With the agenda taking shape for the 2022 SAP for Utilities, Presented by ASUG conference, keynote speaker Rishad Tobaccowala took the opportunity to preview the key themes and insights he plans to share at the September event in San Diego.

An author and executive/corporate advisor, Tobaccowala’s published work includes the bestseller “Restoring the Soul of Business: Staying Human in the Age of Data,” and the weekly newsletter, “The Future Does Not Fit in the Containers of the Past.”

The working title for his utilities conference keynote is “Remaining Relevant in Transformative Times.” Click here to register and learn more about the complete conference agenda.

This is an edited version of our interview with Tobaccowala.

Question: You plan to speak on remaining relevant in transformative times, as well as to provide a guide on future trends, managing change, and leading people. How will you cover all of that in one keynote?

Answer: I’m going to basically talk about four big trends: globalization, demographic shifts, technology, and the long-term effects of COVID-19. And I’m going to talk about the fact that successful people align themselves with the future and not with the past.

Many successful people have trouble aligning themselves with the future because it requires them to change, their organizations to change, or them to change the way they approach things. I’ll talk about why change is generally hard and why I personally believe change is hard. But if you don’t change, your other option is irrelevance, which is worse. I empathize with people who have difficulty changing, because you have to transform yourself, your organization, and/or your team to use new ways of thinking and doing, which is always hard.

I’ll talk about six things that companies, individuals, and teams should do to change:

  • Have a strategy to change
  • Decide if you have to hire additional people or purchase new capabilities
  • Consider if you have to reorganize
  • Explain why change is good for people on your team
  • Incentivize change
  • Provide training and skillset development

Q: What about leadership development?

A: I’ll talk about how, as leaders, you have to determine how to lead your companies into that [changed] world. Leadership requires you to be capable and competent to lead in the new world, which means you need to learn how to grow into that new world. Being a leader requires you to be empathetic, to acknowledge that people are having an issue with change. You must be vulnerable and say that you, yourself, may be struggling with change. Then, you have to be inspirational and explain to people why change needs to occur. That relates to what I call “leading change.” And people, individually, need to ensure they remain constantly on top of things, which I call “upgrading your mental operating system.”

Also, I suggest to people that every day, they spend an hour learning. And they should make sure that they have people around them who question what they believe. So have people who say, “Maybe we aren’t doing it the right way.” Build a case for the exact opposite of what you believe. Otherwise, you might start to believe that your flatulence smells like Chanel #5, right? At some stage, even if you’re senior or middle management, you can’t delegate change to somebody else. You, yourself, have to do the physical/mental hard work from time to time.

Q: This is going to be an SAP technology-driven, technology-leader audience. When you speak to individuals, leaders, or organizations, what resonates most?

A: I will spend more time on the technology shifts for this audience, and how we are entering what I call the “third connected age.” I’ll also spend time on how industries have to rethink themselves. [For instance], the automobile industry thought of itself as one that shipped cars; people just wanted mobility. So, the biggest value now comes from Tesla and Uber, not GM and others, because people said, “The best way to provide mobility is maybe you don’t have a car,” which is Uber, right? Or, you have a car that’s either self-driving or has lower gas fees, but it runs more like software versus hardware, which is Tesla.

In the same way, new technologies will redefine who competitors are in the utilities industry, right? The reality is that more and more people are questioning the status quo. And as the energy grid changes—as you begin to have everything from electric and batteries, to solar and the future of Web 3.0—that means the opportunities for and the threats to your company and industry come from outside as much as they come from inside.

What resonated with people are the following three things—I start with very broad themes, such as globalization, demographic shifts, and technology; then, I recognize that these things require change; thirdly, I explain how they can lead better. While I’m provocative, I keep reminding them that I’m just a starving author speaking to leaders, and that they’re leaders who want to continue being leaders. And, to continue being leaders, they need to learn how to lead in these times. They need to learn how to keep updating themselves on what’s going on, and that’s upgrading your mental and emotional operating systems.

Q: You mentioned a couple of the strengths or skills leaders need to have, such as having empathy and being inspirational. What are others?

A: Vulnerability, and then to make sure that they continue to keep up with current state-of-the-art technology. Imagine if you were a doctor who wasn’t spending time every week or month learning about the latest breakthroughs in biotechnology, drugs, or surgical equipment, right? A doctor who graduated 10 years ago and didn’t continuously learn is irrelevant today. My whole thing is that every field has been deeply affected by changing technologies, changing demographics, and changing expectations from people.

What people like is that I take them from top to bottom. I make it very practical, because I’ve actually worked in the real world, so this isn’t academic. And I mix in a sense of provocation and humor. I don’t talk down to anybody, because none of these people wants to be talked down to, or they’ll quickly throw you out of the room. But at the same time, I’m challenging. I’m here to say, “Hey, you want to learn something new? You have things to think about.”

Basically, the underlying theme is, “You’re world-class people who want to continue being world-class. Here are some things you want to think about.”

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