Husband, father to an 8 year old 'Duracell bunny' boy, CEO & President ibml
People talk about business to business or B2B, and they talk about business to consumer or B2C. Amidst digitization, remember that the true center of business is H2H or human-to-human. How well does your organization do H2H? Martin Birch, a husband and father to an 8-year-old 'Duracell bunny' boy and CEO and President at ibml talks about getting this critical aspect of the business right for your organization.
[00:00:00] KRISTINA PODNAR, host: We've all read the headlines touting the benefits of digitalizing your business and how to do it. Today, we will set aside the hype and talk with an industry veteran about what is truly happening inside of our organizations. We'll also get tips, including what are the top three digital upgrades that deliver the most ROI to your organization. But we're really going to focus on whether it is the digitization of technology, the way we talk about it, or is it humans?
[00:00:27] INTRO: Welcome to The Power of Digital Policy, a show that helps digital marketers, online communications directors, and others throughout the organization balance out risks and opportunities created by using digital channels. Here's your host, Kristina Podnar
[00:00:45] KRISTINA: Hello to everyone joining today's episode. Our subject matter expert today is Martin Birch, a husband and father to an 8-year-old 'Duracell bunny' boy, I hear, and he's also the CEO and president at ibml. Martin is also a leading industry expert in digitization, and today he's going to help us understand not just how we think about this but also the strategy, the business case, and especially the human behind it all. Martin, welcome. It's really great to have you here.
[00:01:14] MARTIN BIRCH, guest: Thank you, Kristina. It's a great pleasure for me to be with you today.
[00:01:18] KRISTINA: Anything that you specifically don't want me to ask about, or is there anything that you really hope I will ask you?
[00:01:25] MARTIN: Uh, good question. Yeah. So, nothing off-topic. I'm happy to talk about anything and everything, and that's no wash issue at all. A couple of pet themes. For me, it's not about digital transformation, it's about human transformation. And digital is just the tool sets that help us get there. It's not AI, it's all about HI
[00:01:46] KRISTINA: I'm going to ask you about that.
[00:01:47] MARTIN: Okay. AI plus HI, that's the key. And Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. There's a good one. You know, Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs used to be food and shelter used to be top on the list. Now it's good Wi-Fi and good coffee.
[00:02:02] KRISTINA: That's actually true, isn't it?
[00:02:05] MARTIN: And that all sit with the new world, the new working remotely situation.
[00:02:09] KRISTINA: So you have this unique lens, I think, into the universe of what's happening instead of organizations, and you also have the benefit across industry seeing what's happening. Where are most organizations today with regard to transformation?
[00:02:24] MARTIN: Yeah, that's a great question, and I think organizations, by and large, are still very, very early in the journey. And it, and it is a journey. And the last couple of years has been a very interesting time because the pandemic actually drove some very significant changes. And the first change that it drove was it took everybody off their plan. So, wherever people were in their plan or their digital transformation journey, the pandemic kind of threw that all up in the air. Because the IT departments of the world, those organizations had to focus on enabling a remote workforce, and they had to do that darn quick. And so every other project that they were working on tended to go on the bat burner, and everything went to making sure that that new army of remote workers was able to function and do their job away from the mothership. And that was a fascinating, fascinating time.
[00:03:21] KRISTINA: When I think about that, it was, it almost seemed like an overnight shift to me. I think you said something to the effect of to release the benefits of intelligence at the speed of business, you need the combination of artificial intelligence and human intelligence working together in harmony. What do you mean by the combination of AI and HI? Because the intelligence at the speed of business really resonated with me.
[00:03:46] MARTIN: Yeah, and that's an awesome question because people talk about business to business, b2b, and they talk about business to consumer b2c. But at the heart of all of that, all of this is at the true center of business is its H to H, human to human. And so humans are the center of everything. And so there isn't really a digital transformation taking place. There's actually a human transformation taking place. And the digital side of it, in my opinion, is just the tool sets. And smart people with smart tool sets lead to smarter outcomes, and that's what it's all about. And the wonderful, wonderful thing about AI, machine learning, is, yes, that it enables you to automate repetitive processes. And yes, that enables you to remove mistakes from the process and give a higher level of accuracy. But without the smart human somewhere in the loop, you have nothing. And so there is a great wonder of artificial intelligence and machine learning and digital transformations; it frees up the human, the human being to do what humans are really good at, which is the creative side of things, the empathic side of things, the human to the human relationship side of things, without which nothing in business is possible.
