Rudi Asseer ADT podcast cover
Episode: 52

Rudi Asseer - How digital transformation can enhance company culture

Posted on: 24 Mar 2022
Rudi Asseer ADT podcast cover

Rudi Asseer is the CEO at IMI People, the largest mechanical installation company in North America managing over 1000 expert technicians in a human-first environment.

In this episode, we talk about how digital transformation can help enhance the culture of a company.  We discuss the importance of people skills and the most essential leadership traits for realizing this, with empathy being number one. Rudi also tells us more about their SaaS platform Rhonda which is able to power an ecosystem of optimized employee engagement.

 

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Transcript

“If you're thinking about digital change, if you're thinking about digital transformation, I definitely think that you should be courageous. You should be a change leader. You should be out there in the space looking at it and saying, hey, you know, this is such a unique time right now, now that we can make a really cool difference.” 

Intro:
Welcome to the Agile Digital Transformation podcast, where we explore different aspects of digital transformation and digital experience with your host, Tim Butara, content and community manager at Agiledrop. 

Tim Butara: Hello, everyone. Thanks for tuning in. Our guest today is Rudi Asseer, CEO at IMI People. They're the largest mechanical installation company in North America. So on a recent episode of our podcast, we touched upon culture considerations for digital transformation, with a special focus on the Japanese culture. And today, Rudi and I would like to take a different perspective, maybe the opposite perspective, and take a look at how successful digital transformation can actually enhance the company culture itself. So, welcome, Rudi. It's a pleasure having you here with us. I'm really excited to get into our topic for today. Just before we do, do you want to add anything to my intro? 

Rudi Asseer: Absolutely not. Thank you so much for having me, Tim. It's a pleasure to be here with you guys and looking forward to digging deep into digital transformation and having a fun conversation. Let's do it. 

Tim Butara: Yeah, I think we're in for a fantastic discussion. I think that culture is such an integral part of business nowadays and especially in this highly digitalized era, that I think that you can't not discuss it. And it's been two years since the world has gone digital, basically. What have you seen to be the kind of main ways that this digitalization has impacted the company culture? 

Rudi Asseer: Yeah. I don't think any of us expected what we've experienced after the Covid situation. And we've been using the word “unprecedented” now for almost two years exclusively and hopefully not into a third year. But I definitely think the world is getting better. And as it relates to technology on that side, a lot of things are going on. All sorts of different organizations are looking inside their company. They're trying to figure out what to do, how to connect with their people. 

We experienced it, right? The world shut down literally in March a couple of years ago. And then organizations kind of had to, okay, things sort of have to get back to normal. How are we going to do this? How do we connect with our employees? How do we increase the morale within the culture of an organization? And there's been a lot of loss. It hasn't been easy. 

I think one of the most difficult things going on right now is pure innovation, collaboration. Those are really difficult functions given a virtual environment for organizations to do. How do you collaborate? How do you connect with your people? There's a lot of things that have been going on for sure. 

Tim Butara: Yeah. I think those are definitely kind of the two key pillars. Right. It's– innovation kind of is connected to that more the technology aspect of the transformation, and collaboration is more connected to the people aspect, which is obviously is the other key piece of digital transformation. It's not just the technology. So what would you say are the new people skills or values that are resulting from the current crisis, the current uncertainty, that are really having the most positive impact on culture? 

Rudi Asseer: I'm really going to have to center it around empathy. I think we as a society, culture, world, everything that we do, we've been forced to develop this sense of empathy in order to connect better with our people. It's just not an easy place right now. As I've mentioned, there's so many different things that are going on. Half the workforce is still going during this pandemic situation. The other half of the workforce is unable to, which is very difficult. 

So you get a strong sense of community, I find. I've personally experienced it, where you're supporting your local businesses during these times. You're really trying to support your neighbors or those that are kind of in need. And when it's around digital transformation and creating that innovation, how do we start talking better? Right? Or sorry, how do we start connecting at a different frequency and say, hey, I understand that you may be going through a difficult situation in time, and how can I help you throughout that sort of process? 

So I really feel that the world has become a little bit more empathetic. Patience is also a bit of an issue, as we were briefing before our podcast started. Right. Flights delayed and transfers and trying to get on time was challenging. But here we are, and it just is what it is. And I think we have to develop this level of patience. We have to be empathetic in this environment and really drive it. 

