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May 20, 2024 | 11 Mins Read

Why Mental Health Matters So Much in Service – And Some Expert Advice on What to Do About It

May 20, 2024 | 11 Mins Read

Why Mental Health Matters So Much in Service – And Some Expert Advice on What to Do About It

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I hear time and time again at conferences that, “Service is, and always will be, a people business.” In service, our people are our greatest asset.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month and the 2024 theme is “Take the Moment.” According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, the Take the Moment campaign is intended to “encourage us to foster open dialogues, cultivate empathy and understanding and to share resources to support individuals and families on their journey towards mental wellness.”

We’re “taking the moment” to discuss this topic today because it is one that is important to me, personally, and important to you – our audience – because it’s an issue that is demanding attention in the workplace today. No longer can discussions around mental health be avoided at work, no longer can employee wellbeing be seen as “soft,” and no longer can leaders be successful without deploying empathy, compassion, and vulnerability.

I look at the progress we’ve made in destigmatizing mental health with deep appreciation but look at how much work there is left to do to eliminate bias and truly support teams and am eager to watch the leaders, individuals, companies, and organizations that will step up to lead the charge. As someone who navigates various challenges such as anxiety and depression that stem from C-PTSD, I am thankful that the world is becoming one in which you can show up as you are in regard to mental health and not fear the same judgement or backlash that was once guaranteed. I’m also thankful that the workplace is becoming somewhere where mental health journeys can be normalized and wellbeing prioritized.

When I consider the work left to be done, I find myself drawn back to the power of storytelling. In a recent podcast with Marco Hugo Gutierrez of Tetra Pak, we discussed how the company is putting the focus on employee wellbeing that it deserves. Marco shared that when Tetra Pak looked into the engagement of its field workforce, isolation was one of the biggest challenges they faced.

Isolation being an issue for a field engineer who rarely visits an office or engages face-to-face with teams makes sense. But the reality is, we can all face periods of isolation at work – some due to remote work arrangements, and others when they feel they can’t share openly or be themselves in a work setting.

Last week, we featured the story of Rob Stephenson, TEDx Speaker, Mental Health Campaigner, Keynote Speaker, CEO of FormScore®, and Founder of the InsideOut LeaderBoard® on the UNSCRIPTED podcast. Rob lives with bipolar disorder and based on his own life experience was motivated to make a career out of campaigning for mental health and helping organizations take action in an area that can still bring with it some apprehension, sensitivity, confusion, and even skepticism.

If you yourself do or have struggled with your mental health, I hope you will take from this that you are not alone and that there are people who care and are willing to listen – me being one of them. I also hope that maybe if you’re in a position that you’re able, you will consider the power of sharing your own story. If you have team members you want to be able to do a better job of helping, I hope you’ll find value in some of the advice Rob shares. If you’re reading this and question why Future of Field Service is covering this topic, I hope you question that response and really dig into what’s behind it.

Words of Advice from a Mental Health Advocate

Let’s start by ensuring an understanding of why smashing mental health stigma matters so much. “I think the reason that it's so important to smash the stigma and challenge these misconceptions is at the most extreme end, it's costing lives. People are not getting the help and support they need. They're not comfortable asking for help. And we're losing lives to suicide,” explains Rob. “But also, if we can start to receive help and understand what is driving mental ill health and start to manage that, whether that's with medication or whether it's with exercise, via social connections, whatever it might be, we can then just tap into those strengths that come with being human.”

It’s helpful to consider that stigmas are rooted in fear, because that allows action through education. “We want workplaces where teams can thrive, but we can't thrive if we don't feel comfortable talking about a challenge. Stigma itself comes from fear, and fears are often countered by knowledge. So, the idea of educating ourselves about these conditions is really important. I think much of this comes from the way mental illness has been portrayed over the years. It's Jack Nicholson, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, the Lunatic Asylum, all of these words that have come into common vernacular. We've got to break all of that down. We're human. We're all individuals. We're all unique. We're all on a continuum of something, whether it's neurodiversity, whether it's mental health, whether it's well-being, whether it's opportunity, whether it's privilege. And some of us are just more extreme. That's not wrong. It's just human. And I think as we accept the differences in society, then that comes with understanding. Understanding comes with education and awareness.”

Beyond stigma, people can often freeze because they are afraid that if someone opens up to them about a struggle they’re having, they must know how to help. Rob dispels that myth, “The question I often get asked by people is, what about if someone says that they are struggling to me? What should I do? We're fearful of that as well, because as humans, particularly in the workplace, our jobs are generally to fix things, right? You can't fix someone who comes and says, I'm experiencing depression, anxiety, PTSD, or whatever. There are professionals that can help to do that over time to manage and to come to terms with. But as a friend, a boss, or a loved one, you can't immediately solve that problem, and nor should you try. And I often say that we're not qualified to fix people, but we are qualified to listen as a human being. And sometimes knowing that person is there to listen unconditionally, and you can be yourself with that person, that's a huge benefit when we're struggling. And it's these little simple things that make the burden easier to carry.”

Rob observes that companies are at varying points in not only accepting the importance of mental health as a workplace focus but in taking action to make progress. “We're seeing another sort of continuum there of organizations that are not doing anything, organizations that are ticking or checking a box, and then organizations that truly value the well-being of employees,” he says. “It’s okay that we're all at different stages; what I don't like to see are organizations that are understanding for their employer brand that we've got to do something about well-being. So, we'll get an employee assistance program. We'll maybe have a few awareness sessions. We'll have some benefits, and that's well-being: done! The organizations that get it understand that well-being is not just a benefits issue; something to offer people when they're struggling. Organizations that really understand the work that needs to be done here understand that actually it's about ways of working. It's about fairness. It's about belonging. It's about inclusion. It's about unrealistic work demands. It's about psychological safety.”

This distinction is tied to whether a company is truly taking a people-first approach, or simply checking a box of what they feel they need to do to “contribute” to such an important topic. “Most people-oriented organizations, somewhere in their marketing materials, you'll see people are our greatest asset. So why do we invest more time servicing the photocopier in certain cases, right? It's about thinking, what is the objective of our organization? Now, most organizations, again, will have some objective around the creation of shareholder value, which is right because that's how these organizations are owned. But what about the creation of value for employees beyond the financial? Is coming to that workplace a life-enhancing experience? If not, why not? Because it should be. And if we get this right, those employees will be higher performing. There's a whole bunch of research coming out of Oxford University and other organizations that categorically show that a well-engaged workforce will perform better. It leads to higher personal performance, team performance, even company and stock market performance. So, if we get it right, the other performance aspects will follow. But we've got to choose to get it right for the right reasons that we want employees to have that experience, not just to check a box to say we've done well-being.”

Solidly agree on the importance of the issue, but unsure where to start? “Talk to your employees and really understand what's going on for them,” suggests Rob. “Because we can often sit at the center in large organizations and make assumptions with what will work for their well-being without asking the people that we're trying to help. Psychological safety, as championed by Amy Edmondson of Harvard, talks about the belief you won't be held back, punished for speaking out, admitting a mistake, or coming up with an idea. But, where our well-being is concerned, I think it's really interesting to understand whether employees feel comfortable in saying, my work demands are negatively affecting my health right now. What can we do about it? And I think if we can get to a culture where that is seen as safe in doing so, I think that's a really good starting point.”

The role of the leader in creating that psychological safety is imperative and depends significantly on the willingness to be vulnerable. “Can the leader talk about, it doesn't need to be a mental health challenge, can the leader talk about a time when they've needed to prioritize their own well-being at work? What have they done to do that? Can the leader talk about their well-being non-negotiables? What are the two or three things each week they need to do to stay well?” asks Rob. “If we start doing that at the team level and asking others what their non-negotiables are, then you're normalizing the well-being conversation. You're giving people permission. Leaders influence work and work culture, but it takes time to do so.”

Know that, as a leader, you don’t have to have mental health struggles to apply vulnerability and move the needle in this area. “We all have mental health. We all exist on a continuum. Some of us will experience a mental health challenge or a diagnosable mental illness. Everybody will experience mental ill health from time to time, excess stress or difficulty sleeping or whatever it might be. And then we all have well-being, and we can all prioritize our well-being. Mental health would be one aspect of our well-being alongside physical well-being, spiritual well-being, et cetera,” explains Rob. “So often the conversation, particularly with leaders is well, I don't feel comfortable talking about my mental health. Well, that's fine. But recognize that you will do things as a leader to maintain good mental health or positive well-being. You'll prioritize sleep. You'll maybe exercise. You might think about your nutrition. You might socialize with friends. You have time with family. All these things nourish us, right? So, for the leaders that might be a bit uncertain about even speaking out on this topic, you're actually doing it already, but by talking about it, it normalizes it in the teams. So, then we're not asking people to share back how they're feeling about any mental health challenge. We're saying, what do you need to do to stay well? Is it taking your lunch away from your desk? Is it putting a micro break in the day? Is it going to the gym? Is it that soccer match? Is it book club? Whatever. We all do different things to look after ourselves, but if we can get people talking about this, then that sends a strong message in the team that it's not only, you don't have permission, but you are encouraged to go and do this.”

