A CykoMetrix Spotlight Production

Every week, the Spotlight shines on an amazing professional with a story to tell and lessons to teach. Welcome to the CykoMetrix Spotlight.

The following is an adapted transcript of the exchange between Sylvain Rochon, CMO at CykoMetrix as host, and Mari Anne Snow, Founder and CEO of Sophaya and The Remote Nation Institute www.sophaya.com .

Sylvain Rochon: Welcome to CykoMetrix Spotlight. My name is Sylvain Rochon. I’m the chief marketing officer of CykoMetrix, a leading-edge combinatorial psychometric and human data analytics company that brings the employee assessment industry to the cloud with instant assessments in-depth analysis, trait measurements, and team-based reporting features that simplify informed decision making on recruiting, training, and managing today’s modern workplace.

Today, I am with Mari Anne Snow. Ms. Snow is the founder of Sophaya Consulting and The Remote Nation Institute. She is a recognized expert in remote and distributed team leadership and best practices for organizational work, remote work, and remote team project productivity. Mari Anne is a former senior executive at State Street bank and former adjunct faculty at Bentley and Suffolk Universities, a guest lecturer at Warren Alpert School of Medicine at Brown University, Northeastern University, Emerson College, Bryant University, Boston College, Providence College, and the University of Tampa. You’ve been to a lot of universities, that’s great.

Mari Anne recently co-founded Eascra Biotech, a life science startup focused on the development of a novel family of Janus based nanotechnologies that address RNA therapeutic delivery and provide innovative solutions for cartilage regeneration and repair. Her work with Eascra Biotech is the ultimate remote team project as product development work will take place in partnership with NASA an Axiom space on the international space station. Very exciting. Mari Anne’s book, “The Remote Work Handbook” is due for publication in the summer of 2022, so soon. Congratulations on the new book Mari Anne, and also congratulations on all those projects. You’re in space, you’re doing consulting for teams and to improve team productivity, my kind of gal doing all these things, helping people. Thank you so much to be on the spotlight.

Mari Anne Snow: Wonderful to be here. Thanks for having me.

Sylvain: Beautiful. Now, you’ve done all these things and it would take three shows to cover everything that you’re doing because they’re so different from each other. We’re going to focus today on the team consulting, what you’re doing regarding productivity and how you use data to measure productivity. That is a challenge you’re dealing with. People and productivity is typically measured in with very classical KPIs like how many units are you selling, that kind of thing, but I think you mean something different when you talk about using data. Why don’t you explain that?

Mari Anne: Yeah. Ironically, one of the things that you and I have discussed in the past is, there is actually a unifying tangential thread here. The unifying tangential thread is all of the projects that I work on are really centered around the dynamic that exists in many organizations today, which is people have to come together around a shared goal or a shared objective, but they need to do it in new interesting innovative ways because they’re not co-located, they’re not physically together in a single space and for many of us, for folks who have worked in international organizations or in institutions that are spread out. Certainly, globalization introduced this many, many years ago, but how do you come together as a team? However you’re defining that and be able to accomplish things, to be able to collaborate well, to be able to interact effectively, regardless of whether we’re working with healthcare, whether we’re working with insurance companies, our financial companies, our manufacturing companies, life science or NASA.

We still have people who have to come together who are not sitting in the same space. So, I want to frame that context for our discussion because there’s a universality around how we think about productivity within teams and as you are defining that very often, we have associated that with, as you said, more typical KPIs, right? You sell X amount and yet when you really think about it, whether we are working together in one physical space or we’re co-located across many different geographies and many different time zones, how many things you sell still apply? Don’t assume that traditional KPIs that are applied in more traditional brick-and-mortar co-located environments don’t apply to this new context because they actually do.

Sylvain: When you’re doing consulting with Sophaya, or RNI how do you qualify productivity? How do you measure, what kind of KPIs do you use?

