think that those negative examples hopefully are becoming few fewer and further between, and also standing out more. Right? That's kind of the flip side of this is as this conversation does normalize, those perceptions of this as a taboo topic or whatever are becoming less and less mainstream, that's... Yeah. So what would be your best advice for listeners on to create a company culture that's mental health friendly and/or what are some of the biggest mistakes you see companies make as they're making an effort to do that?

Johnny Crowder: So I'll start with mistakes. What I see really commonly is something like, "Oh, it's mental health awareness month. And for mental health awareness month, we're going to send an e-blast out to everybody. And then maybe if you reply to a poll, you can get entered for a chance to win a water bottle." And that's it. And then at the end of May, all the executives are patting themselves on the back like, "Yeah, we're so good. We're such good people." Or they'll do like, as for mental health awareness month, we donated $500 to a local mental health charity, and then pat, pat, pat on my back and then we'll do a press release about it. And then everybody's happy. I see a lot of that. And I also see it. I don't even have to tell listeners why that's not enough. So I'm not going to use time talking about that.

Johnny Crowder: But I will say that what I do see commonly as kind of like too much, too soon. So people going like, "Oh, now we're going to have yoga every morning. And then before the beginning of every meeting we're going to have this namaste moment where everyone goes around the table and talks about how they feel." And then productivity is lowered and people are like, "Am I really supposed to be honest in this setting?" So I see a lot of that, like too much, too soon where they're not really thinking about culture, they're more thinking about policy. And the best policy in the world won't save you from a bad culture.

Johnny Crowder: When I'm looking at something like a company culture around mental health, I think small incremental steps and including it in existing policy rather than drafting a whole new policy. I remember I was in the Carolinas and I was with my buddies kids. He has five kids. Five.

Sarah Nicastro: Can't imagine.

Johnny Crowder: And they were making lunch for the kids and they just, they don't like spinach. It's like something in the house where they're like, "Ooh, spinach is gross." So what she did was she put slices of spinach in a grilled cheese sandwich. Not slices of spinach, you know what I'm talking about, leaves.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah, yeah.

Johnny Crowder: In a grilled cheese sandwich. And then she had them take bites with their eyes closed to see which slice of grilled cheese they liked better, one with spinach one without. And they realized they couldn't tell the difference with their eyes closed. And I was blown away. I was like, this is such an innovative approach to getting these kids eat spinach. And she's like, "Well, yeah, if I just pour out a big bowl of spinach no one's going to eat any. You have to work it into things that they're familiar with that they like." And I think the same is true for mental health.

Johnny Crowder: Don't just dump it all into a bowl and push it out to all your employees. You have to... it's lots of casual mentions. So using a term like anxious or anxiety or depressed or depression, even just those two very basic things or asking people like how they are feeling, or if you're too scared of stuff like that, and you're a leader, you can literally start with asking people like for a minute at the top of a meeting, what they did over the weekend and then encouraging people to follow up with each other to ask, "Oh, you said you rode BMX this weekend. How did you even get into that?" And fostering those interpersonal conversations. Because if all your work conversations are about work, I can guarantee that people will never be fully honest in the work place.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. That's a really good point. I think we had a gentleman from QIAGEN on the podcast a few months ago, and we talked specifically about how they've increased their focus on employee mental health, really seeing the opportunity or need that COVID presented, and making it a focus for their field service operations, and a lot... Go ahead, go ahead.

Johnny Crowder: I just wanted to mention, I just had a great idea. I mean, it's not even an idea, but it's, a lot of leaders that I speak to say, "Well, my people don't really know me like that" or, "I don't really want to be the one that initiates something like that." This is when you need a scapegoat.

Sarah Nicastro: Okay.

Johnny Crowder: So this is like, I am a professional scapegoat.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah.

Johnny Crowder: Because, if you're a leader and you say something and it falls flat or lands wrong and you're in your head about it, things can go sideways. But if you, "Hey, we're going to have a speaker come in or we're going to have someone come, like a third party," then you offload that like nervous responsibility.

Sarah Nicastro: Responsibility, yeah.

Johnny Crowder: And then you get to refer to someone who's not you. So it doesn't seem like, "Steve is deciding that this is the way it is." You say, "The speaker the other day mentioned..." and then you have like stuff to pull from.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah.

Johnny Crowder: So a lot of people are afraid of being like the bad guy or the mental health guy, the person to start the conversation. It's like the spooky taboo region of conversation for some reason. And I always tell people that's exactly when you need a third party to come in and start it so that you can work off the momentum of that conversation rather than you being like, "I don't know what to say or don't know what to do." Let somebody else start the engine.

Sarah Nicastro: Yes, yes. That's a good point. And I think, probably a necessity for some personality types or comfort levels, but I also think, don't be a chicken and don't try and shirk your own responsibility for contributing. Now, that could be following on a speaker or it could just be taking the initiative flat out. But I think that what you said is it's really a matter of baby steps into the already existing processes, right? And that can feel uncomfortable at first, but the stakes are low. I mean, you ask how everyone's feeling in a meeting and you might get a couple of weird looks, but if you do it often enough, then people will start to engage.

Sarah Nicastro: I also think that leaders have to understand that it's a two-way street. So it can't just be you asking, how do you feel, how do you feel, how do you feel, if you're never willing to kind of engage on that personal level in an authentic way, whatever that looks like for you, but you have to be willing to share some of your own feelings, thoughts, struggles, as well, so that you model the fact that that level of engagement is not just accepted within the organization, but encouraged.

Johnny Crowder: Yeah. I'm thinking of one particular board that I serve on where there's a doctor that leads the board and she will kind of, at the top of the meeting, everyone will like share for about a minute or so just very brief, very quick talking about stuff. And she did this thing especially early on when the board was new. I've been with them for a couple of years now, but early on, I was like, I don't know basically anyone here, so I don't know what I'm supposed to share and when I'm not supposed to share.

Johnny Crowder: And she did this thing where she was explaining, like we go around and share and she's like, "I'll go first. I had a paper due last Thursday and it was due for publication and someone messed up a submission number somewhere and it's been pushed off. And I thought about it the entire weekend. That happened on Thursday. Today's Monday. And I feel like I couldn't get my brain to think about other things because I was so anxious about the thing on Thursday and whether or not they'll let us submit late. So honestly I'm a little wiped out, but I'm looking forward to getting energy back from this meeting." And I was just like, holy crap, this is the leader of the whole thing. And then as people started sharing, I mean, you don't have to tell people to share something similar, they will do it naturally because they saw that there was no consequence.

Sarah Nicastro: Right. Yes. But you have to humanize yourself, right?

Johnny Crowder: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Sarah Nicastro: So let's talk then about why sometimes I think people don't do that, which is this sort of misconception that leaders have to kind of have that stiff upper lip, that I needed to be in a position where I command respect and I shouldn't let any cracks in the foundation show or signs of weakness or what have you. So what would you say to that misconception and why that is sort of an incorrect or outdated view of what leadership should look like?

Johnny Crowder: I think outdated is the right word, because that used to be a thing. Think back in the previous century and people were going through a lot of stuff, they needed a fearless leader, strong. And they're like, "Oh, we have to cut a thousand jobs this week," and the leader is like, "I will make it happen." That was kind of, I guess it worked for a long time, but now it's you see something like that and you just think, did they even hear? That's bad news. The thing that I think maybe a few decades ago what people feared most in a work setting was like a spineless leader or a leader that couldn't take action or a leader that couldn't command authority. Now people's fear is like a careless, cold, callous leader. They don't want to follow a robot. Why do you think there's like authenticity and vulnerability trainings and all this stuff for leaders? It's because people want to work for somebody who they know is a real person.

Sarah Nicastro: Right.

Johnny Crowder: And that's why I think, in the modern era, like before technology, I think strength was important. But now with everyone being able to access, basically they can look you up and find out all this stuff about you, they don't want to see that, they don't want to see your resume in a work setting or what you've accomplished. They want to see, oh dang, okay, he has a three-year-old and his three-year-old threw up on him. And that's, I've been through that, too.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. Who you are underneath.

Johnny Crowder: And all of a sudden you're like, "Man, you know what? I remember when my kid was three and I... Yeah, I want to give a little extra juice this week because I remember going through that" or, "Man, my kid is going to be three next year and I want to learn from this guy." So there's all of these opportunities to shift the way that you portray yourself in a work setting in order to provide more value. And in fact, most people think they're compromising authority and you're not. You're not. The people who have the most authority, if you think about virtually anything, the people who have the most authority are the people you like the most.

Sarah Nicastro: Right.

Johnny Crowder: For example, in my mind, if I've met you and I know you, you have more authority than the mayor of my city. Because I've never met the mayor of my city. So that, don't compromise, don't think that you have to compromise authority for showing your personality, because think about the people with the most authority in your life, they're most likely your friends and family.

Sarah Nicastro: Right. I was just going to say, I think the goal of authority in many cases is influence, right? And so I think that's going back to what we talked about earlier. Like hopefully you care about this topic because you just care. Right? But there is also an element of normalizing mental health discussions, not only because you care about your people, but because you don't need that hole in the boat, as you said. Same thing goes here. I wouldn't suggest trying to become more vulnerable as a leader just to exercise influence over people. Okay? It needs to be authentic. But when you can authentically connect with people in a human way, you do increase your influence over them. Do you know what I mean? There is also a correlation in terms of the positive impact on people, but also the positive impact on outcome. Right? So, that's a good point as well.

Sarah Nicastro: Okay. I know we're going to run out of time. I want to ask two other quick questions, Johnny. The first is, if you see an employee is struggling or if you know an employee, hopefully at some point it feels comfortable coming to you and saying that they are struggling, what is the best ways for a company or a leader to offer support?

Johnny Crowder: So, number one, don't be empty handed. Like don't say, "Well, no one's ever asked us for stuff so we don't need stuff." Wrong. Now is the time to have a few go-to resources. And I would say, make sure those resources are tiered. Don't give them three of the same type of thing. Like we have a red one, a blue one and a yellow one. Be like, what is your scale of need right now? Are you like a one to three? Are you a four to six? Are you a seven to 10? And then have at least one option in each of those categories? So I would say if you... Most people say, I want a suite of products to hand people, just make sure that they're covering different bases.

Sarah Nicastro: Right.

Johnny Crowder: And then I'll say, if you're identifying someone who might be struggling, the best thing you can do, best thing you can do is take them out to lunch. Best thing you can do. And no pretense, no anything like that, and just like spend time with them. Because I can almost guarantee, like food makes people let their guard down. If you take them out, you don't have to be like, "So how's your mental health lately?"

Sarah Nicastro: Right.

Johnny Crowder: Just be like, "Hey, just wanted to take you out. And I had a gift card to Chili's, so I thought it would be nice for you to get out of the office for a little while," and just talk. But I would say in either scenario, make clear that if they share something, make it clear like, "Hey, you're not going to get in trouble for what you just said to me. So don't leave this office and wonder if you made a mistake or anything. You got to know, we're not going to be... I'm not going to like go to all these higher ups and be like, oh, listen, this is what this guy is going through." Just remind them as they leave like, what you just did was really important, now I'm clued in. I can help and we can see, we can actually work together to solve this rather than you trying to figure it out on your own. So you just made the best decision you could make, like reinforce that

Sarah Nicastro: Right. Positive reinforcement of articulating that need. Right? Yeah. That's a good point. Okay. Last question. Tell listeners what resources, offhand, do you recommend for folks that want to either expand their own knowledge on mental health or look at different resources for their organizations. What are your suggestions there?

