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- Dr Alex Young, former trauma and orthopaedic surgeon; founder and CEO of Virti
Can immersive learning help to upgrade human performance? In this latest episode of Digital Workplace Impact, Nancy Goebel talks with Dr Alex Young, founder and CEO of Virti, and uncovers crisp advice on engaging a digital workforce.
A former trauma and orthopaedic surgeon, Alex built and sold his first company whilst at medical school. He scaled an award-winning medical education company while still training in the UK National Health Service. Virti, an employee training platform for the modern workforce, is Alex’s most ambitious venture to date.
In this discussion, Alex shares his energy, drive and insights as someone whose entrepreneurial mindset is grounded in a mix of science and innovation. As many digital workplace teams shift from the war-room mentality of the pandemic to the future of work, Alex and Nancy predict the next mega trends and opportunities.
Can gamification and artificial intelligence help employees to fast-track their soft skills for today’s digital workplace? What can actively encourage innovation within an organizational culture? And how can we really seize precious moments to engage increasingly busy people?
The openings for intrapreneurship and innovation abound, so listen now and hear more on creating habits for optimal focus, performance and wellbeing.
Show notes, links and resources for this episode:
[00:00:01.090] – Dr Alex Young
You really have got to embrace that if you are in a position of leadership that you firstly won’t have all the answers and secondly, you shouldn’t be the one giving all the answers when it comes to innovation, you need to be allowing your people to offer up solutions and suggestions in a safe space where they feel that their ideas can be heard. And then you need to have a process where, provided those ideas are basically aligning to your business goals, they’re acted upon in some way. Because there’s nothing more frustrating for someone who’s a high performer, a high achiever, to suggest improvements to an organization and then for nothing to be done about it. That is what causes attrition some of your best people in many cases. And I think just having a system where people are able to bring ideas to the table in big organizations or small organizations and then those are put into action is absolutely critical.
[00:00:56.130] – Nancy Goebel
Today, I had a chance to catch up with Dr Alex Young, trauma orthopaedic surgeon by training turned CEO and founder of Virti, an immersive learning platform. In case you’re yet unfamiliar with Alex, he is very passionate about leveraging immersive learning as a way of upgrading human performance. And Alex built and sold his first company while in medical school before bootstrapping, and scaling up an award-winning medical education company while at the same time training in the UK NHS or National Health Service. Virti is Alex’s most ambitious venture to date. It has won a wealth of awards and grants, including being voted one of Fast Company’s most innovative companies of 2021. We invited Alex into the Digital Workplace Impact studio for two key reasons. One, to harness his energy and insights as someone who comes at things from an entrepreneurial mindset that is also grounded in a mix of science and innovation. With most digital workplace teams and learning organizations shifting their focus from what I call a war room mentality of the pandemic to looking at the future of work, I think that combination really requires tapping into their greater intrapreneurship and innovation. Reason number two.
[00:02:32.040] – Nancy Goebel
Earlier this year, DWG launched member research entitled Connected Learning: How the digital workplace supports the learning organization. And we thought it was important to complement that research with some external perspectives around not only immersive learning, but also artificial intelligence and game design. In conversation with Alex, we top trends, advanced practices, lessons learned and, of course, some crisp advice. Join me now in conversation with Dr. Alex Young. And of course, Digital Workplace Impact is brought to you by the Digital Workplace Group. As always happy listening.
[00:03:11.750] – Nancy Goebel
Alex I’m just delighted to welcome you to the Digital Workplace Impact podcast studio. Thank you so much for taking some time out of what is undoubtedly a busy day to chat with us.
[00:03:25.910] – Dr Alex Young
Thanks so much, Nancy, it’s great to be here and thank you for having me on. Really excited for the conversation today.
[00:03:31.680] – Nancy Goebel
And I have to say, I’ve really been looking forward to this conversation. Your background is one that I find quite fascinating. I have to ask before we launch into your career path, when you were a boy or a young man, what was your dream job? And tell me a little bit about why that was and then we’ll have a little bit of context to be able to talk about all of the amazing things that you’ve been doing throughout your career.