Mari Anne: Well, typically, when we’re working with a client engagement and we are contracting with a group that comes to us and says, we’re working on a many locations, we happen to have a national or an international footprint. We’re collaborating across distance and multi-generations, so people have different orientations towards technology then appreciate at that point. The first thing that we’re doing is we’re sitting down and we’re saying to those organizations, “Well, let’s talk first about what it is that you’re trying to accomplish, because if you’re going to develop a set of meaningful metrics, then the first thing you need to do is you need to have a clear understanding of what it is that you’re trying to accomplish as an organization and institution or as a group.” KPIs, while you may end up with universal themes that are going to bleed through and will have consistency from organization to organization.

One of the things that we try and do is we try and take people through a logical process of evaluating what their term goals are and what it is that they’re trying to accomplish because you need to tie KPIs to a couple of things. First of all, a longer horizon objective, and then the second thing that you’re trying to tie it to is how are we going to measure it? We’re going to measure it based on the longer-term objective that is evaluated against where we are today, so that we have some sort of a standard baseline so that now we can actually evaluate in some sort of a logical context, right?

Sylvain: Right. Can you give me an example of that application, maybe from a client recently, or how did you come up with a model, KPIs and that kind of thing?

Mari Anne: One of our things that we’re doing on a very routine basis is very often because remote work is still kind of a hot-button issue for people. This always makes me chuckle a little bit because when I come to an initial client conversation, my conversations are happening with C-suite senior executives who have a more traditional mindset. The very first part of the conversation they’re talking to me about, “well we believe face to face is the only option, we believe that having people in an office is really important that there are all sorts of intangibles that are going to be a part of that environment that are going to be helpful.” I could give you a specific example. From the last four almost five years now, we’ve worked with US based national insurance company.

That was a very typical conversation that I would have not only with senior executives but operations people and then in the second part of the conversation, I would say to them, “Have you ever worked while you were traveling? Do you have everyone working in the same physical space? Have you ever used conference calls as an option? How do you pull people together to be able to have a joint meeting? What you find out when you start having those conversations, as you start finding out that people have actually been engaged in distributed work forms of remote work, dispersed teamwork because that’s the construct. Then the next question is, “How do you evaluate people now?” Very often, quite frankly, the dirty little secret is the way you’re evaluating people now is based on an erroneous assumption that if I can see you, you’re productive, if I can touch you, or if I can have physical contact with you, that means that you’re being productive.

There is an over-romanticizing of the current office structure. There’s an assumption that there are actually concrete KPIs in place and in this particular case, what we discovered was that there were universal competencies that had been defined and had been, utilized in more traditional office structures and yet they weren’t being applied consistently. They weren’t actually metrics-oriented and managers and leaders had a certain amount of subjective opportunities to be able to apply those standards quite differently.

One of the conversations that we had with this particular client was, “Then let’s go back to basics and let’s start with some fundamentals and the fundamentals were what is it that you’re trying to accomplish with this group? If you have teams of people who are not sitting in the same spot, then what are the universal standards that you want for them? What are their job requirements? What kind of outcomes are you looking for? How are their efforts tied to business value? We actually went through not only the assessment process, but an identification process to talk about universal frameworks for how to operate, but make that work actually move the group forward towards goal achievement. There’s a certain irony to the fact that these are fundamentals that we think exist and yet for a lot of companies don’t exist.

Sylvain: You brought in that point in the example where companies, individuals, they have an impression of what’s really happening because of their past experiences or whatever. Like you said, “Well, I can see people in the office and therefore they must be productive because they’re supervised” and stuff like that. But if we want to properly measure, compare to models of productivity, for example, you have to gather data on both so if you have your in-office KPIs and you see your sales and you see your metrics, if you want to know if that’s better than something else, you have to try the other thing and measure that, right? Then you can compare beyond the impressions that you may have that could be entirely erroneous. That’s not a practical way to do business if you don’t want to try something unless there’s really a problem. How do you apply or let’s go this way, what type of tools do you use to apply measurements to measure ahead of time in order to predict better outcomes of better KPIs within a team? Some people are probably more productive in an office environment and others are probably more productive working from home and it varies, right? What are the tools that you use to make a diagnosis and to determine what’s best for a client?

