Sarah talks with Jason Hamm, VP of Networks Strategic Programs at Ericsson, about what he’s learned from traveling the globe about the gaps between field service potential and intent versus execution and outcomes.
Sarah Nicastro: Welcome to the Future of Field Service podcast. I'm your host, Sarah Nicastro. Today, we are going to be discussing the question of is a leadership disconnect holding field service back. I'm excited to be joined today by Jason Hamm, who is the Vice President of Networks Strategic Programs at Ericsson. Jason, welcome to the Future of Field Service podcast.
Jason Hamm: Thank you.
Sarah Nicastro: Yes, thanks for being here. So, before we get into our discussion, tell our listeners a little bit about yourself, your role. Anything you want to share.
Jason Hamm: My role is Strategic Programs. What does that mean? I'm looking at five to 10 year time horizon, thinking about what will be trends and themes, and what could be, which is slightly different. Trying to think about opportunities to say, how do we need to transform or continually adapt, to continue thriving five years, 10 years out? That time horizon working back with the organization.
Something about me is I started as an installer in telecommunications, and have worked my way through a lot of different roles and positions. I find the greatest satisfaction in leading teams, understanding individuals, and then working with individuals to work together as a team. That's what fascinates me most.
Sarah Nicastro: Okay. How long have you been in your current role?
Jason Hamm: Only for about two, almost three years now.
Sarah Nicastro: Okay. Yeah, I think it's really interesting. This idea of the timeframe you're specifying five to 10 years out, right? We've done a lot of content and had some different conversations about, organizations obviously need to be innovating. And by that, I don't mean incremental improvement. I mean actual innovation, which is really what you are looking for. What are those opportunities?
And we have had some conversations about how sometimes, organizations expect that their operational leaders should just also put on that hat of identifying the opportunities and areas to innovate. And that's really tough, right? Because they're two different hats.
That's not to say someone can't do both or see both sides. But I think with the pace of change that we live in today, it's kind of an unrealistic expectation or unfair ask, to task a leader of a business who's responsible for meeting today's expectations, to also figure out. And in your free time, what should we be doing in five years? So I think it's really good that Ericsson has invested in that role specifically so that you can balance that out. So really cool.
And we're going to talk about this a little bit today. But I know in your role, you do a lot of traveling around, and engaging with folks, and really taking in a lot of what today's landscape looks like, and what people are thinking about the future.
So one of the things that we discussed is that we hear a lot today about people focus, right? We've had a lot of podcast conversations about we need to focus more on employee experience. We need to improve our company culture. We need to improve retention. We need to lead better through change, etc.
So there's this acknowledgement that it's important, and I think you said really well, that you feel most leaders have really good intentions, but there's this disconnect between those intentions, and then what action is being taken to really treat people differently or change that experience.
So you said, and I like this. "Many leaders do more business admin than they do actually leading. They're more comfortable talking about balance sheets than organizational psychology." And I think that's a really good way to put it. So talk a little bit about what you've observed, and how. And then, what do we need to do to close that gap between the intention and the reality?
Jason Hamm: Yeah, good. One of the things I've learned, some years ago, I did a 52 market... Within the US, 52 market tour. I asked the business leader to put forward their top 2%. Top 2%. These were technicians predominantly. And I met with those 52 markets worth of top 2% technicians.
And one of the questions I asked was, "Think about the best leader that you've ever worked for. And what were the attributes?" And it was just on an old school whiteboard, no bad answers, etc.
What I found fascinating was zero said things like they're a subject matter expert in technology, etc. And one thing that was unanimous across the board was the leader gave them constructive feedback.
So I think that's a fallacy that it's almost like an unwritten rule. All of us under a cost pressures these days, that's not going to change ever. It's very common for a leader to have the right intent and think about, "My top performers, what I need to keep doing is telling them they're rock stars." That's a common word I hear all the time. "Jimmy or Sally, you're a rockstar. You're a rockstar. Keep doing what you're doing. Thank you so much for your contributions."