However, if you do have a mental health challenge, sharing some aspects of it – if you’re willing – can be powerful. “I'm generalizing here, but most people wouldn't feel too uncomfortable putting a doctor's appointment on their schedule. Many more people would feel less comfortable putting therapy on their schedule. And again, if you see a leader putting therapy in their diary, in an open diary, that sends a strong message,” says Rob. “And I love to hear CEOs talk about going to therapy.” This is an example of how you can illustrate the acceptance of prioritizing mental health without getting into details.

Rob reinforces the importance of looking at wellbeing not through the lens of benefits or perks, but in really assessing if the ways of working in your organization are healthy and sustainable. “Often we'll see huge investment in well-being programs and benefits that are then underutilized and often will be underutilized because of poor communication, but mainly because people feel they don't have the time or the permission or the psychological safety to do so,” he cautions. “And you see a lot of memes out there, you can't meditate your way out of burnout or a 16-hour day, which is true. Benefits have their role, but you've got to start with ways of working. Are we putting people under appropriate amounts of pressure? Do we have appropriate resources for this job in hand or for this particular team? Do people feel safe in their workplace? Do they feel like they've got a sense of belonging? Can they be themselves? Are we creating an environment that creates a social connection with our workplaces, particularly if we're doing more stuff over Zoom or we've got people on the road? Let's start the hard work, which is looking at culture, looking at teams, looking at psychological safety, looking at what's really going on for people.”

If you’re still not convinced now is the time to act, or take further action, to normalize mental health and promote employee wellbeing, the proof is in the stats. “Some organizations still feel that well-being is a soft issue,” says Rob. “For the cynics, I'd point them to the research. So Indeed, the jobs board, have a happiness index run by Oxford University and they've collected basically about 20 million data points of people ranking their companies on well-being. They’ve taken that data and mapped it against the stock market and for the top 100 companies on well-being, they significantly outperform the markets. Now, in a market where there is a war for talent and employees, ignore well-being at your peril. So, if you don't believe it's morally the right thing to do and you have a duty of care to create a culture conducive to wellness, understand that you’re missing a really big performance opportunity by ignoring well-being.”

May 13, 2024 | 4 Mins Read

Field Service Palm Springs 2024: Event Highlights

May 13, 2024 | 4 Mins Read

Field Service Palm Springs 2024: Event Highlights

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Last week I landed in sunny Palm Springs for my umpteenth WBR Field Service event (truly, I’ve lost count). This event is a pleasure each year – there are so many friendly faces that it’s wonderful to see, and new faces join in each year as the industry grows and evolves.

This writeup isn’t meant to be a formal review or a complete synopsis of the event, rather a summary of what stood out to me as someone who covers the space weekly and has attended the event over more than a decade. There was a much wider variety of topics covered than what I’ll touch on here, and some points on which I plan to expand in upcoming articles.

Now going into the event, I fully expected ample AI coverage – more like aggressive if I’m being honest. And I wasn’t wrong; AI was one of the cornerstone topics of the event. As it should be, given the exciting advancements in technology and the real-world applications driving value for service organizations. What pleasantly surprised me, however, was how well-balanced the AI discussions were with points about the criticality of employee engagement, empowerment, and effective leadership.

AI Everywhere

While some of the sessions seemed to force the AI narrative, there were plenty of actionable discussions and practical advice. One of my favorite statements around the topic was, “there’s no killer app, only a killer use case.” When it comes to AI and all of its buzz, this is important to remember – the reason to invest in the technology isn’t because it’s all the rage but because it solves a challenge within your business.

Moreover, investing in AI doesn’t demand a revolutionary approach – it can be an evolution of how you further derive value from systems in place. In a panel on Best (and Worst) Use Cases for AI, examples of this were shared such as improving chat bot functionality in customer service or adding ease and automation to a technician’s knowledge resources while on site with a customer. During this panel the speakers, Haroon Abbu of Bell & Howell and Jessica Murillo of IBM, also worked to dispel myths about AI. These included easing concerns that AI is meant to replace people, remembering that AI isn’t always right and false trust is risky, and pointing out that AI isn’t only for large companies; it’s accessible to all.

Practical advice was shared across that panel discussion and others: understanding there’s real work around data readiness underneath all the hype and ignoring this keeps initiatives from fruition. Focus early efforts on identifying where techs are being bogged down or spending a lot of time and looking for ways to – in bite size chunks – apply AI to create ease. Words of caution reminding attendees that, if you aren’t pushing the envelope – you’ll fail. And emphasizing the absolute criticality of diversity – in data and in talent – when looking to make use of today’s AI capabilities.

People at the Center

As I stated, I was expecting major AI buzz. But what I wasn’t expecting was just how many sessions were leaders speaking about how important our focus on people is (and I couldn’t agree more). In the opening keynote, Alban Cambournac of Schneider Electric set the stage by discussing how employee engagement drives customer satisfaction. His message was echoed and reinforced over the next three days.

This included acknowledgement of cultural differences and discussion around how best to navigate this. Joe Lang of Comfort Systems spoke about the difference between technology adoption (implementation of a good idea) versus utilization (following orders) and why that difference matters so much.

Adam Gloss of McKinstry delivered a wonderful keynote on day two of the event, showcasing the differences between a people-first culture and one that isn’t. He spoke about how trust, teamwork, and inclusion increase a workforce’s capacity for change, and how that capacity for change spurs companies ahead of the competition.

There was a panel of young talent speaking about what the industry needs to consider as it develops future leaders, which the moderator summarized by saying that building the next generation of leaders “doesn’t require new tricks but requires a mindful approach that’s curated to the individual. That’s always been the right thing, but it hasn’t always been crucial to do.”

Corrie Prunuske and Roy Dockery gave a keynote double-header on diversity and inclusion, in which Corrie shared a lot of her personal journey and lessons learned and Roy shed light on some of the shortcomings in how companies recruit today that are holding them back from true diversity among their teams.

I was thrilled that the focus on humanity was just as strong as the focus on AI. The question was raised after one session that, “The systems are transforming – becoming more sophisticated. Are we?” I think this is an important question for both companies and leaders to be asking themselves, in relation to not only the customer value proposition and technology use, but also in what surrounds our people – engagement and empowerment, leadership, true diversity, and inclusive culture. Those that can’t strike the balance between both worlds, like the event did between these topics, will struggle.

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May 7, 2024 | 10 Mins Read

Sage Advice for Selling the Value of Outcomes-Based Services

May 7, 2024 | 10 Mins Read

Sage Advice for Selling the Value of Outcomes-Based Services

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Not too long ago, in my discussions for the podcast or at industry events there was a lot of talk around the relevance of outcomes versus products (or solely services). Leaders would share stories about what customers really want – peace of mind – to evangelize thinking beyond the traditional products + services equation. At this point, it seems the value of outcomes-based service is understood, and the talk has shifted to: How?

If you missed last week’s podcast with Alastair Winner, partner and co-founder of Mossrake Group, a consulting firm that helps organizations bring advanced services solutions to market, I’d encourage you to go back and have a listen. We cover a lot, and his advice is spot on, and born of years of experience both as a provider and a consultant.

For those of you that prefer reading to listening, let me recap some of the important points that I think are relevant for anyone and everyone on the outcomes-based journey, whether truly at the beginning or along the path of brining the vision to life.

Defining Outcomes

First and foremost, it’s important to clearly define what you mean when you’re saying “outcomes-based” service. As Alastair points out, this topic has been subject of a lot of buzz and is subject to many loose interpretations.

“It's one of those buzzwords that tend to get used a lot. But when but when you scratch beneath the surface, very often you'll find quite different experiences and solutions,” he says. “We define what we meant by outcomes in four key steps. Firstly, it's this combination of products and services that are presented to the customer as a service. Secondly, the value of that outcome is described in a language that the customer really understands. The third point is that we need to measure the outcome with an outcomes KPI that describes the outcome in a way that both the service provider and the customer agrees is applicable. And the fourth point is that the service provider is responsible for ensuring that the outcome is delivered over the time specified in the service contract. What we have seen very often is that product companies will take their traditional products and services, combine them together in a similar way, but present that through some sort of leasing mechanism. Which certainly has some value but, in the end, still has all of the operational overheads and risks that you would associate with any other purchasing model.”

As outcomes-based services become more widely used, the savviness of customers is rising – making it important for providers to understand the rules of engagement and what savvy customers will be seeking (and avoiding). While savvy customers are on the rise, the majority aren’t yet, which is also important to note as it gives the provider an opportunity to help lead the way, build trust, and be seen as the knowledgeable and capable party a customer will want to purchase outcomes from.

