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.

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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 http://www.hiltonbarbour.com/culture-ebook-2/

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