[00:04:02.570] – Dr Alex Young
What a fantastic question to start with, for me personally, my background is that my mum, she’s now retired, but she used to be the head mistress of a high school. So I sort of grew up with, I guess, education and training ingrained into my genetics in some form. And certainly when I was growing up, I was very sporty and I always wanted to either do something that kind of helped other people or that was very practical. So as well as being sporty, I was also a huge video game nerd and I loved doing practical things. And my original career path was into medicine. And I think it’s often very difficult to make any career decisions when you’re young, when you’re kind of 15, 16, 17. And I did what I think most people do, which is kind of look around at what their friends’ parents do, look at who was having the most fun, look at who maybe have the nicest house or the nicest car from that kind of friendship group’s parents. And then I started to do work experience and I someone who could never work, really, in a sort of confined office setting, I would need to do something that’s very kind of human-centric, very face-to-face or very practical.
[00:05:13.740] – Dr Alex Young
And as soon as I saw one of my friend’s fathers who was an orthopaedic surgeon operating for the first time. I think when I was sort of 16 or 17 at the time doing work experience. I was just absolutely amazed because he got to help people. He got to do very practical things and he got to do those in a way that was extremely impactful to people’s lives. So if someone had broken a bone, he could fix them and then they could go home and that bone would mend. So I was very fortunate that that was one of the first things that I saw as a kind of career and that was something that I immediately locked onto and that was my dream job. And I was very fortunate to then go to medical school and score high enough to get onto the residency training in the UK for trauma and orthopaedic surgery.
[00:05:57.990] – Nancy Goebel
Wow, that’s quite a story. And people often talk about medicine, let alone surgery, as a calling. It sounds like that moment when you observed this surgery was really that calling for you. And you’ve since pivoted and have moved into building a body of work around how people learn and by extension, how that can improve their performance. And when I think about your family background, your mother in particular, now, I really see the connection it took you back to your family roots. And so tell me a little bit about how that pivot actually came to pass.
[00:06:46.970] – Dr Alex Young
So it was really interesting. I mean, I think mentioned my mother’s sort of side of my family, my father’s side, were historically entrepreneurs in the UK and Europe. And I probably also had some kind of weird entrepreneurial background. And I think doctors and health care professionals in general really enjoy solving problems, whether that is figuring out what diagnosis the patient has and then helping them to sort of fix that and make their lives better, or whether it’s just from an interest in science and science degrees. And so I always had this just real kind of innate interest in solving problems for whatever I did, not just in healthcare. And so when I got to university, when I got to med school, I knew that I was probably too lazy to actually get a job working in a bar, which is like what most of my friends did to pay their way through med school and grad school. And instead I thought, what can I do? Well, why didn’t I set up a business that runs events for doctors, nurses, pharmaceutical companies and see if I can promote those events and make some money that way to pay my way through?
[00:07:51.700] – Dr Alex Young
So I think my brain is always slightly wired, even before I knew an entrepreneur was as someone who is a little bit entrepreneurial. And so in medical school, I kind of built that business and in doing so, I taught myself how to code, how to do marketing, how to promote things, and really just loved learning that whole process, but at the time never thought that I would quit my role in clinical medicine. And then sort of fast forward a few years, I sold that company and then set up another company that helped doctors and nurses to pass their exams and interviews, which was a complete digital company with myself as the only employee. And that scaled up quite significantly, just digitally. And it was kind of around about that time where I was practising as an orthopaedic surgeon in the UK at that time, had spent some of my training time in New York at the Hospital for Special Surgery. And I sort of had this idea and concept of how could we digitise a lot of face-to-face or in-person training? And this was back in probably 2017, so how could we digitise things like soft skills training and communication skills training and even elements of surgical training, which typically you have to go in and do either role play for or face-to-face training or actually have to learn on the job?
[00:09:06.320] – Dr Alex Young
And that was really the moment for me where I had the idea. I actually had it when I was in New York at the Hospital for Special Surgery. And I thought, this is such a compelling idea, I’ve got to kind of go all in and pursue this. And so I then had to make this very difficult decision where I had to decide do I want to stay full time in clinical practice or do I want to go and work on this business full time? Where previously my other businesses I’ve sort of been doing, as I call it, a side hustle. But I was coming back from night shifts coding, marketing, doing customer calls and sort of slowly going insane doing that. So I kind of made this decision to go full time on another business so I could sort of put my all into that based on the mission and the vision that I had for it.