Understanding the Outcomes Personas

Who you sell outcomes to will be different from who you’ve sold traditional products or services to, and developing your understanding of the personas involved in an outcomes agreement is key to successfully selling. “Most of the work that we've done is introducing this as a new business model, a new concept, which will require you to talk to more people than you would have otherwise,” explains Alastair.

He gives a synopsis of the five personas commonly involved in outcomes:

  • The operational owner – historically has taken responsibility for the technology domain or area that your service is going to address. They'll be overseeing the operation, doing lifecycle management activities, coordination of all that work. They'll be the primary contact and most likely the entry point most service providers will have to the customer because you have a relationship there.
  • Operational owner’s leadership – because it’s something new, they're going to be likely engaged in the dialogue. And part of the value of these services is to liberate resources. So rather than having your own employees focused on doing some of these activities, the service provider is going to be doing that work. And that releases capacity that can be reused and that manager is likely to benefit from that. They’ll also be trying to demonstrate a level of stability.
  • Finance – again, any sort of financial change is going to require finance review. This is one of the stakeholder groups that you really need to get to early because their opinion will matter significantly as to whether or not a company is going to accept this shift from CapEx to OpEx. We've had some experience where you've gone all the way through the sales cycle, got very excited, only to put it in front of finance and they've said, no, we're not doing that.
  • Procurement – sort of on the more periphery, if a company has a procurement team they’ll be involved in any buying. This will likely be something quite new, so you need to spend some time recalibrating.
  • Legal – again, sort of more periphery, but legal is likely to have a new set of terms and conditions, a new scope of work. Legal departments will have templates typically that they like to use with their suppliers, and this is likely not to fit with any of the templates that they have today. So, procurement and legal will likely be involved in the negotiation and crafting the final terms and conditions.

Shared Risk

Providers of outcomes must accept that risk is inherent in the business model. “That's one of the big differences between this model and a traditional model. When you sell a customer a product, the accountability and the risk for the value that that product creates immediately transfers to the customer. In an outcomes-based model, there is an onus on the service provider to deliver that value,” says Alastair.

With risk comes potential reward, so it’s important to understand the benefits and risk on both sides of the agreement. “From a customer perspective, some of the risks that they're going to be thinking about are the fact that this is likely going to be a long-term services commitment – this can make them feel locked in. They're going to be handing over operational control and that itself can cause apprehension.  They may ask, what happens if the business needs change over that long period of time? Can I get out? Can I adapt? Can I change the service?” explains Alastair. “The benefit to the customer, of course, is that they'll get this agreed outcome. It'll liberate some capacity for them. They'll get to work ideally with a trusted brand who are providing this curated experience at a predictable cost. It really simplifies their operation, allows them to go focus on their core activities while the service provider deals with this sort of critical non-core type of work.”

Then there’s the appeal and apprehension side for the provider. “If I look at it from a service provider perspective, they're likely to have to make some sort of upfront investment in technology, hardware, or software. And probably, they're going to have to think about putting capacity ahead of demand, especially if they're able to provide some level of flexibility to the customer. So, the customer is not making an upfront investment, but the service provider is. So that's a risk. And of course, then they've got to think about all the lifecycle activities to sustain the service and deliver the outcome over the contractual period, which could be up to 10 years. When you think about all of the updates and changes and recalibrations and replacements that have to go on over that period, you've really got to be thinking about what that looks like and costing it accordingly,” says Alastair. “The benefits for the service provider are they get a long-term annuity stream with almost certainly a higher rate of return. Over that contractual period, they're going to get service on everything over a very long time, and they're going to end up with a very loyal customer.”

Three Levers to Balance Risk

While accepting risk is critical, Alastair does share three levers providers can use to help balance the risk and reward to ensure its achieved and both parties feel like they end up in a good place. “In our experience, there are three elements that service providers will typically use. One will be simply the initial contract term. How long are you going to lock a customer in for? And does that give you enough time to recover the upfront investment that you've made?” explains Alastair. “Then there's what we call minimum commitments – the service provider and customer will agree a minimum number of units or services that are going to be consumed over that initial contractual period that will provide the service provider with a guaranteed income. And there is a premium for flexibility. The final one is exit fees. In the event that a customer chooses to leave the agreement early, you can build in this concept of a balloon payment at the end, should they decide to leave. Ideally, and in most cases, if the service is well designed, they'll just continue and the balloon payment risk will disappear over time.”

Alastair also points out that a provider must be cognizant of the dependencies on the customer that will exist in order for the provider to ultimately deliver the agreed outcomes. “Dependencies must be understood and called out in the contract,” he says. “There can also be a danger that a service provider can get pushed into a KPI where they really don't have ultimate control. As a provider, you need to ensure that you can deliver the outcome that you're agreeing to and that dependencies are well defined.”

Anticipating Common Objections

When it comes to selling outcomes, knowing what issues may arise during the sales cycle will help you prepare in advance and respond adeptly. Each of the involved personals may bring up different questions, issues, or objections. “From an operations perspective, I think one of the big objections and things to watch out for is the fact that very often it's the individual that you're talking to or their team who is going to be disrupted by the introduction of the service. So, you could be very eloquently talking about the value proposition of your outcomes-based service to a guy or gal who is thinking, well, this is going to take away my job. You have to be very conscious of who it is you're talking to and the implications of what it is you're proposing to the individual that you're dealing with. You need to reframe that to point out the unique opportunity of outcomes to free up the team to focus on something that's core to the business. It's going to deliver far more business value,” shares Alastair.

The management team will likely want more detail on this same angle – what other activities will an outcomes agreement enable them to have time for? What does this add to their bottom line?

“From a finance perspective they’ll be looking at how the spend will change in moving from CapEx to OpEx and determining if that is acceptable and beneficial for the company. Again, we’ve had some experience of getting to very late stages of trying to position a deal only for the finance team to say, well, this simply won't work because actually, there's some advantage for us holding capital on our balance sheet. It makes our company valuation look more positive. I wouldn't second guess the objections that might emerge from finance. The key is to get it in front of finance as early as you can to seek an opinion,” urges Alastair.

Building in lead time to navigate conversations with procurement and legal is advised. “Often when procurement is presented with an outcomes-based model, they'll find it hard to find alternatives in the market to do their typical comparison, which can look very confusing and can create an objection. The objection there is, well, I can't really follow my process. I haven't got three suppliers that are delivering this. You guys are the only people in the market that are offering it right now. What do I do? That could be challenging,” Alastair explains. “The legal team will have some templates and every company will have a scope of work that they've agreed, which is how they would like to buy. We’d encourage a service provider to create their own scope of work terms and conditions, so it's on the supplier paper, not the customer paper. Be very clear which of the different sections and clauses are likely to be ones that are in the domain of legal. Based on the familiarity with the business model and the savviness of the legal representative you might be working with, you just need to be prepared to spend quite a bit of time there and expect there to be some back and forth as the contract ends up taking shape.”

Getting Started (If You Haven’t Already)

Does this all sound daunting? It can, but the potential is vast and worth exploring. If you find yourself more in the assessment phase or early stages versus well along the journey, Alastair offers some advice: “Do some collaboration, co-creation work with some trusted customers, especially in the early stages of service development to really understand how the customer is thinking about the value of the service, how KPIs might emerge from that work that align with their business. Also think about what we would term a system of record, because outcomes KPI needs to be reliably measured and there needs to be a single point where both the customer and the service provider can view in a consistent way. Finally, don’t try and impose this on a customer. Use your starting point to help them understand the concept and then refine for the customer to meet their needs. It takes time. The selling process for a solution like this is going to be longer than a traditional product sale. Spend the time to get this right and to ensure that the customer really understands.”

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April 29, 2024 | 4 Mins Read

4 Critical Factors to Consider While AI Legislation Continues to Develop

April 29, 2024 | 4 Mins Read

4 Critical Factors to Consider While AI Legislation Continues to Develop

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Earlier this year, the European Union adopted new rules around how artificial intelligence (AI) can be used by both public and private organizations. While legislation is still developing in the U.S., service organizations that want to leverage AI in their operations should be paying attention to these emerging laws.

The rules adopted by the European Parliament address privacy concerns (such as using images scraped from the Internet to create facial recognition databases), while also requiring certain types of AI systems to reduce risks and ensure human oversight. Those systems include things like vocational training, law enforcement, border management and others.

A key element is transparency of the models and data these AI systems are based on, reflecting a concern that a lot more people have about these AI platforms – knowing what data the algorithms are sampling.

This is important for potential new use cases of AI, because the quality of the data being fed to AI solutions counts. Without getting too deep in the weeds, the types of AI solutions based on ChatGPT are not really thinking so much as analyzing data and providing a synopsis, an answer, or an output based on previously existing material.

