Improving Your Working Relationship With Your Robot Assistant

Imagine that your boss has sent you to an all-day workshop at the local Hilton. His last minute invitation meant you don’t even know the workshop topic. As the speaker begins, you are surprised to see the presentation is about “How to improve your relationship with your work robots”.

Does this sound far-fetched? It likely isn’t – at least if we look to the near future. A recent interview with technology market leaders reminded us that an emerging training priority is “the need for leaders to prepare their people to coexist and collaborate with machines in the decade ahead” (Boston Consulting Group). We have slowly been getting used to machines filling our soft drink cups at McDonalds, replacing our favorite bank teller with an app and self-scanning our passports at US Customs (see The Move to CX). This is just the beginning of a shift towards an increasingly technological work day. During the industrial age we had to learn to co-exist with machines. In the years ahead, we will have to learn to learn to co-exist with the technology which is invading our workplaces. This means we will have to stop complaining about our robots and the digital assistants that are assigned to make us more productive. Instead, we will have to learn to thrive alongside them.

In addition to working more effectively with technology, here are 10 other skills that the experts think we need to be developing in order to succeed in our careers in 2020.

Top 10 Skills

History teaches us that nothing stays the same. The pace of change is staggering. It also means that we will have to adapt our skills to fit an ever-changing world. What skills would you add to this list?


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Jeff Suderman is a futurist, consultant and professor who works in the field of organizational development. He partners with clients to improve culture, leadership, teamwork, organizational alignment, strategy and organizational future-readiness. He resides in Palm Desert, California. Twitter: @jlsuderman Email:

Image Credit: FastCompany


Why Complicated Work is Becoming a Commodity

Last month a momentous technological feat quietly occurred. A computer beat the world’s best Go player in a best-of-five match. In fact, the Google developed computer program called AlphaGo won three straight games before the human opponent achieved a win. The computer then won the final game of the match to earn a decisive 4-1 victory.

At its core, Go is a game of complex mathematical choices. Some consider it Chess on steroids. The opportunities on a simple 19 X 19 board boggle the average mind. However, much like a computer beating the world-best Garry Kasparaov at chess in 1996, the AlphaGo victory indicates that we have arrived at a new point in history!

I cannot help but apply this historical moment to the future of our employability. As the title suggests, much of our work is becoming something that can be done by machines. Computers now weld our cars (as robots), vacuum our homes (thank you Roomba) and autopilot our planes as we sip champagne. As more and more of our work becomes automated, some are raising concerns about the future security of our jobs! So should you be worried that computers or robots will take your job? Maybe! After all, history teaches us that they already have. Therefore, the secret is to determine which jobs computers can’t do – and I think I know which ones!

Last summer I wrote a short blog about the difference between complicated and complex. Although these two words may appear to be synonyms at first glance, they are unique as we consider the future or work. Here are the differences between these two terms:

Complicated – Something with many interconnecting parts. Intricate. Examples: Imagine a rigorous math problem on a white board. The ability of Big Data to assess your on-line browsing habits in order to predict which products to advertise on your web browser also fits into this category. These things are complicated.

Complex – A system of interconnected parts that constantly change. Fluid. Examples – If an ocean beach lifeguard leaves their tower for 30 minutes, they may come back to a very different scenario. The ability to understand the needs of a crying baby is also a complex matter.

Last week I posted a list of skills that experts believe the workforce will need by 2020. It includes things like creativity, negotiation and emotional intelligence (see Improving Your Work Relationship With Your Robot Assistant). In short, this list was full of complex skills. Technology has demonstrated an increasing ability to deal with complicated – like the game of Go. However, technology has not mastered the complex! Therefore, wise employees will equip themselves with skills that allow them to deliver complex solutions. Things like interpersonal skills, emotional intelligence and mega-management are complex abilities that will equip employees with the skills they need to succeed.

You will be employable in the future. This is because you are a human and you were designed to do complex things. However, to ensure your future success, you must equip yourself with complex skills. Those who only focus on complicated will at some point, find themselves beaten by the latest version of AlphaGo!


