You’re likely to encounter some of these characters on your digital transformation journey. Here’s who to be on the look out for, and how to work more productively with them.


As unpredictable as technology can be, people are worse. Anyone in the trenches on a digital transformation can attest to the many, many ways the human element can get in the way of best-laid plans and roadmaps. 

That said, one of the saving graces of that human unpredictability is it can be a bit … predictable. As diverse as our emotions and experiences are, sometimes it’s hard to shake the feeling that one is meeting the same characters over and over. 

Below, we’ve captured four characters that people report encountering repeatedly on the digital journey – recognize any of them?

Spoiler alert: You yourself may have elements of all four – and it’s worth taking a minute to look at the Suzy, Hank, Toby, and Bob within. 

Character: Suzy Skeptic

What you experience: Plainspoken and incisive, Suzy Skeptic can be an appealing character – until she starts lobbing grenades at anything that smacks of newness. Suzy’s seemingly no-nonsense critique of digital efforts attracts a shocking number of followers – who wouldn’t trust someone making such clear, common sense arguments?

What to do: Parse out what’s real skepticism – borne of Suzy’s not-inconsiderable intelligence – and what’s “skepticism-as-a strategy,” borne out of a deep-seated fear of change but persisting due to the organizational clout it seems to attract. Address the true skepticism head-on – engaging in real time with valid criticisms to improve digital efforts. To deal with the “skepticism as a strategy,” fight fire with fire – putting forth plain-English messages illustrating why the skeptics are wrong. 

[Read more from Melissa Swift: Why people love to hate “digital transformation.”]

Character: Hundred Thousand Foot Hank

What you experience: Hundred Thousand Foot Hank is as flashy as Suzy is low-key. As a vocal champion of digital transformation, Hank plays the part to the hilt, matching a square jaw and artfully rumpled hair with an assortment of carefully chosen fleece vests. The issue is, though, that playing the part is the extent of his capabilities; despite his soaring rhetoric, Hank’s technical acumen is paper thin. Hank will happily lead the organization down meaningless or counterproductive pathways, charging ahead as an army of technologists protest in his wake.

Hank will happily lead the organization down meaningless or counterproductive pathways.

What to do: You don’t want to completely disenfranchise Hank – the momentum he creates can be very helpful. But you don’t want to slavishly follow his dictates, either, knowing he can’t distinguish between smart ideas and truly terrible ones. It can be helpful to pair a Hank with a technologist as his full-time helper/handler – assuming you have a technologist on hand with the requisite assertiveness and sense of humor. Alternately, you can appeal to his ego – telling him he can tackle strategy while you handle execution (and subtly shade the strategy back into workable territory). 

Character: True Believer Toby

What you experience: At first glance, True Believer Toby seems to fit Winston Churchill’s description of a fanatic as someone who can’t change his mind, and won’t change the subject. Toby’s passion for an ordinarily useful transformation process or technology – anything from Agile or DevOps to artificial intelligence or robotic process automation – has somehow escalated into the obsession zone. What started out as healthy enthusiasm and appropriate focus has become the only topic Toby is willing to engage on – and woe betide anyone who might seem to be criticizing his sacred cow. Co-workers have started to avoid Toby in the break room – fearing another proselytizing lecture. 

Put Toby to work winning hearts and minds via a smart “translator” who can extract his most relevant talking points.

What to do: Put Toby to work winning hearts and minds via a smart “translator” who can extract his most relevant talking points and put them in business context for others. Diffuse his energy by letting him connect to other Tobys outside the organization – he may bring back some interesting learning from networks of passionate folks far outside your walls. 

Character: Burnout Bob

What you experience: Of the four characters in this article, Burnout Bob can be the hardest to identify. Bob may initially present as a Suzy Skeptic, putting in a few seemingly thoughtful criticisms here and there – but more often, he seems on board with the digital transformation agenda. You’ll only notice that something’s amiss when you start seeing tepidly worded communications or anemic progress on key projects. Maybe an email comes back into your inbox with Bob quietly undermining the ideas behind a central initiative somewhere down the chain. What’s going on? Bob is quietly exhausted – he has no more transformation energy left, and trying to subtly slow down the world around him has become his way of making work palatable.

