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Damien Cummings on talent management and career tips

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Podcast with Damien Part 4 



people, digital, digital transformation, ai, managers, hire,problem, startup, leaders, mckinsey, organization, damien, nus, podcast,linkedin, big, retrenchment, job, company, knowledge 


Damien, Liew Wei Da Andrew 

Show outline: 

Section 1: About the show 

Section 2: About the guest 

Section 3: Guest telling his story 

Section 4: Talent Sourcing for AI 

Section 5: Talent management for AI transformation 

Section 6: Fire: underneath or belly up 

Section 7: Expectation 

Section 8: Billboard 

Section 9: Books 

Section 10: Apps 

Section 11: Career tip 1 

Section 12: Career tip 2 

Section 13: Career tip 3   


Damien shared with us that most managers should look at developing their people in AI andmanaging the change of AI but they don’t. That’s because most managers are terrible managers. As such, Andrew proposed that companies need to do a bit of mixed sourcing of different talents in different arrangement to enable digital transformation. One of the key skill or traits in manager whether in house or introduced is the fire to light up the organization: ignite that passion and fan it persistently. This is different from getting burnout from unrealistic expectation of getting fast success. Damien shared that some leaders want to be seen as the agent of change while others want more bonuses. These 2 sets of motivation can propel unrealistic expectation of achieving success. He akin that to a Billboard story in which the marketing executives invest marketing dollars on billboard so that their C-suite executives can see them, thinking that they have done their job. Damien share 6 resources that he goes to and his common apps are WhatsApp , teams and slack. His 3 career tips are get acquired knowledge be it learning a master degree or learn by doing a side project, follow up with thought leaders and keep networking.  



Section 1: About the show 

Liew Wei Da Andrew 00:17 

Hi, everyone. Welcome to the AI of mankind show where I shareanything interesting about mankind. I'm your host for the season. My name is Andrew Liew. I've worked across 4 continents and 12 international cities. Also, I work in tech startups across a range of roles from selling products, making customer happies, figuring out fundraising, making finance tick, building teams, and developing sticky products. Apart from building startups, I've also worked in Fortune 500 companies as a chief data scientist or technologist, or people leader. You can call me Jack of all trades or master of learning. I hope to make this podcast show a great learning experience for us. And each season there is a series of interesting things, where I invite guests to share their views about their life and interests. Now, let the show begin.   

Section 2: About the guest 

Liew Wei Da Andrew 01:26 

Today's guest is Damien. Damien is one of Asia Pacific recognized digital transformation leaders. He is currently the chief lecturer for thedigital strategy and leadership practice at the National University of Singapore Institute of systems science. Prior to that, he was the founder andCEO of HR tech, a software as a servicecompany PeopleWave. Before entrepreneurship, he was the Global Head of digital marketing at the Standard Chartered Bank, and the Chief Marketing Officer at Philips Asia Pacific. Damien has also worked at major global brands, such as Samsung, Dell, Ogilvy Marther, Coca Cola, and McKinsey & co. Let's welcome our guest Damien.     

Section 3: Guest telling his story 

Liew Wei Da Andrew 02:2

Hi Damien   

Damien 02:2

Thank you very much. You look very interactive. You've got somefruits and cactus behind you.    

Liew Wei Da Andrew 02:3


Damien 02:3

Very good.    

Liew Wei Da Andrew 02:3


Damien 02:3

I love it.   

Liew Wei Da Andrew 02:3

So the show is to enable the audience to learn more about AI,digital transformation and the guests.   

Damien 02:4

Okay, for problem.   

Liew Wei Da Andrew 02:46  

Cool. Tell me about how doyou get to where you are, from the day that you did your first startup?   

