How Argentina’s GLOBANT Uses Culture and Technology To Drive Transformation


The greatest delight running this series of interviews on Culture and Digital Transformation is the exposure to incredible organizations doing really smart work. Organizations that I may not have come across in the course of my daily work. Globant is a fantastic example of this. Founded in Argentina, Globant has been recognized by everyone from IDC to Fast Company and East Capital for their Innovative Products, Growth and Corporate Governance. What I was not prepared for is how deep their belief in Culture is. For the Globant Executive Team, Culture is not a “nice to have” but the entire backbone of their organization. I caught up with co-founder and CTO Guibert Englebienne and Sanja Licina who leads their Future of Organization’s Studio from their offices in beautiful Buenos Aires.

HB: Overjoyed to be chatting with you both. I must admit I was unaware of Globant before we connected but your organization is very impressive and certainly has a fantastic track record and enviable client list. Can you tell my readers a little of your history?

GE: Sure. I sometimes forget that, in some regions, we’re not as well known even though we’ve been working with some fantastic clients for over a decade. In that time we’ve grown to almost seven thousand employees in 37 Globant centers across 12 countries. Of course deep roots in Latin America, where we’re seen as one of Argentina’s “unicorns” and, as you would expect, a growing and vibrant Asian footprint too.

We started 15 years with, as I joke, $5,000 and the blessing of a Buenos Aires’ bartender but since that time we’ve seen explosive growth and some great achievements. Google were one of our first key successes when we started working with them in 2006. That accolade has opened numerous doors for us and, touch-wood, explains why we’re running over 1,000 active projects for clients at any given time. We’ve been fortunate but, as any founder will tell you, that has required some real introspection since we started. What are we trying to build? What is the impact we want to have?



HB: I can just imagine. 15 years in the technology services space must feel like a lifetime when you consider how much has changed in that period.

GE: Early on I was fortunate to have a very profound conversation with an old friend and respected marketer here in Buenos Aires. He asked me what business did I think I was in. Perplexed, I told him I was obviously in the technology business. He laughed and told me the example of Kodak who thought they were in the film business but if they’d acted as if they were in the memories business, their end might not have happened. One other example that really struck me was the film director who said his job was to transport his audience to a magical place and back safely to their seats at the end of the movie. It genuinely caused me to think long and hard about what business I wanted Globant to be in – and it wasn’t just going to be the technology business.

Finally it came to me. Globant was in the fitness business or, more specifically, Globant was in the personal training business.

HB: Excuse me, Globant is in the Personal Training business? You’re definitely going to have to give me some details on that.

GE: (Laughs) That’s exactly the reaction I got from my fellow Globant executives. Let me explain.

We’re helping our clients build the stamina and the energy to fight the strongest (business) challenge they’ve ever faced which is digitally transforming their business. Our job is to help them get ready for that. To build their strength, their flexibility, their mental attitude. We’re just doing it to their company.

That description also helps us avoid the rather unfortunate phrase – Digital Transformation – which I think is wrong. What we’re talking about is a complete rewiring of the organization. Look at it this way. 25 years ago if you were considering entering into Retail, you’d look at WalMart and try to see how you’d compete against them. Today your reference is Amazon and that stretches beyond Retail. You’re now considering how you win, or defend, against an organization with roots in Retail, Film, Mobility, Distributed Web Services, Space Exploration and even Media with Bezos’ ownership of the Washington Post.

That needs an entirely different way of tackling the problem that goes beyond Transformation.

HB: I can see how the complexity of competition has changed. So, as a personal trainer to organizations, what is Globant’s perspective on how to win?

SL: We believe there are four critical components that an organization of the future needs to master. In many ways these four have come from our own internal experiments within our company and now, as part of the Future of Organization’s Studio, we’re trying to help companies navigate.

Culture is #1. The critical need for every employee to feel valued, to have a voice and be able to bring their best ideas and energy forward every day. Empowerment is part of it but it’s about channeling and reinforcing that energy.

Execution is #2. An organization has to deliver. Build and ship products. Get stuff done and into the hands of customers and partners. Simple as that.

Technology is #3. Surprising because we’re a technology company, but technology to us is the way that organizations reduce siloes, get ideas to market faster, cheaper, with less friction and internal stress. We never lead our engagements jumping straight to the technology.

Reinvention is the 4th Pillar and often the one very few organizations spend much time in.

At Globant that means thinking about what is going to disrupt the business and proactively building competencies to reduce that disruption. Or how to turn it into an advantage by absorbing it into the company itself. These days that could be game theory, AI, Big Data, Social Commerce or any other of the myriad emerging trends out there.

Within Future of Organizations, we’re actually trying to see if we can make organizations think and act like a living organism than a set of departments and divisions.

HB: I’ve heard a lot about organizations as living organisms. How is this informing what Globant is creating for their clients?

GE: To us, many organizations suffer from severe misalignments which keeps holding them back. Many of those are Cultural in nature, which is why Culture is the #1 Pillar in our view. Misalignment between those setting Strategy at the top and those tasked to execute it at the bottom. Misaligned objectives which creates siloes, hampers true collaboration and means the organization can’t learn. Just think how much personal information we’ve given Banks, Airlines, Car companies, Hotels and yet they still seem unable to do anything meaningful with it.


We’ve seen organizations build transactional systems like SAP/ERP. Then build collaborative systems like Slack, gmail but what’s been missing is systems built on human behaviours and human qualities like creativity and empathy.

Systems that are more like amniotic fluid than anything we use in organizations today. Think of them as systems that surround, nurture, feed, shelter and provide growth for the people inside an organization. Those would be truly transformative.

This began as an experiment internally here at Globant and we’re poised to release it to other organizations that want to build something similar.

HB: I love the idea of Cultures that are like an amniotic fluid nurturing employees but how does that happen within Globant. What are these experiments and what have you learnt?

GE: Early on we realized the futile idea of putting “company values” posters around our buildings and calling that our Culture. We also were watching an explosive growth in the number of Globant employees and offices and seeing, first hand, what happens to when you grow from 100 to 1000. Initially you know everyone’s name, hobbies, wives and favourite football teams but then you’re getting in an elevator and you know one person in ten. That start-up connection, camaraderie and intimacy gets lost quickly.

We wanted to see if we could build something that kept that connection alive but, because we’re data geeks too, could give us meaningful information on our people and our culture.


So we built a number of mobile applications that we’re proud to have launched recently under our StarMeUpOS platform. In truth they began as a number of various applications to address elements like social reputation, social recognition and connectivity. So unlike those old school posters, we wanted Culture tools to be inherently mobile so we could leverage all the great things mobile tech has brought us. Accessibility, ubiquity because all our employees would have it, instantaneous reaction and participation. All those classic “micro moments”. But the results we saw internally – and what we’ve subsequently learnt – were remarkable.

We immediately saw that we could map the levels of integration and collaboration between teams, projects and even individuals across all our offices. How well a new office was integrating with existing offices. It helped us identify people (culture carriers?) who were the unsung and invisible heroes who connected teams and drove integration of projects. It was fascinating. In fact it was so helpful identifying these integration people it helped us know the perfect team to assist one of our new offices who were struggling to integrate with their regional partners. Without the data I can guarantee we would, like most other companies, have sent people based on their job titles. These applications helped us send people with the right skills, not just the right job titles, to get it done right.

HB: That’s an incredible example, particularly because many organizations realize that the real source of smarts in their buildings aren’t always the most senior, most tenured. But identifying these “hidden” assets is incredibly hard.

SL: Yes, that’s why we were focused on trying to build systems – that amniotic fluid – which could provide immediacy because we knew immediacy often has the most impact with people. Be it recognition, or participation, immediacy is critical. The mobile technology was the mechanism but it had to be about creating more humanity in how our people worked together.

Ultimately, without humanity we believe organizations of the future will fail. We see participation building intrapreneurship and that builds competitiveness. That’s what organizations are desperately looking for.

HB: That level of immediacy and transparency sounds fantastic but doesn’t that require a rather unique organization? An organization – or set of leaders – that aren’t intimidated or worried by that openness.

GE: You’re probably right but we think that kind of openness is the only way organizations of the future are going to have to think and act. Hierarchies may have worked in the last century but they’re arcane and outdated for how people want to work today – and how organizations need to structure themselves.

That means leadership that doesn’t rely on shouting orders to junior people but leaders who see their responsibility as one of creating conditions for success. Conditions where teams can self-organize and where employees are employed around finding solutions rather than being allocated according to rigid hierarchies.

And where those conditions are generating droves of data so the organization can observe, can learn and can adapt. That’s the only way anyone can hope to be successful. If they’re unable to be fluid, then they’ll lose to the competitor who is.

HB: This discussion of an amniotic, fluid and intelligent organism has really been fascinating. I always ask what advice do you give new Globant clients who approach you to discuss Digital Transformation?

GE: We’ve covered much of it already but I always come back to mindset and to Culture. Is your mindset considering the impact at each and every level of your organization of this transformation? Have you got a way of selling the dream of your transformation but also a way to ensuring the dream is actually taking root and happening. That’s the Culture piece. What’s your ability to know or map your Culture? Can you see where resistance is forming or change is accelerating? Which teams are actually transforming or which need help and more guidance? You can’t transform without having that in place.

Of course, it certainly helps if you know what business you’re in too. (Laughs)

HB: Phenomenal chat guys. To find a technology company – sorry Fitness company – so driven by Culture is absolutely fantastic. Thank you so much.

EB/SL : Our pleasure. Gracias y tenga cuidado Hilton.


I’ve just released my 2nd eBook on the Intersection of Culture and Digital Transformation. It includes a variety of interviews with business leaders in Telecommunications, Beverages, Packaged Goods, Healthcare and Professional Services. Download it for free from

How Do You Balance A Culture & Business Transformation?


My wife loves Mark Walhberg.

I mean she has a very serious crush on the former Markey Mark and his world-class abs. Which might explain why we were watching one of his movies – “Shooter” – for the 4th time recently. As added context, I wasn’t closing the gap on “Mr 8-pack abs” by slurping my way through a pint of Ben&Jerry’s either.

In one pivotal scene Walhberg is coaching Michael Pena on the discipline and focus needed to be a sniper when he utters the immortal Zen sniper line:

“Slow is smooth and smooth is fast”

I’ve always loved the weird mental hurdles and conflicts inherent in that saying because it perfectly articulates what I’ve seen and heard repeatedly in the Culture and Digital Transformation interviews I’ve conducted.