But one of the things that I kind of want to dig into a little bit is with this change, let's talk about the things we're missing. Right. And where I want to go with this is– Tim, you remember the old days, or anyone listening to this. Some of us would dread coming into work in the morning probably, and some of us would be excited about it. Right. If you're working for a cool company and you're doing some neat things. 

So the whole thing in North America, we always had this thing called water cooler talk. Right. Everyone comes in at eight or 09:00 in the morning to go to the water cooler. They talk about what they did last night, what Netflix show they were binging on, or any great ideas they've kind of come up with. It's like, hey, I was thinking about this problem we were working on. I might have an idea – that level of informal conversation is not happening in organizations today. 

Or it's very difficult to do it, because it's such a natural conversation that you can't force it into a Teams meeting. If I launched a Teams meeting called Morning Water Cooler Chat, after the third meeting, half of you would have your videos off, half of you would stop attending. And it would be me and George, and that would be it. So when communities and people get together, that's where the ideas start to happen. That's where sharing starts to occur. 

So throughout this pandemic, we've leveraged a technology which we developed internally called Rhonda, and probably love to get into that a little bit later. But it's really about just connecting everyone so that we can have these conversations. But these water cooler talks are gone. I miss it. I do. We're in a virtual mode right now, and I love going to the office. I love seeing my people in the morning. I love communicating with them and how the things are working on it. It's amazing. 

Tim Butara: Yeah, you definitely need to tell me a little bit more about Rhonda, but yeah, we'll get to that. First, I want to say that it's really spot on about empathy. I think it really kind of underscores all of our interpersonal kind of relationships today. Right. Because as you said initially, we had to have a much greater level of understanding for fellow human beings, for our subordinates, for our co-workers, because of the crisis, because of the uncertainties, because of how everyone has been affected differently. 

And I think it's the basis for, it's the basis for quality communication, which is the basis for quality connection and quality collaboration, which you kind of pointed out at the beginning. So I think that really if we had to highlight one people skill or one kind of this interpersonal trait that's risen out of all of this, it would definitely be empathy without any question. 

So maybe in the same line or in a similar line, probably leaders, I assume, are the ones that really needed to, you know, it was really necessary for them to become more empathetic, to kind of make this next step. So in what other ways have leadership roles changed as a result of all of this, of this transformation? 

Rudi Asseer: Well, I mean, it's really poised a lot of questions within organizations to say, okay, what are we going to do? Digital transformation is a cool term. We looked at it more of just modernizing the organization and really building our company to scale. Digital transformations allow companies like IMI to scale and grow. Digital transformation ensures employees don't get lost in large organizations, because their data points remain constant, allowing leaders to obtain actionable data and staff that informs the workplace. 

So it's really about this sort of 360 scenario where we want to have data available, we want to have conversations available. And I feel that this digital transformation sort of effort and energy has really poised organizations to scale. Right. So something even as simple as DocuSign. Listen, if you're a small business out there and you have no technology other than email, potentially, and you implement DocuSign because it's easier to upload and do something faster, you're transforming your business. 

I mean, let's get to the core of the definition, right? It's about change. And change is very delicate. Change needs to be managed in a responsible fashion, and you need to have consensus and you need to work with the company. Right. So you've got technology on one side, you've got the human capital on the other side. And how do you manage that? Right? I mean, how many organizations that we know have launched SAP, for instance? And, oh, it's great. We've got this great idea. We're going to do this huge implementation, and then they're like, it's a disaster because no one knows how to use it or they have problems. 

So the change leaders, it's their responsibility to make sure that they're including everyone in the organization. So how has leadership roles changed as a result of this transformation? It's forced us to be extremely attentive to what it is that we're doing. Making very calculated decisions, predicated on strong research to make sure that what we're doing is correct and at the same time daring to change. Right. Daring to try something new. We can't be over calculated. At some point, you have to take a little bit of risk. 

But it's difficult because it goes back to that example of the water cooler I was telling you where when you have an idea and you can look at your peers and say, hey, Tim, what do you think about the soccer game next week? And you're like, I'm not sure, what do you think about this idea? So we don't get that level anymore, so we have to be very cautious with what we do. 

