Disrupted: the Tech, the Talent and What’s Next with Tanya Hannah
Episode 1044th April 2024 • Innovation and the Digital Enterprise • DragonSpears
00:00:00 00:27:41

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Today we’re sharing another insightful presentation from our most recent Innovative Executives League Summit, where Tanya Hannah discusses the roadmap to navigate the ever-evolving tech landscape. As a seasoned transformational business executive, Tanya offers the pillars needed to survive major shifts and thrive in the opportunities presented by them. 

In this episode, Tanya shares how critical a shared vision and strategy is in preparation. Teams cannot operate only with yesterday’s logic; they must look forward in anticipation of a pivot. Tanya offers how technologists can operate at the key intersection of short-term performance and long-term planning. She stresses the importance of a business perspective having a place in tech conversations and leaning into a skillset that embraces both.

As an award-winning technology leader, Tanya sees a path forward that focuses on data, talent, and vision. Tanya describes how data provides the competitive advantage businesses are looking for and how the ability to manipulate and understand the data is essential for the entire team. In focusing on the team itself, Tanya addresses how people are the key factor in remaining nimble (embracing in-house talent) and how the current shift in the labor environment points to the direction companies must anticipate. As remote and hybrid work continue, Tanya dives further into how focusing on talent is not only essential but teams and individuals must have a common understanding of the shared vision and strategy for success. While acknowledging the evolving technology and the often disruptive forces that shape the world today, Tanya Hannah offers a foundation to prepare for the future with tech and talent. 

  • (01:17) – A room of disruptors
  • (02:36) – Adaptation
  • (04:33) – Acting with yesterday’s logic
  • (08:40) – Preparing to pivot
  • (10:35) – Driving business with tech
  • (13:02) – The win-win
  • (14:26) – Understanding data is a must
  • (16:10) – Focusing on people
  • (21:55) – How are we planning?

Tanya Hannah has held executive and senior roles at Aon, Amazon, CSC, and King County, Washington. Tanya is a three-time CIO 100 Award winner and a 2021 National CIO of the Year. She’s a graduate of the University of Maryland.

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Podcast episode production by Dante32.



Hello, innovation enthusiasts and business visionaries. This is Patrick Emmons, your host of the Innovation and the Digital Enterprise Podcast, where we embark on illuminating conversations with inspiring leaders.

Today we're delving into another insightful presentation from a recent Innovative Executive League Summit. The speaker is Tanya Hannah, the chief information officer of North America at AON. Tanya is an award-winning technology and transformational business executive with a talent for building highly responsive technology organizations and driving innovative transformations that deliver top-line growth and bottom-line results. She excels in solving real business challenges and creating opportunities for sustainable growth across entire organizations.

Tanya's illustrious career is marked by her talent for creating highly responsive technology organizations and driving innovative transformations. Her presentation, Disrupted: The Tech, The Talent, and What's Next, promises to provide a roadmap to navigate the ever-evolving tech landscape. Here we go.


I am so excited to be here. I mean, I'm a disruptor, so if everyone's going left, I am the person that's always going right. And I find excitement in it because I think that's where innovation, transformation and growth really occurs. And what we're seeing today, you have to be nimble. Our organizations need agility, scalability, and the only way you can do it is if you can really anticipate what's going to happen. Make sure that your teams and your organizations are there and the technology is behind it.

So how many disruptors are in the room with me today? You know what? Everyone says they're a disruptor. And then you look at your organizations and you go, "Wow, we're spending a lot of money to go nowhere fast." How many of you think that? Yes, I see it quite a bit and the things that we see today actually matter.

What we're seeing is unprecedented disruptions occurring, whether it's over time or immediate. The most immediate is, of course, the pandemic where everyone's lives got disrupted overnight and then they had to figure it out. It's still lingering.

But you're also seeing it just in the world today, whether it's monetary, fiscal scenarios occurring, whether it's geopolitical, whether it's labor, it's all occurring and it's all occurring at the same time and most businesses can't really adapt.