[00:05:19] KRISTINA: Is that true across the board for everybody? Some of my neighbors, in fact, several of them recently said, I'm so ready to be retired. I don't feel like I'm keeping up with technology. All of this AI is driving me batty, and I just don't want to learn anymore. I'm finished. Is that really the state of the union for folks right now? Is it the case that we are all smart, we just have to learn different things in different ways?
[00:05:44] MARTIN: I think the tools when they first emerge tend to be a bit like that because I think you need a NASA background or a degree from MIT to work with some of the most advanced tools when they first appear. But over time, as they become more mainstream, they become more Apple-esque. And so, if you think about the iPhone, the amount of computing power that exists within a modern iPhone, iPhone is immense. You know, there's more computing power in that iPhone than took the man to the moon 50 plus years ago with the Apollo program. But the art of those iPhones is that they're so easy to use now. With some people, there's that fear factor of, Hey, you know, can I just start pressing buttons here? What happens if I press the wrong button? And I think that's at the heart of a lot of it with some of these folks, And by the way, I don't think it's just older folks. We do see this, you kind of mentioned at the start of the show that I have an 8-year-old 'Duracell bunny' boy, a son, and he is incredible as all eight years old and seven-year-old kids are with technology. If you want to record something on the tv, he's your go-to. He does it without reading an instruction book, without learning how to do it. He's just instinctual on pressing the buttons. And the kids are not afraid of making a mistake. They're not afraid of pressing the wrong button. Nothing goes bang when they press the wrong button. And I think some of the older generation, we've been taught and we learned, don't press that. Don't touch that. We hear don't a lot or we heard don't a lot as we were growing. The kids these days don't hear that quite so much with technology. It has to be unbreakable. And, I think as we, as, as these technologies become mainstream, you see that the folks who maybe were a little afraid of them to start with, get a little more comfortable. Now everybody has to be shown things sometimes a couple of times. I know differently to than myself. But the wonder of Apple iPhone generation is that everything becomes act-driven, and everything becomes instinctual. That is making its way into mainstream business too. And I think your question about the older generation is very interesting because we are so used to hearing this statement, Hey, we're living through this great resignation. So many people are leaving the workforce, and so many people are re-resigning. And so people, many people are retiring. The facts actually, Where we are today. Don't bear that out because there was a recent report in The Economist just this week that showed that in the USA, more over 65 have returned to the workforce in recent months than at any time since 2019. And so there's actually a higher percentage in a high proportion of over 65 in the workforce now than ever before. And maybe some of that is down to the cost of living. Maybe some of that's down to the hit that people have had with their pension pots. But I think some of that is also the fact that the economy is still booming, and there are still more jobs out there. This is a job seekers market right now, and some of these folks that have maybe decided to opt out at some stage earlier in their lives and now looking at this and realizing they can do very well, going back to work even in a part-time capacity.
[00:09:13] KRISTINA: And there's something very unique, isn't there, about individuals that have been in the workforce for a while. What I tend to find is they have an extreme amount of institutional knowledge that nobody else tends to have. So there's a certain value in bringing back the point to what you said; it's really about human-to-human rather than technology. What are some of the biggest roadblocks then that you're seeing businesses face along this digitization and transformation journey when in fact, we have so much richness in folks that have been around the block a few times? We have other skill sets, maybe around the folks that are just making their way around the block for the first time. And how do organizations bring that together to really create some kind of a recipe for success, if there is such a thing?
[00:09:59] MARTIN: So I'd like to answer that by telling, starting with a funny story. You're okay with a funny story?
[00:10:04] KRISTINA: I love funny stories.
[00:10:05] MARTIN: Okay, so this is, so, you know, Publix, you know, Publix the store. So this is an allegedly true story that was told to me by the store manager of my local Publix because we were having this story about older folks coming back into the workforce and the talents and skills that they bring through a lifetime in the workforce. And he was telling me this story about this gentleman that recently joined his team. And this gentleman very rapidly found his feet in Publix's world, and he was very distinguished. He cuts quite a distinguished figure. Nothing ever seemed to phase him. He was very unflappable. And what rapidly seemed to happen was the other Publix teammates would turn to him if they had a problem, and they, the public, would see him, and they would naturally turn to him. He's one of these people that had this natural gift, and so he was wonderful at his job, but he just had one little thing that the manager of Publix, uh, took exception to, and that was that invariably he was always five minutes late for work. And so the manager of Publix was kind of thinking, Well, he's doing a fantastic job. The staff loves him, the customers love him. He's doing a wonderful, wonderful job, but I have to broach this with him. And so one day he sat him down and, uh, we're called this gentleman John. He said, John, you know, you're doing a wonderful job at Publix. We love you here. Everybody loves you. But I'm just a little concerned because you've always seemed to arrive five minutes late. And John said, You know, that's true. I, you've got a point. I could see how that could be concerning. I'll try and address it. And the manager had looked over his record and his resume before, before talking to John that day, and he'd realized that John had a military background. And he said, Now, John, I realize you have a military background, and I see you were in the Navy. What would your colleagues in the Navy have said if you turned up for work five minutes late every day? And John sat back, and he thought about this for a second, and he said, Well, usually they just say, Good morning, Admiral. Here's your cup of coffee.
