A “Smart” Business Language That Spoke for Change

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Neil Gaydon, President of SMART Technologies, shares his experiences on how he led change and diversified his company into new industries.

By Neil Gaydon

I was brought into SMART Technologies over 18 months ago to provide it with a new direction. SMART’s global platform owes to its status as the largest supplier of interactive displays in the world of education. 20 years ago, it managed to bring technology en masse to the front of the classroom.

However, high penetration rates and budgets being re-directed into personal devices and infrastructure meant that SMART’s world was changing.

The significant headwinds we were experiencing in the education industry highlighted the need to diversify into new industries. While this meant significant restructuring, the methodology was simple:create two independent business units to handle very different industries and customers, form a new customer centric culture and come up with new product ideas that could disrupt markets which had become tired.

Once the new business units for enterprise and education were established, we set about creating flatter structures. This would eliminate the tiers of management that were clogging the arteries of fast decision-making and personal accountability. We embraced a new business language with key performance and financial metrics that would help speed decision making, remove ambiguity and ensure that our people from all different countries and cultures spoke the same business language. Today, in our common language, metrics and goals are the mantra of the company where every employee knows what it means, bleeds customer focus, demands great execution and takes personal accountability.

However, a new culture cannot be communicated. It has to be owned and lived by everyone. One way to encourage that is to build trust among employees. A good example of how we achieve this is through regular Town Hall meetings where I talk openly about our results and our progress: both the good and the bad. We don’t shield our employees from the realities of our company. Rather, we use those realities to reward achievement when we do well and inspire better performance when we don’t. Every employee understands his or her individual contribution to the company and understands how he or she impacts the business every day. This not only drives accountability and great execution but also engenders a sense of belonging.

While this was not an overnight project, these changes have led to a new SMART with a growingvibrancy, energy, passion and trust. We are just starting to see the benefits of our hard work by the new groundbreaking innovative products we are starting to launch.

1. We are disrupting ourselves in education with the invention of the world’s first purpose-design ededucation interactive panel. It is coupled with SMART’s world leading Notebook software, which is starting to replace the old projector-based interactive whiteboard.

2. We launched SMART amp, which glues together all devices in a classroom regardless of O/S,brand, laptop, tablet or front of class device, with latest pedagogy at the core of its design.

3. The meeting room has become stale, expensive and difficult to use. Microsoft’s Lync software combined with SMART’s world leading room system has the capability to change the meeting room forever to what it ought to be – simple, used regularly and throughout a company (not just the Boardroom) and enabling collaboration.

4. The dry erase board and flip chart are a joke in today’s connected world, yet people love them because they are easy to use. SMART kapp is just as simple to write on but allows people tocapture, save and share their ideas to any device, anywhere, anytime. The kapp seamlessly joins the analog world of writing with a dry erase pen to the digital world of connectivity. It has the capacity to change the world for the masses just as we did in the classroom 20 years ago, except this time it goes beyond the classroom.

It is our new culture that has allowed us to achieve this level of innovation and disruption in such a short period of time. SMART kapp provides a great example. I wanted to explore new revenue streams for the company and saw that we are great at formal collaboration scenarios with sophisticated solutions, but that organizations were still often using dry erase boards to collaborate and share ideas. I wanted a product that was as simple to use as the dry-erase board but that aligned closer to the values of collaboration SMART believes in. I wanted a dry-erase board that could actually save and share information and connect workers in different locations. Rather than look outside for early-stage solutions, I encouraged the company to solve this problem. We’ve always had the talent and people with years of understanding collaboration, and now with our internal transformations, we had the culture and processes to enable such innovation.

SMART Technologies is a perfect example that disruptors don’t have to be start-ups. You need the right strategy, structure and culture to truly enable an organization to deliver customer-centric solutions. The headwinds in our education business don’t feel as strong because we are out fighting with a transformed organization, new high-performance culture, belief in the talent of our people and a complete commitment to our customers.

Screen Shot 2014-09-15 at 11.48.42 AMNeil Gaydon became the President and CEO of SMART Technologies in October 2012. He is an innovative, results oriented leader, focused on delivering exceptional growth in highly competitive markets and turnaround situations which demand vision, energy and execution. Gaydon has lead several global organizations in senior management positions over the last three decades and most recently held the position of CEO for Pace Plc., the world’s largest provider of digital television technologies to the Pay TV industry for set top boxes, gateways, home-networking, software and support services.

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