May 31, 2022 | 4 Mins Read

An Employee Appreciation Brainstorm

May 31, 2022 | 4 Mins Read

An Employee Appreciation Brainstorm


By Sarah Nicastro, Creator, Future of Field Service

As I’ve traveled from city to city on the Future of Field Service Live Tour, there are some central themes that have surfaced in nearly every conversation. One of them is the need to focus more on employee engagement and experience, including:

  • Evolving how we train, upskill, and continually improve
  • Putting more focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion
  • Incorporating more empathy and human centricity into our leadership
  • Prioritizing the need to listen more to employees’ ideas, challenges, and feedback
  • Getting more creative about how we make our employees feel appreciated, recognized, and valued for what they do

In this article, I want to do a bit of brainstorming on that last point. I think what happens when we think about employee appreciation and recognition is that we went to think big – and while that isn’t a bad thing, it also isn’t always necessary. Often it is the smaller and more personal acts that have the bigger impact. So, while we can certainly think big, we shouldn’t shy away of thinking small and really just removing any preconceived notions about “what’s been done before.” It is, however, essential to do the thinking – and then the acting – on this important topic. With the competition for talent at an all-time high, and the role of the frontline workforce imperative to your customer experience objectives, ensuring your employees feel valued for their contributions has never been more important. 

I recently interviewed Arran Stewart, Co-Founder and CVO of blockchain-powered recruitment platform Job.com for the podcast and asked his input. “I truly believe that you should do regular reviews and always look to recognition and reward. You should build a recognition and reward culture. Celebrate small wins and make it publicly known what that human being achieved so that throughout the company they feel like they have been recognized,” he says. “And I know companies try and do it with things like employee of the week, employee of the month. I think you can be a lot more creative than that. I also think that rewarding people can be very simple in a sense like, hey, did you know that you’re being taken out for lunch today by the boss? That makes people feel great. It does.”

Arran also gave the excellent suggestion of never overlooking the value of polling your audience when you’re looking to make changes and be more creative. He gives an example in regard to recruiting: “Try and use that bottom-up feedback to maybe more senior ranking members of the company to realign the strategy around benefits, packages, attraction methods, work conditions, work style, all these different components that might then readjust, realign the dials in your hiring and recruitment strategy that will make it work for you,” he says. “I think that’s probably the best way. Listen to the candidate. That’s the best. The source of truth is right in front of you. You can read as many articles as you like, you can look at as many bits of information as you like. Go talk to the source. They’ll tell you. And if you see a trend, then you know that’s what needs to change.”

Think Outside the Box

This advice can also apply to understanding better how your employees would like to feel appreciated. If you aren’t sure what will resonate, ask! If you’re hesitant to do so, let me share a variety of ideas I compiled from a discussion on social media:

  • “A nice, handwritten note and food.”
  • “The best thing a company every did for me was gift a hotel and flight points for both myself and my spouse so that we could go away for a long weekend after months of working on an exhausting project. I was quickly headed toward burnout, and it helped that they saw it and wanted to make a difference.”
  • “Extra time off.”
  • “Wellness days. One day off a month or some regular interval with $100 toward spa, massage, or fitness.”
  • “It must start with fair compensation.”
  • “I think the biggest key to feeling appreciated is having a manager who listens to your ideas, gives you credit for them when they are worth pursuing, helps me achieve work/life balance, and trusts me to do a good job.”
  • “Don’t forget to say it – often simple communication is overlooked.”
  • “My company gives awards which have associated points that you can then use to buy a ton of different things.”
  • “Just saying thank you goes further than most realize.”
  • “Public shout outs or recognition for hard work are nice so that you feel you can be celebrated not just by a leader but by your teammates.”

Maybe some of these seem feasible for your organization and others don’t. There are also countless other ideas that you could come up with given a bit of effort. And that’s the point – make the effort! Never underestimate the value of the simplest things, but don’t be afraid to think differently and think big. Ultimately, making your employees feel appreciated goes a long way toward a positive company culture which will pay dividends in engagement and retention. 

May 23, 2022 | 23 Mins Read

Clarifying Digital Transformation vs. Innovation

May 23, 2022 | 23 Mins Read

Clarifying Digital Transformation vs. Innovation


Dan Toma, Innovation Thought Leader and award-winning author of the Corporate Startup and Innovation Accounting, as well as co-founder of Innovation Advisory Firm OUTCOME, talks with Sarah about the differences between Digital Transformation and Innovation and why/how the terms can be erroneously used interchangeably.

Sarah Nicastro: Welcome to the Future of Field Service podcast. I'm your host Sarah Nicastro. Today, we're going to be clarifying the difference between digital transformation and innovation. I'm excited to share today's conversation with you all, because this is something that I noticed myself maybe using these terms interchangeably a bit more than I should. Recently had a learning on that and excited to share that with you all today. Welcoming to the podcast, Dan Toma, who is an innovation thought leader, award-winning author of two books, The Corporate Startup and Innovation Accounting, as well as co-founder of Innovation Advisory Firm OUTCOME. Dan, welcome to the Future of Field Service podcast.

Dan Toma: Sarah, thank you very much for having me.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah, thanks for being here. Okay. So before we dig into it, tell our listeners a little bit more about yourself and your journey.

Dan Toma: Sure. My background is actually in entrepreneurship. So when I was 19, I founded my first company, software development. And then I was obviously attracted by the idea of startups, building products, building digital products in particular. And I was just were working with other people's startups, with accelerator programs. My startups, first two startups really failed. Now I am probably at the fourth and now this one seems to be going somewhere. So I'm approaching everything with the entrepreneurial mindset, if you want. But at one point in my life more by chance than by design, to be honest with you, I was head hunted by a large organization and actually they were a company and telco business. They wanted to get more blood from the startup world into their ranks. So they head hunted me and I've spent about three years with them.

Dan Toma: And that's actually where the first book, the Corporate Startup, was born because I was essentially seeing a big need and I was actually trying to solve my first problem to begin with and then probably create something for other people to follow. The idea was that large organizations were, and in particular, the one I was working for, terrible at building digital products. They were essentially building it backwards from what we were used to doing in the outside world, in the startup scene.

Dan Toma: Essentially they were starting from a business plan. Financing the whole thing they want and then probably after six months, they would put a prototype in the hands of a customer only to learn that doesn't work. Which was the exact opposite of what we were doing in the startup, where we were starting with a prototype, asking some people if they like it. And then maybe go to ask for some financing from some investors. So you saw where I was living in and I said to myself, I need to do something about it. I started blogging. I started speaking at conferences and that's how the Corporate Startup was born.

Sarah Nicastro: Okay. All right. So the Corporate Startup is the first book. Now I met Dan through the second book, Innovation Accounting, and that book is new. And so I have a copy of it. And Dan, I shared this with you. I'll be honest. Accounting is not my jam. So I got the book and I thought, "Whew, this is going to be a little heavy for me." It's such a good book. The content is great, but also the layout and the design and the way the whole thing's done is really good. But it actually urged me to buy the first book because there was reference to a lot of points that I just thought were super, super important for our audience. And so, as I was, as I was reading Innovation Accounting, the one point that really stuck out to me is this point about distinguishing digital transformation and innovation. This is where I said, I realized that there have been times where I've used those terms interchangeably and while they can maybe in some ways be connected, they're not synonymous. Okay, so can you define for folks each? So digital transformation and innovation?

Dan Toma: Sure. I can give you my working definition if you want. This is probably not going to make it in any dictionary anytime soon, this is just my working definition. The idea is the following: on digital transformation, what your company's essentially doing is putting the digital skin and digital interface to a legacy product. If that legacy product is called risk management for loan applications or something that has to do with a pen and paper process that now can be run more effectively and more efficiently through a digital channel, that's essentially digital transformation. However, in digital transformation, you are not necessarily creating any top line growth to your organization. You're still going to sell the mortgages. Now you're just selling them via an app that does the risk assessment in 15 minutes versus is three days, whatever. I'm just giving a random example here. So we are just becoming more efficient in our core business through digital transformation.

Dan Toma: That will be my, my definition. Now, if we want to build top line growth, if we want to expand beyond our current court day, if we want to look into, let's say banking for, I don't know, inhabitants of Mars. Again, totally random example. That will be probably more towards the innovation side. So innovation is creating top-line growth, is helping you explore areas that fall outside of your today's core and digital transformation is essentially making your core today more efficient, and it's helping you survive with today's core longer into the future. So your core won't die tomorrow or next year, but probably in five years, 10 years, or longer. Organizations need both, unfortunately.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah., no, I agree. And so in the book, I just thought this was so well said. So innovation is the crew of new value. Digital transformation is around keeping existing business models and processes valuable in the digital age, which improves customer satisfaction and lowers operational costs. Now I think where it can get confusing for folks is the improving customer satisfaction part. But this is where the distinction gets important, because are sort of incrementally improving on what you've always done or are you creating something net new? And I think that it isn't uncommon for people to think of or refer to the two terms interchangeably. So to your point, companies need both, but what are the reasons you think people can sometimes confuse the two or consider the synonymous when in reality they're different?

Dan Toma: Right, well, it's common for people to use the terms interchangeably or use them as a synonym, to some extent, because in all fairness, digital transformation is to some extent incremental innovation. We're just taking something that we've been doing and making it slightly better. That's the nature of companies today. That's the nature of what they do. Continuous improvement, seeking continuous improvement and doing continuous improvement on their for business. This is what they are known for. Look at the look at the automotive industry. They're building every year on the experience and on the success of the previous year. They're just making the new model a bit more fuel efficient, and giving it a bit more flavor in terms of high tech features and so on and so forth. But essentially it's the same car as the year before.

Dan Toma: Especially if you look at it from a business model perspective. It's just like, I'm going to the Toyota dealership and I'm buying a Toyota, that's it. It doesn't different any way from the Toyota that bought five years ago or a year ago, or the one I'm going to buy next year. Now this is why the confusion, because some people believe that innovation is a one size fits all type of word. And you can just use it for everything. I think that one of the big lessons learned for us, and I think it's actually in chapter one of the book, whenever you want to start doing innovation, the first thing you want to do and you need to do is to define what innovation means for your organization. Because different people can mean different things whenever they say innovation. Some people might refer to innovation as being digital transformation, and they will not be necessarily wrong in thinking that, but some people might be, let's say thinking more about the disruptive side of innovation. Flying cars. Again, let's take the automotive company example.

Dan Toma: Some people might think that yes, pay per use or pay per minute for a car might be innovation. Or a flying taxi, or an autonomous vehicle might be innovation. Whether some believe that if you just take the, I don't know, hybrid engine and make it a bit more fuel efficient for next year is innovation. And actually everybody's right. This is why it's very important in your organization to have very clear definitions and very clear boundaries between various types of innovation, digital transformation and innovation, or different parts of the spectrum of innovation. Because essentially the way you are defining these, is going to inform how you approach them, the tools you use, the processes you use, the indicators you put in place. Speaking about innovation, accounting. We can't hope to measure in incremental innovation or digital transformation with the indicators that we propose in the book for breakthrough transformation and vice versa. This will not work. This is why it's very important to define because from the finishing, you can draw actions and you can draw all the other things.

Sarah Nicastro: So as I think about how your content to our audience specifically, I think that where some of the, I wouldn't even necessarily say confusion, but some of the interchangeability of the terms comes in is because for a lot of folks within our audience, the reason that they are digitally transforming is to enable new business models, i.e. innovation. And so that's where I think the intersection is. But I think the definitions you lay out, I think could be very helpful for people to think through that lens. Because I also think that sometimes companies think if we digitally transform, we can just innovate. Like it's just a cause and effect type of situation. When in reality, it takes a lot more strategy and concerted effort, so...

Dan Toma: And capability and skill.

Sarah Nicastro: Right.

Dan Toma: The skill that you need for digital transformation, the capabilities you need for digital transformation are not going to be sufficient once you're trying to innovate. Let alone talent. If you are trying to hire somebody and that particular person has an amazing track record of helping organizations digitally transform, it doesn't mean that that's the right person for you to build, let's say, flying cars again. It's not going to be the right person for disruptive innovation. You need different skillset, different personalities, if you want. So this is why I always say guys, make the distinction before you start investing.
Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. So, all right. So we talked about the working definition of each and some of the areas where they intersect. Now, you said companies need both. Okay.
Dan Toma: Yes.