An organizational imperative – nay impatience – to transform at the speed of the market. Or at the speed of a market driven by 90-day analyst calls and leadership tenure of less than 3 years.

Balanced with a reality that Culture – the People part, not the Pixels part – doesn’t change with nearly that speed or with that certainty.

This reality can be a source of significant frustration for many executives and may explain why many would prefer to ignore the Culture piece entirely or seek quick cosmetic fixes that do more to impact “climate” than they do to actually transform Culture. This excellent piece from Culture University on Climate is a great read.

Addressing climate is not the same as transforming Culture.

Among many of the excellent sayings Culture expert Edgar Schein posits is this one – “Culture arises through shared experiences of success” – with the words I’ve underlined a critical component.

Shared experiences is important because it highlights that more than one individual, one team, one division must be involved if it can be considered a cultural transformation. Sure it must start somewhere and blossom but it can only be considered a transformation if it spreads and takes root across an organization.

Success is critical too. And, as any Change Management expert will attest, that often means false starts and mis-steps occur before success genuinely happens. Success means you need to have a clear definition of what success means for your Transformation. It also requires the acuity to measure and track success. Finally success needs to be sustained – particularly because many Culture Transformations go through the very real employee skepticism of “here we go again…” and “Oh boy, another Management bright shiny fad is working its way down the pipe…” Moving from your current Culture to your desired Culture requires your colleagues to see that the behaviours that epitomize “success” are actually consistent and not just episodic or a flash in the pan.

So what can impatient executive do to transform their Culture at something approaching the velocity of their Digital Transformation?

#1, acknowledge that you’ll need to address your Culture at some point and that human beings do adapt and change slower than the speed with which you can upgrade your servers or switch to a cloud-based SAAS model.

Brian Fetherstonhaugh summed it up beautifully in one interview when he said “Culture is a deliberate, relentless, often expensive and painful set of choices you make every single day.”

#2, do some type of Culture Audit or Culture diagnostic to truly understand what Culture you currently have. That isn’t an Employee Engagement Survey (sorry guys) but a genuine Audit that has both qualitative and quantitative components. Your CIO isn’t going to transform your IT infrastructure and vendors without comprehensively auditing your current systems, why would you try to transform your people without knowing exactly where your Culture is today.

#3, accept that Leadership carries a disproportionate responsibility for the efficacy and velocity with which any change occurs. That means YOU are a key determinant. Saying one thing and doing another will doom a Culture Transformation faster than a lack of funding or a poor definition of success. Leadership style – are you building trust, transparency, openness?and Leadership commitment – are you in in for the long haul? Are you prepared to make the tough calls? – are critical and those can’t be delegated.

#4, have a realistic expectation of the speed that a full Culture Transformation will take. Factors like size, geographic spread, societal culture, industry vertical are all factors which can’t be dismissed – see #2 above – but even taking those into consideration, studies suggest it takes at least one organizational generation for Transformation to go from identification to implementation to adoption.

I was intrigued by this article by Barry Phegan on where he suggests an exponential relationship between the number of employees and the time required – all other factors being equal. 10 employees = 1 Year, 100 Employees = 2 Years, 1,000 employees = 3 Years…and so on. If you’ve got any evidence to support or refute Barry’s assertion, I’d love to hear about it.

That time scale shouldn’t curtail your desire in the slightest and shouldn’t prevent you from starting either.

Perhaps the most important step to ask yourself is one that Edgar Schein raises in many of his books – Why do you believe you need to transform your existing Culture in the first place?

While Digital Transformation is the business imperative de jour, I sometimes question how many organizations are doing it because it is genuinely critical to their survival or because everybody else seems to be doing it and they can’t be seen not do it.

Knowing the complexities of a Culture Transformation, and the potential margin for error, perhaps the best start is to repeat after me…

Slow is smooth, smooth is fast

Then, in time you can graduate to

It’s such a good vibration

 It’s such a sweet sensation

 It’s such a good vibration

 It’s such a sweet sensation**

I’ve just released my 2nd eBook on the Intersection of Culture and Digital Transformation. It includes a variety of interviews with business leaders in Telecommunications, Beverages, Packaged Goods, Healthcare and Professional Services. Download it for free from

** – lyrics from “Good Vibrations” by Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch. Now this is what my wife really crushes on.

CULTURE & DIGITAL TRANSFORMATION – Creating the Modern Marketing Organization and Culture at Ogilvy


As a proud Ogilvy alumni, it was a rare treat to interview the Chairman and CEO of OgilvyOne Brian Fetherstonhaugh for this series on Culture and Digital Transformation. As one of the most storied communication agency networks globally, Ogilvy is truly an iconic organization. Founder David Ogilvy’s poignant and timeless missives on organizational imperatives (“We sell or else”) and culture (“Hire people bigger than yourself and we become a company of giants”) are legendary and still appear daily in LinkedIn feeds.

Brian has worked on the global stage with Ogilvy for over 20 years and now leads a global team of over 5,000 in 40 countries. Through his work with an enviable roster of Fortune 100 clients that includes IBM, American Express, Nestle and Unilever, Brian has a unique purview on how all organizations – and global  agencies – are attempting to digitally transform and manage their cultures.

On the day we spoke, Brian was sponsoring a storytelling training course for a team of Ogilvy data analysts.

HB: Brian, appreciate you taking time from the training you’re sponsoring. Storytelling and data analysts? That’s an unusual mix isn’t it?

BF: No, not really. Training has always been such a core part of the Ogilvy culture across the board. And, data is so foundational to modern marketing that if our analysts can find – and tell – the stories in the data, the more likely we’ll be able to create compelling work for our clients.

HB: You’ve spent much of your career at Ogilvy. Can you tell me a bit about that journey and what is your current mandate within the company?

BF: I started at P&G in Canada before moving over to Ogilvy&Mather and becoming the CEO for Canada. Shortly after we won the IBM business, I moved to New York to lead that account globally as they were going through their “e-business” transformation. Subsequently I’ve led Ogilvy’s Brand Council which is the group responsible for our top 20 clients globally. In 2005 I was appointed to run OgilvyOne the fast-growing digital and data division within our firm.. I’m an advisor to a number of start-ups here in the US and in Canada and am actively involved lecturing at universities across the country. My passion for talent, people and career growth lead me to publish “The Long View” in 2016 which, I’m proud to say, was well-received. So, yes, I have been at Ogilvy for much of my career but the organization has provided me numerous diverse and challenging opportunities along the way. From running a country, to running a massive piece of business to leading a global division. It has been amazing.


HB: You have a unique purview. Leading a transformation of your own organization but also having a line of sight into the transformations happening within your clients. What insights has that given you into Digital Transformation?

BF: Digital Transformation simply means putting digital at the center of the organization’s business model and it cascades from there. How the organization operates, how it connects to customers, partners and employees and how it looks for growth all comes from putting digital thinking in the center.

When I joined OgilvyOne it was still largely focused on direct mail. Digital was less than 10%. In a decade digital is now 100% of how we think, operate and grow. That journey has impacted all facets of our organizations. From our business ambition to the clients we seek and the relationships we build, to the investments in people and capabilities we make. I’m proud to say we grew organically every year, not through acquisitions, and also within the parameters of a disciplined network structure like WPP. Overall our own transformation has been quite remarkable. Recently Gartner put Ogilvy in their Leader Quadrant of digital agencies globally. That was a huge validation of our journey.

But it certainly wasn’t easy and we definitely learned a lot along the way.

Early on we brought in all sorts of new people with great new ideas but many of them didn’t bond with our Ogilvy culture so we had huge attrition.

Transformation cannot mean flushing your existing culture and we learned that important lesson very early on.

You have to find people who have the new thinking but critically who also embrace your culture. That’s paramount.

Not surprisingly we place a tremendous amount of emphasis on both the emotional and the functional onboarding for people into our organization. The functional stuff like who pays my expenses and who is the lead on this business but the emotional components – the Ogilvy ethos – is even more important. Bonding the employee experience to the culture is critical. If you don’t get that part right, it can be enormously disruptive, even destructive.

HB: Ogilvy has always had a strongly codified culture and set of values. Can you talk about some of those and how they’ve changed through this transformation?

BF: (laughs) Well we’ve the unique benefit of having a Founder culture where the founder was an incredible copywriter. Many of David Ogilvy’s original ideas for this agency are as applicable for a digital first world as they were when the agency started. So the values may not have changed but we’ve certainly spent time evolving the associated behaviours.

HB: Can you give me some examples?

BF: Some guide the way our people conduct themselves but, as we’re in the professional services business, it has to impact the clients we consult to as well.

“Ladies and Gentlemen with Brains” and “1st Class Business in a 1st Class Way” are definitely attitudinal. The classic Ogilvy mantra “We Sell or Else” explicitly states the impact we have to have for our clients and ourselves. These are all about a civility within our culture but certainly an emphasis on discipline, professionalism and accountability.

One of the other lessons we learned in our transformation is that we’d become a little too theoretical and academic in how we conducted ourselves. That lead us to reimagine the behaviours we wanted from the marketers we have here. Those include attributes like “Trusted advisor” – do clients trust that you have their best interests at heart in the decisions you make and advice you give? – “Talent magnet” – do talented people want to work with and for you? – “Modern marketer” – do you approach a client problem with no preconceived ideas about the solution and do you have a bias for speed and are outcome-focused? Others like “Do you have Innovation and Growth genes” are quintessentially digital behaviours. This is all about moving from a “Me to We” and collaborative set of behaviours.

In addition to the culture components, we’ve also been looking at our operating model too.

We’ve collapsed our Ogilvy infrastructure into a single P&L from the 1100 we had previously and instituted a single unified operating process for everything from strategic planning to briefing. We’ve also begun a systematic consolidation of our leadership and how we train our top 200 leaders. All of these initiatives have been a massive investment of resources over the past 18 months but, acting in concert, they are the core of Ogilvy’s transformation.

HB: That’s a significant set of initiatives. Is the Ogilvy transformation complete? What are your signs of success?

BF: Not at all but we certainly believe we are well on our way. We certainly have more work to do in our onboarding and parts of the employee experience but we’ve come a long way since those early days a decade ago.

The Gartner recognition was great but I consider our new North American leadership structure the most visible sign of the transformation – and our unique culture.

