Any business today is an online business. Even if you're a corner flower market or operate a more sophisticated digital operation with numerous employees who collaborate in real time, connectivity speed is a critical question.
Your business must consider what internet speed you'll need to get those essential tasks done. The right answer depends on the type of business you have, your data needs and the number of customers you serve. However, there are a few key issues that should make any decision about how much bandwidth to push easier.
The first key is to understand the different lingo on internet speeds. Speeds are described in Mbps, or megabits per second (not to be confused with MBps, which references megabytes per second). It takes eight bits of data to equal one byte.
The best way to think about speed relates to your home internet service or mobile connection through your smartphone. The average speed for phones on a 4G LTE connection in the U.S., according to OpenSignal, is about 16Mbps (which is actually on the low end compared to the rest of the world). The Ookla Speedtest service puts the numbers a bit higher, with a mean in the U.S. of about 27Mbps. Speeds are higher, of course, for home broadband.
Upload and download speeds
The main factor any business must consider is what it needs in terms of upload and download speeds.
One useful resource is the FCC Broadband Speed Guide. While it generally describes several consumer features, pay attention to the more intensive tasks. The recommendation is at least 25Mbps for download. If your team is going to be demoing videos to customers or regularly streaming training content, this is the minimum.
It's easy to just look at the download speed, but don't neglect what is promised for uploads. If you have large files that need to get to a client, those seconds or minutes can seem awfully long when you're sitting there waiting for information to load.
In essence, a strong 4G LTE connection should suffice for most needs, particularly if your team is distributed in the field or otherwise across multiple locations. However, a more intensive broadband speed – 100Mbps or even higher – may be necessary if your team needs to download or upload files regularly or conduct other resource-intensive tasks.
Choosing a provider
To find out what providers are available in your area, check out the FCC Fixed Broadband Deployment Map. From here, just plug in an address to see options in your area. If you want to inquire specifically about business services, you'll need to contact those providers directly. A search will turn up information like this:
The FCC Broadband Map can show you your local options for internet providers.
The best approach is to chat directly with a service provider once you have a full list of your team needs. Discuss your requirements and which plans tailored to businesses may be in your best interest.
Be firm about what your team needs and how a provider can best meet those needs. Some providers also offer connectivity from a mobile network as a backup if things go awry.
The bottom line is that speed matters, and scaling back on costs in this area could mean long waits or a hindrance to productivity in other areas. It's essential to make the right choice when it comes to internet speed for your business broadband service.
Business-to-business (B2B) marketing is constantly evolving. As 2019 comes around the corner, it's time for all of the big marketers to sit down and think about what trends to pursue in the coming year.
We want to help B2B businesses by digging into trends that seem to be evolving as the door closes on 2018. Let's take a look at some data, find out where you can wager your bets, and how to make the most of your marketing strategy for the new year.
1. Community building is on the rise.
Not so long ago, many B2B marketing companies tended to skirt each other, in fear that the companies they were passing by might take some of their business.
The goal for 2019 seems to be mixing up that formula in a big way. TopRankBlog notes that about 23 percent of B2B marketers work on building community relationships and that "this should be a no-brainer" for those who want to thrive.
If you want people to know who you are, you have to engage with your community in order to build a strong following. There is no better way to become a well-known B2B marketer than by being friendly and approachable and by engaging with your audience, followers, and other companies.
Editor's note: Looking for online marketing services for your business? Fill out the below questionnaire to have our vendor partners contact you with free information.
2. Video solutions will rule.
There is no doubt that video content is a powerhouse in the marketing industry. YouTube is the second most popular social media platform behind Facebook. That territory is ripe for user-friendly advertisements, snippets, full-length reviews and more.
Even more impressively, the amount of content uploaded to YouTube every 30 days is greater than the amount of content broadcast on all three major U.S. cable channels over the past 30 years! This trend is only rising too. It's being predicted that over 80 percent of internet traffic will be video by 2021. That's certainly nothing to shake a stick at.
It's time to start thinking about how you can create better video content for your B2B marketing plan and how that content will benefit the businesses you supply (and their customers) into 2019.
3. Machine learning will be increasingly necessary.
The top way the B2B marketing universe seems to be changing is through the use of machine learning as a service. There are so many ways to implement this one key piece into a business.
Owners of companies can use machine learning for chatbots, as a means to upsell to certain customers, and even to add dynamic pricing. All of these functions play a huge role in businesses now, and machine learning is only expected to grow through 2019.
By 2020, 80 percent of businesses are likely to have chatbots operating some aspect of their customer service. Big companies like PayPal are using machine learning to stop fraud. The applications are virtually endless for machine learning, and this is not a trend that appears to be letting up anytime soon.
As you can see, there are plenty of ways that B2B marketing is expected to change in 2019. Your objective as a business owner is to figure out how to take these ideas and tools and implement them into your business model.
There are unlimited ways to grow in the online B2B world. The only limit is your imagination. Keep striving through 2019, and we are excited to see what trends are thriving by the time 2020 rolls around next year!
Editor’s note: Elsewhere is a column that highlights ideas from other media platforms we believe are worth your attention.
In the 20th century, it became cheaper for companies in developed countries to employ workers full time than it was for them to find the right people “on demand” for each task that needed doing. But the so-called gig economy has changed that. Today, there are people out there ready and willing to do almost any task: drive you to appointments, bring you a take-out meal, assemble your new Ikea sofa, even clear spiders out of your house. So both individual customers and hiring organizations have just-in-time options aplenty.
