Studying the impact of innovation on business and society

Why Relationships and Human-Centered Outcomes Should be at the Center of Digital Transformation

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What role do you want to play in the future. It will happen to you or because of you. You have more power and potential than you may realize.

“Change doesn’t have to just come from the top. Change can come from the middle. I’ve seen…companies where you have culture and you have momentum and you have success. So, you can change up and down, left and right, inside out, outside in, you just have to believe that you can.”

Please listen to the full conversation on “Blazing Trails.” It’s about change, empowerment, and taking the reins to shape the future you want to see ad the role you want to play in it.

Why Human Connections Should be at the Center of Digital Transformation: A Conversation with Brian Solis

Successful digital transformations start and end with the teams executing them. Meaningful innovation and lasting impact isn’t top-down, it’s defined by those at the frontlines every day. But creating this ‘culture of innovation’ is easier said than done, and here to talk us through the dos and don’ts is Salesforce’s Global Innovation Evangelist, Brian Solis.

Brian has been called “one of the greatest digital analysts of our time,” and is an expert in driving innovative thinking in the workforce. Tune in for his advice on business innovation, process innovation, employee experience, customer experience, and more.

Successful digital transformations start and end with the teams executing them. Meaningful innovation and lasting impact isn’t top-down, it’s defined by those at the frontlines every day. But creating this ‘culture of innovation’ is easier said than done, and here to talk us through the dos and don’ts is Salesforce’s Global Innovation Evangelist, Brian Solis.

Brian has been called “one of the greatest digital analysts of our time,” and is an expert in driving innovative thinking in the workforce. Tune in for his advice on business innovation, process innovation, employee experience, customer experience, and more.


Brian Solis: Change doesn’t have to just come from the top. Change can come from the middle. I’ve seen companies where you have culture and you have momentum and you have success. People want that to be replicated throughout the organization, so you can change up and down left and right inside out, outside in, but you have to believe that you can.

Michael Rivo: Welcome to another episode of Blazing Trails. I’m your host, Michael Rivo from Salesforce Studios. That was Salesforce’s global innovation evangelist Brian Solis, explaining how a strong company culture can unlock innovation at any level within an organization. Coming up, Brian and I discussed the power of customer and employee experience to drive innovation and culture at forward- thinking organizations, and about a new idea called relationship transformation, or RTX, that will impact businesses in the future. But before we jump over to Brian, a quick word about Tableau. Tableau uses data to help organizations navigate the very issues that Brian and I will be discussing today. Tableau connects you with your data anytime, anywhere. Using cutting edge AI and industry leading dashboards, Tableau can help you unlock insights from any data source to make better decisions fast. Now, let’s listen to my conversation with Brian Solis. So joining us today is Brian Solis, Salesforce’s global innovation evangelist. Welcome Brian.

Brian Solis: Hey, hello Michael. How are you?

Michael Rivo: Doing great. So the global innovation evangelist, tell me a little bit more about that. What is it that you do?

Brian Solis: So in an era of COVID- 19, a lot of my work has been focused on how has the customer changed, and how are they changing? And how do businesses need to evolve digital transformation and business innovation strategies to keep up with and get ahead of these changes? That’s one of the things that I studied, but all with the greater purpose of helping organizations compete at a much more innovative level, whether that’s customer experience, digital transformation, you name it. Business innovation, process innovation, product innovation.

Michael Rivo: And it’s such an interesting time for that. One of the things I think about is that’s a tough job right now, where everything is so uncertain and we really don’t know necessarily what to do next. So how are you approaching that? How has this changed how you’ve approached that role?

Brian Solis: Well, boy, you’re right. I think even though uncertainty is continuous, these times have ratcheted up that level of uncertainty off the charts. So thankfully we have an incredible data team. We have super smart people here that constantly motivate me to think differently. And also we have incredible customers who are asking the right questions so that it can drive us towards the art of the possible. So if you look at before COVID, it was estimated that digital transformation either failed or would meander. Four out of five would fail. And that’s because they didn’t really have a sense of outcome, or purpose, or north star attached to these investments. But with COVID, the silver lining here is how do we change? How do we gain some type of certainty in this time of uncertainty? How do we find footing and a path forward in times of disruption? And what we can learn from is our customers. Human beings, people. And by customers, I mean our customers’ customers. How are they changing? What are they worried about? What are their aspirations? How are they making decisions? What brands do they love? How can we evaluate customer journeys to deliver better journeys? How can we better communicate with them? How can we better serve them? And then use technology as an enabler to not only drive digital transformation, but more innovative experiences. And so in that regard, when you give not only your digital transformation a sense of purpose, but in my case, my research, my advisory, my speaking a sense of purpose, then it’s not uncertainty. You’re actually going out and also finding answers and new insights that give you a path forward.