Tim Butara: Yeah, that was really well set. So it's really a major component of leadership today is this kind of balancing role, kind of balancing the processes with innovation and balancing the technology and the people and getting everything aligned and really being attentive, as you said, to how everything is functioning together in a connected way. So now we focused very much on the people aspects. Maybe we should take a few minutes to discuss more in depth the technology aspects. So which digital trends have you seen to be the drivers of the employee experience right now or maybe for the past two years? 

Rudi Asseer: Yeah, there's a lot. I mean, it would be really cool to be in the startup space right now, especially around this topic. I've seen so many cool companies launch customized backgrounds. I've seen them launch virtual party rooms. I've seen musicians host private parties for companies. I mean, I think humanity is just super cool. Right. We've all figured out different ways to kind of connect and change and have fun and really try to change the experience. Right. Even for me, we're constantly looking at digital experience. And how do you enhance that and how do you create some unique sort of situations? 

There's tons of things going on that I think that's out in the space, which is really cool. At IMI, our digital transformation was to drive efficiency optimization, enabling and enhancing our people-first culture. So it's really about giving a stack or a technology deck where we can now start having real conversations and looking at what are some of the situations going on in a company. 

One of our systems that we have is our Rhonda system. And what it does is it just goes out and does a sentiment analysis on a weekly basis. So it goes out to our people and says, hey, on a scale of one to five, how are you doing? And with that information, we're able to triage our fives and say, hey, that's great, keep going. I'm super happy and have delicate conversations with our ones and say, hey, what's going on? What's the problem right now? Are we aligned? And it really empowers managers now to have more meaningful conversations. 

So rather than relying on this archaic management structure of, hey, let's do a quarterly review or an annual review, which I don't understand because organizations are expected to perform at a world class level. And Tim, can you imagine a European soccer team gets off the field and coach says, well, you know what? We're not going to talk about this game till year end. 

Like, what do you mean? We're going to analyze it. We're going to dissect every single second. We're going to talk about why you missed that goal. You're going to talk about why you put the ball in the net. This is what companies need to do, right? But so many organizations are just operating on this archaic management structure. They're saying, oh, well, you know what? That's fine. We'll see each other whenever. Here at IMI under my leadership and technology that we're driving, it's not about that. 

It's really about engaging real time, collecting the data, triaging, analyzing, and then getting into some real conversations about driving the company to the next level. And if someone's not sort of on the right pace or if there's an issue, that's where the empathy comes in. So it's an exact example of how I'm leveraging technology to demonstrate empathy, right? 

It's like, okay, Rudi, we've got 2000 employees around the world, and all of a sudden I've got 13 ones on my system, and I get the ones. Even today, it's my favorite report and my CEO dashboard. I absolutely love it. I look forward to getting it every week because I can get a good pulse on the organization. I can index our culture and get an idea of sort of some of the things that are happening. 

And then, to tie to what we're doing at our company. A company should know their authentic company vision and think of how digital transformation can help them get there. All digital transformation should have a why that's behind driving it to help get employees’ buy in. We use tech and are fully connected in all areas of our lives. Work should be no different. 

I always talk about this example, right, when we used to do keynote speeches and conferences, and I think they're coming back for sure. But I always used to do this talk and I would begin my lecture, my speech with, hey, so let me introduce you to George, right? George gets up at 07:00 in the morning. He's got his Nest technology thermostat that's perfectly calibrated for his preferences. His playlist is then curated, some world music that he wants to listen to. Then he's getting in his car. His Google map is telling him the best, most efficient way to get to the office. 

And then all of a sudden, bam, poof, he's off the grid. What do you mean he's at work? There's no technology at work. You're not connected at work. Then George goes for a coffee or lunch and looks at his thing and says, oh, my God, look at all these things going on. So employers need to connect with their people because it's happening all the way around them, whether it's all the technology that embraces our daily lives now, there's just so many organizations where employees walk in and nothing is sort of going on. 

It should just be as simple to raise a concern at work for help as it is to tweet a connection to a customer service or a chat bot. Right. We're very vocal in our social lives. I love this restaurant. I don't like this restaurant. This movie was great. The movie was terrible. And in fact, it seems like society is more on the negative these days than positives. But if you can find good news, it would be amazing for an organization to have a platform that could administer that information. 