Head Shot

Jeff Suderman is a futurist, consultant and professor who works in the field of organizational development. He partners with clients to improve culture, leadership, teamwork, organizational alignment, strategy and organizational future-readiness. He resides in Palm Desert, California. Twitter: @jlsuderman Email:

Photo Credit: Wired Magazine

MegaTrends: 16 Things to Watch for in the Decade Ahead

Whenever I receive an email from the trend-watching organization called Shaping Tomorrow I get excited! Yesterday’s content was particularly insightful and I wanted to share some of the highlights with you in today’s post! I trust you will enjoy them as much as I did.

  1. More change will result from advances in technology in the next five years (by 2021) than has occurred over the past 50 years.
  2. Electricity generation will become a new small business.
  3. By 2030 the world is projected to have 41 mega-cities with more than 10 million inhabitants each (there are currently 30).
  4. By 2025, more than 70% of Africa’s population is expected to be living in cities.
  5. Facebook’s aggressive move into publishing will disrupt many marketing plans and jeopardize the traditional inbound marketing model (inbound marketing produces interesting content that draws customers to your business – like this blog!).
  6. Human-induced climate change will increase storm intensity by between 2 percent and 11 percent by the end of the century.
  7. By 2022, one in every 10 people will be wearing clothes connected to the internet.
  8. Drones will increasingly do many delivery, security and measurement jobs.
  9. Hydro, wind and geothermal energy could see Africa leapfrogging other continents by developing thousands of small-scale “virtual power stations” that distribute electricity via mini-grids and would not require transmission lines.
  10. Mankind will need to get much better at recycling agricultural inputs (like animal feeds and fertilizers) and growing food more efficiently.
  11. Three concepts of urbanization will emerge: megacities, mega regions and mega corridors. [Note: A megaregion is a large network of metropolitan regions that share several of the following: Environmental systems, topography, infrastructure and economic links. A megacorridor is transportation links between large cities, megacities or megaregions].
  12. Greater information flows will enable more people to become aware of opportunities for work both nearby and in distant places.
  13. Some of today’s large global managers will become mega-managers. A mega manager has the capacity to manage a much high level of complexity than traditional managers.
  14. The global production of battery EVs (electric vehicles) will grow from 273,000 in 2015 to 1.3 million in 2022.
  15. By 2050, the world’s urban population will have increased by some 72%.
  16. By 2020, 40% of existing jobs worldwide will be lost but many new ones will be created in the high-growth industries.

What megatrends would you add to this list?


Head ShotJeff Suderman is a futurist, professor, consultant and pracademic who works in the field of organizational development. He works with clients to improve leadership, teamwork, organizational alignment, strategy and organizational Future-Readiness. He resides in Palm Desert, California. Twitter: @jlsuderman. Email:


Michael Jackson (March 24, 2016). Megatrends report. Shaping Tomorrow.

Image Credit: Jarling-art

Defining Workplace Generations: Infographic

A common theme in my work relates to the complexities of leading an inter-generational workforce. We use different terms to describe these collections of unique mindsets and values – the younger generation, Gen Y, Gen X and Boomers to name a few. However, sometimes we sling around these terms without fully understanding who they really apply to. Are Gen Y and Millennials synonyms? What do we call those born before Baby Boomers?

A recent article in The Atlantic revealed that much of the confusion about generations is merited because there aren’t definitive terms. Since generations are simply artificial monikers that we use to describe a similar group of people, there is no legal or official version of what years these so-called generations span (with the exception of Baby Boomers – they are the only official generational category used by the US Census Bureau – source: Bump). In fact, most of the definitions we use find their origins in popular media.

However, I have co-created the following chart as a means to provide some common language around this issue. So here are seven generations and their approximate time spans.

Generations with Suderman

While a lot of talk is still focused on Gen Y and Gen Z, I am personally very interested in the generation which will follow them. “Futurist, demographer, and TEDx speaker Mark McCrindle is leading the campaign to call anyone born after 2010 a part of Generation Alpha. According to him, 2.5 million Alphas are born around the globe every week” (Strebenz). Everyone born since 2010 falls into the Alpha category (as will anyone born until 2030).