As a recent article in The Economist notes, the gig economy is growing, even though many of the jobs may not pay very well. Many workers value the flexibility and income that gig work provides; customers like being able to find people to do things they want done. Still, the extent to which gig workers, typically self-employed individuals, should be afforded the legal rights of employees has yet to be fully resolved in many jurisdictions. Tribunals and courts in England and California have recently ruled in favor of giving gig workers some protections (such as a minimum wage), but decisions in Italy and Australia have gone the other way. “The battle over the gig economy has a long way to run,” The Economist notes, and the outcome of that battle could have implications for both innovation and jobs.
The Distinct Charm of Voice
The number of “smart” speakers connected to the internet and capable of looking up information and performing various tasks is on track to reach an estimated 100 million by the end of 2018. Some analysts expect the number of digital assistants to grow more than 75-fold in the coming years as tech giants like Amazon and Google look for ways to extend voice activation into new areas.
As writer Judith Shulevitz points out in The Atlantic, pursuing voice is a way for the big companies to “colonize space” — to pull appliance and device makers, app developers, and consumers into their ecosystems of products and services. But it’s more than that, too. Amazon’s Alexa, for example, doesn’t simply help people do things they already do (albeit in a different way, “replacing fingers and eyes with mouths and ears”). It also brings technology “closer to our own level” through the highly personal act of conversation, Shulevitz suggests.
The article looks at some of the new research academics and corporate R&D labs are conducting on human speech and the nonverbal aspects of communication. It also explores the question of whether computers will eventually be able to develop something resembling empathy. Today’s smart devices aren’t really hearing us yet. They are “as likely to botch your request as they are to fulfill it,” Shulevitz writes. But over time they will get better.
Frightening if True
We have become all too accustomed to software-based hacks and large-scale data thefts — despite increasing efforts by companies to protect themselves. Fortunately, hardware hacks are exceedingly rare. While the potential for damage is staggering, they are much harder to carry out.
So when Bloomberg Businessweek reported in October that Chinese military operatives had somehow planted tiny spy-chips on China-built servers purchased by Apple, Amazon, and more than two dozen other organizations, the shock waves could be felt from Silicon Valley to the Pentagon and the CIA. The article claims that rogue, rice-sized microchips were attached to server motherboards supplied by Supermicro, based in San Jose, California. Once those tiny chips were in place, attackers could gain access to any network that used the compromised servers.
Reporters Jordan Robertson and Michael Riley say the story was based on information provided by 17 unnamed sources, including high-level people at Apple and U.S. security agencies. But basic details have been strongly disputed by Apple, Amazon, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and the U.S. director of national intelligence, and other news organizations have not been able to confirm the information. Both Apple and Amazon Web Services have asked Bloomberg for a retraction. In the face of these challenges, Washington Post media critic Erik Wemple reports that Bloomberg has committed additional resources to investigating the story.
Companies aspiring to be organic-growth leaders in their industries have abundant advice to follow. They can emulate the practices of giants like Amazon, Starbucks, and 3M, and adopt a host of popular innovation prescriptions — use design thinking, act more like a lean startup, cocreate with customers, and so on. Though much of this well-meant advice has its merits, it often leads to patchwork interventions with disappointing results.
It’s better to start with a coherent, affirming narrative about how the business is equipped to innovate for growth. Of course, once that message is in place, the company must reinforce it with action.
The authors tested 18 widely touted levers that companies could pull to support their innovation narratives and identified the four that organic growth leaders use most to stay ahead of competitors: (1) investing in innovation talent, (2) encouraging prudent risk-taking, (3) adopting a customer-centric innovation process, and (4) aligning metrics and incentives with innovation activity.
By many rights, one might have expected to find Adobe on the register of companies disrupted by digital transformation. And yet the 35-year-old software developer has persevered — even excelled — by embracing the very technological forces (think cloud computing, mobile technology, platforms, IoT) that could well have been the harbingers of demise for a legacy producer of packaged software designed for the desktop.
In conversations that took place via videoconference and email, MIT Sloan Management Review editor in chief Paul Michelman asked Adobe chairman and CEO Shantanu Narayen to share his thoughts on several key words related to Adobe’s journey: communication, artificial intelligence, platforms, expectations, and uncertainty.
The Promise of Targeted Innovation
Marcel Corstjens (INSEAD), Gregory S. Carpenter (Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University), and Tushmit M. Hasan (University of Texas)
The largest consumer goods companies each spend more than $1 billion annually on R&D. What have they gotten in return for their hefty outlays? On average, virtually nothing from a sales perspective. An industry analysis found that the sector’s biggest R&D spenders saw no appreciable impact on revenue. That’s troubling for companies whose growth has plateaued over the past five years. At the company level, however, the picture is more nuanced: Even though companies that spent heavily on R&D saw no measurable impact on sales, some outfits that focused on iterative improvements to products or services showed a significant positive correlation. Conventional management wisdom holds that across sectors, R&D productivity depends on industrial might. In the consumer products world, at least, the authors’ analysis suggests that’s not the case. This article explains why and provides guidance on how big spenders can improve their returns.
In tough times, companies hunt for new sources of growth. Yet in doing so, many overlook opportunities to generate sales from services they’re already giving customers for free. Though it sometimes makes sense to stick with a free model, companies too often make that the default option. This article provides a framework for transitioning from free to fee. The research behind it focuses on B2B companies, but the takeaways also apply to B2C companies. The framework includes three steps: (1) Take stock of all the services you give away, (2) build action plans for pricing and selling services you’ve decided shouldn’t be free, and (3) manage the resistance to change, whether internally or from customers and distributors.