Johnny Crowder: So I'm going to be biased and recommend Cope Notes and also my TED talk. But outside of that, I would recommend NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness. I can guarantee there's an affiliate close to you and they'll have a pretty good finger on the pulse of what resources are available in your area. And also TED talks in general. They have a way of taking these really complicated like subjects and then distilling them down into like 15, 10, 20 minutes. And that helps. Even if you, from now on, you send one TED talk a month, or you watch it with your employees over lunch, or you send it out via email or whatever, you have it on your internal employee board and you have the TED talk of the month and it's related to mental health, people will watch that and it will make a difference, because education is key.

Johnny Crowder: If you make health education easy and communal in that, "Hey everyone, homework for over the weekend, you watch this TED talk, it will take 15 minutes. And then on Monday morning at the first 10 minutes of our all hands meeting, we're going to just talk about some insights that we gleaned from the TED talk." That's the stuff that changes culture.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. Very good points. All right, Johnny. Well, thank you so much for coming on and sharing. I really appreciate you being here.

Johnny Crowder: Absolutely. Thanks for having me.

Sarah Nicastro: You can learn more by visiting us at futureoffieldservice.com. If you within your organization are taking strides to de-stigmatize and normalize mental health, I would love to talk with you about that and have you on the podcast as well. The Future of Field Service podcast is published in partnership with IFS. You can learn more about IFS at ifs.com. As always, thank you for listening.

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May 24, 2021 | 5 Mins Read

The Shared Responsibility of Destigmatizing and Prioritizing Mental Health at Work

May 24, 2021 | 5 Mins Read

The Shared Responsibility of Destigmatizing and Prioritizing Mental Health at Work

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By Sarah Nicastro, Creator, Future of Field Service

In the last 14 months, as the lines have blurred between our personal and professional lives more than ever before, workplace discussions and action around mental health have never been more critical. Burnout is real and even employees who didn’t content with mental health struggles pre-COVID are experiencing the impact of the chronic stress the pandemic has introduced. Those, like myself, who already had a mental health issue to keep in check alongside their work, family, and home duties are in varying stages of struggle.

So, what do we do? Well, first, we need to acknowledge the criticality of destigmatizing, normalizing, and prioritizing mental health at work and we need to understand that doing so is a collective responsibility of us all. Yes, it is May and this is Mental Health Awareness month, but posting a few links to articles on this topic or checking the box on a ‘mental health meeting’ for your team does not a movement make. At Future of Field Service, we’ve been working to incorporate mental health into our content and dialogue because we realize how imperative it is to have this be a topic of discussion and an area of action as a regular course of business – not one month a year.

I recently sat down with Johnny Crowder, who I noticed from his active presence on LinkedIn surrounding mental health, to ask for some input on how businesses can improve and make progress in caring for their employees’ mental health. Johnny is a suicide and abuse survivor, TEDx speaker, touring musician, mental health and sobriety advocate, and the Founder & CEO of Cope Notes, which is a text-based mental health platform that provides daily support to users in nearly 100 countries across the globe. We started by discussing the fact that, in today’s world, personal lives and professional lives are simply lives – innately interconnected. “A lot of people who are in a corporate environment, they'll start experiencing a mental health issue where it's interfering with not only their work, but also with their work-life balance,” explains Johnny. “And then that's affecting their sleep and it's affecting their eating, and then that's affecting their performance. And we have leaders who are saying that's personal stuff. No, it's not. No, it's not. Mental health is not a purely personal matter.”

Small Steps, Repeatedly and Continuously

Johnny urges you to look at mental health as an area of responsibility and key focus, not as a buzzed-about topic that requires you to check items off a list. "Oh, it's mental health awareness month. And for mental health awareness month, we're going to send an e-blast out to everybody. And then maybe if you reply to a poll, you can get entered for a chance to win a water bottle. We could even donate $500 to a local mental health charity and then do a press release about that,” says Johnny. “Some companies do this and then at the end of May, all the executives are patting themselves on the back. I see a lot of that. And I don't even have to explain why that's not enough.”

But while it is important to take a genuine approach to incorporating mental health care into your workplace, it is also important to keep it natural and practical. “I will say that what I do see commonly is kind of too much, too soon. ‘Let’s have yoga every morning!’ I think this stems from a focus on policy rather than culture. And the best policy in the world won't save you from a bad culture,” says Johnny. “When you look at really incorporating mental health into your culture, I think small incremental steps and including it in existing policy rather than drafting a whole new policy work best.”

Think about where, within your existing processes, you can incorporate mental health discussions and actions that are non-intrusive, natural, and repeatable. “My sister in law was trying to introduce spinach to her kids that don’t like vegetables. She put it into their grilled cheese sandwiches! I was like, this is such an innovative approach to getting these kids eat spinach. And she's like, ‘Well, yeah, if I just pour out a big bowl of spinach no one's going to eat any. You have to work it into things that they're familiar with that they like.’ And I think the same is true for mental health,” explains Johnny.

What this looks like in practice often seems small or non-descript, but Johnny is confident that’s what works best. This can look like simply working to ask your employees more personal questions, about their hobbies or what they enjoy or their families or what they did last weekend, to simply get to know them better and to open a non-role related dialogue. “Focus on casual mentions. So using a term like anxious or anxiety or depressed or depression, even just those two very basic things or asking people like how they are feeling, or literally just start with asking people at the top of a meeting what they did over the weekend,” say Johnny. “It’s about fostering interpersonal conversations and connections. Because if all your work conversations are about work, I can guarantee that people will never be fully honest in the workplace.”

Embrace Vulnerability & Lead by Example

It’s important for leaders who are in any way uncomfortable with the idea of mental health as a focus to realize that vulnerability is the new superpower. “The strong, fearless leader with a stiff upper lip worked for a long time, but it is entirely outdated,” cautions Johnny. “A few decades ago, what people feared most in a work setting was a spineless leader or a leader that couldn't take action or command authority. Now people's fear is a careless, cold, callous leader. They don't want to follow a robot. Why do you think there are authenticity and vulnerability trainings everywhere for leaders? It's because people want to work for somebody who they know is a real person.”

Accomplishments and authority as a leader are still important, but today those things need to be balanced with relatability, authenticity, and humanization to be effective. The most impactful leaders realize how much power there is in building influence through connection rather than coercion and how critical personal relationships and openness are in attaining this. How you speak as a leader, your willingness to open up and share some of your own personal moments and even struggles, can go further in normalizing mental health in the workplace than countless dollars spent on formal programs.

Don’t Be caught Unprepared When it Matters Most

Finally, Johnny points out that as you start to normalize mental health discussions in the workplace, you need to be prepared with action when someone opens up about an issue they need support on. “Don't be empty handed. Have a few go-to resources. And I would say, make sure those resources are tiered for the level of seriousness of the issue. Be sure you’re ready to cover different bases,” he advises. “And never minimize the impact of just being present and listening. If you're identifying someone who might be struggling, the best thing you can do is take them out to lunch. Best thing you can do. No pretense, just like spend time with them.”

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May 21, 2021 | 3 Mins Read

Living with COVID: Planning for Perpetual PPE

May 21, 2021 | 3 Mins Read

Living with COVID: Planning for Perpetual PPE

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By Tom Paquin

Out in the wilds of the world (of the suburbs north of Boston) I’ve seen every manner of barrier, mask, visor, partition, dome, and so on—all with the purpose of quartering off those pesky microbes to keep one another safe. At one place, the partitions will be made of flimsy plastic, while another has installed glass barriers that permanently separate their staff, which is to say that the scope of personal protective equipment (PPE) ranges from things that can come down with the help of a light breeze to things that are now permanent fixtures of our lives. So, too, will it be for things like masks, visors, and so on.

Perpetual PPE, as it were, has a variety of connotations and considerations for service, certainly, and it’ll be necessary to start thinking now about how some of this stuff will function beyond the quick stopgaps that we’ve built over the last year. Here are some considerations for what the next step of COVID preparedness might involve:

Developing a Coherent Strategy for PPE

We touched on this last week when we were considering how to meet people where they are, but service businesses interact with the world in different ways, and building a policy of consent is, first and foremost, integral to meeting that customer’s expectations.

As we emerge from our caves, and allow people to enter them to conduct service, it’ll be important to establish boundaries to maintain the new expectations of a weary world. Cynical people might call this “kid gloves”, but a year’s worth of trauma and anxiety doesn’t wash off, and if you want to be a business that is taken seriously, you’ll take people’s expectations about personal protective equipment seriously as well.

This will start with evaluating employee expectations, but it’s also about enabling employees, ensuring that the right materials are available in vehicles and at job sites to maintain cleanlieness and expectations, and that that training is disseminated, understood, and agreed upon. It’s a simple thing that can go a long way for the customers. Some will certainly brush it off. For others, it’ll prove that you actually care about them.

Rethinking Resources

Perhaps, you have, like me, concluded that mask dispensers will now be ubiquitous in public spaces in much the same way as hand sanitizer and tissues. There’s a rolling spectrum of where, why, and how these sorts of one-off materials will be disseminated to staff and customers in any given space, but as people stop carrying masks in their cars all the time, because they don’t need to, perhaps they’d like one while they stroll through a department store.

This is another one that is simple, but courteous—get in front of customer expectations, and start planning for this future today. Many businesses have made slap-dash changes to their floorplans to combat COVID. Maybe now we can take a step back, look at what we have, and make clear plans for what comes next.

What do we do with Waste?

This is a lot more complicated. I’m not unearthing some vast conspiracy when I said that PPE waste will continue to be a problem—It will. What we do in the short-term is important, but if PPE will be a continued fixture of how you conduct field service, it’s important to at least consider what the environmental impact of those actions will be. Perhaps it’ll overlap with the way that you manage your investment in the circular economy, or it’ll simply be disposal guidelines, but there’s no doubt the opportunity for disruption at some level, here.

None of us expected that we’d be wearing masks and taking precautions for this long, and without a doubt, there’s a contingency of people who will wear masks forever, for various reasons. Building plans for how we navigate these new dynamics will be necessary, and may even end up giving your business a leg-up.

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May 19, 2021 | 31 Mins Read

Foxtel Masters The Contract Workforce Model

May 19, 2021 | 31 Mins Read

Foxtel Masters The Contract Workforce Model

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Nunzio Bagnato, Director of Home Service & Advance Servicing At Foxtel, describes how the company has motivated its contract workers to be highly engaged, effective, and empowered to deliver the Foxtel brand experience.

Sarah Nicastro: Welcome to the Future of Field Service Podcast. I'm your host, Sarah Nicastro. Today we're going to be discussing a topic that comes up, conversation after conversation with opposing views and a lot of questions. I think we're going to answer some of those here today, so we're going to be talking about how Foxtel has mastered the contract workforce model.

Sarah Nicastro: I'm excited to be joined today by Nunzio Bagnato who is the Director of Home Service and Advanced Servicing for Foxtel. Nunzio, welcome to the Future of Field Service Podcast.

Nunzio Bagnato: Thank you.

Sarah Nicastro: Thank you for being here.

Nunzio Bagnato: How are you?

Sarah Nicastro: Good, good. Doing great. All right, so before we get into the contract workforce discussion, start by just telling our listeners a bit about yourself and your role and your background and anything you want to share related to Foxtel.

Nunzio Bagnato: Yeah, thank you. Look, as you said, I look after the home service part of our business as well as the advanced servicing. Advanced servicing is more to do with our case, technical case management and secondary activities that require some additional case management. But around 50% of my role, even 60% of my role is the home service, field service part of the business, and I oversee the field service part of that business as well as the contract relationship, all the field activities that involve installation, servicing the customer, upgrading the customer.

Nunzio Bagnato: I've been at Foxtel for 23 years, I've got 30 years experience in field service, originally started as a field technician at one of our first pay TV companies when I was about 20, and have been in the industry ever since and made my way up the ladder, and have now enjoy running a successful home service team here at Foxtel.