When we collapsed our P&L’s we also removed our previous leadership structure by removing office CEO’s and business unit CEO’s. To replace that structure, we created a cadre of eight client team leaders. That meant evaluating over 200 of our top leaders to determine the best eight. After a rigorous process – including rounds of discussion and voting – we emerged with eight new leaders. Here’s the part that really signals our culture. 50% of those leaders were female. Many came from offices outside the traditional ones like New York, Chicago, LA. And these leaders also came from disciplines and specialties beyond the classic advertising domains.

The composition of these eight leaders – and the remarkable talent they possess – is the truest testimony to our transformation.

HB: That’s incredible. Are there Digital Transformation examples from your Ogilvy clients that you consider particularly powerful and compelling?

BF: Nestle has done a nice job transforming a very traditional business for the digital world.  One of the smart moves they made was to create Digital Acceleration Teams  recruiting a set of rising stars from across the entire Nestle organization and from a cross-section of roles and functions. They were brought to Nestle’s HQ in Vevey Switzerland for an intense digital training before going back into rotation within Nestle. Nestle refers to them having a course of “digital vitamins” but its more profound than that. You’re creating a group of exceptional talent – that is culturally bonded to your organization – and you’re creating deep bonds between them that they then propagate throughout Nestle when they return. It’s really smart and a great way to proliferate and infuse the organization with a digital ethos.

HB: Excellent example. And, on its face, a relatively simple exercise. Why then, do you think that so many organizations fail to invest in the Culture part of the Transformation or don’t seem to believe it is important?

BF: I don’t think that any executive doesn’t believe Culture is important but, honestly, it’s a whole lot tougher to tackle that a software or technology implementation.

Culture is a deliberate, relentless, often expensive and painful set of choices you make every single day.

There is no “one and done” because every single day you’re onboarding new folks, course correcting someone, rescuing or recalibrating someone. If my own personal experience is anything to go by, it is also often done in the room face-to-face and nose-to-nose. That’s not for the feint of heart. Ultimately that comes down to relentless repetition and consistency, walking the talk and modeling the behaviour. Its grueling. But you can’t escape it if you want to do it right.

Now consider what happens when you’re trying to transform.

Often you’re having to fire your friends. You’re having to let people go because their skills are either no longer relevant or they haven’t the desire to change or improve their skills. That’s a really hard – and emotional – situation to face as a leader.

From my experience, for every dollar spent on a piece of technology an organization should expect to spend three or more dollars on change management and culture initiatives. Extrapolate across a global organization and you can appreciate the challenge for many executives.

One distinct advantage we have today is that measuring and tracking these elements is now possible. You can keep a finger on the pulse of your people, your clients, and the market. That’s invaluable because it means you can react and respond. At Ogilvy, we have a constant set of tracking in place with clients and employees to gauge our performance. We may not always like what our employees tell us but we definitely place a huge emphasis on tracking and listening to what they’re telling us.

HB: Considering you’ve now been on this transformation and culture journey for more than a decade, what advice do you give fellow executives that are either starting out or immersed in the weeds right now?

BF: I’ve alluded to some of it earlier. Bringing in new people for new ideas and thinking is key but not vetting them for cultural fit can be a disaster and really set you back. Letting your Digital Transformation agenda quickly dissolve into purely a “technology” project is another common mistake. That $1-to-$3 investment I mentioned earlier feels right to me from what I’ve seen and discussed with other leaders. That requires setting Transformation as a “whole organization” agenda versus a “technology” initiative.

The other part – and I don’t have a neatly packaged answer for it – is who owns the Digital Transformation accountability. Yes, the CEO has to visibly endorse and support it but who actually pushes it through. Does it require a Transformation Czar? I certainly believe it requires a small recipe of C-suite executives – from CTO, CHRO, CMO etc – but there definitely has to be a 1st amongst equals mentality to drive it to a successful completion. Who that “1st” is may differ by organization but I do believe that’s often overlooked.

HB: This has been a fascinating chat Brian. Any final thoughts before I let you get back to your storytelling data analysts?

BF: I am a huge believer in transformation, so thank you for including me in the conversation. In some ways I consider myself very fortunate. Each morning I wake up and see two Ogilvy quotes – “We Sell or Else” and “We are a Teaching Hospital”. As a leader that gives me a pretty clear description of the job I have to do.


This post is part of an ongoing series exploring the intersection of Culture and Digital Transformation – and the challenges organizations face when those two forces meet. This challenge will shape the business agenda for the next decade so we all have a lot to learn. 

If you’d like to share your story, please DM me on Twitter @ZimHilton or reach out via LinkedIn.

Want to find out how Starbucks, Coca-Cola, L’Oreal and other organizations are tackling the intersection of Digital Transformation & Culture? 

Download the rest of the series in a special FREE eBook available here:


How Messaging Can Help Align Customer Experience and Employee Experience

As the market for customers – and for talent – becomes more competitive it becomes critical that businesses continue to build a cogent and consistent perception of their brand in the market.

There is no difference between a prospect and a prospective employee.

Too often businesses make the mistake of separating the two audiences into two distinct groups. The issue with that silo-ed “distinct group” mentality is, at best, message inconsistency or, at worst, messaging that confuses both groups.

“What does this company really stand for?” is not the reaction any business wants from a prospective customer.

“I’m not sure I understand why I would join that company?” is not the reaction a business wants from top-notch prospective talent.

Messaging consistency is a critical point of alignment for any organization but, in particular, organizations in the service sector need to pay particular attention to this consistency. At a strategic level any service organization’s ability to create – and deliver – a consistent customer experience requires having the right motivated and aligned talent inside the firm.

That alignment of customer experience and employee experience happens at many levels. But it starts with getting the fundamentals right – like consistent messaging and consistent communications.

Customer Experience is Employee Experience

Customer Experience has rapidly become one of the hottest topics and management imperatives of the past decade. As customers have demanded faster, better and more personalized interactions with brands and businesses, creating a memorable customer experience has become a critical requirement.

Depending on the category – and the specific situation the customer faces – that customer experience can span the spectrum from a high-touch “surprise and delight” moment of reward to a very low-touch efficient but unobtrusive answer to a burning question like “what does my insurance policy cover?” or “can I change my seat on this flight?”

Brands from the “Services” sector, like hotels, airlines and financial services, need to be particularly sensitive and very adept at delivering these experiences.

Delivering a generic “reward” can irk a high-value customer and make them question their brand loyalty.

Equally, making the answering of a simple question anything but simple can frustrate a long-term customer and make them look for alternate service providers.

Business leaders understand the critical nature of getting their Customer Experience right and appropriately tuned for the needs of customers in their sector. With customer acquisition – and customer retention – hanging in the balance, it is not something any organization can afford to get wrong.

However, what business leaders aren’t always as finely attuned to is the inextricable link between Customer Experience and Employee Experience.

Even though we live in a world where many of our experiences are delivered directly through a mobile device and many customers actively seek out self-service options that they can control, it is an organization’s employees that carry the burden of delivering the optimal customer experience customers demand.

And as our significant investment in marketing and advertising looks to convince new prospects, and remind existing customers, that our service is better, faster, safer, more personalized, more efficient or more effective, we increase the expectation amongst those audiences.

And increase the burden on our employees to get it right every time.

It is no coincidence that Southwest and United Airlines are considered polar opposites of the customer experience spectrum. The former has an enviable reputation for delivering a personalized, enthusiastic and fun experience for all travellers. Three words that are seldom used to describe North American air travel in 2017. Despite being a low-cost airline, Southwest regularly posts NPS (Net Promoter Scores) results that dwarf their larger, full-service competitors and highlights that their financial success can be directly attributed to the experience they deliver. United, in stark contrast, has become the butt of internet memes and faces several federal investigations for a slew of complaints – and a very public passenger “assault” – resulting from the poor experience delivered by their gate personnel and flight staff.

For an organization whose slogan is “Fly The Friendly Skies” the irony and inaccuracy of that line is poignant. But, and this is the critical take-away, the disconnect between the experience promoted in United’s advertising and the actual experience delivered by United’s employees couldn’t be further apart.

The potential damage to a business’ reputation and credibility when expectation and delivery aren’t perfectly aligned cannot be under-estimated. Aligning customer experience and employee experience is the business imperative that all leaders should be focusing on to ensure that alignment happens.

What’s Employee Experience Anyway?

Employee Experience is the sum of the total experience a person has with an organization. We deliberately say “person” versus “employee” because the employee experience begins way before they ever sign a contract to join your organization and can continue way after they leave your organization and become an alumni.

A well-constructed employee experience ensures that a cogent – and consistent – experience is delivered at all these typical stages in an employee journey.

Talent Need Definition

Talent Sourcing and Recruiting


Contract Negotiation

Onboarding and Training

Promotion (or Review)

Mentoring or Coaching



Alumni Relations

With the same rigour that organizations put into identifying and addressing critical “moments of truth” in a customer journey, the same rigour and attention needs to be placed in the employee experience and employee journey. Just like the loss of credibility United faces in the market today, any employer brand that advertises how important its people are or how caring their culture is had better ensure that they’re prepared to deliver on just that.

And for any employer brand leader that believes they can get away with a poor – or even worse, disingenuous – employee experience should spend time looking at employee reviews on websites like Glassdoor or LinkedIn to see just how public (and scathing) poorly treated employees can be in their derision.

 Why is Employee Experience So Important?

If you believe that your employees carry the responsibility for delivering an award winning and competitively differentiated customer experience, there can be no more critical business requirement than ensuring the people you attract, hire and retain are up for the task.

Do they understand what your organization is trying to achieve?

Do they have the strategic context for the decisions that are made around them? This is a foundational part of building a cogent Culture, a topic for another post.

Do they understand what differentiates your organization from the competition? In low-involvement or commoditized sectors, service is often the only real differentiator you have.

Are they motivated by what your company is trying to do and how it is differentiated?

Do they have clarity on how they can individually – and consistently – contribute to achieving those goals and reinforcing that differentiation?

Can they accurately describe the behaviours and attitudes expected of them while they’re employees of your organization?

Can they self-manage their own behaviours to ensure they’re acting in an organizational appropriate manner?

Can they model the behaviours and attitudes required by the organization? Are they “walking the talk”?

If properly constructed, each stage of the employee experience offers a unique opportunity to communicate, reinforce, discuss and, if required, modify any misalignment between the individual and the organization. As the list above highlights, different moments within the overall employee experience provide the perfect environment to get that alignment.

Organizations with strong cultures are relentless in ensuring that there is an alignment between the values and behaviours of their employees and the values (and behaviours) of the organization itself.