People tend to assume that Twitter adoption spread virally through the internet, thanks to social contacts connected by weak ties and long bridges. That narrative is easy to grasp. Unfortunately, it is also inaccurate. Research shows that Twitter’s growth pattern was surprisingly geographic. Friends and neighbors adopted the technology from one another. It spread locally, like a grassroots social movement. The real story of Twitter’s success illustrates how social networks promote behavioral change. Unlike knowledge sharing, which is a simple contagion that spreads quickly, behavioral change is a complex contagion, which requires reinforcing ties and wide bridges to spread. This article, adapted from the author’s book How Behavior Spreads, explores these concepts.
A New Playbook for Diversified Companies
Ulrich Pidun (BCG), Ansgar Richter (Surrey Business School, University of Surrey), Monika Schommer (BookingGo), and Amit Karna (Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad)
Scholars have argued for years that large amounts of diversification hurt performance and value creation. But the authors’ research shows that high levels of diversification aren’t necessarily bad for performance and that diversified firms aren’t a dying breed.
In recent years, the risk of value-destroying behavior seems to have been reduced by new trends such as increased efficiency of capital markets, a stronger focus on corporate governance, and improved transparency and steering due to advances in information and communication technology. Diversified companies tend to reap such rewards when they limit the number of business models in the portfolio and support them with a strong, cohesive operating model; tailor the corporate parenting strategy to the portfolio; and allocate resources on the basis of clear portfolio roles.
Expert analysis informs the decisions we make as managers and in our lives. Almost daily, however, some expert’s previous certainty is discredited by new analysis. So how should we treat the next piece of advice we get?
Philosophers of science generally recommend that we trust what we hear from well-credentialed people. But we can and should think critically about what we read and hear. In particular: Don’t hesitate to challenge experts. When an expert links a cause to a supposed effect, ask whether it’s a story to make sense of the past or a theory to forecast the future. Unearth assumptions that experts have used to get from the raw data to a set of conclusions. Identify alternative explanations for a particular conclusion, and ask why each one is not a better answer.
How Should Companies Talk to Customers Online?
Brent McFerran (Beedie School of Business, Simon Fraser University), Sarah G. Moore (University of Alberta School of Business), and Grant Packard (Lazaridis School of Business and Economics, Wilfrid Laurier University)
More people are engaging with customer service through digital channels, including websites, email, texts, live chat, and social media. Despite the convenience and speed of such interactions, they lack some of the most important aspects of off-line customer service. For example, nonverbal expressions and gestures can signal engagement, and tone of voice can convey empathy and focus. Over time, these interpersonal touches help companies build and sustain relationships with customers. The authors explain how simple shifts in language can enhance customer satisfaction and purchase behavior.
In studying more than 500 leading consumer brands, the authors found that there was little correlation between what consumers said about brands online and what they said off-line, even though both can have big effects on a company’s sales. The authors asked consumers to recall the product and service categories and brands they talked about the day before, then compared the two types of conversations. Based on their analysis, the authors concluded that managers need to avoid relying solely on social media to represent the ecosystem that affects brand success.
Faced with mounting pressure from governments, investors, and employees to be more aware of the environmental and social impacts of business activities, companies are searching for ways to do things differently while also seeking opportunities for growth. As a result, many are encouraging their employees to develop new products, services, or business models that create value for both the company and society. To learn what leading companies are doing to address that challenge, the authors conducted interviews with managers at seven multinational companies recognized for their sustainability activities.
Digital customer service agents — also known as virtual assistants, chatbots, or softbots — are poised to transform customer service over the next decade. Most companies that use digital agents rely on them to sift through incoming customer requests and to process the most straightforward issues. More complex issues get passed along to human agents.
But digital agents can actually handle more. Public service agencies in Australia are already using them to handle complex inquiries from citizens regarding services. In most countries, government entities are slower than businesses to adopt new technologies. Companies worldwide stand to learn valuable lessons from these Australian public service agencies.
On October 28th, Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil’s Social Liberal Party (PSL) defeated Fernando Haddad of the Worker’s Party (PT).
Bolsonaro, a candidate coming from the far-right of the political spectrum, picked up 55% of the vote. This outcome can largely be attributed to three factors: Brazil’s lethargic and largely jobless economic recovery, a decline in public security, and a strong and sustained anti-corruption wave first instigated by the unprecedented Lava Jato investigation.
The most important of these factors was the lack of a strong economic recovery following the end of Brazil’s recession in 2017, the deepest in its history. Through September of this year, Brazil’s economic activity index showed that the overall economic output in the country remained 6.5% below where it stood at the same point in 2014. In the last twelve months, Brazil’s unemployment rate has eased just barely from 12.4% to 11.9% (mostly driven by individuals leaving the labor force rather than finding jobs), while investment, which contracted by 14% YOY in 2015 and 12% YOY in 2016, climbed by just a meager 4.3% YOY.
These economic trends were then exasperated by both a deteriorating security situation across Brazil’s major cities, driven by rising unemployment itself in addition to cuts to public security funding, and a strong anti-corruption wave. Both of these forces clearly favored Jair Bolsonaro, the ex-army captain who was perceived to be the “cleanest” of the candidates. (His opponents, Fernando Haddad and PSDB candidate Geraldo Alckmin, were both indicted for corruption and money laundering the month prior to the election.) Bolsonaro also portrayed himself as a strong-man capable of bringing order to the country via policies such as the liberalization of arms for private citizens and greater permission for police to use deadly force to stop crime.
