In this episode, Umesh welcomes Hamza Zinedine B., Inside Sales, Marketing, and Strategic Partnerships at Jacobs GTO to examine the role of mid-level management in enabling digital transformation at facility management companies.
In the facilities management space, a key leverage point in digital transformation that is out of sync is mid-level management. While senior management is aware of novel technologies and is driving the change, practitioners under middle managers are busy executing. Middle managers have an opportunity like never before to emerge as leaders who do not just “do digital” but help their organization ”be digital” at the very core.
Tune in as our speakers explore what being digital means, and how Facility Managers can overcome limitations to make the most of the opportunity that lies before them. Plus, there's more on the need for soft skills and digital competence that's growing rapidly in the FM industry.
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[Umesh]: Hello everyone. Welcome back to yet another episode of the Forever Forward podcast where we discuss everything that is super critical at the intersection of facilities management and digital transformation, but yet very seldom spoken about or discussed.
And today we have an absolutely cracker of a topic. Thanks Hamza for actually picking this, and the context is that we were having one of the discussions around, the aspect of being digital versus doing digital. And it's okay in this conversation that there's a huge role that the workforce probably at the middle of the pyramid makes and we thought, why not go ahead and record something on what we think is going to be the role modern day FM managers are going to play as far as enabling the organizations to be digital. But before that welcome to you on the Forever Forward podcast.
[Hamza]: Much thank you for the welcome. It's great to be here.
[Umesh]: Awesome. And folks as I said, I just had this conversation with Hamza. I saw some of his posts on LinkedIn and I thought, oh, this is guy who has to be featuring on the Forever Forward Podcast.
Hamza is working with an organization called Jacobs and is involved in inside sales and marketing and he writes a fair bit himself at the intersection of facilities management, digital transformation. I would most openly kind of advocate everyone to go check his profile and some of the LinkedIn articles is written.
Hey, Hamza. Why don't you tell the audience about your work, everything that has led to you doing what you're doing right now?
[Hamza]: Absolutely, it would be a pleasure. So my name is Hamza Benin and Umesh, just as you mentioned, I am working at Jacobs, wonderful company and focusing really on inside sales, focusing on marketing, proposal development, and client advising.
I'm working an organization within Jacobs called, or a group within Jacobs called Government Technology Operations, led by our VP and general manager, Chris Williamson, who's really a leader who is kind of a visionary when it comes to integrating technology in a way that makes sense when you talk about technology and strategy.
Technology and people, technology and how it's gonna affect the business model. How did I get there? I was born and raised. In Algeria, in the city of Algiers. And I kind of got a firsthand look at systems change and how things work in the background. Of course, there was kind of a bit of a problem.
There was a civil war and so that was another kind of a lesson to see how systems and people and languages and cultures can mix together in how they work. And so on. So that led me to study political science because I was interested in systems and campaigns and models and political science is really the business of competing for ideas. It's an ideas marketplace.
And then I went to law school. And law school for me was a sort of pragmatic philosophy with teeth. It was complex problem solving from first principles. I got into business because my focus in law school was business, and I got an opportunity to work with an Argentinian startup that was primarily focused on taking big data from MIT and translating it into the marketplace, trying to create products for telecom operators and banks, right. Being able to use big data to predict what customers were going to purchase in the next couple of months, but also using key insight from customers to be able to conceive new products that they would be interested in buying.
[Umesh]: So that's interesting, man. Political science to law and then to now doing you know, inside sales in marketing around a very different topic. So I would definitely. I mean, it definitely makes sense for you to talk about people, which is what this entire conversation is going to be all about.
So just to thank, thanks so much, Hamza for letting people know about the background, which is definitely very interesting. Just to set the context up and give the audience, the background to our conversation. We spoke about the fact that there's a huge difference between being digital and doing digital, but more importantly, the role the middle level management is going to play right? I mean, so firstly, I just wanted to understand or maybe hear from you, what does, according to you being digital mean? What would you say it entails?
[Hamza]: Okay, so first I examine the Negativa, what digital being digital is not, right?
Being digital to me is not accessorizing a business with digital technology. It's not touting your digital capabilities. It's not about research and development. Being digital is about adopting a paradigm that isn't so much technology centered as it is about using digital technology to amplify one's effectiveness to accomplish strategic aims as sustainably as we can. So you're taking a mindful view and a long-term view in seeking disruptive transformation via the lens of a long-term strategic plan. That's what being digital means to me.
[Umesh]: So in context of facility management, and you mentioned in our conversation that you think the middle managers have a great opportunity like never before to emerge as leaders or to be seen as proactive agents of change.
Why do you say so before we dive into the actual questions? Yes, absolutely. So first of all middle managers sort of have a bad repo or a bad reputation as being in the middle of the road and not really ever moving the needle in terms of innovation or leadership. And this is wrong and I'll.