What to do: There are two kinds of Bobs, and it’s critical to figure out which one you’re dealing with. Blah Burnout Bob never fully invested himself in technological transformation at any point in his career, and years of dealing with enthusiastic people around him have taken him to a dark and grouchy place from which he will not recover. Encourage Blah Burnout Bob to consider a new role (internally or externally) – it’s in everyone’s best interests. 

Bob is quietly exhausted – he has no more transformation energy left.

But a better Bob does exist: Banged-Up Burnout Bob. This Bob was passionate about the possibilities of technology at one point in his career – and suffered such grave disappointments that he burned out. If you can honestly offer Banged-Up Burnout Bob a clear path to success (and maybe some resources to help accomplish his goals), you may be able to re-activate his former passion, turning him into a real asset. 

Knowing is half the battle

Knowing what to do about Suzy, Hank, Toby, and the Bobs can be the difference between digital transformation success and failure.

But remember – just as “The Breakfast Club” teaches usthat each one of us is a brain, and an athlete, and a basket case, a princess, and a criminal – no one at your organization is just a skeptic, or full of hot air, or a true believer, or a burnout. As we noted at the beginning, you need to look in the mirror and acknowledge the aspects of all the characters you see.

by Rick Maack – Be!


You are the leader of your team most likely because at one point you did the work they are doing and you did it well.  When was the last time you sat down with your team and got in the weeds with the work they do? Not in your office or some other lonely place but on the floor or at their desks with them in the trenches understanding the issues they deal with on a daily basis.  Hearing the conversations they have.


The team probably will not like that you want to work next to them.  They may think you do not trust them. So, you have to communicate that you want to do this to stay current and understand the work at a granular level.  Tell them that the time you spend will not be evaluating but learning and helping get the job done.

Lead from within the team and behind the team.  Pick a day each week and for an hour or two assist with a project.  Ask the team where you might be able to help let them choose the tasks for you.  Let them lead you.

Stephen Covey calls Habit 5: Seek first to understand, then to be understood.  As experienced as you might think you are, there is no substitute for getting a real-time on-the-ground look at what goes on with the team.  And there’s no better way to do that than to go where they are and do what they do.

In the military, it is axiomatic that there is no substitute for personal reconnaissance.  The best leaders make good decisions because they go and see for themselves what is happening.  This means getting down in the trenches.  

Here are six reasons why doing this is a good idea.

Lead by Example.  Seeing the boss mopping a floor sets a powerful example; if it’s important enough for the boss to be doing it, then it must be important for the team as well.  Getting down in the trenches gives you a great opportunity to set a personal example.

Get the Team’s Perspective.  Get to see the world the way your team sees it.  This does three things for you:

  • You learn what life is like for them.  By doing what they do, you will quickly see what the challenges are, what works well, what doesn’t, and what processes might need to be reviewed and improved.
  • You learn what they know (and don’t know).  See how they use the equipment, ask questions about how they do things, have them show you what to do (even if you think you already know).  Either you will learn something you need to know, or you will find out that there’s more they need to know.
  • You connect with them.  And in working with them, you will also get to know them and can begin to connect with them on a personal level.


Get to Know the Managers.  Putting yourself under the direction of your front line managers does many good things for you.  First you get to see how they operate, their leadership styles, how they interact with customers and other employees.  Second, if you ask them to train you on something, you will quickly learn how much they know about their job. Third, you can get their first-hand input on ways things could be done better.


Get to Know the Customers.  If you place yourself on the front lines than you’ll have a chance to interact with the customers, too.  What questions do they ask? What are they interested in? What else could you provide that fits their needs?  And you have the opportunity to observe what they do, where they go, how they act. All this will be useful to you as you work to establish the direction of your team and business.


Learn the Systems.  How does the team communicate?  How do different jobs interrelate?  Is it clear who is supposed to do what?  What happens when opening and closing the store?  What happens when something stops working? What seems inefficient?  As you work, think about the flow of the operation, the physical structure, the communications.  If something doesn’t make sense, ask your teammates about it and get their perspective.


Get Feedback on Your Ideas.  One great way to get a sense of whether or not your ideas will work is to ask the people who would have to implement them.  You may be bringing useful big-picture perspective to the equation, but they can contribute on-the-ground feedback on how it might turn out, or how to adjust your idea to make it more effective.