What business leaders should expect from the Bolsonaro administration
To understand where Brazil’s economy will go following the election of Jair Bolsonaro, it’s necessary to first understand why the economic recovery to date has been so lethargic. This can largely be laid at the feet of one monumental failure of the current government under President Michel Temer: the lack of a comprehensive pension reform.
As it stands today, the World Bank estimates that Brazil’s debt to GDP ratio, which currently stands at approximately 75%, would rise to above 150% by 2030 without a significant fiscal adjustment led by reform to the country’s existing pension benefits. This bleak outlook, and the continued lack of clarity around a potential fix, is the major driver of why financial institutions have yet to aggressively increase lending and why businesses appetite for new investment has remained muted.
Jair Bolsonaro was the only candidate in the run-off election that supported a reform of the pension system, which may be why, despite his bombastic rhetoric on campaign, yields on Brazil ten-year treasuries fell by more than two percentage points and the currency ratio appreciated from 4.1 (Brazilian real to USD) to 3.62, between September and the day following the final electoral outcomes. (Since then, though, both indicators have moved slightly in the opposite direction, largely due to global market conditions). This demonstrates falling inflation expectations and a stronger outlook for growth, as markets believe he will likely achieve what others could not, and thus return the country to a steadier path of economic expansion.
There are still fundamental concerns over whether Bolsonaro, once being sworn in on January 1st, will pursue some of his potentially more destabilizing policy proposals, such as liberating gun ownership or reducing restrictions on the exploitation of delicate areas in the Amazon rainforest for economic gain. While my firm Frontier Strategy Group is forecasting growth in Brazil at 3.0% in 2019 up from 1.6% in 2018, we believe both Bolsonaro’s extreme position on some subjects, and perhaps more importantly his lack of experience in a position of true power, are risks to his ability to sustain the political support necessary to pass the reforms that Brazil needs. Likewise, political miscalculation have proven to come with heavy consequences for the country’s past leaders, with just two of the four directly elected presidents under the current constitution having actually completed their last terms in office (and one of those who did is now imprisoned for corruption and money laundering).
Our forecasts suggest that while Bolsonaro is likely to pass pension reform in 2019 (both raising the retirement age and also reducing benefits), he is unlikely to make dramatic inroads into addressing other ills of the market, such as its burdensome tax system, its challenging labor code, or its underfunded infrastructure. And despite some of his past statements, we also don’t see Bolsonaro as an immediate threat to Brazil’s democratic institutions.
Bolsonaro did not win with as much popular support as it might first appear — he took 55% of the valid votes, but just 43% of the total electorate after considering blank votes and abstentions. He also does not have the sustainable super majority in Congress needed to pass constitutional amendments without significant efforts at coalition building (which require 308 votes in Brazil’s lower house and 49 votes in the Senate – in rather two votes through each body). While Bolsonaro’s party picked up 44 additional seats in the lower house, to hold 52 total seats, there remain 30 parties in Congress, making coalition building a matter of constant horse trading.
For all of the differences between Bolsonaro and his predecessors, he will face many of the same governing challenges that they did.
Is Brazil’s electoral outcome indicative of a broader global trend?
While there are many factors across the world driving economic volatility and uncertainty — Brexit, U.S.-China trade tensions, currency upheaval in markets such as Argentina and Turkey — that could result in more populist events over the next few years, or at least anti-establishment forces coming to power, we could also easily see a further push back against these forces.
That is to say that the forces that brought Bolsonaro to power in Brazil cannot be read as indicative of a cohesive global trend. In fact, as we have seen, Bolsonaro’s rise in Brazil was the result of a combination of largely unique domestic factors: an economic recession driven largely by domestic factors, rising insecurity, and a sustained anticorruption wave ignited by an unprecedented investigation targeting the country’s most powerful individuals.
In that sense, while companies should not be worried about an underlying global trend lending itself to the election of highly unpredictable heads of state, the case of Brazil clearly demonstrates the need for continued application of scenario-based planning across high stakes markets to ensure the ability to rapidly adjust to downside risks, but also take advantage of sudden emergence of new opportunities.
On December 1, in Buenos Aires, President Trump started the 90-day clock to negotiate a trade deal with China. He claims he wants to tackle the big systemic concerns involving theft of American intellectual property, the forced transfer of technology from American firms, and the state-driven nature of the Chinese economy. For trade watchers, the time frame for such ambitions sounds absurd. But they are not entirely out of reach. If Trump makes up with scorned friends in order to take on a common adversary, he could get a meaningful deal.
Admittedly, Trump did spend the first two years of his presidency alienating traditional American allies as much as officials in Beijing. He reversed the Obama administration’s signature foreign policy moves by pulling out of the Paris Accord on climate, Iran sanctions deal, and Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement. And his own protectionist actions on trade policy – tariffs imposed on steel, aluminum, and threatened on cars – mostly hit exports in economic allies like Europe, Japan, Canada, and South Korea. Because they weaken an otherwise concerning alliance, China’s view of many of those Trump policy actions is fairly positive.