As Issy Sharpe, founder of the Four Seasons an organization famed for the exceptional service delivered by each and every one of their staff, famously said:

“We hire for attitude. We want people who like other people and are, therefore, more motivated to serve them. Competence we can teach. Attitude is ingrained.”

Your Employee Experience is the way to ensure that, from the very beginning of your search for the best talent in the market, you attract people with an attitude that reflects your organizations.

The Role Of Communications In Employee Experience

The journey really does begin with communications. Communications that are consistent between prospects and prospective employees.

Virgin is an oft-used example of an organization that gets this communication consistency right. Regardless of the distinct division – Virgin Hospitality, Virgin Mobile, Virgin Orbit or the myriad of other subsidiaries – the unique and distinct language, tone and quirky Virgin humour is always there.

As these examples show, there is a distinct way that Virgin reaches out to prospective employees – whether that is to be a Chef in Chicago, a space cadet engineer in Florida, a salesperson for their mobile division in New York or in their Hospitality division.

Virgin Orbit

Virgin Mobile

Virgin Hospitality

Virgin Hotels

The amazing part of these four examples is that they were likely written by different divisions, by different people, in different locations, for different roles.

Yet the Virgin point-of-view, the critical Virgin attitude to “teamwork”, “service excellence” and “customer excellence” is unambiguous and explicit.

Candidates applying for these roles have a very clear sense of what Virgin believes are key attitudes to “win” inside the Virgin organization. The experience and skills required are obviously different for each role but the Virgin attitude is not open to debate or conjecture.

This is the brand consistency that aligns customer experience and employee experience.

And it starts with communications.

And the most famous service brand on the planet?

Well here’s how Zappos communicates the ethos and attitude of the company and the hiring notices for various roles in their Las Vegas headquarters.

Zappos ethos

Senior Site Reliability Engineer (whatever that is)

Senior UX Developer

Paralegal Assistant

Zappos Recruiter

For an organization that prides itself on the distinctly quirky attitude of their employees, Zappos’ recruitment efforts ensure that, again, that attitude is explicit and unambiguous regardless of the role.

Where to begin?

The journey really does begin with communications. But that requires an organization to acknowledge the undeniable – and inextricable – link between employee experience and customer experience.

Consistency, as in any credible brand building exercise, must be a critical filter.

Are we saying the same thing to all our constituents? Are we communicating consistently to our prospects and prospective employees?

That is how the strongest businesses attract the strongest talent.

That is how the strongest businesses become the strongest brands.

What say you Dear Reader? Am I over-stating the critical requirement for Comms? Weigh in on the comments section below.

Creating A Business Of Impact and Empathy at Shaw Communications


Shaw Communications is one of Canada’s largest Telcos. The Calgary-based provider delivers provides telephone, Internet, cable and satellite video and wireless services across Canada and, with their 2016 acquisition of Wind Mobile recently rebranded to Freedom Mobile, has begun to converge their network to offer seamless connectivity in and outside of customers’ homes. Shaw was founded by JR Shaw in 1966 and, to this day, the Shaw family remain active owners and operators of the business with Brad Shaw the current CEO of the organization. 

I had the opportunity to sit down with Jim Little, Shaw’s EVP, Chief Marketing & Culture Officer, Dan Markou, SVP, People & Culture and Manoj Jasra, Director, Digital & Ecommerce to discuss how an organization in one of the toughest competitive business sectors imaginable is able to execute a digital transformation and still nurture a much-admired culture.

HB: Thank you all for sitting down with me today. Judging by your titles alone, you really do cover the key parts of the Digital Transformation agenda at Shaw. Can you tell me a little about yourself and your mandate?

JL: I’ve been CMO at Shaw for about 5 years now. Prior to that I’ve held senior marketing roles within the Financial Services and Aviation sector as well as time within the Omnicom Group. In the last year, our role has expanded considerably to now include responsibility for Culture, as well as Marketing, which is a phenomenal alignment to drive the type of Digital Transformation we’ve undertaken here at Shaw.

DM: I’ve been at Shaw for over 10 years during which time I’ve held a number of senior HR roles across several of our operations and prior to Shaw, worked in different industries including aerospace and consumer packaged goods. Like Jim, my role has also expanded considerably in the last year beyond the traditional domain of HR. It now also includes internal communications and the environmental and physical component of our operations too. As we began creating a world-class employee experience, Jim and I realized that having these aspects of the employee experience within my mandate made tremendous sense.

MJ: I’m a relative newcomer to Shaw having come over from a similar role at Westjet, the Calgary airline, in the past 17 months. My title says digital and ecommerce but the reality is that I’m responsible for creating the optimal customer experience, whether that is sales, service or support. I paraphrase it as being where our customers want and need us to be, rather than forcing them to come to where we are. That means a pretty significant move to new tools, applications and platforms so we can truly deliver that great Shaw experience.

(l-r: Manoj Jasra, Director, Digital & Ecommerce , Dan Markou, SVP, People & Culture and Jim Little, Shaw’s EVP, Chief Marketing & Culture Officer)

HB: I’d love to level-set our readers if I can. Digital Transformation seems a dangerously amorphous term in the business media. How do you define Digital Transformation here at Shaw and how do characterize the objectives and outcomes of a Digital Transformation?

MJ: For Shaw Digital Transformation, at its simplest, really comes down to delivering the most efficient and effective service to our customers we can, using the digital channels and devices that are such a critical part of their lives today.

At the risk of sounding clichéd, it is about rigorously looking at our customer experience and looking at how to make it as efficient as we can. But that means investing in new technologies, new capabilities as well as new talent, new skills, that’s where it gets very very interesting.

DM: That’s the external promise. But it’s the internal changes required to make that a reality where the true Transformation takes place. Everybody says they have no issue with change, until change comes knocking on their door. It’s that requirement to break down silos, to operate and think differently that is the tough part in many ways. Building the internal mechanism of leadership, talent and capabilities is where Shaw is focusing much of our executive attention. The new business models and the new requirements those models have.

JL: Manoj’s point about efficiency and effectiveness is bang on. The ability to use our rich data to create a genuinely personalized experience – for each and every Shaw customer – is the ultimate expression of that. Personalized experiences, which we now have the ability to genuinely deliver, are what wins and retains customers. Just like your favourite restaurant where they know your preferences and your favourite menu items, it is that personalized experience that makes you come back.

HB: I certainly get the requirement of delivering genuine personalized experiences as an objective of a Digital Transformation, but is there more to it at Shaw?

JL: Absolutely. For us we look at the opportunity that lies between two extremes on a spectrum of experiences and transactions. In that way I think we have a very similar POV to companies like Starbucks and others.

Experiences will always be very people-intense and high touch where we try to build that relationship and connection with our customers. And we’ll invest accordingly. Conversely, transactions should be hyper-efficient, cost-effective and, ideally, low touch. If we can get the balance right on those two dials, through our operations, our people and our technology then we believe we’ll win. Getting the balance right is the tricky part.

 HB: That’s a great metaphor. So how is the journey unfolding at Shaw? How are you having to adapt the organization to deliver this?

DM: Actually this is where the Culture part and the new organizational structure has really come to life.

The merging of HR and Marketing reporting up into Jim has had a very profound affect. It really highlights our recognition that, if we’re to deliver on this fantastic customer experience, we have to be equally focused on attracting the right talent and having an equally fantastic employee experience. Customer experience and employee experience are two sides of the same coin.

Being able to achieve that really does need all the skills of Marketing and HR being co-joined in creating a consistent employee and customer experience.

JL: We completely agree. Having been a marketer my entire career but having the opportunity to work through our largest initiatives with Dan as a colleague inside the same team has been amazing.

We are seeing great logic for Marketing and HR, or Culture, being wrapped together because we’ve seen how powerful that combination is first-hand.

This really has been one of the most exciting and fun periods in my entire career.

MJ: I’ve certainly benefitted from this merging of HR and Marketing and its subsequent impact on the amazing story I can tell regarding our Shaw strategy and our new refined Values. Attracting talent to Calgary is a struggle unfortunately, but I’ve certainly seen more candidates, more top-notch talent, be interested in an opportunity at Shaw today. I do credit the efforts of this group to be able to build that story – and for that story to feel genuine to potential candidates.

HB: You’ve all referenced new, or evolved, Values here at Shaw. Can you talk to me about what those Values are and what motivated you to refine or update them?

JL: I would say we’ve always prided ourselves on having a very family-oriented, warm and paternal type culture. Which isn’t that surprising when you consider that our Founder JR Shaw is still very involved in the day-to-day of the organization. Our CEO Brad Shaw is absolutely the same, he is a very people-oriented leader. This has always been a place where we use the term “we” versus “I” because that’s just how JR and Brad are as people and as leaders.

Brad Shaw, CEO

We were great at delivering on empathy, just not as good on measuring individual impact. We’ve now become relentless in determining that balance of “Head” and “Heart”. Where we wouldn’t lose the caring aspects that made Shaw a very special place to work, but ensure that our employees had a very clear and unambiguous sense of what we expected in terms of contribution, of performance and of delivering on the business. That was a key part of the refresh of our Values.

DM: We travelled extensively across the country, interviewed hundreds of employees and asked them what made this organization unique. It took us more than 6 months but worth the time and effort. Why did they stay and why would they encourage people to join Shaw? It was illuminating because it highlighted some real opportunities to refine our Values. Both for the realities of a new millennial workforce but also to ensure that our people understood that contribution is an incredibly critical criteria. In the past we may have equated fairness with sameness, or treating everyone exactly equal, and that’s just not appropriate anymore. It also doesn’t bring out the best in our people, who expect to see a directly correlation between their contribution and their advancement at Shaw.

Jim mentioned that our customer service model is moving toward a highly personalized one. In the same way we’re retooling many of our processes and employee-related systems to be similarly personalized. We’re looking at investments in our employee experience and asking, can this investment deliver the same ROI to the business as an investment in our network or in some of the technology that Manoj keeps asking for (smile).

It’s no longer appropriate for HR to be a cost-center. It is this type of focus on “Head and Heart” that drove a revaluation of our Values and lead to us crafting a new set of Values we believe will move our people and our Culture forward. We are committed to making Shaw the place where the best people choose to work.

JL: A key realization for us has been the critical importance of our “First Leaders” and getting that key group galvanized around the new Values. And acknowledging the importance of their role in propagating those Values. At Shaw, our First Leaders are the Supervisor level and, as you’ve likely seen in countless reports and surveys, they really are where the Culture needs to be nurtured and modeled. People seldom leave because of a poor organization but they often leave because of a poor Boss or Supervisor. We’re paying particular attention to that part of our team because having them as proponents – and examples – of the new Values is paramount.