Damien 02:5

That's a great question. And my first startup was actually back inthe 1990s. So actually, my first job was at McKinsey, and then back in the 90s.And it was alot of fun. things what most of the other consultants were doing there: they left during the original .com boom. Now, at the time, I was very poor. I was living with flatmates. So my flatmate, my girlfriend got together, and did what we did is we can actually found a company that actually build websites back in the day. Now that feels very commoditized now, but we actually, you know, became Yahoo's ecommerce partner, we're building a new typical connect like the early days of what would have been cloud software with email marketing and CRM tools. And we're doing some really cool stuff. We became a top 20 web development company back in those days in Australia. But of course, with, boom, came the .com crash, and the company wound down and I ended up losing everything. Of course, that was my first experience of startup. And that was about four years of doing that was, it was the equivalent of at least doing an MBA or a master's degree. It was, you know, great. kind of actually, doing this in my 20s was was amazing. Lots to learn despite the fact that it didn't work. But my most recent startup was my most recent job. So I, after that, first business kind of fell over, I had to go get a real job. And I built a career over 20 years as a digital person. So the digital guide looked after E commerce or in sales or marketing. So you know, I hit the top of the C suite, I became a chief marketing officer and head of digital in different companies. And my last corporate job was the Global Head of digital at Standard Chartered bank then it was a great job and a fantastic people there and a big ambition. But in a big companies like that there's not a lot of stability. And what happened is that I ended up getting laid off. So I went through a retrenchment process and it made me very angry, not because it wasn't because I did a bad job and it wasn't because the team weren't performing. We actually were hitting stellar runs everywhere. But the reality is, that seems very political. So the reasons they kind of chose to actually defend this team and you know, choose to actually get rid of some people versus others really frustrated me. I've always been more of a data driven guy. So, you know, I took my little bit of retrenchment money, and I formed my last business called Peoplewave. There are two aspects of that. 1, how do I make work fair? Youknow, I've just been through a very unfair retrenchment and I hated it. And 2, you know, could we use data to make better decisions as a manager, and the people in some of the kinds of people, so you know, I did that until COVID. So that was great raised a million dollars brought two products to market, we have hundreds of SMEs using our product, then later, but three years in, we realizedwe had a bigger ambition, we signed an 11 million USD term sheet to go big at the end of 2019. But then COVID hit. So COVID killed our core business of HR technology, because no one's hiring, and no one's buying our software. But also the people we trusted actually put that money to business end up, you know, not delivering, so that was catastrophic. So actually, it's pretty fresh for me. So that kind of business just went down at the beginning of 2021. And listen to whatever change in reflection about where I am in life.    

Liew Wei Da Andrew 05:56 

Ah that was how eventually you gotta yourself to be the chief officer, or Principal Lecturer at the NUS Institute of system and science.   

Damien 06:05 

Yeah, I'm currently at the National University of Singapore in theInstitute of system science. So I'm chief of Digital Strategy and leadershipthere, what that means is, you know, applied my 20 plus years of knowledge, actually, now I'm actually giving it back. So I teach programs like the mastersof technology and digital leadership, doing obviously, business development, looking at actually grown capability for NUS. And also, it's fun actually going to be giving back into corporate group. So we do executive education, around things like cybersecurity, AI, digital transformation, digital strategy, and so on. So a lot of fun, it's early days, but certainly very different change of pace in the corporate jobs in the startups I've worked at before.    

Liew Wei Da Andrew 06:44 

Yeah, it sounds very fun. I mean, like, your whole story is likeadventure, right? Where you started out running a startup, and then you end updoing C suite, doing digital transformation. And then you went going back to the startup again. And then now coming back to giving back to the society, as an educator.    

Section 4: Talent Sourcing for AI 

Liew Wei Da Andrew 06:41 

Yeah, it sounds very fun. I mean, like, your whole story is likeadventure, right? Where you started out running a startup, and then you end up doing C suite, doing digital transformation. And I went in going back to the startup again, and then now coming back to giving back to the society as aneducator. But when you think that in a very big company, there's always this tendency of bias to say, "I rather a hire somebody outside and bring him in." And hopefully he can turn magic, instead of doing a hybrid approach. You know, I let me get a bit of expert, let me get a bit of educator. And let's try a hybrid crowdsourcing, just to see how this transition in terms of skills for organization to enable digital transformation, what do you have to say about that?   