Sarah Nicastro: Awesome. Okay, so 23 years, that's a heck of a tenure, and you have that first hand perspective of what the front line job is all about. So I think that's really cool as well. I want to start by saying the audience of this podcast is a global audience and so we talked about the fact, Nunzio, when you and I connected previously, that the contract model is a more common model in Australia, and so I think that factors in to this discussion in the sense of maybe giving you a little bit more of a comfort level around it, but I think the practices that you have put in place at Foxtel for really mastering and optimizing this model, or something that is easily transferable or good food for thought for any company in any region looking to better leverage the value of a contingent workforce.

Sarah Nicastro: That being said, there does seem to be some debate around, is our contract workers the way to go, are they not the way to go? Are they the way to go, or are they not the way to go? In Australia, it's more common. You had mention that when you talk with colleagues in the US, the number one issue seems to be concern over control. Why do you think is?

Nunzio Bagnato: Look, I understand that concern. For many, many years we had some of those challenges. We had a traditional contractor model. Very transactional, very volume based model and the field technician was probably single minded focusing on what they can get from the role. It was the way we shifted that model, moved up to a more service based model, less transactional. And transformed what the technician should do and what the contractor's responsibility is in that contract.

Nunzio Bagnato: And it wasn't until we actually shifted to the new model and changed the way we operate and the way we engage with our vendors or our contractors, that's when we started to see the results of what we see today. We needed to change the culture. Traditionally a contractor model is transactional, it's a master/servant sort of arrangement, and you're going to get those type of results, you're going to get that behavior, you're going to get that culture.

Nunzio Bagnato: So, how do get a contracted workforce to feel and behave like your own field workforce without crossing any of those legal lines and having a strategic partnership where you have your contracting workforce or your contractors in the same building, side-by-side, part of your team, an extension of my structure and then have the field workforce change the way they interact with the customer, the way they actually present themselves. Shifting that model, introducing a score card model. And I know that every organization has score cards, but we didn't want to introduce a score card that was just something that we look at and tick and flick, it really had to be a way of working. It was the Foxtel way, if you like.

Nunzio Bagnato: And it was the program of work that we married with the score card and the rankings, and I'll talk a bit more about the score card. We did away with all those penalties in a traditional contracted model. In the past technicians will be penalized for not hitting KPIs or milestones. We did away with that. Our view was that we're dealing with adults. We want to have adult conversations with our vendors, our technicians or our contracting leadership team and have meaningful collaborative conversations.

Nunzio Bagnato: If they're an extension of my team, then we're having the same operating with them. We have those weekly meetings, we have those strategic meetings that actually drives us to meet our strategic goals. So, they are the key areas that we changed. To colocation, the extension of our team, the score card and the culture, and by the way, it wasn't like we just flicked it overnight. It was a journey, especially the culture phase. Shifting an entire workforce from a traditional contractor model to the model that we have today, we still have challenges today, but by large, we have been able to shift the workforce.

Sarah Nicastro: Okay, we're going to dig into all of that a little bit more, but I think one of the key messages that I want to get across to listeners here is that not only would you say that the cost efficiency of the model outweigh some of those concerns, but it doesn't necessarily have to be a trade-off. There are steps you can take and measures you can put in place to circumvent and alleviate a lot of the concerns that I think prohibit people from taking a deeper look at this model. Would you agree with that?

Nunzio Bagnato: Yeah. I don't disagree, no. You're right.

Sarah Nicastro: Okay, so let's talk then about some of those steps that Foxtel has taken to really shift things from that transactional more penalty based environment to one that's more collaborative, and when you said that we've gotten away from penalties and we've shifted, I know what you've shifted to, so I have a little bit of a sneak peek, but it made me think of parenting. They say that when you can give positive reinforcement, it's much more effective than punishment, punishment, punishment. So that seems to be a theme here as well.

Nunzio Bagnato: Well, it's an interesting point you make there. That exact point was pretty much when it came to the score card and how we actually managed the score card and the conversation we have with our field technicians. We wanted to focus on the positives. Every conversation had to be around the positives. What are we doing really, really well? And how? First of all, how did you get there? Not by luck. Not by sheer luck. You got there because you did something, you followed a particular sequence or you followed the process, or whatever it may be.

Nunzio Bagnato: Understanding how you got there, so we can continue to do that or improve on that is critical, so positively reinforcement and then what else can we do to improve? What are some of the other areas we can improve on? That is definitely how we approach our conversations. And that is at all levels. What I do when talking to my direct reports, when they're talking to the vendor or leadership team, we're talking to the field leadership team, when we're talking to the tech leadership team, it's the same, same conversation.

Sarah Nicastro: Yes. And I think that another aspect here is, if you're looking more for positive reinforcement, then how do you incentivize or reward these workers in a way that promotes those positive behaviors rather than simply penalizing them for a negative outcome. We're going to dig into that. Before we do, you mentioned that the score card was one pillar of this overall journey. Walk us back through the different areas of this, and then we'll dig into the score card specifically.

Nunzio Bagnato: We really needed to shift the way that the technician focused on the day. And prior to the score card or prior to our command center model being rolled out, our technicians focused on the traditional metrics like the completion rates, the misdeployment, blah, blah, blah. Really important, really important, but it was definitely drove a volume base behavior. Bang, bang, bang, bang, just get through the day as quick as I can, get the volumes through, because the more I do, the more I get paid.

Nunzio Bagnato: But that obviously impacted the way we actually serviced our customers, it impacted quality, it impacted safety, it impacted a number different areas of our business that we felt that needed to be addressed. And we lost the reason, we lost focus on why we're here. We needed to realize, we needed to take a step back and really make sure that everyone in our business understands why we're here. We're here to provide a service to a customer. In my case, we're providing entertainment to a customer.

Nunzio Bagnato: There was no focus on the customer when we're out there, so let's focus on the customer. We introduced the score card collectively with the leadership team, we introduced the score card that focused on four quadrants. And the first quadrant was all about the customer. It's about customer surveys and arrival on time. That's it. That's all I want to know about. If we go out there and we get a really good survey and great verbatims to go with that, and we've met their expectations by arriving on time, we've done what we had to do in that particular quadrant.

Nunzio Bagnato: And then we have our cycle quadrant, which is your traditional metrics, which is your completion rates and that type of stuff. The other quadrant is finance, and we wanted to focus on the finance component of what the technician does, because we do have a free issue model in our business. There are things that we need to keep an eye on and the contractors are a sub-contractor, their own business. So they need to understand how they impact the financial component of the score card. Nothing major, just something small, just for them to keep an eye on, but it's really important for us to keep track of our free issue and inventory.

Nunzio Bagnato: And then the last quadrant is quality and safety, of quality mainly. I'll talk about safety a second. Safety doesn't sit in the score card for us, safety is the qualifier, the gateway. If you fail any safety audits, then you are disqualified from your score card for the month. It's irrelevant how good you are in your score card, you fail safety, then you fail the whole lot. So safety is a gateway into the score card.

Nunzio Bagnato: And in the quality quadrant we have revisit, so the amount of times a job needs to be returned within 30 days. And what's important for us is having the set top box connected to the internet and the work involved in doing that. There isn't a lot of KPIs and it was by design. We don't want to have too many, but we've identified the key areas of our business that we want the technician to focus on. And each quadrant has a 25 point rating. So you can get a maximum of 25 and there are some thresholds.

Nunzio Bagnato: That score card is important to the field technician, because we lend idea from Uber and have a ranking, and the ranking, which is our bronze, our silver, gold and platinum, determines the priority of routing. So when it comes to routing, if you're a platinum technician, and you're been a platinum technician for that month, then for the next month you're going to enjoy priority routing, so you'll be the first technician to be routed. So all the platinum technicians get routed, all the gold guys next, all the silver guys and if there's anything left, the bronze guys will get the rest.

Nunzio Bagnato: That's really important for our business. Especially important for a contractor, a sub-contractor if you like, because this is their business. They have to ensure that they've got continuous work coming in so they can actually run their business. And for us, we're driving a culture. We're shifting the way the technician manages the customer. They sit down with the customer, they have that interaction with the customer, they service the customer, they really deliver what we want them to deliver and then they're doing everything else on the job they need to do. Making sure they complete the job, making sure they do this, they do that, from a quality point of view.

Nunzio Bagnato: When we first started this journey, it was five years ago, and we launched the score card model, 70 odd percent of our field workforce were bronze technicians. And we're really proud that right now, 70 odd percent of our field workforce is predominantly platinum and a little bit of gold. And that's taken a lot of work from our leadership team as well as the contractor leadership team. It is a lot of side-by-side compensations to get that team, the field team to operate where they need to be today.

Nunzio Bagnato: The score card really is identifying those KPIs that you want to focus on as a group, and introducing that KPI that's going to shift the way you operate, the way you service the customer and not put in any type of KPI, I mean, you can have a laundry list of KPIs, you can really get carried away, but we chose the eight. And we chose the eight for a reason, because we wanted to shift the way we operated, shift the way we serviced our customers, and we felt these KPIs did that.

Sarah Nicastro: There's couple things that I think are really interesting. The first is this recognition that I think a lot of the hesitancy around the contractor model, when you look at why do people feel they need to maintain that control. At least in my conversations it's primarily to protect the customer experience. Yet, when you're running a volume based business, you're working against that objective to some degree, just by incentivizing volume, volume, volume.

Sarah Nicastro: The incorporation of those customer focused metrics was an important step in helping your contract workforce understand, "Okay wait, we've realized the volume is not the only thing that's important here, and we need to prioritize the customer experience a bit more." I also think though there's something to be said about the simplicity of what you're choosing to track and how. So to your point, if you had a quadrant with eight KPIs in each square, it just becomes convoluted, it's harder for people to understand, they might not be as engaged in paying attention to what their rank is, and really simplifying that.

Sarah Nicastro: Now, one of the things we talked about though, is that those KPIs, you like to focus on two per quadrant, so the quadrants are identified, you like to set two KPIs for a quadrant to keep things simple, but those KPIs can change based on what the business' biggest priorities are. Can you talk a little bit about that?

Nunzio Bagnato: Absolutely, and it's really important to know that this score card is, all the KPIs that make up the score card, is fluid. There are some KPIs that will not be removed. I mean, customer satisfaction is one of them, that is always, that's cemented in, and that's important that we understand that, that is a number one focus.

Nunzio Bagnato: But from the moment we raised or launched the score card to where we are now, we've replaced these KPIs. In the early days when we launched the model, that's the command center model, and we introduced a new field service scheduling system, we needed the technicians to change the way they interacted with us and how they use the system, and I required them to follow a couple of different steps, click button here, click button there. And we just couldn't get the field workforce to do that. So we included it in the score card. Button compliance was critical to our success. Especially when you're working a workforce scheduling system that we share that depends on the technician clicking on-site and clicking off-site, so we can get accurate timings, get the data we need to be able to run an efficient business.

Nunzio Bagnato: So we had button compliance. We also had time on the job. We identified early on that technicians were doing seven minute service calls. And in a contract in the old world, that make sense, because you're pumping through a lot of volume, but in our world now, it's like, seven minutes, how do you actually knock on the customer's door, rate the customer, diagnose the problem, fix the problem, explain the problem and then take the customer through the ending of the interaction in seven minutes? It's not possible.

Nunzio Bagnato: So job timing were as important and trying to change, not asking the technician stop doing jobs quickly, it's about can you explain to me how this seven minutes service call happened? Can you please explain to me how we can actually increase the time? Have you gone through each of the steps on the scope of work? And it's just educating the technician on what we expect from them, and what our customers expect from them and what you should be doing in each of your jobs.

Nunzio Bagnato: And we're not suggesting for a moment that every technician spend an hour, an hour and a half on every job, you're going to have different technicians spending different times, but ruling out those little job times or those smaller job times, because you know we're not offering the customer the level service we need, was important. So we introduced things that we needed to focus on, that we knew that needed to shift. Either shifted from a performance point of view or shift from a behavior slash culture point of view. And we continue to look at what kind of areas of our business do we need to now reintroduce.

