July 02, 2019
AdvisoryCloud Featured Advisor Interview with Ayelet Baron
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Ayelet was interviewed by AdvisoryCloud on 06/16/2019 as part of our Featured Advisor Interview series.
AC - Tell us more about your main areas of expertise for being an advisor?
AB - After a very successful career leading strategy, innovation and leadership development in multinational organizations--both in the private and nonprofit sectors, I am advising leaders of start-ups, large organizations, and nonprofits on how to combine strategic impact with business success.
My twenty-seven-year career as director of Strategy, Innovation and Change Management for large digital and technology multinationals, such as Cisco, large pharmaceuticals like Roche and Genentech, and NGOs like Nethope, Ashoka and other Nethope members demonstrate my track record in generating concrete business outcomes. As Chief Strategy and Innovation Officer for Cisco Canada, our team became the second largest revenue country for Cisco; moving from #6to #2 in two years with over$2B in revenue. We were also recognized as the best place to work in Canada.
I now divide my time between working with leaders who are ready to bring in a new wave of business to the world, speaking and writing books. I advise leaders on how to tell their strategic story and build success cultures that attract and engage employees and improve results. You can bring me into your organization to:
STRATEGY AND INNOVATION
Help leaders not only become amazing storytellers but guiding you to walk your talk, which will generate a significant impact on your bottom line.
Facilitate your strategy at the most senior levels
COMMUNICATION AND COLLABORATION
Provide strategic advice on collaboration, teamwork, and communication
Create more effective workplaces and increase your impact
Coach your leaders in a multitude of areas
Help any leader who needs guidance in professional writing, presentations, and communication.
ORGANIZATION DESIGN AND EFFECTIVENESS
Help design your organization for success
Conduct strategic research and surveys that drive results
AC - Describe your main motivation for being an advisor?
AB - Having sat on both sides of the physical and virtual tables as an executive and a consultant, I bring a vantage point that can help others succeed. I’ll never forget that after I facilitated my first IT senior staff meeting in the late 1990s, my boss at the time, who was the CIO at Cisco told the team that people have told him that change management was an art but that I was able to demonstrate that it was a science. Later in his office, he asked where I took more risks--as a consultant or an employee. I looked at him and said that it was as an employee because I told him some harsh truths and he could have shown me the door. It was the beginning of a massive impact we had on the company at a critical time of growth. I want to take the richness of all of my experiences and help leaders navigate.
At this point in my life, I am here to help, serve, and guide as many leaders who are open to what business is capable of. We are entering some very exciting times in human history, which includes people being able to connect across the world in instantaneous ways. It is a reminder to each of us as inventors and architects on this journey of discovery of our responsibility to more wisely navigate the future course of business. It would be an honor to help as many people as possible while I am capable of doing so.
AC - Elaborate on the types of situations, challenges, or decisions, you feel you could add the most value to as an advisor?
AB - With an opportunity mindset, you can discover unique opportunities to create new markets, products, services, and, most importantly, purpose-driven experiences for people. It is liberating when you realize that in a world of opportunities, there is no need to focus on pointless divisions and conflicts and instead, co-create. Organizations benefit greatly when they tap into their people’s talents and passions and pursue with collective purpose the ideas that spurred the creation of their organizations in the first place.
I believe that an increasing number of organizations will be inclusive and whole by design. We will experience conscious leadership as more organizations will want to create thriving workplace environments with clear shared purpose and new ways of working in trusted communities. More people-centered organizations will pop up as more of us realize that we are in the business of people. Workforce culture will be designed with more flexibility, collaboration, communication, and empathy. Leaders will know how to bring in the right people at the right time to work on key initiatives driven by a shared purpose. Social networks based on the purpose that allow people to communicate openly and freely and collaborate will be the norm. There will also be a realization of the diversity of skills needed, and we will stop using metrics that no longer serve us. This new generation of leaders will embrace flexibility, build community, and provide the space for people to bring their whole selves to their life’s work. And this is where I can play a transformational role as an advisor and confidant to leaders who see business as a force of good in our world.
AC - Do you see any disruptive trends on the horizon in your industry or position?
AB - There is a lot of knowledge available about what's coming. It's not a secret; you just need to be curious and look in the right places. We know there are big technological changes coming that will affect how we live and how we work. We need to ask ourselves what we need to do to get there.
The current business model, which demands constant growth, productivity, and a parochial version of efficiency, no longer serves the vast majority of humanity—and never really served any of us, in a deeper sense. Business is at the edge of a major crisis that is slowly unfolding and reminding us that we cannot continue on the current trajectory for much longer.