Damien 07:27 

Yeah, let me answer in a weird way. Most managers are terrible.Most managers are just horrible. Most managers have never gone throughtraining, they don't understand, you know, how to actually manage people well, and so on. So they always look for shortcuts, we know that Gallup looks at 70% of employees being disengaged, and that 80% of that coming directly from havingpoor management. So why I'm saying that is because most bad managers will look for the quick fix. That's okay, you know, what they should do is develop their team. They spend the time to say, "Okay, here's the unique kind of gems I have in my organization, here's a chance I'm willing to take on them to actually develop them further. Here's the money I was spending upskilling and reskilling them, and I have a fantastic loyal team, and I will become a much better manager." If they did, that, all problems will be solved. But most people are fairly bad at management and look for the quick solution. "You know, maybe I'm disengaged myself, I don't love working here, you know what? I'll hire a digital guy or with a Teflon raincoat, if there's crap is coming down onme, I'll slide on to somebody else." So that's the tai chi, right? So tai chi the problems away to the new digital consultants coming in, I mean, I know you've experienced it, I have as well, it tends to be that you actually hire these people to scapegoat. And if they don't have the subject matter expert knowledge and experience, it doesn't hit manager. It doesn't have a team. That actually hits this new person comes in. So I think you know, a lot of these problems about actually the different speeds of transformation, hiring externally versus developing internally, could be solved if you had a more empathetic, a more caring and a better set of managers who truly understood the long term gains from having a fantastic workforce. But you can't escape the fact that in the short term, you need great digital experience, digital leaders. So yes, you're gonna have to hire some.                     

Section 5: Talent management for AI transformation   

Damien 09:10 

I think the key thing would be how can you attract that bestdigital talent by giving that person career development opportunities as well?Because the main thing mistake managers will make is they'll bring an AI expert to solve a short term problem, then AI experts now full time employees with nowhere to go. Yeah.   

Liew Wei Da Andrew 09:11 

It's interesting. I mean, I have a different view, because havingmyself being in the corporate world and in the startup world, I noticed thatwhen I was in any other bigger company, they tend to hire this guy and think this guy will solve everything for them. But then the really successful one,they will like, bring in a mixed breed of people, like we could have a few Gigster, freelancers, a few educators like yourself, and to get multiple perspective on what is the exact problem. Because when the guy comes in, he comes from a very external observers perspective. And you're like, "Wow! it's so different way these things are working over here." Everybody wants to be a yes man. Nobody wants to, you know, be defiant. And I decided to say, "you know, oh, there's a problem over here." And everybody looks at me like this is a weird goof. But this wierd goof is supposed to change. But change. There's a saying, you know, "You want to go fast, you go alone, by the way, you're gonna make a big change, or you want to go far, you need to go together as a team. And how does all, you know, leaders or managers need to be aware that just just being one guy, or bring a specific team of people doesn't enable an overnight change success. And I think when I am not talking about 1 day, 2 day, but let's say within six months?   

Section 6: Fire: underneath or belly up 

Damien 10:3

Well, I don't that's the challenge that 84% of digitaltransformations fail to remember. And actually, there's a lot of short termismthat's actually baked into this as well. So again, I would love it to be that the entire organization is actually part of that journey. But frankly, most people just don't care, because it's not going to personally affect them, they take a more passive approach, you know, a late adopter approach, I think what's going to happen is that that manager that's bringing that AI expert, digital expert, and so on, need to have a real fire that's been laid underneath them.And then that fire will actually be, you know, be transferred over to the new person coming in. But it might not be necessarily felt by the rest of the organization. So a good manager would actually hire someone who could light a fire across the rest of that organization, as the first and foremost skill set, you know, doesn't matter when you're AI, digital data, whatever, the skill set of actually going to lighting up that fire, and getting that excitement about the opportunity about the need for the change and clearly articulate what's in it for everybody. That's the skill set you need to hire for. The subject matter expertise around digital is kind of a secondary.            

