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Exit Interview by Patrick Donegan – Newsletter #5

By: Patrick Donegan

For some time, I’ve been looking for one “source” that curates modern takes on HR Tech, perspectives from the people who build it, and its impact on enterprise — something that’s tailor-made by professionals for decision-makers. 

I never found it — so I decided to build it. 

Every week, I’ll be sharing fresh insights on tech platforms, design, data, and the future of work — straight to your inbox.

My Thoughts

Nothing could possibly bridge the gap between the horrific scene here in Washington, D.C. last Wednesday and our normally scheduled programming. So, this week, I offer Exit Interview #5 as a brief respite from the news cycle. In the face of what happened last week, I’ve been looking for inspiration where I can find it. Today, that comes from Aaron Levie, Lead Magician (and CEO) at Box. Here are three of my favorite recent tweets from Aaron:

  1. Reminder: the biggest disruptions start with the simplest solution to the most important part of the problem instead of the complete solution to the whole problem.
  2. The next wave of enterprise software will be design-led. A couple billion people interact with software to do their work, and it can all be made so much simpler. This is the big disruption opportunity.
  3. This is the most exciting period for enterprise software that we’ve ever been in. Even amidst rapid adoption of modern cloud tools in recent years, 90% of the world’s knowledge workers are now getting them for the first time. We’re still in the early innings folks.

Tech Innovation at Work

A complete transformation of HR systems is needed at many higher ed institutions — and the benefits are obvious. 🎓⚒️🌟 At Washington State UniversityWorkday just replaced an employee management system with its origins in the 1980s. If you’re curious, here’s a complete list of updates. WSU President Kirk Schulz had this to say: “This is a game-changer for the way we do business as a university. Workday not only will make us more efficient in our day-to-day business operations, it will give us accurate and timely financial information needed to make critical financial decisions about the WSU system.”🔥😎

Here’s something that’s been missing from the diversity conversation so far: how do we build tech products for a diverse user base? 🤔👨‍💻 ⚖️   It starts with breaking the early testing feedback loop. When companies do early product testing, they often lack the resources to ensure a diverse sampling of participants. This means that the product is tailored, from the start, for a small segment of consumers. Neeva’s Head of Marketing, Sandy Banerjee, breaks down how the company determined which demographics were overrepresented and how they ensured diversity in product testing from the start. 

Graph: Neeva

The challenges presented by 2020 meant that many CIOs had to accelerate their transformation programs. Continued rapid digitalization is likely to drive results in the year ahead. Here are a few of the highlights: the Target technology team built the first version of a mobile app for managing customer flow, Lowe’s Cos. used Google Cloud to scale for a curbside pick-up app, United Airlines rolled out touchless kiosks to more than 300 airports to help reduce transmission. 💪☁️✅   You can read more here.

It’s hard being an entrepreneur at any time, but especially during a pandemic. CEOs have been receiving support from a not-entirely-unexpected source: other CEOs. 😎👏   Being in contact with each other has helped leaders make bold choices during a time of unprecedented change. Here’s some helpful advice to his peers from Todd McKinnon, Co-founder and CEO of Okta: “And just as you shouldn’t be afraid to rethink your goals, don’t shy away from bolstering your technology stack to power virtual business. Those who stay at a standstill awaiting a ‘return to normal’ risk missing out on critical technologies that can help your team stay innovative and keep your customers engaged. As a society, we’ve already vaulted five years forward in digital adoption, and we can continue to accelerate it further.” 🏄📈🙌  

If you can, check out the January 2021 NY Enterprise Tech Meetup with Todd McKinnon. He will share how he scaled from 1, 10 to 50 customers, diving into revenue, product, GTM, pricing, leadership and more. 🔥📆🏦  

The Changing Workplace

We’ve seen a lot of advice on how to improve the workplace by adopting the right tools or policies. For a change of pace, here’s an article from former Chipotle CEO Monty Moran on making your employees feel empowered. ✊🏋️💯   It might seem intuitive but it’s anything but easy. Memorably, Moran talks about making an effort to share what’s going on with everyone. He puts it this way: “When people are empowered, they feel like they are a critical part of the organization. They feel like an owner. At Squarefoot, founder and CEO Jonathan Wasserstrum holds a twice-weekly all-hands meeting where employees can ask any questions they want and discussion of the state of the business is not only encouraged, but expected. It is essential to treat your people like owners, so they will feel and act like owners.” 

According to Bill Gates, business travel may be a thing of the past. Gates told the New York Times’s Dealbook Conference: “My prediction would be that over 50% of business travel and over 30% of days in the office will go away.”  ✈️🔮   A drop in business travel could drastically impact the travel industry—Bank of America estimates that business travelers accounted for $334 billion of the 1.1 trillion in industry revenue in 2019. 👨‍⚖️💭   But I think the jury is still out on the long-term outlook. Microsoft executives project that business travel is likely to rebound, and this Wall Street Journal columnist estimates the drop to be much lower, between 19% -36%. 

All About Data

Curious what the numbers really say about retail spending? Here’s a taste. Online spending is still growing for one. 📈🔥🛍️   Data from Adobe found that consumers spent a whopping $34.4 billion during Cyber Week, which represents a 20.7% year-over-year (YoY) increase. To put it in perspective, the YoY increase from 2018 to 2019 was 13.4%. Bots are another undeniable trend — 66% of marketing insiders believe that AI interactions will take over customer interactions in the next 10 years. Finally, pandemic habits and the rise of Gen Z consumers show that incumbent brands can no longer rely on brand loyalty. 75% of consumers have tried new websites and brands during the pandemic, and 65% expect to integrate them into their post-COVID-19 lives. Other trends to look out for include contactless experiences, solidarity spending, and the rise and rise of health and wellness. 

Work from home is here to stay — but this doesn’t mean that there aren’t drawbacks to be addressed. 🏡👨‍💻🙊    A study by the BCG Henderson Institute found that strong ties represented 44% of communication pre-pandemic, but under a work from home regime they now constitute 54% of communication. Interaction with weak ties and new connections is down by more than 20% over that same time span. As a result, the average information worker communicates with 16.1 fewer people per week (21.7 from 37.8). As workers focus more on communications that are immediately useful, they spend less time strengthening weak ties and growing their networks.

Chart: BCG Henderson Institute

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Patrick Donegan

Managing Director

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