But a change in approach is conceivable. In what would be a stunning policy plot twist of the Trump presidency, it is possible that American negotiators could join forces with their previously rebuffed counterparts in Europe and Japan to form a collective front, all pushing for Chinese reform. Although the White House has yet to signal anything like this, it’s worthwhile to consider how such a strategy might play out.
This coalition of market-oriented economies would make three fundamental demands. First, Beijing would have to commit to a crackdown on state-sponsored cyber-espionage and theft of commercial trade secrets. Second, the Chinese government would also need to move away from its legacy system of coercing western companies to form joint ventures with domestic firms, as this has created tension with companies being compelled to transfer their technology on noncommercial terms. Finally, China would have to cut its industrial subsidies and the excess credit it has used to prop up state-owned enterprises.
In fact, European and Japanese trade ministers have been working behind the scenes – with the support of President Trump’s U.S. Trade Representative, Robert Lighthizer – to develop new rules to address each of these joint concerns with China. The three publicly announced the initiative almost exactly one year ago on the sidelines of a World Trade Organization conference, coincidentally also in Buenos Aires. The trilateral group revealed further progress after meeting in March in Brussels, in May in Paris, and in September in New York.
The December 1 announcement created a moment for this trilateral group to put their plan into action. Trump could take it, reunite with European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, and confront China en masse. And proceeding as a bloc is more likely to work, mainly because it capitalizes on the right economic incentives.
To see why the three must work together, remember that American negotiators have already tried to press Beijing on their own. Though it received strikingly little public attention at the time, the Obama administration undertook sustained attempts to negotiate a bilateral investment treaty with China. This one-on-one effort sought an agreement to protect foreign companies from suffering from the same problems Trump purportedly now wants to fix. Such a treaty might have addressed the coercion and theft of American intellectual property, as well as some of the concerns over China’s massive subsidies, through new rules and better enforcement.
However attractive this all sounds, the U.S.-China bilateral treaty approach was probably doomed for failure. It is a deceptively simple example of what the Harvard-trained economist Mancur Olson popularized as the collective-action problem. The “harm” caused by China’s unfair trade practices is spread out across all of its trading partners, each of whom has only a minor incentive to act. Therefore, on its own, America simply does not possess enough incentive to ask China to do the structural change required to make a difference.
The problem is something of a paradox. America would not reap all of the benefits if China took on all of the reforms being demanded. Beijing can’t improve intellectual property protection in a targeted fashion that would only advantage American companies, scientists, and workers – its efforts would also end up helping German, Japanese, and British entrepreneurs. And a Chinese agreement to cut back on subsidies improves conditions facing steel and aluminum companies also operating in Europe and Japan, not just in the American Midwest. The sheer inability to prevent others from benefiting from Chinese reform means that an America that goes alone will tend to underinvest in efforts to push for change.
Understanding the limits to negotiating alone is critical. Beijing recognizes that the U.S. doesn’t have the stomach to put up a big enough fight on its own to fully play out a war of attrition. Why should American automobile workers in South Carolina have their exports shut out of the Chinese market due to Beijing’s retaliation to Trump’s tariffs when the main beneficiaries are car plants in Europe or Japan? American soybean farmers have noticed that this fall’s tariff on their crop means China will switch to sourcing from competitors in countries like Brazil.
Even if the Trump administration feels emboldened to inflict the pain of tariffs on American consumers, the next president may not be. So, the Chinese can simply wait. The implication of Olson’s free rider problem is that, just like Obama had insufficient leverage to get China to do structural change, Americans are likely unwilling to suffer the pain of President Trump’s unilateral tariff war for long enough to get the job done.
Nor should they have to. China’s biggest fear is one of collective action by the Europeans, Japanese, and Americans. Beijing will likely soon present Trump with a deal to simply agree to buy more American agricultural or industrial products, but not make much movement of reform. This offer will be tempting. Selling off the growing stockpile of American soybeans or the cars in the overflowing parking lots at the docks will appeal to an American president who has been interested thus far in deals in which only the Americans benefit.
But this would be short-sighted. China importing more agriculture or cars from America without reform may simply come at the expense of someone else. And that someone else may be exports from an ally like Europe or Japan. So not only would falling for the seductive but poisonous offer not fix the long-term problem with China, it would further weaken an already fragile trilateral partnership. It would also be China’s way of buying itself out of the needed systemic reform from which the Europeans and Japanese benefit, too.
All of this does assume the Trump administration is serious about fixing the trade relationship with China. The next 90 days could also reveal whether its true intention is instead to limit China’s rise based on some perceived national security or other non-economic concern.
Now, the first two years of the Trump presidency do make the likelihood of collective action seem remote. And yet, the opportunity to capitalize on the moment is now there for his taking. The failure to do so may be a waste of Trump’s best, and potentially only remaining, opportunity on this issue.
Beyond making up with allies, a final potential attraction to such a plot twist would be the statement that Trump had learned from the failings of his predecessor. For the Obama administration did try to negotiate structural reform with China – but its ultimately unsuccessful attempts were carried out also almost entirely alone.
Companies are spending millions on digital transformation, yet studies find many leaders feel their projects aren’t achieving their objectives. Why? Workfront CEO Alex Shootman says digitization is happening in most companies on a function-by-function basis, leaving teams to work in silos instead of executing new strategies together. Listen here to learn more about what Shootman calls the “digital work crisis.”
Welcome to the Quick Take, a conversation with Harvard Business Review Analytic Services. I’m Angelia Herrin, Editor for Special Projects and Research at HBR. And today I’m talking with Alex Shootman, President and CEO of Workfront. He’s also the author of a new book, Done Right: How Tomorrow’s Leaders Get Work Done. Alex, thanks so much for joining us today.