Sarah Nicastro: So that makes sense. But what are your thoughts on how a company should determine which to focus on at any given moment or how to prioritize or do organizations just have to become comfortable doing both in parallel?

Dan Toma: Well, to some extent, utopia would be if an organization can do both at the same time. We're talking about ambidexterity. You're able to operate the core business while at the same time inventing the core business of the future. But that's utopia. I'm not saying that it doesn't exist. I'm not saying that organizations that do this don't exist. On the contrary, there's a lot of examples. I'm a big fan, for example, of New Pond. They are an organization that's always searching for new while at the same time operating the core business and digitizing the core business. And there's so many the other names I can think of. Now to your question. How do we decide which one do we put first? And how do we decide which one do we focus on?

Dan Toma: Well, it really depends on your organization. It depends on your industry. Obviously you have to build a roof in the summer, not in the winter. So if the seas are still calm, I think you should definitely start investing in innovation. If you believe that you have a strong market position today, if you are profitable, by all means start investing innovation because innovation will definitely cost money. It will go from failure to failure initially, before you will see any form of success. If on the other hand, you are under pressure from competitors, from the industry landscape changing, from any other things that might cause the ship to rattle if you want. Then probably digital transformation should be prioritized. Prioritize what's happening today, what's happening in front of you in the next, I don't know, 12 months, 18 months, five years max. You don't have the luxury at that time to start thinking about flying cars and going to Mars and all this innovation stuff.

Dan Toma: However, if you are, as I said, when you have a market position that allows you to start thinking about the future, you are the leader in your market, the market is pretty stable. You've been winning in that market with that particular competitive advantage or particular competitive advantages that you have, then by all means start to investigate innovation today. It's better to invest sooner than later. Don't get yourself to a point where you really, really needed innovation. And there was nothing in the pipeline. Take, for example, the cases of companies that we've seen struggling at the beginning of the pandemic. Most of them weren't digital. Most of them, they didn't have any other revenue stream besides walk-in stores. And the walk-in stores were like literally overnight closed. And think about airline agencies, airline companies.

Dan Toma: They were so used to operating aircraft and they had absolutely no revenue coming from any other source, besides I'm taking this plane and moving it from airport a to air point B and I'm making a profit because there is people there. Well, all of a sudden there weren't any people. So I'm just wondering why haven't they invested earlier or sooner into teleconferencing solutions or something that would essentially mitigate against the potential scenario where the core business no longer exists or is being slowed. There was a very interesting infographic. I actually encourage the listeners to go look it up. When at one point in 2020, Zoom's valuation was bigger or equal than the valuation of all the U.S. based airline companies combined. So I was like, okay. So I'm just wondering how many CEOs of those airlines were pitched by a junior staffer, a conferencing tool at one point, or at least the idea of let's invest in Zoom.

Sarah Nicastro: Right.

Dan Toma: That was a really funny seeing that infographic.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah, yeah. And I think you mentioned the utopia is to be able to do both of these things in parallel. And while that might not be realistic for everyone, I do think that we need to be challenging ourselves more to think about innovation and how that fits into the business. And because you see a lot of those thoughts and ideas and practices just getting pushed, because it isn't the thing right now, but that's the whole point. So, I think it's something that companies that aren't doing both simultaneously need to be the thinking about how they can make more room for innovation without sacrificing the current business. I think honestly, segueing to the next point.

Sarah Nicastro: One of the things that prevents companies from maybe integrating this, this being innovation, integrating innovation better into the business is that it's difficult to measure the success of. So that's what the whole second book innovation accounting is about. Talking about how some of the standard ways that we measure success do don't fit innovation. So obviously we don't have time to get into all of the details of that book, but can you sort of give an overview of why those standard practices don't work for innovation?

Dan Toma: Sure. Again, Innovation Accounting is the book that, to be honest with you, I always wanted to write, but I had to write the Corporate Startup before writing Innovation Accounting. First of all, I was not mature enough. I didn't understand innovation as well back then, as I understand it now. This is why it took probably five years to start thinking about Innovation Accounting against for writing that. One of the interesting things about the world that we live in is that the value of tangible assets, if you want, the value, not in terms of their monetary value, but their value in terms of your business is going down. They are becoming the commodity. If we want, Dan and Sarah can start an airline tomorrow. It's not a big competitive advantage to buy an aircraft or to buy a parking spot at Heathrow or something like that.

Dan Toma: That's becoming a commodity. Why we will never win against British air or Southwestern or Lufthansa is on operating the airline, operating that asset. And obviously with digital companies, this is getting even more interesting. Think about Twitter. Think about Spotify. Think about Netflix. What is the value of their physical assets? Well, the servers, the desks, the computers, that's fine. I mean, everybody can buy that. What people can't buy is the culture within, within Spotify. What, who can't buy and replicate is the algorithm that Netflix is using to suggest all those videos for you to watch. What we can't buy is the customer centricity of Zappos. We can buy the desk that Zappos is using. We can buy the computers people are using whenever they upload products online on the platform, but we can't buy that culture. We can't buy their approach, their process.

Dan Toma: And as I said, with digital companies, this is even more interesting because the amount of physical assets that they have is sometimes very low, but their evaluations is probably higher than a company that has a lot of physical assets on their books. Why? Because us as society, we value them differently because we look at them through the problems that they solve, through how much they are being used, to the network effects that they have baked into their business models. And this is why innovation and standard accounting don't go well together. Because in innovation, we are essentially trying to build things that are not that heavy on assets and financial accounting, in particular is looking at the value of a company or value of an idea through the number of assets it employs. And actually with innovation, we're doing the exact opposite.

Dan Toma: We want the employee as little, assets as we can. Take, for example, Airbnb or Uber. How many cars does Uber have? Well, zero because they don't own anything. And the same goes for Airbnb. How many rooms do they own? Unlike Hilton, which they only have millions of rooms around the world, Airbnb doesn't. And this is why the two systems, if you want, innovation system and the financial accounting system were not meant to go hand in hand, this is why we struggled. As I said, for quite some time to build a complimentary system to financial accounting, that's able to account for digital innovation. That's able to account for early stage innovation, even more interesting to account for early stage innovation when you have an acute absence of financial data. If we started a startup tomorrow, we are probably not going to be profitable for the next quarter or for the next two years.

Dan Toma: And in some companies, take Tesla, for example, or FedEx or Amazon, they weren't profitable for the first five years. We need to have a system that allows us to say, "Yes, this idea is going to be successful, but in the future, not now, let's not discontinue it." Otherwise, we might fall into the classical corporate trap where we value everything through the lens of financial accounting, and guess what we're going to do? We're always going to prioritize the core business and investment in the core business. And we are going to do that by always putting on the back burner innovation and innovation ideas until we actually need them. And when we need them, we're going to be sitting there and looking at our ourselves and say, "Okay, so where's our innovation that should have saved us now?"

Dan Toma: Well, it's nowhere to be found. Why? Because we just used the wrong metrics whenever we had to take investment decisions. I always give this simple example. I try to dumb everything down. Whenever I'm explaining this, I always say, well, if we take our kids and take them to a swimming competition, they have their own benchmarks for their age bracket. We are never going to evaluate a 10 year old swimmer or a 15 year old swimmer for the performance of somebody that just won't medal of the Olympics, because it's just impossible for a 10 year old to compete with a 20 year old and be able to hit the same benchmark.

Dan Toma: This is why for every age group, we have different benchmarks. So if we do that in sports, if we do that with athletics teams, why don't do this with business? Why not do this with innovation? Why do we compare an idea that was essentially founded three months ago or three weeks ago, or three days ago with a core business that we've been having for about a hundred years? We should never do that because we're going to be super disappointed by what we have in front of us, what we've learned. And as a result of that, we're just going to invest in the core business.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. And to your point, failure is a natural part of innovation. So then what happens is these companies reach that first failure point panic and jump ship. And so the book is it gives some really good perspective on why we need to be thinking about this differently and what those more reasonable and worthwhile metrics are. So I'm going to ask you a couple of pretty unfair questions, because I'm really asking you to sort of scan the memory banks and give us a nugget out of a whole lot of knowledge. But so thinking about digital transformation specifically, what would you say is the biggest myth or misstep that you would caution folks against with digital transformation?

Dan Toma: I would say that probably the biggest mistake organizations make when they want to do digital transformation is thinking that they only need digital transformation. That after they do digital transformation, everything will be fine. There will be no more competitors. There will be no more fires to fight. Everything will be sunshine and rainbows. And another mistake that they make very much connected to this one, is that they think that digital transformation is a destination and it's not a journey. I've been seeing that. Once we're going to become a digitally transformed, like really? What does that make? What does it mean? It's a journey. It's not a destination. And again, stop thinking that you only need that.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. I wrote an article not too, too long ago about the term itself. Should we just start calling it something different. Like the digital continuum or the digital journey, or I don't know what else. I think I threw some other options out, but yeah, the word transformation, I think gives companies the connotation that it's step, step, step, complete, and it's just a false reality. Okay, so same question, but for innovation. What is the biggest myth or misstep you see related to innovation?

Dan Toma: I think, again, from my experience, one of the biggest mistakes I've seen organizations make is that they focus too much on the technology side. They believe innovation equals technology, and they only focus on technology. They ignore customer experience innovation, they ignore channel innovation, they ignore business model innovation. They just believe that if they're just going to invest in blockchain or invest in AI, that will be enough. My question to them would be okay, you invested in this amazing AI technology, what do you do with it? What is the product that you were building? What is the value that you were creating for an end user with that AI?

Dan Toma: Just saying that we acquired and we're going to sell it to our customers is not enough. And that's not innovation. That's at the very best some low key entrepreneurial mindset, but that's definitely not innovation. I think too many organizations focused too much on the next shiny technology without actually remembering the fact that the technology needs to work in an ecosystem. It needs to be built within a product that people would like, and people will benefit by using that particular product, so on and so forth. So stop thinking technology, think wider than technology, think business modeling, think customer experience, think customer engagement. Think channel.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. Good. So I thought of one other question, Dan, which is you mentioned that you were, you were head hunted and you went to work for this telecom and they wanted you specifically because of your entrepreneurial background. And so I think kudos to them for understanding that they needed more of that to innovate, but obviously you got in there and were like, "Whoa, whoa, whoa, what did I sign up for?" So I think the idea is a good idea. I think the idea of recognizing that if you are relying solely on your legacy to innovate, that could be significantly more challenging. It's sometimes very helpful to have outside perspective, outside ideas, outside talent. What though is the key to companies creating a better culture for innovation to exist? And I realize that's not an easy question to answer, but if you had to give some initial advice for people on, okay, if you recognize you want to create more innovation and you want to bring people into the business to do that, then you know, start doing x or not doing y.

Dan Toma: Right. It's definitely a difficult question and I'm not hoping to have the right answer here. I mean, it's probably one of the questions that's been puzzling thinkers for years now, decades. I would venture definitely venture here, a suggestion. First of all, you should really make a point out of the fact that you really want to grow for innovation, meaning that you are heavily investing in innovation and not just investing dollars, but investing time. Make sure that your leadership speaks about innovation on an ongoing basis. That they champion innovation with every opportunity that they have. And that innovation really sits on their agenda. Literally sits on their agenda. Like they have time booked in every week, every day, every quarter to just focus on innovation. And then the other point would be start improving your innovation process, because process will drive culture.

Dan Toma: And if you want to have a new culture, if you want to attract people with a different mindset, build a system that will force some old people to realize that probably innovation is not for them and will force HR to start recruiting for innovation. It's a very good point. You brought up and this reminding to me of some work I've done with an insurance company out of Germany, I'm not going to name names here, but the idea was the following: the head of the innovation lab, this was the lab passed with building beyond core experiences, beyond core solutions. Bear in mind, this company was 150 years old. So something like that. And some people actually, I think were 150 years old as well. And this guy was tasked with running the lab building, building the insurance of the future, think beyond core.