[00:09:50.000] – Nancy Goebel
And the company you founded, Virti, is recognised as such an innovative organization both in the Tech and XR learning space. You’ve gotten accolades from Time, from Fast Company and others, which is no small accomplishment, especially when you think about this career trajectory and the types of people you surrounded yourself with and the connections that you’ve made with your foundation in both work and life. And so help us understand what the organization’s mission is present day and a little bit of a window into what you envision unfolding for the future.
[00:10:42.830] – Dr Alex Young
Yeah, absolutely. I mean, for me it was very much how can we make in-person training face-to-face training really affordable and accessible for anybody? And one of the things that I found when I was both working as an entrepreneur and also working as a surgeon in a healthcare setting was a lot of the best ways that people learn come from actually on the job learning. So in something like healthcare. That might be you have a specific patient encounter at the hospital you’re working and you learn something very unique from that encounter. Whether it is how to communicate with the patient. How to break bad news about a specific disease. Or you encounter a specific type of surgical operation which just serendipitously happens to be in your crosshairs for that day when you come into work. And if you extrapolate that out to things like sales training or marketing or in fact pretty much anything else where you’re learning on the job at work as a sales professional, you’re doing hundreds and hundreds so hopefully you’re doing hundreds and hundreds of sales calls every single week. And a lot of your skill set comes from dealing with different personalities, with customers, dealing with different needs, knowing how to overcome different objections.
[00:11:58.670] – Dr Alex Young
But unless you are kind of putting yourself out there, putting yourself through those situations, some of which are very serendipitous and variable based on who you’re kind of prospecting or speaking to, just like in healthcare where the patients are very variable, your level of training will be very different to someone else in another company or in a hospital down the road from you. And so the kind of focus with Virti was how can we collect a lot of those experiences. Put them all onto a digital platform. And really kind of digitise elements of role play so that people can go through those role plays and scenarios in their own time. At their own speed. And really get to that level of mastery and skill before they then go out into the real world. So that when they do have those real world conversations, they’re much more prepared, they’re less stressed about them. And I kind of always think back to my first day as a doctor on a hospital ward as the perfect example of this, because I had been through six years of medical school, I was feeling very confident. I had my brand new stethoscope, I had the title of doctor.
[00:13:04.930] – Dr Alex Young
But as soon as you step on and you’re responsible for patients on the ward, it’s completely different. And you get overcome with that stress and emotion of really sort of dealing with people’s lives. And it’s no different from a sales person making their first cold call or going speaking with their first prospect. When you’re waiting for that pick up on the other side of the phone, you are very nervous, you’re scared. And if the person on the other end of the phone is rude to you, that can really put you off in the future from that career. And so if you can give people those experiences before they actually happen, they’re less stressed, their performance is better. And what we basically did with Virti was we used elements of virtual reality technology, as well as allowing the system to work through desktop computers and mobile to provide these on demand, roleplay based scenarios that people can go through. And we started off in health care, where we did a lot of patient encounters, different diseases, or breaking bad news to relatives or having difficult conversations with peers. So all in, that kind of soft skills remit.
[00:14:10.250] – Dr Alex Young
And then naturally, over time, since the company was founded in 2018, we’ve branched out and we now do things like sales training or leadership training through these remote digital, on demand training systems.
[00:14:22.680] – Nancy Goebel
I just love this story, and when I think about bringing it back to our audience, I’m feeling the passion and the creativity that you bring. And certainly in the digital workplace arena, it can be very challenging to get things done and aligning yourself with people who are equally passionate can help you get through the tough days. Thought one, but then thought two. Just thinking about the learning space in today’s times, change is such a big part of what digital workplace teams have to contend with day to day, that modern learning has become an integral part of what digital workplaces need to deliver inside of major corporates. Earlier this year, as part of DWG membership. We shared some good practices for members to think about as they are venturing more deeply into the space as part of the portfolios they manage. But I also like – through this podcast – to pepper in industry leaders like you who are coming at it from the entrepreneurial side to feather in things like the most prominent trends that you’re seeing. Relative to. In this case. Immersive learning. Artificial intelligence. Game design. Because it’s important to create line of sight and for digital workplace leaders and their teams to equally be able to help ensure that the right things are happening inside of their organizations as they internalise these trends and future direction.
[00:16:22.370] – Nancy Goebel
So, just to bring us back, share with us some of the mega trends that you’re seeing.