You ever notice they're caught off-guard every time something that's not a planned scenario happens, and then everyone standing around looking who to blame? Like we've got so much data and information, no one can find it. Doesn't matter, we have a ton of technology. No one can use it. Everyone talks about our workforce and whether or not they're adaptable to change, it's all occurring. And sometimes I wonder, like where's your strategy and your vision? Like what are you seeing? How did you not know that this could be the next disruption?

And so today I am going to talk about being disrupted, the tech, the talent, and really what comes next. Because even listening earlier today to Mark and I sat in on the CIO versus CTO, I always tell my teams, we're all tech leaders and we are all business leaders. And the fact of the matter is the business cannot be successful without the technology and the technologists need to understand the business because if you don't, then you will lead us astray. And the time to market or just getting services out in the public sector, that matters.

And so Peter Drucker, famous guy, management, "The greatest danger in times of turbulence is not the turbulence. It is to act with yesterday's logic."

One of my first jobs out of college was actually I was doing consulting, consulting work. And the thing about consulting is you get to go in, you understand business problems, you do the whole nine yards.

And at the time, I also had my son and my son was like he was upset at Santa. Santa did not buy him some electronic. And, of course, I'm Santa and I was like, I didn't want him to have it. But he at the time believed Santa was the best, was going to bring this electronic. I think it was a Nintendo Game Boy, whatever it was. I thought he was too young, but apparently not.

And he was sitting there talking to himself. So he's like, "Who needs Santa? The FedEx guy comes to the door, all I need is Mommy's credit card. The package comes, I can get what I want. I don't want Santa." So he comes back. He's like, "I'm done with Santa. Mom, can we go FedEx order something on the computer and have it delivered to the door?"

And at the time I was doing this retailer and they were like looking at just simply whether or not people are going to do brick and mortar or shop electronically, e-commerce. And at the time I thought it was like kind of hilarious because I'm like, well, you know, my son is like, "Hey, here's FedEx. I'm ordering stuff online."

I don't think they ever paid attention that the internet was growing, right? We were getting better service than the DSL dial-ups and all of that. Cable was providing internet bandwidth, and I think they actually missed the boat. They thought that people were really going to come in their stores and a giant like Amazon, which wasn't a giant at the time, would never eat their lunch.

Literally, within five years, Amazon was big and it was starting to take market share because it had customer service. It was almost becoming the everything store, monopoly, world domination, rule the world. And businesses were sort of being caught off-guard because what were they doing? Looking back, acting with yesterday's logic, not looking forward. And as I tell my teams all the time, you got to be looking at the forward window. Why are y'all looking at rearview mirror? Like, looking at what has happened.

When you think about just the applicability to today, UAW goes on strike. They have never gone on strike at all three automakers simultaneously. They pick one, negotiate the contract and then have that particular firm take that contract to the others. This time, what did they do? Strike at all three. Now there's ripple effects down the supply chain where they're laying off at companies downstream because, hey, the parts that they make need to go to a plant that's already closed.

And I'm sitting there going, like y'all can figure out that would be a new tactic. 70,000 Kaiser Permanente healthcare workers out the door, right? A strike.

And the thing is everyone says, "Oh, well, I'm going to prepare for the next pandemic." And I said, "Well, what if it's not a pandemic? What are you going to do then?"

The same scenario, crises don't always come up every time. There is new information, new things occurring, and you need to be able to adapt. And your teams need to be able to adapt as you get new information, as things are occurring.

Those are the ones that survive. Those are the businesses that thrive and those are the businesses that have a very big value proposition for the market and the industry that they're in. Everyone else gets left behind.

We expect change to be overnight. Sometimes it takes the form in years. If you look at Tesla and electric charging, they've been building their network for years. Everyone else who's now doing EV don't have charging stations, and it's nothing like coming somewhere and you've got to find one that is a fast charger or the ones that take a very long time. And if you're planning a trip, you don't want to sit there like 10 hours waiting for your car to charge. So what did Mercedes Benz and Ford say? "Hey, we're going to use Teslas because they've got the network."

And as technologists, one of the biggest challenges that I see with my teams is making them think longer term down the road, preparing for any scenario that could occur and really having the ability to pivot.

We all talk about digital first, growth mindset, agile, all of this stuff and I'm like, "How are you preparing our organizations to be able to absorb and to do this?"

