J: So, we are here today with Levon Litser, just to talk about how the workplace has changed over the last thirty years I suppose, so Levon please, introduce yourself.
L: Hi my name’s Levon Litser and I am a senior partner solutions engineer from Dell Technologies. So yeah, my background is 25 plus years in the IT sector, I’ve managed people across different disciplines and geographies, and again have recently been managing and leading a team of engineers across the UK and Ireland. My career started in sales but quite quickly I graduated to pre-sales to use the best of my commercial capabilities along with my technical consultant skillset. Pre-sales has been my life for 20 years out of the 25.
J: Out of those last 25 years, what do you think are the key aspects which have changed or evolved?
L: Bit of an open question, but if I look at the management practices that have influenced me or impacted on me over that bit of time, you know, I started my career in the nineties, and in the nineties everyone was incentivized by money, everything was about personal gain, all goals and KPI’s were around an incentive to earn more money and accelerate commissionable structure or commissionable element to your package. KPI’s were less about soft skills at that point, KPI’s were very much around internal influences to the particular businesses I was working with at that time, so whether it be a visit number metric or a cold call number metric, so it was all very business process driven in terms of KPI’S. Average call number needed to be above a certain point back in the old cold call days and the old telesales days, that’s where I really started. It became, over the years that has changed significantly, it became more about the person, more about the career and the skillset of the person, moving into the thousands, moving from the nineties into the thousands. It became more about personal development from the persons perspective, but also from the company’s perspective it’s about productivity, it’s always about productivity and return. In essence, the sales methodology was still about sales metrics, achieve certain percentages, hit a number of pillars to gain an acceleration… so you would give people a revenue target but also a profit target, if you’ve hit both of those things, you would then go on and accelerate in terms of commissionable elements. So, it’s always about money, but in terms of KPI’s, KPI’s then became more about soft skills, they became more about the person and about what actually the business then needed from that person, moving into their personal development. That was really interesting and I got involved in a couple of things which tested the water about changing on a -month or -month basis, what it was that you were asking people to achieve and a lot of it was around education and certification at that point, around capability of people to perform their job function. So that is looking at it from a management perspective, from more of a personal perspective, employee attitudes have certainly changed, my attitude as an employee has changed over that period as you would expect. What I need from my employer is different now, that what it was 20 years ago.
J: Do you think your needs follow the trajectory you were talking about beforehand, in terms of sales metrics to personal development and soft skills, or are you still looking from what you were looking at before.
L: I think it’s a mix. Certainly now, it’s a mix. What I’m looking at now is the soft benefits as well as the hard ones. So I look for, not that I’m active in the marketplace looking for jobs, what I look for in return for my investment and my time as an employee, is I’m looking for something that will help me grow, looking for something that gives me the capabilities to achieve other things, so, for example, the corporate and social responsibility element of our roles is really important to me, as it gives me the ability to give back to my community and also allows me to give my time to other programmes, like the accelerator programme here in the hub. So those things are really important to me as an individual, they may not be important to other people as they are on different trajectories or different places in their career. I think that is what the challenge is as a global organization my company faces, but I also think that’s a localized problem as well: How do you get that mix right? Because from my age and my experience, the fact is that I am not that millennial, I’m not a Gen X person, so what switches me on and incentivizes me, may not necessarily work for someone else. And I think that is what the conundrum is for organizations today, is how to get that mix of incentives and benefits right for the workforce, and the workforce is ever changing.
N: You mentioned development, so is this something you are currently driving? You want to learn new skills, you want to develop, I am assuming on IT you constantly see new technologies. So how much of that is driven by you, and how much is driven by the company.