The greatest thing that a manager can do is understand the impact they have on the people working for them. Empathize with the realities of the job and support those doing it – and maybe you’ll spare someone a sleepless night.

“Tell me a fact, and I will learn. Tell me a truth, and I will believe. But tell me a story, and it will live in my heart forever.”

Your future as an IT leader depends on your ability to craft and deliver a story – especially around business transformation.

Effective storytelling goes beyond facts and logic. It connects with hearts and minds. It inspires. And it helps people remember the why behind their actions – all essential components of change management. Storytelling not only builds advocates, it leads to success, said Jason James, CIO of Net Health.

Storytelling is a soft skill many leaders struggle with early on in their career; I was no different. I over-communicated with users in hopes of helping them understand issues and provide transparency. In retrospect, my messages were unnecessarily long, overly detailed, and not written for a specific audience,” said James.

“Effective storytelling engages an audience,” he continued, “making them more likely to relate and remember your message. It’s essential for building advocates and getting users excited about embracing new technologies. Your future success will be dependent upon your ability to craft and effectively deliver your story.”

Storytelling is especially useful for teams undergoing digital transformation, as Stephanie Welsh, senior director of IT strategy and enablement for Red Hat, recently noted.

“Through storytelling, you can develop a compelling vision of where you are and where you want to go, bringing people along with you on the journey in a way pure data and bullet points would never be able to,” she says.

It needn’t be complicated, Welsh pointed out. Leaders who have worked to master this skill know that storytelling is effective when it’s simple, relatable, and woven into daily communications.

“You might tell a story about your first day at a new job, for example, and describe how excited you were but at the same time petrified that you were going to mess something up, and then relate this to how your team may be feeling about taking on new roles to support your digital transformation initiative,” says Welsh.

How to cultivate storytelling skills

As leaders embrace the power of storytelling, it’s increasingly becoming a top skill they look for in new hires and cultivate in their existing teams. Not only do leaders want people who can extend the reach of their stories, but also weave their own as they look to collaborate and influence people across the business.

In fact, a new report from Harvard Business Review Analytic Services highlighted communications as a core skill for IT talent in 2020 and beyond. According to the report, “All the IT leaders interviewed for this report spoke of the need for their teams to be effective verbal, written, and visual communicators. This communication requirement means being able to present in front of IT and business colleagues, to be capable of pitching ideas and influencing people’s thinking, and to master storytelling.”

The report went on to describe some of the novel ways IT leaders are cultivating this skill in their organizations. For example, “DBS Bank worked with the co-founder of an Oscar-nominated visual effects company to turn employees into storytellers. He taught over 200 key technology and operations leaders how to tell a great story and present a business case in a more succinct way. Each person wrote a story based on their work, department, or division, and the top 50 were showcased in a book,” noted the report.

This example is one of many in the report demonstrating that leaders understand the power of soft skills – from storytelling, to adaptability, to collaboration – and that they are rethinking their talent strategy to put these skills front and center.


Want to boost innovation and productivity in your team? Consider hiring for culture add rather than culture fit. Here’s how

 Ryan Robinson 

The old days of being chained to a desk are disappearing. With the rise of remote work, new tools have allowed workers in a wide range of industries to break the bonds that previously connected them to a physical workplace. Suddenly you no longer need to be in the same place in order to work together—even on the same project.

With more remote work-oriented tools coming out every year, having the flexibility to go remote has increased in importance to the point where 99% of respondents to Buffer’s recent remote work survey said they’d like to work remotely at least some of the time for the rest of their career.

That’s not a typo, and it’s not the only study to highlight this trend. Another survey from IWG found that 80% of workers would choose a position with flexible work over one that didn’t offer it. Plus, one third of those workers surveyed valued location flexibility over having more vacation time.

The Astonishing Results Of Work-From-Home Programs

One Stanford professor was curious about whether working from home was beneficial or harmful for productivity. So he contacted the cofounder of CTrip, China’s largest travel agency. They designed a case study that ran for two years and pitted a remote work group against a control group.

The result? There was a massive productivity boost for the people who regularly worked from home.

Now, the caveat to this was that many of the remote workers reported some loneliness and didn’t want to work from their homes all of the time. Bloom’s study ultimately recommended a mix of remote and in-office work. But the undeniable productivity boost and drop in turnover were easily worthwhile for them.