So I have no idea if that's the true story or not. It's a lovely, lovely story. I hope it's true. But onto your question. This is a fantastic example of somebody coming back to the workforce who has loads of experience in a military career that is then transferable skills into the service sector. And we see that all across industries, and the biggest challenge, I think, facing most companies today is the ability to attract and retain talented employees.
[00:12:47] KRISTINA: And so one of the things that I always wonder is when organizations are thinking about what are the best traits, if you will, in those employees, what should they really be looking at? What is your experience if there is a successful hiring formula at this moment to follow?
[00:13:05] MARTIN: Yep. I think culture trumps everything. I think culture and attitude trumps everything. And so when, when I'm interviewing someone, I'm looking to really try and understand the person. Now, obviously, if you're looking at very specific job roles, having that background and that experience is absolutely important and absolutely key. But if you have the time to train somebody in the role, I think attitude trumps virtually all else. And if they have experience, it may not be exactly the role that you're looking to fill, but if they have an experience that you think is transferable and you think they're, they've got the right attitude, and you think they'll fit in with the culture, I think they're worth taking a chance on. And in many, many companies, the initial role that somebody starts in is maybe not the role they're in six months, 12 months, 18 months, 24 months. So I think the opportunity to bring the right people in, even if you may not have exactly the right opening for them at that moment in time if the company is big enough, you can find those opportunities. And if the company is small enough, you actually want someone that's got more of a generalist slant and a business savvy about them, that you can move them into a variety of roles. So my recommendation would be attitude and culture trump all. And embrace flexibility.
[00:14:34] KRISTINA: I'm seeing a little bit of a paradox here, though, as you're speaking, Martin, because I'm thinking to myself, most organizations are using AI to screen job seekers, right? And I'm not sure that AI is so good at understanding humans, and all of the traits that you're suggesting be prioritized above the ability to maybe code or the ability to perhaps show up exactly on time and not five minutes late. And is there a paradox there, or is that just because we're so early in the digitization timeframe and the adoption of digital that we haven't quite gotten it right? What's happening here?
[00:15:12] MARTIN: Yeah. Do you believe that companies are still leaning towards that AI screening process?
[00:15:18] KRISTINA: I do. I actually believe that based on several folks that I've talked to recently, including a client that wanted us to take a look and examine their bias and their toolsets. And be able to kind of help them explain what was happening and the type of data that they were collecting, and what they were learning. But I don't know that they're the majority, so enlighten me.
[00:15:37] MARTIN: Yeah. But by the way, that's a whole, that's a whole separate topic. We could talk for hours on, bias within AI systems and who programmed it to start with. Have they put their own biases and their own experiences within the algorithms, knowing the I unknowingly. And so there's a whole discussion we can have there for a whole couple of hours. Um, but it's a, it's a really, really interesting scenario where we see it in our business right now because we are in this unique situation right now where there are more opportunities than people out there. I think everybody, us included, is happening to be more flexible and we are looking for more interesting experiences. If someone shows an aptitude or willingness to say, Hey, I've looked at your organization. I'd really like to work with you. I'll take the time to the very least have a telephone call with them or a Zoom interview because I'm always interested to see what we may find. And I'm more interested in ruling people in than to rule them out. And I'd hate to lose a gem of a teammate through some biased AI algorithm that may decide that because they haven't got this tick box ticked on their resume that they're not going to put them forward. So you are right! There is a paradox here with this shift with some of the tool sets with the AI algorithms sorting through. And I think that has a place when you have a mountain of candidates, and you have too many candidates, then you can get through yourself. Then the use of AI to kind of wiggle down the list can be a valuable tool, but I think we see less of that today, certainly in our world, because there are not hundreds of applicants for every role; there are almost hundreds of roles for every applicant. So I think the kind of the whole balance has shifted a little here in the favor of the potential employee.
