Transformation is a Four Letter Word

(And other pearls of wisdom from the 2018 OPEX Exchange in Austin, Texas)

Despite working with IQPC in a variety of capacities for at least a decade, this was the first “OPEX Exchange” event that iGrafx has participated in. And I’ll admit, I was skeptical. I’ve managed demand generation budgets for a long time, and especially in recent years I’ve been inundated with requests to sponsor events where vendors are guaranteed meetings with “pre-screened” attendees.  I’ve listened to hours of pitches from aggressive event sales people, but for a variety of reasons never pulled the trigger. I’m glad that I did this time.

The attendees in the audience were, by and large, very enthusiastic about the event and the format, and as a result, many great interactions took place. Some were scheduled meetings, some were ad hoc, and others were during the solid thought leadership sessions that were led by some terrific customer practitioners as well as a handful of vendors and a keynote by Ken Goldman (former Yahoo CFO). From the sum-total of these interactions I walked away with a slew of meaningful takeaways, a few of which I’ve highlighted below.

  • Change perception – not culture. Dr. Charles Brandon,Director Process Improvement Program Office, Office of the Under Secretary of the Army, Office of Business Transformation (whew, what a title!), had many sage words to share – both during his closing keynote and in a long conversation over fajitas at the end of day one. Chuck is a guy with two PhDs, three master’s degrees, and a lifetime of incredible experience. And today the US Army has more employees than Target and McDonalds; more people in training than Ohio State, The University of Texas, Texas A&M, UCF and my alma mater, Penn State; a bigger operating budget than Exon, Amazon, GM and Apple; and a bigger vehicle fleet than UPS and FedEx. They do 10,000,000 ERP transactions per day! So when Chuck talks, you pay attention. Many times he iterated that OPEX professionals need to articulate the so what and the who cares in the vernacular of the person they’re reporting to. Change the boss’s perception of what you can deliver, deliver it, and culture changes will follow.
  • Solve and Evolve! When you’ve solved a problem in your company you’ve created knowledge that can (and should) be repurposed so it doesn’t have to be created again! Cheryl Tulkoff at National Instruments explained in detail how the company captures and reuses information to more quickly ramp-up newly hired engineers and then more effectively solve customer challenges. She iterated, “get the info out of people’s heads and share it across teams and boundaries.” Cheryl also explained how she regularly runs 50-100 mile ultra-distance races, so it’s pretty obvious that when she sets her mind to something it gets accomplished.
  • The 5 P’s of driving change to support Operational Excellence and Digital Transformation, according to Veradej Thongintra,  VP and Head of Corporate Strategy & Digital Transformation at Hyundai Capital, are Persuasion, Persistence, Perspective, Patience & Passion. Based on what he illustrated in his presentation, these 5 P’s should be universally applicable to garnering support and driving change in any business or industry. Veradej is clearly getting stuff done across the CoE for consumer strategy, planning & analytics, as he works to implement the corporate strategies he’s creating.
  • If you want really bad automation design, don’t think about process. Gregory North quipped this in a conversation with Don Kuk and Mollie Bell, chief transformation officers at Mednax and CUNA, respectively. Automation is top of mind for many, but it must be planned and developed from a solid process. Another automation-related gem from Gregory was, “RPA is like dusting… Artificial Intelligence is like completely redecorating the house!” Excellent perspective in a rapidly evolving digital transformation landscape. Robotic process automation is undoubtedly cool and can alleviate up to 75% of the repetitive/monotonous work done by humans, but it’s just the tip of the iceberg compared to the changes and opportunities that AI will bring.
  • Transformation is a Four Letter Word! Both Mollie Bell and Don Kuk emphatically agreed on this point. They explained that only with authentic engagement from the C-suite downward will real transformation be truly possible. Get past the over-used and loaded “T-word,” and demonstrate the end-goal in the language of the people you’re teaming with. Both Don and Mollie had great advice on leading by example to achieve transformation, emphasizing that “life is a team sport,” and that if you “give away everything you have, you’ll receive even more in return.”  Mollie summed it up by saying: “Own it… Earn it…  Give it…”
  • It’s all about revenue per employee! And Michael Lim, Worldwide Director of Digital Process Automation Sales at IBM brought up some compelling examples of how the best companies automate the repetitive work to create “better work” for employees, and ultimately more revenue per employee. He used Netflix as a case in point, who generated $1.88M per employee in 2016!  Net/net, Michael explained that in 60% of jobs worldwide, up to 30% of work can be automated, and he cited a McKinsey study to back it up.
  • ACPR is the secret to Ken Goldman’s transformation success. The acronym stands for “Attitude, Cash, Profit & Revenue,” and Ken illustrated very clearly how he used this methodology to drive the success at Yahoo that finally led to a significant acquisition by Verizon.  Ken is certainly a “best-in-class” CFO, and he reviewed examples of his ACPR formula in many of the other businesses he’s worked in, or owned, such as payments company, Zuora, NXP semiconductors, GoPro (the video camera company), and the Golden State Warriors.  At the end of his presentation, Ken shared his number one career rule: “Integrity is rule #1 – your most valuable asset.”

The next OPEX Exchange event is going to be held in Atlanta in July of this year, and if you’re on the fence like I was, I suggest you give it a try. In the meantime, if you have any questions or other insights, please share here or reach out to me directly.

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