Michael Rivo: So Brian, in the last six months we’ve seen close to 10 years of digital transformation. It’s all happening really fast. It can be scary, but there’s also a lot of opportunity. But within that, how should we be thinking about how to create those healthy human relationships at this pace of change and this type of transformation?

Brian Solis: I love this question. I think just the fact that you’re asking it is so promising. You could say that we’ve experienced 10 years of digital transformation in a matter of months. I think what we’ve done is accelerate the need to digitally transform. And what we have to be cognizant of is not digitally transforming and overemphasizing the digital in that transformation. Just think about the idea of service and the construct and the infrastructure of service, and how it essentially uses technology to get further away from our customers. A lot of metrics that businesses use to measure engagement are really about churn and transaction. So what we need to do is bring the humanity into this conversation. So give it, again, that sense of purpose. For example, what we have seen 10 years of change in, we’ve seen 10 years of acceleration in e- commerce. And that means that people are becoming digital first, most likely because of shelter in place, but because we’ve been in shelter in place for more than the 66 days on average it takes to form new behaviors and make them automatic, that there’s likely a human side to that digital first behavior that we have to understand. And I could tell you, in my research, it makes people more impatient, it makes people more self- centered, it makes people want things personalized. There’s a series of things that we can know from that research that then give our digital transformation that sense of purpose. So we’re not just accelerating, for example, working from home or introducing e- commerce or introducing BOPUS or click and collect or curbside or delivery services. We are actually understanding how to deliver exceptional values against what people want, so that that acceleration of change has human centered meaning, or meaning or value beyond just the capability or the capacity to do this. And that’s a differentiator. Experience innovation is a differentiator and a competitive advantage. So my work is to look at every opportunity where we can accelerate digital transformation with that sense of purpose.

Michael Rivo: And it’s a requirement to go so fast right now in this ultra competitive environment, as things change so quickly. How do you make room to continue to be reflective and get those human inputs to make the changes you need as part of your product development in a time where you just need to move so quickly that it could just pass you by? You’re just trying to get it out the door.

Brian Solis: Well, in our product development, in our service innovation, our experience innovation, in our communications, in our marketing innovation, in our operationalization, all of these things need that reflection. And our colleagues at Tableau would say that this is exactly why you need a data culture. So that we could cross- functionally think about ways where we could learn and add value. I also like to say that in places where we could also unlearn so that we could move forward, and then for example Salesforce is a big investor in a company called Automation Anywhere and looking at ways where we can throw a RPA into repetitive processes and free up human resources so that we can reflect so that we can accomplish more tasks that need human beings, where we can train and re- skill people to be more creative and innovative in these new areas that are growing quickly. That’s how we do it. It’s a cross- functional, it’s organizational transformation, it’s change management, it’s digital transformation, but we have to create a steering committee or a COE that’s designed to drive this growth in this new direction. And we also have to get back to this culture conversation, which is we have to empower people to think differently and work differently. We have to reward them for moving in these new directions so it makes change less strenuous and scary. And we also have to have an articulation of where we’re going and how we’re going to get there.

Michael Rivo: Yeah, that’s great. And you’ve mentioned culture and company culture and change. In this time that we’re in where we’re all remote, it seems like keeping that culture together is a real challenge. And so I’m wondering how you think about continuing to empower people to be part of a culture. Employees, customers, managers. Inside of an organization and with customers. As we integrate more technology into our daily lives and we’re more disconnected, how do we maintain company culture and build it and have it be the living thing that it is?