HB: Fantastic examples. You also have a unique advantage in that your Founder, the living embodiment of your Culture, is still so active in the business. Can you talk to me about the impact of having JR and now Brad here?

JL: It’s true, we’re very fortunate to have our Founder literally come in to the Calgary office whenever he is in town. He and our CEO Brad Shaw are very similar; they are remarkable operators but they’ve not lost that “owner” mentality. A lot of organizations talk about retaining a start-up culture despite their size or success. At Shaw I genuinely feel like that is the case.

JR Shaw, Founder of Shaw & Executive Chair

JR (Founder of Shaw) often says “I never dreamed this big” and I think he sincerely means that. There’s no doubt he’s as driven to succeed today as he was when he started Shaw.

That drive is something we absolutely benefit from. I can say that the Shaw mentality has been to never trade a quarter for a year, or trade a year for five. When we decide to move forward on something, we always take the long-view. That’s unique in my experience, particularly in this sector.

DM: Having been here over 10 years, I’ve seen the family truly exhibit that entrepreneurial drive countless times. They remain as genuinely excited about acquiring new customers today as I imagine they were in 1966 when JR started Shaw. They also have an amazing impact on the Shaw culture as we discussed earlier.

JR, and now Brad, really are the exemplars of our Values and that paternal, empathy we talked about earlier is very much their style and does come directly from how they act, how they interact with everyone at Shaw. We really are very fortunate to have them so active in building the fabric of our culture.

HB: Wow, that is quite remarkable. With all that you’ve gone through in the past 18 months – a re-org, defining a set of new Values, merging Marketing and HR – what lessons have you learnt? What advice do you have for your Digital Transformation peers?

JL: For us, it has been the confirmation that speed is more important than perfection. To put it another way, action modified always beats perfect inaction. That’s a very “digital” concept but, personally, that’s been the biggest realization. “Get it done” has always been a very Shaw attitude, its served us well in the past and, particularly, in the last 18 months.

MJ: For me, the critical lesson is the need for alignment on direction and what success looks like. Particularly when there are so many potential areas to re-tool or new investments you could make. I’ve been amazed at how little “trading” we do when we make a decision here. Historically I’ve seen situations where a decision is made and then everyone starts trading or subtly changing their position. You don’t see that at Shaw. When we align, we align and just get it done as Jim says. That purposeful action is critical for a Digital Transformation in my opinion.

DM: On the Culture part, I’d say I’ve been reminded about how critical consistency is to get people aligned to a change and to get behind it.

That means more than just consistent messaging, the easy part, but the consistency in how we act and behave. Consistent behaviour is always how Cultures are built, or evolved, so being relentless in that consistency has been crucial for us. Particular in this new chapter at Shaw.

JL: All great points, let me just say this has been one of the most intense and difficult periods in my career. But it has also been incredibly rewarding and, more importantly, incredibly fun. That really is classic Shaw.


This post is part of an ongoing series exploring the intersection of Culture and Digital Transformation – and the challenges organizations face when those two forces meet. This challenge will shape the business agenda for the next decade so we all have a lot to learn. 

If you’d like to share your story, please DM me on Twitter @ZimHilton or reach out via LinkedIn.

Want to find out how Starbucks, Coca-Cola, L’Oreal and other organizations are tackling the intersection of Digital Transformation & Culture? 

Download the rest of the series in a special FREE eBook available here:

Culture & Digital Transformation – Delivering Sweet Success at Nestle Canada

Nestlé is a global CPG behemoth. Straddling categories as diverse as ice cream, pizza, baby food and water, Nestlé owns some of the world’s most iconic brands like Kit Kat, Nespresso, Delissio and Gerber. Over its 150 year history the Swiss-based organization has had to evolve, grow and transform how it operates and how it markets to be successful. Today’s market of Amazon dominance, chat-bots and programmatic are merely the newest challenges for Nestlé marketers to tackle. Over a delicious Nespresso coffee, I had the opportunity to interview Nestlé Canada’s Digital Transformation and eCommerce Leader Lee Beech and ask how the organization is tackling this new raft of challenges.

(Note – this interview happened before Amazon’s acquisition of Whole Foods)

HB: Thanks Lee, delicious coffee by the way. You’re a Nestlé veteran. Tell me about your journey and your current role. 

LB: Yes it’s been almost 17 years working for Nestlé which, in this day and age, might seems unusual. In reality it’s been an ever evolving and changing role that has literally taken me all over the world. I started in the Nestlé UK office looking at how the organization should be tackling websites, moved to Germany then in 2005 came over to Canada. I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have had the opportunity to lead several regional initiatives across the Americas to my latest role which is, quite simply, to establish Nestlé Canada as a digital lead market globally. With an organization that has the scale and complexity of Nestlé there really is never a dull moment. That may explain why I’ve stayed as long as I have. Being tasked to make Nestlé Canada a leader in digital was just too good an opportunity to turn down.

HB: In other interviews I’ve talked about how abstract the phrase “Digital Transformation” is. Each organization has their own perception of the term and what the opportunity really is. What’s Nestlé Canada’s perspective? 

LB: Digital is absolutely changing many of our practices across Nestlé Canada. That’s inevitable as every part of the business is feeling the tide shift to digital. Just look at how our partners like WalMart, Loblaws are changing digitally. At Nestlé Canada we see a real opportunity for marketing to lead the transformation. Our VP of Communication and Marketing Excellence Tracy Cooke has been a very vocal proponent of this. After all, our role in Marketing is to anticipate the needs of both our consumers and customers and increasingly that means a digital solution.

In many ways we’re the tip of the spear which is why our Marketing team has undergone the most sizable change in terms of people, processes and practices. Internally we like to consider ourselves as the “flag bearers of opportunity” which is a great way to look at the important task we’ve been given.

HB: Can you give me some Canadian examples of what those changes have been?

LB: Sure, not surprisingly it’s the people we’ve brought into the organization that I consider the biggest change. We’ve done a number of really fantastic initiatives but none of those would’ve been possible if we hadn’t been able to attract new skills and new thinking into our team. Ex-Mondolez’s Bonin Bough has said repeatedly that he’s actually competing with Google, Adobe for the best talent. As a 150 year-old CPG company we face that very same challenge. We’ve recently started experimenting with running our own programmatic efforts which is new across the Nestlé company. We wouldn’t have been able to do that if we’d not been able to bring new blood into Nestlé – and if our Leadership and our HR partners weren’t willing to think in new ways too. The change has to start with new thinking and that often can be accelerated by bringing in new perspectives. If you’d asked me 5 years ago if we’d have a Digital Merchandiser and a Buy-side Programmatic Manager on staff here, I’d have shaken my head. Today those individuals are key parts of our digital efforts.

HB: Fair point. CPG’s often get hammered for being laggards rather than leaders in Digital. Is that a fair criticism and how is Nestlé Canada addressing that point-of-view?

LB: Access to the last mile has been a traditional issue CPG marketers have had to deal with. In the digital arena that often means the richest data – and most intriguing insights – sit within our partners. Data really is the holy grail that powers many of digital’s biggest opportunities.

At Nestlé Canada we’re definitely looking at new channels, new partnerships and new ideas to get more of that richer data and insight.

Our Nestlé Baby program is a real jewel in terms of a DTC CRM model that we’ve been successfully operating for several years locally. Globally our Nespresso brand has been doing some incredible things too to build a different, and more direct, relationship with our consumers. In recent months we’ve been aggressively trialing efforts with homegrown partners like Shopify and even looking at how we can use distribution channels like UberEats paired with our Delissio pizza brand to learn new things about the Canadian consumer.

Importantly, these aren’t about driving huge revenue but about learning vital lessons that we can bring back into the company. “What else is in their cart?”, “what promotions do they respond to in this environment?” “what patterns are we seeing?” All of these new pieces of information have a ripple effect through the company. They impact which products we consider refreshing or rebranding and make us consider elements like ratings and reviews which are foundational in many digital models.

HB: Working with UberEats and Shopify obviously aren’t initiatives driven from your headquarters in Switzerland. How much latitude are you given locally to drive a uniquely Canadian digital agenda?

LB: We’re given a fair bit of latitude locally but it would be a mistake for us not to leverage the enormous clout and knowledge that exists within the Nestlé ecosystem. Its always about balancing pragmatism – and a legitimate business requirement for effectiveness and efficiency – with local opportunity. Why negotiate with a local software vendor when Vevey (Nestlé’s HW on the banks of Lake Geneva) is looking to implement a similar global solution? However tackling certain initiatives locally –like Shopify and our content creation partnership with Flashstock – gives us the agility to get it out the door faster, learn faster and then make the necessary refinements.

HB: Nestlé is a 150-year old organization which suggests a very embedded culture and way of doing things. How has this digital push been impacted by that reality – and, vice versa, how has the culture had to adapt in order to be successful?

LB: No doubt. Trust is a very important value here at Nestlé. Considering our roots in food products we’ve always been very concerned about earning the trust of our consumers but Trust also means the way we earn and respect the trust of our colleagues too. We’ve absolutely had to become more comfortable with pushing ourselves outside the comfort zones we’ve operated in historically. That takes trust. Risk taking, no matter how you define it, requires high levels of confidence and trust in your colleagues and how they are approaching a problem. We take that very seriously.

That is also partially why we make very sure we’re sharing our initiatives within Nestlé Canada but also across the organization. In many ways its about having an attitude of Transparency and Visibility. If you operate through that lens it can have a profound impact. For example, it can be a real morale booster to see the progress and leadership we’re making but it also gives us a forum to foster conversations and debates with our colleagues. “This is what we’ve done and what we’ve learnt” can be a great means to build openness and trust. I would definitely say that we’ve not always shown or highlighted some of the remarkable work or projects we’re doing worldwide. I do see that changing and Nestlé putting more emphasis on building trust by showing these projects to a broader audience.

In some ways I also look at this notion of “anticipating customer’s needs” as another part of this value of Trust. If we keep focusing our efforts on better understanding what we’re doing well, where we can improve and make meaningful changes, we’ll keep earning our consumer’s trust.

It’s really a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy if we keep Trust at the core of how we operate.

HB: Working within Nestlé for the time you have must have taught you a number of valuable lessons. What lessons are you comfortable sharing with your peers and colleagues reading this interview?