For general purpose AI, content providers are already pushing back against the use of copyrighted materials – like the contents of the New York Times – that are being ingested by these systems. The types of AI solutions being used or proposed in field service are less prone to copyright violations, but they still need human-created content – technical manuals, repair data, customer service scripts, and more. Eventually, though, the supply of original content can run dry and that's when AI models can go sideways.

AI Hiccups

One widely documented phenomenon is chatbot hallucination. If you pressure a generative AI system long enough, it may provide confident-sounding results that are, in fact, complete fabrications (this may be the most human-like quality of AI, come to think of it.) These hallucinations can be the result of model complexity, inaccurate source data, or training data bias.

While AI solution providers are working to fix this problem, some researchers have declared it an unsolvable part of AI – their take is that these models are making guesses and cannot really separate fact from fiction. In more creative pursuits, these hallucinations can be funny or, in some cases, inspiring. In more technical applications, they can be disastrous. AI models can also be vulnerable to cyberattacks, with third parties deliberately tweaking input data to induce hallucinations.

Another issue is called AI model collapse, which occurs when the AI solution starts using other AI-generated content, essentially causing the solution to eat its own tail, figuratively speaking. Once enough of this so-called synthetic data is fed into the model, the results become increasingly nonsensical.

In fact, in one study an AI large language model (LLM) was fed synthetic test data to generate text about English architecture until its responses became strange and curiously focused on jackrabbits. AI image generators trained on AI art have also been shown to create increasingly indecipherable results.

So, for service organizations evaluating AI solutions that can help guide technicians through a repair, help build better routes, or help improve maintenance scheduling based on equipment performance, there are four critical factors to consider:

  1. What do you want the AI platform to do? In service, the best current scenario given the maturity of technology, is to have it operate in a co-pilot mode, helping team members make decisions where there are a lot of variables in play – things like routing, scheduling, troubleshooting, predicting future maintenance or part needs, etc.
  2. What data is being used to train the AI platform? That information, whether it is from public/shared sources (like maps) or company-specific information, should be clean and accurate and, critically, created or vetted by actual people. AI models built on other AI-generated models will degrade results over time.
  3. Is the AI platform in compliance with existing privacy and intellectual property regulations? This will vary by region (and in the U.S., at least, things are somewhat in flux). The key is to make sure you are not violating the privacy of your clients, and that the AI solution is not creating models based on proprietary information that belongs to someone else without their permission.
  4. How will AI outputs be used by team members? AI solutions do not really make decisions, per se; they make very educated guesses based on ingesting a lot more data than a person could ever hope to consume. In service, the best-case scenario now is that the software makes recommendations, and a team member evaluates those recommendations based on their own experience and observations of actual conditions to make what is (hopefully) a better, faster decision.

I have written before about how AI can be used in field service here, here, and here. If you have thoughts on how AI can be used (or not!) in service, I would love to hear from you.

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April 22, 2024 | 6 Mins Read

Six Storytelling Missteps That Risk Your Relevance to Employees & Customers

April 22, 2024 | 6 Mins Read

Six Storytelling Missteps That Risk Your Relevance to Employees & Customers

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I’m a big believer in the power of storytelling, which will come as no surprise given the time I spend weekly hosting the UNSCRIPTED podcast. But you don’t need to take my word for it; there’s ample evidence of the importance of storytelling in business.

According to UC Berkely Executive Education, stories increase trust and engagement: “Stories engage people on a personal, values-based level. They can also help “humanize” a brand (people connect with other 'people,' not faceless factories), increasing trust and compelling customers and employees to become brand advocates.”

This Forbes article explains that “storytelling refers to the art of crafting narratives that capture the essence of your brand and appeal to your audience. It also involves communicating narratives in a way that is both relatable and memorable.”

Entrepreneur lists 5 Compelling Reasons Storytelling is Crucial to Business Success, including making your brand memorable, differentiating from the competition, and establishing thought leadership.

In the service world, a story is told every time we have an encounter with our customers – whether through words or simply through the actions of what we deliver. I wrote an article a while back prompting our audience to consider, what story is your service telling? But while the experiences we provide tell their own story, leaders (and teams) more and more need to embrace the importance of storytelling and hone the skill.

This is increasingly important because the influence and impact of leaders with employees, and with teams and customers, depends more and more on the ability to truly connect and appeal to a person’s emotions, not just intellect. Being adept at creating those connections is something not every leader has historically had to do; there was more emphasis on exercising control versus fostering trust and creating connections. And with customers, particularly in today’s outcomes-based landscape, the engagement, trust, and differentiation that storytelling nurture are crucial for expanding relationships, evolving business models, and growing revenue.

So, I suppose the first major misstep would be overlooking the importance of storytelling as a crucial skill. But for the sake of this article, let’s assume you understand its importance. Then where do things go awry?  Well, like many of the nuanced topics we discuss, this is one of those skills or artforms that sounds simpler than it really is.

In my interactions, conversations with leaders, and personal experiences, there are some missteps I’ve picked up on that seem to surface over and over again.

#1: Speaking without listening first. Does this sound obvious? Well, yes! But believe me, this is a bigger issue in both internal and external interactions than people want to accept. And there are many reasons why – for instance, we know that knowing our audience is important, but we think we do. Truly, and well (spoiler alert: no, you probably don’t – at least not as well, or as currently, as you think or need to). We know it’s important to listen first, but we don’t have time! We have an initiative to roll out or a number to it, and we just have to do our best with the information we have. There are many complexities that make investing the time to understand your team members or customers as intimately as you need to, but I promise you none are worth skipping or rushing this step. Understanding what’s important to your audience is fundamental to storytelling success.

#2: Using internal narrative externally. This is a trap that is all too easy to fall into; we fail to recognize the ways in which our audience may not find our messaging relatable and tailor it to their viewpoint. Let’s consider a couple of examples. First, when you are leading a change internally – you relay the companywide “why” to your team and expect them to understand the reasoning and accept the change without hesitation. But does that companywide why relate to them in any way? Is it personalized into a story that will help them see how the change helps or is important to them? Or with a customer, you get excited about an innovation or investment you’ve made to help serve them better and then excitedly tell the story, in an internal narrative. “We’ve invested in IoT, and it’s so exciting because we’ll have X, Y, and Z data about your equipment!” How does this benefit them? “We’ve put new technology in place to be able to help predict failures on your equipment and eliminate downtime.” Much better. Same story, but from the perspective of two different audiences. It’s so important!

#3: You lack authenticity. Storytelling is meant to prompt an emotional connection, but if you’re disconnected from the “story,” it’s really information sharing versus storytelling. If you want to appeal to someone’s humanity, share something that sparks not only interest but emotion, or helps build trust, you have to be willing to get personal. You must genuinely care about whatever it is you’re communicating, otherwise your efforts will fall flat. If you find yourself robotically telling a “story,” you need to do some self-reflection on why that is and find a way to either create your own personal connection to what you’re sharing or determine if you can delegate the task to someone who can be more authentic in their delivery.

#4: Your message is boring. I couldn’t think of a nicer way to articulate this, really. Part of the art of storytelling is the energy, the “pizazz.” Simply regurgitating a company message to your employee isn’t storytelling, nor is sharing a blanket company message with zero personality with your customers. Storytelling is more. It’s creative, it’s exciting, it’s emotional. Sometimes boring stems from a lack of interest, which I’d tie back to the previous point on authenticity. And sometimes boring stems from delivery, which can be a factor of feeling like you don’t have enough creative freedom to storytell in your own way, or because storytelling is a skill that you might need to practice or put some effort into. If you aren’t receiving the response you’d like, dig into some further insights around storytelling and see if you can find some areas to work on.

#5: Your delivery is one-dimensional. We have to keep in mind with storytelling that different audiences may prefer to receive messages in different ways. You might be very skilled at a one-to-one, face-to-face delivery, but manage a fully remote team. That’s an issue! Storytelling can be written, it can be verbal, video, and more – and chances are, depending on the message you’re trying to convey, you may need to branch out from just one format. If you’re creating a new offering, yes you need to be able to articulate it well, but you also could likely benefit from some really strong copy on a landing page and some video testimonials to support your messaging.

#6: Your story isn’t appropriately backed by data, evidence, or resources. While the person delivering the story may not be the same person to execute all the follow-through, there’s a real problem when we don’t have actions in place to back up the words we are saying. Consider a change initiative; you tell a good story to get employees bought in, but when they ask what the plans are for training, you don’t have the information. Or with a customer, you position a next-generation capability that piques their interest and then when they ask what use cases are in existence or what a commercial agreement might look like, you have nada. We don’t have to have the final conclusion in mind when we start sharing the prologue, but there does have to be enough meat to the story that we don’t hook our audience in and then leave them hanging. That, unfortunately, can deteriorate trust rather than build it.

I’m sure there are many more missteps we could cover; these are just the few that quickly came to mind. What would you add to the list? And how do you feel about the topic of storytelling in business overall? I’d love to hear!

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April 8, 2024 | 5 Mins Read

Are Robots in Field Service on the Rise?