Brian Solis: Well yeah, you rightly said it there. It is a living entity and it requires constant cultivation and steering and validation and motivation and stimulus. But that’s why it’s referred to as culture design. It’s something that needs to be designed, and it’s something that has to be invested in so that it’s healthy and alive, and that everybody feels like they’re playing an active role in where we are and where we’re going. Most companies have a culture, it’s just not designed. It’s sort of a function or the net result of how we work and how we think and how we reward success, or define and reward success within the organization. For example, I’ve done, in a past life, a lot of work with a company called Gaping Void out of Miami. And Gaping Void is a culture design studio that believes a culture is a management system. So for example, if we’ve ever heard that expression that culture eats strategy for breakfast, Jason Korman, who’s the president of Gaping Void would say,” Culture is the strategy. It’s not one or the other.” Once you have culture defined, you have to start with, what is our future motivating state? Like Michael, where are we going together? And is it something that you believe in and I can believe in? And because I’m going to ask you to do things differently, but you believe in it, then I’m going to show you new ways to move along with me. But I’m going to reward you for taking these new steps in this process, and find ways to constantly reward and motivate you so that we move together, but that you also help others around you move together in these ways. And then we’re going to define a new belief system, and we’re going to visualize that belief system within the organization that’s going to say,” We’re not going to tolerate detractors. We’re not going to tolerate things that take away from where we’re moving, because we’re all agreeing on a new social contract together at work, that as human beings, this is where we’re going to work together. This is how we’re going to define and measure success and happiness.” And then we’re going to visualize. It’s called semiotics. We’re going to visualize these messages that move us along the way and along our journey, these visuals and the articulated beliefs are going to confirm where we’re going. And they’re going to validate what we believe in. And between these articulated beliefs and semiotics, essentially what you have is a construct for culture design, a visualization and articulation of where we’re going and why, what success looks like along the way, and ultimately what success looks like. And the more you start to move in those behaviors, what essentially you have is a new set of norms. And once you have that new set of norms and behaviors, you actually have culture. A desired culture. And if you look, historically, companies with an intentional culture outperform companies that don’t have intentional culture. And if also a leader leaves an organization and that culture isn’t managed forward, then the culture parishes with that leader. So it is a constant investment. And look, not only do you outperform companies with a better culture, you also are able to change and help other companies along the way. So for example, in my research over the years, I’ve found that the number one catalyst for anything that I studied, whether it was digital transformation, innovation, customer experience, culture was either the number one catalyst for any of those or the number one inhibitor for any of those.

Michael Rivo: A question I have is how much that scales in an organization. So if you’re managing a smaller group, can you employ some of the same techniques to create a culture within your part of the organization? How does that scale across a big organization?

Brian Solis: That’s such an interesting question. I don’t think I’ve ever been asked that question directly. The answer is, yes, it happens. This is why you have, for example, some great managers that don’t necessarily impact the rest of the organization, but they have incredible teams, wherever they are in the organization. I think the idea for anyone listening who runs a team, is to recognize that you can have change. If you run an entire company, you need to invest in culture to intentionally bring the best out of everybody. Especially now, in new directions of where we need guidance, we need leadership. And lastly, change doesn’t have to just come from the top. Change can come from the middle. I’ve seen, not in every case, but in some cases, companies where you have culture and you have momentum and you have success. People want that to be replicated throughout the organization. So you can change up and down, left and right, inside out, outside in, but you have to believe that you can.

Michael Rivo: Yeah, because I think we’re so fortunate to work in a company that’s invested so much in culture, and it’s a big part of Salesforce and there’s a lot of techniques used to disseminate that culture throughout the whole organization. But I think it’s a great opportunity for people inside of larger or smaller organizations to think about how they can employ this with teams. You talked a little bit about articulating and visualizing that culture. Can you just touch on that a little bit more? Tips or techniques or tools even that are used for that?

Brian Solis: Not to be too self- serving, but Mark Benioff teaches a masterclass in this and has exponentially since the beginning of this crisis. He articulates and demonstrates and exemplifies all of our core values, and empowers his teams, us, to be our own CEOs in many ways, of each of us working our way towards this greater vision of what Salesforce stands for. But you can look at other brands too, like Southwest Airlines, Nordstrom, Amazon, Walmart, where you’re actually watching, especially with Walmart, you’re watching a culture evolve into one that is a culture of innovation. And they would tell you that they’ve had to change leadership management infrastructure. They are communicating what that future motivating state looks like. They are working towards this greater vision. And I think like everybody, we’re all trying to figure out today’s customer and today’s customer’s customers so that we all move forward and do our part to help markets together. But culture, I have to say, is not just a management system. It’s intentional. It has to be part of how anybody works. You have to want a culture that is moving together in a certain direction, not just leaving culture to chance. And this is why we see so much dysfunction within organizations, even before COVID. Some numbers would show as high as 80% of people who were either detractors or just not happy in their work. When you have an organization like that, it’s very difficult to be positive and productive.

Michael Rivo: We’re at this historical moment right now. Is there a historical context that you can look back on to say, this is a time where technology and humanity came together in a really positive way or, even a negative way, historically, as we’re seeing this digital transformation right now?

