Great Leadership With Jacob Morgan

Alan Trefler founded Pegasystems and as CEO has built the company into a $750 million provider of customer engagement solutions with 4,000+ employees based in Boston with 30 global offices, growing about 20 percent annually.

Trefler’s life’s work has been to design a platform for living applications that businesspeople can evolve to manage the constant disruption and change in today’s customer-centric economy. Trefler’s book, Build for Change, describes a new generation of customers with unprecedented power to make or break brands and changes businesses must embrace to succeed.

Pegasystems (aka Pega) is the leader in cloud software for customer engagement and operational excellence. If you’ve driven a car, used a credit card, called a company for service, opened an account, flown on a plane, submitted a claim, or performed countless other everyday tasks, chances are you’ve interacted with Pega. For the past 30 years, their technology – CRM, digital process automation, robotics, AI, and more – has empowered the world’s leading companies to achieve breakthrough results.

Trefler’s interest in computers originates from collegiate involvement in tournament chess, where he achieved a Master rating and was co-champion of the 1975 World Open Chess Championship.

What is it like to work at Pega?

It’s changed over the years as technology has evolved. They have offices in 31 countries around the world. They have created collections of collaboration rooms so they can share with distributed teams. They are guided by their own software, designed to manage various tasks. They focus on being able to do case/work management to make sure people are aligned. They focus on trying to manage work around customer service.

Trefler believes that although there was a time when you would hear ‘silicon valley’ and think of innovation, today when you think of it, most people would think of ‘entitlement’. They’ve been so successful they have begun to ‘read their own press clippings’ - which is a very dangerous thing.

When asked to define leadership, Trefler says, leadership is defined by character and leadership by the ability to show a level of reliability. Ultimately, it involves people choosing to follow. We have moved past the era of coercion. The elements include being highly informed and knowledgeable - and being able to describe the sensibility.

What you will learn in this episode:

  • The connections between chess and business
  • Thoughts on universal income
  • Skills of leaders in 2025
  • Alan’s thoughts on the skills gap
  • What Alan would do differently if he had to create his company from scratch today
  • Alan’s view of Silicon Valley
Direct download: Alan20Trefler20Podcast_DONE.mp3
Category:Business -- posted at: 7:33am PDT

Arun Chidambaram is the Global Head of Talent Analytics at Pfizer. His main area of focus is building and sustaining analytical capability within HR for large global corporations. Chidambaram has deep experiences in quantitative and visualisation methodologies, advanced analytics and research, experimentation and modelling, building collaborative and strong relationships across matrix organizations, and driving key business strategies and organisational change initiatives through workforce insights. He recently co-authored an article on TLNT titled “The Challenges in building a strong function around People Analytics function”.

Chidambaram has a background in Industrial Engineering & Operations Research with 20 years of experience in management, consulting, and human resources in positions of increasing responsibility. Prior to joining Pfizer, he held several leadership positions at Harley Davidson, Merck, and ESPN.

What is the role of leadership in People Analytics (PA)?

  • Be patient -  but efficient
  • Holistic leadership function, you must understand every aspect of people analytics. “I lead a bunch of very smart people who are in high demand, and then I report to very smart people,” says Chidambaram.
  • You need to keep track with where everyone else is working to make sure you are in the right place, working with the right people
  • You need to work with many departments - and be able to collaborate effectively with each.

How big are PA teams? Chidambaram says 90% are located in HR. In some organizations, there are 3 people in the team who support specific departments. Then they each go partner with those teams and come back with projects. Once people know about the PA teams, the number of projects increases greatly.

What will be the future of PA? According to Chidambaram, if you are early in your journey, then you have to have some HR background. How decisions are made, experience dealing with confidential information, etc.

Currently Chidambaram reports to the CHR. “Eventually, it will go to its own department and CIO and CHRs will need to be driven by data.”

How do you get started? Partner with a business analytics leader, talk about privacy and using data sets. Work on projects, let your team see the benefits and then move into larger roles when the time is right.

What you will learn in this episode:

  • What people should know about People Analytics
  • The role of AI in PA
  • What is the Zone of debate?
  • How HR and PA work together
  • What data PA looks at
  • The 5 stages people in PA use
  • Hypothetical situations to show how PA can be used in any organization
Direct download: Arun_Podcast_DONE.mp3
Category:Business -- posted at: 12:39pm PDT

We spend a majority of our lives working, therefore work and life are not separated.

What kind of life do you want to have?

In the past there has always been a clear distinction between a person’s work and their personal life. A person would leave work at 5pm and drive home and they would push work out of their minds so they could focus on other things.

Nowadays that clear distinction isn’t there, the lines are blurring between work and life. We hear people talking about work-life balance and work-life integration. But the truth is, work is life and life is work. We spend a majority of our adult lives working, which means what you do is not just a job, or a career--it’s a part of you.