L: Wow. So, from a personal perspective every day is a new day. You wake up and you’ve got to consume new data, new information, new products, new strategies, there is always something knew. The pace in new technology is so fast, that you run to stand still. From that perspective, in terms of personally, if you’re not learning, then you’re stagnating and you’re not improving yourself and or keeping yourself current, saleable or you know useful. You either have a growth mindset, you’re open to learning, you’re open to listening and seeing, and all things we do as human beings - which is moving forward. Or, you are happy doing what you are doing, you keep abreast of the things that affect just you and your particular workspace. I think though the impact of technology in terms of where we are going, is going to change that in an exponential way, and is already changing it in certain aspects in certain parts of the businesses that I deal with. I think there’s an element of self-worth and self-growth, but from a professional perspective, the company needs me to keep abreast of changes in our technology and changes in our product set, and that’s driven through a quarterly driven approach to education and training. There are some very rigid processes that we have to follow, and most companies do that. Most companies say here’s the latest product training, here’s the latest market training, you need to understand these things in order to be able to continue doing your role and being current. There’s certainly been a shift in the tools that we use in how to do that, there’s certainly been a simplification internally in how we do that, we used to have a number of tools that we used to do that, and there has been a consolidation of those tools into one toolset, which has really helped, because you don’t want to go multiple places, you want to be in one place, you want one tool that enables you to engage with different media, whether its YouTube videos internal and external, whether or not its blogs, you need all that to be in one location. The problem with having it in one location I find is then classification usually, and ensuring the curation is correct and making sure you are only seeing the thing you really do need to see. And that comes down to a more admin side, admin perspective, so then you’re relying on someone who should understand your job function in order to curate the information which is relevant to you. And sometimes they get it right and sometimes they get it wrong, so I think that for me is where we are today, is that we see some kind of change from an internal perspective, whereby it is more two way and it has never been two way before. Historically, ‘this is what you need’ and pushing it out. Whereas actually it’s ‘this is what I need’, and so there’s more of a two way conversation, and I think that‘s really important to recognise that’s a significant change in terms of fulfilling the needs of me as an employee and whether or not the tools are able to do that. It’s more collaborative, there’s more of a collaborative ethos from a ‘goaling’ and certainly an educational and skillset perspective.
It’s not so much, it’s more of an accepted norm within any role, ‘you must learn these safety procedures’, ‘you must learn this programme and certify this ability’. Doesn’t matter what role you are in, whether it is construction or whatever. There is a set of skills, of accepted skills and accepted norms and a way of keeping current in those. There is a cadence to it. I think what companies do well, or what the better companies do well, is they offer all of this, but outside of that what they do is they say, ‘well actually there’s all this other stuff that we can give you access to, and/or, if there’s something you think should be included in this, let us know’. Whereas in the past it would’ve have been, ‘this is the stuff you need to do and that’s the accepted norm, that’s the minimum, do that’. Whereas those who are hungry for knowledge, who are passionate about learning, who want to understand more contextually what that means and there are educational pieces around that available to them whether they are internal or external, if they can then share those and collaborate with others to get access to that data and information. I think that’s the significant change, it was never that you could ask for something; you would ask for something and it would all be about a cost-benefit analysis. It was never about, ‘actually that’d really good because that links these things together and that gives us way more context and makes you a much more efficient person or resource’.
J: From a more abstract point, is that holistic approach would you argue, a benefit for obviously the employee, but for the employer as well?
L: Absolutely, it’s absolutely a benefit for the employer. If you look at it from their perspective, if you were managing a team, you are always looking for people who have ‘it’, using the inverted commas ‘it’. The ‘it’ is the hunger, the passion and the enthusiasm, the drive, the energy. Those are the things you can’t teach, so that ball of ‘it’, you need to feed it, you need to empower that person, to make them feel like they are able to continue learning, to drive themselves forward. And as they do that, they become a much more well-rounded and efficient person because of their contextual knowledge. If they use that and apply that and become more successful in their role in the organization, it’s a win. I’m not saying that happens all the time, but in my experience as a leader, you can only open the door to somebody, you can’t make them walk through it. Where it works, and people don’t know that they get it at the time, but they walk through the door and there’s a new world. They become voracious learners, because they find an appetite, an enthusiasm, a passion for a new subject matter, and they go on to accelerate their career. Where it doesn’t work, you open the door, you try to coerce, you use KPI’s to incentivize people to do things, to learn to grow. But if it’s not in them, it’s not in them. That’s frustrating to a certain extent, because when you are that kind of person, you try to identify with others who are like that, and when they perhaps don’t step through the door, you ask yourself some questions. And that has happened in the past.
N: We would love to hear more about that. So, you had someone who wasn’t willing or showing a growth mindset for example, how did you deal with that?