Brian Solis: One of the things I talk about in these times is what I’m calling the novel economy. And the novel economy was named after the novel coronavirus, because the word novel itself means a new and unusual. And in a new and unusual economy like the pandemic, there isn’t a business vaccine, there isn’t a playbook forward. There isn’t, let’s just say, case studies, checklists, best practices of which we can look at and say,” Okay, here’s what we need to do. Here’s where we need to go. Here’s what we need to model ourselves after.” Instead, you have to find that sense of purpose in order to chart your course forward in whatever direction you feel is going to be the most beneficial, but also gratifying. So the novel economy was also named for the new normal or the next normal, just so that I can help deliver some type of a framework to people seeking to be today’s and tomorrow’s leaders. So the novel economy breaks out into phase one, which is survive. Business continuity, let’s set up working from home, let’s invest in e- commerce, let’s invest in bots and automation. Phase two is alive. This is the phase where we start to actually find some sense of footing and rhythm in this disruption. But it also sets up for where we’ll be in phase three, which is thrive. Whether we just settle into this new and evolving normal, or we also decide to invest in the technology and also invest in operational models and business innovation models to thrive. In phase three, to truly thrive and innovate our way forward so that we’re defining where the future goes and how it unfolds and what it looks like. So this novel economy framework I wanted to present to organizations to say,” Hey, here’s a way forward, but you get to choose your own adventure. You get to choose your own outcomes.” And what this means is you need that sense of purpose. That why, for example. Relationship transformation. Looking at customers, looking at generation N, how they’re evolving in these times so that you can hyper focus on improving customer experiences, products, operations, that your digital transformation roadmap is prioritized with the greatest intention of all, which is to improve customer experiences, how people feel, how people work, and what they take away from those engagements.

Michael Rivo: Yeah that’s great. And I think when you put the relationship or the customer in the center, it makes such a huge difference as to how you think about how you’re going to plan for the future and deploy resources, et cetera.

Brian Solis: Absolutely.

Michael Rivo: Okay. One last question. It’s your job to help us think about the future and unpack this right now, and it’s as hard a time as ever. How do you stay motivated? How do you get up every day to think about the future when it’s so challenging right now? How are you feeling about that?

Brian Solis: Michael, you know what’s weird, is just a few hours ago someone else asked me the same question. And I told her,” You’re the first person to ever ask me that question.” So now you’re the second person to ever ask me that question.

Michael Rivo: She beat me to the punch.

Brian Solis: And in the same day. Look, at the end of the day, we’re all human beings. So it’s almost impossible to look outside of our work and not see the division, the politics, the pandemic disruption, everywhere. Everywhere you go, whether that’s social media, whether that’s to a news organization, whether that’s to your television, whether talking to friends. And so I have to tune certain things out. Stoic philosophers would say you can’t control world events, but you can control how you react to them. And I want to have a positive impact in this world. I want to help people. I want to help our customers, help their customers. And so that’s what gets me up every single morning, because I know there’s a path forward for it. I see it every single day. And how people are changing, what they value, what happens when we deliver against those expectations, and how we seek to deliver better experiences and create new value. I want to bring light into the world. And I call this sort of, with a sense of purpose, ignite moments, or# ignitemoments. That in any one of our touch points, we could deliver light in a world of darkness. Knowing how crazy customers must be feeling or how anxious or worried or angry they must be feeling in other aspects of their life, that any moment to engage is a moment to deliver that light, to deliver values so that there’s a sense of reprieve, a smile. There’s something that people will just remember and come back to you and want to build relationships with over time. And so I see that with Salesforce, with the incredible team that we have, with the incredible innovation roadmap that we have, with the incredible technology that we have today, that we have ability to help customers deliver value to their customers and create positive impact and positive change in the world. So that’s what motivates me to keep thinking about this and to keep working toward this, because it’s my way of contributing to a better place to be, and definitely a better feeling within it.

Michael Rivo: It’s true. We do have the opportunity in touching so many people every day to create some positive experiences. Well, this has been a great conversation. I’ve really enjoyed it. Thank you, Brian. So much interesting stuff.

Brian Solis: Oh well, and thank you. And look, I’d love to hear from you. I’d love to hear your ideas, I’d love to hear your questions. So I’m Brian,solis@ salesforce. com, and I’m at @ Briansolis on pretty much all the socials out there.

Michael Rivo: Fantastic. So definitely get in touch with Brian if you want to follow up with anything we talked about today, and thank you so much for joining us today. Really enjoyed the conversation.

Brian Solis: It really was my pleasure, and I look forward to working with you and [ R Ohana 00:00:21:48] more and more.

Michael Rivo: Great, thank you. That was Brian Solis, Salesforce’s global innovation evangelist with some deep insights into how creating a culture of innovation isn’t top- down. It’s one where all employees feel empowered to enact change, improve systems, or experiment with something new. Thanks for joining us today. If you’re not a subscriber, make sure to subscribe with your favorite podcast app. We’ve got a great lineup of guests coming, and we hope that you’ll join us. I’m Michael Revo from Salesforce Studios.



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