April 8, 2024 | 5 Mins Read

Are Robots in Field Service on the Rise?

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At the end of February, I had the opportunity to deliver a keynote address on the future of outcomes-based service at Lely’s North American Care Conference. Lely provides agricultural automation systems, including robotic feeding, milking, and grazing solutions for dairy farms, and I remember the first time I spoke with them about their service transformation journey, I was intrigued by a world of robotics I’d never before been exposed to.

Leaving the conference perhaps I simply had robotics on my mind, but I took note of numerous headlines about how the technology is being used in a wide variety of industries. I even happened upon a story about a robot dog that can do backflips off a skateboard! If that’s a story featured in TechCrunch, isn’t it telling that we should be thinking more about the applications in field service?

Robotics systems of all kinds – humanoid, dog-shaped, and R2D2-style rolling units – have rapidly advanced and are continuing to do so. Robots have become a regular feature of many manufacturing plants, warehouses, and even retail stores. I distinctly remember recording a podcast last year in the United Club in some city being distracted by the robotic table bussing system wheeling around.

Historically, when field service organizations have considered robotics, it has generally been in the context of servicing more complex robotic equipment. Manufacturing plants have deployed increasingly advanced robots on production lines, and companies like Amazon and UPS are designing distribution centers around them, and of course those systems require service at times.

But robots are also starting to pop up in field service environments, including inspection and maintenance applications, begging the question to what degree the autonomous technology will progress in use. Here are some examples of service applications emerging in the robotics space:

The University of Houston has launched a micro-credential course to help professionals understand how robotics and artificial intelligence can be combined for energy infrastructure maintenance. Specifically, AI-powered robots could be used to inspect large and remote energy assets. Inspecting these systems can be dangerous and costly, but a robot equipped with sensors and some decision-making capabilities could quickly spot issues that might need additional human intervention.

Companies in the pest control and landscape management space already use drones for inspecting difficult-to-reach areas, and it seems like autonomous drones could not only be useful in these types of applications, but also in other inspection scenarios. Sending a robot ahead into challenging environments could help service organizations gather information on what repairs or parts will be necessary before sending out a technician, for example.

A company called Gecko Robotics is working with the U.S. Navy to determine how they could leverage robots for ship inspection and maintenance, another application where the size of the job and the dangerous environment seem like the sweet spot for robotic interventions.

Supply chain and staffing issues have made it very difficult for the Navy to roll out a systematic way of planning and scheduling maintenance for ship readiness purposes. Gecko has developed a program called Shipview that uses sensors, LIDAR, and robots to help identify and prioritize maintenance tasks. The Naval Research Lab is also testing robotic dogs to take on maintenance tasks in dangerous or difficult-to-access areas of a ship, and even help with fire prevention and control.

But what about using robots to perform service tasks or repairs? There are fewer examples of robots actually fixing things, but they do exist. There are two companies right now that have created AI-powered robots to wash windows on the world's tallest skyscrapers. While this isn’t applicable to the broad field service category of course, the general concept – an intelligent robot tackling a necessary but dangerous task in a risky environment – certainly is. One system, from Genosar, is a Roomba-like device that suctions onto the window and uses sensors for cleaning. Skyline Robotics, on the other hand, has a system that uses mechanical arms to clean windows. Window cleaning (like service) faces a labor crunch because of an aging and retiring workforce. Robots can address the labor shortage, while also reducing risk and saving money.

In the UK, the University of Liverpool and Hertfordshire County Council are testing an autonomous vehicle that can automatically repair potholes.

Considering Change Management

Those two examples may induce some anxiety among field technicians since they seem designed specifically to replace employees. Field service technicians, however, are unlikely to be replaced by robots because of the mix of flexible decision making, technical skills, unique service situations, and in-person customer service required for the job. That doesn't mean that robots cannot be used for inspection, or to help automate repetitive or dangerous elements of the job. Potential use of robotics, as with any new technology, will require change management and reassurance that tools like AI and robotics aren’t intended simply to replace workers, but to offload work that’s either menial or unsafe. In an industry where talent is in shortage, there shouldn’t be too much angst as there is plenty of work to go around, but don’t take for granted that employees feel secure.

There is at least one potential application, however, where a robot might be doing fairly complex repair work. We all know how expensive a service truck roll is (in the thousands of dollars, depending on the industry). Imagine if you had to send your technician 250 miles – into space? Fixing satellites or parts on the International Space Station is extremely costly, both because of the lack of handy repair parts and the risk involved in sending an astronaut out for a space walk.

This is a big deal for companies and universities that launch minisatellites, which fail at a fairly high rate. So researchers at the University of Sydney are trying to design a robotics system that can repair these satellites in orbit. The system would likely involve sensors, LIDAR, AI, and potentially 3D parts printing. NASA is already in the design review stage for its own robotic repair and refueling system, OSAM-1.

We are only at the early stages of seeing how the integration of AI and advanced robotics is going to play out. I would love to hear your thoughts on how you see robotics playing a role in the future of work in field service. Feel free to email me here.

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April 2, 2024 | 7 Mins Read

Q&A: A Kellogg Professor Weighs in on How to Support Women in the Workplace Every Day of the Year

April 2, 2024 | 7 Mins Read

Q&A: A Kellogg Professor Weighs in on How to Support Women in the Workplace Every Day of the Year

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We sincerely hope you enjoyed our month-long focus on covering themes relevant to International Women’s Day 2024 and Women’s History Month. As we started the month, we asked the opinions of the Future of Field Service LinkedIn community on the current state of diversity in their organizations, and here’s what they shared:

Q: How strong do you feel the diversity in your organization currently is?

  • Very – 47%
  • Good, but could improve – 24%
  • Mediocre – 18%
  • We’re really struggling – 12%

On one hand, these numbers show that almost half of respondents feel their organization is very diverse – and that’s great! Another 24% would categorize their company’s diversity as “good but could improve.” This may well reflect that companies are making strides in the actions that help create a more diverse workforce.

On the other hand, while we can’t see who responded to this poll in particular, if you look at the overall makeup of the Future of Field Service audience, it tends to be male-dominant. So, could it be, if that representation held true in the responses here, that the perception could be skewed? Perhaps respondents view their companies as very diverse, but in reality – are they? And does that persist throughout various categories and all roles? No way to know the answer, but it’s an important point to reflect on.

Another important point, as we close out our March focus, is that the importance of gender equity – and all diversity – should be a focus year-round. We should all be looking for ways to elevate diverse voices and support our under-represented team members each and every day.

To help us in considering how to support women at work all year long, I’m excited to share the insights of Ellen Connelly Taaffe, who is a Clinical Associate Professor at the Kellogg School of Management, where she teaches Personal Leadership Insights and is the Director of Women's Leadership Programming. Prior to her academic career, Ellen spent 25 years with Fortune 500 companies holding the top brand management post at divisions of PepsiCo, Royal Caribbean, and Whirlpool Corporation.

Outside of Kellogg, Ellen serves as an independent board director for two public and one private company boards, runs a leadership advisory consulting, speaking, and coaching business, and is a TEDx speaker. She shares her insights on leadership, careers, and advancing women and inclusion through her writing and speaking, having been featured in media such as Harvard Business Review, Forbes, Business Insider, and more. She’s also authored the book, The Mirrored Door: Break Through the Hidden Barrier that Locks Successful Women in Place, to use her vast experience to help women understand and navigate through internal and external obstacles to create the future career they desire.

Future of Field Service: Despite huge gains, 73% of women continue to experience microaggressions and everyday comments rooted in bias. Can you explain why microaggressions matter so much?

Ellen: Microaggressions matter so much because they add up. One brief comment that questions a woman’s credibility, ideas, or ability might be overlooked in the moment. When it happens repeatedly and comes from multiple people in an organization, it becomes exhausting, frustrating, and wears women down. It can lead to less engagement, lower belonging, and can seed an interest in new opportunities outside of the company for a better culture.  Whether women experience or only observe these slights, it could lead them to question whether they can truly succeed in their organization.

Future of Field Service: Could you share three key strategies for employers to champion their female workforce all year-round?

Ellen: Employers can champion women by solving the issues they face, coaching their development and potential, and creating an empowering culture.

  1. Analyze the numbers to celebrate progress and fix the pain points. The best employers review employee data to see what levels and at what intersections the pipeline narrows. For example, the numbers may show that there have been huge gains in parity at junior levels but a big drop off at the Director level and further narrowing at VP. Deeper analysis could uncover the whys behind the gaps to be fixed to target solutions.
  2. Train and incent people leaders to giver better feedback especially to women, who research shows receive more vague and subjective feedback. This includes acknowledging their career potential, providing specific guidance to build their skills, and understanding of the promotion process, and sharing a caring yet candid perspective on how they can grow their influence and careers.
  3. Build a psychologically safe culture where everyone is empowered, encouraged, and see a level playing field. This includes stamping out microaggressions by modeling a “see something, say something” approach. It prioritizes a learning culture where people grow from successes and failures to enable the company to become more innovative and deliver against the goals.

