Juuso Hämäläinen of Tangible Growth: “Be relentless in adopting new ways of working, not just implementing technology”

Be relentless in adopting new ways of working, not just implementing technology. Make sure the actual users, be they your customers, users, or stakeholders, are actually involved in the process, and have a chance to say, but set clear outcome-based targets for changing the behavior and driving successful adoption rather than simply launching a new […]

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Be relentless in adopting new ways of working, not just implementing technology. Make sure the actual users, be they your customers, users, or stakeholders, are actually involved in the process, and have a chance to say, but set clear outcome-based targets for changing the behavior and driving successful adoption rather than simply launching a new service. The new service launch should also imply getting rid of the old gradually — the faster the better.

As part of our series about “How To Use Digital Transformation To Take Your Company To The Next Level”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Juuso Hämäläinen.

Juuso Hämäläinen is the Founder & CEO of Tangible Growth, a SaaS company helping companies build a high clock speed culture and confidently navigate the increasing speed of change. Juuso is a published author of a book on Objectives and Key Results, a goal-setting methodology used by Intel and Google, and he is a frequent guest lecturer at the Maastrict School of Management on strategic agility and purpose-driven emergent strategies.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

Initially, I started out as a salesperson. However, during my studies, I moved to a role in IT at a cybersecurity company. I was surrounded all the time by people way smarter than me about so many topics that I got pretty good at asking silly questions. Probably a few of my most-used phrases for years were “could you help me understand how this helps the end customer?” or “are doing this in order to help our employees how?” and “how might we improve the end-to-end process if the actual end goal is this…?”

I quickly moved from technical roles to driving an “as a Service” transformation, and the culture and mindset shift that was necessary. After that, I ended up advising some of the largest and smallest companies in the world on leadership, strategic agility, and culture change. Our idea has been to digitally enhance the needed culture and management transformation by founding Tangible Growth — to build a digitally enhanced operating model for high clock speed purpose-driven companies.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?

There are a lot that are easy to laugh at after the fact, like thinking that somehow the challenging part of a digital transformation would be the technology rather than the culture change. I like to think that you learn the most from mistakes and failures, and the trick is to set the goals high enough that it’s glorious even to fail (paraphrased from Bruce Lee).

Several digitalization or modernization initiatives also took way longer than they would have needed to because a lot of emphasis was put on getting the technology and processes right but not enough on getting the buy-in and changes in ways of working across departments right.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

I could write pages of names and stories of people who have helped me along the way — and keep helping. I try my best to acknowledge the help on the spot, or sometimes once I learned the lesson later, get back to the person and thank them.One person stands out though — Timo Vaajoensuu — he was one of my former directors, and while we were doing a very intense 360 performance review based on in-depth interviews, he described me as a race car driver that would likely finish the first few curves in the first place but may forget or neglect to stop for more gasoline later on. It made me evaluate my approach in innovating and starting to actually drive to completion and value realization. I learned a lot from him about leadership as well. Thank you, Timo.

Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

I have a list of 50 or so books that influenced my thinking in different ways.One that I used to recommend most was and probably still is Patrick Lencioni’s ‘Five Dysfunctions of a Team.’ Partially, it helped me better frame how to help teams solve their issues and helped me understand the strong power of demonstrating a model or a framework as a reference point for people to understand the system and how to start fixing it.Years later, we built our own transformation methodology and model with the roots based on extensive research, and having built the framework has helped a lot of people apply the teachings in practice.

Extensive research suggests that “purpose-driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your company started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?

This one hits close to home. You could say that we are in the business of helping companies become more purpose-driven and help them turn that often abstract purpose into concrete impact.

We drive tangible growth for companies, teams, and individuals by offering a combination of methodology and tooling, and partner with coaches and consultancies to help the customers ramp up their capabilities. We haven’t really changed that at all during the company; the strategies and tactics of realizing it have naturally been adapting.

Are you working on any new, exciting projects now? How do you think that might help people?

We recently launched a digital facilitation tool for ensuring common understanding, alignment, and buy-in in a remote-first world. This has been a huge hit for our customers. We’re currently working on improving our product design to put the individual employee into the center so that they can easily visualize all the contexts and teams that they are part of and contributing to — and visualize their impact all the way to the customers and stakeholders.

One thing in the near future is a transformation capability index allowing customers to benchmark their change capability.

Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion about Digital Transformation. For the benefit of our readers, can you help explain what exactly Digital Transformation means? On a practical level, what does it look like to engage in a Digital Transformation?

You could say a lot of my working life has been spent on digital transformation, and yet I somehow really dislike the term. I remember getting calls from companies claiming to sell digitalization and digital transformation, and I would ask them what exactly are they transforming and why — I explained our company sells effectively air digitally (sells immaterial SaaS software), invoices digitally, and works pretty much digitally. The conversations didn’t often last very long.

