Ray Immelman has spent his entire 35-year career in the executive management and business advisory fields, leading engagements to build high-performance organizations. Engagements span from the United Nations to some of the biggest companies across the globe—Volkswagen, Pfizer, Kroger, Walmart, BP, and Proctor & Gamble among them. A highly regarded thought leader and expert in the field, Ray’s work has been recognized with the TOCICO Award for Excellence and The Weber State University Bob Fox Award for Excellence, and his popular book, Great Boss – Dead Boss, has been ranked by Fortune Magazine Councils as one of the 32 best management books ever written. Now, as the CEO of Akzeon, Inc., Ray leads a global management consulting firm that focuses on implementing a radical new approach to maximizing productivity, providing companies with the strategies, methods, and models to drive growth and success. Ray is an IMCMI certified CMC- the pinnacle qualification in the professional management consulting sphere where only 0.15% of the industry achieve this credential. Founded in 2015, the company has built a strong reputation as a respected management consulting firm around the world.
Long before Ray rose to the C-suite and served on the boards of public companies, he started his career as an industrial engineer on the manufacturing shop floor. He’s been “in the trenches” at every level of a company. And it is this uniquely broad perspective from hundreds of engagements that allows to him to understand the core of the larger organizational machine, examining the business from the inside out, the outside in, from the top down and the down up, identifying areas of improvement. Ray and a team of likeminded experts bring their clients new perspectives and operating models, innovative work methodologies, and better systems management—all with the goal of helping organizations achieve their core reason for being: creating and delivering increasing prosperity to all its stakeholders. We sat down with Ray to learn more about Akzeon and how they’re bringing together people and AI to create what he calls “The Golden Thread,” which enables their clients to reach remarkable performance levels.
Akzeon has experience with helping hundreds of executive teams worldwide. Give us a brief primer on what the company does.
Whether a dairy products company in New Zealand, a carpet mill in Australia, a shared services organization in Arkansas, or a Fortune 100 in New York, all organizations battle with impactful digital and operational transformation. Our core capability is to drive the realignment, integration, and embedment of new business activity systems and processes. We focus on integrating technology and humanity through behavioral science and systems engineering, integrating motivation and systemic change in a single, cohesive model. We have found that if companies reconceptualize how to integrate people with technology, AI, and deep learning, then it delivers productivity and prosperity gains beyond expectations.
People often think the implementation of AI and technology means replacing humans with machines. However, Akzeon focuses on integrating AI and people to help them work more effectively. Will you tell us about this?
Certainly, and you hit the nail on the head—the core of our focus is the integration of technology, particularly AI and deep learning with people. Many times, AI is seen with distrust because people find it hard to determine how those algorithms are acting or not acting in their best interest. We find a growing sense among employees of being subordinated to technology. It is the core of our approach to construct business activity systems that balance people, technology, and deep learning. We know from hands-on research that companies waste between 20% to 30% of people’s capacity on low-impact work—in meetings to synchronize activities, putting project plans together, and all the low-impact activities that support delivering the actual product or service to clients. Simply put, we reconfigure work, systems, and AI to eliminate all this low-impact work so that people can focus on the meaningful high-impact work. They feel more in control, more valued, less frustrated, and they see their work contribute to prosperity.
What I’ve observed is that the traditional organizational construct of function and process puts the organization in conflict between the functional KPIs and metrics versus process metrics. Digital transformation should answer the question: “How do we best spend our time on the things that bring prosperity to our customers?” We find that prioritizing functional efficiency produces systemic de-synchronization, that’s where the productivity loss comes from. To improve systemic productivity, we reconfigure the organization as a set of business activity systems, which means everybody in organization, rather than worrying about their functions and processes, collaborates to make the systems effective. In order to make them systemically effective, we integrate AI, technology, and teams A remarkable side benefit is the reduction in demand on management time.
You’ve spent your entire executive career “in the trenches.” How does this insight benefit your clients?
I’ve experienced what they’ve experienced, and I’ve tested my recommendations in live environments where I carried executive responsibility with positive results for those organizations, so I know they work. I’ve learned what works and what fails—I’ve eaten my own dog food, so to say, and that’s important because many in the consulting and advisory community tend to stand on the shore and tell you how to row the boat, but what I’ve done is get in the boat and row. I know what their concerns are, their frustrations, and the goals they’re trying to achieve.
As business leaders, we spend 80% of our time coordinating and synchronizing communications, relationships, activities, staff oversight, crisis management, etc. These are all low-impact work demands stemming from the function/process paradigm. Instead, we should be spending our time on the most important aspects of running our businesses—working with our clients, innovating new services, products, processes, marketing campaigns, improving customer service, etc.—the things that bring our companies, employees, and customers the greatest prosperity.
Tell us what you mean by “The Golden Thread.”
When people have confidence in each other’s skills, have aligned priorities and reliable systems, they trust each other to function as cohesive teams collectively responsible for systemic productivity. In that environment, employees feel valued and committed when working together, and the clients can sense that. For this to happen, you must integrate AI, technology, people, and systems, all working almost intuitively together. It just works, and people can’t wait to get to work in the morning. It’s similar to a baseball team. You can have nine of the best players in the sport on field and they just cannot win a game because they’re focused solely on their own statistics or distracted by the mechanics. But if those nine players rid themselves of this individual, nonessential minutia, and trust each other and their own abilities as part the whole, this profound alignment forms between them—this “Golden Thread,” I call it. The fans can feel it, the players can feel it—and they’ll win the World Series.
Let’s end with a somewhat personal question, Ray. What do you enjoy most about your work?
I enjoy the challenge. Every organization we go into, it is a challenge to bring about significant improvement, and just to see organizations become more satisfying places to work in, to see better alignment between management and teams, to see significant improvement in customer satisfaction and greater prosperity flow to all stakeholders is better than any drug you can take because the high from seeing that happen is enormous. Still, after all these years, when I see this after we’ve worked with one of our clients, I think, “Wow, we did this?” In many instances, we arrive as coaches and advisors, but leave as mutually appreciated friends.
CEO — Akzeon, Inc.