Effective organizations learn to harness the collective strengths of all the generations they have in their workforce! Contact me if you would like to discuss how to lead lead an increasingly inter-generational workforce!

In an upcoming post I will discuss more details about how different generations impact our workplace. Subscribe to my blog to stay in the loop!

Head ShotJeff Suderman is a futurist, professor, consultant and pracademic who works in the field of organizational development. He works with clients to improve leadership, teamwork, organizational alignment, strategy and organizational Future-Readiness (and he loves great customer service!). He resides in Palm Desert, California. Twitter: @jlsuderman. Email:


Bump, Philip (March 25, 2014). Here Is When Each Generation Begins and Ends, According to Facts. The Atlantic on-line.

McCrindle, Mark (March 22, 2016). Gen Z & Gen Alpha Infographic. The McCrindle Blog on-line.

Strebenz, Christina (Dec. 5, 2015). Here’s who comes after Generation Z — and they’ll be the most transformative age group ever. Business Insider on-line.


Leading Change: Learning from the Laggards

The Kodak story reminds us that ongoing organizational success is earned and cannot be assumed. Once heralded as the global leaders in photography, their inability to foresee changes brought about by digital technology left them behind. In fact, they were so far entrenched in the old ways of doing things, that they even patented a method to turn digital photos into old-school negatives! As a result, their slow response to change forced them into bankruptcy in 2012.

We have heard many idioms about change;

Change is hard | Change is good | Don’t fight change | You need a change of scenery | Times change

The only thing that doesn’t change is change itself

However, no matter how much we know about change, it still seems to sneak up on us and bite us in the proverbial butt. This is currently occurring in the energy industry where our quest for renewable energy sources is leaving many traditional energy companies behind. These companies may not know it, but they are beginning to act in ways that reveal they are not prepared for this change.

In recent years, many Las Vegas hotels have invested heavily in solar power. This has allowed them to become energy self-reliant. However, the local utility company has been devastated by the loss of several major casino customers. As a result, the utility is requesting multi-million dollar exit fees from the casinos (McDonald). “It’s a strange case where new technology — designed to save money — ends up costing more because of the loss to the old technology it replaces” (McDonald).

Similarly, this past January, California utility regulators narrowly passed new rules that will increase costs for owners of rooftop solar systems for the same reasons (Penn). People who have installed solar are now paying an extra $10-$15 fee per month to cover the costs required to maintain their utility company’s non-solar transmission structure. Penn notes that “some states such as Nevada have rolled back rooftop solar benefits to a point that the solar industry intends to close operations in those locations”.

This is a complex issue with many pros and cons which I cannot adequately cover in this blog. However, these energy examples all point to the challenges of change.  McDonald summarizes it well;

“When the automobile came along, horse farms, blacksmiths and saddle makers were eventually replaced by garages, gas jockeys and mechanics. The printing press replaced hand printing, automation changed the way assembly plants operated. The list is long.

In every case, one profession — and along with it, many jobs — was lost. But at the same time, a new trade came along, demanding a new set of skills — such as robotics technicians or computer programmers — that kept people employed. In addition, many new industries that didn’t even exist before spun off from the new technology”.

The traditional energy industry is in the midst of one of these changes. The emergence of solar energy and personal energy grids (microgrids) are revealing an energy structure that has not kept up with changes in the energy industry. In fact, it makes me wonder why our energy companies have not been at the forefront of embracing and leading this innovative change.

As organizations (and individuals), the ability to foresee and adapt to change has become an issue of paramount importance in the information age. This is why I focus a lot of my work on both the art of leading change as well as the ability to anticipate it (strategic foresight). While it is easy to point our fingers at examples like the energy industry, our own organizations are no less vulnerable! So what are you doing to ensure that you don’t become the next Kodak?

Head ShotJeff Suderman is a futurist, professor, consultant and pracademic who works in the field of organizational development. He works with clients to improve leadership, teamwork, organizational alignment, strategy and organizational Future-Readiness (and he loves great customer service!). He resides in Palm Desert, California. Twitter: @jlsuderman. Email:


McDonald, Bob (Mar. 11, 2016). Cashing in the energy chips in Las Vegas. CBC News online.