Nunzio Bagnato: Now, we don't do it as often as monthly, in actual fact, we went early days we did six months, now we've extended it out every year. So every year when we enter into our new financial year, we will review our score card and we will have a look at what we're going to include this year, what is our focus, so what is our strategic focus this year, and how does the field actually contribute to that. Do we need to change our score card, or do we need to change the target, and do that.

Nunzio Bagnato: And by the way, we don't just decide in this office and then roll it out, we have the conversation with our service provider or our contracting company, then we pressure test it with our field leaders and then we pressure test it with a focus group of technicians and we get feedback. And when they're comfortable, we're all on the same page and we got the right feedback and we're going to achieve what we need to achieve, then we'll formally roll it out as a change. In our model, we don't just do things for the sake of doing it, or we don't just change things and expect the rest of the business to fall in line. They're the ones that actually going to be delivering this, so we need to understand, is it something we're going to be able to successfully achieve?

Nunzio Bagnato: The score card is not only for the technicians. The score card is aggregated all the way up to me. So the score card the technicians look at, and we'll talk about the other score cards in a second, that is how everyone's measured. It's not only for the field techs, the score card model is aggregated all the way up to me, so everyone's got skin in the game here. I don't have a different set of KPIs, we all got the same KPIs, we work off the one score card.

Sarah Nicastro: Okay, tell us about the other score cards.

Nunzio Bagnato: We've got a command center and planning team that's co-located as I said to you earlier, and they have their own score cards. So the command center have their own score card and the planning team have their score card. There are shared measures or shared KPIs, things like customer satisfaction, completion rates, they are shared. They are things that we believe that everyone in this group has the ability to influence, and there's a couple of other KPIs that are shared. And then there are KPIs that are specific to their role.

Nunzio Bagnato: The difference with that score card is, they're employees of the contracting company, so they're not sub-contractors, so they're on salary. Their score card is linked to their bonus. For example this year, the target is gold. If they achieve a gold average throughout the year, they get a 100% of their bonus. If they don't then they get a percentage of their bonus, and it's really, again, same sort of operating rhythm, a weekly side-by-side conversation. Going through the score card, focusing on the positives, identifying the opportunities, having a look at other peers and bringing in those peer-to-peer conversations, the coaching, the mentoring to help that individual be successful.

Nunzio Bagnato: But the way it operates here, is that we have, an example be the Victorian Command Center Optimizer, we'd sit down with the Victorian Planner, we'd sit down with the Victorian Field Leadership Team in their weekly meeting and they would share their KPIs and work through their plan of attack for the week. Now, there is a focus, and then they go away and hopefully that plan they put in place is going to yield them the results they planned and then happy days. We keep moving and get better and better with it. So they work really closely together.

Nunzio Bagnato: And you've got a combination of contractor versus Foxtel employee in those conversations as well.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah, that's one of the things you said earlier about even when you're making changes to the field score card, you're asking for feedback, and I think that's another good point, is just because you choose to leverage a contractor model, does it mean that you can't value and treat those employees as a part of the business. I think there's sometimes this perception that its internal or external and it sounds like you guys are doing a good job of making sure that you're listening to that feedback, incorporating that feedback and prioritizing those employees' voice in a similar sense of W2 employees.

Nunzio Bagnato: Well, we value the technicians, we value... My view is they have a voice. They have a very strong voice. They're the only face-to-face contact we have.

Sarah Nicastro: Right.

Nunzio Bagnato: When you look at our business, every interaction the customer has, is going to be over the phone or via chat or online. The field technician is the only face-to-face they have. So they are prime to tell us exactly how we can improve the customer experience, they are in a perfect position to tell us how to improve our business, because they are doing what they need to do to get the jobs done at the standard that we expect from them. They've got a voice in our business. Our field and myself, my field leadership team, my leadership team, have always been front and center in toolbox meetings or any type of technician gathering. They're out and about. We don't just sit in an office and cut ourselves off from the world, because I think having those face-to-face relationships, not only are you getting the feedback from them, you're helping them understand our strategy, the reasons why we make decisions.

Nunzio Bagnato: We are helping them with our message. We're actually developing a really strong relationship at every level. We're not hierarchical at all. I mean, I've had conversations with multiple technicians. I have technicians call me, text me, and I'm okay with that, because that is a window, that is a portal into their world that I need. So how do I improve my business if I don't have the relationship with the guys and girls that are doing the hard yards every single day?

Nunzio Bagnato: And I was a technical as well, so I've got a soft spot for them as well.

Sarah Nicastro: Right, right. Now, we talked about the tiers of technicians and the prioritization of routes. So the platinum technicians get the best routes. Are there other incentives tied to their achieved tier or is that the primary, I guess, incentive for them to work toward platinum, gold, etc?

Nunzio Bagnato: Well, as soon as you're a platinum technician, you've been given the opportunity to actually take on additional work or other types of work, for example, our VIPs and escalated customers are only serviced by platinum technicians. When we make a promise to our VIPs and we're sending out a technician, we're sending the best of the best, because they have a proven record. They're excellent customer experienced, they're excellent in every other KPI on the score card, but they've got a history of being a platinum technician.

Nunzio Bagnato: And any other type of additional event sort of work or any type of additional work that we need highly skilled technicians, they've been the first guys we go to. So there's a benefit of being a platinum technician outside of just the usual work. We just recently introduced the platinum plus, and that is because we identified that there is a group of platinum technicians who have been platinum for a very long time and they go the extra mile, but it's not captured in the score card. Like, they've always getting five out of five in their surveys and then another platinum technician is getting four point nine or four point eight, but they're always achieving, so they are high achievers. And we felt there's an opportunity for us to introduce platinum plus for those high achieving technicians. Allow those platinum guys to go the next level, to provide the next level of service. Really drive that customer interaction, really drive the way they service the customers and the way they operate, and recognize those guys that are continually hitting platinum. So we introduced platinum plus.

Nunzio Bagnato: From a routing perspective, it doesn't change, but we've got other benefits. Benefits like tickets to premiers, tickets to the football, any of that type of additional benefit, we're happy to provide to those platinum plus guys. And we've already got, we introduced this, what, in June? Sorry July, and we've already got close to 10% of our workforce sitting at platinum plus.

Sarah Nicastro: That’s great.

Nunzio Bagnato: Yes.

Sarah Nicastro: So talk a little bit more about the impact this journey, the score card has had on I guess A, service delivery and B, the contractor engagement.

Nunzio Bagnato: Well, from a service delivery perspective, I mean, we have achieved and we're enjoying probably the best patch of our journey ever. Our KPIs, our performance, the way we operate from an efficiency point of view, the level of service we offer our internal customers here at Foxtel and external customers, is probably the best that it's ever been. So when I just sweep through the KPIs in our business, we're not just improved, we've blind them out of water in a lot of cases, but for me, what's really important about that is sustaining that type of level of performance and keep the team striving for more.

Nunzio Bagnato: Our completion rates for example in the early days when we first launched this, now five years ago, we were kissing 87% completion rate, which means 38% of our customers were being not missed, but jobs waiting to get done. We're enjoying now an average of 94, 95%. It's not unusual for us to hit 95%. In actual fact, when we don't hit 95%, we scratch it and say, "What went wrong?". But that's where we are right now. Customer satisfaction, we never used to measure that, we introduced that as part of the command center launch, but in the early days that was sitting at three out of five. We are now averaging four point nine and four point nine five. And the verbatims we're getting from our customers is nothing but complementary about the level of service we provide our customers, the time we do, turning up on time, spending the time going through each of the scoping out of the job, providing the level of service that they expect from an organization like ours. And that's what we want to see. But there are other opportunities for us to improve on that.

Nunzio Bagnato: We're enjoying a patch right now that we've never experienced at Foxtel and we're not done. We believe we can do a lot more, a lot more. This is an ever changing environment, especially pay TV, field services is becoming tougher and tougher every single day. There are pressures that every field service organization around the world is dealing with. And we believe there is another iteration of what we've got here. We call it the command center model, but we believe there's another iteration that we want to tap into that is organic to where we need to go to.

Nunzio Bagnato: But from a partnership point of way, I think we've identified that the level of engagement we have with our field team, as well our contracting team, it's the best it's ever been. And that's because we moved away from that master servant model, allowed them to be in the driver seat. Sit beside me, let's work through this together, my KPI is your KPI, that type of stuff. But what's more important is that they drive the program of work. They focus on, they provide the areas of focus. They're the ones that are actually driving the change on our behalf, and we're giving them that control in allowing our vendors or our contracting company to set the agenda, so they're highly engaged.

Nunzio Bagnato: And that's because they're running this like their own business.

Sarah Nicastro: Now, when you decided to make this shift, the whole journey, part of that was a plaids word customer-centricity, and you talked about the fact that the technicians are the face of Foxtel, they're the ones that are interfacing directly with the customers, and so part of this was moving from that transaction and volume based approach to having them present and interact in a way that was in line with Foxtel's brand and persona and quality levels.

Sarah Nicastro: How did the score card method help in achieving that outcome?

Nunzio Bagnato: Well, we had to take a step back and we had to look at the Foxtel technician. What does a Foxtel technician look like? What is the future of the... What's the Foxtel technician of the future look like? And at that point in time the Foxtel technician looked like a standard trainee. I mean, if you had a plumber stand beside one of our Foxtel technicians, you wouldn't know the difference. They looked the same, they spoke the same and they serviced the customers the same way.

Nunzio Bagnato: And I'm not suggesting that plumbers don't service customers, but I was trying to illustrate here is that the Foxtel technician felt and look like a trainee. And when you look at what we were delivering, we're delivering entertainment. That's what we do, and we're providing a customer a form of entertainment. And does a Foxtel technician need to be in a trading uniform. Our old technician used to be in high V's vest with, we call them silicone snot marks all over his uniform, scruffy looking dot dude, turn up to the customer's house, grunt his wife through the job and get the hell out of there as quickly as he possibly can.

Nunzio Bagnato: That wasn't in line with the product we were providing. It wasn't in line with our brand. So we had a look at what does a Foxtel technician, what should it look like? And it needed to be somebody who was groomed, well groomed. Who presented himself really, really well in a standard Foxtel uniform who had really good soft skills. So we changed the way we recruited our technicians. We had technicians that were highly skilled when it came to installing Foxtel and servicing Foxtel, but when it came to the soft skills, there was an area of opportunity. So either we had to train up those guys in their soft skills, or when we were recruiting new technicians, they were really good with the soft skills stuff, really good with the customer experience, really good with the interaction stuff.

Nunzio Bagnato: And we can train them on the technical stuff. We've got a really good training program to get them right up to the standards we need to provide them that highly technical ability, but that soft skill stuff, that interaction, that was critical to us. So we made sure that our recruitment strategy shifted and we focused on those type of men and women. And that, together with the score card and the way we actually discussed the score card, a program of work with the score card, shifted the type of technician we had out there.

Sarah Nicastro: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Nunzio Bagnato: They are 100% focused on providing a service to a customer and they know that they need to turn up with their ID, with their uniform, well-groomed and interacting to follow the scope from A all the way through to Z, because that is what we expect from a Foxtel technician. That is what's getting sure that they provide the level of service the customer expects from us. That is what helps them achieve a good score card. And if that all goes into plan, then they are almost guaranteed work.

Sarah Nicastro: It makes sense.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. So the other thing that you've mentioned that was key to all of this is the command center. The score card method and the command center work together to give the technicians the ability to focus more on that service experience. Talk about the command center's role in allowing the technicians to focus as much as possible on that customer interaction.