But what I learned from those rock stars in 52 different markets asking open questions is they're so hard on themselves. They're harder on themselves than any leader ever could be. They feel dismissed if they're not given some, "Yeah, but coach or leader, what can I do better?" Even if you think about professional athletes that are the best in the game, they're constantly looking for coaching and advice on how they can be even better. So I think that's one fallacy maybe for leaders to consider. Another thing I would say is I think it's the vernacular when you say things like psychology and philosophy. It just feels like it doesn't fit in a business context.
But if I shared with you that psychology is a study of how we do think and philosophy is a study of how we could think, then it's like, "Wow, if you think about especially in a services community, all we have is people." And all this sudden that kind of jumps up to the top of the list to be thinking about.
So I would encourage leaders to think differently. Don't be afraid of the psychology and philosophy term. Think about what's most important for you to focus on. Your subject matter expertise as a leader is leading coaching and developing. And that requires you to really understand people as individuals, how they think, how they're motivated, how they're demotivated, etc. So those are a couple observations I've learned over the years.
Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. Is there any other gaps you would identify thinking about the disconnect between good intentions, but not actions that match those intentions?
Jason Hamm: Design thinking is a common buzzword these days. I'm not sure which consultant firm came up with that. It's very simply thinking about who you're trying to help.
I think that again, leaders consult with a lot of different folks. Leaders have the right intention. They want to get with let's say tower climbers, or plumbers, or whatever the service is, and understand their problems.
The reality of what that looks like is, it may be a crude analogy, but it's like gold mining. You have to sift through a lot of dirt to find those flakes of gold. And I genuinely believe that sometimes a leader will have a preconceived idea of what the solution might look like. They ask questions. And the questions typically, if you're asking the people that are working the challenge, they're not going to just articulate, "These are the top three things, and the ROI." They're not going to turn it into those kind of business terms that maybe a leader will have to translate it to.
So the challenge I would offer out there is really extreme immersion in design thinking. Really breathing the same air, walking the same shoes. And then constantly checking back to say, "Do I have this right?" And you got to have people that will speak up and tell you, "No, Sarah. That's not what I said. That's not what I mean when I say this. This is what I mean." You have to encourage that.
And one of the first things to think about and consider is I am not a reflection of the community I'm trying to help. That's really difficult for me personally because I used to be in the field doing field services. And I like to consider myself well grounded, and I remain connected, and I understand.
The truth is though, that's been a long time ago. And I don't think exactly a technician thinks these days, I have a different mindset, a different perspective. So that's one of the first ways, and I continually have to remind myself is really understand that you do not represent your logic. Even with your best intentions, you do not represent the people that you're trying to help. That that helps you talk to people with a more open mind and really hear them, what they're trying to say.
Sarah Nicastro: Yeah, that's a really good point. So there's really this big area around listening. And like you said, immersion. So not just surface level. "We did an all hands, and we did an open forum Q&A once this quarter." But really getting entrenched in the business and being exposed to what are the frontline workers thinking, struggling with? What's the real perspective? Okay. I like that.
So one of the other areas we talked about where there's maybe some disconnect and some opportunity to really evolve is around learning and development. So you mentioned that it's human nature for people to go after what's comfortable. I know you can't speak to every business. But when we think about learning and development, what is that disconnect? What are we not doing that we should be, or trying to do that's not really working? And what's your perspective on how we need to innovate in that area?
Jason Hamm: Yep. I'll tell you a quick way I learned something in that. On this topic, I've traveled all over the world as far as Australia. Asking people from all different industries. Field services was the common connection.
And one question I've asked the audiences all across the US, other countries, including Australia, is think about the best technician that you've ever worked with. And just raise a hand, shout out words that describe what made that technician the best one that you've ever worked with.
And I'm a little bit fascinated when you have unanimous statistics. Unanimously, not one single time. All across the world, all these different groups that don't even know each other. Not one single time have hard skills been brought up. So under technical knowledge, or Excel expertise, or etc. 100% of the time it's been the soft skills. It's been things like their ethics are second to none. I completely trust them. Their work ethic is remarkable. They have insatiable curiosity. They are a real team player. Anytime they learn something, they try to help the next person.
So what that tells me, and that's real data. I've seen it. I've talked to all these people across the world. What that says is the most important thing, as we think about developing our people, it is the soft stuff.