Alex Shootman, Workfront
It’s great, thank you for having me. I’m excited to have the conversation.
Angelia Herrin, HBR
Alex, you use a term, digital work crisis, to describe what’s going on in our workplaces today. What do you mean by that term? What’s behind it?
Alex Shootman, Workfront
Well, Angelia, according to a recent study by McKinsey, over $1.3 trillion will be spent by companies on digital transformation, yet over 70 percent of those projects will not achieve their intended objectives. And when you start asking the question of why do they not achieve the objectives, that “why” is really the source of the digital work crisis. And let me explain to you what I mean.
Companies have spent enormous energy responding to the existential threat of new entrants. In fact, only eight percent of companies’ CEOs believe that their business model will remain economically viable if their industry continues to digitize at its current course and speed. We’ve got a very large customer that’s a financial services company. And they told me that they have spent tremendous time and money transforming and digitizing their customer experience, yet it is still connected to an analog and siloed internal organization.
And that’s really the source of this digital work crisis. Companies know that digitization is the path forward. But most organizations do this kind of function by function. And so it makes it impossible for teams to execute together. And because of that, executives are flying blind; they’ve got no way to play, no way to execute, no way to measure what’s going on. And this is the digital work crisis. The digital work crisis is this unnerving pace of technological change, complex global networks, and lists product and service variation in almost infinite work streams, a whole tone of digital distractions, and fundamental access to more data than humans can handle. And that is what is causing what we see in our customers every day — an inability to get stuff done.
Angelia Herrin, HBR
So, we’re facing a very different workplace. Can you talk a little bit about what your research has found, about the challenges we’re facing? What’s changed in our workplace today?
Alex Shootman, Workfront
We’ve done a piece of research every year for five years straight. And it’s the state of work. And we surveyed over 2,000 individuals who do modern work inside of large enterprises. So, these are enterprises with over 1,000 employees. And because we’ve done this over five years, we can see some things that have not changed about this digital work crisis, and some things that are changing.
So, let me start with some things that haven’t changed, and this is amazing to me. Every year over the last five years, respondents to this survey say that they spend only 40 percent of their time doing their real job. Think about that, Angelia. If you or I were the CFO of a manufacturing company, and we were in a board meeting, and the board asked, “What is your manufacture and capacity utilization?” And you and I said we didn’t know, or we said it might be 40 percent; we would probably get released to pursue other opportunities. And so it’s staggering to me that every year for the last five years, this number has not changed. And that basically only 40 percent of human capital in modern work is doing their real job.
The other thing that hasn’t changed is a lack of transparency. People continue to report that work is complex, and they really don’t know what they’re supposed to do, and they don’t know what their peers are doing. And the other thing that has not changed is executives really want their people doing high-value work. They know they’ve got a lot of money invested in their folks, and they continue to ask “Why are they not spending all their time doing high-value work?”
So those three things have not changed. Let me tell you what’s different this year than the past years. The first is this notion that the challenges at work, the challenges of managing modern work, really are a crisis. Five years ago, when we started asking questions around the challenges of work, people reported that it was a nuisance, you know. People were frustrated, made them not really like their job. But now what people are saying is, “I cannot execute the business strategy of the company.” So, this challenge at work, the crisis of trying to manage modern work, has gone from a nuisance to a business imperative.
The second thing that’s changed is how people think about automation. Five years ago, it was all about “the robots are going to take my job.” Now what people are saying is they are demanding automation to help them do their job. Almost half of the respondents say that they are requesting tools to manage work. And what’s interesting to us is that we also do kind of a generational survey within the questions that we ask. And so millennials are more likely than Gen X and baby boomers to say that their team is requesting more technology to manage their work; 51 percent of millennials say that and 40 percent of baby boomers say that. So, their crisis is impacted by the ability to execute. People are welcoming automation.
And the last thing that is awesome that I see people saying is that there’s an increasing importance of purpose. People are starting to say, “You know what? It really matters to me what I do, and I want to do a great job, and I want to spend time doing great things that have purpose, instead of just doing business work.” So, what hadn’t changed was very underutilized folks, lack of transparency, executives demanding people to do high-value work. What has changed is people are seeing this as a work crisis. People are welcoming technology investments, and people want to do great work that has a purpose.
Angelia Herrin, HBR
So, you’re talking about some tough issues here, as well as some opportunities. So, as you talk to leaders, how are they thinking about how they are driving toward changes?
Alex Shootman, Workfront
One of the things that we see our customers doing as they drive toward changes in the modern workplace is they’re beginning to treat work, the work that their people do, they’re beginning to treat it as a tier-one asset. What they realize is that they’ve always treated finance and financial management as a tier-one asset. They’ve treated human resources and human resource management as a tier-one asset. How they manage their customers, right, customer relationship management, that’s a tier-one asset for the company. Even technology, information technology, you know, they’ve invested in treating that as a tier-one asset.
They’ve invested millions of dollars to manage these important assets of the company really well. And now what they’re saying is, “You know what, I’m no longer willing to manage work that is a tier-one asset using a kind of cobbled together set of legacy capabilities.” So that’s truly one of the things that we’re seeing. And we’re seeing these business leaders of tomorrow they’re really championing a new operating model of work. They’re realizing that they’ve got to have cross-functional collaboration.