Section 7: Expectation   

Liew Wei Da Andrew 11:39 

Do you think that you know, leaders or see executive needs to be patient? Because I noticed that everybody wants quick change? I don't know whatis it because they are listed companies they have quarter earnings. And ever they bring guys or they throw money at it, like getting a big brand consultant getting some guys that they hire inside. They're like, "Oh, we throw alot of money at it so hurry up! hurry up! hurry up! you know. What do you have to say about that?"   

Damien 12:01  

Well, I'm cynical. I believe that people are highly, well, they'remotivated by not so much money. But again, you know, who doesn't want a big bonusat the end of the year. So if you tick the box in terms of, you know, brought in digital person, putting a digital plan, and now have an AI kind ofcapability that looks good to the board, looks good to the C suite, looks good for everybody. That also helps you get the short term and long term incentives and bonuses. So if I was cynical, I would say there might be motivated by that. But then there's also the more intrinsic stuff around actually wanting to be seen as someone who's a leader, so the recognition. That I was the person thatmade this change. I made that change in a short timeframe. Because the reality is people not lasting 5, 10, 15 years in their jobs anymore. they are lasting 2 or 3, so people actually are probably more motivated by that. I want to leave a lasting impact on this organization. So I need those results to happen quickly. Yes, there might be a job security aspect to it, which is my boss wants me to do this quickly. But there's also the kind of intrinsic thing about "okay, I want to be recognized, I want to actually know, master this area myself. So therefore, I can be impatient to see some results." So probably mix of both, I'd say.     

Section 8: Billboard 

Liew Wei Da Andrew 13:08 

I think one of the things that resonate with you, is that the thingabout looking good, I do I look good. If I make this decision, if you presentthis data, do I look good? You know? And do I look good? Or can you make me look good? Especially to some C level executives? What do you have to say to them?    

Damien 13:23 

Yeah, that's funny, you know, Back at this company, I won't saywhich company. But when I was in a marketing role, actually, it was alwaysfunny when you get from the airport, say, in Jakarta into, you know, the, from the airport into the city, I was kind of weird that there was billboards of that particular brand, you know, every kind of 1500 meters, and actually probably don't spin. It was a very deliberate strategy. They put the billboards up, when the the senior executives are flying in, from the big buses coming in, they wanted to actually just show that they were actually, you know, putting their marketing dollars to work. And yes, they're everywhere. But the reality is, that was the only five billboards that have actually put in a whole year. So things like digital transformation works in the same way. So I think people want to actually show the results, they want to say, yes, I've actually made these movements, I built an innovation lab, I've now kind of build thiscapability. I've now got five data scientists working for me, when there's other kind of stuff that actually boosts the ego and make you feel good and actually give you the pat on the back from the boss. What's the tougher aspects: we've actually had to upskill 50 people, or I've let go of 10 people. Or I've gone through the hard work of changing perception of customer from onebit and from minus 1% to the past 5%. That's stuff that doesn't give you the pat on the back but it's so fundamental for the transformation journey you got to be on. So in all honesty, I think it's probably a mix of both. You've got to give your bosses that showy kind of Yes, equivalent of the digital billboard, you know, how I've actually we've set up this function, we've got these quick wins, we've got great media and PR. We found the work that we're doing, but also temper that with, okay, to the medium term over the course of one to three years. We're gonna actually slowly Talk about how we actually build metrics over time across this journey, it's not going to be big bang, we're gonna have $20 billion in revenue overnight, but we will make these positive steps to get there. And that requires, you know, a very program management, very detail oriented, operationally efficient way of doing things. But again, that's, that's not sexy. So if people can do both the highly successful.   