Nunzio Bagnato: When we designed the command center, we designed the field component to empower the technician to have full control over it, his or her day. We wanted the technician to be able to do everything from their device, control their day. But we also said is that we want you to focus on the job that you have in front of you. The old technician would be doing the routing, the jeopardy management, the rescheduling, the whole lot. Your role, let's define your role, your role is to go into a customer's house and service them and do what you need to do, do whatever is on the work order, but when you're at that house, you are 100% focused on that customer. You're not worrying about your next job or your route or whatever, tomorrow's route or whatever, 100% focused. But I'm giving you full control over that job.

Nunzio Bagnato: If a technician's day goes to plan, the command center will never interact with the technician. And we have technicians that go through days where they're not interacting with the command center. The command center only gets involved when the job or the route goes off path. And they only manage by exception. They're there to provide them support, but they're also there to take away all those admin type of tasks. If the day doesn't go to plan, the command center will identify that before the technician knows that your day is going off track. A job or some jobs in the afternoon present themselves at risk. The command center will reach out, the technician validate that, that's the case, because sometimes it's not exactly, the technician may be finishing off a job and as soon as he finishes that job off, the day corrects itself. We just want to reach out and make sure, the technician confirms that he's still on the job and may be out there for a while, and the command center will manage those jobs that are at risk, utilize or reroute them to another technician in the area to make that point of window.

Nunzio Bagnato: In most cases we will do that or bring another technician to the area to meet that time stop. In worst case scenarios that we're not able to meet that time slot and the command center will manage the customer.

Nunzio Bagnato: But there also is a where's my tech solution out there when the customer can self-service as well, so they can actually have a look the way the technician is and work out exactly when he or she is estimated to arrive and obviously job out their day to ensure that they, they do not have any inconvenience any way. So the command center really is there to provide them that support and level service and manage by exception. Again, if the day goes to plan, the technician would not speak to the command center. But there are scenarios where they have it.

Nunzio Bagnato: You've also got a planning team which is part of the command center and they are all part of the planning component leading into the day and they are highly important to the technician's score card, arriving on time, it's all about the planning, completing your job, it's all about the planning. Planning team have weekly discussions with the field leadership team about improving the quality of routes, improving the capacity, utilization rates and all that type of stuff.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah, I think what's interesting to me is, you've recognized the need to enable your technicians to focus more on the customers, you've incentivized them to do that through the score card, but you've enabled them to do that by eliminating a lot of that administrative parts of the job so that they have the capacity to focus more on that interaction instead of those other manual or time consuming tasks.

Nunzio Bagnato: Yeah.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. Okay, all right, last question is, if someone's listening who is thinking through how to begin to leverage or how to better leverage contract workers, can you first summarize the value. What is the reason that this model can work and work well for organizations?

Nunzio Bagnato: I think a contractor model and the reason why a lot of organizations go to a contractor model is because it's not a fixed model from a cost perspective, and the attractive component of that is it becomes variable. And it depends on what kind of contractor arrangement you have, but most contractor models are variable and that's the attractive component of it. But with that comes a lot of pain if you don't manage it right. If you don't have the right relationship, if you don't have the right partner and you don't treat them like a partner.

Nunzio Bagnato: If you treat them like a contractor, you're going to get contractor results, guaranteed. So we've been able to take a trade-like sort of service and make it feel like a Foxtel service. But it's not unique to us, I mean, we can take this model anywhere, because it's not specific to Foxtel. What we've introduced, what we've built is transferable to any type of industry or any type of work I should say.

Nunzio Bagnato: If you treat your vendors like a contractor, you're going to get contractor results. It's about having a really strong strategical partner that can work with you and work side-by-side. And you're going to have to be okay with being challenged. In actual fact, we get frustrated, because we know we don't get challenged enough. We want to be challenged. I don't have all the answers, but the contracting company that we've engaged to do this type of work, that's what they specialize in, that's what they do really, really well. So they need to bring that to the game. They need to bring that to the table and you need to allow them to do that. And it's okay if they challenge you.

Sarah Nicastro: What's your best advice for someone to get started with incorporating a model like this, a score card model? How can you begin that transition from, all right, we're looking at this like a contractor thing, it's a volume based thing. We realize we need more. What's the best advice to begin that journey?

Nunzio Bagnato: For me it's don't try to do too much too soon. Understand exactly what is your desired end state. What is your desired outcome from that field workforce, and just keep it simple. Just really start off simple and then try to remove any of that complication. Allow your field, your leaders to understand exactly what you're trying to achieve and then build on that. Just start off slow and build on that.

Nunzio Bagnato: Focus on what you want to do and be very clear with that message, and everybody involved, from you down, needs to be singing from the same hymn sheet, they need to be with the same messaging. And it's okay to mess up, it's okay to mess up. In actual fact, as long as you don't break something, it's okay to mess up. Go ahead, mess it up, because it will only get better by messing up. Got to give them the freedom, you've got to make sure that they feel safe in the environment to do what they need to do, but they're not going to be losing their job over it.

Nunzio Bagnato: You can't penalize somebody for having good intent. I'll never remove a technician from the platform if his or her intent was to service the hell out of a customer and they've gone outside of the process. Processes are guidelines. I'm taking them as a guideline. As long as you've done what you needed to do to get the customer online, happy, enjoying Foxtel, it may not be the standard process, but I'm okay with that. That's what we're in the business to do.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah, that's another good point, is that empowerment, because empowering the technicians to deliver the customer experience in a good way, even if that isn't picture perfect or whatever, it shows that you trust them and value them which goes back to that engagement and that buy in of what the mission is. But I like the point of keeping it simple. Again, the way that you've se the KPIs so that it's a consumable amount of things to focus on at once and if you can prioritize, here is what's most critical, then incorporate that, start there, and as you start to see progress and improve, then swap out some of those KPIs to get to that next wave.

Sarah Nicastro: You're not set in stone, you just need to figure out where to start and get started.

Nunzio Bagnato: But then I need the KPIs and score card, it's the processes or the way you've structured the team. I mean, start off small. Start off in a controlled environment and then keep adjusting. Don't stand still, keep adjusting and then you'll find your sweet spot. Once you found that sweet spot, bang, you're off and running.

Sarah Nicastro: Good. All right, Nunzio, well thank you so much for joining and sharing, I really appreciate it.

Nunzio Bagnato: Pleasure. Thank you for the conversation.

Sarah Nicastro: Absolutely. You can learn more by visiting us at www.futureoffieldservice.com, you can also find us on LinkedIn as well as Twitter @TheFutureOfFS. The Future of Field Service Podcast is published in partnership with IFS. You can learn more by visiting www.ifs.com. As always, thank you for listening.

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May 17, 2021 | 5 Mins Read

Foxtel’s Lessons Learned in Engaging & Empowering its Contract Workforce

May 17, 2021 | 5 Mins Read

Foxtel’s Lessons Learned in Engaging & Empowering its Contract Workforce

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By Sarah Nicastro, Creator, Future of Field Service

With the labor shortage proving one of the industry’s biggest challenges, there’s much discussion around the extent to which contract workers are a viable option to help organizations address the problem. There are some major differences of opinion on this topic among service leaders – those who are for the contract worker model are emphatically so, and those who don’t see it as a fit for their operations are firm in their stance.

In my opinion, any reasonable solution to a real challenge is worth evaluating. I also think that some of the greatest concerns around the contract model – namely a lack of control and the potential for negative impact on the customer experience – can be alleviated with a combination of strategy and effort. Australian media company Foxtel is a really good example of an organization that is successfully leveraging a contract workforce for field operations and has mastered the art of engaging and empowering those workers in a way that allows the organization to benefit from the flexibility and savings of the model without sacrificing its service or brand experience.

I recently talked with Nunzio Bagnato, Director of Home Service and Advanced Servicing at Foxtel, to understand what he’s learned in 23 years of overseeing Foxtel service and managing the company’s contract workforce. He shared some valuable lessons learned which you can catch on this week’s episode of the Future of Field Service podcast, but let’s summarize here some of the key points.

Lesson #1: Focus on Collaboration, Not Control

The concern companies have over not being able to control contract workers is reasonable in some ways, but to achieve success with the model Nunzio explains that you have to shift the thinking from control to collaboration. “If you treat your workers like a contractor, you're going to get contractor results. It's about building a partnership and working side-by-side,” he says. “Traditionally, a contractor model is transactional, it's a master/servant sort of arrangement, and that drives a certain behavior and culture. We’ve changed that culture.”

In evolving the way Foxtel views its contract workforce and focusing more on collaboration than control, the company has been able to improve those working relationships and create a contract workforce that is highly engaged and empowered to deliver the level of service Foxtel wants its customers to experience. “We have two-way communication and collaboration with our contractor workforce,” explains Nunzio. “We pressure test ideas with our field leaders and then with a focus group of technicians to get their feedback. We don't just make decisions and expect them to fall in line. They're the ones that are actually going to be delivering our service, so we need to consider their viewpoints and hear their voice.”

Lesson #2: A Positive Approach Will Yield Better Results than a Punitive One

About five years ago, Foxtel realized the need to provide a more sophisticated customer experience and shift away from transactional service. The company knew that to achieve this goal, the contract worker relationship needed to evolve away from a transactional relationship as well. “Previously, our technicians focused on the traditional metrics like the completion rates and we drove a volume-based behavior,” says Nunzio. “In the past technicians were penalized for not hitting those KPIs or milestones. We did away with that. Our view was that we're dealing with adults.”

Foxtel introduced a scorecard model focused on driving behaviors if felt mattered most in improving the customer experience and service delivery. It did away with the idea of punitive action for subpar performance and instead shifted toward positive reinforcement of desired behaviors and outcomes. “We wanted to focus on the positives. We wanted to look at what the technicians were doing really well, how they achieved that result, and promote more of those behaviors,” says Nunzio.

The scorecard was centered around incentivizing those behaviors by rewarding the contract workers who achieve the greatest results. Their performance on the scorecard determines a rank between platinum, gold, silver and bronze technician and platinum workers are rewarded by getting the highest volume and best schedule of work from Foxtel. Focusing on positive reinforcement for good work versus punishment for poor work has proven effective. “When we first started this journey and launched the score card model, 70 odd percent of our field workforce were bronze technicians,” Nunzio explains. “We're really proud that right now, 70 odd percent of our field workforce is predominantly platinum and a little bit of gold.”

Lesson #3: Clear and Simple Expectations Are Critical

So, with a collaborative mindset and positive approach, the third area that is key to success is to keep expectations around performance clear and simple. The Foxtel field technician scorecard has four quadrants: customer, cycle, finance, and quality. “We introduced the scorecard that focused on four quadrants,” explains Nunzio. “The first quadrant is all about the customer - customer surveys and arrival on time. The cycle quadrant is your traditional metrics, like completion rates. The third quadrant is finance, which looks at free issues and inventory. And then the last quadrant is quality, where we look at revisits.”

Four quadrants and only two metrics each at any given time; that’s it. “There isn't a lot of KPIs and that is by design,” says Nunzio. “We don't want to have too many, and we've identified the key areas of our business that we want the technician to focus on. You can have a laundry list of KPIs, you can really get carried away, but we chose the eight to keep it simple. We chose the eight because we wanted to shift the way we operated, shift the way we serviced our customers, and we felt these KPIs did that.”

The quadrants and KPIs in each which dictate the technician’s score and therefore tier make what’s expected of them clear and easy to understand. The quadrants never change, but Foxtel does update the two KPIs per quadrant as needed when focus on a certain area becomes important. Note they swap them out, though, versus add a metric in because it is important to keep the measurement targeted and simple.

If you use a contract workforce and are looking for some tips to drive performance or if you’ve considered a contract model but have some concerns, be sure to listen to Nunzio’s podcast for more detail on how Foxtel has mastered this model using its scorecard system.