LB: Some of the lessons I’ve had constantly reinforced are some of the most basic. “Demonstrate quick wins” is a classic but with all the confusion and hype around digital transformation, nothing builds confidence internally than a few quick wins. The other has to be “Don’t boil the ocean.” Again with some many choices and options out there it can be quite easy to succumb to trying to do it all. Don’t. Finally this isn’t a lesson as much as an attitude I suppose. “Be Stubborn About Pushing Forward” – when you’re trying to do something new setbacks are unfortunate and often inevitable but if you’re a little stubborn then you’ll keep moving forward. A bit of stubbornness can actually be a good thing from my experience.


This post is part of an ongoing series exploring the intersection of Culture and Digital Transformation – and the challenges organizations face when those two forces meet. This challenge will, I believe, shape the business agenda for the next decade so we all have a lot to learn. 

If you’d like to share your story, please DM me on Twitter @ZimHilton or reach out via LinkedIn.

Want to find out how Starbucks, Coca-Cola, L’Oreal and other organizations are tackling the intersection of Digital Transformation & Culture?

Download the rest of the series in a special FREE eBook available here:


Ten Culture Fallacies We Need To Stop (Part 1)


 How often has the term “culture” been mentioned in your business in the last 72 hours?

How often has Peter Drucker’s “Culture Eats Strategy” meme popped up in your LinkedIn feed?

I‘m willing to bet the answer is “frequently” or maybe even “too bloody often”

Coupled with terms like Digital Transformation, automation, the future of work, the gig economy and change management, culture is a white hot topic that business leaders can fervently debate and discuss but they can no longer dismiss.

Additionally, with an armada of armchair experts opining on the topic, it is amazing how certain perspectives and opinions have also entered the debate.

Some opinions are stated with unambiguous zealotry in channels like LinkedIn. Perhaps more worryingly, the very executives tasked with addressing the culture topic hold some very strong opinions too.

Here are ten that I’ve seen, discussed and debated.

1) You Can Magically Create A “Innovation”, “Entrepreneur”, “Risk” Culture

It has become increasingly popular for organizations to say they need to build an “innovation” culture or a “creativity” culture or some other bright shiny modifier of their culture.

Truth is you already have a culture.

From the moment your organization had more than one employee, it began to nurture a set of shared behaviours – a culture – that defined how you work together.

Ask yourself – Does your current environment allow people to fail fast without negative consequences? Do you embrace challenging new approaches to your business model from within – regardless of the tenure or rank of the source? What is your organization’s genuine attitude to “risk”?

If your answer was “no” to the examples above, then you’re not building an innovation, creative or entrepreneurial culture. It is the behaviours you support, the behaviours you tacitly or unconsciously reward that set the tone.

You might enjoy Rob Shelton’s article in strategy&business where he gives some great examples of the behaviours that do begin to build an innovation culture.

2) You Can Copy A Culture

With all the ink spilt on the hiring practices at Google, the office environment at Apple or the Holocracy experiment at Zappos, it can be enticing to propose that your organization execute the culture playbook of those organizations and similar fame and fortune will inevitably occur.


Culture is a shared experience built from internal adaptation to external circumstances. As such, each of these cultures has been uniquely built from surviving numerous threats to their survival over the years. Each culture has learnt which specific behaviours to keep, which one’s to modify or end, in order to succeed under the very special set of circumstances and market conditions in which they play.

Unless your organization is literally a carbon copy of their market sector, organizational history, leadership attitudes and experience, partner and supplier network, union and employee relationships, and the myriad of other factors that have created those organizations, you’re never going to copy their culture.

At best, look to these cultures for inspiration but build your own playbook.

3) Foosball tables, plaques on the wall and “Beercart Friday’s” Are Your Culture

Most organizations still fall prey to the misperception that their open plan collaboration pods, hot desking or remote working policy, funky new decor and the “people-2-foosball table density” are indicative of their open and transparent culture.

As Tim Kuppler of Culture University so eloquently states it, those are “climate” not Culture.

Renowned culture academic Edgar Schein goes further by describing the three layers of culture – Artifacts, Espoused Values and Basic Assumptions.

In Schein’s opinion, the layer that you can see, feel, hear, touch is the Artifact layer. But that’s not your Culture. That’s not the layer that governs how people in an organization consciously – and unconsciously – make decisions. That layer is the deepest layer, the layer unseen by outsiders and often unrecognized by employees themselves – the Basic Assumptions layer.

If you’re genuinely interested in understanding what drives an organizational culture, you need to look further than the gleaming artifacts you see when you go into an organization. You need to look deeper than the words and values enshrined on the walls or emblazoned on laminated cards. You need to get to the Basic Assumption level – where the forces that drive decision-making and attitudes in an organization reside. That’s the real Culture.

4) Employee Engagement Is An Objective

If you’re a culture practitioner – or just a human being with any degree of empathy – the annual Gallup Employee Engagement Report is a sobering read.

The most depressing stat being the 87% of employees globally who are not engaged in their role. That is a tremendous amount of intellect, energy and passion that isn’t being applied to an organization. Couple the 87% stat with findings that show that highly-engaged workforces outperform their peers by 147% in earnings and the critical importance of employee engagement becomes very stark.

Unfortunately this typically leads to a binary, knee-jerk “raise employee engagement at all costs” mantra.

Employee engagement is an outcome. It is not an objective.

Like the other classic business imperative – profit – it is an outcome from running your organization effectively and efficiently.

If you want to tackle low employee engagement, you need to intimately understand your current culture (which few organizations are prepared to do) and then tackle the issues you uncover. Only then can you begin to create a culture where employees are clear on their roles, clear on how they can contribute, clear on the behaviours the organization rewards. Then, and only then, will engagement improve.

5) Culture is a “Feel Good” Exercise With No Business Impact

Perhaps not an opinion stated openly anymore but there’s certainly skepticism from many executives that investment in culture ever translates directly to business improvement. Considering that culture deals with the messy, irrational, emotional realities of human beings, it perhaps isn’t surprising that some unenlightened folks may see this as a warm and fuzzy feel-good investment.

Consider for a moment if these elements have a direct business impact.

Turnover and Employee retention

Cost of hiring and training

Inter-departmental silos or open conflict

Employee absenteeism

Inability to change (or innovate) to changes in the market

Employees “just do their job” or “show little initiative”

These are symptoms of a culture that is not operating effectively. A culture where the artifacts, values and tacit assumptions (see point 3 above) are out of sync.

Now consider what your organization might look like if the exact inverse of these situations were the norm.

Personally, and this is a view held by many culture experts, I believe that culture is the source of competitive advantage in today’s economy. The ability to have your employees bring their full energy, intellect, passion, curiosity and desire to participate to your organization is the ultimate business impact.

I’ll be publishing the final 5 culture fallacies in another post next week.

Included in that post will be some of my favourite fallacies.

  • Why Peter Drucker’s culture meme should be banned.
  • Culture is HR’s responsibility
  • Culture is only for employees and has no external impact
  • It takes too long to change culture
  • Changing your culture is possible (always a polarizing one)



Here’s my question – what fallacies do you feel need to be put to bed immediately?

What are some of the culture fallacies or misperceptions you read about – or hear in your organization?

I’d love to get them out in the open and vanquished once and for all.

Leave your thoughts in the comments below Dear Reader.

Culture & Digital Transformation – All In A Day’s Work at Mark’s


Mark’s is a Canadian apparel retail giant that has been in operation since 1977. In 2002 the organization became part of Canada’s iconic Canadian Tire retail operation. Subsequently Canadian Tire has also acquired the Forzani Group, a sporting goods and apparel operation, and their popular brand Sport Chek. In 2012, Mark’s Work Wearhouse, as it was formerly known, went through a rebranding and became Mark’s. This rebrand signaled a strategic move to broaden their offering and to move into casual apparel, and not just industrial and work wear which is where the company had started. Mark’s has also been bolstering its Digital offering and eCommerce operation as well as their traditional bricks-and-mortar stores to drive growth.

I spoke with Johnny Russo, Associate Vice-President eCommerce and Digital Marketing, to understand where the organization was headed and what role Digital Transformation was playing.  

HB: Johnny, thanks for chatting to me today from Montreal. Before we talk about Mark’s, can you give me some personal background and explain your current role?

JR: Absolutely. My path to Mark’s, known as L’Équipeur in Quebec, wasn’t exactly a straight line. I graduated from Concordia University in Montreal and with a passion for Journalism and Sports and I was keen to pursue a career in that field. After writing for the Montreal Canadiens website – but being a huge New Jersey Devils fan, go figure – for a period, I then moved to Ottawa. My first job in Ottawa was not in Journalism, but in Marketing. After 2 years I returned to Montreal and had a couple of roles in manufacturing organizations, and stumbled into Digital Marketing. It was really at Pattison Sign Group that I got bitten by the digital bug and started to develop a real interest in the impact digital was playing in businesses at the time.

After a few years in Manufacturing, I spent some time with two start up companies. And that’s where my love of Digital Marketing and my love for tech collided. But I also loved fashion.

That digital and fashion interest led me to a number of digital-centric roles in the wildly fun and challenging industry of Retail – first at Buffalo Jeans, then at former global powerhouse Mexx, and then at Bentley – where eCommerce was obviously growing at break-neck speed.

I was sold. Digital Marketing meets technology meets eCommerce in Retail. I had found my calling.

eCommerce has gone through extreme growth in the past decade and I’ve been lucky to have been in the center of that. Almost two years ago I got into a conversation with Mark’s about their digital ambitions and how I could contribute to that. In January 2015, I packed my bags and headed out to Calgary to join Mark’s. It has been a wild ride and I’m enjoying every minute of it.

HB: What’s your mandate at Mark’s? What are you being held accountable to deliver digitally for the organization?

JR: My role is two-fold. One part is the obvious requirements to deliver growth for Mark’s. That means driving profitable gains through our online store and making that channel as efficient and effective as possible, while driving traffic to stores, which still represent the large chunk of our overall sales. The second is a longer-term strategic focus which is laying the foundation for Digital. That may sound strange for a company with a well-established eCommerce offering but it’s about creating and monitoring our digital roadmap and putting in place mechanisms to adapt to a changing consumer environment with agility. Case in point, we look at our overall roadmap every 3 months and see what needs to be adapted, altered, or tossed to the side. That’s the speed with which the retail sector operates which can be quite stressful but very exciting at the same time.

 HB: Like everyone else in the digital space, particularly those playing in retail, you must hear the phrase “Digital Transformation” all the time. Can you talk about Mark’s Digital Transformation and your role within it?