You know, go into why the idea that middle managers are not so extraordinary is set to have come from a 1977 Harvard business review article in which it distinguished the leader or visionary from the manager. And it's sort of framed the middle manager as sort of a hyper powered Admin or administrator, right?
And the misconception grew from there and spread to business schools. And then the rest of the mainstream, you see a lot of middle managers talking about how they need to upgrade their leadership skills, not realizing, in fact, they are in a perfect position to influence and create innovation. There's a book, Umesh, there's a book called Built to Innovate, right?
This is by professor and business thinker Ben Benza from France. And one of the interesting things in that book is he frames middle managers, he calls them the forgotten heroes of innovation. Think about that for the moment. One of his big ideas is this, middle managers are vital to innovation, not secondary, not third vital, but still they're overlooked.
Without them, innovation is lost. That's interesting when you say that. I mean, El definitely look forward to reading that book. I mean, and adding it to the repository. But I think you make this very interesting point and again, coming back to facilities management, which has been a very orthodox industry.
I mean, you're quite, you often end up taking a very top down approach in digital transformation. And I think, which is probably mostly with any industry. you know, and I think, that's a very valid point where you mentioned the middle level managers actually happen to be very vital versus just playing a role as they say.
But, you know, just to draw this, like where do you think they're stuck? Like what, you know, over the years, according to you, could have played a role where they're stuck and unable to make use of that opportunity is that they don't see that opportunity. Is it that they don't see the overall shift that's happening or it just, what is it?
Like, where are they stuck according to. Well, it's a couple of things, but before I answer that, I just want to frame why exactly they're well positioned. So that our listeners can kind of understand, you know, they are middle managers are well positioned in the middle because first of all, employees, The frontline employees are dealing with customers and they encounter issues every day.
So they understand the need for innovation because they deal with the problems in the frontline. And senior management is aware of what needs to happen in order for innovation to unleash efficiencies or increase productivity. The middle manager is in the middle. and they have their pulse.
They have a fingertip feel for what's going on, right? They can take information from the frontline and report it to senior executives. They can refine ideas from the frontline. They can empower. They can motivate, but where are they stuck? Right? They're stuck on a couple of things. Number one, they are so focused on execution.
Right. The pressure to innovate is not on their shoulders. The pressure to innovate seems to be on the shoulders of senior management and frontline employees. Frontline employees have to execute on the day-to-day and solve customer problems, so they're sort of forced to adapt. They kind of have to innovate.
There's a, even if they don't innovate, there is a pressure to innovate. Senior management, right? They're thinking about not just this quarter, but they're thinking about the next three to five years, right? They have great view of the competitive landscape, so they understand the need to elevate or innovate.
So both of those sides have pressure, but the middle managers, the pressure is off the shoulders. All they're focused on is executing the day-to-day. That's what they've, in their minds, that's what they framed their role. They're also stuck doing digital. Right? They're not being digital.
They're doing digital. And what does that mean? Doing digital is when you do a series of technology projects, right? These projects they're nice, they're exciting, but they're strategically divorced from the whole, they aren't seeing the real problems. They're framed as, oh, it would be nice to adopt a cloud network.
Or, let's do machine learning so we can gather insights from our. So the world is more network than before, and technological change is happening exponentially, right? This creates more opportunity, but it also creates more randomness and risk. It creates complexity and in order to step up, right? Middle managers have to realize, number one, they are the forgotten heroes of innovation, right?
They are perfectly positioned to innovate. Number two, they have to adopt new ways of. In order to meet the complexity that is the new reality. So, I mean, that's interesting. I mean, but just playing a devil's advocate when you say that the middle level managers, obviously when you look at, even in FM, I mean obviously they're not the ones who are driving the strategic narrative.
They're more like focused on execution and stuff like that. Like, is there a need for them to be strategic? Like when you say we are not strategic, is there a need for them to be strategic or can they be strategic? I mean, or like, so that's a part. I mean, do you think that as a change that must be brought into their mindset?
Well, yes, they can certainly influence strategy, right? So for instance, when you look at finance, one doesn't have to have the financial acumen to be a CFO but one certainly needs to be aware of the balance sheet and aware of cash flows. And so they do need to speak the language of strategy. They do need to think strategically.
They do need to align themselves to strategy. And if they see that where we are along the strategic lines is not necessarily where we need to be in terms of innovation, then they can become influencers. And become part of that conversation to reframe and rethink strategy. And I'm just curious in your current role or maybe the previous roles or like, have you, have you encountered any such conversations, you know, as you speak to customers and prospects, just curious, do you see this digital divide or of sorts.
Absolutely. So when we talk about digital, a lot of the times what you hear are, you know, buzzwords three to five. You know, buzzword about technology. You hear machine learning, you hear AI, but when you really delve into the concepts, right, to see whether someone is understanding what is going on, you can kind of understand that they're not really getting a clear picture of the potential of the technology.
