When WONGDOODY, an independent agency on the West Coast of the United States, was purchased by Infosys, a technology company based in India, I was part of the executive leadership team. Shortly after the sale I was promoted to President. It was the year I turned 40, I had three boys under the age of nine, and I needed to help steer the company I led through significant changes.
In other words, I had a front row seat to business transformation and the benefits and challenges that can come when different corporate cultures need to work together.
We often talk to clients about how to harness the power of disruption to drive innovation; how to build new models through partnerships between disparate groups. When I attended WEF for the first time last year I realized that the lessons I was learning in my company could be useful for other initiatives between groups with different cultures, values, goals, styles and objectives who wanted to work together to build something important.
Since I’ve been in marketing my entire career, I looked to what I knew for models and examples. The digital transformations in media, marketing and advertising have led to innovations in technology and business that have shifted the focus to CX, or customer experience. Many of those shifts have led to a parity in CX, a commodification of experiences. It was cool the first time you got a text message from your airline that your flight was delayed or were able to deposit a check by snapping a picture of it on your phone. Now we expect that. The bar for experience has been raised.
As a result, we as marketers are shifting our attention to the human drivers behind customer expectations. At WONGDOODY we call it HX, Human Experience. What engages us emotionally, what do we want, desire, fear and crave? Big data is important, but we are reclaiming the value of qualitative data, sometimes called Thick Data. Simply put, observing, engaging and speaking directly with an individual about their lived experiences gives us information not just about what a person has done in the past, but what they want in the future. This kind of information can lead to insights that jump start innovation and transformation.
As we explored how focusing on HX for our clients and their customers - what we call HX Outside - could drive business results, we started to look at what would happen if we applied those principles internally. What does HX Inside look like for us? How could it help us navigate the sea change we were going through as a company?
The first thing we needed to do was to start asking more questions. Partnerships work better when both parties understand one another. And to understand someone you need to ask good questions. The best strategic planners ask questions of consumers with an open mind. They put their agendas and preconceived notions aside and really listen. HX Inside starts with asking questions across an organization and really listening to the answers.
To set aside limiting ideas or prejudices, you have to understand that you have them. Too often we take as fact something that is only story. We all have narratives, many of them formed by our cultural background, race or gender identity. But often these stories are limiting for ourselves and for others. We need to get to a place where we can understand what stories we are telling ourselves so we can move outside of them. Otherwise we won’t be able to really hear across differences.
Very few of us have the capacity to understand our own privilege or the cultural biases we carry without outside help. Which is why diversity of experience, gender, race, ability, age, and nationality is critical for an organization to evolve. And it’s not enough to have people in your company who represent a diverse world. You must listen to them, place them in leadership, empower them to challenge you and reward truth telling.
If you do this, you can find the shared values. That’s where the gold is, the deep beliefs and principles you have in common. A partnership built on shared values is built on a strong foundation. This year I’m a delegate at Davos. The other delegates from Infosys are a different gender, race, and cultural background. I’m the white girl from California who didn’t see snow fall from the sky until I was an adult. But we all share a deep commitment to the people that we work with, we see work as a means of uplifting and improving people’s lives. And we want technology to work towards that goal. We also share a commitment to learning and changing, we embrace a responsive engaged style of working together.
And finally, the best expression of HX Inside is never losing sight of our shared humanity. Kindness, respect and attention can solidify and build on the foundation of shared values. I try to put away my electronic devices in every meeting and really pay attention to the people with whom I am speaking. I try to assume best intention in others and be curious about why people make choices I might not make. And in those inevitable moments of tension or misalignment, I try to bring us all back to the shared values and beliefs that ground our work together.