Penn, Ivan (Jan. 28, 2016). California solar owners face new fees, utilities say costs should be higher. LA Times online.

Photo Credits:

Customer Service – The Ritz-Carlton Way

Today’s blog contains a summary of a recent presentation about customer service. These ideas were delivered by Donald Lenahan, the Director of Hotel Operations at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Rancho Mirage, California. Mr. Lenahan provided some great insights and I know you will enjoy them.

Customer service.

We know that great organizations do it well! Each of us has received it and we have also provided it. We know what good service feels like and tell our friends about “that amazing time when…”. We also know what bad customer service looks like! In fact, statistics reveal that we tell our friends about bad customer service experiences more than we speak about the good ones! So how can we ensure that our organizations’ customer service efforts create positive experiences?

Effective customer service is something that the Ritz-Carlton has built their business on. It is not simply a core value – it is their core value! And this is why we often think of the Ritz-Carlton as a world class organization. The following seven principles provide insights about how you deliver customer service the Ritz-Carlton way.

  1. Define it. Clear expectations about customer service provide your team with the ability to know what matters. At the Ritz-Carlton, employees understand that their goal is to create happy customers. Exceptional customer service begins with exceptional attention to defining what it is, what it looks like, and what it feels like.
  2. Hire it. “Effective interviewing is about early talent identification”. The Ritz-Carlton has a rigorous and demanding hiring process which involves several different stages. This attention to screening for customer service ability on the front end helps minimize service issues after they are hired.
  3. Train it. “You have to build a service culture. This means training, training, training! We must set clear expectations early on!” The Ritz-Carlton has a thorough training program for new employees. However, what sets them apart may be the retraining they continually do with their current employees! Training ensures that they are continually reinforcing the customer service values of the Ritz-Carlton with all of their staff.
  4. Communicate it. “All of the people in our company are talking about the same thing every day”. The Ritz-Carlton reinforces excellence with weekly reminders which reinforce key customer service themes. Repetitive use of tools such as their training matrix, the 12 service standards and their employee promise all work together to continually reinforce service priorities.
  5. Empower it. “Customer service mistakes will happen. So how do you equip your staff to handle mistakes? At the Ritz-Carlton, “All staff are expected to ‘move heaven and earth’ in order to make customer service occur and correct problems”. When a guests luggage gets lost, or a meal isn’t right employees are empowered to serve their guests.  In this way, customer service failures can become opportunities because they create retention and brand loyalty.
  6. Reward it. Lenahan continually spoke about ways that they recognize and celebrate good customer service. It is done in simple ways such as using thank you cards, sharing positive guest comments, and weekly awards. His comments revealed that employee engagement is related to far more than our paycheck.
  7. Measure it. ‘Delivering effective customer service is a journey of continuous self-improvement”. The Ritz-Carlton has a strong commitment to enabling effective service with data. A customer database is used to track guest preferences. This equips employees with knowledge they can use to provide you with things you want – a room on the ground floor, a bedtime cup of tea or early check-in.

There are some principles which are timeless. Mr. Lenahan revealed that this is the case with effective customer service! The success at the Ritz-Carlton is not a result of a silver bullet or the ‘secret-sauce’ of customer service. Instead, we learned that the Ritz-Carlton standard is achieved through customer service standards are a result of blending intentionality and thoughtfully executed principles.

“Listening is a key ingredient of solving customer service problems”.

Head ShotJeff Suderman is a futurist, professor, consultant and pracademic who works in the field of organizational development. He works with clients to improve leadership, teamwork, organizational alignment, strategy and organizational Future-Readiness (and he loves great customer service!). He resides in Palm Desert, California. Twitter: @jlsuderman. Email:

Showing Email the Door: Why Atos Origin is Striving to be a Zero-Email Business

Today’s guest post is from David Burkus and is an excerpt from his upcoming book, Under New Management, which will be released on March 15. You can find a link to pre-order his book and learn more about him below.