So that doesn't say that AI, and ML, and machine learning, and all these different, cool things. Those are really important for certain groups to know in certain aspects. Or maybe if it's in a plumbing, to really have that technical knowledge. I'm not discounting that.
What I'm saying is what I've learned is the most important thing is finding the right talent and developing that talent further. You're going to get way more ROI, if you want to call it that, by investing in people's soft skills.
So when you look at your L&D, critical path learning, etc., if you find trade specific hard skill at the top. And perhaps missing or way, way down the priority list, things that are behavioral. Check that. Think about that. Is that really the right thing to do?
And then the second part of your question is what do we do about it? Without freaking people out, there are a lot of behavioral personality tests. You can have semi guided. Basically you just take something online, you have a professional come in. They're not going to use a bunch of psychology terminology or whatever.
What I've found is people absolutely are fascinated with those readouts, because it's not a Sarah's better than Jason kind of discussion. It's a spectrum of these behavioral areas to say, "Here's how Sarah is, and where Jason is. And here's how they might complement each other in these kind of scenarios. These are the kind of areas where Jason would go to Sarah and lean on her for help. These are the kinds of things that cause tension between people like Sarah and Jason, etc."
People are absolutely thrilled by that. And it also takes a lot of the emotion out of the day-to-day business, where maybe I'm an extrovert and you're an introvert, for example. That's a pain point. And you just think, "I wish Jason would go away. He's annoying me, he's super extroverted." After having that discussion together as a team, taking your team through that, you can point to that study. You can point to that readout and just go, "Jason, you're being a little bit of extrovert," or whatever. You can take some of that emotion out of the business. And it really helps with teamwork, camaraderie, I would say. That's just an easy example.
Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. So I do think that that response you got is interesting. I also would say it's in line with what I've heard over a lot of conversations. Which is, there are aspects from a soft skills perspective that certainly are trainable. There's also aspects that sometimes are innate, that are hard to teach. Whereas those technical skills, I think there's a general agreement that they can be taught.
And so how do we shift from always looking for experience, certification, these technical things? Versus figuring out what some of those traits are that are common among our top talent, and then figuring out how do we find more of that, right?
I think what's also interesting though is how if you think about, going back to, I know some people don't like to talk about psychology, maybe like you said. But I do.
And I think when you go back to people that have that, you said insatiable curiosity. People that have that drive and that sense of ownership, etc. How they need strong leadership to feel connected, and engaged, and to want to stay.
So in an environment where for instance, they log on to the learning and development platform, and it's all just these super technical process-based things. And they're not feeling that there's an outlet for some of those traits. They might not feel they have the opportunity to really utilize them in the environment where they are. So that's where there's different connection points back to what is the philosophy of the leaders in the organization around people, and managing those relationships, and offering them training and development, career paths, etc. How are we giving people that have that drive the outlet to use it, right? What are your thoughts on that?
Jason Hamm: I'll give you an example of one solution I've used several times. And I'm sure there are many competitors that do the same. But it gets back to approximately 20 behavioral attributes.
And what's really cool, if you just go into an organization, let's say an organization says, "Hey, I really want to focus on these five roles. These five roles represent 80, 90% of my employee base." What you can do is even if it's subjective, have the leadership team say, "What are your top 2% or 5%?" Whatever. The top 5% of your whatever technician role, let's call it. What you can do is have them take this personality assessment, and it groups. So we all know, hopefully we can agree these are the top 2% or 5%. This is what the profile looks like. And it's a one to 10 spectrum. 10 is not better than one, etc.
And what you see with that is as you look for future candidates for these roles, if you see a tight, let's say it's a seven, eight. Is the spread of the top two or 5%. What that means is anything outside of that seven or eight is a stress point. Doesn't mean that someone that's lower than seven or higher than eight can't do it. But it does mean that the more they stray from that on that particular behavioral attribute, it's going to be a stress point.
So if you think about sales and extrovert. If you're a straight up one on the introvert scale, and you're in cold call sales or door-to-door sales, that's a great example of that's going to be really stressful for that individual. Doesn't mean that that individual can't do it, etc.