L: So, I have an experience of that where there was a specific subject matter within the team that I was looking after that I needed somebody to be more skilful, in order to be able to open up the possibilities with a new market for our product and this person said that they wanted to do it, I gave them the opportunity to do it, I incentivized them to do it and I gave them some metrics in order to be able to, as you would do, to say actually here's some time scales here’s some metrics, very achievable if you'd like to do these three things it'd be great to see some kind of output from you. And it was after they missed one deadline you kind of go, ‘okay look you know it's important that you do this not just for you, but for you know commercially that the business wants to be in this space, and this is a great opportunity’. That person then failed the second metric and at that point you're kind of, ‘okay, do you know what this clearly isn't… you either do or don't have the passion for this’. And at the point you know what actually I'm going to have to give this to somebody else because the business isn't going to wait so that's one where it's like that. Somebody says, you take someone at the word you but in fact their activity and action doesn't then back that up. You kind of then learn quickly that actually, do you know what that's fine, you know what actually there is a role for you doing what you're doing but we just won't give you that opportunity again. Identify somebody else, open the door, they walk through it. Not only do they walk through, they walk through it, accelerates so fast that they soon become the subject matter expert and everybody looks at them like, looks to them from a business perspective to be the voice to, be that personal social media that is being and you see, and it doesn't take as long, it takes them three months to be that person whereas you were thinking six months. So, it can go from one extreme to the other and I think it's as a leader identifying those and learning to identify those people is a journey that you go through yourself. As a business you'd always like to think that you're employing people that fit, employing people that have a capability an ability but also have a hunger certainly from a sales perspective. That's the difference between somebody who's been in for 25 years, to somebody who's in the business who's coming in you into the business, you know, who's in the early 20s to even before right. Millennials age coming into the business who just look at it as an opportunity to learn and grow, and that's what I see and that's the passion enthusiasm that you see from youth, you know being in your early 20s and bringing that into the commercial space into the you know into the corporate space it's dynamic, it's interesting they have a very different view on things which is great and it certainly keeps me fresh and it certainly keeps me enlightened as to what's going on and how to look at things differently. And I feel young being and I feel like I have a younger mentality because of the enrichment and the diversity of the workforce that I have around me.
N: One thing you mentioned is like KPIs, with your team, how do you set those or how do you set goals?
L: In essence the last team that I was looking after it was that very much… the KPI's were very much around soft skills, it was all very much around personal development, so you'd have a personal development plan for each person, you'd be looking at where their soft skills lay, where their strengths were, where the weaknesses were and you were looking at do more of the strengths but actually, helping them to bring up those areas of weakness that they thought they might need to improve on. So, we would spend a lot of time learning delivery skills, you know, presentation skills, other bits and pieces like that sort of consultancy skills and also learning how to how to absorb information because the way information is now as the availability of information has changed and the types of media that are available the types of input that are available are just so large now but actually, you can't just say, ‘you know what you spend your time here or spend your time in this tool’. Tools that, there is such a plethora of tools and so many data sets and inputs coming, but actually you kind of have to learn to filter, you learn to filter where the best is and where the new stuff comes from and that's where the collaboration space actually it's really important because I might use podcasts, I might use a bunch of other learning tools to fill my time but if someone says, ‘you should listen to this, this is amazing these two guys’, ‘check this podcast out’ or check this website out, check this guy's blog, there's some really deep stuff in there that which is excellent’, and it may not even be technology or work related, it may be completely social or soft skills led, but it will be something that has an impact on your overall view on things and I get that from my colleagues, I get that from my peers, I get it from the blog spaces, corporate blog spaces, I get it from competitors corporate blog spices, I get it from all over the place, so in terms of the internal team collaboration though, being able to message like, ‘guys you should really check this out’. One of our guys is doing a video today right for one of our products at one of our partners and the great thing about that is that he's - that'd be out with social media - and it's like, ‘yeah this is really cool here's some insights that I’ve gained from dealing with that’ and we all learn as a group from each other's insights in terms of our interactions with our customers and with our partners and we share that. And what used to take you, if I go back to the beginning, what you would do is share that in a once a month sales meeting or once a quarter sales meeting is now shared instantaneously, and so you learn instantaneously, you pick up information instantaneously and the great thing about that is that it makes you much more agile, makes you much… in terms of how you grow and in terms of how you respond to things it enables you to have a new position or a new way of thinking very quickly. Which enables you to be able to then incorporate that into your own skill set or your own conversation with a customer. So yes, so that collaboration actually is even more important now than it was last year, than it was five years ago you know and it's so much more rapid.