JR: Sure. Funny thing happened at Mark’s, and in my career for that matter. I was asked to speak at the ForeSee Summit in April 2017. Our Enterprise Account Manager at the time suggested I speak about the Partner Summit we held the year before, which she had never seen done (essentially, we got all the vendors and core agency partners in one room). However, when I started peeling back the onion a bit, and noticed all the things we had accomplished in the last year, it occurred to me – this was transformation…this was our Digital Transformation.

And then I started a list of all the things my team’s at Buffalo, Mexx, and Bentley had also accomplished. Yup. You guessed it. It was also a Digital Transformation. But you don’t go into your first meeting, or vendor call and say that word. It’s a lot of work and takes a lot of building and breaking to be sure.

And as a national retailer, it shouldn’t surprise you but we’re a very intricate operation here at Mark’s. We have colleagues in our Operations group that are responsible for our Stores and their success, our IT colleagues that can be dealing with everything from security protocols to enable online transactions but even things like our PIM (Product Information Management system) which sounds tiny but is absolutely crucial when we’re talking product performance and onsite merchandising. Then there’s the Marketing team which I sit in and is responsible for driving our traditional and online capabilities and performance. And that’s just internally – we have a diverse group of external partners too. So there are a number of moving parts that are involved and impacted when you’re talking Transformation.

When I joined Mark’s one of the first opportunities I noticed lay in the area of accountability.

With so many moving parts in the organization, being crystal clear on accountability – who did what and who owned what – struck me as a foundational element to get corrected. Reducing complexity and increasing clarity was critical.

We called a Partners Digital Summit in July 2016 to get our entire external partners and internal team aligned on accountability. That was a great springboard for not only gaining alignment and accountability, but also for achieving buy-in for our Roadmap.

HB: That’s a great way to build cohesion across all your partners. Are there other areas where you’re transforming?

JR: Like many organizations, getting an infusion of new and distinct talent is another obvious area. I joined a team of 9 in 2016 and almost immediately began an audit to see where we had gaps and where, importantly, I thought those skills should sit within our Mark’s team rather than inside one of our partners. Sometimes it makes absolute sense to have skills exist inside an agency but, in my opinion, certain critical skills need to be down the hall.

Ultimately that led to a request to secure 7 more team members. Not surprisingly, the initial reaction was No. I wasn’t going to let that stop me so spent time putting together an infinitely more data-driven business case – another digital benefit is all that data of course – and being able to show how our growth would be hampered if we couldn’t scale our digital skills significantly. I’m happy to report that, as of May 2017, we’ve actually doubled our digital team to 18 folks. That means we’ve ended up hiring 9 new colleagues, not just the 7 I’d originally asked for. That’s also testimony to the expectations that Mark’s has for digital and the business growth attached to digital. Mark’s is in Digital to win in a big way.

HB: Hiring new talent can be a quick way to bring new skills to the table but those new faces still have to exist and thrive within an existing organization and culture. Can you talk about those factors too?

JR: An important aspect I noticed immediately when I came over to Mark’s is that there is a real culture of winning. I would say that thread goes across our entire company. We really do want to win and that means building up an environment where winning is possible for each of us.

However, despite that aspiration, I did notice there was a comfort level in the status quo. I heard a lot about “it was always done this way” or “that’s not how we usually do it.” It took a few months to sink in – change is good, and often needed in the retail landscape of today. You don’t look back, you look forward.

I tell my team – to use a baseball metaphor – I’d rather they hit homeruns with a few errors, then 10 singles and no errors. And yes, that can mean taking a few calculated risks along the way, and that’s ok. As a leader, you should leave room for innovation – and innovation won’t always be had on the first try.

So that’s been an important aspect to address – we really want our employees to come in here and try new things and bring new ideas to the table.

To that end, another aspect of our Digital Transformation was education. I spoke to my boss and we realized that if we could raise the digital knowledge across the organization then we’d infuse a heightened level of confidence – and appreciation – for some of the ideas our digital team was trying to initiate.

We started with a full day Digital 101 company-wide. It was all the basics from Paid Search to SEO, Social Media and testing, to key analytics and metrics. We really wanted to ensure that everyone had exactly the same level of knowledge – and, critically, had the opportunity to discuss and debate why these elements were important for Mark’s. A few colleagues told us those sessions were incredibly intense (6 hours long) but we’ve now got a mandate to perform these 2 times per year – a training regimen where we expose our colleagues to new digital thinking, take them through successful cases and talk openly about what we’re doing, which is a big shift from what they were used to, which was traditional media. No one expects a culture to change overnight, but I’ve found that Education and a common understanding of new thinking certainly helps get buy-in. That buy-in and the confidence I spoke of earlier means folks are more likely to be open to something new. We often forget, but people are usually resistant to change because of the unknown. That’s why we endeavored to make Digital known to everyone.

HB: That’s a great point. Is there a different type of person you’re trying to hire at Mark’s because of this transformation?

JR: Retail is a very unique environment. It moves at such a speed that it can be very intimidating and stressful for sure. Personally, I think above all else, you need to hire people who want to learn and have a positive attitude. Someone who can take that stress and still remain positive about the outcome. That being said, the stuff we look for is not a big surprise. We need people who genuinely have a continuous learning headspace. That’s critical for a sector that’s evolving at the pace that ours is. The other is being adaptive. Can the person roll with the punches and consider more than one way to tackle a problem? Continuous learning, adaptiveness and that positive outlook – there’s the magic for us. Everything else I’m sure we can teach them (laughs)

HB: What advice do you give your peers embroiled in the same struggles within their organizations?

JR: I talked home runs earlier and those are great – but in my experience, nothing beats getting a slew of early and quick wins. Particularly within a large and multi-faceted organization. Digital can be such a large area to try tackle that you can spend time spreading yourself way too thin.

Nothing beats a few small wins to build trust and credibility when you’re starting. The other part is that quick wins also build team morale as well. You can’t underestimate the benefit of having your team feeling like they’re making an effort – and that effort is noticed and appreciated.

The other part you can’t underestimate is really understanding the culture you’re operating in. How do they evaluate success? How do they define teamwork? How do they expect you to operate internally? Even if you’re trying to get your organization to do new things, you have to start with an appreciation of the current state first. Just coming in and pushing new ideas with zero understanding of the organization’s existing culture is seldom a recipe for success in my experience.


This post is part of an ongoing series exploring the intersection of Culture and Digital Transformation – and the challenges organizations face when those two forces meet. This challenge will, I believe, shape the business agenda for the next decade so we all have a lot to learn. 

If you’d like to share your story, please DM me on Twitter @ZimHilton or reach out via LinkedIn.

Find the rest of the series here:

Culture & Digital Transformation: On The Frontlines with SickKids Foundation

Culture & Digital Transformation: How a 145-Year-Old Insurance Company Became A Digital Darling

Digital Transformation & Culture : The Coca-Cola Canada Story

Culture & Digital Transformation: The Beauty Of Entrepreneurial Spirit At L’Oréal Canada

Culture & Digital Transformation : The Power Of Connections at Starbucks Canada

Culture & Digital Transformation – Writing The Book on Culture and Transformation With Klick Health

Writing The Book on Culture and Transformation With Klick Health


Toronto-based Klick is an organization that defies many traditional definitions. It is a full service health marketing agency. But its also a training and development company, a creator of CRM software platforms and a consultancy. What can’t be debated is how unique and compelling their culture is. So much so, that they have a New York Times bestselling book – The Decoded Company – that talks directly to how they’ve created a organizational culture for the 21st Century. I sat down in their Toronto offices with Jay Goldman, a member of the Klick Executive team and Managing Director of Klick’s latest business venture Sensei Labs

HB: Thanks for taking time to chat Jay – and thanks for the ice-cream, I mostly just get coffee when I have these chats. Can you give us some background on you and your newest role here at Klick.

JG: My career has gone through a few iterations since I started within IBM’s Lab here in Toronto working on DB2. My degree in Information Systems and Human Behaviour was almost a perfect springboard for what I’ve ended up creating here at Klick. It was a great mix of Computer Science, Psychology and Sociology and going to IBM when I graduated was a perfect way to put what I’d learnt immediately into practice. Since IBM I’ve formed, and then sold, an agency organization and it was after that acquisition I was head-hunted into Klick to help build their initial Strategy offering. That was in 2010 when the organization was about 150 people. That grew into a role to imagine and subsequently build Klick Labs, which is now an actual physical lab on the 7th Floor of our building. I joined the Executive Team in 2012 and in 2014 co-authored The Decoded Company with our co-founders Leerom Segal and Aaron Goldstein and our good friend Rahaf Harfoush. Sensei Labs is the newest part of my role. I am the Co-Founder and Managing Director of our newest division and tasked with building that out.

HB: In comparison to some of the other interviews I’ve done, you’re a relatively young organization. Is Digital Transformation perceived somewhat differently here versus, say, a 100 year-old organization?

JG: Absolutely. We’re set to celebrate our 20th anniversary at Klick this year which means, in many ways, we’re an organization that was born digital. When the organization started, and what is at the core of our DNA, is unmistakably a familiarity and comfort with digital. That certainly sets us apart from organizations that were created earlier and under a different set of circumstances.

Where that difference is perhaps most pronounced is in how we think of the “Transformation” part of that phrase.

Quite simply you can think of Digital Transformation as a project, with a stated goal, budget, timeline and set of deliverables. Or you can think of it as an ongoing part of how you operate. Almost a perpetual state of self-review and self-disruption.

To us “Transformation as a Project” is almost an acknowledgement of failure and is typically driven by a radical need to change because of an imminent or recent disruption in your sector. On the other hand, if Transformation – or more accurately Perpetual or Constant Transformation – is how you always act, then you have more control over your destiny. You’re doing it to yourself before a competitor in the marketplace does.

In some ways that notion of constant transformation is baked into our credo and our culture here at Klick which is this idea of “The Relentless Pursuit of Awesome” For us that means, each day you’re striving to be more awesome than you were yesterday. If you had a great client meeting or technical launch yesterday, congratulations, but was yesterday. Because “awesome” is an ever-changing standard, that credo reinforces we keep needing to raise the bar on ourselves, and our work.

 HB: That’s easier said than done for most organizations though. What other factors play into your ability to keep transformation central to how all of your people think and operate?

JG: True, we definitely have a few advantages over other organizations grappling with Digital Transformation. One is our fiercely-held independence, which means we’re not beholden to a sprawling network agency model where someone in another geography or time zone is making decisions on our future. We have the luxury to make our own decisions and investments as we see fit.