Could you imagine banning email entirely from your business? It sounds incredible, even crazy in this digital age, but to Thierry Breton, CEO of the France-based information technology services firm Atos Origin, it was an essential tool for increasing his employees’ productivity. What follows is the story of one CEO, one company, and one radical solution to a growing problem – email pollution.

When Breton realized that the constant stream of emails was distracting to both him and his employees, he took steps to eliminate what he believed were negative effects on company productivity. In February 2011, Breton announced that he was banning email. In three years’ time, he wanted Atos to be a ‘zero-email’ company. “We are producing data on a massive scale that is fast polluting our working environments and also encroaching into our personal lives,” Breton said in a public statement released through Atos’s website. “We are taking action now to reverse this trend, just as organizations took measures to reduce environmental pollution after the industrial revolution.”

That statement seems surprising coming from the CEO of a technology company employing over 70,000 people in more than forty offices around the world. But perhaps it shouldn’t be so surprising. Breton actually adopted a zero-email philosophy for himself long before he announced it to the company. He’d stopped using internal email nearly five years earlier, when he was working for the French government, because he found it hampered his productivity.

Atos polled a sample of 300 employees and monitored the volume of their email. In just one week, the 300 employees sent or received over 85,000 messages. When the company surveyed the participants, it found that the majority of them felt that they couldn’t keep up with their emails, that the time spent trying was time wasted, and that the effort to stay current with email kept them from dealing with more important tasks. Breton found that his employees were experiencing the same issues he’d discovered years before. So he simply banned email.

Atos’s massive size would seem to preclude the banning of email, but in reality it was the size of the company that Breton saw as the reason for the communication bottleneck. “The volume of emails we send and receive is unsustainable for business,” he said. “Managers spend between 5 and 20 hours a week reading and writing emails.” Despite his seemingly radical thinking about email, Breton isn’t exactly the model of a rogue start-up founder testing out wild new ways to work. He’s a middle-aged former minister of finance for France and a former professor at Harvard Business School. Needless to say, he’d put a lot of thought behind his assertion that “email is on the way out as the best way to run a company and do business.”

Of course, Atos didn’t ban electronic communication outright. Instead, the company tried to find a more efficient tool for managing internal communication. The company bought a software firm called BlueKiwi and used its technology to build a social network for the entire enterprise. The network was organized around 7,500 open communities representing products, internal programs, and myriad other projects requiring collaboration. Like email, conversations are threaded so that newcomers to the community can see the past history of the discussion. Unlike email however, conversations are not automatically ‘pushed’ to employees’ inboxes, interrupting their focused work time. Instead, employees can choose to enter the discussion on their terms and their schedule.

The social network improved the sharing of knowledge across the enterprise, made it easier to locate subject matter experts, and most importantly, allowed for more efficient collaboration. The new system has also dramatically cut down on internal email. To help its managers adjust, Atos created training programs for more than 5,000 managers to teach them how to lead their departments and projects in a zero-email environment. The company also trained 3,500 ‘ambassadors’ to provide training and support to their peers as they adjusted to the new system. Now fully converted, the company certifies projects and communication processes as ‘zero-email.’

As radical as it seems, the initiative appears to be working. Although Atos didn’t hit its zero-email target, a study conducted in 2014 by an independent firm showed that by the end of 2013, the company had certified 220 programs as ‘zero-email’ and reduced overall email by 60 percent, going from an average of 100 email messages per week per employee to less than 40.

Possibly of greater significance, employees now report feeling far more productive and collaborative. Collaboration has been enhanced by the internal social network, which doesn’t distract employees by pinging messages to their inbox and actually provides a better-designed platform for group communication. Atos employees post in the company’s internal communities almost 300,000 times a month, and those messages are viewed nearly 2 million times per month. Most importantly, all of those views are by choice.

These email reduction efforts have been good for the company as well: Atos’s operating margin increased from 6.5 percent to 7.5 percent in 2013, earnings per share rose by more than 50 percent, and administrative costs declined from 13 percent to 10 percent. Obviously, not all of these improvements were the result of banning email, but the correlation is certainly strong. So is the empirical evidence.