To me, that's really no different than if you want Cisco certification or a certain electrical license. Those hard skill things, we look at that all the time. We look at that on resume, we ask those questions on interviews. And if we believe what I learned across the globe, what I said earlier. The more important thing is these personality things, the behavioral piece. So leading from the front and taking even 50% of the same rigor we put into the hard skills, into the soft skills. It really can be easy to measure and think about.
And it's also blind. A lot of companies thankfully, are starting to really think about their diversity, inclusion, unconscious bias, things like that. What behavioral assessment is. It doesn't care what gender or color, etc., that you are. This is the truth about that person. And then you can make decisions based on what works from a personality perspective. So it kind of can help, depending on how you use it in those areas as well.
Sarah Nicastro: Yeah, that makes sense. So going back to the point about from a leadership perspective, intent versus what action looks like today, we talked about some people are more comfortable talking about balance sheets than they are organizational psychology.
Now obviously, balance sheets are important. So no one's saying to ignore that. But how do we, I guess upskill, or help our leaders be more comfortable with these conversations, these topics, and really help them to take appropriate actions that match that intent?
Jason Hamm: Depending on your setup, if you have the luxury of having some training budget for leaders, I think it's most important that you do something together as a leadership team. As opposed to if you have 12 leaders, each one going for themself. What's really ideal and has a profound ripple effect is to take them all through the same thing together. They'll have the same vernacular, etc. Then they start leading from the front, and then cascade it into the organization.
That's the most powerful approach. I would just suggest not a certain name or company, but what I would suggest is find something that's not focused on business administration. Rather, focused on how to understand people, how to motivate people, how to have difficult conversations with people. When you look at the curricula or the syllabus, those are the kind of things you're looking for. Not the business administration piece. That's quite different.
If you can't get that, if you can't get that training, there are so many, depending on how you, there's books on Audible. There's YouTube free videos of some fantastic different podcasts, etc., that you can get these sound bites and books that you can read, for very inexpensive to even free. You can really educate yourself. And it's a grind.
What I would say is it's uncomfortable. And it's just like any habit. Whether it's trying to go to the gym and you haven't been going to the gym, it's a grind. You have to commit yourself to it. And what I suggest to leaders that are really serious about it, find four hours a week. And treat that four hours like a religion. During those four hours, you're going to block off all communication unless it's an absolute real emergency. And for those four hours, you're going to work on yourself, in these specific areas.
And that may look different to you, and me, and someone else. So I think that's the part. Just get into the grind four hours a week, or whatever you can afford to give. And then all of a sudden you'll look up six months later, and A, it's become natural. It's become part of your day-to-day routine. And then B, you've grown, you've learned. And you're thinking it's more front of mind than way, way back here. So therefore, you'll be more comfortable in those conversations. And all of a sudden you'll find yourself, when you're conversing with your employees or your managers of employees, etc., you'll have these thoughts come out, because that's what's relevant on your mind. You're reading about it, you're consuming podcasts, etc. These are on the front of your mind now, so therefore it's going to be on your employees and managers, etc. So it's just a grind to get set up and go after.
Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. I think that's an important point is some portion of that disconnect between intent and action really comes back to default to comfort level. If you don't make it mandatory, if you don't put parameters around it, you're just going to get sucked back into what you know or what the demands are of the day, the week, etc.
And the same goes for employees. Going back to the learning and development. If they log on, and the technical courses are mandatory and they're at the top, then they'll do them and move on. If the soft skills stuff is at the bottom and optional, you're not doing anything as an organization to really force, gently force some of that change.
So I think it's a good point of making it as mandatory as possible, making it measurable, and making that commitment. And for a company that really wants to evolve to some degree, doing that by subset of leaders. And like you said, trickle down.
I'm not going to ask you to name your top or anything, because I don't want to put you on the spot in terms of what's the best. But just to share some of your personal sources, is there anything that comes to mind when you think of good books you've read, Audible, podcasts, etc.? Anything you would name for folks to check out?
Jason Hamm: Yes. Including a company is okay?
Sarah Nicastro: Sure.
Jason Hamm: There's a company out of Florida called ADEPT, A-D-E-P-T. And I've worked with them over a lot of different years, different companies, totally different groups. I find their approach to be the best I've ever worked with. It's highly immersive, and it's a long term. Typically, your shortest term is six months. So as a leadership team, whoever goes through it, goes through it together for six months. Every two weeks you have a session.