Dan Toma: So on and so forth. The problem for him was that in spite of the new lab that he had, the new processes that he used, all the thought leadership that he brought in, the problem was that HR was only hiring people that had insurance written on their CVS. People that worked with other insurers in the region, sometimes even brought them from abroad. And he said like, "I can't innovate with these people because these people can only think insurance in the way that insurance has been fought about for the past 100. And I don't know, 50 years, I need to have people that come from automotive. I need to have that come from the music industry from entertainment, from travel, people that think differently about insurance, because they don't have that legacy."

Dan Toma: Obviously it was very difficult for him to do that. And obviously he was fighting an uphill battle with HR. But the point I'm trying to make here is that if you want to really become an innovative organization, make sure that you have a strategy, make sure that you speak about innovation, make sure you champion. And by all means, make sure that HR is on board with you. Because if HR is not on board with you, if HR is not helping you recruit the right talent, it's not helping train the people that you already have. You won't be getting very far.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah, no, that's really good advice. And I was thinking about that because like I said, I think the idea is good, but you have to understand that you can't bring one or two great people on and expect them to transform the whole business. There has to be a structure behind it. And I think the HR point is a really good one. And I think it also ties back to Innovation Accounting, because the other challenge is are your expectations realistic for what that journey is going to look like? They could have brought you on to innovate. And then, like I said earlier, you hit the first failure and they panic and send you on your way. Because they don't have the understanding of what that's going to take. So all very much tied together, all really interesting. And I really appreciate you coming and sharing, tell folks where they can find the books, where they can learn more about you and how to stay in touch

Dan Toma: The books, you can find them on Amazon. We're just starting delivering in the U.S., I think as of last week or two weeks ago. So amazon.com is a great source for the book. Just type the Corporate Startup or Innovation Accounting.

Sarah Nicastro: Have them here.

Dan Toma: Ah, here we go.

Sarah Nicastro: And it's, like I said, they're really, really well designed. I don't know. I thought that the layout of them was really cool. There's some workbook type stuff, there's different exercises to do. And it's something that, like I said, just knowing myself, I wasn't expecting it to be as engaging. And so yeah, they're definitely worth ordering.

Dan Toma: Yeah. Thank you very much for that. And if you want to stay in the much with me, LinkedIn or Twitter are the best places you can find me. So on Twitter, you can find me with the tag danto_ma and on LinkedIn, just type in my name, Dan Toma and I'm going to pop there with the books as the cover.

Sarah Nicastro: That's cool then. All right, Dan. Well, thank you so much. I appreciate you being here and really enjoyed the conversation and your content and hope to have you back again sometime soon.
Thank you very much.

Sarah Nicastro: You can find more by visiting us @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 @ifs.com As always, thanks for listening.

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May 23, 2022 | 4 Mins Read

Maybe What Field Service Needs is a Dose of Fresh Perspective

May 23, 2022 | 4 Mins Read

Maybe What Field Service Needs is a Dose of Fresh Perspective


By Sarah Nicastro, Creator, Future of Field Service

As I’ve traveled from city to city the last two months for the Future of Field Service Live Tour, I’ve been reminded how much perspective is gained by meeting new people and seeing different places. By getting out of your comfort zone and removing the lens of familiarity. I grew up in a small town and I didn’t take my first flight until I was in college (my father still has never flown) so the opportunity to soak up these experiences is one I always cherish.

The feedback I’ve received from those who have joined us at the Paris, London, and Frankfurt stops of the Live Tour has echoed the value of perspective. Points such as “the event was insightful,” “I left re-energized about my objectives,” “this gave me food for thought AND food for action,” and “there’s so much power in collaborating in person this way,” have not only made me feel thankful for the ability to bring Future of Field Service to life in this way but have also reminded me of the power of fresh perspective. No one in attendance has all of the answers or a universal blueprint for success, but the act of stepping aside from the day-to-day for a few hours to engage with peers and share ideas has sparked new insights and new energy.

Thinking about the value of fresh perspective, I wonder if it is exactly what field service needs right now. Organizations spinning their wheels rather than achieving their objectives are almost always thinking too small, acting without input, or working inside siloes. Each of these challenges could be alleviated by seeking out more perspective.

For instance, I mentioned at last week’s Frankfurt event that it’s my opinion we need to stop hyper-focusing on “field” service and instead broaden our perspective to all of service. How does the organization operate? Field service shouldn’t be a silo. How is the value proposition presented to customers? Service should be seamless (which it isn’t when siloed). Do our customers only care about a positive field service experience, or a positive experience overall? In this scenario, taking in the perspective of the customer can point us to what changes need to be made within our strategy, execution, technology mix, or skills to ensure we are meeting today’s demands.

Perspective is also critical when it comes to recruiting, hiring and retention – as well as change management. Do you understand your employees’ wants, needs, and feelings? Do you try to put yourself in their shoes? Today’s talent is far different than that of even five years ago. Broadening your perspective on what they want and why they want it will help you achieve better results in a tight labor market. And when it comes to managing change, keeping the perspective of your employees top of mind is in many ways the key to success.

How Perspective Aids Change Management

At last week’s event, Marc Ringwelski, Product Manager at REMA TIP TOP shared how he has gained traction in the company’s journey to delivering outcomes-based service. The initial phase of this journey was to introduce the IFS platform to improve data accuracy and availability and to standardize processes. To help manage this change, he spent ample time doing ride-alongs with field technicians. When asked by the audience how he determined which feedback of theirs to incorporate, he said “I really tried to put myself in their shoes, and I was able to do that far better by seeing what they needed firsthand by joining them on the job.” The perspective he gained from this investment of his time not only helped the company to make improvements to the solution, but it showed the employees how much he valued their input.

While valuable, perspective isn’t always easy to gather because as humans we often like to believe we have it all figured out. The first step toward our own fresh perspective is realizing the value of thinking differently. From there we need exposure – you can’t change your perspective with the same-old, same-old. Whatever you’re needing to think differently on, step outside of your norm – go somewhere new, look outside of your industry for ideas, spend time with different people, ask varied opinions. Then work on listening to your gut on what you must hold true to and what beliefs or opinions or ideas it is time for you to make a shift on.

So much of service, of field service, is changing and fresh perspective can help take us outside of the view of that change being scary or daunting and instead help us see that it holds a wealth of opportunity.

Most Recent

May 18, 2022 | 30 Mins Read

Reinventing Recruitment and Retention for Today’s Labor Market

May 18, 2022 | 30 Mins Read

Reinventing Recruitment and Retention for Today’s Labor Market


Sarah welcomes Arran Stewart, the Co-Founder and CVO of blockchain-powered recruitment platform Job.com, who has been featured in in Forbes, Inc., Reuters, Wired, Fortune, and Nasdaq, among others, to share his insights on hiring, recruitment, and job market trends.

Sarah Nicastro: Welcome to The Future of Field Service podcast. I'm your host, Sarah Nicastro. Today we're going to talk about reinventing the recruitment and retention models for today's labor market. This is not our first podcast on this topic and it's something that we'll be talking about a lot this year as it is one of the biggest challenges that the folks that I speak with are up against. So I'm excited to welcome to the podcast today Arran Stewart, who is the co-founder and chief visionary officer of blockchain-powered recruitment platform, job.com. Arran's insights have been featured in the likes of Forbes, Inc, Wired, Fortune and many others. So Arran, very grateful to have you here with us today for a chat.

Arran Stewart: Thank you so much, Sarah. It's a pleasure to be on your podcast.

Sarah Nicastro: All right. Great. Okay, so before we get into the meat of it all, tell our listeners a bit more about yourself.

Arran Stewart: Well, so I'm originally from the UK, from London, and I live here in the United States in Austin, Texas. I've been in the what I describe as the recruitment technology or rec tech space for sort of the last 15 years. I have a very deep passion about utilizing technology to remove friction from hiring and has had sort of dedicated my career to looking at how do we make things better for the labor force, for employees? Specifically, my side is always about finding the best talent and putting them in great companies, but that often spills into some of the topics that we're going to talk about today where it's like what do companies need to do in order to attract and retain that talent? And how do we provide that consultancy to them that it's way more than a job description, it's way more than just the offer of a job these days.

Arran Stewart: Talent is scarce. Good talent is even more scarce and it requires a lot more thought process, but our mission at job.com and what we tell everyone is that we're here to help as many people feed their families and pay their bills as possible. And I live by that and stick by that. So that's me just in a nutshell. I'm married, five beautiful children and very blessed with that too.

Sarah Nicastro: Now, how did you and your family enjoy the move from London to Austin?

Arran Stewart: Yeah, that's a fabulous question. So kudos to my wife because when we moved, we had a young family and actually at the time my wife fell pregnant shortly after moving to the United States. As you can imagine, culture change, mild culture shock left a lot of family support behind that sat around my wife. My life didn't change very much because I was so busy working, traveling, kind of growing the business that is job.com. We have 15 offices across the US. So she really was the trooper and kind of made it happen. So kudos to her. But it was challenging, but it certainly was worth it. And I'm delighted to report we're very happy here.

Sarah Nicastro: Good.

Arran Stewart: Which is good.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah, that's a big, big change.

Arran Stewart: Oh yeah.

Sarah Nicastro: And of course a lot has happened in the last few years on top of it all. All right. So we're going to go through some specific questions that I have, Arran, but before we do that, can you just sort of give a synopsis of your view on what the current state of affairs is related to the labor market, what's happening with the great resignation and kind of just sort of a state of things if you will.

Arran Stewart: Yeah. So I've been quite active on this topic and also have written several articles on it because there's this big title of great resignation, or I think the pandemic provided an opportunity of great reflection for a lot of the labor force. And I think that time of reflection and challenge has meant that many of the talent pool that would normally be more accessible or were more accessible pre-COVID are now more difficult to find for a number of reasons. I think people are more conscious of potentially their financial worth, their compensation worth. I think they're more conscious of health and their loved one's health. And there's still a level of uncertainty there. As we know, a lot of financial assistance was inputted into the economy to help people during that time, which is great, but at the same time removes the level of urgency like they would normally be.

Arran Stewart: And also there was a realignment of talent as well. So especially in the sectors where you might be front-facing, like you might be out in the field, you might be in front of customers, or you might be in front of whether that's B2C customers or B2B customers, and that opportunity was taken away for some time because of the pandemic. You are skilled labor and in that time, you may have retaken your transferable skills into other markets, which has caused these pockets of shortages of talent across various markets and hiring requirements. And I think culminating all those things together has really impacted things.

Arran Stewart: We also have seen that... And this is statistics, right? And I actually think this is a great shame, but where we saw families have to kind of huddle in together, we've seen 2.1 million women potentially not come back into the labor force because they learned to live on a single income family and they went and looked after the children and now have decided that they wish to stay looking after children. These are statistics and facts, which we need more women in the labor force. And these are just all factors that add together that now have created this hiring environment we're seeing now.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. Now you mentioned that it was a time of reflection for a lot of folks. So I've heard the great resignation referred to as the great awakening. Do you think that is a good kind of descriptor of where some people's heads are at?

Arran Stewart: Yes, I do. And I also think that... And this isn't necessarily by any fault of any employers, but there was a huge knee jerk reaction that happened during the pandemic if we all remember like Q2 and Q3 of 2020, which was just barbaric in some respects, but companies weren't particularly loyal necessarily to all of their employees, especially those ones that may have been in positions that would suddenly not be in demand right now. And in order to protect the company, they may have shed large volumes of those loyal labor force. So that's given those markets at least 18 months to sit there and kind of reflect on their worth, how they've been treated, actually, how they're viewed upon by their employers because they were so disposable at a time of difficulty, and now I think in some respects, there's an element of backlash that may have come from that too in a positive and a negative way.

Arran Stewart: The positive way being people have had a chance to really think about their career prospects and what they want to do with their lives. And maybe they've realigned. Great because you want people to be happy, but at the same time, other people may just feel a little bit sour about the whole process and be like, well, I'm not just going to come running back to you because you were so quick to maybe ditch me. And I've certainly heard those sort of micro cases talking to job seekers and candidates in the job market as for job.com, we do focus groups and we've heard that time and time again.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. So going back to... So you mentioned you do focus groups and I just have to assume based on the nature of the platform, you have a good amount of data. So when we look at the job seeking/recruiting end of things, what is it that you see today's candidates prioritizing in the job searches they're doing, at this point, their interviewing of the potential employers?