Section 9: Books 

Liew Wei Da Andrew 15:22 

Yeah, I mean, I talking about successful like, it's always aboutcontinuous learning, it's always about getting new ideas being open minded andrunning experiments. So having said that, you know, personally for you, what do you think is the Book about digital transformation, or any books that you'd like to share with us that it gives you an inspiration or get you thinking differently about digital transformation? You know.    

Damien 15:43 

I haven't written books in a while, I've got to admit, so actually,my day is actually usually spent actually doing a lot of blog posts, reading alot of kind of periodicals and so on. So my go to at the moment is actually three or four websites. So one is the Harvard Business Review. Two is theMcKinsey digital blog. And also look at Kellogg's insights as well, pretty interesting stuff coming through those in terms of books itself. I mean, the most game changing book I kind of keep going back to is lean startup. It can apply to any organization. It's not really about digital technology, but it's about the principles of actually getting something up and running pretty quickly. And thought for entertainment value. There's a book called the Phoenix Project, which actually talks about DevOps and, you know, there's some change management, I thought was also quite interesting as well. But yeah, I tend to find stuff in the short term domain, some great videos. My favorite TED talk at the moment is by a guy called Daniel Pink, he talks about motivation, and the science of decision making. So intrinsic versus extrinsic motivation. It's a fantastic, great 20 minute TED talk, if you do some favorite read, that actually was a bit of a life changer for me, understanding how to interact with people and what and what motivates people. So very good work by Daniel Pink,   

Liew Wei Da Andrew 16:52 

Wow, great. I mean, I suddenly you've thought about six resources,you know, we have have a business review, you have digital, Mckinsey digitalquarterly, you have, you know, Ted talk by Daniel Pink, and you had like the Phoenix Project. And so what I'll do is I'll probably put a note and to all the audience out there, you know, you can refer to the notes that, you know, for more information,      

Section 10: Apps   

Liew Wei Da Andrew 17:14 

what about the number one app or software that you use everydaythat you cannot do without? You know.   

Damien 17:21 

2 different things. I mean, for communication, I'm usually on teamso used to use Slack a lot. So it's a collaboration tool can't really dowithout that nowadays. So zoom teams, and slack, pretty good for collaboration, getting a gazillion WhatsApps at the moment, so you can't do without that. Butactually, funnily enough, I find LinkedIn is actually the platform I go to the most, I tend to find it because I've built up a large following there. It's good for thought leadership, but also very, very good to actually get ideas. So we got some thoughts thrown out as a post, usually people connect with you on LinkedIn as well. So if you want to meet people in real life, it's a very good tool. So yeah, I find that collaboration tools are great and easy to use, and fantastic. But LinkedIn is actually my go to platform.   

Liew Wei Da Andrew 18:01 

Okay, so for communication is teams, WhatsApp, and then forprofessional network is LinkedIn, right. Cool cool cool.  

Liew Wei Da Andrew 17:14 

what about the number one app or software that you use everydaythat you cannot do without? You know.   

Damien 17:21 

2 different things. I mean, for communication, I'm usually on teamso used to use Slack a lot. So it's a collaboration tool can't really dowithout that nowadays. So zoom teams, and slack, pretty good for collaboration, getting a gazillion WhatsApps at the moment, so you can't do without that. But actually, funnily enough, I find LinkedIn is actually the platform I go to the most, I tend to find it because I've built up a large following there. It's good for thought leadership, but also very, very good to actually get ideas. So we got some thoughts thrown out as a post, usually people connect with you on LinkedIn as well. So if you want to meet people in real life, it's a very good tool. So yeah, I find that collaboration tools are great and easy to use, and fantastic. But LinkedIn is actually my go to platform.    

Liew Wei Da Andrew 18:01 

Okay, so for communication is teams, WhatsApp, and then forprofessional network is LinkedIn, right. Cool cool cool.    

Section 11: Career tip 1   

Liew Wei Da Andrew 18:09 

So for those who are very keen to, you know, start a career in thedigital space, what are your top three tips for them? You know.    