Future of Field Service: As a mom who struggled so deeply when my kids were little to make it work because I worked for a company that didn’t create a supportive culture, how do organizations cancel the ‘motherhood penalty’ and support women’s career trajectories?

Ellen: Employees’ child raising years have become increasingly difficult due to cost and availability of day care, the need for dual incomes and career trajectories, and the complexities of changing workplace flexibility. Adding the motherhood penalty adds more difficulty to this normal stage of life impacting both women and their companies.

This biased mindset impacts recruitment, return to work, retention, and promotion practices. Companies that hold pregnancy or parenting against women will eventually lose the war for talent as they limit engagement, compensation, and careers along with their own reputation.

Today’s strongest organizations understand employees’ challenges, make a commitment to pay and promotional transparency, and create cultures that provide flexibility and the belief that one can both parent and deliver results in ways that fit both individual and team needs. Forward-looking companies develop policies and practices that support working moms through their return-to-work, embrace parental leaves that lead to shared work at home, and ensure equitable practices that remove the biases that limit job offers, pay, and promotions.

Future of Field Service: It’s important to understand that better workplaces for women mean better workplaces for all. Can you share how so?

Ellen: Women want to be valued, have purpose in what they do, feel they belong for who they are, and believe they have a fair shot at joining, developing, having an impact, and succeeding in an organization. Workplaces that are better for women do all these things well and everyone benefits.

Regardless of gender, today’s employees want a culture that values them as human beings and enables them to thrive in work and life. This is especially true with Gen Z. Biases against those not in the majority along with outdated workplace practices built for another time prevent that from happening. The opportunity companies have is to make work workable for all.  

Future of Field Service: For a woman who is struggling with feeling unsupported in any way in their workplace, what advice can you give for moving beyond self-doubt and taking action?

Ellen: In my book, The Mirrored Door: Break Through the Hidden Barrier that Locks Successful Women in Place, I’ve identified a dynamic that many women feel. It’s when faced with an opportunity like raising our hands or posting for a promotion, we think we aren’t ready or worthy enough then hesitate. Frequently, this is a distorted view from the conditioned assumption that we can’t move forward unless with do it perfectly with 100% certainty and no risks to reputation or relationships. In reality, we are more ready than we realize.

My advice is to:

1) reflect realistically about your performance, career potential, and real risk in sharing an idea or going for a new job.

2) Seek out people who have seen you in action to gain feedback on how you are doing and what you could do in the future developmentally.

3) Identify that doubting message inside you and create a counter balancing message to disrupt it. When that doubt creeps in, remind yourself of the opposite. Imagine you believe that new message vs. that harsh critic. If so, what is the next best action you could take? Tap into your courage and take that small courageous step into action as you open the mirrored door.  

I can’t think of a better note to leave off our month of focused content and discussion. Huge thanks to Ellen and the others who have contributed! If you missed any of our earlier articles or podcasts, here’s the list with links:

  • AI’s Unique Opportunity to Shape a More Inclusive Future: Q&A with Angel Vossough, CEO and Co-Founder of BetterAI
  • A Look Back at 32 Years as a Woman in Service – Podcast with Dot Mynahan, recently retired from Otis Elevator
  • Article – The Pressure for Women to “Have it All” is Alive and Well – Is the Possibility?
  • Equity is Everyone’s Responsibility – Podcast with Daniel Trabel of Thermo Fisher Scientific
  • Article – 6 Actions that Have Spurred One Company’s Success in Hiring More Women into Field Service
  • A Multifaceted Approach to Creating Sustainable Service – Podcast with Sarah McKay of Concentrix

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March 25, 2024 | 12 Mins Read

6 Actions That Have Spurred One Company’s Success in Hiring More Women into Field Service

March 25, 2024 | 12 Mins Read

6 Actions That Have Spurred One Company’s Success in Hiring More Women into Field Service

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If you missed last week’s podcast with Daniel Trabel, Director of Field Service for EMEA at Thermo Fisher Scientific, I urge you to go have a listen now. He speaks passionately about why diversity matters to him, personally as a dad to twin daughters and professionally because he realizes the importance and value it brings. But in field service, a longtime male-dominated field, many companies have struggled to achieve success in hiring more diverse talent, particularly in attracting women to field technician roles.

Daniel has combined is passion for this focus area with a commitment to action that has yielded real results. Reflecting back on our conversation, I can pick up on six actions I believe led to the success that others can (and should) take note of.

#1: Define Your Why

The reality is, far too many companies’ diversity “initiatives” are rooted in the wrong why. Either they feel they “have to” do more in this area, or they’re looking at it solely from the perspective of reaching a bigger talent pool. Both of those things are partial truths, but if your efforts aren’t centered around actually valuing diversity because you believe how it benefits a business, those efforts will almost inevitably fall short.

Daniel, who has spent 20 years in field service, is familiar with the realities of the male-centric history and feels committed to making change, because he believes in its importance. “There is a saying, I think Albert Einstein said, ‘An evening where everybody has the same meaning is a lost evening.’ And that happens when you have a team where everybody has the same background, the same character and everything is the same. We need to have diversity to have high performing teams,” he says.

In field service, this means recognizing the value of diversity is more than the benefit of the comfort of the status quo. “Especially in service, there was a male environment, and it was easy for males to network because everybody speaks the same language, has similar thoughts. But that has to change, because with that, you can't develop further without any input from a set of fresh ideas. We need to change our thoughts and we also need to, in leadership positions, to push the importance. Otherwise, it's difficult to drive the necessary behavior change.”

#2: Get Creative – Really Creative

Where Thermo Fisher succeeded but many companies get stuck is in their willingness to truly get creative in seeking a solution. Even companies who have defined their why can find themselves feeling that the how just “doesn’t work.” Thermo Fisher proves that isn’t at all true, but this mindset can occur for a variety of reasons – some because the company truly doesn’t want to put in the effort it takes to change or step outside of their comfort zone, and some because despite the desire to they find themselves too embedded in their own bias or narrow thinking.

Like many field service organizations, Thermo Fisher company grappled with talent challenges. “That was our starting point. We had a problem to fill roles; few applicants who were not at all qualified for those positions. That’s a big cost for a company like ours. I have an organization of 500 people; if you have an attrition of 5%, imagine how many jobs we have always open. It's a cost, while on the other hand, it's a missing revenue,” he explains. “So, there is a desperate need of having those roles filled as soon as possible. We began having a discussion around the reasons of why we have an all-male environment. We believed as a leadership team that we need to have more women in the organization, and we knew that if we could attract more women, we could create a bigger pool of talents for those open roles.”

To me, this is where Daniel’s story becomes so impressive – because that recognition alone isn’t unique, but the action the company took from that point is. “We really explored the reasons behind why we weren’t attracting female applicants and identified the barriers in the entry expectations of those roles. Typically, what we were looking for is engineers with long experience in the field, electronic skills, all of characteristics of an ‘ideal’ hire,” says Daniel. “We thought about how we could change and how we could create a new kind of entry role to our organization that would fit the business needs. We developed the PIQ engineer role, which is preventative maintenance installation qualification. Because we are in a qualified environment for most of our instruments, this new role cut off the expectations of repair skills and instead focused on first-level support and maintenance aspects, allowing us to get new hires into roles more easily.”

Not only did the creation of this new role reduce the barriers around prior experience for applicants, but it lowered expectations of travel which can deter some candidates. “With the PIQ role we identified hot areas with a smaller radius of travel and less overnight stays. This allowed us to offer more flexibility and a better work-life balance as a result, but interestingly also gave us the opportunity to increase the response time SLA,” Daniel says. Thermo Fisher created six PIQ roles and was successful hiring women to fill four of the six.

To ensure the importance of this initiative was widely accepted, and to incorporate as much creativity as possible, Thermo Fisher involved a variety of stakeholders in the process. “We need to ensure that if we change something which also has an influence on the team, that we include the team in this conversation. Especially those engineers which are already working in the organization. They have some fears that if they only focus on corrective maintenance, that they need to travel longer distances because they don't have the nearby PMs anymore to cover. There were definitely talking points and risks we surfaced and worked through,” Daniel explains. “We also included talent acquisition because they have the conversations up front with the applicants, and HR to understand also from a non-male environment what they think we should think about because, to be honest, in my leadership team at that time, there was only men.”

The exercise Thermo Fisher went through, in truly reflecting on the barriers that were present, really stepping outside of the boundaries of what has been to determine what was possible and involving a group of stakeholders representing different functions and views to ensure as broad of thinking as possible, is commendable. It’s easy to acknowledge an area that needs to change, but far harder to put in the work to make change happen.