Arran Stewart: Yeah. So just for transparency, and I'm not sure necessarily always how relevant this is to every sector and field, but the biggest one is the opportunity for hybrid work conditions, et cetera, et cetera. That is always the biggest one or remote working. That's saying that's only applicable to some industries and some jobs. Outside of that, compensation is a big topic because there's so much press in the market and so much pressure from the hiring side. Job seekers aren't stupid. And so they're like, "I know you really want me. How much are you going to pay?" And rightly so. And there's been a lot of, I guess, reflection alignment on that because there is still concerns around healthcare and maybe the impact of what this sort of virus can have. I think it's starting to dwindle a little bit now, but it's certainly was a lot more a few months ago.

Arran Stewart: People want to know that they have a benefits package, a good benefits package. If I'm putting myself out there at risk potential role that might be front-facing, I want to know that if I fall sick that my bills are covered and that these medical bills are covered for my time. So the benefits side of things, and then there's just other competitive... I'll talk about it because it's worth talking about that everyone's now also jumping on this four-day working week concept as well. Like, hey, maybe I could work only four days a week and earn same amount of money if I'm just as productive. All of these areas and components. People are looking at a sort of like potential sort of attraction. The things that make them want to be attracted to a particular role outside of maybe a company, their culture, where the business is going, the leadership behind that company, which can also play massive factors into whether or not a business is interesting. And then just looking at normal the traditional stuff like what do other employees say about that particular company or like Glassdoor or stuff like that.

Arran Stewart: So that's sort of like a very holistic overview of some of the things I think that people are looking at as like their top strategies for maybe choosing a company or what they're going to do, who they're going to go work for.

Sarah Nicastro: Okay. Now, if you look at the employer side of that equation, generally speaking, we have to generally speak because we're not digging into like a specific industry or that sort of thing, but how well do you feel companies have evolved or stepped up to the plate to adjust to these new and different expectations and/or what is the work that remains to be done?

Arran Stewart: Yeah. Great question. So I think there's a lot of talk about it. So an awful lot of talk like there always is. And I would pay kudos to some of like larger businesses, leading brands that are always expected to kind of lead from the front, especially in the competitive landscape for hiring, but I do think that when I look at just from our side as a business, maybe more small to medium size businesses, they're not necessarily always equipped to cope with such a drastic change in a sense of the costs, the realignment, the culture change, the strategy change, and also maybe they're not quite as in tune with the macroeconomic factors that are impacting them so much. Sometimes that can be the case. 

Arran Stewart: So I think some companies are absolutely killing it and they're doing a great job and they're seeing that reflected in how they're getting good talent and retaining it, and then I'd say the tail end, the sort of 80% to 85% are still very much wanting in their strategy and are still yet to really, really now embrace those strategies for a competitive hiring strategy.

Sarah Nicastro: So for those companies that are doing a lot of talk but haven't yet taken a lot of concrete action for one reason or another, what's your best piece of advice on how to attract more talent?

Arran Stewart: Yeah. So I think that wherever they best can, whether they've got internal hired managers, HR, or if it's a smaller business and it's kind of owner manager hire kind of scenario, or if they're using third party agencies, part of your recruitment process should consist of try. You give feedback to candidates, but try and get feedback from candidates on maybe why they didn't accept the job because a lot of the time, you might get a great candidate to a point of like first interview, second interview, or they drop off and ghosting from candidates is a huge problem right now because they've got so much options in front of them, but where you can build a relationship and you can learn from your market that you're trying to hire, ask them what was it that made us not as appealing?

Arran Stewart: And try and use that from the bottom down to feedback to maybe more senior ranking members of the company to realign the strategy around benefits, packages, attraction methods, work conditions, work style, all these different components that might then readjust, realign the dials in your hiring and recruitment strategy that will make it work for you.

Arran Stewart: I think that's probably the best way. Listen to the candidate. That's the best. The source of truth is right in front of you. You can read as many articles as you like, you can look at as many bits of information as you like. Go talk to the source. They'll tell you. And if you see a trend, then you know that's what needs to change.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. I think that's really good advice. I think it's interesting like... So I wanted to go back to your point about one of the biggest desires being flexibility, right? And hybrid work, et cetera. And obvious, for a lot of the roles that our audience would be thinking about or struggling most with, and I'm mainly talking about frontline field technicians and service workforce. That's difficult to do in the sense that a lot of these companies are providing service all the time, right? And so they can't have people just working from home. They can't have people that decide where they want to work and when, et cetera. And so acknowledging that that's a reality. I also just want to say that for those companies, it doesn't give you a free pass to not at least spend some time getting a bit creative-

Arran Stewart: Absolutely.

Sarah Nicastro: About what the historical model is and are there any ways to evolve that that would meet some of those demands? Right? So you mentioned the four-day work week, and again, we're talking about in our audience, it's a variety of geographies, a variety of industries, a variety of sizes. So there's no way to say to whom that might be a fit, but maybe there are instances where if you did rotating schedules, a four-day work week is completely plausible, right? And that might be something important enough to some of these candidates that it makes a really big difference in the recruiting process.

Sarah Nicastro: So I think one of the calls to action I think for our audience is to think outside of the box a bit more and don't just stay so stuck in what worked five or 10 years ago as your norm that you're unwilling to reflect on what is possible, right? So I think that's important.

Sarah Nicastro: And the other thing is a lot of the... We're going to talk about company culture a bit later, but a lot of the organizations that I'm talking with because I do different focus groups as well, we've been talking a lot about how in both recruiting and probably even more importantly, retention, it's important to have a more human feel to all of this. And I think that's really a big effect of the pandemic, right? And so how you said, not only have employees recognized their worth or their value, but they want to be treated differently. And so there's programs that you can do to help with that, but you can't overlook the personal, one-on-one, human to human interactions. I think that's a big factor in how someone interviewing would feel about your company or how someone in role feels about their value as an employee. So, yeah. All right. So go ahead. [crosstalk 00:18:16].

Arran Stewart: No, I agree with you. I completely agree. And I love your statement about looking at the past five to 10 years ago and thinking that you can continue to operate like that. The labor market has moved. It has shifted, okay? The pandemic has had such a major impact across many different verticals and industries, but the labor market has moved and unless you move with it, you're going to... A company is only ever as good as the people it employs. Fact. And if you don't move, then you might find your business is not as competitive as it was five or 10 years ago for sure.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah, it's a really important thing to get a handle on. And to your point, I feel for the 80% to 85% of companies that you said they know it's a problem, they're talking a lot about it, but they're just not making a lot of change and yes, it's challenging, but it's incredibly important, right? And so, again, on that line of thinking, I think you're better off trying some different things and seeing what works than just falling out in the discussion mode, right?

Arran Stewart: Yeah, that's it. So we've had these conversations with clients, right? So the feedback is, well, I'm not entirely sure what to do and I'm not sure what exactly will work. And I'm like, but we are confident what you're currently doing right now isn't working. Okay? So you can't really be any, any worse off. Like you are not getting a talent you need, you've got huge supply chain shortages. You've got to think about how you change what you're doing in order to continue to get the labor that you need. Otherwise, if you don't, you'll be kind of, I don't mean to be nasty, but you're going to be out of business. And that's a fact. So yeah, no, again, I agree with you.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. Okay. So let's talk a little bit about retention. Okay? So that's kind of the other side of this coin, right? So I would surmise that a lot of things that are important to new hires are also important to existing talent. However, there are kind of some different layers of complexity here. Like you mentioned the compensation conversation and people interviewing knowing that these organizations need talent and the competitive advantage that gives them. But then you have companies who are bringing in new talent at a rate that far exceeds what they're paying their existing talent, which creates a whole nother challenge of how do you handle that? Right? So that being said, when you look at retention, could you give any insight on what some of the biggest factors you see are that are impacting employee turnover?

Arran Stewart: Yeah. So it does depend a lot as well on seniority and salary level as well. Like you will see in more of the hourly work labor that if they're offered even a very small marginal difference on an hourly basis at another company, that they will just go. Okay? They'll just shift because they're trying to maximize, and understandably, they're trying to maximize their time. Companies need to have very, very clear strategies behind reviews, reward, providing recognition for success and achievement, not just like, well, that's your job. Get on with it. People look for recognition and they look for it frequently. I think the days of like, well, we'll do an annual review. It's like, they'll be gone well before.

Sarah Nicastro: Right.

Arran Stewart: Okay? Like, well, no people don't put up with rubbish for a year now. Okay? They don't. You need a quarterly review. You need to go in so that they immediately set these micro goals of, hey, great to have you. Fantastic. Great to have you in the business and you kind of start climbing them up this ladder. So you try and offer them the best opportunity, the best package, the best flexibility that you can in the beginning based on that level, based on them as a human, but you should constantly be able to add to that, add more, okay, small pay increase, slightly better benefits, and you can have some more flexibility in your work style, or you might be able to choose some other benefits or pay for a gym membership, you name it, right? All the things under the sun that can be done to make someone feel valued.

Arran Stewart: And then I think the one that is personally I believe is the biggest and I try it myself as one of the owners of job.com is culture. Culture keeps people. It does, right? Even if they're not getting paid as much as maybe they would at another company, but if they're at a place that they just love working at, they love the values it stands for, they love the way they're made to feel at their job, maybe they have that feeling where they're not constantly on a life S edge, but you know what, it's family first at this company and just little things that make you feel like, God, I really believe in the values of this business.

Arran Stewart: I maybe could earn a little bit more somewhere else, but I'd be miserable. And I think culture is a huge retainer. If you've got leadership in the company leading from the front, I think it really helps create a culture of loyalty, determination, et cetera. So I think of all of that list, I would probably choose culture as actually one of the biggest things outside of maybe compensation and benefits. So that's for sure.

Sarah Nicastro: Okay. So I want to come back to culture because I think there's a couple things to talk about there, but going back to a couple of the points you made. So I think one that's really important, particularly for our audience is these companies that I talk to everyday, they have field technicians in their existing workforce that have been there for 20 or 30 years, and they are the generation, the personality type, whatever it is that they just show up, they do their work, they work hard, they go home and they do it again and again and again. That is not the norm anymore. Okay?

Arran Stewart: No, it's not.

Sarah Nicastro: And so the expectation though of these companies that that's even remotely feasible, it has to get wiped out because to your point, I think one of the biggest focus areas for our audience needs to be the development of these career paths, right?

Sarah Nicastro: Because otherwise, you are constantly playing catch up with yourself because you might get to the point where you learn what works recruiting wise and you can offer a high enough wage or whatever it is to get people in the door, but if today's talent doesn't know where they can go, they'll go elsewhere, right?

Arran Stewart: Oh yeah.

Sarah Nicastro: And so I've seen companies that have done some really cool things even with visualization of that career path. Like literally helping talent visualize where they can go and what it takes to get to this point and this point. You know what I mean? And different choices or whatever that looks like for the business. Like the more you can start communicating that upfront, the better off you are keeping this pool that you're hopefully learning how to create. So I think that's really, really important.

Sarah Nicastro: The other thing is most of the roles we're talking about, they aren't roles that have historically been very recognized and rewarded, and that has to change as well. Everyone wants to feel that they're playing a part in something, right? And so if you are taking your top salespeople on this trip every year and then you treat your frontline service people like they can come and go, then that's what they'll do, right?

Arran Stewart: Yeah. Of course. Yeah.

Sarah Nicastro: So I think that's really important as well. Now, company culture, I feel like this is... I agree with you that it's very important. I also feel like it's very hard to bolt down what makes it good? Okay? Because-

Arran Stewart: Well, it's subjective, isn't it? It's a subjective thing for people.

Sarah Nicastro: And it's another area where companies know it's important. So they say that all the right things regardless of whether or not it's real.

Arran Stewart: They'll do it.

Sarah Nicastro: Right?

Arran Stewart: Yeah, yeah.

Sarah Nicastro: And so that's a challenge. Okay. Because you're going to be hard pressed to find a company that says company culture, we don't give a shit. They know they have to care. So how would you say, like what are some of the specifics that you think make for a strong company culture?