Think about this, if you think about a legacy product company. Let’s say it’s an apparel company, right. And then you think about how new entrants come into the market. They will design a product faster. They will create a campaign with a celebrity on YouTube very fast, get all of that to market, create a whole lot of buzz around it. And that product, the life cycle of that product, may be very short, but they strap together many, many iterations of that cycle.
And so, the business leaders in some of the larger traditional apparel manufacturers, as an example, realize that they’ve got to have cross-functional collaboration, visibility, accountability, a model that allows product marketing, distribution, technology to kind of all act together as one team. And so that’s what we’re seeing the business leaders of tomorrow do — is champion a shift to this new kind of operating model of work.
Angelia Herrin, HBR
Alex, what opportunities are you seeing in the market for these emerging leaders, and how can they capitalize on the skills that they’ve built?
Alex Shootman, Workfront
You know, one of the most exciting things that I’m seeing is young leaders seizing the opportunity to improve work at their companies and get promoted as a result. One of the stories that I share in the very beginning of the book Done Right is about a lady named Allison Angelita. And she had success — success managing modern work — and she got great recognition and promotion.
And I’ve been fortunate. I’ve been part of three different software companies that created brand new categories. And in each of these situations, there were young gifted leaders that had the foresight to use these new categories as rocket fuel for their careers. And when I met with leaders at Workfront and we got past the topic of the technology we were discussing, they always came back to a conversation about what they would really value. How would they get earned knowledge about how to get things done at a modern geographically distributed, dynamic and competitive enterprise? These leaders want an impact, they want to make a difference, and they’re looking for practical ways to get things done.
Basically, what they want to do is they want to be masters of modern work, and it was that ambition itself that is the inspiration for the book that we wrote called Done Right.
Angelia Herrin, HBR
So, as you look at the people who are now coming out of school or they’re going into college, what would you tell them are the most marketable skills of the future?
Alex Shootman, Workfront
Yeah, I’ll tell you, and this is one of the reasons why we wrote the book. I believe that the most marketable skill in the future for any aspiring executive is the ability to get stuff done. We’re really lucky at Workfront. We’ve had a front-row seat with over 3,000 companies. We’ve had the opportunity to study the doers, for lack of a better term. And it turns out that people that get stuff done, they repeat a set of practices, they repeat it either consciously or unconsciously. And so, we wanted to codify this understanding, first, for our own people in our company, and then, you know, second, for the broader example.
Let me give you an example of that. The first two chapters of this book are about the basics of being able to describe the work that you’re trying to do and determining who is going to care about that work and why they would care. Inside of Workfront, we’re an organization where we’re supposed to be able to do stuff well because that’s what we go out and help our customers do. We did a project where we looked internally, and we looked at things that we had done well and things that we didn’t execute. And what turned out in common was the things that we didn’t execute were things where we just didn’t do the basics that are in chapters one and two of the book in terms of, “Can you describe the work that you’re trying to do, and do you know the stakeholders that care?”
And so, what I advocate when I’m sitting down with young leaders is, go back to basics, none of this stuff is rocket science but you have to take the time to do a small number of disciplines right. And the good news is, we’ve studied people for you, and we can share with you what those disciplines are.
Angelia Herrin, HBR
Alex, what’s the one overriding principle that you’d like to share, like, if you have to tell someone, “Here’s my ‘aha!’ takeaway from this book that I want you to put to work in your career”?
Alex Shootman, Workfront
Maybe I’d broaden it from maybe just a broader topic, and it’s the following: We have a culture inside of Workfront that’s getting it done and doing it right. So, imagine a two-by-two matrix where we sit down with folks and ask them, “Are you doing it right?” Those are the values of our organization. “Are you getting it done? Are you accomplishing your role?” And what we tell people is, “You know, if you’re not doing either, it’s probably not a great place for you. If you’re doing it right but you’re not getting it done, we want to coach you because you’re made of all the right stuff. If you’re doing both, you’re a superstar. If you’re getting it done but you’re not doing it right, we’re going to have to fire you faster than anybody else in the company.”
So, the one thing I would just want to leave folks with that I’ve learned is, you can get things done and you can do them the right way. And there’s no reason to have to cut corners. There’s no reason to have to do something the wrong way, and you will personally get a whole lot more satisfaction by accomplishing your goals by doing them the right way. And you’ll inspire more people to follow you if you do things the right way. And so that’s what I would want to leave folks with is: You do not have to do the wrong thing to become a successful executive.
Angelia Herrin, HBR
Alex, that’s such good advice. And this has been such a good discussion. I want to thank you so much for talking with us. Alex Shootman’s new book, Done Right: How Tomorrow’s Leaders Get Work Done, will be published in December.
What happens to people who are overconfident? Are they generally rewarded, promoted, and respected? Or do we distrust them and avoid collaborating with them? Our research suggests it may depend on how they express confidence.
One way people express confidence is verbally. We make specific, numeric expressions of confidence in our judgments, such as when making probabilistic forecasts (e.g., I’m 90% sure), or when estimating our performance relative to others (e.g., I’m in the top 10%). Much of the research on overconfidence looks at verbal expressions of overconfidence, because these can more clearly be compared to actual performance and outcomes.
But this is not the only, or even the most common, way that people express confidence. There are a number of nonverbal things we do, using body language and tone of voice, to appear confident. For example, people who feel confident tend to act dominant—speaking boldly and loudly, at a rapid pace, and starting the conversation with their own opinion. They may also nod their head for emphasis and generally have a larger presence in the room. They are seen as powerful, and others defer to them. These nonverbal expressions of confidence aren’t always perceived accurately, however, as things like culture and context can lead to different interpretations.