More than 26 million Americans currently work at least part of the time from home. That number is likely to continue going up as companies realize the benefits they can reap in productivity.

Getting Beyond The Company With Remote Work

Remote work doesn’t just include people working directly for a company, either. There’s an army of freelancers and solopreneurs out there who make their entire living as flexible workers, using job boards and remote work services to find clients that are willing to pay them a living wage.

Companies like TopTal and Upwork have carved out a niche for themselves as middlemen connecting these talented individuals with companies all over the globe. There are even more individualized platforms like YouTeam, as well, which specialize in talent in a specific field—in YouTeam’s case, software development teams.

YouTeam is distinguished by its team focus. Because of this, I asked Galina Divakova, head of marketing for YouTeam, what makes services like hers so valuable for companies.

“It’s a global marketplace,” Divakova explained. “The world is a lot smaller now than it used to be, and you don’t have to limit yourself to talent that’s just in your geographic area. Sure, someone may be the best developer in your city, but are they really the best? Maybe there’s someone in Warsaw, Kyiv, Bogota or Santiago who can do the job better.”

That’s how many of the companies in this emerging landscape of remote talent sourcing have made their mark. Talent is everywhere, and as the world has gotten smaller it’s raised the overall number of industries that can do remote work. When you broaden your talent pool—you find better talent.

The Type Of Work Matters

One Harvard study tried to break down remote work more carefully and discovered a few characteristics about the type of work that benefits most from being remote. Most of the time, new employees benefited from getting face time in the office, as there’s some natural learning that takes place with the sort of incidental contact you get by the kitchen, water cooler and the coffee machine.

But after a certain amount of time, they saw a similar productivity boost to the more entrenched employees who’d been doing the work for a while.

A logical and unsurprising conclusion from the same study, is that remote work is best when it involves very independent tasks that don’t need a lot of hands on oversight. Though tools have advanced in leaps and bounds, collaboration is still often easier in person. The benefits in talent may outweigh the difficulty of collaboration, but there are trade-offs.

Software developers, artists, writers and other independent (and often introverted) types of workers tend to handle remote work the best—as their work is often done largely independently, even in an office environment.

Why Are Some Companies Hesitant To Go Remote?

Recently, there have been a few high-profile companies that backtracked on their experiments with remote work—including Yahoo! and IBM. It’s important to remember though, that these are outliers in a much larger trend that suggests more companies benefit from remote programs in the long-term.

Still, many companies are hesitant to give up the control that having employees in-person can seemingly lend them. Perhaps it comes from a worry that lack of oversight will translate into workers slacking off, but that’s a problem that should be solved during the hiring process.

Other companies are used to measuring employee productivity by the number of hours worked in a given day or week, not as much by the results they produce—and remote work relies primarily on results for feedback. As the industry moves inexorably toward more remote work though, these attitudes are changing.

The best and brightest companies in the world are implementing remote work programs. They’re hiring remote workers to do everything from develop software to write copy, create illustrations and lead customer support efforts. They’re offering benefits tailored to employee retention by allowing them to spend at least some of their time working from home.

The world has grown smaller, and the talent pool is no longer just the people that live in one area. Remote work clearly isn’t going away, but it’s important to make sure that companies also make efforts to keep employees engaged in their communities and active outside of their own homes on a daily basis—in order to stay happy and healthy.

This is an interesting infographic.  We all work hard with the best intentions.  The book is a great read.

While the narcissistic leaders grab the headlines, the vast majority of diminishing happening inside our workplaces is done by the Accidental Diminisher—managers with the best of intentions, good people who think they are doing a good job leading.

Accidental or not, the impact on their team is the same – Diminishers only get ½ of the true brainpower of their people.





I write about the changing nature of work, workers and the workplace.


Change is constant and as a result, people, teams and organizations must build their skills in managing change and fostering flexibility.

Given that today’s business context is in constant flux, the ability of an organization to change and adapt is an ongoing effort. Rather than a static process companies can get through and then move away from, it must be continuous and intentional. People who are flexible contribute to an organizational culture of adaptability, and this ability to shift and adjust must be developed for all employees and for teams—ultimately contributing to organizational capability.