N: Within the company, you're based in the UK, do you have any channels to see what's happening in the States, what's happening in Asia that like we can learn from best practices and how do you do that internally?
L: Absolutely so as a global company they were being involved in a global company there are very much pockets of skill that you have in particular geographies so for example, we may have, although the function is global from a pre-sales perspective, we have localized from an EMEA perspective, a European, Middle East and Africa Perspective, we have a function, but each part of our function is in a market that perhaps is slightly different, slightly in its maturity in its vertical nature so you may be very vertical in one place, so you may be in oil and gas or in different industry perspectives. Whereas for the UK we're very much global finance and manufacturing there are distinct verticals for us. So you you have pockets of capability and knowledge in a particular vertical, in a particular sector, different methodology if you like in terms of how to how to approach selling and it's really interesting to see and share, because you know there are some slightly more advanced and slightly less advanced in terms of geographies, but it's great because everybody can always learn something from everybody else.
J: And in terms of those far east, EMEA Industries, you've talked about how in the UK and the middle East they have their own kind of vertical structure, but those ones in their infancy would they learn in a more horizontal fashion from those elsewhere global or do you reckon they'll find their own niche?
L: It's interesting because markets grow in a different way, they tend to follow a similar pattern in terms of market growth, but each one finds its own way. In a particular country there may be a set of particular laws, or certainly a lot of its commercial is driven by law. There's a set of industry standards that you have to adhere to and they may be slightly different because they've moved more localized and a lot of them will you be around environmental impact perhaps, or engaging in particular practices that either don't sit with the way that you do business ethically and/or preclude you from doing business in a particular way and so you’re always mindful that there are some localizations that perhaps do or don't work. There's a lot of little congruency between what we do in Western Europe, the Western European countries primarily because of the European Union. We find that there's a lot of Similarities, there's a lot to learn from other people, there's a lot of best practice sharing and the ability to be able to collaborate across multiple different types of job function, to understand the impact of somebody's particular process or change in process is really important.
N: Do you have a process in place where you record what went well, what didn't go that well in a particular project or a particular sale?
L: There are particular methods that we use for quality, in terms of, certainly in terms of service delivery here we have very rigid methods about how we collect that data on what we do with that data. But in terms of sales methodology and capturing wind data, there are methods of how we do that, but they're again very localized because it may or may not be something that we can share, it may or may not be something that is pertinent at all, so again they're very localized they tend to be very country based or geography based in terms of those. We like to talk about what went well and what didn't go so well. We actually like to focus on that how could we do better which you know which is really important.
N: In terms of feedback and how feedback is given to people, what ways have you seen working well?
L: Set a goal for somebody and they don't hit it what do you do? There's the carrot or the stick, right? So, you incentivize them to do it or you penalise them. Or as is was the way I deal with it is, actually you just say, ‘you know what, this perhaps isn't for you’. That's not a bad thing, there really shouldn't be a penalty for them not doing it. They're not helping themselves, that's the penalty enough. Okay fine, we've now identified then that that it's not within that individual, so you just say that's fine, what do you want to do instead well what's important, what's important to you? Is it you just want to do this, and you just want to do this forever? Fine, no problem. At least if we set that goal, and the expectation is that, well the goal is you just be really good at this. Fine. If you just want to be the best that you can be in this space. Fine. There's no reason why we shouldn't support you in that. As a leader or manager, I think it depends on whether or not… on your leadership style. I think there are there were different types of leader and manager. I think if you if you're actively engaged in conversation, you are actively engaged on a regular basis with people within the team and you take time to learn about what drives them about the kind of people that they are, you take not just a professional view of them but you also take a more personal view of them. In my opinion a more well-rounded view you learn to identify what drives a particular individual you may understand a little bit about their home life that impacts their working life and their outlook on their career. For example, there's always the annual appraisal, right, the annual appraisal feedback, but by the time you get to an annual appraisal if you've got a bunch of feedback for somebody and they it's a bit of a surprise, then whoever's leading or managing it hasn't been doing a good enough job right. Because actually there's a culture of one to one and coaching and mentoring. We have some reverse mentoring capabilities within our organization which enables us ‘oldies’ if you like, to be involved with the millennial generation who are involved in that