Mari Anne: I think I’m going to push back on you a little bit because there are actually ways that you can test against the norm, test against the baseline, right? You could do it the same way that you would conduct any sort of research experiment: do it on a limited basis, create a pilot situation, right? That was what actually happened with this insurance client, where we were working with them on an office consolidation that was happening in a very defined geography, a very defined part of the company. It was a very small segment. We were talking about out of 4000 employees, we were talking about 200 people, it was a very small subset and because we were working with a defined group and because we were working with that minor subset of the whole, we had an opportunity to really create test conditions.

Because we were working as a pilot group, it gave us an opportunity to be able to evaluate job descriptions and business requirements, functional standards, customer outcomes, all of those sorts of things, but to do it in the context of that particular group, and then look at it holistically, because we appreciate that when you’re looking at KPIs within a dispersed or remote team culture. Now you have to think about how are we going to do this technically. How are we going to do this operationally? What kind of equipment does it take? What kind of functional constraints are there? What is necessary to be able to design the desired outcome? Then what do we have to teach folks who are leading these teams, leading these individuals, and then what do we have to teach an actual employee in order to position them for success?

When you do that, there’s all sorts of opportunities for metrics and KPIs because you’re actually defining from the baseline, where are we here versus where do we want to be? Every time you’re going through this process, you have an opportunity to say, “Okay, what are the employee policies? What does the job description look like? What is day-to-day operational flow? How do we support that? What’s the technical piece?” Then every single one of those elements is going to have something that would allow us to be able to say, “Okay, so what’s the standard? What are we trying to achieve?” The nice part about it, for this particular organization; we were actually working on this project two years before COVID. Appreciate that while you had just referenced the fact that it’s hard to test some of this stuff. I said I was going to push back. You’ve got two things, one, you can create pilot situations.

Then the second piece with COVID was a global proof of concept that the world could continue doing business in many ways without disruption. The work that we had been doing for two years in this national insurance company allowed this company to send 4000 people home in less than three weeks because we took the framework from the pilots, and we scaled it. We saw the whole process. We literally saw the whole process, how you take it in the micro, work out the logistics and the details, and then really take the learnings from that so that you can scale it on the macro level. It was very satisfying.

Sylvain: Well, it’s an ideal timing for that entire process because you were doing the pilot and then COVID was unplanned. But then they were forced into it and people had to adapt and test some new ideas out, really when perhaps they would not have taken the chance.

Mari Anne: Although, I will let you know that if you run a dispersed organization — we had another client that we had been working with actually pre-COVID… Part of their organization is a dispersed team. They’re one of the largest distributors of hearing aids, retail sellers and distributors of hearing aids in the United States. In that particular circumstance, they have clinical outlets all around their geographic territories. Yet, there were very specific things that had to happen in order for them to have consistency, and be able to measure daily sales and do inventory, control and do all these sorts of things.

In that particular case, I worked with the senior leadership team to create an operational framework and a communication strategy that allowed them to be able to evaluate technology and automate when it was relevant, to be able to implement human resource and operational standards. Again, we went through an entire situation again, pre-COVID, where we created a remotely dispersed training team that supported a major operations rollout where they had to replace old technology that was antiquated and about to not be supported. We did it entirely with a dispersed and a distributed team so that we could have folks on the ground around the system. We were coming together with video, with all the technology that was available.

We could measure against it, Sylvain, because we knew what a daily operation was before the rollout. We knew what was happening during the lead-up. We had actually done it on a limited basis in a lab situation and in a sandbox, a technical sandbox. We conducted all the training virtually. We set up all of the processes virtually. Every single thing was happening with remote and distributed teams. When COVID came, they didn’t lose sales. They didn’t have to shut operations. They were able to mobilize their system right away because everything that we had done up to that point was in preparation. It’s almost like we spent several years prepping them for the moment that COVID came because they were able to react really fast. They were able to make business decisions. They were able to do really interesting things and that was because their leadership had such forethought. I appreciate that this stuff was happening before COVID.