The other is that our founders had no formal business school training when they started Klick. That may sound counter-intuitive but it also meant they had no formalized or regimented approach for tackling problems.

Case in point, we’re very solidly against the notion of “best practices” because that often means you’re utilizing outdated thinking for a current problem.

Best practices are often derived from an organization – which may be in an entirely different sector and have an entirely different set of circumstances – that successfully tried something for a few years, then a consultancy took another few years trying to codify the approach, and then you try implement it yourself for a few years. You’re now 7 or 10 years behind the moment the “best practice” was adopted. At the rate of change today that’s just untenable in our opinion. Case in point there is a series of great videos about Spotify’s engineering culture which have been watched – and probably copied – millions of times. Reality is, those are excellent and perfect for Spotify but you can’t assume they’ll be equally great for you.

Finally, and not surprisingly, our people are a huge part of that ability to keep transforming. We jokingly – and with a certain amount of pride – refer to ourselves as “The Island of Misfit Toys” here at Klick. Or perhaps the more PC-term would be “The Island of Digital Natives”. Many of our folks come here from organizations where they didn’t fit but they’ve found an environment at Klick that allows them to do some of their most rewarding and fun work.

HB: Now we’re getting into some of the juicy Culture stuff. Can you give me a few more examples about Klick’s culture?

JG: Many of the examples are in The Decoded Company. In fact, much of the initial rationale for writing the book was the idea that it would act as a recruitment tool and explain how we do things a little differently here. We have three basic beliefs that we’ve been able to live or imbue since starting Klick. Technology as a Coach springs from the idea that there is no excuse for a standardized, one-size-fits-all approach to growth, learning and development anymore. That may have been true 20 years ago but today we can use data and patterns to help coach us. Data as a 6th Sense is also about leveraging all the amazing data swirling around to help us avoid mistakes we’ve made previously but also to find unique ways to streamline processes, flows and projects that are unnecessarily inefficient. All of these enhancements allow our people to do more meaningful work and grow. The 3rd – Engineered Ecosystems will prevail over Hierarchies – is something we’re all seeing around us. It is how you design your teams and how collaboration can really work when its informed by data.

Those are systems or principles we’ve built the Klick culture on but we absolutely realize that Culture is really the only way to attract unique talent.

To that point, what’s remarkable is that we’ve been able to sustain a 40% annual growth in employees while having such rigorous eye on ensuring we hire the right talent – those Misfit Toys I referenced earlier – that its harder to get hired here than it is to get into Harvard. That’s not a boast, more a reflection of how many submissions we constantly get. So we absolutely merchandise our Culture to ensure we attract the very best talent. For example, and as you’ve seen, we have an ice cream fridge here at Klick.


Free ice cream whenever you want. Its just something we’ve always done. Well on one of our recruitment drives down the East Coast we took an ice cream van to a bunch of competitive offices and gave out free ice cream in exchange for a business card. We had lines around the block but it was one way of highlighting a quirky little thing we do here that does make Klick different.

HB: There’s a significant amount of talk about building an Innovation Culture or a Design Culture or a XYZ Culture in order to succeed in a Digital Transformation. What are your thoughts on that?

JG: Personally I think that many of those types of initiatives are destined to fail. In many ways they almost seem to be a response to a terrible experience so they’re implemented in a way that is culturally insensitive to the current organization.

Metaphorically I liken it to the aspirations you have when you create a garden. You can till the soil, fertilize it, remove the weeds, perhaps even decide where to build it based on the amount of sunshine. But at some stage nature takes its course. Certain flowers just aren’t going to grow in those conditions no matter what you do.

One of the phrases that we use in Klick Labs speaks directly to this. “You can’t order Innovation by the pound”. Just like you can’t say you’ll have 3 innovations by the end of Q1 if the conditions aren’t right. If you say you’re driven to innovate but your culture has no appetite or mechanism to accept and embrace failure its never going to happen. At Klick Labs we hold ourselves to no more than a 30% success rate on our experiments because we believe that any higher – say 70%-80% – would mean we weren’t pushing hard enough to do new and smart things. That’s just an example of calibrating your Culture in a realistic manner.

HB: Amazing metaphor and examples Jay. A classic question but what advice do you give your peers and clients grappling with these same issues?

JG: Probably two things. First honestly evaluate exactly what type of organization you are. Be brutal with that evaluation but ensure that you honestly appraise where your strengths and weaknesses lie. Secondly, is this “Transformation as a Project” or is this a bona-fide Transformation that becomes part of how you’re going to change internally and adopt a new mindset. Understanding those motivations and the organizational appetite for Transformation will allow you to more accurately set and manage your expectations and those around you.

HB: Anyone out there that you consider is doing a good job at this?

JG: Definitely. I think Amazon is an obvious example (note – this interview happened before the Whole Foods acquisition) and Jeff Bezos’ notion of operating to different event horizons is intriguing. Elon Musk is another one. Perhaps a little like JFK but he’s been able to attract a pretty remarkable bunch of talent to solve some big meaty problems. And then Satya Nadella over at Microsoft has done a really remarkable job turning that organization around from what it was when Steve Ballmer was at the helm. Innovation and fresh thinking seems more possible and likely at Microsoft than it was a few years ago. That’s all down to creating the right conditions, nurturing that culture.

The Incumbent’s Dilemma


By the time you read this post I am sure your eyes will be bleeding from the scads of ink devoted to Amazon’s purchase of Whole Foods last week.

Superlatives like “game-changer”, “genius”, “Bezos Brilliance” have been used by the legions of analysts, armchair and otherwise, on this channel and that praise is certainly justified.

Few, if any, other organizations have that magic mixture of chutzpah, leadership, strategic focus, vision – and lets not forget capital – to make an acquisition of this scale. If it wasn’t enough for many retail players to watch Amazon bulldoze into their backyard, many competitors saw their stock prices fall astronomically too. The Street was quick and merciless in adding another layer of anxiety.

The knives were definitely out for the incumbents

Social media has been just as quick in their ridicule.

The laggards, the asleep-at-the-switch leaders, the old school thinkers, the risk-adverse dinosaurs who must have seen this inevitable move coming were scorned mercilessly. After all the money and (submerged) stock paid to the C-suite and boards of Kroger, Sears, CVS, Costco, what possible excuse could they have to not have anticipated this?

Yes, this acquisition was probably inevitable. Many pundits met the news with a nonchalant shrug and “of course they did” and “Who else but Amazon could” but suggesting that all the incumbents were too busy sipping mint juleps at the country club to take action shows a more dangerous level of “disruptor sycophancy” than legitimate analysis.

Before I continue, perhaps it is important for me to paraphrase the Bard;

“I come to bury Cesar, not to praise him”

This isn’t intended as a vigorous defence of the incumbents.

Its incredibly valid to take shots at them for the decisions they have made – or not made – as Amazon inexorably and relentlessly has grown and spread into categories as diverse as cloud computing, voice, mobile, retail, grocery, automation and, oh yes, selling a few book along the way.

But here’s the rub…

You can’t just cut & paste organizations

This isn’t a cop-out but there genuinely is only one organization that has the unique set of circumstances and attitudes that gave rise to Amazon. Bezos’ attitude to “zero profit” for example, has been previously lambasted and questioned by institutional investors but there’s no doubt that mantra has played a significant role in being able to acquire Whole Foods. In a previous post on Culture and Leadership I made the comparison between Sears and Amazon – a pretty binary comparison – but it still stands.

Both organizations have different legacies of leadership and historical decisions. One has a founder walking the halls and there’s no denying the huge impact that has. The other has a corporate raider at the helm and that guides the decisions he’s made. The fortunes of both companies are an outcome of those differences.

Quite simply no two organizations share identical leadership, governance, culture, partner network, relationship with unions, points of distribution etc. So hammering all companies who cannot operate with the dexterity and deftness of Amazon is incredibly naive.

Mixed messages and mixed signals

Let’s be honest, we’re an (increasingly) fickle bunch.

We’re as quick to roll out pithy statements like “Fail Fast” and “The Best Way To Predict The Future Is Invent It” as we are to hammer stocks and fire CEO’s when they miss analyst predictions by as little as one cent.

You can’t expect ongoing, consistent (and hockey stick style) increases in your stock portfolio while asking leaders to try new business models, explore new technologies and create entirely new categories. Just like we cannot go shopping at Sam’s Club every weekend while simultaneously decrying WalMart’s role in the death of Mainstreet American retail.

We either have to accept – and reward – CEO’s for trying new ventures and failing at them or we have to stop berating them for merely making tiny “safe bets” refinements and modifications.

We can’t have it both ways.

It is infinitely easier to get it wrong than get it right

Armchair analysts are always quick to point out how “obvious” a strategy is with little recollection of how often organizations – and analysts like themselves – have gotten it wrong.

I’m old enough to remember when MySpace and Second Life were technologies that were going to fundamentally change society. And to remember the business media idolatry of Jeff Skilling, Marrisa Mayer, Jeff Immelt and, until recently, Travis Kalanick for their fantastic winning strategies and leadership.

And let’s remember Bezos himself hasn’t exactly been right each and every time. Amazon Fire anyone?

I remember watching this incredible scene from “Hidden Figures” and thinking of the parallels to running a business today.

Trying to return a man safely to earth in a time before supercomputers and server farms must have been as harrowing and perplexing as trying to lead a multi-national today and grappling with the impact of hyper-connected customers, AI and borderless commerce.

The potential to get it wrong – and the consequences of getting it wrong – should never be dismissively waved aside.

I didn’t start this post as a defence of the status-quo and as a hall-pass for incumbent CEO’s to fiddle while Rome burns.

I don’t believe that “Too Big To Fail” should be a moniker they get to wear with pride.

But neither do I believe that our fawning adulation for “Disruptors” and “Unicorns” is healthy either. Some of our most recently anointed Unicorns aren’t exactly living up to their hype.

Business is hard. For incumbents. And for upstarts.

Getting it right is f**king hard. Harder than most of us realize.

Certainly way f**king harder than Hollywood makes it seem.

What say you Dear Reader? Am I giving incumbents too much latitude? Which incumbents do you consider agile enough to survive the new business realities? Is it even possible for incumbents to survive the pace of change in business today?

Finally, I did want to acknowledge a whip-smart colleague of mine – Sarah Thompson at Cossette in Toronto – who challenged my thinking and my references in writing this post. Thank you Sarah for kicking my cranium.