[00:16:28.320] – Dr Alex Young
Yeah, I think it’s really interesting and we can probably talk about one of the key words I’m going to mention now a little bit later on in more detail, but I think the big thing that workforces are seeing as the main challenge, and we’ll continue to see as a main challenge, is really around employee engagement. We’re seeing a much younger kind of workforce come through who are used to things like TikTok and YouTube and Instagram and all their attention is really kind of focused in that sort of 20 second to 1 minute period. And any kind of training is really almost like a land grab for people’s attention at the moment. And I can say this. Having been an employee in one of the biggest employers on the planet. Which was the UK’s National Health Service. When you have got your day job and your commitments to do that. Things like training. Which are absolutely essential for people’s career growth. For the personal development and for companies to get the best out of their people. Often take a bit of a backseat. Either because they haven’t been integrated in or people aren’t aware of their importance or simply and most commonly because people just don’t have time to complete elements of training.
[00:17:40.530] – Dr Alex Young
And so I think the kind of new trends and the technology that’s coming out that addresses that is really exciting. So you mentioned a couple of things there. Obviously, we use elements of virtual reality and I think one of the big benefits of something like virtual reality, which obviously Facebook as it used to be called, which is completely rebranded to Meta, because they see this as being such a huge, important step in kind of human interaction and how we’re all going to communicate over the next 2030 years in their so-called metaverse. Virtuality has this really amazing medium where you can actually transport people into what feels like a real world environment and it might be quite difficult to understand if you’ve not tried it yourself. But certainly when you put on a headset. Firstly. All of your senses are blocked by this headset and then you’re introduced to new sensors. Which is the view of what you’re seeing in the headset the sounds. And it is really sort of that realism that will help trick people’s brains into thinking they’re actually in a completely new environment or in a real world environment. And for something like training, if you can convince people that there’s much more of an element of realism than in, say, a role play, or in, say, like an online e-learning module, like many people might use through an LMS, that’s going to drive engagement.
[00:19:08.090] – Dr Alex Young
It’s going to be fun. And in something like virtual reality, you can also work together which when you add all those things together, you’ve got social learning, you’ve got elements of gamification and realism, it suddenly becomes very compelling. And allowing people to take time out of their day and be actually transported into their learning, rather than having to create and then force people to go through an online sort of video-based training session, is just much more compelling. And there’s a lot of data around the impact that has on people’s performance too. And then I think the other thing you mentioned was artificial intelligence. I think any form of sort of automation which makes people’s lives easier and frees up their time to focus more on either strategy or their own learning or personal development in the workplace is just going to be hugely important. So whether it is artificial intelligence in terms of automating tasks at work, or artificial intelligence in the way that we use it at Virti were it’s saving people in the training sector time from having to sort of create role play scripts. So our virtual avatars that we use for a lot of our soft skills training, they use something called natural language processing, which is the same technology that Amazon Alexa uses if anyone has got an Amazon Alexa at home.
[00:20:22.450] – Dr Alex Young
And you can speak to these avatars just like you can speak to someone in real life at a roleplay scenario, or to a customer or a patient in healthcare, and then they will intelligently respond back. And that really creates that realism. It creates a natural, flowing conversation. And most importantly, because it’s digital, it allows us and anyone in a training position to review how people do using objective data through the training portal. So those are sort of. I think. Some of the big trends that we are sort of seeing coming through a lot of investment coming in from the technology provider side like Meta. People like HTC and Sony and some of these other big organizations around the world and driving it back from the sort of Sci-Fi metaverse technology. It’s all really to grab those precious moments of people’s attention spans in a very busy world at the moment.
[00:21:13.180] – Nancy Goebel
And just extending the view of trends. I know one of the things that we’re talking quite a lot with our members and our wider circle about is looking at the different experiences that need to be enriched in this endemic window of time where we have large numbers of people who are still working from home, not necessarily coming into the office every day as they did once upon a time. Others who have a natural presence in the office because that’s how they work best or their job dictates it certainly people in plant or other environments, maybe even being on the road. And so there’s an element of the work that’s happening that centres around helping people be more effective in their current roles or remediating gaps where that may be in play relative to some of the soft skills that you were talking about. But I wonder if there are other scenarios that are taking on added importance these days within Virti’s scope. And an example of that for me would be exploring whether things like onboarding are playing a different role in the scope of training in addition to things like on the job or skill development training.