We have to do a better job of blending our work and life together into one instead of splitting them up. If you don’t like how an organization is treating you, if you hate the projects you are working on, if you are miserable where you are at, it’s time for you to take control and to build the life you want to have. Don’t just sit back and think you can wait it out because the pay is decent, your work is your life.

You have to look at it from the perspective that this is not just a business, a career, a job or work. This is you! You have to ask yourself, what kind of life do you want to have and how do you build it for yourself?

Direct download: work_is_life_podcast.mp3
Category:Business -- posted at: 10:39am PDT

Mike McDerment is the founder and CEO of FreshBooks, the world’s #1 cloud accounting software for self-employed professionals. Headquartered in Toronto, Canada, it was built in 2003 after he accidentally saved over an invoice. McDerment spent 3.5 years growing FreshBooks from his parents’ basement. Since then, now with around 300 employees, over 10 million people have used FreshBooks to save time billing, and collect billions of dollars.

McDerment mentioned that an employee at Freshbooks told him that the culture of the company feels like summer camp and that is something McDerment is thrilled about. Why?

When a child comes home from summer camp, they are mentally and emotionally fit. They have been challenging themselves all week – both physically and mentally. This produces a very high level of self-esteem and excitement. This is what they want employees at Freshbooks to experience each day. They believe it will lead to a sense of personal growth and self-esteem.

The culture of Freshbooks works to be like the ‘longest living cocktail party on earth.’ Why?

Generally, when you go to a cocktail party you have been invited by someone you like. There you will find some people you know and others you don’t. This environment creates a feeling safety and of being welcome. 

One of the ways they have worked to create this culture is to set up people on professional blind dates – in groups of 3 or 4. They ask employees if they would like to participate and then they match up employees who normally would not connect with on another on a day to day basis. This is one way to help the company feel smaller no matter how much they grow in size.

One piece of advice McDerment gives to larger organizations is to focus on reinforcing the behaviors you want perpetuated. Make sure to celebrate those things.


What you will learn in this episode:

  • What it is like to work at Freshbooks
  • What the movie ‘Elf’ has in common with the culture at Freshbooks
  • Why has Freshbooks won awards for ‘best place to work’
  • Why they created a secret competitor company
  • How to keep your company feeling small no matter the size




Direct download: Mike20McDerment20Podcast-DONE.mp3
Category:Business -- posted at: 8:36am PDT

There is no question about it, AI and Automation have been at the center of many debates and discussions in the workplace. Many people are asking what the role of AI and Automation will be in the future of work. Will they create more jobs than they replace, or will they replace more jobs than they create.

If you look back at history, you can see that new technology, such as electricity or steam power, has always created more jobs. But today there seems to be a lot of fear surrounding this topic. I think there could be a solution to alleviate this fear.

Unlike times in the past when new technology was introduced, we have something at our fingertips that could be the solution. We have the internet which allows us to have continuous discussions around this topic. We are able to see the impact of AI and Automation around the world at the click of a button. We can read articles, see it on TV, and search for discussions on the internet. We’ve never had access to all of this in the past when new technologies were introduced to the workplace.

Is the very fact that these conversations are happening at a global level be the actual fix to helping make sure that we don’t see this massive job displacement in the future?

Direct download: should_be_be_scared_of_ai_podcast.mp3
Category:Business -- posted at: 11:43am PDT


Mary Czerwinski is the Research Manager at the Visualization and Interaction (VIBE) Research Group at Microsoft. She worked in computer-human interaction for Bellcore, the Johnson Space Center, and Compaq, and also held an adjunct position at Rice University while at Compaq. She moved to Microsoft in 1996, as a usability tester in product development.

Czerwinski’s research focuses primarily on emotion tracking, information worker task management, and health and wellness for individuals and groups. Her background is in visual attention and multitasking. She holds a Ph.D. in Cognitive Psychology from Indiana University in Bloomington.

Her research group of 10 has very diverse talents. One area that they work on is information visualization – how to see patterns in large amounts of data. Another area is to look at tools for programmers as well as making the environment better and more productive for them.

What is an intelligent system? It is a system that uses algorithms to characterize your behavior. It is a software system that can get to know you personally to help you focus and get work done. For example, perhaps there is a piece of software that is making you frustrated. The software developers want to know this so they can work on adjusting and modifying the software based on that feedback.

Another use for the intelligent system can be to create an assistant that is more personal. They are trying to make assistants that will interact in a more human, personal way –ways in which people find more natural. 

One example Czerwinski shared is when a person uses Cortana. If the person says, “Hey Cortana!” in a cheerful voice, then Cortana should answer back in a similar happy tone. Or if the person says something to Cortana in a panicked voice, then she should come back in a calming tone.