As Daniel says, it’s important to focus less on the problem and more on the solution. “It's important to ensure that you understand that you need to change something and really think about how to find a solution. For example, one of our issues in the beginning was around electrical safety; we’d required an electronics background because of guidelines we have to follow, but ultimately decided we could create an internal program to provide that certification with safety officers. There is always a solution. It's important to really step aside, take a step back and say, ‘Okay, that's my problem, but what should my solution looks like and how can I get to that point?’”

How do you know if you’re being creative enough? One measure is that if it feels safe or comfortable, you likely are not. “Maybe you're disruptive and you take a risk. But when you don't change, you will fail from the very beginning,” Daniel cautions. “If you want to change, you must consider there's always a risk. But you need to take the risk. That's absolutely key.”

#3: Enlist External, Objective Input

Even with a genuine belief in the need for change, unconscious bias is a real variable and something you need to consider and prepare to take proactive measures to counter. Enlisting outside help and objective input is essential, and there are many options available for how to do this.

You could hire a consultant, you could leverage technology that helps assess job postings and hiring processes to remove bias, you could poll the participants of an ERG to vet your thinking, and so many more. At Thermo Fisher, they used an external tool to analyze their job ads in the early phases of assessing what was limiting the pool of applicants or what could be off-putting to certain candidates.

“We looked at our job ads because we thought that the jobs were pretty male buzzword-centric,” Daniel says. “So, we used an external tool to analyze those job ads and think of how we can change that in a more human attractive way. And we found words like support, mentor, advocacy, recognition, flexibility, and really try to bring those and also reduce the expectation, the entry expectation. Even if we might have high expectation, we just didn't write that in the job ad. And what's quite interesting because of the results, we had a lot more applicants also from women. That was good.”

Of course, when working to incorporate more diversity, you want to be sure you check bias not only in the job posting and criteria, but in the interview process as well.

#4: Attract More Diverse Candidates; Hire for Fit

Which brings us to the next point – while a genuine objective to improve diversity and actions to attract more candidates are commendable, making “diversity hires” for the sake of achieving some pre-defined targets is not. The goal should be to truly reflect on what barriers are present in your existing processes that are inhibiting diversity and remove those barriers, as well as working to welcome a broader pool of applicants so that your chances to build diverse teams increases. All of that being said, you should be ultimately hiring based on candidates’ skills, abilities, and fit for your organization – not to check a box.

Now, again, where this can derail is if “fit for your organization” is impossible because your organization is refusing to move beyond boxes that exclude certain candidates. But if you are doing the work to change, like Thermo Fisher did, then you hire based on fit from the broader pool of candidates you are attracting.

“We got feedback also on the fact that, let's say, male might apply for a position if there is only 50% criteria they can match with, while women say, no, I'm not able to do this,” Daniels says. “That’s one reason we lowered the entry expectations advertised. We really found great talent and we not just selected the women we did because we were looking for them, they really stood out against the other applicants and they had a strong presentation and a strong background, which fit perfectly into the role as expected.”

While Thermo Fisher set out to intentionally redefine requirements in order to attract more women to apply for field service roles, the benefit of reflecting on what criteria may be restricting your pool of potential candidates is simply attracting a more diverse pool of talent overall. When companies move beyond hiring based on experience, which will deliver a fairly homogenous pool of potential, to instead listing the skills or characteristics sought for entry level, the result is a broader set of backgrounds, experiences, and traits which brings valuable depth of perspective to the organization.

#5: Consider the Experience of New Employees

It’s important that to recognize that your efforts aren’t complete once you achieve success in hiring more diverse employees. In fact, what comes next in many ways is more important – because otherwise your efforts won’t be rewarded by seeing that talent flourish and remain.

When you’ve had a male-centric workforce historically, or minimally diverse in any way, you have to consider what the experiences of the new employees coming into that dynamic will be. Are the existing workers welcoming? Are there toxic aspects of or dynamics to the culture? Are there inadvertent ways a new candidate may feel uncomfortable, such as a woman technician not having the option of a woman’s uniform? From things seemingly small to big, the need to reflect on how to make new candidates feel welcome, included, and valued is imperative.

For Thermo Fisher, the first hurdle was in the way the creation of a new role was perceived by some team members. “In the beginning, there was a bit of a bias from one or the other team members and it took a while to get this digested,” Daniel says. “Because the role was not as seen as a ‘normal’ field service engineer role, it was seen as let’s say second class in some way or another. It took a while to overcome that bias.”

Don’t shirk away from navigating negative emotions or challenging outdated thinking, because this will allow problems to fester that will undoubtedly cause a negative impact on the experiences of your new hires. “In a small team that has a woman as part of it for the first time, there’s going to be some phases of team building to work through,” Daniel shares. “It's the responsibility of the line managers to take care that every friction identified is dealt with and it’s important that the whole management team stand behind this program. That's why we included them in the very beginning. At the end, the whole team appreciates the diversity we have. While this was new for field service, as a company, we embrace employees for inclusion and diversity and have a corporate program where we share success stories and so on. Field service works closely with the sales department and with application support, where we have a lot of women in the organization. We also have ERGs to allow employees to connect with one another. So, there are a lot of touch points, even for a woman in a male-dominated team, to ensure they feel a sense of belonging.”

#6: Focus on Diversity at All Levels

Another often overlooked area of DEI initiatives can be ensuring that diversity is reflected at all levels of the business. For field service, while the focus may be on brining in more frontline candidates to fill roles, those candidates need to be given ample opportunity for career progression.

This is important not only for the development of those individuals and their own fulfillment, but in reflecting the company’s value of diversity of thought by making sure it isn’t concentrated at any one level or in any one function. For Daniel’s team, this happened quite organically – but it’s important to note that in some situations it may require a more intentional approach.

 “Of those six new positions, you have people relatively new to the business that are already progressing into leadership roles. This is important because we need to think about not just how do we bring more diversity into the business, but how do we support and enable that progression, right? So that's one of the challenges we see is because bringing in frontline workers is an acute need for the business, it’s easy to focus all of the efforts there. But ultimately, you want to have diversity reflected in all layers of the business, right? And so, the fact that the people you're bringing in are already progressing through, I think, is really impressive. It’s also interesting to share that our German team is now led by a woman – so the more than 100 engineers are now led by a woman and that’s a massive change. It’s really good to see that.”

Remember What’s at Stake

If I’m being honest, what Daniel sharing Thermo Fisher’s story made me thing is that they’ve been willing to do what many companies find excuses not to – and that’s yielded results. There are all sorts of things people start pointing to – time, effort, cost, what hasn’t worked – to defend their decision to avoid doing the reflection and creative redesign that Thermo has proven pays off.

The companies eluding putting in the effort now are only doing themselves a disservice. While they spend time defending the status quo and accepting minute incremental improvements in hiring, companies like Thermo Fisher are breaking through bias and previously “unmovable” barriers to create roles to attract diverse talent and to develop a culture where that talent can thrive.

I ended the interview asking Daniel: What would you say to the people who are unwilling to get creative with this issue, or maybe don't even yet recognize the importance of it?

“In the end, I think they will fail because they can't unleash the power of people and they can't unleash the power of diversity, which is necessary to be successful,” he says. “When we talk about STEM, there's only a handful of people who can cover open positions and everybody is keen to get someone from somewhere. But if there is no someone, then there is no somewhere. And that's why I think we need to open up the talent pool. If you don't do that, if you are not thinking of changing your plans and your strategy, you will fail. That's my clear statement here.”

I couldn’t agree more.

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March 18, 2024 | 5 Mins Read

The Pressure for Women to “Have It All” is Alive and Well – Is the Possibility?

March 18, 2024 | 5 Mins Read

The Pressure for Women to “Have It All” is Alive and Well – Is the Possibility?

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By Sarah Nicastro, Creator, Future of Field Service

I came across a post in a working mom’s group I’m in where someone shared this article about former Xerox CEO Ursula Burns, who became the first Black female CEO of a Fortune 500 company in 2009, discussing the realities of what it took in her role as a mom to advance to the levels she did in her career. She says, “I would not be able to be CEO of the company unless I outsourced the caring for my kids. I was not a believer that you had to go to all your kids’ games. I just don’t understand what that’s all about. We did what we had to do.”