[00:22:38.930] – Dr Alex Young
Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I think you’ve outlined it perfectly, Nancy, which is that there’s an increasing skills gap between what people sort of, I suppose, perceive they need when they come into a role, which is often like the technical skills. Like I need to improve my marketing by doing an online marketing course from someone like HubSpot or something like that. And that’s directly related to their job. So it’s obvious and easily relevant for them to understand its importance. But a lot of the most important skill sets for managers or anyone dealing with any other people in any capacity are those soft skills. I think a lot of what we are seeing at the moment in kind of that remit you mentioned onboarding. I think onboarding in terms of culture and onboarding in terms of things like diversity and inclusivity and what it means to be a good communicator at your company or someone who is empathetic to your company. It is increasingly relevant in the kind of the remote world that we live at the moment because I think traditionally what was onboarding well, again, I go back to my time in the NHS in the UK, where you would maybe go see some e-learning.
[00:23:51.800] – Dr Alex Young
In fact, at the time that we’re sort of recording this, a lot of the new doctors are going through onboarding, going to new departments kind of in the US and the UK. And they’ll be given things like sort of fire safety training, they’ll be given things like how do I log into my computer systems and things like this. But often. Really what I would consider quite basic human traits are not sort of optimised. And that’s things like how do I deal with conflict in the workplace. How do I deal with a difficult customer. How do I communicate effectively or speak up in a team meeting. Which these are small things I think a lot of people in senior positions might take for granted because they’ve been through all this sort of what I call experiential training. Where if you think back to perhaps the first meeting you ever sat in as a very junior member of the first company you’re at. It was probably very frightening and you weren’t sure what was going on. You didn’t want to do anything to draw attention to yourself. But as you just through time and experience get more senior, you then become much more confident in expressing your opinion, making sure other people are included in meetings, making sure people who are working remotely on a zoom call are asked about how they’re doing and their welfare.
[00:25:05.550] – Dr Alex Young
And I think all of these soft skills or power skills are just absolutely essential, especially through onboarding and also in interview processes. So increasingly we’re seeing people utilising technologies like ours to actually help screen candidates, to help understand whether anyone has kind of an element of good communication or empathy already ingrained in them which would make them suitable for the role. And I think really providing objective data on whether someone is a good communicator or how they make decisions is exceptionally helpful. Both that interview, both when you’re hiring someone and also during the onboarding period and for their professional development. So I think those are the critical bits when someone first joined and when you’re hiring someone into your business and how can you support them as they grow throughout their time there.
[00:26:00.460] – Nancy Goebel
And I think, just given the fact that I’ll call them mid-career hires are being hired in larger numbers under more challenging circumstances, being able to expand the onboarding to cover the range that you have feels increasingly important because the cost of attrition for a mid-career higher, especially if they’ve been brought in by a headhunter, can be quite high. And I know that there are quite a number of organizations that hired during the pandemic and those mid career hires have come and gone because the inculturation process just didn’t happen in the same way while large numbers of people were working virtually and the heart of onboarding had been done in large part through in person activities and there wasn’t enough time to, in all cases, convert to a fully digital or as comprehensive a scope as what you’ve just described. And so this area getting some focus and attention is quite important. I guess I’m curious to know now, within your circles, are there more advanced practices that you’re seeing and any special lessons learned that you can draw out for digital workplace practitioners and even teams that are focused on employee learning broadly in their organizations?
[00:27:45.350] – Dr Alex Young
Yeah. I think for me it’s been a very interesting journey because even before the pandemic, Virti was always a sort of remote-first company because when we were founded. Obviously. As you can tell from my Harry Potter accent I am British or English originally. But I spent a lot of my time here in the United States and so when I was travelling around a lot of our developers were in different countries and I think a lot of organizations now are sort of seeing those difficulties with just making those human connections. And I think for us, there’s been a couple of really big learning points. I think firstly, when people are working from home and they’re not in the office and you’re not getting those water cooler moments and elements are just sort of in-person connection, you’ve really got to make a concerted effort to get to know your people even more and just to sort of check how they’re doing. And one of the things that we employed quite early on was just having a policy that for every meeting, the first 5-10 minutes is just going around the room, checking how everyone is doing.