They're not getting a clear picture of what digital business models are. They're not getting a clear picture of, they're not able to conceive the business models of tomorrow because it really requires some Commitment and deep study and research to learn. So that brings me to the next question. I mean, is it fair to say that softer skills matter more now than ever before?
As far as when level managers are concerned apart from acquiring new skills, which will come to which will probably come to its appointed time. Absolutely. So we've just established that middle managers are the connective tissue, right? They connect senior leadership to frontline employees.
And what we're seeing with frontline employees, of course is, and I do not know if this is going to be a long-term trend, but we're seeing a workforce that is more and more hybridized and spread out. Soft skills are more important now than ever because first of all, let's say the middle manager is in a position where they think, okay, I am empowered to innovate and here's how I'm going to innovate.
I'm going to innovate by getting my frontline workers to be able to adapt and improvise on their own. How do you do that? Right? You do that by First of all, having the soft skills of empathy and communication such that you create psychological safety for your frontline employees, to be able to feel empowered enough to say, okay.
He or she trusts me. And so I'm gonna be adaptive. I'm gonna bring ideas. Even if they're raw, unfiltered. If they're raw, unrefined ideas, I'm gonna bring those ideas and those ideas can be refined and communicated to leadership management. So soft skills are needed. More so now than ever before.
And apart from the softer skills, I mean, are there certain new skills which are around data or digital that the cus that the imagine needs to I invite or learn? Absolutely. What could be, what could those skills be? So those skills can be broken down into business and also in into tech as far as business goes, right?
Middle managers have to sort of upgrade as a whole. They have to upgrade their mental models. They have to understand complex adaptive systems. They have to develop an understanding of core technological concepts that are built around digital. They also have to, on the business front, they have to develop a feel for how intangible assets are now greater drivers, greater players on the stage.
That is the balance sheet. Some intangible assets of driving business model formation more and more. Right. You can see that in the research. If you read, the book, capitalism Without Capital, you can read about, you can look at that research. So on as far as going more into the technical, there's also a linguistic component.
It's not necessarily the case that a middle manager must be a technologist. However, they should be fluent in the terminology and they should have a real grounding in the core concepts. Do you know what a bit is? Do you know how a server works? Do you know what a critical digital asset is? Do you know how a cloud network operates?
And how do they really go on starting on that scale? I mean, like any thoughts? how can they get ahead? How can they, because you said the mental models need to change the entire framework of how they've operated needs to change. And I think more importantly, from the perspective of.
Of the fact that you say they are all, they're a very important bridge between the top management and the people who are working on the frontline, who are all, who any, which ways are, are probably the most vulnerable as far as digital transformation is concerned. because they've not been really used to working in a data first environment.
So in that context, I mean, where does the mid-level manager really come in? Okay. So in that context, the middle manager, first of all, it's psychological, the middle manager. Sit down with him or herself and reframe their sort of identity within the ecosystem, right? Reframe and remember that you're not necessarily someone who is executing the day-to-day.
You are a protagonist in this story. You are on the hero's journey. Second of all, it's really, really good to Imbue oneself with a sense of curiosity. Right. You're going to be, you're gonna think from a new paradigm, you're gonna be curious about the wider world around you read up on business models that are being invented every single day.
What's interesting about the world we are living in now is that all the sub-disciplines of business, whether marketing, whether sales, whether finance are being radically reimagined. Reconceptualized. It's a brave new world, and so it can be a scary new world as well, but it is good to delve into that world and do a little bit of reading about new business models.
Do a little bit of reading of case studies about how companies are using digital, not just to do digital, but to be digital, to reevaluate how their business models. To create new business models and new lines of revenue and to refashion how they do business in such a way that it amplifies their strategic effectiveness and it solves their problems.
So in a way, you're saying that the way. I mean, again, coming back, I mean, obviously I think this probably works for each sector, each space. But just coming back in the interest and put a special focus on facilities management. So you, if I'm a facility manager, there was a particular way in which I was looking at my job more like from execution.
it was like more like daily tasks. This is what needs to happen, so on and so forth. And you're saying that all of a sudden what's gonna happen is that because of if the, the overall organization needs to be digital then in that case the entire definition of the role of a facility manager or a mid-level manager changes, which I honestly think.
Is a very significant change, psychological change for the FM itself. Besides all the other skills, challenges that you would encounter. just one, the last questions. I mean, and again, this is more from the experience perspective and you know, and maybe not just the work that you guys do at Jacobs and stuff.
Is there a role you think technology vendors or consulting companies like yours or execution companies like yours, is there a role they have to play to be able to make sure that the capacities are being built, or at least are being thought in the right direction?