Czerwinski says, “This takes a lot of data and training but it is not clear to me that humans are not that much better [at understanding emotions]. Humans hide their emotions a lot – especially at work.” So it takes long user studies to approach this level of detail.

Czerwinski’s advice to listeners is to stop being scared about machine learning and algorithms. Over the next 5 – 10 years we will see some amazing changes in technology that will allow us to get more work done which may encourage some of us to become consumed with working, but she encourages everyone to remember to take time to go for walks and spend time with loved ones.

She also believes we need to manage the technology thoughtfully to make sure we avoid some of the concerning aspects that come with technological advances.

What You Will Learn In This Episode:

  • How and why users’ emotions are tracked
  • What is Artificial Emotion Intelligence?
  • Real life examples of how Artificial Emotion Intelligence is being used
  • Some challenges and concerns that come with AEI, AI and VR and how we can avoid them
  • The future of personal assistants
  • The current state of AI


Direct download: Mary20Czerwinski20Podcast.mp3
Category:Business -- posted at: 8:51am PDT

Employee engagement is at the center of a lot of conversations inside of organizations these days. The problem is, investment in employee engagement has never been higher while the employee engagement scores have never been lower. So what is causing this disconnect?

Most organizations want their employees to be happy while working, however they are going about it the wrong way. Instead of redesigning the core workplace practices around the employees, organizations are keeping their outdated workplace practices while trying to give the employees special perks, thinking that will make them happy.

To truly impact your employee experience you must start by redesigning your core workplace practices. When organizations decide to forgo this step with the employees in mind and they choose to simply throw some perks at the employees, it can feel like employee manipulation. If you want to have engaged employees, start with redesigned core workplace practices.

Direct download: Employee_Engagement_VS_Employee_Manipulation.mp3
Category:Business -- posted at: 10:52pm PDT

Gordon Wright is the Senior VP and Global Director of HOK’s Workplace Practice. Based in Chicago, he leads diverse project teams that solve clients’ business and organizational challenges related to real estate business process, strategic planning, workplace strategy and change management. HOK has about 1,800 employees across a network of 23 offices on three continents.

HOK is a global design, architecture, engineering and planning firm. Their mission is to deliver exceptional design ideas and solutions for clients through the creative blending of human need, environmental stewardship, value creation, science and art. Some of their designs include the Atlanta Falcons stadium in Georgia (the first retractable roof of its kind) and the Crick Institute in London, England (used for medical research).

Current trends in design:

  1. The employee experience – How do we create a space that people want to go?
  2. Providing Choices - Giving people just a desk and chair isn’t enough anymore
  3. Agility – so people can work anytime, anywhere
  4. An attractor – the space attracts people - not only to the workplace but to individual spaces

The role of VR and the gig economy in design:

Current research says that this generation of workers may have as many as 30 -40 jobs. With that in mind, design of workplaces must be different than at a time when people came and stayed for decades in one job.

Those in the contingent workforce, tend to move frequently between jobs. They are more nimble within the organization. So this impacts the design requirements.

HOK is currently using virtual reality in mapping out their designs.  This allows clients to have a digital experience of the space before it is actually created. VR mapping is having a significant impact on their current practice.

Wright gave some examples of the differences between now and years ago in regards to the workspace. One thing he mentioned was that space used to be very personal. It used to be that, depending on your rank in the company, you would have a private office or a cubicle that was all yours. You could make your surroundings yours by putting personal items such as pictures or diplomas. Now we have communal spaces - so there is no longer the option to personalize in the same way. But it allows people to collaborate more and choose what type of workspace they want for the day, instead of being stuck in one room.

Open plan environments have challenges and are sometimes only suitable for some employees. We have now gone beyond just open plans. We have co-working spaces, other amenities, multiple options.

HOK has learned that the best workspaces are those in which there is choice. “Choice is the number 1 indicator in how satisfied a person is in their job”, Wright says.

So now they have a variety of ways that they can curate a space to provide choice for employees. It can fit the needs of each person.

Wright’s advice for managers changing workspace is to pick your design partner wisely. The right partner will work to understand your organization. Also, engage with people within your organization – those that see design is a crucial part of creating a healthy environment

His advice to employees is to be open-minded about changes in your workspace.


What you will learn in this episode:

  • What enters into design consideration from start-ups to institutions
  • How AI and the Gig Economy impacts design
  • Workplace trends HOK is paying attention to
  • The importance of understanding your workforce as you design
  • What data HOK looks at when designing an workspace
  • How the industry has changed over the past few decades
  • The impact companies can have on a community
Direct download: Gordon20Wright20Podcast_DONE.mp3
Category:Business -- posted at: 6:52am PDT