[00:28:43.050] – Dr Alex Young
So just simple kind of human things like this that we can often forget to do when we got back-to-back Zoom meetings is just absolutely critical. Going a bit more Sci-Fi. I think some interesting things that we’ve spotted from using things like virtual reality is that that is quite fun and engaging for people. And if you put a headset on and you’re sort of transported into a virtual meeting space, we can kind of walk around and speak to people and not exactly the same as being in person, but it gives you some elements of that kind of space and connection. It just mixes things up a little bit. Means you’re not sat at your desk all the time, you’re not on back-to-back Zoom calls and it’s sort of fun and engaging for people. And I think that the last thing really is then also just making sure that you’re completely attuned to your employees needs and how they’re doing outside of meeting times. And to be perfectly honest, I hate meetings. I absolutely can’t stand them. We have a sort of process at Virti where if you’re calling a meeting, you need to put down a meeting agenda, explain what’s being discussed and what you want to get out of it, because you do get that kind of meeting fatigue and meeting drain when you’re all kind of virtual.
[00:29:56.400] – Dr Alex Young
And I think one of the things that we learned quite early on, we had actually ended up integrating this into our product suite, was just actually surveying your people at regular intervals and checking on things like their wellness, their mood, seeing how they’re doing and jumping in and intervening before things get too bad for them is absolutely critical. And we ended up creating what is basically a sort of Qualtric style employee feedback tool within Virti. So that right at the centre of the dashboard, regardless of all the training, all the Sci-Fi kind of VR wizardry that sits in there, you’ve got these employee surveys looking at things like wellness, looking at people’s training needs, looking at feedback, because in my opinion, that’s what should always come first. You shouldn’t be forcing training upon people. And I’ve seen. Training used in inverted commas by people in either C suite or senior kind of learning development settings where they sort of thought, okay, some of our workforce are low in mood, therefore we’re going to send them a course on happiness and that’s going to solve everything. And unfortunately that’s not the case 99% of the time because you really have to customise things and make things engaging for folks and by actually collecting individuals’ feedback on things like mood or how they feel their project is going.
[00:31:15.460] – Dr Alex Young
And making that qualitative and quantitative and visual on a dashboard that then allows people and managers to jump in. See who’s doing well. See who needs a little bit more help and kind of customised training to the individual as well. So those are kind of my sort of three, four tips there for anyone listening who’s struggling with kind of remote training still.
[00:31:32.280] – Nancy Goebel
I think those are really helpful and very much in alignment with the things that we’ve been talking about with our members as well, because you do bring your whole self to work and whether you’re in a learning mode, in a delivery mode, in a creative mode, those wellbeing elements factor into every part of what you’re doing or not doing. And so thinking holistically about these experiences, both the tangible learnings and then the personalization effect based on someone’s frame of mind has become increasingly important in shaping digital workplace experiences as a whole. So it feels like we’re very much aligned in our thinking there. Alex, we’re getting towards the end of our time together and one of the things I wanted to make sure I had a chance to explore with you is the idea of innovation. And from everything that I’ve seen about your organization and your team is that innovation is a heartbeat. I know that many digital workplace teams have been emerging out of what I’ll call a war room state, where they had critical services that they needed to bring online for large numbers of people to be able to work from home over the last couple of years and are challenged with figuring out how to bring innovation back into the fold.
[00:33:07.640] – Nancy Goebel
And so I think it’s always really helpful to look to other examples to draw inspiration. I’m curious to know what keeps you and your team in an innovative space day-to-day, and any advice that you can offer to digital workplace teams struggling to bring that back into what they do.
[00:33:32.040] – Dr Alex Young
Yeah, fantastic question actually. I think for us, one of our kind of company values is really sort of showing creativity and being bold and being fast and being amazing. And whenever you’re sort of facing a problem or you know that something needs to be optimized at work or something like that, you will naturally have kind of ideas to sort of solve that. And I think if you’re in an innovation department and a big corporate, the people who have the most relevant ideas are those who are on the ground. And again, I’ll sort of go back to my time in the NHS as a doctor. The people who are sort of seeing problems with either patient workflows or how systems are working are those who are using it every day so it’s the doctors and the nurses. And it’s the same in any organization. Your sales people will know what is taking a lot of their time to do or inefficiences in the business or what isn’t working. And you really have got to embrace that if you are in a position of leadership that you firstly won’t have all the answers and secondly, you shouldn’t be the one giving all the answers.