business. Really to bring those skill sets back, to grow those skill sets with it and give them that growth mindset if you like and to hope that's some of that proliferates into how they approach their role and I've seen some benefit from that personally as have many of my peers. I think that that's a really important part and that was a really important change that we made in the organization and that was three years ago, so you said that's been really vital to us. I think that there's an element of openness. My career has been across a number of companies over the last 20 to 25 years but in the last years it's been primarily Dell/Dell EMC, in terms of how culture has changed, I think culture, the culture of the organization that I've worked in is… yes culture is a living and breathing thing. It is the sum of its parts and the biggest impact in culture is when you get a significant change in leadership and I think that the best traits of our culture have imbued through an attrition of people, certainly the younger workforce has had a positive, natural effect on our community and our mindset and certainly on our culture. I think that if you think about the way our working lives have changed you go back 5 years, maybe a little bit longer, seven or eight years maybe, remote working for job functions was not a thing you know we had a job function in country, or in theatre, or in region and those job functions were in a particular place. There were teams there, all desks and now there's a culture of actually productivity increases with remote working, people's lives are incentivized slightly differently, people's benefits are slightly different and that change is incredibly positive because what you see is the increase in productivity you see a less more reliance on particular location, you see a job function move across you know border certainly into Europe and certainly into further afield. You see that actually even though there are time scale differences in terms of the times that we work at the functions that we do within our roles as remote workers now, fundamentally haven't changed in terms of how we engage with our partners or our customers, how we deliver our services, but in terms of what we do as a workforce and how we interact withthe workforce collaboration is really key. It becomes the cornerstone of how you work and I think that's only going to increase. I think if you look forward and you look at the impact of technology you look in the impact of things like AI, machine learning, robotics, the amount of data that things like sensors and the world of IOT bring, I think that there's a shift in the balance of work that's required from a human intervention perspective and that accelerating. We talk about the pace of change; we talk about the transformation of business. That transformation of business is not just driven through technology, it’s driven through the transformation of people and the job function, and I think that's running to catch up right now. If you're looking at how we and we educate for the future I think we're possibly laggard from a from a country perspective. If you look at the way my children are learning it is the way I learned and actually that fundamentally needs to change because there will be knowledge workers in the future, it'll be about contextual analysis, it'll be about using the brain for being able to analyze historical data but with the human mindset rather than the computer. And so I think that it will be contextual and I think there will be a whole different set of benefits that will be required in the future but also collaboration and the intrinsic need for collaboration across geography, time scale, workforce it needs to be more rapid and it needs to undergo fundamental change. If I were looking at the future and thinking about how to engage my team in the future, what that might look like, it needs to be immediate, it needs to be built with a purpose in being able to support. It is about giving people what they need and what they want allied with the needs of the business to hit the things it needs and the things it wants, and that's always been the case in terms of you workforce in terms of input helpful and what you're getting; but I think it's ever more important that that is subject to change. You want to work for a company that is doing good, you want to be working for a company that's having positive impact on the future of humankind, you want to feel as though you're working for a company that is conscious about its impact on the environment and has programs in place to give back and I think that that's something that the company I currently work for does incredibly well and is very focused on. In terms of programs for that, you know, so to reduce plastics, reduce plastics in packaging, to recycle and reuse components into jewellery for example. It’s a couple of things that we do globally, it's really interesting and I believe important for us to be worried about the impact of what it is we do commercially on our global environment and we are really a global economy; we're ever becoming a global economy day by day. That's what one of the things that the internet is accelerating. So that global economy as you well know from businesses that we deal with here in the hub, there's no constraint about who to deal with, where to deal with, anywhere in the world. There is always the undercurrent of how do you prove that you're successful, you have to measure that you're being successful, you have to drive people in a particular way, and/or give them access to tools and education in order to be able to be successful and I think that conundrum from a business perspective and a human resource perspective trends change daily, so in order to try and keep up, I think that I would struggle certainly.
J: Thank you Levon, some really great insights there.
L: You’re welcome, thanks for the time.
N: Yes, thank you.