Arran Stewart: Well, so culture can help define the sort of talent that you're looking for, right? So it actually acts as a filter. So in some respects, people come there like, "Yeah, nice company. It's just not really me. This isn't who I am." So that actually does help as a filter, but I think what I'm seeing, and I don't know like... I think one of the best examples, I don't know if you ever see him on LinkedIn. And sometimes I agree with him, sometimes I definitely don't agree with him, but that's Dan Price. Do you ever see him on LinkedIn? He's very pro like how he drastically reduced his salaries of the CEO of his business to then provide a minimum salary level of $70,000 in the company. And out of that, he found that statistically, more people had children, had families, et cetera, et cetera, and then they provided like this better maternity and paternity leave, et cetera, et cetera.

Arran Stewart: He's built this kind of culture of almost a cooperative culture within his business even though it's not a cooperative business. It's a traditional one. I think that that can provide... It is very difficult because trying to get everybody to swim in the same lane on viewpoints, et cetera, can be very difficult, but I think you can pick almost holistic culture points that I think we'd all adhere to like people matter. You just said something there about taking the salespeople on these trips every year and then the frontline people, they're just like they're just the frontline people. It's like you've got to treat people the same the whole way through the chain of the business, all levels, from the most junior to the most senior because otherwise, oh, it doesn't matter. They're not as important.

Arran Stewart: Well, they're the foundation to the company. You know that, right? So if they fall away, it doesn't matter how senior you are. You haven't got the talent underneath you to do it so to speak in hierarchical senses. So yeah, I actually think that it's a great question, right? I actually struggle a little bit to answer that with any major conviction with like a that's a rock solid answer. This is the answer to your question. It's still a little bit woolly, which is kind of reflective of culture. It's very woolly.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah.

Arran Stewart: It is.

Sarah Nicastro: Do you want to know why I think that is though? I think it's because it's so incredibly dependent upon leadership.

Arran Stewart: Yes.

Sarah Nicastro: Like I think in so many ways, the leader or the top leaders of a company really define the culture, not what HR will say on paper or whatever, but like what it actually feels like. On the flip side though, I think that going back to a point you made about reviews, I agree with you that people don't like ambiguity, okay? People actually thrive on information and knowing what's expected of them to achieve and being able to deliver that, right?

Sarah Nicastro: But I do also think that the idea of 360s and the idea of the employees being able to provide feedback to management is so, so important because I think one problem can be the top level leadership. It can just kill a culture. You can have put out some good PR saying whatever you want to say, but that will make it not a reality.

Sarah Nicastro: The other thing I've seen happen though is where you have senior leaders who have really good intentions and then middle management that kills it because they're between the leaders that want to have this impact and want that frontline worker to feel important and empowered, but if those middle managers aren't bought into that, aren't capable of that, aren't committed to that, it doesn't translate, right? And so that's where I think that... We did a podcast last year with a gentleman from BD, Eduardo Bonefont, and he talked about how they have implemented employee NPS within the company and a lot of the efforts they do around just really listening to their employees and making sure their employees understand that they care what they have to say. But the reality is in doing that, you have to be willing to get rid of leaders that aren't sitting with the type of culture you want to have.

Sarah Nicastro: And so, I don't know, it is a really tough thing to bolt down, but I agree it's also one of the most important, which just makes it very, very complex to tackle. I feel like culture just has more to do with the people than the policy. Do you know what I mean? Like you can check boxes or say what you want to say, but at the end of the day, I feel like it's your leaders from the top to the rest of the way down that are really either expressing that or not and making it somewhere people want to be or not. So, yeah.

Arran Stewart: No, no, no, again I think everything you're saying is correct. And culture should be from the leadership, right? People buy into leadership. It's part of our culture as human beings. We always look to... Hence why we have government sense why we have public figures and we have people that are famous because we look to them as for inspiration. We look to them because we value the way that they live their lives, the way they operate, the way they conduct themselves, the way they communicate, which also could be like a massive impact.

Arran Stewart: Yes, I know firsthand that middle management can pose a problem when it comes to cascading culture down all the way through the hierarchy because let's say not necessarily they don't always believe in it, but maybe that's just not their culture because you do. You hire people... I mean, it's so difficult to like, I know there's all these assessments and psychometric assessments, et cetera, et cetera, but when you hire people, every human is pretty much a one-off. You find people similar to you, but most of the time we're all completely unique one way or the other. And that means that makes it kind of difficult to find a completely uniformed team of people who will all adhere to a certain culture, live the culture, breathe the culture, install it throughout everyone within the business.

Arran Stewart: Also, one other thing that happens is external life factors. So I've seen this firsthand as well with other people in the past, like companies that have been a part of certain boards of if one of the personal life circumstances changes for one of the leadership and you have to like... Someone falls sick, someone has an issue at home, someone's going through a divorce, someone's going through something, it actually cascades through the business and can destroy the culture of a company. And that's unavoidable. It's unavoidable to kind of predict that there'll be no external tragedies or any issues that go on in this human's life. So there'll maintain a perfect culture forever more. It's as fragile as the human itself. So yeah, it's other things to sort of take into account.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. Yeah. It's all very, very interesting. All right. So that being said, what would you say your number one piece of retention advice is?

Arran Stewart: I truly believe that you should do regular reviews and always look to recognition and reward. You should build a recognition and reward culture. Celebrate small wins and define what those small wins are and make it publicly known that that human being achieved that throughout the company so they feel like they have been recognized. We all crave a level of status no matter what it is. A status amongst our peers, recognition amongst our peers. And when that is recognized by leadership and now I'm kind of ordained as a human being that has some value within this organization, look here, this is what they've said about me, I think that's so powerful to self-actualization and making me want to be part... I love this company. They make me feel great when I'm at my job because it's like how many clients did you manage to visit this week? Oh, we have targets, but I've got one-off target. Outstanding effort. Brilliant effort this week.

Arran Stewart: And I know companies try and do it with things like employee of the week, employee of the month. I think you can be a lot more creative than that. And I also think that rewarding people can be very simple in a sense like, hey, did you know that you're being taken out for lunch today by the boss? And you're like, "What? I'm just a such and such job title." "Boss is taking you out specifically for lunch today because you've reached your sick month marker, your nine month marker, your 18th month marker." You're like, "Oh my God, that's outstanding." And they'd love to hear about what your views are at the frontline so you can learn more about what they need to do to improve. That makes people feel great. It does.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. And it doesn't have to happen all the time.

Arran Stewart: No.

Sarah Nicastro: Like one of those interactions goes a long way.

Arran Stewart: You are bought in. You're like, "I've been heard. I've been heard." Because sometimes it's like you are not doing my job, you don't know really what it's like. You're staying some ivory tower somewhere. So that's the feeling sometimes, right? And understandably so. And it doesn't have to like these sorts of things, I'm pretty certain that leaders of companies eat lunch every day. Why not use your lunch to eat with one of your lower in the hierarchy, employees, reward them and learn more about what your business is doing from the top up? It will make them feel empowered and special. And that costs you nothing because you can have lunch anyway. So that's just, I think, the sort of things that you can do to kind of really install that.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. I think that's a good point. The other thing that came up in a conversation I was having the other day, you mentioned earlier on that the pandemic really had a lot of people reflecting. And so some people decided that for whatever reason, they wanted to do something different and to take a different path. And one of the things that came up in a focus group I was doing on some of these topics was some frustration around that, but also just I guess a need to just accept that some people are going to want to go in a different direction.

Sarah Nicastro: And so there was two points that came out of that. I think one is as the companies within our audience evolve and transform, there are more and more new and different roles that are needing to be filled. So how can you maybe allow people for change within your own organization? And that goes back to sort of that career path type thing. The more you can kind of structure and communicate what the different opportunities are, perhaps you could keep some of those folks if you instead of being resistant to them leaving the position they've been in, welcome them to try something different within the company.

Sarah Nicastro: But the other point that came up was if there really is someone that wants to move on, don't feel the need to keep that quiet or have a negative overtone. Celebrate them and keep that door open because perhaps they'll want to come back or refer someone else in or whatever. So don't be bitter about it. Be supportive. And that goes to your point of people are important and treat them like a human, not like a resource that you're upset that is leaving. So I thought those were two interesting points as well.

Arran Stewart: Yeah, for sure. You should always try to have everyone leave well from your company because that's when the most damage happens because one, if they don't leave well, they most certainly have friends and colleagues in that company who they will then instinctively kind of in some circumstances almost poison because they're just like, "Oh, I can't... This is the problems. This is why this place has gone to the dogs. It's so good." And that can have a real negative connotation.

Arran Stewart: The other part to it as well is that they tell other people and they also might leave reviews on platforms like new Glassdoors. Yeah, they had five amazing years. The last few years went to... Sorry, last few months weren't too good. I've left and now I'm going to make it seem like I never liked working there in the first place. And it's like, well, why were you there so long then? So that definitely should always try and have people leave well. That's for sure. Yeah.

Sarah Nicastro: Now, Arran, what do you think the next 12 to 18 months hold? What do you think people should be preparing for?

Arran Stewart: Well, that's a great question. I think that... Well, it is very subjective, very much someone's opinion, but I think we have some level of economic correction potentially coming. Everyone's talking about this. We also have a lot of uncertainty as well because I feel like we went out of the oven into the frying pan from pandemic to now worries about Russia and what they're doing to Ukraine, but also that kind of unrest between East versus West, which I think actually also really impacts people's thought processes, consumer confidence, which then relates down to confidence in work, confidence in consuming, confidence in spending money.

Arran Stewart: So I think the challenges are here to stay. I think they're here to stay for a good couple more years until we kind of get through a few of these issues until we can start to see more of a heyday toward tiring again, maybe a realignment of salaries expectations and the norm. And then suddenly it feels like we're all back to normal again. And yeah, I'm not having too much time, so much hassle hiring people again. It seems to have of kind of balanced itself out, but I still think the next 12 to 18 months are going to be a challenge for sure. A significant challenge. Yeah.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. Any other comments or closing thoughts for folks?

Arran Stewart: No, I think, one, it's been a fantastic podcast. So thank you for having me on. I think we've covered some really, really important topics here. And then honestly, yeah, I feel like I've kind of covered everything that we've sort of talked about that I could give with a level of confident knowledge about. So now I appreciate you and appreciate the time and the questions.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. Now is there information people should have on how to use job.com?

Arran Stewart: Yeah, sure. So the immediate reaction when you hear the URL is you think we're a job board. We're actually a staffing agency, a recruitment agency. We do the full end-to-end hiring process, but we describe ourselves as a data-driven digital staffing agency. Everything's used through tech process automation. What does that mean to you if you are hiring? It means we can get you talent quicker because we remove a lot of the low value tasks that recruiters have to do. And lots of our clients, they really take the benefit of all the things that we offer in a technology stack that augments humans, not displaces them.

Arran Stewart: We believe in people, but we believe people can be better with technology if they're paired together very well and they provide a better hiring experience for the people you're looking for because one of the most... From the moment someone applies for your job, they're also judging you as a company. And if they suddenly feel like they've been in some ridiculously long, poor communicated hiring cycle that's taken a long time, they kind of enter in bad and they kind of enter in already a little bit burnt on the journey. So you need to be very thoughtful about how is your hiring process? And who you use your hiring process reflects on your business and your brand. And we always try and tell our clients that, and that's maybe one of the risk. That's why you might want to use job.com.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. That's a very good point. Okay. Well, Arran, thank you so much for being here.

Arran Stewart: Thank you.

Sarah Nicastro: I enjoyed our conversation and I'm happy to have you.

Arran Stewart: Thank you so much. Real pleasure.

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

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May 16, 2022 | 3 Mins Read

How Will Customer Success Roles Expand in the Future of Field Service?

May 16, 2022 | 3 Mins Read

How Will Customer Success Roles Expand in the Future of Field Service?


By Sarah Nicastro, Creator, Future of Field Service

When I wrote my synopsis of Field Service Palm Springs, one of the themes I mentioned is a discussion around Customer Success. In an ask-me-anything session, an audience member asked the panel if their organizations currently have customer success roles and, if so, how they are structured – what the responsibilities entail, where they report into, and how they are funded. 