[00:34:49.070] – Dr Alex Young
When it comes to innovation, you need to be allowing your people to offer up solutions and suggestions in a safe space where they feel that their ideas can be heard. And then you need to have a process where provided those ideas are basically aligning to your business goals that acted upon in some way because there’s nothing more frustrating for someone who’s a high performer or high achiever to suggest improvements to an organization and then for nothing to be done about it. That is what causes attrition some of your best people in many cases. And I think just having a system where people are able to bring ideas to the table in big organizations or small organizations and then those are put into action is absolutely critical. And just as a really practical example, even for Virti, when we were just a team of say, 20 – 30 people as a sort of fast scaling startup, one of the things that I sort of implemented was we started doing what’s called a jam, which is a bit like a games jam or a coding jam. And what that basically means for anyone who is not familiar with that terminology is we give everyone a week at the beginning of each quarter to do a project which can be related to their work, but it’s normally unrelated to their work, but which solves a problem that they’ve encountered in the business.
[00:36:05.250] – Dr Alex Young
And that firstly allows people to be creative. It allows them to say, for example, go and practice coding if you’re on the engineering team and come up with an innovative solution or they might look at some work processes or automation processes in marketing or something else like that. And it’s an idea that we took from originally it was IBM and then Google did it where they gave people 20% of their time at work to work on side projects. And actually at Google, one of those side projects is where Gmail came from. And if you are hiring people who are good and people are obviously the heart of any organization, you want to give them time and freedom to really be creative and to look at solving some of those problems. And then you need to follow through with them. And that’s kind of how we have adopted things. That’s how we kind of continue to work. And in terms of, like, the problems themselves, the first Thursday of every month, we will have what’s called a roundtable where there’ll be a specific business problem that someone will present and then it’s an open forum for people to kind of discuss how the team collectively is going to solve that problem.
[00:37:13.750] – Dr Alex Young
And then there are some action points that someone is delegated and act upon and follow up at the end of it. So I think you want to have these processes that facilitate that. You want to make sure that you are completely behind and supportive of any ideas, knowing that not all of them will necessarily work out. But by providing people with that creative freedom and then following it up on it, you will naturally drive that culture of innovation within your business.
[00:37:36.540] – Nancy Goebel
The advice you shared is very powerful and practical and I know for me personally, naturally caused me to lean in on my chair. And so I have found this conversation to be one that I think will do the same for our listeners and that is just terrific. I know that we’re just about at the end of our time. And any final thoughts or reflections to cap off today’s conversation?
[00:38:10.970] – Dr Alex Young
I think just for anyone listening who’s obviously kind of passionate about digital innovation, in any workforce, you’ve always just got to think back to what is the heart of your workforce, and that is the people. And I think what we’re going to be seeing over the next certainly 3, 4, 5, 10 years is really a fight for people’s attention. Whether it’s attention against things like Netflix or TikTok or whatever is the next social media thing that comes out. And getting them to focus and not be distracted at work. To firstly allow them to be productive. But then also to find some time for training is going to be the big challenge. And I think whenever anyone is kind of reviewing any technology or thinking about new and trending technology, I would always try and bring it back to basics and think, okay, how is this actually going to deliver our business goals? How is this going to sort of help our people get the most out of their limited time in each week? And I think if you think about that, you can’t really go wrong with whatever the technology is or with whatever department you’re looking after.
[00:39:15.010] – Nancy Goebel
What a fantastic way to tie up this conversation with a little bow. Thank you so much, Alex, for taking the time to chat with me. I look forward to continuing to follow up the work that you and your team do inside of Virti. No doubt there will be some additional great lessons for us to learn from the work that you’re doing collectively and the insights that you all have to share.
[00:39:44.350] – Dr Alex Young
Thanks so much. It’s been an absolute pleasure. If anyone listening does want to get in touch with me or follow any of the other advice I’m trying to put out and share now, I’m a little bit busier than I was three years ago on LinkedIn. I’m Alexander F Young on all social media and feel free to kind of reach out. Very happy to share any learnings with anybody.
[00:40:05.690] – Nancy Goebel
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