As far as the industry as a whole or within our, I mean, industry as a whole and like not necessarily only looking at Jacobs. Absolutely. We take it upon ourselves, within our group and under the direction of our VP and GM. We do take it upon ourselves not only to solve our clients and customers' problems, we take it upon ourselves to have the critical conversations we need to be having about the industry as a whole.
For example, I remember talking with my VP in GM about the need for facilities managers. To be able to be fluent in more kind of sub disciplines of business and be more like polymaths in the sense that they don't just understand facilities, right?
They under, for example, if we frame an asset within facilities management under the i o, if we frame an asset as a human being, right now, we get into the psychological component. Now we get into the question of how do we create spaces that are not only. Where people can be productive, but where people can be happy and vibrant.
So now we have to understand psychology a little bit. We talked about business acumen, right? And really understanding the balance sheet. Do you understand the drivers of cash flow within your organization? And not every organization is created equally, but do you at least have. You know, sort of a feel for the drivers of the cashflow of your organization.
What could they be tomorrow? another facet is thinking about, of course, thinking a little bit about strategy, not necessarily being a strategist, but being in the conversation and then having, sharpening your communication skills. I know it sounds trite and cliche to say be a storyteller, but are you able to take complex technological information?
And turn it into a simple, humanized and compelling narrative. That galvanizes people to take action. That's interesting. And I think that becomes more so important, not from the customer end customer perspective, but I think more from the perspective of the fact that you are going to eventually flow.
You're eventually going to let that entire strategic thing be executed by the people on the shop floor or. At the bottom of the pyramid and the clearer you are and as non-technical as you are, that's probably going to help in that sense. No, I'm sorry. I'm really taking, and honestly not just this could not just work for facilities management.
I mean, this could just work for any other industry. But, but I think as we sum up this amazing conversation, I think one of the things that I take as a summary is the most critical part of it is just the need for the mid-level managers or the FM facility managers to be able to reimagine it on their own.
What their new role could look like. It is going to be daunting. It's going to be scary and it's gonna be challenging, but it's certainly gonna be new. but I think it's worth giving a shot. and then just one last question I would have for you is Sure. You know, and playing the role of a slightly pessimism, what happens if you know, the mid-level managers or let's say the facility managers of the modern day world do not look at acquiring these skills.
Where are those opportunities then? I mean, they're not existing for them anymore. you know, what's the driver? Because I know that change is very hard. They've been working on things in a particular manner right. Like why would they need to change in that sense? So I'm just thinking what would be that big message from you, I mean personally from you, and saying, okay, this is the main reason why you should look at changing.
So the main reason that you should look at change is because change oftentimes creates opportunities that you do not see, right? Opportunities that you can really, if you look past the scary things, right? Complexity is really scary, right? Complexity requires a new vocabulary.
Complexity requires Counterintuitive ways of thinking. Right? Unless there's a great line of research that became a book called Obliquity by John K and Obliquity is interesting because John K, in that book, he argues if you want to go to a target or if you want to reach an objective, don't go.
Do not go straight. Go around. Right. Which is very ca I struggled with this book because I was Thinking, how could the short shortcut between two points be the long way around? And he argues that in a world of greater complexity, sometimes you have to think counterintuitive and scary ways, right?
If you go this direct path, it might backfire on you. And so what that leads me to say about middle managers is it is scary to Look change in the face, right? But if you adopt the steps that we talked about, right? Just step by step, start with psychological, reframe who you are, and then start with picking up a few skills.
Around digital. You know, we talked about the balance sheet. Learn a little bit more about intangible assets. We talked about communication. Learn how to tell simple stories that galvanize and motivate people. We talked about digital learn 15 to 20 concepts, 15 to 20. That's all you need. And then you are gonna be positioned well.
It's gonna create a person that has new eyes. You're gonna look around you and you won't see Monsters dragons challenges, you're gonna see opportunities and you're going to be excited about that change. And so that's what I would recommend. I would say that's a healthy start. That makes sense. That's a good summary and I hope it turns out to be good motivation.
And there are two things that I could figure out is that a, you also are a good storyteller, but you also read a lot of books, which is wonderful, in that sense. Hamza, thanks for taking time out. I hope when the podcast is really, and Even if it inspires one of the so many facility managers and mid-level managers to make that change, I think we would've done our job.
and as you said, it's things are not gonna be easy, but one has to look beyond and make sure that, they all are ready for the opportunities that lies in front of them. I really deeply appreciate you taking the time out to speak to us. Hamza, it's been a pleasure and I hope to catch up with you sometime.
It's been a pleasure and I wanna say thank you for what you do. You're bringing real value to your listeners. You're bringing real value to the FM industry because you're having these critical conversations. We need to be having, you're covering different disciplines, so really it's, it's, it's changing the way we do things.
Thank you very much for having me, and thank you to your listeners. Thank you so much, Hamza. Take care.