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May 14, 2021 | 4 Mins Read

Living with COVID: Meeting People Where They Are

May 14, 2021 | 4 Mins Read

Living with COVID: Meeting People Where They Are

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By Tom Paquin

In this week’s look at what our COVID-19 co-habitation looks like, we’re going to consider how service leaders can work with customers, given their new geography, new expectations for social interactions, and new predilections for working with technology. Fortunately, we’ve seen, over the last year, the various ways that businesses have begun to internalize these truth into a broader strategy. So let’s take those different areas that I mentioned before and break down some hypotheticals.

Tackling our New Geography
I’ve tackled this previously on here, as businesses have had to realign their strategies to work with a decentralized workforce. I’ve mostly considered this through its relationship to the home office, but I think it’s important to consider more broadly across service as well.

How will, for instance, our increased lean on home workers impact the telecommunications infrastructure? While the path of least resistance for most businesses is to cut costs, eliminate office space and the business internet plans that come along with them, and offer the savings to home workers in the form of a stipend. That might work for the businesses, but teclo companies might not be thrilled about the shift, certainly in terms of long-term estimates of the amount of their networks that are being used for commercial purposes.

It might, then, make sense to create “home worker” internet plans, perhaps sold directly to consumers, or to the companies for which they work, to offer preferred speeds and specialized service for business users. The increasing prevalence of 5G might prove to be a boon for such a program, as 5G hotspots could function as the conduit by which businesses manage their remote workers’ internet. For the many workers currently battling with their kids’ Xboxes for bandwidth, this would likely be a welcome addition.

Of course, decentralizing business operations means decentralizing business service for telcos—suddenly, business priority appointments extend outside of a major metro, into the suburbs. That means infrastructure needs to be top-notch, even in rural areas, and that scheduling and routing optimization needs to be the bare minimum. This is a single example, but it belies the broader challenges that many businesses will face as the dust settles and the nature of what work means for people changes indefinitely.

Making People Comfortable

I’m vaccinated, and pleased a proud to be, as are my wife, parents, and in-laws. It feels nice to know that, per guidance from the Center of Disease Control, that we can be inside together without masks. Some folks, even vaccinated folks, do not feel comfortable with that. That is fine, and for customer service to be managed, maintained, and exemplified, we need to meet the level of respect that people feel.

Over the summer, for instance, we had an issue with our septic system. It was necessary for the router person to enter our basement in order to access our cleanout. He chose not to wear a mask, never asked if we were comfortable with that fact, completed the job, was paid, and left. Yes, sure, I never asked him to put on a mask, because remedying the issue took major precedent, but that assumption is very troubling. So…I’m not calling that router guy again (I’ll note that I’m also not tripping over myself to be in a position where I need to call any router guy, but that’s that’s enough about that).

I’m reminded of Peloton’s service questions for customers. In a pre-COVID world, this was simple asks like, “Can I take off my shoes?” but as time goes on, and expectations change, asking people about their comfort level before barging into their house seems like a bare minimum. We all now have a very strange relationship with our personal space. Service needs to recognize that, and champion communicative consent over making assumptions about people’s comfort levels.

New Technology Frontiers

About a year ago, I wrote about a postulation that, within eighteen months, manufacturing would see a technology evolution equal to about five years. So—twelve months in, is that true? I haven’t studied enough of how COVID has impacted manufacturing yet to say for sure, but let’s assume that most businesses have adapted to survive. So businesses are moving along, what about customers? Well, I also wrote about that about a year ago.

So—there are these two forces—personal and professional—both advancing their technological capacity. Customers are more amenable to digital service offerings like self-service and remote assistance, and businesses are accelerating on their digital transformation journey as well. This is a little bit of a tease, but in the second half of the year, we’re going to look at how those two areas have converged in holistic detail, and furthermore, where we go from here. We’ve certainly developed blind spots in our meteoric launch forward, and I can’t wait for the dust to settle so we can look at service and chart a plan for what comes next.

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May 12, 2021 | 24 Mins Read

Cimcorp’s IT Strategy for Working Smarter

May 12, 2021 | 24 Mins Read

Cimcorp’s IT Strategy for Working Smarter

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Pekka Nurmi, Director of Corporate IT at Cimcorp, talks with Sarah about the company’s efforts to modernize IT to increase its ability to be strategic, nimble, and most impactful.

Sarah Nicastro: Welcome to the Future of Field Service Podcast. I'm your host, Sarah Nicastro. Today, we're going to be talking about how organizations can work smarter when it comes to their IT strategy and IT operations. I'm joined today by Pekka Nurmi, who is the Director of Corporate IT at Cimcorp. Pekka, thank you for joining us today.

Pekka Nurmi: Thank you. Nice to be here.

Sarah Nicastro: Good. Okay, so we're going to talk about how Cimcorp has made some changes in IT to work smarter instead of harder. Before we do that, tell us a bit about yourself, your background, and your role at Cimcorp.

Pekka Nurmi: Well, like you mentioned, I'm head of the whole of our corporate IT systems in six countries and three continents. And maybe a little bit different about my background is that I was actually a management consultant prior to working as a IT director, and I think has helped me a little bit in this transformation.

Sarah Nicastro: So your consulting background was in management? So on the business side or on the IT side?

Pekka Nurmi: In the business side, but I always ended up doing something with IT. So I sort of all the time, every year, I gravitated closer toward the IT topics all the time. I did have IT background. I'd been programming some software to couple of companies in way, way, way down the line, but the IT, of course, always something that I'm always seem to be gravitating toward that, so I think the current position came naturally.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. And I think some of the conversations we've had on this podcast, folks talk a lot about how traditionally IT and the business side, in many instances, were fairly siloed, and there's more of a need to really merge that together. So I think having that business background and bringing that to an IT role could be really helpful in creating that closer collaboration.

Pekka Nurmi: I really think so, that that is the case, and a really good idea I think to having the background.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. Yeah, I've talked to folks where the two within a company are at odds, and it doesn't work very well, right? So everyone needs to be friendly and work together, and I think when you have some experience seeing the other person's viewpoints, it's helpful in being able to do that.

Sarah Nicastro: Good. So tell us, how would you describe Cimcorp's IT strategy overall?

Pekka Nurmi: Well, I think the big idea, like a really big scale, is that we have six offices all around the globe, and the idea is that no matter where you go, you would always have that similar technology and back-end systems waiting for you, so you can just hop on the plane and arrive to another continent, and start working. That's the big idea.

Pekka Nurmi: But more about the strategy is that we seem to be and we are always reducing the number of the systems in house, because we really started from a situation where the number of different systems was just immense. And we were in the continuous loop that update, upgrade, and then you would [inaudible 00:03:56] to lag so much in behind. So we really decided, okay, we need to cut down the number of systems and concentrate on the core systems in general.

Pekka Nurmi: And also what we're doing at the moment is we're trying always to find things to outsource, and there is so much of new stuff we have to take care of, like a compliance, information security, and embedding IT and IT processes to be since development. And that seems to be the core, so we really always are trying to find things that, okay, we don't have to do this anymore. This is a ... Well, it wouldn't be fair to say trivial things, but less important stuff.

Sarah Nicastro: Right. Outside of your core competency, right? You want to be able to focus on what matters most, and not have to become an expert in everything.

Pekka Nurmi: Yeah. And I've been discussing with many of my colleagues in similar positions at similar companies, and we seem to agree on the thing that unless you're a little bit proactive in replacing and updating and upgrading, you will be on the worst side of the slope, and you always are playing catch. And that's not a good place to be.

Sarah Nicastro: That makes sense. And so from a high level, it sounds like global consistency is important, and then looking at simplification of complexity in the systems that you're using. And simplification in management, so that you're focusing on what matters most instead of trying to focus on every single thing.

Pekka Nurmi: Yeah. It's like when we start discussing with business, okay, what can we do and where can we improve? I really hate to say that. We could do that, but then I'd have to update system number one, system number two, and system number three, and maybe then, if all things go forward, we can do that. And that would be six months later. I prefer to be able to say that, okay, we are almost there. We have this one system, maybe two if things aren't bad, and then we can move forward. But the complexities, that can drag you down a lot.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah, and so the idea of consolidating to less systems and also the idea of outsourcing in the areas where you can leverage external expertise, it's almost the management of IT, the planning, the strategy has become the job versus the management of systems, right?

Pekka Nurmi: Exactly.

Sarah Nicastro: So it's more of, like you said, staying ahead of things and looking at, okay, where do we need to be in six months? Where do we need to be in a year? So the more you can rely on folks to be a part of getting you there, then the more you can focus on staying ahead of that strategy, right?

Pekka Nurmi: Yes. And finding suppliers and partners who have a vision of the future, what can it be, because we cannot be inventing everything in-house. We are relying on our partners insights on many of the topics, so it's about finding who has the right vision, who has the capability to execute that, and things like that. So it's like managing a network of partners who are on the same page with you.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. So I'm curious to ask you, Pekka, though, I would say the majority of companies that we would have listening to this podcast would agree with the concept of focusing more on core competencies, right? So however you get there. Simplification of systems, outsourcing of different areas of expertise. But I think there are some that really, really struggle with the concept of relinquishing control, and so they're fighting their desire to do it all, and that all is growing and growing and growing and growing, and it becomes harder and harder and harder to do it all. Because as digital matures, there's just more sophistication, more capabilities, more opportunities. And so the world is expanding, and they're trying desperately to keep it all within their grasp.

Sarah Nicastro: So what would you say to those folks about the value of letting go, and then also how to shift the mindset, and know that it actually could help you more to not try and control everything in-house?

Pekka Nurmi: That's very familiar topic. That's where I started when I got this position. The IT department that, okay, we've done all, everything in-house, and this is how we want to operate, but through a lot of discussion and opening the idea that how management sees IT department, I think that opened up the idea that ... Like if we're trying always to do everything, we will be so slow that ... We would be a focus of top management, like a gaze on the IT department. "Why are you so slow all these things?" And through that, and a lot of discussion, and more discussion, and meetings, and staying in the different offices and talking to IT people, we gradually were able to see that. Okay, we just cannot go on like this. There's just too much to do, and being able to prove the point that, hey, we actually are quite slow on certain topics. So my team gradually realized that you have to do something.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. It's the idea, I think, that in today's landscape, the pace of innovation I so fast that it becomes almost impossible to keep up if you're trying to become a master of all, right? It becomes advantageous to rely on the experts in those different areas versus ... It's almost unrealistic to think that you can take the time to do all of those things and stay ahead to the degree you need to be competitive and all of those things.

Pekka Nurmi: And it's fantastic to see those small wins. Being able to prove that we're on the right path because being able to do something in two weeks with our partner that would have taken six months in some other way. So it's like, okay, this is good. This is a good way. People are happy about it, and we get compliments from the management. "How did you guys able to do that in such a short note and timeline," and the cost wasn't actually that bad.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah, and it comes back to the idea of any change, right, or any evolution. If Cimcorp was used to doing this all itself, and you come in and you say, "No, we really need to shift and look at outsourcing more," the first few times you have those wins, you have more and more light bulbs of, "Oh, okay. This can work. It wasn't a failure. Everything's okay," and then the comfort level increases, and you start to see how you can really expand there. That makes sense.

Sarah Nicastro: So talking about innovation, I came into this space, Pekka, in 2008, and have been interviewing folks like yourself on a daily basis since then. And it's been really interesting to see how digital environments have matured and become more sophisticated, and just the wealth of opportunity that exists to companies today with the technology that's out there. How would you say the focus of IT innovation today differs from IT innovation of a decade ago? What are the major shifts?

Pekka Nurmi: I had a fantastic discussion with one of the colleagues from another company regarding this exact topic, and we were thinking, okay, 10 years ago how we would have solved this item at the time. And we would be selecting really dedicated IT people that is into IT, but they're probably thinking that, hmm, actually regarding one of the topics we were discussing about, we decided that actually we don't want to have IT staff on that at all. It's more like we were starting to discuss that wouldn't there be some business consultant that has some capability in IT that would define that area?