By outsourcing, Ursula is referring to relying on her late husband Lloyd to take care of their two children and she credits her career success to this strategy. Now, this interview took place in 2022, but the comments on the post from other moms in the group are of the present and show some very mixed emotions on Ursula’s stance. Here are some highlights:

  • “I can’t believe she refers to Dad taking care of the kids as outsourcing.”
  • “I think this is the unfortunate truth; you can’t have it all. It’s not talked about enough and women run themselves ratted trying to do it all because we’re told it’s possible.”
  • “My boss used to send me all the ‘you can’t have it all’ articles after I had my first baby. It was so toxic. I was promoted to her equivalent position when he was 15 months old. The fact of the matter is, I’m not going to take advice from a 60-something year old woman when parenting today is so vastly different. I don’t aspire to be the CEO of a large company, but I think you can have it all if what you want is a healthy career and to be present for your children. It’s not easy, but it’s totally possible.”
  • “I guess it depends on your definition of ‘having it all.’ I suppose what I mean is having a career that I’m satisfied with, being there for my kid’s activities/events, and doing things for myself as an individual and spouse. I’m doing all of that.”
  • “I believe the term ‘Supermom’ is so toxic. It disrespects every mom that is out here giving 100% every day just to be made to feel they should be doing more.”
  • “This article made me sad because I clicked the link thinking she was going to say that you don’t have to make every meeting, sometimes family comes first. But she didn’t and I think that’s unfortunate.”
  • “I’ve worked for moms like this and have always felt so inadequate. It’s almost a ‘if I can work this hard as a parent, so can you’ vibe, but disregarding what an absolute privilege it is to have a village like what’s mentioned here.”
  • “We need to STOP treating our working moms like they have to work a job as if they are single with no children, while at the same time expecting them to act like parents without a full-time job. It’s 2024. Why is it not acceptable to do – and be great at – both?”
  • “I think it’s crap that choosing my family should set me back in my career when it would be praised if a man did it.”
  • “I’m so grateful to have a job that supports working Moms. I am in executive leadership and regularly attend events for my child, do school pick up, and more and encourage my team to do the same.”

Choice, Circumstances, and Culture

It goes without saying that when we surface issues that working moms are navigating, there’s not a one-size-fits all. Not all, or even many, of us are aspiring to a role like Ursula had. And when it comes to service, some roles we discuss often – like field technicians – have certain considerations to weigh on what’s truly possible to accommodate.

But I’ll share this from my personal experience – I always wanted to both be a mom and have a career. When I had my boys and they were very small, I worked for a company that did not value or put effort into creating a culture that aligned with what it would take to do both well (and maintain my sanity). It was a very inflexible environment, and I remember with emotion many mornings that I had to weigh the choice of leaving one of my children crying at drop off or be late and be asked to take a quarter day of vacation time. My direct supervisor even asked me when pregnant with my second why I wouldn’t just decide to stay home.

When I transitioned to my role leading Future of Field Service for IFS, a huge weight was lifted – which was magnified in significance when Evan’s Type 1 diabetes diagnosis happened just three months in. Now I am in an environment where I work very hard but in a way where it’s possible to do that and be present for my children in the ways I feel are important. Part of this is flexibility, part of it is ethos; it’s understood I’m human and accepted that family is important to me.

This acceptance is a huge barrier to overcome, regardless of industry or role. I am a firm believer that moms bring unique value to organizations. For the organization to benefit from that value, it’s necessary to determine how to support those individuals (all parents) in balancing the ability contribute sacrificing their role as a parent. For some this is a flexible schedule, the normalization of attending school events or taking kids to doctor’s appointments, a supportive culture where it’s OK to be dealing with real-life, outside-of-work circumstances, among other things.

To be clear, creating a culture that supports working parents isn’t important for women alone. In fact, the impact that can be had by men in leadership roles taking a more active role in illustrating how parenting plays a part in their work-life blend goes so far in diminishing the weight working Moms feel on being judged for never being enough in either role. And the more both parents have support to care for children when sick, attend school events, adjust schedules to drop off and pick up times, and so on, the fairer the distribution of responsibility so that the conversation becomes less about supporting working moms and more about supporting parents.

In the world of field service where we strive to create more gender diversity, the default excuse becomes the inflexibility of the environment in which service is delivered. Coming up in this week’s podcast, I welcome Daniel Trabel of Thermo-Fisher Scientific to challenge those excuses by sharing an inside look at how his team has made changes to bring more women field technicians on board. Don’t miss it!

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March 11, 2024 | 5 Mins Read

Q&A: AI’s Unique Opportunity to Shape a More Inclusive Future

March 11, 2024 | 5 Mins Read

Q&A: AI’s Unique Opportunity to Shape a More Inclusive Future

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By Sarah Nicastro and Angel Vossough, CEO and Co-Founder of BetterAI

Amid Women’s History Month our month-long focus on the International Women’s Day theme of inspiring inclusion, it’s important to challenge ourselves to think creatively about all the ways we can make greater progress in gender parity, equity, and inclusion. This includes evaluating how today’s technological capabilities, like AI, can help us to mitigate bias, improve recruiting and hiring practices, and provide new opportunities for women seeking personal development and career growth.

On this topic, we’re excited to share the perspective of Angel Vossough, CEO and Co-Founder of BetterAI, a Silicon Valley-based AI service provider. Angel, a technology leader and serial entrepreneur, holds dual bachelor’s degrees in mathematics and computer engineering, as well as master’s degrees in software engineering from San Jose State University and data science from UC Berkeley.

Angel was previously a Senior Network Engineer at Cisco Systems, specializing in Network Architecture for major telecommunications companies including Verizon Wireless. She subsequently founded DiverseUp, a public-benefit corporation building a professional community for technical and scientific women and is also Co-Founder & Managing Partner at Caspian Capital, an early-stage investment firm focusing on deep tech, biotech, and AI.

It's inspiring to see AI company helmed by a female data scientist CEO and it's the perfect time to discuss how women's career platforms like BetterAI’s DiverseUp can play a role in the progression of not only women’s individual careers but in greater gender equality in the workplace. The DiverseUp platform anonymously collects data focused on gender-equality practices from current and past employees and aggregates it to provide a holistic view on how female-friendly specific employers are. Its intelligent matchmaking algorithm then pairs prospective female employees with potential employers to help increase retention. The company aims to bring transparency to workplace practices, measure policies’ effectiveness, and help the tech sector retain female talent

Future of Field Service: How do you feel AI can play a role in advancing gender equality in the workplace?

Angel: AI has the potential to significantly advance gender equality in the workplace by offering unbiased data analysis and decision-making processes. For platforms like DiverseUp, AI can analyze vast amounts of data regarding corporate policies, culture, and practices to identify biases and recommend improvements. More than 50 percent of women in tech leave their positions mid-career, making retention of female talent one of the big challenges for tech companies. AI can assist in developing more equitable hiring practices, identifying gender pay gaps, and suggesting corrective actions. AI can also help in creating personalized career development plans for women, taking into account their unique circumstances and preferences, thereby promoting a more inclusive workplace environment and increasing retention.

Future of Field Service: How can women use AI in their career search to help make wise selections?

Angel: Women can leverage AI in their career search by using AI-powered job recommendation engines that align with their career goals, personal values, and work-life balance needs. AI can analyze their profiles, skills, and preferences against job listings to recommend the best fits. Additionally, AI can provide insights into company cultures and practices, helping women choose employers based on their personal preferences, such as flexible working hours, maternity leave, and career development programs. AI can empower women to make informed decisions when it comes to career choices.

Future of Field Service: What are some of the ways women could be leveraging AI for personal/career development and growth?

Angel: AI can offer personalized learning and development recommendations, identify skill gaps, and help with upskilling or reskilling in their chosen field. It can suggest courses, workshops, or assignments to bridge these gaps. It can also help with networking by connecting women with mentors, peers, and professional communities that can support their career advancement, using matching algorithms to find the best mentor-mentee relationships.

Future of Field Service: How can organizations use AI to help ensure their recruiting practices are equitable?

Angel: AI-driven analytics can help organizations identify patterns in hiring and turnover, and predict shortcomings in their recruitment processes, enabling them to make data-driven adjustments. Organizations can employ AI to design job descriptions that are neutral and appealing to all genders, analyze resume data without bias, and standardize interviews. However, post-recruitment retention of female employees is as important as recruitment and is a challenge for tech companies. For example, unlike men, women display a pattern called “returnship,” where they leave their careers to focus on family life and return to the workforce a few years later. These qualified candidates are often overlooked by recruiters because of this gap in work history. By training AI on this known pattern, AI can identify and target these potential employees for recruitment and retraining.

Future of Field Service: What do you think the next five years holds in terms of the increasing impact AI and other technologies will have on women in the workplace?

Angel: In the next five years, the impact of AI and technology on women in the workplace is likely to increase significantly. We can expect more sophisticated AI tools for career development, networking, and mentorship, specifically designed with women's needs in mind. AI will also play an important role in eliminating biases from recruiting processes, which can help more women enter tech roles. Furthermore, as remote and flexible working becomes more prevalent, AI will help women balance their professional and personal lives more effectively.

Future of Field Service: What else related to this topic is important for us to keep in mind?

Angel: It's essential to approach AI with a critical eye, recognizing its potential to both challenge and reinforce societal biases. As we integrate AI into the workplace, continuous efforts must be made to make sure these technologies are designed and implemented in a way that promotes equity. This includes diverse teams in AI development, transparent AI models, and ongoing assessment of AI's impact on workplace equality. Through thoughtful application of AI, we have a unique opportunity to shape a more inclusive future for all.

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