Of course, you’ll need to start with a strong vision and business purpose for the change. In addition, you’ll need to engage employees. Done well, change management is a significant undertaking and requires investment. You’ll need to be aware of the myths that surround change management however—to avoid misdirecting your efforts or doing too many of the wrong things.

Change Management Myths

Here are five myths and realities to help you calibrate your change efforts.

Myth: Everyone gets a vote about the change. Reality: Give people a voice, not a vote.

When it’s effective, change management is the result of strategic decisions driven by and aligned with the mission and goals of the business. Based on the strategic nature of these decisions, it is important they are made at the leadership level. Engagement is key to getting people on board and motivated about the change, but this doesn’t mean everyone in the company gets a vote in the overall decision. People should have a voice, but decisions should be made by the people who have access to the greatest amount of information. For example, a top-tier senior sales person will have a perspective about a new customer relationship management system (CRM), but may not know the nuances of how the CRM system will contribute to the overall organizational strategy. While her contribution to the organization should be significantly valued, she shouldn’t necessarily have a vote that allows her to derail the decision to implement this critical new system. People need a voice in the change, but every change shouldn’t include the opportunity for a veto by those who aren’t in a position to understand the decision in context with the overall organizational strategy.

Myth: Change management is about selling people on the change. Reality: Engaging people is much more effective than telling them or selling them.

Change management is not about manipulating people or making something unpleasant sound snazzy. Be sure change management efforts provide honest information and engage people in a meaningful way. Don’t just sugar-coat something that is bitter to swallow. While telling people about the change in a command-and-control style or selling them on a flashy solution may save time at the beginning of the change, it will likely backfire and cost valuable time when people dig in their heels later on. It is more efficient and more effective to invest in efforts on the front end of change to engage people in the process and bring them along on the journey.

Myth: If people don’t love the new situation, change management has failed. Reality: No amount of perfect change management can correct for a bad decision, design or system.

Effective change management focuses on engaging people, involving them and motivating them about the future. However, the decisions about the shift or the ‘next state’ must be sound. For example, if you’re changing your workplace and haven’t created spaces where people can be productive or get their work done effectively, no change management effort will succeed in convincing them of its value. Or if you’ve implemented a new enterprise management system which doesn’t conform to the requirements of your business, even the best change management won’t build the adequate levels of acceptability among employees.

Myth: Good change management involves as many people as possible in as many activities as possible. Reality: More is better, but too much is too much.

Engagement is indeed key to successfully motivating people to change. However, implementing too many change activities can be overwhelming and introduce change fatigue. Change efforts must be a match to the type of change as well as the organization’s culture. If a change effort is comprehensive—changes to ways of working, systems and organizational structure—you’ll need to provide more support. However, if the change is less ambitious—perhaps simply a shift in a minor policy—less change management investment will be necessary. Employ the Goldilocks rule: Implement as much as necessary and as little as possible when it comes to change management activities. Plan for everything you want to do and then reduce your list to the ‘just right’ amount of engagement efforts. You can always add more later.

Myth: Change management is fluffy. Reality: Effective change management influences positive business results.

From greater business returns to reduced turnover, change management has real business implications. In fact, change management can help the business achieve results and capture returns based on involving and engaging people in the change so that they are able to adapt in a future that is constantly shifting.

In addition to motivating people to change and increasing the chances they’ll embrace the shifts you’re proposing, change is also critical to any company’s future. Organizations that build change muscle in their employees succeed because they have a workforce that is open and more willing to adapt to ongoing shifts in business. Engage people and give them a voice (not a vote) in changes. Make good decisions about change in the first place, and employ the “just right” amount of activities to support the change. Taking these actions will pay off not only for changes in the short term, but also for the development of the organization’s change muscle overall.  



In this job market more than any other in history, quality talent is difficult to find. This drives businesses leaders to outsource for impactful positions and projects.  Consultants should be smart and reinvent themselves because current job market forces demand it. 

In this war for talent environment, how do you identify a consultant that will be the right partner? Here are three elements to demand from a good consultant:

·      Develop a small and well-defined SOW. Consultants should never over-reach or over promise, instead they should begin a relationship by helping solve one specific problem. 

·      Embrace your company’s talent. Your business already has smart people and all the capabilities and answers it needs. Sometimes it is difficult to see the forest for the trees on a day to day basis. A consultant should provide the ability to your people to develop the vision to see what they currently cannot.