Damien 18:18 

yeah, I mean, it's always helps to get education, great. If you goget a master's degree and say, NUS have one Master degree in launching digitalleadership. So I highly recommend you do that very fun. I previously did said people ended up my Hyper Island, which is also very, very fun, it's arounddigital management.    

Section 12: Career tip 2   

Damien 18:34 

I think most hiring managers are looking for a fantasticcertificate, what they're looking for is practical experience. And for mostpeople, I find I used to have it a lot with people who worked in marketing.

Marketing people want to be digital marketers, and people in sales want to be commerce experts. people actually who want to get more affliate with AI and data. So my recommendation to those people is, go do it, launch a side hustle, create a blog, go out there and do it. I find actually building an E commerce site is very good if you want to bring things to bear from a sales perspective or a marketing point of view. So you learn how to set up an E commerce site on something like Shopify, you learn merchandising, you learn how to actually do analytics off the back of that. Simple analytics, but analytics none the less. You understand how to use Google and Facebook to market that. Actually, you're responsible for a mini P & L and then hire someone any day of the week, youactually had gone out and build that side hustle, such as do store online or as some sort of digital platform built an app themselves, because that shows that they know how to do something. And that's it's very transferable skills and applicable knowledge to almost any role. The second is I was looking for thought leaders, so people who take the time and effort to use social platformslike Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter and LinkedIn, they actually share the knowledge in a subject matter expert in subject matter area. So if I see someone's LinkedIn profile, even if they're going to get a few 100 connections, the talking daily about AI, I know they have probably read enough about the topic that even if they haven't experienced that a lot themselves, they'll know who to talk to, they will have connections in that world, they'll actually have deep knowledge from what they've read. And they should be able to hit the ground pretty easily.    

Section 13: Career tip 3   

Damien 20:15 

I think the third thing I'd recommend beyond building an app ordoing something yourself as a side, hustle, plus, being a thought leader andsharing content is going out there networking, I mean, you know, most people actually are getting hired not because you see, you know, replying to a job ad,it's because they get referred to you. So generally, someone says, "Hey, have you spoken to this person? Because she's very good at blah, blah, blah." Usually, I want to meet that person, even if it's just out of curiosity. So if you are looking for that job, or you're looking for change of career recommendations, actually trump in a public job ads every time.   

Liew Wei Da Andrew 20:49 

Cool. So you have three tips, like the first one is basically pickup quiet knowledge in the domain that you're interested in, be it in marketing,digital marketing, for marketing fellows, e-commerce for sales guys. And the

second one was to roll up your sleeves and grind it out and do something to enable that precision of that skills, right to make it into reality, so you know what you are talkin about. And then the third one is to share it like to network and share that kind of knowledge ideally on on a platform likeLinkedIn.    

Liew Wei Da Andrew 21:16 

So last, but not least, what is your request? For those who arelistening to this podcast? Do you have a shout out? Do you have anything thatyou want from your audience? You know.   

Damien 21:25 

Oh, I guess two things. Number 1, if you're interested, actually,further education, please check out the NUS ISS. There's a lot of fantasticexecutive education, short courses. And of course, if you want to actually take up the masters of technology and digital leadership, I'll be working with youin some of the courses there. So love to actually see you there. 

2nd, is I believe in the power of networking, I believe in the power of connecting to people so hook me up at Damien Cummings on LinkedIn, I'd love to connect with you. So send a connection request through to me mentioned the podcast and I'll see if we can catch up for coffee or at least commit to sharing some yarns around what's happening in the world on digital. I love to connect.   

Liew Wei Da Andrew 21:59 

Oh, yeah, definitely our pin down on the podcast page. So anybody who was listening to this, do refer back to that podcast, Patreon. Thank youvery much, Damian.    

Liew Wei Da Andrew 22:09 

Hi, guys. Thanks for listening to this podcast. It is the first timeyou are tuning in. Remember to subscribe to this show. If you have subscribedto this show and love this episode, please share it with your friends, family and acquaintances. See you later and see you soon. 


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