And that's what we have here at IMI. We've got that tech where we can communicate real time. Employees can address their concerns, raise their feelings on how they're doing. And I think, Tim, part of the issue is especially with Gen Z. Right? Gen Zs aren't very confrontational. The older generations are, hey, let's have an argument. And this is going to be great. Well, they're like, no, I'm just going to leave your company and disappear and go work somewhere else, because I will do everything in my life to avoid confrontation. 

Well, that's a problem as a manager, because you're trying to build an organization, you're trying to build a culture with these different generations. So multi generational workforce is certainly an issue. Right? So we have to look at that and say, okay, well, how can we provide them with an opportunity to say, hey, raise their hand and say, hey, you know what? I'm not happy. So the safest way to do it now is just put I'm a one out of five and let the company's experience and tribal knowledge and management structure kind of address that. 

The last point I'll make towards that is centralization in a digital world. Seamless experiences, centralized hubs, multiple functions, and superior to one off uses. And what that means is ecosystem. It's really about creating an ecosystem, a digital ecosystem environment where people are comfortable with communicating with it. And our sort of secret sauce of the whole thing is we've leveraged digital transformation to really drive around a digital persona. So we have a digital persona in place. The persona is amazing. It's Rhonda, and people can kind of connect with it and start having a chat. 

Tim Butara: So Rhonda is your SaaS platform. If I understood it correctly, it's mainly used for collecting employee feedback and allowing this link between employees and managers and leaders, which to me, it sounds like this is kind of a prerequisite for a healthy company culture in this remote, hybrid, distributed environment. Can you tell me a little bit more about Rhonda, about what it does for you? I know that you already talked about it now, but we kind of focused on other stuff. We just used some examples. So can you focus on Ronda now for a bit? 

Rudi Asseer: Yeah. I mean, at the end of the day, Rhonda is an experiential software. That's the simplest way for me to sort of explain what it does. And it's something that we created a couple of years ago out of a change management sort of exercise. Right. So I took over this organization, IMI, which is amazing. And I had the fortunate opportunity to really look at the company and say, okay, how do we take this property to the next level? 

One of the things that's so important for me, obviously, number one, is people, right? You can't do these things without people, folks. And I really try to nail that message to more and more business leaders around the world and say, look, your people are your driving force behind your company. And if you don't have a clear understanding of who your people are, what they do and what's important to them, how are you going to lead? 

So what we went ahead with is we created sort of the digital persona that I talked about so that we can find something that people can kind of connect with. And then we provided that platform opportunity for people to say, hey, this is how I'm feeling. This is how I'm doing. But it's really done out of necessity, because remember, we have thousands of employees all over the world that have various skills and different things. And I talk about, in different environments and exercises, I talk about it's almost like I inherited a grocery store and all the produce and products were on the floor. Right. 

So the first thing you have to do, management gets together and say, hey, let's build some aisles. So we have the dairy aisle, the cheese Isle, the meat, whatever. It is. And let's start working on some segmentation. Right. And say, okay, well, Nancy and George, they should belong here, Steven should belong there. Let's correlate that data. Is that where they actually want to be? Because they've been there for years – they say no, they want to move and grow in the company and do something different. 

So we just use the data behind to catalogue sort of the skills and attributes of the organization into a beautiful environment in which now we can make decisions and we can look at our skill sets in a company. We can look at where our deficiencies are and say, hey, we need more web programmers, or hey, we need more customer service focus engineers or customer focus centered individuals. Sorry. Or we need more engineers. So it really allowed us to do that. So that's what it's about, experiential software that connects with workforces and allows us the opportunity to get a better lens inside your company. 

Tim Butara: It sounds like a really useful and almost a must have for companies that are going through the digital transformation right now and maybe haven't yet had the chance for their culture to really catch up with the technology changes and the fast pace of everything. 

Rudi Asseer: Yeah, but there’s a cautionary, there's a fine print to that statement, and I definitely appreciate it. I think, yes, organizations should be looking at change, but again, I emphasize responsible change. It's one thing to have an idea. It's another thing to execute it and make sure you have buy-in globally within your organization on that idea is so important. 

And that's why we have a lot of collaborative discussions and talks about the future and where we see our company going and what do we want to do and make sure everyone's on that same page, as opposed to being an organization saying, okay, everybody must use this today. Okay, well, statistics will tell you half will and the other won't. And then it's incredible. 