This stuff was happening in the midst of COVID. In the midst of COVID, we were actually working with healthcare systems to help them mobilize and get information out and talk to people in their system because everyone was siloed and locked down because of just the nature of the pandemic. We’ve been applying these standards both within our portfolio, not only locally in the US, but we’ve worked internationally with other organizations because this is the reality of today. If you have an organization that’s not sitting in the same place, then you really have to think about it a little differently.

Sylvain: Well, yeah, but I think every company had to pivot and adapt to the situation. Not every company had somebody like you guys already working with them and figuring stuff out, other models out, including remote. A lot of companies pre-pandemic or during the pandemic were thinking about, well, what about remote and the next thing because there was a trend towards that pre-pandemic, a desire for people to work at home, the ability to do so because of zoom and things like that. But now COVID happens and then people were forced into it.

The companies that had at least some support in figuring that out came out in a better situation during the pandemic, they were more adaptable. Do you find that, because you work with a lot of different companies in different industries, there is a typical leadership that is able to adapt better or that have the foresight to choose to get these things into processes before crisis happens? Have you found that there is a composition of executives or leadership that are ideal pivoters able to manage that better? I’m just curious of your experience.

Mari Anne: Yeah. I think that there are some universal traits that are associated with folks who are a little more open to this. I can tell you that the insurance company was actually universally skeptical. But they were business pragmatic where the numbers were such that, in that particular circumstance, the numbers and also the changes that are happening with consumers and how consumers buy products like insurance now, are requiring responsible leadership teams to evaluate different things. But I can tell you that the folks who are embracing this and I would put my hearing aid client in this particular category. I will tell you another organization that we were working with, Toyota.

Toyota, as an organization that plan 50 years in advance, 50, five zero. Now, who does this, right? Well, Toyota does this. My suspicion is, that organizations like Google [are this way], organizations that have thought labs. My hearing aid company was always experimenting. They were actually experimenting with virtual receptionists before and the way that they were doing that was, they were not only open to some of the technology changes, but they did things like they went to the consumer electronic show, the CES show every year, just to see what was happening because, in a business where you have to sell things, you always have to be saying, “Well, what’s the next best thing in order to be able to stay ahead.” Toyota was thinking futuristically because they’re also watching what’s happening in the automobile market.

Tesla sells differently. Carvana has changed the way people are oriented around things. Ridesharing is changing things. Toyota came to me and we actually did a joint project where I was working with them to help their dealers who are much more resistant to change. Toyota was saying, “Listen, we’ve got the money, we’ve got the beans, we think 50 years in advance, so we’re gonna be okay. But we are saying to you folks, dealers, we know you made money. We know that the old way worked for you, but the old way is going by the wayside so get on board.” Folks who are looking in the future, Sylvain, you and I talked about this. It’s those of us who are thinking about what happens if there’s a universal income experiment that’s useful. What happens when robotics make changes?

What happens when autonomous cars are actually driving and that means autonomous trucks, that means autonomous trains, it means lots of big shifts. I think it’s the folks who are looking at the opportunity, who are saying, “How do we maintain relevance,” who are pragmatic business people and say, “I’m uncomfortable with this, but darn it, I want my company to maintain relevance and be here. I want to be a good steward, and I want to be able to move the organization forward.”

Those are the folks who are taking the risks. Then you also just have operations people who have to do this because they work with colleagues who don’t sit with them and they’re seeing the value of those colleagues, but they also just want to do good work, they want to get things done. Then as those people become leaders, they’re less skeptical about this type of work, because they’ve seen the value of it, and they’ve engaged in that value themselves.

Sylvain: That’s really interesting. Well, these are my favorite people, right? We’ve talked about this a bit, people that are a little bit looking ahead and being inventive and creative. Not the whole world is like that. Some people tend to be more conservative in their thinking, more careful, and more methodical, which is also good. These are good qualities too.

