Leadership Tips from Tom Martin, Chief Conversation Storyteller at Econiq and volunteer motorcyclist with Blood Bikes East

Leadership Tips from Tom Martin, Chief Conversation Storyteller at Econiq and volunteer motorcyclist with Blood Bikes East
Lorraine Bolger   by Lorraine Bolger. Published: 05/09/2018

A little bit about myself:

Born and raised in Dublin, but spending a large part of my career overseas, it’s been, as the football commentators say, a game of two halves. After studying Economics and Geography in UCD I spent the formative years of my career exploring for gold and diamonds in the jungles of Indonesia and later in diverse locations ranging from Alaska to East Africa.

Returning to Ireland I completed the Fordham New York / Irish Management Institute International MBA programme. This introduced me to new ways of thinking, gave me an excellent grounding in a range of managerial skill sets and helped develop a network of contacts from different industries and diverse cultural perspectives.

In recent years I have been involved in director-level strategy and operations roles with several technology company start-ups, where I have built a deep knowledge of the Fintech and Insuretech sectors.

I currently act as Chief Conversation Storyteller with Econiq. Our own research and that of leading consulting groups, confirms what many of us intrinsically know. People want to talk to people, and that when conversations start, great things can happen. The problem, however, is that even if presented with the perfect opportunity four out of five conversations don’t start. And, when the conversation does occur, management has no visibility into what’s happened. Working mostly with U.S. banks Econiq combine human and artificial intelligence to quickly help frontline staff in banks start and hold naturally flowing, high-quality, customer conversations. With management having complete visibility into every conversation it’s easy to improve conversation quality and generate sustainable value.

With my family more or less grown up, I now have the opportunity to give something back. Writing a cheque and donating to a charity is valuable, particularly if it’s on a consistent basis. However, I believe that using our business experience and especially our time, to build and develop organisations that will make a positive difference to our community, is priceless. In my case, I leverage my passion for motorcycling and have become an active volunteer with Blood Bikes East. Operating 365 days a year Blood Bikes East is a registered charity that provides a free, out-of-hours medical transport service to hospitals, hospices, medical laboratories and individual families in the Greater Dublin area and across the country.

My tips on building a strong quality culture within this industry:

It needs a top-down approach. Your leadership team needs to be absolutely clear what quality means within the context of your organisation. Everything you do and everything you say needs to reinforce this. Every message must demonstrate a crystal-clear focus on quality.

It needs a systems-based approach. Without consistent systems and structures to support quality measurement, accountability and improvement, you have no chance of building a strong quality culture.

It needs a bottom-up approach. It must be customer focused while at the same time everyone in the organisation must be empowered to make a difference. This means having conversations and listening to your customers, trusting and empowering staff and giving them the skills to introduce quality improvements relating to their roles.

In fact, take all of the above and turn them upside down. Start conversations with customers and employees. Listen to them and take it from there.

My secret to driving change through challenging times:

Markets are invariably cyclical, life has its ups and downs - we’ve all been through challenging times. Many of us, at either the personal or business level, have ‘reinvented ourselves’: I certainly know that I have. At the personal level, it is all about accepting change as normal, continuous learning, finding a sense of purpose and self-identify, cultivating relationships and reframing how you see your aptitudes and interests.

At the corporate level, it’s all about strategy and execution. Regularly run ‘what-if’ scenarios to ensure your strategy is fit for purpose. Listen hard and engage employees at every level to ensure organizational alignment and commitment. Communicate clearly and often and do it in person. Focus on execution and balance roles and expectations with the skill base and capabilities of the organization.

My secret to becoming a true partner to our client:

Too often a client is thought of as just that - a client, a corporate body without emotion, a record in Salesforce. But behind that façade is your real client – a person that you hope will trust and respect you. Trust must be earned. Without trust, there can be no respect.

Honest, open communication is a good place to start. Face-to-face conversation beats email hands down every day of the week – tone and body language communicate so much more. And these days with options such as Skype, FaceTime or GoToMeeting, distance and time zones are no longer a valid reason for not meeting ‘in person’.

Under promise and consistently over deliver. Make sure they get the early success that makes the person you are dealing with look like a winner in the eyes of their peers and management team. Again, this builds trust and respect for you and your abilities to deliver

The biggest challenge facing my industry today:

In my opinion, the biggest challenge facing our sector is a shortage of well-qualified talent. In the face of exceptionally strong demand, it’s increasingly difficult to recruit and retain staff. And the local shortage is not helped by the fact that housing costs, particularly in the major centres, are making Ireland a much less attractive proposition for overseas applicants.

The greatest opportunity available to our industry today is:

Science fiction was once the home of Artificial Intelligence (AI). Today AI is increasingly a part of our world with examples in daily use for example, in robotics, medical diagnosis, autonomous vehicles, and even chatbots. As you might expect there are concerns. One one side people, especially in the knowledge-based economy are worried that jobs that were once done by smart people will be taken over by smart machines. At the extreme end of the spectrum, some people even worry about machine overlords subjugating people – which doubtless feeds a marketing engine targeting the super-rich who want to buy doomsday bolt-holes in New Zealand, Kansas and Hawaii. No doubt there are massive opportunities in AI. However, in my opinion, the greatest opportunity lies in the interface between humanity and technology. Companies that master the ‘lost art of conversation’, the duality of the human-technology interface and celebrate the human touch will create significant competitive advantages.

My view on key concerns to look out for moving into 2019:

Halfway through the year the Irish economy continues to perform well, with strong export growth, increased construction activity, high levels of consumer sentiment and record employment. All very encouraging. But on the downside economic uncertainty is increasing. As the Brexit deadline looms so the possibility of a no-deal UK exit from the EU grows. Perhaps of greater concern is the intensifying trade war between China and the United States. Given the open nature of the Irish economy, all this will impact exports and growth. And the situation is no better on the world political stage. A resurgent Russia, political uncertainty in Germany, Italy and the UK, civil war in Syria, an American administration conducting domestic and foreign policy via Twitter, the Canadians and Saudis at loggerheads and expanding Chinese influence in Africa and Latin America. All in all not a rosy outlook and time for cool heads and careful planning.