Keeping the panelists anonymous, let me share some of the highlights of the answers: 

  • “Yes, we have customer success managers within the aftermarket team and they are responsible for putting together a cross-functional team to help achieve customer outcomes. Each customer success manager is responsible for three to four accounts and we’ve had this in place for about 10 years. They are funded within the value we receive from large customer contracts and we’ve had success with this approach.”
  • “We have customer service managers within our IT services. They perform quarterly business reviews on each customer and generate a lot of data, including customer satisfaction. We focus on ensuring the data is actionable and their cost is built into our services.”
  • “Our customer success managers exist fundamentally to deeply understand customer expectations and to translate that into service requirements. Their cost is built in.”

These answers make me think about what the future of customer success within field service may look like. As we progress more toward delivering outcomes and rely more heavily on the use of self-service, remote service, AI and ML, we know the role of the frontline technician will evolve. Yes, evolve – not disappear. But with less unnecessary on-site visits and a move toward more technical versus mechanical work, those resources will be freed to spend some degree more time on value-add efforts.

Would it make sense for some of that value-add work to include aspects of customer success? It may. Of course every industry and every company varies, so it is impossible to give a universal prediction or recommendation. That said, in the present-day world of outcomes being customers’ primary focus (versus products or services), the purpose of customer success in ensuring outcomes are being delivered, customer expectations are clear and satisfaction is understood, and ample data is compiled on value delivered are all very important. 

During our Paris Live Tour event, we talked quite a bit about what the future of the field technician role may look like. And I brought up the point that perhaps what we need to be considering is some sort of segmentation – rather than a “one role does all” approach, as the value being delivered shifts from transaction to outcome, perhaps we need to examine the potential of a combination of roles. You could still have the technician, who does the hands-on, on-site work when required. You could have a sort of customer success role, who handles some of the remote service work and also ensures expectations are being met. And then you’ll need to determine if a third, relationship-focused role is required – essentially someone responsible for selling and managing the account by developing relationships with key stakeholders within the customer. 

Some sort of segmentation may work well when it comes to leveraging talent, because not all traditional field technicians have the inclination or even capacity to do more of the customer-facing, relationship work. Maintaining a role that is more technical and mechanical and leaving the trusted advisor status to someone with more passion for building relationships could work best in certain scenarios. Again, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer, but we’re piecing together a puzzle of many pieces including service evolution away from break-fix, customer expectations for outcomes and insights, the need to modernize service with self-service and remote service capabilities, the talent gap, and the development of the traditional field technician role into something – or multiple things – different. 

For today, know that those questioned at the event are not only using customer success in service but finding real value in doing so. If you have moved beyond a transactional model (which hopefully you have or are!), I think putting customer success in place is an important step to ensuring your customers achieve the outcomes they’re looking to you to provide and feel you are invested in their success. 

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May 11, 2022 | 10 Mins Read

Live Tour London Highlights

May 11, 2022 | 10 Mins Read

Live Tour London Highlights


Sarah reports in from her travels with a synopsis of the topics discussed at the second Future of Field Service Live Tour stop in Paris on May 5th.

Sarah Nicastro: Welcome to the Future of Field Service Podcast. I'm your host, Sarah Nicastro. I was thinking before I got on to record this that I often dive right into these episodes without thinking about the fact that while some of you join on an ongoing basis, we do have new folks that join us each time. So let me just take a quick pause and kind of explain what I'm going to talk about today.

Sarah Nicastro: So this episode is going to be a bit of a recap of the Future of Field Service Live Tour London, which was yesterday. Well, I'm recording this Friday, this will air next week, so it was last week for you all. And so just to explain that a bit, so Future of Field Service, this podcast that you're listening to, the platform that you're engaged with has been a content resource, a thought leadership resource for the service community. I would say service, not just field service. We talk about a lot more than field service, for the last three plus years. So we write at least one original article every week and produce one podcast episode each week that air on Wednesdays.

Sarah Nicastro: So this year for the very first time we've been able to take what has been a content platform with Future Field Service, and turn it into really the basis for community. By taking the show on the road, if you will, and visiting five cities across the globe. So we had our first event in Paris a few weeks ago. London just happened on May 5th, and then we have three more events coming up. We're visiting Frankfurt May 19th, Stockholm May 24th and then Austin, Texas on June 14th.

Sarah Nicastro: It's been really, really fulfilling for me to see the way that this platform enables people to come together, and connect and to feel a sense of camaraderie and to share insights, and perspectives, learn something new. It's been very, very fulfilling for me to be able to see that happen. It's something that I had a vision for when Future Field Services first began, but with COVID and all sorts of different things, it just hasn't been realistic to happen until now. So I'm very happy to see it coming to life, and if you're listening to this and you haven't taken a look at the live tour agendas and schedules, please do so at the website futureoffieldservice.com, and join us if you can. They've been great.

Sarah Nicastro: So a few weeks ago, I did a recap of the Paris event and today I'm going to do a short recap of what we covered in London yesterday. Each city has speakers unique to that area. So the content at every single location will be different and just as we do at Future of Field Service, as our norm, it is centered around what the service leaders in that area want to discuss. What's important to them? What are they learning? What are they working towards? What are their wins? What are their challenges? So yesterday we had a great day in London. We were at the Arboretum, which was a very cool venue near Charing Cross, I believe. So we had a great lineup. So I'm just going to walk you through a couple of key themes or takeaways, and hopefully we'll have an opportunity to do more of a deep dive on some of the content as we go along.

Sarah Nicastro: So the first session yesterday was with Tim Baines, who is the head of the Advanced Services Group at Aston Business School. Tim is someone who I met for the first time in person in London, but have talked to many times and appreciate his passion for the topic of servitization, as well as the wonderful insights that he collects and shares with the world. So Tim talked about servitization, and how servitization is something that is not only applicable to those in manufacturing. But how it is really a mindset, a journey of organizations that are looking to provide an outcome versus a product or a service. So ultimately shifting our thinking around what value we can provide on an ongoing, and often as a service basis that our customers will be willing to pay for. He also talked about the four phases that organizations go through as they are on the servitization journey. So the Advanced Services Group works with a lot of companies that are in this process, and they take a lot of those learnings and findings and sort of create tools and resources that organizations can use. Not necessarily to use as a blueprint, because I don't think such a thing exists, but to sort of get a sense of what to expect and what organizations typically go through. So that was great.

Sarah Nicastro: And then immediately following Tim's session, we actually welcomed James Galloway of Baxi Heating in the UK, as well as Iain McKechnie, who is also from the Advanced Services group. So Baxi is one of the organizations that the advanced services group has worked with directly on their servitization journey. And Baxi is in the process of introducing heat as a service here in the UK. And we had an interesting conversation about where they're at on that journey. I believe James said that he would place them in sort of between the second and third phases that Tim covered of what that journey often looks like. And so they are in the thick of it, if you will, and definitely learning a lot, experiencing a lot, testing, trialing and engaging with their customers. So we talked a lot about some of the shifting and thinking that's necessary. Some of the change management that's necessary, and really just the way that it changes the entire value proposition for the customer, which requires a lot of adjustment within the organization in thinking and process, et cetera.

Sarah Nicastro: So it was really interesting. One of the reasons that Baxi is on this journey is because a lot of the regulatory changes that are happening here related to becoming more carbon friendly and sustainable, will make Baxi's traditional business at some point impossible. So they need to shift how they're providing heat away from gas over time. And so that is part of the catalyst for their evolution. And Iain spoke a bit about how sustainability is impacting a lot of companies interest in servitizing, and some of the ways that servitization creates more sustainability sort of naturally, if you will. Some of the things about it that lend themselves well to becoming more sustainable, both from a customer perspective and the organization that is providing the service. So that was really interesting.

Sarah Nicastro: We then welcomed Mike Gosling from Cubic Transportation who spoke about their journey to outcomes based service. So Cubic Transportation provides manufactures, services, and provides all of the equipment that you would use to buy tickets and get on and off of public transport here in London, as well as other cities across the world. So Transport for London is Cubic's a customer here in London who I guess most notably owns and runs all of the Tube, so all of the public transport here.

Sarah Nicastro: And what happened with Cubic is interesting. So in the first few conversations, we were talking about some of the drivers of the journey to outcomes. And for Cubic, that driver was essentially Transport for London coming to them and demanding that Cubic shift its model from break/fix to guaranteeing uptime. Luckily Cubic had already been on a digital transformation journey that made that demand possible. And so Mike spoke about sort of what that shift required. What's interesting is that I would say generally it's two major things. One of those is that they rely heavily on automation. He's said before that there's really no way to scale up manpower to be able to deliver outcomes. So they are relying on IFS planning and scheduling optimization, which is an AI based dynamic scheduling tool, that they have had great success with in automating a lot of the outcomes process to make it possible.

Sarah Nicastro: And they've actually grown since moving to outcomes without having to hire additional technicians. What's interesting is that while technology has been a really big part of it, the other big part is on the human side and the change management side. And Mike spoke a lot about the things that they've done, that he's done, and that they have a business have done to overcome legacy thinking, and to really get everyone on board with what it takes to be successful in the journey.

Sarah Nicastro: We also had Neil Taplin who is with Genius Sports, join us. He had to join us remotely, he wasn't able to be with us in person. But he did talk quite a bit about... So Neil has previously been in field service and operations in companies like Virgin Media and Arteva. And about a year ago, he transitioned into Genius Sports, which is a bit of a different industry than he has typically been in and a different flavor of field service. So he talked a lot about the work that Genius Sports does documenting and providing data to organizations on all types of different sporting events, all across the world. And what that looks like in terms of capacity planning and scheduling and all sorts of things. So he talked about some of the parallels in what it takes to achieve field service excellence, both in a traditional environment, as well as in more of a unique situation like the sports world. Certainly again, the tech human balance was a theme and the power of data and all of the opportunities that exist around using data both internally, externally as a value proposition.

Sarah Nicastro: We then ended the day with two panels. The first was with Robin Butler of Waterlogic, and Karl Lowe from Edwards Vacuum. And that was a discussion around really setting a strong foundation for service transformation. They both have experience in multiple organizations, leading transformation journeys in service, and they themselves have some different and unique perspectives on what that looks like in different businesses. So I asked them at the end what their biggest takeaway would be, what their biggest piece of advice would be. Robin shared a story about how, at one of his previous organizations, he took a very hands off approach to the technology selection. He felt that he could rely on IT to handle that part. And so he really delegated that and later regretted it. So it doesn't mean that you need to micromanage that, but certainly that partnership between the business and IT is very important. And Karl who at one point early in his career was a technician himself, talked about the importance of always remembering, to think of and listen to the frontline technician perspective, which is super important.

Sarah Nicastro: The last panel we had was with Newland McKelvey of Fujitsu and Nicolas Teyssot of Fives Cryomec. And during that conversation, we talked about the skills gap, which is a huge conversation. And so we talked about the need to not focus on hiring on experience, how that's virtually impossible to do. How you need to look for more creative ways to hire, how you need to take the responsibility to train people up. Nicolas spoke about their focus on hiring based on soft skills, and providing some of the more mechanical and technical skills. If they find the people, they feel like are a good fit from a soft skills perspective. We talked a lot about different ways, both for them, and then with participants in the audience of how people are focused on increasing diversity in their field force. We talked about the importance of defining career paths and giving new hires a vision from the very beginning of joining the organization on where they can go with the company.

Sarah Nicastro: We talked about how important it is for talent today to feel that they're joining an organization that has a purpose, where they're contributing something bigger than just the job itself. And I think Newland made the point of, we want to be able to give people a career, not just a job. So really shifting our thinking around what we want from our field technicians, what the role looks like, how we find those folks, what traits are most important, and focusing also a lot more on the employee experience. So that once they are a part of the organization, we can continue to have them be there. We also talked a bit about the role technology plays in automating certain menial or manual tasks, things like augmented reality and how that can help get people up to speed and increase time to value of new hires. We talked about how remote service can take some of the burden off of the skills gap by eliminating unnecessary onsite visits, so a whole lot on that topic.