Mari Anne: I honestly think you need both, right? But I think that if you’re going to maintain relevance now, for example, you can’t just learn a skill and expect that skill to be the same 10 years from now. Because technology is moving differently, consumer practices are moving differently, and pandemics happen. Whether you like it or not, whether it’s comfortable or not is almost irrelevant. The question is, are you in a position to maintain your current circumstance to the end, or are you going to make a shift if it’s necessary? The world is basically saying you’d better shift or you will find an end.

Sylvain: I think that’s accurate, especially these days where I don’t think we can change fast enough it seems because everything’s going at a breakneck speed. Everything’s changing constantly. Conservatism is definitely a desirable trait for a lot of situations, but it seems to me like we need a lot more progression these days to kind of move ahead. That means more crazy people like you and I, I suppose being involved and just shaking things up. Then have the conservatives pull us back a little bit. It’s like, “Oh, consider these other things,” like, okay. It’s the mix that makes the magic, right? It’s the team environment and having a mix of intelligent, clever people that have different views of the world. That’s where you get really good results as long as they can get along and find a way to work together.

Mari Anne: That’s my universal thread. My universal thread is no matter how automated we become, there will still be people. As long as there are people they have to interact. As long as they interact, that means, people are messy by definition, they’re messy, wonderful and frustrating, and maddening at times, and yet how do we come together and how do we utilize our strengths? How do we see those differences as positive? How do we really meld each of these perspectives into something powerful?

Because the problems that we’re facing as humans are going to require that. That means that we have to have conversations with lots of people. That’s why my attitude towards life is everybody I meet is a friend I haven’t met and I have something to learn from them. I’m willing to be transparently open but also to share my expertise or my learning and work in collaborative ways.

Sylvain: That’s in part why we’re talking, creating collaboration, exposing ideas to others, through social media and otherwise. I’m hoping there is going to be people that are watching this video or reading the blog and say, “I would really like to contact Sophaya or Mari Anne directly and to get her to figure out how my organization can benefit from all that wisdom, increase productivity and maybe go remote because that’s still a transformation even today with two, almost three years into the pandemic. Thank you so much for participating in the spotlight and exposing your wisdom, your experience and your thoughts about this. It’s really important.

Mari Anne: Thanks so much. I’m very passionate about sharing experiences and information. I think the last few years have been a big struggle. If we have information that will help people, then they should reach out. They can find me via LinkedIn or through our website, www.sophaya.com . Or reach out to me through LinkedIn. I’m always very grateful to have conversations and to learn about folks who are thinking about what’s next.

Sylvain: Excellent. We do have these links up in the description guys so if you want to take a look at it, you could just click on those links, and you’ll be led in the appropriate location to contact Mari Anne. Thank you so much for participating in this. This has been great.

Mari Anne: Well, thanks so much. It’s been a pleasure.

Sylvain: Thank you.

About Mari Anne Snow – www.linkedin.com/in/mariannesnow1

Ms. Snow is the founder of Sophaya Consulting and the Remote Nation Institute (RNI). She is a recognized expert in remote and distributed team leadership and best practices for operationalizing remote work and remote team productivity. Mari Anne is a former senior executive at State Street Bank and former Adjunct faculty at Bentley and Suffolk Universities; guest lecturer at Warren Alpert School of Medicine at Brown University, Northeastern University, Emerson College, Bryant University, Boston College, Providence College, and University of Tampa.

Mari Anne recently co-founded Eascra Biotech, a life science start-up focused on the development of a novel family of Janus base nano technologies that address RNA therapeutic delivery and provide innovative solutions for cartilage regeneration and repair. Her work with Eascra Biotech is the ultimate remote team project as the product development work will take place in partnership with NASA and Axiom Space on the International Space Station (ISS). Mari Anne’s book, The Remote Work Handbook, is due for publication the summer of 2022.

About CykoMetrix – www.CykoMetrix.com

CykoMetrix is a leading edge combinatorial psychometric and human data analytics company that brings the employee assessment industry to the cloud, with instant assessments, in-depth analysis, trait measurements, and team-based reporting features that simplify informed decision-making around recruiting, training, and managing today’s modern workplace.

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