So the first thing really when I talk to my teams about tech is tech's got to be an enabler. We've got to have the ability to take calculated risks and we need to anticipate change. But it becomes very, very difficult for organizations to separate hype and how can they use the tech to really drive their business. Because we all want to emulate someone else, whereas our strategies are sometimes driven by financial performance. I've seen that happen where it's quarter by quarter or every year a new strategy pops up. There are some that take a longer term view.

It is our jobs as technologists to kind of help bridge both for short-term performance, but also longer term. And the ways that we can do that is by helping our organizations see the value in the tech, what the data offers, and then how it can drive business value. But business value, it's tangible, but it can show up in multiple ways. It could show up in a growth in customers. It could show up in more profit. If you do it well, it can be all of the above.

And one of the biggest things with technologists is how we communicate. We talk ones and zeros and the business is speaking in prose. What we have to do is to be able to use data for those particular calculated risk, show how the business value can be derived and what tech will do.

But what I'd see us do all the time is we revert back to what we know. If I'm a purely technical person, I view the world from a technical lens. It's our job to make sure we bring a business perspective always, at least on our teams, to help round out and add a more diverse voice just so the business can go next level.

During my time at a previous company, one of the things that I was always amazed by was the win-win. What am I doing if it's B2B, B2C? What's in it for my customers? What's in it for me? We've all got to be happy at the end of the day. So I live in an ideal world. The only place it doesn't work is with my son who everything's up for negotiations, which doesn't sit well with me some days of the week.

But what we have to do is really then think about the data. Data is what provides our competitive advantage. It's not going to be compute, algorithms, moving to the cloud, et cetera. It's none of that. It's data.

But the interesting thing about data that I'm finding is the more access to data and information that we have, the more that it's siloed, the more confused everyone is. And I've asked myself, how could that be? How could you be that more confused? We buy tech, and I was saying this recently to someone, I'm like, "We bought that, but is the data now more siloed than it was before?" And they were like, "Well, yeah." And I'm like, "Why'd you implement it that way?" It was an implementation problem.

The reason I say about data, we always focus on the tech, but the biggest problem of the data is the people. And the reason I say that is most people in our organizations cannot understand the use of data. The financial people, yeah, they can build all kinds of models. They get it. But how many of your business folks get data? How can you be a very nimble, agile organization if your teams cannot understand data?

Data's the new oil. It's fueling everything and the way that we're going to have to do it where now I've come to the conclusion that the people are definitely more important than the technology.

See, when I started out, it was all about the tech because I love technology. I'm like you, I love tech. But then slowly, but surely over time, I've realized as I've watched my business partners where they can't consume the tech, where they don't understand even the data and whether or not where the source of truth lies and all of the security implications, I've decided that now it's my job to really focus on people.

Because if our organization is to grow, if we're to transform, if we're supposed to be this digital first and we want to own the competitive landscape in the industry that we're in, you've got to bring along the people, which happens to be the greater challenge. An ode to Chicago, talent win games, but teamwork and intelligence wins championships.

I've come to the conclusion that now I'm working on my teams because high-performing organizations, the colleagues understand the vision and the strategy, they've bought in to the direction that the firm is going, and they know their roles that they play within it. And I think that's going to be where we gain our competitive advantage. So as I think about all of the things that we're doing, where performance appraisals and things like that, new things have popped into the equation.

Out in Seattle, most of the tech firms have said, "You will come to work or we're going to fire you." But I don't know if that's going to work or not because every time I go to South Lake Union, I'm like, "No one's here. I don't know how that's working out."

We now have so much disruption in the labor. It's around effective leadership, attraction, retention and attrition, and then anticipating change.

I was reading a McKinsey study that's getting ready to come out that's talking about the state of the organization. And like five of the 10 things that they think is going to impact organizations over the next year is all around talent. Can managers deal with hybrid workforces or remote? Because from what I can tell, a lot of office buildings are sitting empty. Maybe not in Chicago, but certainly Seattle, San Francisco, and some of the cities on the West Coast where people don't want to come back to work. They want to work from home.

There's also mental health that is going to be a big thing. Then we've got generations, the quiet quitting. Anyone quietly quitting? Oh, I see heads shaking, yeah, where people are looking for different places to go. All of those factors are going to come in.