When I think of digital transformation, we should focus on the transformation word rather than the digital part. Think about the outcomes or changes that we are looking to achieve, either to create or capture more value for and from customers and stakeholders or to improve the efficiency internally. Once we have that goalpost in mind, we think about how technology might offer new possibilities to do that better. The first wave of digital transformation is a big one — doing something digitally that you used to do in the analog world. The reality, though, is that the transformation demand is continual, and the ones that transform the fastest win in the long run. I’d argue constant transformation capability is a competitive advantage, and not embracing the digital across the board is becoming a disadvantage.

Once you’re on your third or fourth wave of digital transformation, consider how quickly you can let go of the old and help people adapt to the new. It’s no longer about digital, it’s about having to adopt yet another tool or way of working on top of a busy schedule and a cluttered mind, often without having the chance to say if you think the old way was better, what to consider for the new way, etc.

Which companies can most benefit from a Digital Transformation?

I think all companies can benefit from identifying ways to offer better experiences at a better price point and delivering them. Digital is often the means to scale. I think the opportunities to embrace it are there across the board — identifying ecosystems, renewing supply chains, cutting off the middlemen, or becoming one, etc.

We’d love to hear about your experiences helping others with Digital Transformation. In your experience, how has Digital Transformation helped improve operations, processes and customer experiences? We’d love to hear some stories if possible.

One of the biggest things I always emphasize is never losing sight of the actual customers and outcomes you’re after — people too often turn those transformations into project plans for implementing new technology, rather than ensuring the outcomes are met. Help people focus and align on the value created for customers and other stakeholders as well as understand and influence the way transformation happens.

Has integrating Digital Transformation been a challenging process for some companies? What are the challenges? How do you help resolve them?

Somehow thinking that the digital transformation touches just the technology part of the organization, or forgetting the human elements — not involving people, failing to upskill people… the list is endless. As mentioned, I think the key really is to see digital transformation also as a change management exercise, and to see the decisions being made on a strategy level — what capabilities will we need in the future, what things are we confident will remain, or what are the unknowns? Is it wise to lock down technology choices and architectures if we don’t yet know how consumer behavior is changing? On the other hand, understanding where we want to optimize for efficiency, where we want to optimize for speed and agility, ie. understanding the business outcomes we are driving towards, is crucial.

Ok. Thank you. Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are “Five Ways a Company Can Use Digital Transformation To Take It To The Next Level”? Please share a story or an example for each.

  1. This one for me is an obvious one due to my work — use digital transformation to transform the way you transform — build digital capabilities for change management and digitally enhance culture transformation.
  2. Build capabilities to work with data for better customer understanding — but remember to also build a culture of customer-centricity and data-driven decision making, rather than just integrating the data points. Often this transformation can start just with the habit of seeking to understand real customer behavior or impact in every meeting and to prioritize making that data available.
  3. Map out your value chains and think about the processes from the customer’s perspective without thinking about the current way you are organized. Think about what might be the best way to deliver those outcomes. Identify obvious points for automation or augmentation, and work on those. Often in these situations organizations end up building virtual teams around outcomes and the organization structure starts playing less of a role — and that can be continually optimized to deliver more customer value.
  4. Start from scratch — visit incubators or scaleups and learn how the potential giants of tomorrow are working, look at the ones who have already passed product-market fit. These born-digital companies are super fast at adopting new technologies as they have limited things or corporate beliefs holding them back. Use these lessons to learn, and think about the 5 monkeys with a banana on a ladder story if someone says it won’t work at your own organization.
  5. Be relentless in adopting new ways of working, not just implementing technology. Make sure the actual users, be they your customers, users, or stakeholders, are actually involved in the process, and have a chance to say, but set clear outcome-based targets for changing the behavior and driving successful adoption rather than simply launching a new service. The new service launch should also imply getting rid of the old gradually — the faster the better.

In your opinion, how can companies best create a “culture of innovation” in order to create new competitive advantages?

I’m lucky to get to work with a lot of super innovative companies and units — and there are a few combining factors in most.

People have a good understanding of the overall context of what’s happening around them — how their customers’ world, their customers, and the competitive landscape are evolving. People have a degree of freedom to try out, and they are encouraged to improve on ways of working continually. People feel safe to try if they are not punished for having new ideas or trying new approaches.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

I have quite a few. “No man crosses the same river twice, for it’s not the same man and it’s not the same river.” This, combined with the Buddhist teaching of the root of all suffering is attachment, keeps us quite well-grounded in the need for adapting and embracing constant change — either being a driver in it or simply flowing in the river being changed.

Bruce Lee, one of our greatest philosophers, also had a quote I really enjoy: “Don’t fear failure. Not failure, but low aim, is the crime. In great attempts, it is glorious even to fail.”

How can our readers further follow your work?

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/juusohamalainen — do get in touch. I try to make time to meet new people to discuss ideas and perspectives on multiple occasions, calendar permitting.

Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!

Thank you — the same to you! It’s been a real pleasure.

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