Increasingly, research is exposing the limitations and even the deficiencies of email in modern business. Whether or not companies decide to restrict email, or ban it entirely, both the research and recent experiences of a growing number of companies make a strong case that email may no longer be the most effective tool for communication in the 21st century and beyond.


David Burkus

David Burkus is passionate about leadership, innovation, and strategy. He is the author of The Myths of Creativity: The Truth About How Innovative Companies Generate Great Ideas and has just released his newest book, Under New Management.  In addition to writing and speaking, David is an associate professor of management at Oral Roberts University, where he teaches courses on organizational behavior, innovation, and strategic leadership.

Head ShotDr. Jeff Suderman is a futurist, professor and consultant who works in the field of organizational development. He works with clients to improve culture, leadership, teamwork, organizational alignment, strategy and organizational future-readiness. He resides in Palm Desert, California. Twitter: @jlsuderman, E-mail:



What Orange Trees Teach Us About Organizational Success

Some of my most interesting insights are gleaned from real-life. Like orange trees (see The Tale of the Orange and the Lemon Tree)! This week an orange tree taught me another valuable lesson about how we can maintain ongoing organizational success.

We live in an area of the California desert which has an abundance of citrus trees. In February and March these trees blossom. For several weeks our desert air is filled with the cloyingly sweet smell of citrus blossoms. It is one of my favorite times of year.

However, this year I noticed something in addition to the aroma. Amidst the spring blooms, most of the orange, lemon, grapefruit and lime trees are still filled with ripe fruit. While these trees are still bearing the literal fruits of their labor, their work for next year is already underway.

This is a rich lesson about how we can foster ongoing organizational success! It is not uncommon for our organizations to experience a fruitful season. However, only focused organizations experience success on an ongoing basis. If you don’t believe me, perhaps these statistics will convince you.

In 1920, the average company on the Standard & Poor’s stock exchange (S&P) lasted 67 years. By 2o15, this has been reduced to 15 years. This means that an S&P company is now being replaced every two weeks. Analysts estimate that 75 percent of today’s S&P 500 firms will be replaced by new firms by 2027 (The Atlantic).

These sobering statistics remind us that over time, success over time is earned and should not be assumed. So how do organizations facilitate blooms amidst their fruitfulness? Let me answer this question from my perspective as a consultant. Here are three types of organizations that I regularly encounter. Can you guess which one has the best chance to maintain success?

  1. Late Bloomers. When we don’t take time to plan amidst our fruitful season, we eventually realize that we need to catch up. These clients often come to me and ask how they can be successful ASAP. When we neglect doing our work in season, late bloomer must play catch-up. This can be a very vicious cycle. I believe many late bloomers are casualties on the S&P 500 list.
  2. Resistant Bloomers. It is not uncommon to speak with potential clients who are in the midst of a rich harvest. Some of them believe that their current bounty will last forever as long as they keep doing exactly what they have done. These clients usually tell me that they don’t need help as there are still oranges on the tree! However, the pace of change in the 21st century seldom affords us the opportunity to stay the same. There will not be low-hanging fruit forever. As a result, I believe that most resistant bloomers will someday discover that they have become late bloomers.
  3. Anticipatory Bloomers. These clients do their best to run their organizations like a fruitful orange tree. They do the work for the next harvest while there are still oranges on the tree. They work to assess their environment, plan ahead and sow at the right times. It is challenging to blossom and bear fruit at the same time but it can be done. These organizations thrive amidst changing environments.

Unhealthy organizations are those who have failed to prepare their blossoms at the right time. Even organizations that appear healthy will fail if they lack the foresight to look beyond their current harvest. However, healthy organizations will do the hard work required to blossom amidst fruitfulness!

Success does not always breed success in a changing global marketplace. The S&P data reminds us that the things that made you successful in the past may not work in 15 years! So is your organization doing the work required to blossom at the right time?


Head ShotJeff Suderman is a futurist, professor, consultant and pracademic who works in the field of organizational development. He works with clients to improve leadership, teamwork, organizational alignment, strategy and organizational FutureReadiness. He resides in Palm Desert, California. Twitter: @jlsuderman. Email:


Lam, Bourree (April 12, 2015). Where do firms go when they die? The Atlantic on-line.