Tim Butara: Yeah. It's like you shouldn't be afraid of change, but you should still approach it wisely and kind of meticulously, not just willy-nilly go all in on it. So as a kind of final question, Rudi, this has been an awesome conversation so far. I'm really glad how we touch– how we cover different aspects of this so that our listeners will really get the kind of cohesive view of all the different components that go into company culture nowadays and how digital is affecting it. So maybe as a kind of final question, what do you think, should companies be actively redefining their cultures to better fit the digital age, and if so, how should they approach it? 

Rudi Asseer: That's a really interesting question because I'm thinking about it in multiple different perspectives. The first thing that comes to mind is I don't think companies should alter their culture. I think that companies should embrace their culture. I think companies should enhance their cultures. I think companies should protect their cultures. And I think that companies should look at technology as a tool because that's what it is to help enhance it, to help with all of those sort of terms that I was mentioning. 

Because culture is delicate and we are in very difficult times around the world. More and more organizations are trying to reconnect with their workforce. They're trying to reconnect with their customers. They're trying to reconnect with things that are important to them. So when I listen to the question, I look at it from the perspective that let's protect culture, let's leverage technology in a responsible fashion, it’s been a bit of a theme of our podcast. 

And that comes from experience, right? It comes from experience, where first hand, looking at major deployments not being as effective as the data suggested it would be. If we purely relied on data, there will be a lot of issues. And I'll use the oldest example that I can think of, and that is the weather. How many times has the weather been wrong? Right. And the weather is the only business in the world that it can continuously be completely wrong. But it's the weather. 

So I leave you with that. I thank you for the opportunity to communicate with you and to your listeners out there. I think if you're thinking about digital change, if you're thinking about digital transformation, I definitely think that you should be courageous. You should be a change leader. You should be out there in the space looking at it and saying, hey, this is such a unique time right now that we can make a really cool difference. 

This is unprecedented. This isn't it. Your old managers are used to working in an IBM model where Sally comes in at 08:00 and manages hundreds of people in the workforce that's gone. So business leaders out there that are listening to this and different folks. I think it's such a cool time that we're in as well, because I flip it, for me, the glass is always half full. And try, be daring, be courageous. Try some different technology, look at a few things, see how you can augment your culture, whether it's digital rewards systems, really cool topic. I talk about gamification. How can we award the people that are compliant and getting work done? 

Work is no longer– so hard. I got to be careful what I'm going to say, but I'll say it: the world is changing as it relates to accountability versus productivity. And in the archaic system, managers would reward employees that were on at work every day on time. Now you and I, Tim, are looking at it and saying, yeah, that's great, that you can get up and on the bus and you're at the office at 8 am. That's fantastic and the company needs you. Please. We are very grateful. 

But are we leaning towards a more productive environment? We're rewarding individuals that are highly productive now because this is different, right? I mean, you're working from home. I don't know what you're doing at 08:00 in the morning in some instances, so I leave you with that. I know it's a bit of a run on, but again, I thank you for the opportunity to be here with you and your listeners. And if you're out there leading a company, go for it. Use some technology, enhance your culture and have fun with it. Be open and just don't be afraid to try something new. 

Tim Butara: I think these were some excellent pieces of advice and excellent words to round up the episode, Rudi, it has been a great discussion. Thank you so much for being with us today. Just before we wrap up the call, if listeners wanted to maybe reach out to you or learn more about you or learn more about IMI people, where can they do all that? 

Rudi Asseer: Absolutely. Rhonda they can find it at rhonda.ai is our dedicated environment for that. We've now commercialized a product which is really cool. So if your listeners want to jump in there and try a trial and see how it feels, they're more than welcome to, and then the global organization that I run is imipeople.com and you're more than welcome to find us there and you could probably even provide a LinkedIn link if you're interested to connecting with me to have further conversations. 

Tim Butara: Awesome. I'll make sure to link all of those in the show notes Rudi, thanks again. It's been a real pleasure discussing this with you today. 

Rudi Asseer: Thank you, Tim. Have a great day. Be safe. 

Tim Butara: You too. And to our listeners. That's all for this episode. Have a great day, everyone, and stay safe. 

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