I think that's a really powerful approach because it's way better than let's say other things. Even if it's the same content. You get kind of immersed for a week, but then you go back. And it's so easy to fall back into your BAU. I did read Mindset recently. I do find that to be very powerful. It's the first book I believe that's been written on the mindset as I understand it. I think that might be one of the most important pieces if you think about character, who a person is, etc.
Another thing I would say that's very practical. You were talking about mandatory training and things. I agree with that. Whatever you focus on. One of my mentors said one time, "Leadership focus is like fish food to fish. Wherever you focus, the fish will come." And that's absolutely true.
Most people, probably they're listening to your podcast or leaders of leaders. And in your staff meeting, ops meeting, whatever you call your meetings, your cadence. If you're talking about the finances and all these things, if you're not talking about leading coaching and developing, if you're not spending at least five minutes of that time, every single time you talk on these soft skills and all that, you cannot expect the organization to adopt and make some of these pivots. So that's one really free. It's a free thing to do is just talk about it.
And even if it's clunky at first and awkward for that five minutes each meeting that you're having every week, that's okay. You got to start wobbly legs and clunky at first. And then all of a sudden, it will become more advanced. And people read, and become more informed, and educated, and comfortable thinking about it. So that's an easy, free way to do it as well.
Sarah Nicastro: Yeah, that's good. So we said at the beginning your role is really to look five, 10 years out, and think about what's coming. What challenges are coming, what opportunities, etc.
And so when you think about that viewpoint and the things that you look at day to day, and then what needs to evolve from a leadership perspective, what are your thoughts on what needs to happen, how things will need to change, how the gap will close or continue to widen? What comes to mind when you think about how the topics you're looking at from a strategic perspective match to what we need from leaders going forward?
Jason Hamm: If you think about the pyramid, it's going to turn upside down. We're going to move toward, some people call it the gig economy, where it's transaction based. And what does that really mean? That really means that the human doing the work, the human that has the knowledge, skill, and ability, that's performing the given task and work is in control. And it's not any longer a matter of, "You work for me at my company as a W2, and therefore you just go do what I say."
Those days will evaporate. And what we will be left with is if Sarah is a top 2% performer, and I'm representing a company as a leader and I want the top 2%, I'm going to have to use honey, not a stick. We're going to have to be the most attractive, desirable. We're going to have to have a brand that people are drawn to. That connect with their hearts, not just their mind. We're going to have to do the work. We're going to have to be the most attractive to people that have the knowledge, scalability, the top talent. It's not going to be a, "We'll pay you a little bit more and demand you to do crazy things," or whatever.
So we're going to have to fundamentally change. Some people are further ahead on that spectrum than others. But this whole 1980s type of leadership where you just kind of put your fist down on the desk and demand of your employees, those people are the dinosaurs of leadership. And either they need to change completely, or they will be obsolete. That's what's happening.
And I see some companies, I think Ericsson's at the front of that for sure, leading by example. And I see other companies. And sometimes it's the smaller field services companies that they're looking at three ring binders instead of using technology. And also, their leadership style is very much 1980s fist on the desk kind of thing. So it's an eyeopener, I think, for leaders to think about how are you leading. Because if you think about leading, just by definition, if you look it up in Webster, whichever dictionary you choose, it's not about mandating. That's not what leading is about. It's about influencing people, which requires buy-in, etc. So that's what I would throw out there for the future.
Sarah Nicastro: Yeah, I think it's very well put. And I could not agree more. So thank you for that Jason. Thank you for your insights. I really appreciate you joining me and sharing your perspective today. So thanks for being here.
Jason Hamm: Happy to. Thank you for having me.
Sarah Nicastro: Absolutely. You can find more by visiting us at futureoffieldservice.com. I want to remind you that the Future of Field Service INSIDER is now live. And you can subscribe on the website. That is a newsletter of sorts, where we deliver all of the latest content to your inbox every other week, along with some exclusives. Registration is also open for the Future of Field Service 2023 Live Tour. So we will be in six countries, various dates throughout the year. So have a look and register for the location nearest you.
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.