Sarah Nicastro: We closed the day with some cocktails and networking. We got a lot of good feedback on how happy people were to be in person, to be having these conversations and to have the opportunity to get together. So it was a great day and I'm super thankful to all of the speakers that joined and made it possible as well as the team that has been helping organize these events, which has just gone seamlessly. Which takes so much stress off of my shoulders, so big thank you to them as well. And like I said earlier, we would love to see you at one of the three events that are left. So Frankfurt May 19th, Stockholm May 24th, Austin, Texas on June 14th. Take a look at the website, if you would like some more information as always, that is futureoffieldservice.com. You can also find us on LinkedIn and Twitter. The Future of Field Service podcast is published in partnership with IFS. You can learn more at ifs.com. As always, thank you for listening.

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May 4, 2022 | 18 Mins Read

Reimagining Industry Growth Amidst Supply Chain Uncertainty

May 4, 2022 | 18 Mins Read

Reimagining Industry Growth Amidst Supply Chain Uncertainty


Sarah welcomes Dan Varroney, President and CEO of strategic consulting firm Potomac Core and a sought-after expert on economic performance with appearances on CNBC, Fox, Dow Jones, MarketWatch, Bloomberg, Forbes, and the BBC. He’s recently authored new book Reimagining Industry Growth: Strategic Partnerships in an Era of Uncertainty and talks with Sarah about the need to evolve how we think about and approach partnerships in business to meet modern needs.

Sarah Nicastro: Welcome to The Future of Field Service podcast. I'm your host, Sarah Nicastro. Today we're going to have a conversation about reimagining industry growth amidst supply chain uncertainty. I'm excited to welcome to the podcast today Dan Varroney, who is the president and CEO of a strategic consulting firm called Potomac Core and an expert on economic performance. Dan has been on CNBC, Fox, Dow Jones, Bloomberg, Forbes, and many others. He has recently authored a new book titled Reimagining Industry Growth - Strategic Partnership Strategies in an Era of Uncertainty. Dan, welcome to The Future of Field Service podcast.

Dan Varroney: Well, Sarah, thank you very much. It's a pleasure and an honor to be here with you today.

Sarah Nicastro: Thank you. All right. Before we get into the discussion at hand, tell our listeners a little bit more about yourself and your journey.

Dan Varroney: Sure, absolutely. Well, I've had a remarkable career starting out in the trade association universe for almost three decades and 23 years of that career was with the national association of manufacturers. It was an absolute joy to work with small-medium and large companies on issues that help shape a favorable economic environment for all those companies and all those manufacturers. I left about oh, 16 or 17 years ago, and in my final role, I was a senior manager on the senior management team. I ran the grassroots advocacy. The membership component and I helped the then CEO recruit a senior-level executives to the board of directors. Following that, I served as the first-time president and CEO of an association known as association for corporate growth. Following that, I went to work for Newt Gingrich, where I ran his American solutions, policy, and advocacy organization, also very fascinating work. 10 years ago, actually, in May, I decided to finally give into my entrepreneurial approach and to say, I'm going to open up a company.

Dan Varroney: What I wanted to do was to open a company that was going to be a strategic value. That would have a value imperative that represented the marketplace. After the great recession, I saw a number of significant changes happen. There were fewer people in the C-Suite decisions about whether or not to engage in outside activity would be based on the direct and immediate return to the bottom line. Is it helping us save money? Is it helping us make money? Is it shaping more favorable business environment and created a strong research component? That research component helped industry trade associations first realize and recognize the industries awake at night challenges. The long-term business outcomes that they wanted to achieve and understand how aligned or how connected they were with those challenges. From that, be able to build a strategic industry plan that leveraged the trade association as a strategic business unit. A strategic business unit that over the long-term could make the industry more durable and better position for growth in the marketplace.

Sarah Nicastro: Great. All right. One of the things I wanted to talk about is in the book, you talk about the fact that volatility isn't a new concept, but the immediacy of our awareness of it is. Let's talk a little bit about that and why it's so relevant.

Dan Varroney: That is an absolutely perfect way to start this conversation. When I started my association career in the 80s that like many of us, it was a talk radio or it was the newspaper. Cable news was just coming into being. Now there's Twitter and all of the other social media platforms. The minute something happens in one part of the world, we know about it immediately, and it has impact immediately. What that's done is it's created what I call an Era of Chronic Uncertainty. We never know when the next shoe is going to drop, but we're confident the next shoe is going to drop. For example, if you and I were to say, did either of us envision five years ago that there would be a military conflict in Ukraine, a global pandemic, runaway inflation, and on and on it goes. The answer here is we wouldn't have imagined it. Here's one thing we did know that when the global pandemic hit, we knew about it immediately. We know about everything immediately, and what that's done, Sarah, is that it's changed the way every business executive thinks.

Dan Varroney: We're all wired differently now, and we're wired differently because we know that when change happens, we know about it more quickly, and we have to respond far more quickly.

Sarah Nicastro: Do you perceive that awareness as a good thing or a bad thing?

Dan Varroney: I'm going to answer it this way. It is what it is. It is what it is. I think what it's done is, it has forced an evolution of leadership and communication skills. Good communication skills, soft communication skills are more important than ever. We have to be able to connect and communicate with one another. We have to be able to leverage those soft communication skills to build alliances and partnerships that will help us get through whatever challenges comes next. We're in a new era, and that era is a call to action for leaders who have soft skills. Who have strategic skills that can see five feet in front of them and 50,000 feet around the corner?

Sarah Nicastro: All right. Another thing that you talk about in the book is that those who do best are those who view change as an opportunity. That's something that I would say is a persistent theme in this podcast and the content we create. What I want to ask you is, do you have a sense of what shapes that perspective? What is key to the mindset that change is an opportunity, not something to be in opposition to?

Dan Varroney: Also, a great question. What's interesting, during the pandemic, I'd say the first six to 12 months, I had a number of conversations with executives who said, I'm looking forward to things going back to the way they were. That struck me as disconnected because this is the definition of a Black Swan event. This was intended to change. The way we look and the way we think and act and react about everything. Nothing would ever revert to what it was. I mean, look at it right now. I mean, look at how things have changed. There are 4 million quits in the job market in the month of February. There are over 11 million job openings. Some of the things that are driving that is it's forced people to reevaluate their lives. Some people said the way we're going to respond to what's happening in the world to chronic uncertainty is we're going to shift the way we see the world.

Dan Varroney: Others are embracing the opportunity and saying, this is the time to really put our foot on the accelerator and go all the way to the floor and say, we are really going to leverage this opportunity and that change. What I learned as I was writing the book is that those industries that saw it as an opportunity that built upon their partnerships seemed to fare better, and they had history of doing that. When I looked back so recent examples, I have the ability, as many do, to trace back to things like 9/11 or to the great recession. How to what extent did people say this was a horrible situation, but we rallied and saw this as an opportunity. Those who do, thrive. Those who don't. Don't do very well at all.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. It's a really interesting question. I mean, you can look at it by which industries embraced the opportunity best. You can look at it. Which companies, which individual leaders, but it's certainly inevitable. Resistance is futile. All right. The book is just discussing the need for and value of partnerships. One of the things you say that I really like is communities fair, better than individuals. Talk a little bit about what you mean by the community approach in this sense and why it's helpful particular early at the point we are today?

Dan Varroney: Because we're in an Era of Chronic Uncertainty, you can never have enough partnerships. Those partnerships give you a sense of perspective. They extend your reach. They give you a level of durability you wouldn't have had otherwise. What you find interesting, and I'm going to talk about the book in just a moment, but to give you a sense of it. What you might find interesting is that at the start of the pandemic, I started a brand new CEO group called the strategic guidance lab. These are 55 trade association CEOs from every possible industry, and we utilized this platform, meaning Zoom and other social platforms to stay connected to one another or telephone or whatever it was, but we found a way to stay connected. We built a community that said that we would rely upon each other. We would trust each other, and we would utilize it to learn from one another and share knowledge. It worked out exceedingly well.

Dan Varroney: Actually, it worked out, especially well for me because, at the start of the pandemic, I began to write my book, and I was able to leverage the community that I helped create to do that. What I found interesting in the five industries that I wrote about in my book. By the way, I looked at a number of different industries is first and foremost, these were industry leaders that said, we understand the value of company-to-company, strategic partnerships and now what we want to do is try a different iteration of that between an industry and a trade association. They did that because they learned from their own experiences in company-to-company partnerships that you can far leverage each other's strength and minimize and mitigate your own weaknesses. You can get to markets in places you're not currently in. You can leverage strength, talent, technology, and resources that you don't have. An example that would be in a strategic partnership. Again, I'll get to the case studies.

Dan Varroney: An example of what I mean is, look at Starbucks and Barnes & Noble. Starbucks is an experienced company. It's not a coffee company. It's based on building communities. Its motto is outside in, focused on the marketplace and creating a third place between work and home. Barnes & Noble is a book store. It's a bricks-and-mortar bookstore. What this partnership did is, it created an opportunity to bring the Starbucks experience into the Barnes & Noble bookstore. When we walk into the bookstore, it's the smell of fresh coffee brewing. It's baked goods, and it is a third place, but between work and home, it's very comforting. We can meet friends or family or neighbors there and have coffee, or we can go and get a book and sit and read a book or a newspaper or a magazine. What that's done is it's created a boon for Starbucks. They're able to sell even more coffee and further extend their brand.

Dan Varroney: Barnes & Noble has been able to extend its brand into Starbucks, and some more books attract more people into the bookstores. It ended up being a win-win. What I'll add to that point is this, that Barnes & Noble is one of the few remaining brick-and-mortar bookstores, so that's an example of a strategic partnership. When you look at an industry today and the challenges that they face not just domestically but globally, how can they build a strategic partnership with the trade association and position it as a strategic business unit?

Dan Varroney: What I detected in each of these case studies, I interviewed five or six business executives from these industries. Did a good bit of research on these industries is that they needed a strategic partnership to help shape the external environment on pre-competitive challenges and utilize that. Leverage it as an opportunity to also promote the industry, position the industry in respective marketplaces and make industries more durable for the long term. All five are powerful examples, but the deeper I get into it so for example, the recreational boating industry, because of its massive ecosystem so these communities are ecosystems. They're every, every, every entity in its value chain. It had a partnership through the National Marine Manufacturers with the recreational boating and fishing foundation.

Dan Varroney: At the shutdown, the industry literally went to their strategic partner, the National Marine Manufacturers Association, and said, "Hey, we need your help. We're all stuck inside. We can't go anywhere or do anything, but we know now from the Centers for Disease Control that we can go outside. We can enjoy the outdoors." The National Marine Manufacturers Association and the recreational boating and fishing foundation did a targeted digital promotion campaign. Interestingly enough, what the result was is that there were double-digit year-over-year sales growth because people just flock to the outside. They bought boats, and they engaged in outdoor recreation and boating. What was fascinating is, and I'll go back to an earlier data point. Leaders in the industry said they never expected to see that sales or top-line revenue growth after the end of the great recession. Because of this strategic partnership, they far exceeded that.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah.

Dan Varroney: That's absolutely critical. Absolutely critical. Similar thing in the frozen food industry. Back in the day, it was French fries, burgers, and pizza. Now you can get Thai food, Mexican food, Chinese, you name it, frozen Italian food. What their strategic partner organization did, the American Frozen Food Institute is they partnered with another industry organization called the Food Marketing Institute. They generated data and research and it's called the Power of Frozen campaign. They literally identify among consumers through consumer companies called IRI to identify what types of frozen foods that consumers are looking to buy. They share that data with the retail stores. That was especially meaningful at the start of the pandemic because everybody had to stay home. As we all know, we all had to work, so if you're a single parent, a working couple, you needed to provide three meals a day at home, and frozen food was a healthy, healthy, tasteful, alternative double-digit sales as a result of that effort.

Dan Varroney: Strategic partnerships absolutely matter. Trade associations are evolving into strategic business units for the industry. They do have the ability to shape the external environment on environmental issues, tax issues, trade issues, and they're making a difference.

Sarah Nicastro: Can you share another example or two of the case studies that you reference in the book?

Dan Varroney: Sure, absolutely happy to do that. Who doesn't like baked goods? Who doesn't like baked goods?

Sarah Nicastro: Not me. I mean, meaning I do like them. I try not to eat too many of them, but I definitely like them.