[00:17:37] KRISTINA: You talk a lot about organizations that are going through digitization, and you have a suggestion around the top three upgrades that deliver the most ROI. I was very curious to hear what are those, like, what are the things that people should really be focusing on. At the end of the day, what must be included in the strategy?
[00:17:56] MARTIN: So I think number one is in the new world that we have today where flexibility is the key, and I'm thinking here in terms of the work anywhere, anytime kind of environment that we live in, we living in different times where as employers we should embrace the fact that our employees should be able to work anywhere, any time in their own way. And so, for me, the most important thing is tool sets that enable our employers to deliver a business outcome. So focus on the business outcome, and then it's a question of investing in tool sets that will enable the remote worker, enable someone to do them, be able to do their job anyway anywhere. So from the simple Microsoft toolset that everybody knows and loves, people may not realize it, but most of the time, when you're using Microsoft these days, you're working in the cloud. And people may not know it. It's a seamless, simple experience most of the time, and it works. And so I think the simplest thing that we can all do as employers if we want to get the best out of digitization and AI tool sets is to focus on the business outcome that we're trying to drive and enable our knowledge workers, enable our employees to be able to deliver that business outcome their own way. And my recommendation would be focused less on the process. Meaning we've gone past the point now of telling employees, Here's the way you do it. You should do it this way. Because what we're effectively doing is saying, This is the way that works for me. It may not work for you because you are different. You're, you are, an individual. You are your own human being. You have your own ways of doing things. You may want to work a different way than me. I may get up early and want to start early and get an hour knocked out before my son wakes up and have to work with him over breakfast and get him ready for the bus and get him out the door, and then I'll come back and carry on. Other people may be more; hey, nine to five works for me. I'll work nine to five. But the same routine doesn't work for everybody. So, I think the key with tool sets is to enable the knowledge worker with tool sets that enable them to work in this flexible fashion anywhere, anytime in their own way, but to be able to deliver the business outcome that the business needs and they understand.
[00:20:44] KRISTINA: What are the types of transformational activities we need to be thinking about to really leverage, not just the ability to transcend geography, which I think we've gotten good at during the pandemic? Right, but in real-time, we're talking about time maybe still being a limiting factor because my colleagues in Sydney or in Deli are in a completely different time zone than I am. How do we do that?
[00:21:06] MARTIN: I think common tool sets that enable sharing are the key, sharing, and collaboration. So none of us will look totally independently. We all work as part of a team, and I think those tool sets that enable people to see, whether you're working in Sydney, Australia, whether you're working in Paris, France, whether you're working in London, England, or Atlanta or the East coast of the United States, you can have access to the same information at the same time. And to be able to add your own collaboration to that work, that I think is very key.
[00:21:41] KRISTINA: And what do we do in instances where it's not about adding or perhaps we're not there yet in the enterprise? What about a situation where I might need knowledge that you have, but you are not there right at that moment when I need it? How do we start bridging for that? Or is that something that you think is so far off? It's more of like a metaverse, kind of environment that's down the road.
[00:22:04] MARTIN: We live under this constant 24/7 pressured life. And I think sometimes, we all need to take a breath and accept that there are moments where we may not be able to get access to everything we need. And you know what? Sometimes at those times when that information exists in the head or the hands of another person on the other side of the world, sometimes it's, kind of a nice thing to ping them a meeting invite, and then when they wake up, talk human to human. Ultimately, that's what it's all about we're social creatures, and we're emotion-based creatures, and that connection to another human being is important. So even though we are at this amazing, fascinating, exciting time where the pace of change is going faster than at any time in human history, that ability to sometimes take a breath and just to make time to connect with another human being, I think is incredibly powerful.
[00:23:16] KRISTINA: So Martin, I'm wondering how long is it going to take, or do you ever see there being a day where businesses get to the point where they say: You know what, it's about the business outcome, as you mentioned. My colleague Ian James the other day said to me something along the lines of, who cares if I only work two hours a week and use the rest of the 38 hours to think about what I'm going to? As long as I produce something that you need produced at the end of my week or at the end of my day, who cares? Are we there yet? Are we even like on that journey yet? Or how can we tell where we are in that process? Or are we starting to kind of, in this post, almost post covid world, starting slip back into this notion of like, No, you need to be chained to your desk so I can see you perform?