Pekka Nurmi: So I think that this goes back a little bit to where we originally discussed about the consulting background and things like that. So the business is much more involved and should be much more involved. It's not like the IT side has become any less important, but in order to get things done and the complete ideas, it's like the scope of things has increased. It might be 10 years, but it's enough that you solve the IT side. But today, you have to solve the IT and business side on the same time.

Pekka Nurmi: So I think that this is the core change that has happened in the 10 years.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. No, that makes sense. I think the importance of it is has it even increased significantly. You look at all of the digital transformation that's underway in every business today. I think the importance is critical, but I think what we're talking about here is the idea that it's shifting from the criticality of internal execution to the criticality of strategy, right? And how that allows you to scale the way that you need to be innovative and competitive.

Sarah Nicastro: Okay. So I wanted to come back to the title of the podcast, so talking about working smarter, right? So I think we've touched on some of those things, and we're going to dig in a little bit more. So we talked about simplification of systems. We've talked about outsourcing in areas where you can really benefit from leveraging external expertise. Is there anything else you would say is a characteristic of how Cimcorp is looking at IT in terms of working smarter instead of working harder?

Pekka Nurmi: Yes. We've done a lot of work on that topic, and I think the core thing is trying not to over-complicate any of the processes and topics. If we look at ERP systems or software in general, they already have a built-in processes, and tried out ways to work. And all the jobs I've had and all the customers I've had, I always saw that idea that everybody was trying to over-complicate that. "My process is so special. Our business is so special." And as an outsider, you could always say that I've seen this a thousand times. It's the exact same process repeating itself time and a time and a time and again, but the people running it are always saying that this is special. "We need special software." And the loop starts from there.

Pekka Nurmi: So the idea is to have an open mind that maybe somebody has found the golden nugget or golden egg of approaches that's already built into the system. Like ERP systems, they have tens of thousands of clients, and that have been running for decades actually. So the process, it might have been already evolved. And in many cases, I've found that accepting the ERP system might actually be already really smart.

Pekka Nurmi: And having the talks with the people that "This is really so special," or is there someone we can do a benchmarking on? And finding the ways that, could we just use this? There might be some idea in the background, and try it out, and if it's not, then we do something.

Sarah Nicastro: It's such a good point, Pekka, because I think the sense I get in talking with people is almost customization is a badge of honor. It's like, "No, we could never use an out-of-the-box solution. That's just preposterous. Our business is far too important for that," right? And I think, again, going back to evolution over the last 10 years, there probably was a point in time where that was more accurate than it is today.

Pekka Nurmi: Exactly.

Sarah Nicastro: Where the solutions were not sophisticated enough, or weren't incorporating best practices from 10,000 customers, or what have you. To the degree where it was x-percent there, but you needed to add onto that. I think you're making a really good point in that, while businesses have been maturing and evolving and transforming, so too have technology providers, right? So the point you're making about, hey, maybe it's worth taking off that badge of honor and not looking at it from the context of we need to make this super complicated because we're important and we're different and all of these things. And looking at, wow, could we make our lives a lot easier, maybe spend less money, have a faster implementation, maybe get better value if we open our perspective a bit and just consider that.

Sarah Nicastro: I think that's a really, really important point, just to think about the progression that's occurred, and next time you're evaluating software, why don't you think about looking at it a little bit differently, and not staying stuck in the history of it, but looking at what is out there right now.

Pekka Nurmi: Yeah. And also in my career, I've had a chance to look at ERP systems that were implemented two or three years ago, and I was invited to check that, how are we doing today with the system? And that always ended up like 60 to 80% of those modifications, the customer started paying for the ERP provider that, okay, we remove these customizations because the ERP system was right in the first place. But they just didn't accept that. So I've been seeing that happening so many times over.

Sarah Nicastro: And to your point, it's probably beneficial to, like you said, try it and if you do find areas, proven areas, where you need something, that's fine. But don't go into it with the expectation that you could never, because you might find that you could make things a lot easier. Okay.

Pekka Nurmi: Exactly. Yeah, exactly.

Sarah Nicastro: Very good.

Sarah Nicastro: So from an IT perspective, part of your job is helping Cimcorp to stay ahead of customer demands, and to enable internal operations and enable externally for a good customer experience. What would you say are the top demands of today's customers that end up falling into necessity from IT? You take customer expectations. How does that translate into what you're expected to deliver?

Pekka Nurmi: We are using IFS ERP system, and they are talking about moment of service in their topics, and I actually fell in love with that slogan, "moment of service." Because that describes quite accurately what we need and what the customers need. So the IT systems really have to be there, present, and have a real-time information that you can provide that. There's no other way. When the customer contacts you, they might have a spare part they would need desperately delivered overnight, or something, other issues going there, and what the customer wants to hear is that, okay, it's a can-do answer. And within that first email, phone call, whatever support ticket you might have done, and they really want to hear that, that, okay, we are on that, and we know what's going to happen, and when we going to be able to fix it.

Pekka Nurmi: So the moment of service is actually really fantastic word to describe the need of IT.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah, I agree, and I think there's a lot that relates to that moment of service in the sense of it's a moment, but it's far more than that, right? So that moment of service is a moment of experience, but what happens in that moment, that can mean it's brand perception, right? It can be customer loyalty. It can be the difference between revenue growth or revenue loss. Service as a differentiator is where we are, right? And so how you align your infrastructure and your people to be able to, like you said, what do they want? Boom. We're ready. We have it. We're there. We're giving them what they need. It really is the name of the game. Everything you're doing is working to ...

Sarah Nicastro: And we're going to talk about this in a minute, but it's really this game of mastering complexity. And I say "mastering," not "simplifying," because you can simplify to a degree through some of the steps you've talked about so far, but the rest of it you have to master. Customers don't care. They don't care how much effort you're putting into delivering when they need it, but you have to be able to do it, right? So, yeah, that's a good point.

Pekka Nurmi: Yeah. There is a huge amount of complexity in the background, but like you said, the customer doesn't care. They want their issue solved in as fast as it's possible.

Sarah Nicastro: Huge and only multiplying. It's not a huge amount of complexity that's going to stay level, right? The more sophisticated everything gets technology-wise, and the more consumer experiences that impact what customers want, that level of complexity keeps climbing and climbing and climbing.

Sarah Nicastro: And going back to the beginning of our discussion, that's why I think it's such a good point for folks to understand the idea of mastering it all yourself is not sustainable, right? You have to start looking at how to work smarter instead of harder because you can't do what you need to do in that moment if you're trying to ... I'm thinking about little people inside trying to master all of this complexity. You have to look for ways to streamline that.

Sarah Nicastro: Okay. So let's talk about the IFS ERP and then your recent transition to IFS Cloud as a real world example of the things that we've been talking about so far in action, right? So this is an example of how you're walking the talk of what your strategy is in real life. So just tell us a little bit about the migration from IFS ERP, which I think you deployed around 2016, and then transitioning to the new IFS Cloud, and how that touches on some of these themes.

Pekka Nurmi: Well, I've been doing exactly like we discussed before that. What I've been getting people to accept is that the baseline in the IFS might be acceptable for the business process. And for us, IFS has been able to provide many of those. I'd say they're like blueprints for our operations, and they've been giving us areas where we can work smarter. We've been even getting ideas on how to set up our VDM systems in the background based on what IFS, how the architecture has been formed in that system.

Pekka Nurmi: Really, the idea is that we've been trying to accept that what the platform enables, and we've been trying to channel our energy to provide value to the customer using that. But the innovation in that is really about we are accepting IFS as a platform, and we already discuss about limiting the number of those systems. We did our homework, and we decided that IFS is a good platform for us.

Pekka Nurmi: So it all comes together. And in our case, it seems to be working quite well.

Sarah Nicastro: Good. Now, how would you articulate the difference between the IFS ERP deployment circa 2016 to what IFS Cloud offers?

Pekka Nurmi: The change has been immense. The first feedback we are getting is that the HTML5 interface is huge improvement. People love the face that you can access with your mobile phone all the time. That's big plus. And it has developed a lot.

Pekka Nurmi: Back in 2016, we knew where IFS was going in the future, and I think with IFS Cloud, we are getting that system that we bought in 2016. So I'm really happy about the roadmap for IFS really came to reality for us.

Sarah Nicastro: And that goes back to the point you made at the beginning about if you're going to rely more on partners ... So if you can acknowledge the fact that you can't do it all, and then you know that you need to choose smartly who you want to work with, right? Because you're trying to work with less people. As you said, you're trying to really simplify the ecosystem in terms of eliminating too many disparate systems and looking for more of a platform relationship. It's a good point of don't just look at what's there now. Look at what that roadmap looks like, and think about how the organizations that you're choosing to work with, how are they innovating and what are their plans, right? Because you want to future-proof yourself in the sense of, do they have what you need now to run the business and deliver the moment of service the way you need to, but then also as your business evolves, are they evolving too so that you're not in a position where in too short of a time you're like, okay, well, this worked, but now we've outgrown it, right?

Sarah Nicastro: Really it's the same concept we talk about with a lot of the folks that we have as guests on the podcast of moving away from a transactional relationship and moving more toward delivering outcomes and building partnerships, right?

Pekka Nurmi: Exactly.

Sarah Nicastro: Good.

Pekka Nurmi: And I think one third of the decision to select IFS back in 2016 was actually that. How do we see IFS as a partner for our future? So we have a pre-finalist system in that one, and that this was really clear that with IFS we decided that we can trust them to be our partner and guide in the future as well. And that's really important.

Sarah Nicastro: Good. Okay, so we talked a little bit about the fact that a lot of what IT is responsible for today is that concept of minimizing but also mastering complexity. So like we said, customers don't care how hard Pekka is working every day, how hard Cimcorp across the board is working every day. They just care that you're delivering what they need when they need it, right?

Sarah Nicastro: So when it comes to delivering that ultimate simplicity to customers, what are the keys to doing that? So how does a solution like IFS Cloud or other tools that you use ... What are the key ingredients to mastering that complexity to be able to deliver an experience that really hides all of that complexity from the customers?

Pekka Nurmi: I think I'm getting back to the basics that we cannot invent everything in-house. We absolutely have to be able to trust to the partners we select and the people we do business with. And we don't want to select partners that wouldn't be giving us anything in return. Like, okay, we pay you money, and you provide us the service, but we really want them to be providing innovation and the platform actually. Like with IFS, they are giving us the service platform in so many ways.

Sarah Nicastro: And I think it's worth revisiting that point of why a platform play versus disparate solutions makes sense. And I think what it really comes down to at the root of it all ... There's many reasons, right? Part of it is just for you the complexity of managing multiple relationships instead of one relationship. But I think when you look at it from the customer perspective, and when you look at it from the ability to deliver in that moment of service, it comes down to eliminating failure points. The more systems you have tied together, the more opportunity there is to falter in mastering that complexity, right? The more cohesiveness you can create behind the scenes, the better your chances of delivering that simplicity to customers.

Pekka Nurmi: Yeah. Of course, we do alternative scenarios. That's what we do, and we started one alternative. And when we discovered that we would have to build 19 interfaces between two systems, and most of them two-way interfaces, so that was immediately the point that we don't want to do that. We don't want to be spending the time working the interfaces, all the changes in the system that will affect the interfaces. So, once again, we found a position where we would be digging a hole underneath us with those interfaces.

Pekka Nurmi: So, once again, one platform, one solution will help us to focus on the business actually.