And it was funny because my son is Gen Z-er and we were actually, I was laughing earlier about who's on Facebook and like hardly anyone. I'm like, "My husband's on Facebook. If he's on Facebook, nobody would want to be on Facebook." Because he's like old school and I'm like, no, that would be a no. But we were having a discussion on TikTok and Instagram, which is where everyone is, but also Snapchat. And it was like, "Well, who uses Snapchat? Yeah, because you're stuck with that generation. Yeah, the Snapchat." It's like people had MTV. Why are you laughing? MTV was a big deal back in the day. Yeah.

And so we were having that discussion, but I was asking him about certain things and he's like, "Well, no, why would I do that? And I'm going to make all of this money." And I was like, "How are you planning on doing that?" And he's like, "Well, I'm starting at the top." I was like, "Really, top of what?" And it's a mindset, and we're starting to see that in the workforce where what Gen Z is expecting is a tad bit different from millennials and even Gen Xers.

And then how are you handling low performers, especially in a hybrid or virtual world? What if your employees aren't coming back to the office? And those questions are popping up more and more frequently and everyone is wrangling with, "Well, if we demand they come, they might quit. So can we strongly encourage them to come in?" But the managers don't want to come in. So if the manager doesn't want to come in, how can you make an employee come in, is my thing.

These are going to be the challenges that we're going to face, particularly over the next year or two, and they're going to come swift. Labor has, if you've ever worked in a unionized workforce where everything's managed by a contract, I think we're going to see a definite shift in labor and what's occurring there.

I've even had recently, where we were talking about privacy and what information companies can have on you or not have, especially if you work in European markets and can you delete my data? I was like, "Yeah," click. "You could delete me."

How we respond and how we think about that is going to be a very big deal. There's only so much upskilling or going out and attracting and recruiting talent. Most companies are going to have to use the talent that they have with in-house. And bringing people along requires effective leadership and a vision and most people, if I said how many of you know your company's vision, how many would raise their hand? Yeah, that's about 60%. So what happens with the other 40%?

We're going to have to do things differently, think about the world differently. So everyone's got a plan. I like these sports analogies until they get punched in the mouth. The pandemic was probably the biggest one as of late, but the thinking still remains, right? How are we planning?

The way that I'm trying to transition, especially my team to, I own a couple of products. I know CIOs, CTOs own products, I own a couple of products, is helping them with their mindset shift, being open to change, how I'm communicating with them, working on Agile, but mostly also education. You can't do the cloud unless you got some skillsets to know how to use Azure, AWS, how to build services, GCloud, etc.

How do you think differently and approach problems differently is exercises that I'm going through now because to be prepared for always on, they've got to be prepared for always on. The world is 24/7. As I tell my team, I only have a 15-second attention span and everything that I do is always a video. It's got to be quick. I got to get my information quickly because I can't absorb anything else after that, and we have to prepare ourselves for that.

So to do that in this world of uncertainty and things like that, I'm telling my team, we've got to have a shared purpose and direction. Anticipate. The thing about Tom Brady, the reason why he was GOAT is because he could anticipate. He knew where his receivers were going to be. And I think even Patrick Mahone and Travis Kelsey has that. He knows where Travis is going to be and the ball just goes there. And who wants a dysfunctional team? And there are a lot of sports teams that are dysfunctional. But you've got to be able to anticipate what's going on and then prepare for changing conditions.

A lot is going on. We're always absorbing new data in our industries. Our competitor comes out with a new product. Somebody goes bankrupt. Amazon moves into the market. Something is always going on and the question that you have to ask is, how are you prepared and your organization prepared to handle it?


Wow. What great insights from Tanya in her presentation. Her discussion is a great guide to navigating the disruptive forces shaping the technology world today.

As we wrap up this episode, remember that innovation is the compass guiding us into uncharted territories. Stay curious, stay inspired, and stay tuned for more groundbreaking discussions on innovation and the digital enterprise.

To stay connected with us and explore future events and thought leaders, visit our LinkedIn page or check out our website at www.dragonspears.com/podcast. You can also find us on Apple Podcast, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts.



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