While the media endlessly celebrates successful corporations for their profitability, there is a growing human toll that ranges from increased burnout of people to an epidemic of busyness, where people are not able to find the time to live outside the confines of their career and pursuit of “making a living.” There is also the often senseless destruction of our environment in the pursuit of maximizing profit at any cost, which is basically like dumping toxic waste into our own living room. There are people within the corporate structures who are becoming increasingly aware of the cracks that are starting to show in how corporations are run, but not many people have any idea of how to address them.
While this may sound bleak to some, it is actually one of our biggest opportunities to bring sanity back within the corporate walls. It is up to us to recognize that we can chart a new course for business and for ourselves. It requires pausing and rethinking our way forward as global citizens, both as individuals and corporations—like The Body Shop, who uses safe ingredients instead of animal tests for their cosmetics, or Petco and PetSmart, who have transformed the traditional pet store model by forswearing puppy mill suppliers in favor of shelter dogs.
Ultimate Software, a leader in HR software, has been introducing people-centered principles into the basic fabric of how they do business since being founded in 1990. When you talk to one of their employees, they will share with you how their purpose is aligned with that of the corporations. They focus on the future of people as part of their holistic and integrated strategy. Putting people first encompasses not only how they treat their employees, but how they partner with customers, the community, and even their shareholders. Those businesses that truly value people—not as mere consumers, or as liabilities or resources, but as fellow human beings on our shared journey—are more likely to succeed. When we feel genuinely valued, we are more eager to bring our talents and hearts to our work, and that can only benefit all stakeholders.
The information inside the corporate walls can no longer be controlled, the way it used to be, as the world is now opening up in front of us in new ways. We are still regulated in large organizations by a code of business conduct policy, but at the same time, our access to people and information is flowing in new and previously untapped ways. And we are starting to recognize that we have more choices and that there are many new and exciting paths we can take on this journey where people matter deeply and are the heart of the business.
The organizations that are best able to re-invent themselves as needed are the ones that are moving to the edges with purpose. They no longer see their opportunities through the lens of mainstream assumptions or measure how close or far they are from the normal distribution of the famous bell curve. They are focused on the edges and outlier opportunities where they can conduct their business in a human-to-human way. They don’t need to focus on looking around at what others are doing to see how they can outshine them; instead, they can focus on bringing their business to the people who care about what they produce for the world. Their leaders value dialogue and understand that deep relationship are foundational to building thriving organizations. It is a world where we learn to trust ourselves and each other. In this era, we are the leaders at the forefront of a human-to-human, purpose-driven experience.
AC - Tell me about the most impactful project or decision you’ve been involved in as an executive.
AB - I have been blessed to have an amazing career and work globally in some of the most exciting markets in the world. Here are just one of many impactful programs that I have been involved in as an executive.
When I was at Cisco working in worldwide sales strategy, I co-created a methodology with 12 brilliant colleagues from around the world that we prototyped over a year. We received a prioritized list of the top challenges the organization was facing from the cross-functional global senior sales leadership team. We then launched cross-functional global teams to address them, using our methodology. The goal was to find solutions to help move us forward. In retrospect, it included all the key steps in today’s design thinking methodology, which had not been invented yet.
The team was meant to get together for a full day, which was a huge investment from the company because many of the “top performers” and “high potentials” were recruited to this task, and it sent people the message that this was important. For half a day, people were asked to define the opportunity and the problem we were addressing. This was very challenging for many, especially salespeople who like to solve problems. We never assumed we had the right people on the team to define the opportunity, and we continued to engage with more people by conducting research and listening exercises. At the end of six months, each team presented the opportunity, challenges, and prototype to the senior executive leadership team, and many were adopted and implemented.
In talking with people afterward, we found that the two benefits to this approach were bringing people together from different functions and geographies to work on a shared purpose, and shifting their mindset to one of opportunity instead of problems. While the program was called the Collaborative Problem Resolution—because the leadership mindset was focused on our need to constantly solve problems—spending time identifying opportunities as collective teams planted the seeds to spur innovative thinking and approaches. It also got many people out of their day-to-day routines and allowed them to learn about the importance of empathy and listening before constructing solutions. It wasn’t a typical leadership development program, but rather a practical way to work together and also build new trusted relationships that connected people across internal organizations. The point of the exercise was not the methodology; the methodology was a means to a higher purpose.
If you are interested in speaking with Ayelet about this topic or others, you can book a meeting with her through her AdvisoryCloud profile here: https://www.advisorycloud.com/profile/Ayelet-Baron
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