Both channels of communicating confidence, verbal and nonverbal, can be extremely effective at garnering positive attention and influence in groups. According to one hypothesis (the presumption of calibration hypothesis), we generally assume others have the self-knowledge to know how confident they should be, and we also assume they will truthfully communicate this confidence to us (the so-called truth bias), unless extenuating circumstances suggest otherwise. So whenever we encounter confidence, we tend to find it compelling, and we expect it to be justified.
Sometimes though, we find out information that suggests someone was actually overconfident and makes us second-guess our initial view. Maybe they said they were extremely sure, or their body language exuded confidence, and it turned out they were wrong. Here, the research has been mixed about the consequences of overconfidence.
Some research has reported that being overconfident while participating in a group activity did not damage the person’s reputation. Individuals who had acted confident about their task performance, but were later revealed to be worse at the task than they had claimed, did not suffer a severe drop in their social status in the group relative to someone who had been well-calibrated. The researchers concluded that “the status benefits of overconfidence outweighed any possible status costs”.
But other research, using vignettes or videos of people, found that eyewitnesses and job applicants who verbally stated their confidence level to evaluators did take a large reputational hit once additional information suggested they had been overconfident. For these individuals, it seems they could have saved their credibility by being more modest.
In a series of studies recently published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, we teamed up with other researchers to investigate why some of us had previously observed that overconfidence could be a liability, while some of us had found it was not. We noticed a pattern in the existing research: that the confidence expressions in studies on in-person groups were primarily nonverbal; whereas in studies with vignettes or videos, they were primarily verbal. So we tested whether the way confidence was expressed was what determined the consequences of being overconfident.
In our first study, we asked 444 online participants (mTurkers) in the U.S. to choose between two candidates to collaborate with on a task–one who was confident and one who was cautious. Participants overwhelmingly selected the confident candidate, regardless of whether confidence was described using verbal statements from the candidates, or was inferred from how the candidates carried themselves on recorded video. Then participants received performance information that could help them detect overconfidence; they found that, despite their confidence, all candidates were equally mediocre at a pre-screening version of the task.
After this revelation, now the channel by which confidence was communicated made a difference. If the candidate had expressed confidence verbally, the candidate suffered a big blow to reputation and lost the advantage; fewer people selected them as collaborators compared to the cautious candidate. However, if the candidate had expressed confidence nonverbally, this candidate kept the advantage.
We repeated this study with male and female candidates, and with two different types of tasks (an emotional IQ test and guessing strangers’ ages from photographs). We observed the same pattern of results. Confidence was always beneficial to a candidate initially, but if the candidate’s performance did not live up to expectations, then the channel of communication became a deciding factor in the candidates’ desirability as a collaborator.
In a follow-up study, we replicated this finding with 256 undergraduate participants, some of whom got to meet the candidates in person, ask them questions, and observe their nonverbal behavior, before selecting a collaborator; while others in the verbal behavior condition read the same verbal statements as in the first study. We saw even stronger results.
Why might the channel of communication have such an important role in whether overconfidence is a social liability? One feature of nonverbal behavior is that it is not so clearly tied to a specific, falsifiable claim as are verbal expressions. We explored whether this was what mattered in follow-up studies.
In one study, we asked 462 mTurk participants to select a collaborator, as the participants had done in our first studies. After the candidates’ less-than-stellar performance was revealed, we explained that the candidates had each overtly denied being overconfident about their task ability. Our participants found the denial much more plausible when the candidate had expressed confidence nonverbally rather than verbally. This was a strong indicator that plausible deniability could be behind the advantage for the candidates expressing overconfidence nonverbally.
In another follow-up study, we again found evidence to suggest that channel of communication played a key role because of plausible deniability. This time we used a judge-advisor paradigm, in which we asked 302 undergraduate participants, many of whom were majoring in business, to act as managers evaluating advisors. The advisors expressed confidence or cautiousness about their decisions on a recorded video, with varying levels of plausible deniability. For example, in one condition, the advisors expressed confidence, or lack thereof, with the video sound on mute to showcase their nonverbal behavior (e.g., head nodding for emphasis).
The results replicated our previous studies, in that confidence, no matter how it was expressed, was beneficial until it became clear that performance fell short. Then, overconfidence cost the advisors. But those who expressed confidence nonverbally (with a higher level of plausible deniability) did not lose all of their initial advantage.
These studies point to one reason why some people are penalized for being overconfident while others are not. It’s harder to hold people accountable for overestimating their abilities or knowledge when they express that confidence in nonverbal ways. It’s important to recognize these cues that demonstrate confidence – standing tall, speaking loudly, and dominating conversation – to avoid giving those who are overconfident undue influence. You can also hold colleagues accountable by asking them to be specific in their confidence assessments and by verifying their accuracy over time.
Thomas Steenburgh, a marketing professor at the University of Virginia Darden School of Business, was inspired by his early career at Xerox to discover why firms with stellar sales and R&D departments still struggle to sell new innovations. The answer, he finds, is that too many companies expect shiny new products to sell themselves. Steenburgh explains how crafting new sales processes, incentives, and training can overcome the obstacles inherent in selling new products. He’s the coauthor, along with Michael Ahearne of the University of Houston’s Sales Excellence Institute, of the HBR article “How to Sell New Products.”