Change and disruption are often feared…and for good reason. In fact, 88% of the companies that were on the Fortune 500 in 1955 no longer exist. That is a staggering statistic. Every industry, from healthcare to banking to retail to travel, has been transformed by technology. At last month’s Cyara Xchange event, we explored what disruption meant to customer experience and how to lead through it.
One of our featured keynotes was from Charlene Li, bestselling author and founder of Altimeter Group. She recently released her new book, The Disruption Mindset, which explored the reasons why some companies are successful with embracing disruption while others fail.
Charlene’s keynote set the stage for a panel discussion that I had the pleasure of moderating. The panel, entitled Disruption – the Good, the Bad and the Transformative, featured Gaurav Agrawal, Sr. Director, Engineering and Development at eBay, and Lorena Chiu, Vice President, GIT Line of Business Services at Oracle. Both Gaurav and Lorena shared their insights on how they’ve embraced the opportunities that come with disruption and lead their teams during times of change and uncertainty.
What makes a disruption?
To get the panel started, I asked both Gaurav and Lorena to talk about some of the key disruptions they had managed.
Gaurav shared how, prior to his role at eBay, he had been at Apple. FaceTime was a new feature that came out with the launch of the iPhone 4. Since FaceTime would only work with others who had FaceTime, Apple was looking for a way to make it useful to a wide audience early on. They came up with the idea to enable their agents to use FaceTime in their interactions with their agents. However, this idea came to them late in the game, and Gaurav and his team had 3 weeks to pull it together. The fact that this request came from Steve Jobs gave him all the ammunition he needed to drive his team and others to a successful outcome. The really cool thing about this success is that it planted the seed for video in contact centers, which is something that has been picked up by other industry leaders.
Lorena echoed Gaurav’s comment about executive edict being a great motivator. She was assigned a top CEO priority, which was to re-platform Oracle’s contact center technology within a year. And while transparency with peers and staff was key to motivating the team and to the project’s success, in the cases where she met friction, the executive “stick” proved a powerful motivator.
For both of them, one of the key factors in providing transparency to their teams was clarity of vision. As Gaurav said, “Define the vision. Keep it simple. And take tangible steps. Support the team. Celebrate wins and learn from failures.”
How do you engage a team?
We then turned the conversation to a discussion about how they engage their teams in disruption. Lorena responded very authentically that being honest and having a transparent conversation with her peers, staff, everyone about what could be accomplished and what couldn’t. For her team, their job is to do what is possible. Her job is to provide air cover against the impossible. Both parties need to trust that the other is doing their best, and is in it for the team.
Gaurav took a slightly different take. He focused his comments on the importance of everyone having a common, understandable goal and a clear plan to get there. He stressed the importance of having early wins so you can celebrate them. And, when you have failures, which you will when you go into uncharted waters, the importance of making sure everyone learns from them.
And this brought up the question of how they managed senior executives. For Gaurav, he asks for trust both up and down. Don’t micromanage me, and in return, I won’t blindside you. For Lorena, transparency, in the form of weekly status reports, was the key to success.
Where are you on your Agile/DevOps journey?
Both Lorena and Gaurav talked about the importance of tailoring the process to fit their business needs and culture. Frameworks are just that. They are not the letter of the law.
Both have seen value unlocked through these new processes. For Gaurav, Waterfall doesn’t work. By the time you deliver, things have changed and it no longer meets the need. The end result is that time and resources are wasted. With Agile, you adjust as you go, which allows you to remain on target, even as underlying business dynamics change. That has been the biggest benefit. This means that as an engineering leader, Agile processes have made him much more effective in how he runs engineering.
Lorena talked more about DevOps, which is something that Oracle is in the process of moving towards. They can do some things very well – for example, they can spin up 250 virtual machines all in a single day. They’ve worked that out. But, they have not automated the build for the contact center. They are working with their vendor partners on an “easy button.” And, Cyara is a big part of this strategy -- they are looking to automate all their testing.
What is your parting advice?
And finally, I asked what each of them would share as parting advice with the audience.
Gaurav’s advice was to challenge everything, and always look for better ways. And this holds true whether you’re a leader or an individual contributor. In fact, the only thing limiting us is ourselves, our own thought process. Be persistent and think outside of the box are keys to your success.
Lorena encouraged the attendees to take action and to help lead change when they got back to their office. She shared, “If you have an idea, you need to speak up. You are the star of your own life. You have to share your ideas and thoughts and be your own best champion to make things happen.”