“Challenge Culture” Using 5-Generations of Talent

Exclusive insights from Hitachi Vantara's COO, Scott Kelly on building an agile culture in a disruptive age.

It is an interesting time for culture and leadership. The traditional C-Suite is a product of their own environment, often rising through the ranks of their organisation or industry from humble beginnings. By the time they reach the top, the people, processes and systems around them are a part of their management make-up.

Scott Kelly, Chief Operating Officer, Hitachi Vantara

Enter a new world of disruption. A period where industries and organisations need to respond to the changing appetites – and generational nuances – of their customer. All of a sudden the “way things have always been done” is now toxic, businesses are being asked to reinvent themselves in order to comply with a new set of rules, which are being re-defined on a daily basis.

That is why for Hitachi Vantara’s newly promoted Chief Operating Officer Scott Kelly, building the right culture that incorporates the full kaleidoscope of generations currently in the workforce is the only way forward if you want to be a company that thrives.

“It is one of the most challenging times in history for business. It goes back to the complexity of organisations and the challenges they face with digital transformation, along with the fact that we have five generations in the workplace, all motivated by different things, all exhibiting different behaviour.”

Although Kelly leads one of the largest technology and innovation organisations, at the forefront of digital change and next-generation technologies, he is ardent that at the end of the day business is a people’s game:

“Decades from now, you’re going to forget the projects and the products – but you won’t forget the teammates you worked with. Great leadership is about helping each individual contribute their best, which in turn makes the whole team stronger.”

Building a “Challenge Culture”

Kelly believes in order to achieve great things you must build a “challenge culture” within your teams. However, the practicalities of a challenge culture often defy our predispositions as humans.

“Developing a ‘challenge culture’ requires taking risks that inspire innovation within the organisation. And taking risks flies in the face of human nature. However, avoiding risk is how we’ve survived as a species. Humans are hard-wired not to take risks.”

Kelly believes that organisations often associate innovation with risk, therefore building a challenge culture goes against our natural approach. For this reason, re-defining what risk is is crucial. Kelly believes that if you create an environment where people are free to take risks, they will be more willing to do so.

“We empower our employees to be self-starters from day one: have a solution-oriented mindset and to challenge the status quo to drive the best outcomes for our customers and our company.

“This fosters an environment of continuous improvement. People who develop usable ideas are acknowledged and held up as role models for the organisation.”

Accompanying this is the mantra at Hitachi Vantara to reward employees who challenge the status quo and look to take risks that are intended to take the business to new levels.

Building a High-Performance Challenge Culture

The holy grail of HR continues to be building an environment where teams are considered “high-performing”. Ultimately, Kelly believes the environment comes down to the leadership and working on your own soft-skills in order to create an environment where employees want to thrive.

“For Hitachi Vantara, people are the company’s most important resource. How do you build a people-positive culture, where people give their best because they believe in their ability to make a difference? To achieve this, you need to build a culture that breeds confidence, not a culture that breeds anxiety.”

Kelly also believes that the pyramid structure of management is no longer relevant in modern business. He believes a more fishnet system will be forged, which will see input, accountability and collaboration jointly shared across the business and not just from the top.

Kelly’s beliefs ring true in the marketplace as in 2016 Deloitte reported that a mere 24% of organisations with a seat count of over 50,000 employees consider themselves “functionally organised”.

“The management role is more about having mentors, someone who pulls you up. It’s about a higher value relationship. Once you’ve learned from one mentor, you can then move to a new one to learn and evolve your skill set,” Kelly noted.

Make Value Count

In embarking on this journey of change, Kelly concluded that it is crucial for businesses to take social responsibility seriously and use this to give employees pride in what they are doing.

“Hitachi Vantara’s core values are harmony, sincerity and pioneering spirit. These values were created when the company was founded over 108 years ago and they are still our guiding principles.”

Being at the forefront of technologies such as the Internet of Things (IoT) and AI and data analytics allows for Hitachi Vantara to leverage off its R&D machine and apply this to social challenges.

“We look at the bigger picture, to see how we can conserve natural resources like energy and water, make public safety and transportation more efficient, and even improve the delivery of healthcare,” Kelly concluded.

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