Dan Varroney: Understand. Chapter four is the chapter on the baking industry. As we think about the baking industry, the baking industry has always had a number of challenges. I want to share their challenges and their strategic partnership from the opportunity of the pandemic. At shutdown, the Centers for Disease Control and the Food and Drug Administration said, lockdown, everybody, go home and stay there. This is a dangerous disease. Except they forgot something. They forgot that we still needed to eat. The American Bakers Association through its own ecosystem comprised of organizations of the Food and Beverage Industry Alliance. This is absolutely fascinating, by the way. This is an ecosystem that starts from the farm and goes all the way to the fork. Leaders of the Food and Beverage Industry Alliance convened on a Zoom platform, and they said so they forgot we still need to eat.

Dan Varroney: They leveraged all of their contacts. They got the CDC and the FDA connected on media platforms similar to this, and they said, so we still need to eat. We'd like to work with you to develop worker safety protocols all the way and up to the logistic of delivering the food into the retail stores. They were successful, and as a result, we were all able to eat during those months of quarantine and shutdown. It's a very, very powerful story but a strong reminder of the importance of strategic partnerships and why they're important in an Era of Chronic Uncertainty.

Dan Varroney: Just another example from that. There's a new CEO of a multi-billion dollar company who had just gone on the board of the American Bakers Association and not a believer, so it shut down. He called up the CEO of the American Bakers Association, whose name is Rob Mackey, and said, "Hey," at nine o'clock at night and said, "The state of Michigan is going to shut down my company tomorrow, and I need your help." What would happen was the American Bakers Association and the food and beverage industry Alliance was able to get the industry designated as critical infrastructure. That was part of what needed to be done to keep the industry open and keep the American people eating. They got them to complete the paperwork, and they were able to stay open in Michigan. Same thing happened in the State of Ohio, and low and behold. They were able to stay open in the State of Ohio.

Sarah Nicastro: When we think about the power of these partnerships, as it relates specifically to supply chain uncertainty, how can it help safeguard organizations in that way?

Dan Varroney: I think all of your questions have been spot on, but you nailed that one, and I want to share why. There's this notion that the cracks in the supply chain just happened, and what I've learned through some research and getting ready to do additional research and write a white paper. Here's what I'm learning as I go through this. There were cracks in the supply chain before the pandemic. Here's what I really learned is that we were in a just-in-time manufacturing mode when we really need to be in a just-in-case mode. They were no fail safes. There are no alternatives. No fail-safes and no alternatives. Then the other thing is that when I look at how solutions are being developed, they're being developed on a company by company basis, and with a challenge of this magnitude, it needs to be industry-based solutions.

Dan Varroney: The entire higher supply chain must and should come to the table. I'm defining this part of the conversation as a serious call to action. They must come to the table through their industry trade association and focus on the pre-competitive solutions that will address the cracks in the supply chain that can develop. Fail-safe alternatives that can make sure that five or 10 years from now, we're not back in the same place. I swim in a swimming pool, a couple of miles from my office, and one of the pools, the heater broke, and they need panel circuits to fix it, circuit boards. Because of the supply chain issues, it could be weeks. When you think about that in this day and age, it sounds ridiculous because it is, because it is. When we talk about reassuring or near reassuring, there is enormous leverage by bringing the supply chains together. It can be created through the trade association. The trade association can be the leader in the convener.

Dan Varroney: It can be the neutral integrator to bring all parties together and focus on pre-competitive solutions. Whether they be legislative, whether they be regulatory, whether they be executive action-focused, whether they be state-focused, community-focused, whatever they are, but the time is now to get this going. I absolutely respect and appreciate the administration coming up with additional funding to support poor expansion and so on. What we're looking for is collaboration that leads to innovation, and the innovation can be achieved by bringing these communities together, bring these communities together. A very visible manifestation of that are the mRNA vaccines. Look at the collaboration, the private-public partnership that came together, and look at what was achieved as a result of that. We are looking for massive collaboration through a neutral convener, and that would be an industry trade association where all elements of the supply chain come together and say, what innovation can we develop and what pre-competitive solutions do we need to develop and implement.

Sarah Nicastro: Explain what you mean by pre-competitive solutions.

Dan Varroney: Sure. We live in a country that has laws, and these laws are absolutely important and they're all about remaining competitive and no one can take advantage of anyone else, and they're about antitrust. At trade associations, they're attorneys in every room at every meeting. They read antitrust statement that says we can't discuss pricing. We can't discuss competition, and nobody talks about their customers or anything in those conversations. Pre-competitive is as follows. Think of things around environmental regulations, things around workforce or workplace regulations. An example of a pre-competitive issue would be, so we know there's a trucker challenge. There's an hours of service regulation that limits the number of hours that a truck driver can drive their vehicle. Doing things like waving that is a pre-competitive solution. Coming up with ways to mitigate environmental challenges or temporarily postpone regulations as we build bigger solutions would be pre-competitive solutions. Tax incentives to encourage additional investment in innovation, pre-competitive solution.

Sarah Nicastro: Okay.

Dan Varroney: Tax incentives to allow expensing and write-off of purchases of new equipment for those industries that want to onshore is a pre-competitive solution.

Sarah Nicastro: All right. We're talking about the value of these strategic partnerships, but there has to be some that don't go as planned. What are the characteristics that a company should be considering if it wants to look at strategically partnering to achieve some of the benefits that you've talked about?

Dan Varroney: In the book, I write about the characteristics and traits of successful strategic partnerships. Clearly, we don't break any new ground, but you want to enter into a partnership where you share the same values. There's a level of business acumen on both sides. You both understand what you need to do. You know that you need to act in an informed way and not at the drop of a hat that you're collaborative. In addition to that, you're setting up terms and conditions that you've got governance that says this is the way we're going to conduct the strategic partnership. These are the metrics and key performance indicators that we're going to utilize to understand how effective we are or we aren't.

Dan Varroney: Partnerships do and will fail when people don't come to terms on the front end. How are we going to work together? How are we going to communicate? How are we going to judge our effectiveness and our success? Your chances of being successful are far greater if you define those terms upfront and you understand that you really see things in a similar way, not exactly the same way. Because you want to bring skillsets to the table that you don't have, and they have and vice versa, but defining the terms and conditions of what it's going to be and how it's going to work.

Sarah Nicastro: That makes sense. All right. Dan, thinking about what we've talked about so far and the call to action, as you said, that you want to lead people with. What other thoughts or advice would you want to share?

Dan Varroney: I understand, I absolutely understand, and I'm very sympathetic to the fear and all the challenges, but this is the best possible time to see this is an opportunity to transform and evolve and take full advantage of what's next. Customers in every industry, users and end-users, and the end-users or the end-user are seeing the world very differently. Coming together through these strategic partnerships to understand what that is and to help the end-user and the end-user end user be successful will help position every industry to be more durable and more successful over the long term. We need to be thinking about when the next shoe is going to drop and being ready for it. These strategic partnerships will help achieve that, but now is the time to transform. Now is the time to grab the baton of the future and go for it.

Sarah Nicastro: Good. Let listeners know where they can find the book.

Dan Varroney: Absolutely. You can find it at potomacore.com. There are links to it. You can order it on amazon.com. It's Reimagining Industry Growth. You can also find it at Barnes & Noble online and in the store. You can find it at Books-A-Million, and it's available immediately.

Sarah Nicastro: All right. Good. Everyone check out the book, and Dan, thank you so much for coming on and sharing. It was great talking with you. I appreciate your insights.

Dan Varroney: Likewise, this was a great conversation. Thank you for the opportunity.

Sarah Nicastro: Absolutely. 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 @ ifs.com as always. Thank you for listening.

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May 2, 2022 | 4 Mins Read

Key Topics at Field Service Palm Springs 2022

May 2, 2022 | 4 Mins Read

Key Topics at Field Service Palm Springs 2022


Last week, as the last of the Coachella-ers left Palm Dessert, the attendees of Field Service Palm Springs arrived for what felt like the event’s real post-Covid comeback. While WBR did put on a November session of its historically April-timed event, it didn’t quite feel then like the industry was ready to be back. Last week, it did. Attendance was strong, energy was positive, and it felt like as close to the “before” as we can expect. 

The three-day event was filled with some great presentations and discussions, although I was disappointed to see some early morning sessions sparsely attended likely due to too much fun the nights prior. Even after years of attending this event there were some really insightful, impactful points and thoughts that made it into my notebook (yes, I still take notes on paper). 

I plan to expand on some of these points and topics in the coming weeks, but for now I am simply going to share a compilation of some of my personal favorite highlights. In no particular order, here are some of the things that stood out to me:

  • Today’s leaders must embrace change and understand the value of kindness and compassion. Kacy Drury of Everi discussed how and why so many leaders avoid change, and the negative impact this is having on the industry’s potential. She also spoke about how the emotional distance many leaders were accustomed to keeping prior to the pandemic is a thing of the past – today’s leaders can thrive by being kind and compassionate.
  • Technology can be a culprit or a solution to organizational siloes. During a panel discussion about “Scrapping Siloes,” leaders from Cincinnati Inc, Everi, and Hobart discussed the ways in which technology can support organizations eliminating siloes (by democratizing knowledge and offering a common language) or fuel them (with disparate systems and poor processes).
  • Stories can drive digital acceptance. Serendipitously, Alban Cambournac of Schneider Electric spoke just after my opening session on storytelling to share three stories of how digital impacts the world in very human ways. He spoke about how by focusing not on the tech, but what the tech can do in people’s lives, we can go further. 
  • “If data isn’t actionable, it shouldn’t exist.” This was said by Marlene Kolodziej of RICOH Digital Services. Data was a hot topic of discussion, but Marlene’s quote summarizes quite well the consensus – whether we’re talking about data as an internal enabler or an external value proposition. Leaders seemed to agree that while nearly every business today recognizes the criticality of data and has taken steps to collect it, many are still struggling with what to do with it. This was discussed in relation to connected device data that sits siloed, technician knowledge that is inaccessible, and customer-facing data that is cumbersome. 
  • Despite pervasive connectedness, people feel isolated – because we are humans, not machines. On a panel I moderated with leaders from Acuity, IBM, Source Support, and Skyllful, we discussed how the role of the frontline technician is changing and Justin Lake of Skyllful shared that on a recent ride along with a technician, the technician said, “I feel like I’m on an island.” Mindy Booknis of IBM shared some cautionary words about ensuring you don’t over-automate in a way that your customers miss the people connection and personal touch. While our connectedness and access to information is incredibly powerful, we must balance it with human centricity. 
  • Remote service is a priority, but still being sorted. Many leaders brought up their use of various tools to remotely diagnose and resolve issues and to allow company to customer or company to tech virtual experiences. However, no one seems to have the remote-first strategy perfected. Across industries it is in varying stages of refinement with companies addressing issues of change management, communication to customers of the different value proposition, and in some scenarios access to customer data. 
  • Customer success is a growing service function. During an ask-me-anything panel, someone asked if any of the leaders’ organizations have customer success roles for service. All four did, and each shared some points of success as well as things to consider. The opportunity for customer success to compliment, augment, and in some cases even replace field service roles seems to be a growing trend. 
  • Customer satisfaction demands equal emphasis on employee engagement. Many sessions were dedicated to discussing the need to put more effort into the experience, engagement, and satisfaction of the frontline workforce. And while this is driven in part by the immense challenges to recruit, it’s also due to the realization that the frontline worker is instrumental in a company’s mission to drive customer satisfaction. 
  • Diversity, and inclusion, of talent in field service is a must. Laurie Battaglia of Aligned at Work interviewed Stephanie Peters of Hobart about the steps Hobart is taking to drive diversity. The company has introduced a new program and is taking intentional action not only to bring diverse talent into its organization but to ensure equity and inclusion of it’s employee base. It was a powerful example of the importance of improving diversity in this space, not only to help solve the talent problems but to expand diversity of opinions, ideas, and thought that will only improve a company’s ability to evolve and innovate. 

Stay tuned for more in the coming weeks, and if you want to save the date for any of the upcoming events (besides, of course, the Future of Field Service Live Tour!) here are the dates and locations:

  • Field Service Hilton Head – August 16-18, 2022
  • Field Service Asia (Singapore) – November 15-16, 2022
  • Field Service Europe (Amsterdam) – November 30-December 1st, 2022
  • Field Service Palm Springs 2023 – April 25-27th, 2023

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