Tom Woods spoke to Joel on the Venari Podcast
‘Having worked at different companies across different industries, [I think] there’s certainly not a playbook to implement,’ says Joel Goldberg. ‘But I certainly think there are some key principles that I keep in mind.’ These have served him well across a career that has taken in C-level roles at Nike, DHL, G4S, and, most recently, as Chief Digital Officer at WizzAir. Tom Woods, our Senior Digital & Technology Consultant, caught up with Joel on the Venari Podcast to discuss digital transformation, leadership, team building – and more!
For Joel, understanding what drives business and what creates value is fundamental. ‘Maybe it sounds a bit obvious,’ he admits, though it’s something that’s easy to talk about without always being ‘so easy to do [...] I think understanding what underpins the business and where the leverage is, is usually the first place to start thinking about digital transformation.’ In Joel’s view, technology should not be used for its own sake but rather to drive business results; thinking about how to align teams and resources to key objectives should come next. ‘Every company I’ve worked for has tons of great ideas, there’s no shortage of great ideas, discipline,’ he says. ‘I think the challenge is really on how you ensure that you put 80% of your focus on those big four or five things that are going to drive, ultimately, the ROI and the business value for that particular company.’ So, what are these?
Hitting the ground running
Joel believes that establishing relationships ‘with the senior leadership and the next level down’, getting insight from experts firsthand, is a crucial starting point. He mentions reestablishing digital strategy at WizzAir during COVID, which he approached by sending questions about building for the future to the executive team. Getting people to think and look ahead, ‘and then to understand and synthesise that, put it together – that’s some of the techniques I’ve used.’
Next, you need to involve stakeholders and build out your team. COVID may have shaken up working patterns over the last few years, though it hasn’t tested Joel’s approach to hiring: ‘It really starts with the people, for me. I think teams are how all work gets done’. Having a few ‘multipliers’, more established figures whose influence can permeate an organisation, is certainly valuable, though Joel also highlights something else he’s learned over the course of his career: often, hiring young and ambitious people who are eager to prove themselves pays dividends. ‘We’ve been able to do a lot more than I think teams that are probably twice our size in the past few years, just because we have people that are hungry and they want to build that career’.
The value of culture
Joel is ‘a big believer’ in focusing on the product you are offering and prefers to focus on understanding the business outcomes and aims of an organisation ‘rather than thinking, “Okay, I’ve got to implement a system”’. Concentrating on teams, identity, and the product lead are more important for him, though he admits that it’s a time-consuming process. ‘Training helps, of course,’ as does external coaching, though Joel also highlights the importance of practical experience. It’s important to reward candidates who prove themselves to be willing and able to learn on the job, while coaching can help to recognise and help to correct negative behaviour. ‘The simple things, like identifying and working with the team on what our identity is, what’s important to us, what behaviours we expect from one another. Those things are really important.’
Consistency is key
Joel values consistency, and this is a shared value of WizzAir’s. ‘I think being a really lean team, and focused on efficiency, we believe we’re going to be more effective when people are working together.’ Finding the right people post-pandemic might have become more difficult, but it’s not an area the company is willing to compromise on. For Joel, finding three candidates who have the right attitude ‘is going to have more of an impact than hiring ten people that maybe aren’t aligned to what you’re looking for.’
Looking to the future
Over the course of more than 25 years working in tech, Joel has seen plenty of trends come and go. ‘Technology changes fast – and I like that. I think the people that are in it for a long time enjoy that.’ One constant is his belief in getting the right people in, continuously improving his teams, and instilling a culture of learning where they ‘take time to do retrospectives, see where we went wrong, create a culture where it’s not about blame but it’s around improvement.’ On a wider scale, he believes that outsourcing undifferentiated technology will be a trend that lasts in the digital sector, and believes that striving to create, for example, cloud storage programmes is pointless given how this area has evolved over the last decade.
This extends to Joel’s thinking on organisational efficiency full stop. ‘It’s not critical for us to be the world’s best ultra low-cost airlines,’ he explains. ‘I want my team focused on the few things that are going to differentiate us from competition, which means that we need to leave the other things to other people.’ For Joel, concentrating on products and customer value ‘are going to be the two things that I don’t think are going to change.’