[00:24:01] MARTIN: I think we're on the way there, and I think that enlightened companies, the successful companies, will be the ones that focus on two things, the business outcome and giving flexibility to the employee. And this whole thing has gone backward and forwards. The pandemic is responsible for a lot of bad stuff and a lot of pain and a lot of suffering for a lot of people and a lot of families. But it's also accelerated some really neat things, some really cool things. And so this ability to work from home, this shift away from being chained to the office, people went through a year or so of Covid, and then they kind of turn around the hill, I kind of like this. I like this new way of working. I like being out of the office. I like having control of my own life. And so there's a reluctance now to go back to the way it was before, and I don't believe it will ever go back to exactly the way it was before because people have embraced this new flexibility, and companies have too. And so I believe that the companies that will succeed and thrive and attract the talented people are the ones that will allow that flexibility, embrace it, and empower the folks with tools to be able to work their own way in their own place at their own time. Now, that's not to say that coming to the office is a bad thing and there are other people that that work for them, particularly well being in the office, they like having that separation between I'm in my home to, I'm in my office. Some folks like that, but other folks like that flexibility and I think what is key? Is giving employees the choice, giving them the tools, giving them the choice that I think is the future. And we can't, to your point, we can't lose sight of those outcomes. So if you say to people, Hey, here's the outcomes that you need to deliver. This is what your role is all about. We're gonna give you the tool sets to do that, and there's gonna be timelines that you're gonna have to deliver some of this stuff, but you are gonna control the way you work and the way you get. Now, that's not to say we also abandon our people and just say, Here you go, off you go. You've got your laptop and your wifi link, your big screen and your comfy chair. You're on your way, you know, See ya. Um, we've gotta give people signposts along the way, and we've gotta give them help when they need it. So the process of management, I think doesn't change. You've still gotta manage and measure, and you've still gotta have checkpoints and review points along the way. But I think giving people this far more flexible environment, I think is the key to the future. And to your question of will, we get to that point where companies are focused on the outcomes? I think this will be like a natural selection thing because the best people will want to work for the best companies that provide them with the best environment and the best choice and the best flexibility, and I think that will drive all of this.
[00:27:21] KRISTINA: For organizations that aren't there yet, like for any type of a business that isn't quite there yet, but they want to shift in that direction, what are some of the things that they can do in the next, six or nine months? What are some of the things that you would say this is a good journey to really get on or be on in order to be one of those successful companies?
[00:27:42] MARTIN: So I would say embrace the uncertainty and not be afraid to let go. So a lot of the fear of doing something differently comes down to that control element. People are afraid of letting go of the rope. I think people have gotta get more comfortable, and I think business leaders, by and large, are getting there. I think people now understand we've been living this for a couple of years now, and I don't think I'm saying anything that would surprise anybody. Business leaders have gotta be comfortable with allowing that flexibility. They've gotta be comfortable with letting go of some of the control but keeping their eye very much focused on the outcome. And I think that actually will help business leaders too because sometimes we get very stuck in the process. You do it this way, this is what we do, this is the way we've always done it. Don't deviate off the path. But if we change the mindset to focus on the outcomes, smart people will find a better way. And we might find a few better ways than we've done before.
[00:28:44] KRISTINA: For everyone listening that's thinking, Okay, Martin, I'm sold. I'm buying into what you're saying. It sounds reasonable. How can I make that transformation a priority in my organization for my boss? Or make this maybe at the departmental level because we can't change the entire business culture at once, but maybe we can in a department. But how do we do that when we have other big issues to deal with?
[00:29:08] MARTIN: I think have the conversation, I think have the open of brain conversation and trust is a big one here. Because I'd like to think that people are working for organizations where they have the trust both ways that they could go sit with their department leader where they could sit with their boss and have an open discussion about, Hey, I think there's a better way. So, I think that's the key. Just go have a conversation.
[00:29:34] KRISTINA: Maybe take your bus out for a cup of coffee if you're with them, or maybe do a virtual coffee and chat and have the conversation it sounds like.
[00:29:41] MARTIN: Check out the WI-FI in the coffee shop, and that could become a major selling point.
[00:29:46] KRISTINA: There you go. Well, Martin, thanks so much for coming and sharing with us your business and investment strategies into the human so we can continue to build this human-to-human culture and start winning at the new game, that's the post covid world. So it was great talking with you. Thanks for making the time.
[00:30:02] OUTRO: Thank you for joining the Power of Digital Policy; to sign up for our newsletter, get access to policy checklists, detailed information on policies, and other helpful resources, head over to the power of digital policy.com. If you get a moment, please leave a review on iTunes to help your digital colleagues find out about the podcast.