Sarah Nicastro: So another area I want to talk about, Pekka, is around data. So we talked about how complexity has increased and it's continuing to multiply, and I think a lot of that has to do with the criticality of data, and data as a resource. So you mentioned the real time data is essential for delivering what you need to in the moment of service. So there's leveraging data within Cimcorp to do that, right? And then there's the idea of the potential for leveraging data externally, right? So with a customer base.

Sarah Nicastro: So tell us a little bit about what that looks like, and how you're looking at data and its limitless potential both internally and externally.

Pekka Nurmi: Oh, this is a topic. We always seem to have multiple data improvement programs ongoing all the time everywhere. That seems to be the thing of today. There's always something to fix, and especially now that we've expanded to new countries, and there's different cultures and people with very different backgrounds. And the most reason we have found that we need to have a ... What would be a right way to say it? We want to enable people to understand that the importance of why they are entering the data, and if I'm not entering this, this will affect this and this many departments after themselves.

Pekka Nurmi: And we've been finding that when it comes to data, we have to provide more understanding to the whole organization around the data, and also we've invested heavily into data warehousing because that is the big thing in future development.

Pekka Nurmi: But it's a really big topic, data, but that's a big focus area, and in my mind, I return to the situation where we have multiple systems. And with multiple systems, we would have to worry about the data. And, once again, we would find ourselves being farther away from the core idea.

Sarah Nicastro: Right. And I think there's so much to sort out yet about the real potential for all of the data people are gathering now, right? And how to make use of it, like I said, both within the company and within the customer base. And I think part of why it's important to relinquish some of the control of the systems that allow your business to run is so that you can focus more of your energy and efforts on sorting out how do we leverage data better in the future, right?

Sarah Nicastro: So that's a strategic focus, right? That's something that is worthy of thinking and time and resources and energy, whereas you don't want to spend those time and resources and energy managing a bunch of configurations on a bunch of different systems because it's not bringing value to the future of the business.

Sarah Nicastro: And I don't think anyone has a real good handle on exactly how powerful the data side can be into the future, but that is a really good argument for why you need to focus less on systems and more on strategy, right?

Pekka Nurmi: Exactly. I'd say this is exactly the way.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. So I wanted to ask, Pekka, you mentioned a couple times throughout the conversation interacting with some of your peers, and I think that's a really good point because that's the premise, honestly, of Future of Field Service is being able to learn what other folks are doing. But how do you do that and how is that important to you being able to stay in tune with how other companies are tackling challenges and handling their own innovation?

Pekka Nurmi: What I actually do is I continuously encourage my staff to find these benchmarking companies, and be active in ... There's these end user groups we are finding. There's an internet-based communities where people have discussions, and I've granted them time to help other companies, and also search help from other companies. So I think we don't want to be stuck inside the walls of our department, and I think it's more like encouraging that we discuss with the outside all the time, more and more, because we can only win. Of course, you cannot spend 90% of your time discussing with some other companies. You have to have some limits on that, but still the basic idea is that every week you should try to find somebody to help, find somebody to get insight on what you do.

Pekka Nurmi: And we seem to be finding. Today, we are getting emails from other companies that have heard about us and want to discuss. So it took one or two years to get us started, but we're finding really good partner companies we can discuss with. And also some of the partners have active ... They provide also insight that this company might be benefiting you, and maybe you two companies should discuss.

Sarah Nicastro: Right. Right. Yeah, I think there's so much power in building that collective knowledge, and it is very important to make the time to look outside of your own company and your own day-to-day. Because I think creating that space is what allows you to not mimic what someone else is doing, but survey the landscape to get different ideas to bring back into your own business. I'm a huge advocate of that, and I think it's a really good point, particularly if there are folks listening that some of the things we've talked about relinquishing control and outsourcing makes them nervous. Talk to some other people that are doing it to see if you can increase your comfort level a bit.

Pekka Nurmi: Yeah. Of course, you have to be really careful to which companies you talk to and which people, but generally, I'd say I really recommend that. It has provided a lot of value for us.

Sarah Nicastro: Good. Okay.

Sarah Nicastro: Last question for today is what do you envision the IT strategy of 2031 looking like?

Pekka Nurmi: That's a big question. First thing that comes to mind is obvious there's going to be more public clouds being used, and information security will by any mean be of lesser importance than it's today. But I think along the lines about what we discussed earlier, it's going to be more about businesses' IT strategies aligning in many ways. And I would say that there would be more partnerships with the IT suppliers, just like we discussed before, as sources of innovation and platforms and new ways of working.

Pekka Nurmi: And maybe there would be more deeper level partnerships on IT with our customers, too, just thinking about all the IOT data that we discuss about. All of that I see as a big part of IT strategy for in about 10 years' time.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. So that will keep you busy.

Pekka Nurmi: Oh, I'm sure.

Sarah Nicastro: Good. Well, Pekka, thank you so much for joining and sharing your story today. I really appreciate it.

Pekka Nurmi: Thank you.

Sarah Nicastro: I think there's some excellent points in here for people to consider, and I certainly appreciate your perspective.

Pekka Nurmi: Yeah, thank you. It was nice to be here. So very good discussion. Gave me a lot of ideas, too.

Sarah Nicastro: Good. Thank you. Yes, yes. All right, you can find more by visiting us at futureoffieldservice.com. You can also find us on LinkedIn as well as Twitter, @thefutureoffs. The Future of Field Service Podcast is published in partnership with IFS. You can learn more by visiting IFS.com. As always, thank you for listening.

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May 10, 2021 | 6 Mins Read

The 5 Tenets of Cimcorp’s Modern IT Approach

May 10, 2021 | 6 Mins Read

The 5 Tenets of Cimcorp’s Modern IT Approach

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By Sarah Nicastro, Creator, Future of Field Service

As digitalization permeates every area of the business, we’ve seen IT become far less siloed in its strategy, processes, and execution. The lines between the business and IT blur as technology becomes increasingly critical not only in how a company operates optimally, but in its value proposition for its customer base. With digitalization playing an ever-increasing role for businesses in every industry and geography, what needs to change as it relates to the IT approach to keep pace with innovation and remain competitive?

According to Pekka Nurmi, Director of Corporate IT at Cimcorp, it is critical to modernize your approach and focus on working smarter rather than harder. Cimcorp is a global supplier of intralogistics automation with systems used within manufacturing and distribution centers in over 40 countries across six continents. I recently sat down with Pekka to record a podcast that you should stay tuned for, but am sharing here the five major point of how he describes the company is working smarter versus harder to modernize its approach.

Tenet #1: Evolve Your Perception of IT’s Role in the Business

As I said, it’s imperative for the business and IT to be working alongside one another to accomplish today’s objectives. Many organizations have made strides in eliminating a siloed structure, but others have work to do in improving collaboration. “The business is much more involved and should be much more involved than it was a few years ago,” he says. “It's not like the IT side has become any less important, but in order to get things done and the complete ideas, it's like the scope of things has increased. Today, you have to solve the IT and business side at the same time.”

Particularly in service-oriented businesses, IT capabilities are crucial in delivering on the expectations of customers. Cimcorp is a user of IFS Cloud and, as Pekka mentions, believes strongly in the IFS mission to help companies master their moment of service. “We are using IFS Cloud, and they are talking about the moment of service and I fell in love with that slogan, ‘moment of service,’” explains Pekka. “Because that describes quite accurately what we need and what the customers need. The IT systems really have to be there, present, and have real-time information to provide in the moment of service. There's no other way. When the customer contacts you, what the customer wants to hear is that okay, can-do answer. So, the moment of service is actually really fantastic way to describe the need of what IT has to delivery for the business.”

Tenet #2: Relinquish Control and Leverage External Expertise

A key mindset in Cimcorp’s mission to modernize IT and reduce complexity is to understand that the idea of doing, owning, and controlling everything is outdated. A modern IT approach acknowledges the expertise that lies outside of the organization and finds power in utilizing that expertise in order to reserve more skill for strategy than execution. “We're trying always to find things to outsource, and there is so much new stuff IT has to take care of, like a compliance, information security, and embedding IT and IT processes,” says Pekka, “And that seems to be the core, so we really always are trying to find less critical tasks that we can outsource.”

For many organizations, Cimcorp included, this is a major shift and can take time to embrace – but in Pekka’s opinion, being a master of all is no longer a realistic goal. “Cimcorp has historically done everything in-house, but through a lot of discussion and opening the idea of how management sees IT department, we helped the company embrace this change,” Pekka explains. “It was based on an understanding that if we're trying always to do everything, we will be so slow that with all there is to do, it just isn’t reasonable. Being able to prove that we're on the right path by being able to do something in two weeks with a partner that would have taken six months internally helps foster acceptance. People are happy about it, and we get compliments from the management, ‘How did you guys do that in such a short timeline?’ and the cost wasn't bad.”

Tenet #3: Embrace a Platform Approach

To simplify and master the complexity that is inevitable in today’s digital landscape, Cimcorp has fully embraced a platform approach with IFS Cloud. “We are always reducing the number of the systems in house, because we started from a situation where the number of different systems was just immense. And we were in the continuous loop of update, upgrade, and then you would begin to lag so much behind. We knew we needed to cut down the number of disparate systems and concentrate on the core systems in general,” explains Pekka.

When you look to consolidate into a platform, it is important to choose a partner that you feel is aligned with your short, mid, and long-term business objectives. “We’ve focused on finding suppliers and partners who share our vision of the future, because we cannot be inventing everything in-house. IT, for us, has become less about building and more about managing a network of partners who are on the same page with you,” Pekka says.

In evaluating options, the value of a platform approach was clear. “Of course, we do alternative scenarios. And when we discovered that we would have to build 19 interfaces between two systems, and most of them two-way interfaces, that was immediately the point that we knew we don't want to do that. We don't want to be spending the time working the interfaces, all the changes in the system that will affect the interfaces. So, once again, we found a position where we would be digging a hole underneath us with those interfaces,” explains Pekka. “There’s innovation in accepting IFS as a platform and limiting the number of systems. We did our homework, and we decided that IFS is a good platform for us.”

Tenet #4: Think Out of the Box

Perhaps one of the most impactful points of my discussion with Pekka is his description of the outdated view many have of software systems in the sense of overlooking the idea that a solution might work quite well for the business, right out of the box. We talked about the fact that this may stem from a historical viewpoint of far less sophisticated solutions, but that with what today’s technology providers offer, insisting you require customizations is – in many cases – an issue of pride versus reality. “ERP systems or software in general, they already have built-in processes, and tried out ways to work. And all the jobs I've had and all the customers I've had, I always saw that idea that everybody was trying to over-complicate that. ‘My process is so special. Our business is so special,’” says Pekka. “And as an outsider, you could say that I've seen this a thousand times. It's the exact same process repeating itself time and time and time and again.”

What Pekka urges you to consider is to evaluate the out-of-the-box functionality before pressing for what you feel may be necessary customizations. “Have an open mind that maybe somebody has found the golden nugget of approaches that's already built into the system,” he says. “They have tens of thousands of clients, and that have been running for decades actually. So, the process, it might have been already evolved. And in many cases, I've found that accepting the ERP system might actually be really smart. At least try it out, and if it's not, then look to do something.”

Tenet #5: Focus on Continual Improvement

IT today is incredibly fast paced, and Pekka and I discussed that the primary role of the function has shifted from doer of all things to strategist and manager of all things. This means an increased focus on education, innovation, collaboration, and partnership. It also requires a constant state of movement. “I've been discussing with many of my colleagues in similar positions at similar companies, and we seem to agree that unless you're a little bit proactive in replacing and updating and upgrading, you always are playing catch. And that's not a good place to be,” Pekka says.

Pekka encourages his team to look externally for information and inspiration. “I continuously encourage my staff to find benchmarking companies and to be active in end user groups. We don't want to be stuck inside the walls of our department, and it’s encouraged to discuss with the outside all the time, more and more, because we can only win in gaining that insight,” he says.

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