·      Enable your people. At every stage, a good consultant will create and hand over the tools for you and your people to go it alone.

I work for Management Resources the consulting division of Robert Half. RHMR provides senior level accounting, finance and business system consultants.



To compete, large and medium-sized enterprises have made substantial investments in areas like artificial intelligence, automation, blockchain, networked devices and enhanced cybersecurity. The result has been increased pressure on companies to realize ROI from these investments and to bring in talent that can make this happen, quickly. Unfortunately, for most companies, infusing talent for effective digital transformation is a top priority, but is easier said than done. In fact, IT job growth is expected to reach 13% by 2026 — more than 85% of hiring managers and recruiters find it challenging to acquire technical talent.

Some leaders in the talent space, like Mike Ettling, president of SAP SuccessFactors, don’t buy into the “war for talent” narrative, suggesting that we have created this pervasive belief due to the influence of our own biases.

“This entire premise is based on the belief that there is a talent crisis,” shares Ettling. “It’s my point of view that the talent shortage is nothing but a myth. The only reason people may feel a shortage exists is because they are not fishing in a big enough pond. It is the result of unconscious bias in the workplace.”

One of the major problems that I see is that we have been hiring the same way for decades in the US. Companies are constraining themselves in an old school hiring cycle that is doomed to fail, mostly because all companies are hiring the same way from the same sources.

An Example

I recently had a discussion with a business owner searching for top talent. He told me that they were searching for someone who had experience specific to his industry. When I asked why he told me that they had some failures in the past when they attempted to hire people from outside the industry. He said “We learned from our mistakes”. 

What if the failure was due to some other element? How certain was the owner that the failure was due to “hiring outside his industry”. I found out that this was an assumption and occurred only once. So, he was artificially constraining his ability to find the best talent because of this one-time issue.  

Granted, we invest tremendous amounts of time, energy and money on talent, as we should. When we fail, we need to dig into the details of that failure before we set sail again.

People constraints

People constraints can occur at the organizational or individual level. At the organizational level, common constraints include:

• Bad hiring process

• Lack of effective training

• Inadequate coaching

• Lack of effective sales enablement tools and content

• Ineffective methodology

• Poor internal collaboration

At the individual level, common constraints include:

• Lack of individual skills

• Wrong behaviors

• Poor job fit (personality and character)

• Not enough of the right behaviors 

Once constraints are identified, you can drill down to figure out why. If an individual is not performing well as compared to their peers, you can drill down to look at what activities, behaviors, skills, and characteristics their peers have that they don’t.

There is a war for talent occurring right now. Your peers are looking for the same person that you are. Do not constrain your ability to complete for the best!

How to make staff more receptive to change


One of the hardest things about business transformation is convincing employees to accept change. Often the new direction for the company jars with its historic identity and purpose, meaning longer-standing workers in particular can refuse to buy in to it.

Some companies manage to do this better than others, and a team of European researchers set out to understand why. 

The subject of their case study, published in the journal Strategic Organization (paywall) was a large German telecommunications and electronics company whose real name they would not reveal.

Over its 30-year history, this company had successfully undergone several significant strategic changes and even changed its business model, while retaining the founding team and key employees.

After a number of interviews, the researchers found an intriguing attitude prevailed that they argue underpins its ability to adapt to major changes. Employees tended to define the company not by what they thought it was, but by what they thought it wasn’t

One employee said: “They told us that we are selling antifreeze and coffee machines now. […] It is very hard to imagine when you are coming from the telecommunications direction. However, then I started to think that this is actually a logical step, because we are not a plain corporate distributor only looking to get the maximum out of a client. For us, it is the relationship and the maximization of value creation that counts.”

By defining themselves as not x rather than as y, employees never became too invested in what the company used to do. “Because the anti-identity was at the core of the organization, employees never felt that they were losing something essential” when change occurred, write researchers Sarah Stanske, Madeleine Rauch, Anna Canato.

Anti-identities – such as Uber’s “we’re not a taxicab company” or countless credit unions’ “we’re not a bank” – could therefore be a useful way for companies to understand their purpose and to ensure flexibility in the face of future changes.

Article published in Management Today. by Natasha Abramson