Category Archives: Leadership / Change / Transformation
What Is The Weak Point Of Many Organisations?
In a few days I had grasped the main principles on which the hotel was run …….
What keeps a hotel going is the fact that the employees take a genuine pride in their work, beastly and silly though it is. If a man idles, the others soon find him out, and conspire against him to get him sacked…… everyone in the hotel had his sense of honour, and when the press of work came we were all ready for a grand concerted effort to get through it….
This is the good side of hotel work. In a hotel a huge and complicated machine is kept running by an inadequate staff, because every man has a well defined job and does it scrupulously. But there is a weak point, and it is this – that the job the staff are doing is not necessarily what the customer pays for. The customer pays, as he sees it, for good service; the employee is paid, as he sees it, for the boulot – meaning, as a rule, an imitation of good service. The result is that, though hotels are miracles of punctuality, they are worse than the worst private houses in the things that matter.
Take cleanliness for example. The dirt in the Hotel X, as soon as it penetrated into the service quarters, was revolting ….. the bread-bin was infested with cockroaches….. The others laughed when I wanted to wash my hands before touching the butter. Yet we were clean where we recognised cleanliness as part of the boulot. We scrubbed the tables and polished the brass work regularly, because we had orders to do that; but we had no orders to be genuinely clean, and in any case had no time for it. We were simply carrying out our duties; and our first duty was punctuality, we saved time by being dirty.
In the kitchen the dirt was worse….. he [French cook] is an artist, but his art is not cleanliness..… When a steak is brought up for the head cook’s inspection, he does not handle it with a fork. He picks it up in his fingers and slaps it down, runs his thumbs round the dish and licks it to taste the gravy, runs it round and licks it again, then steps back and contemplates the piece of meat like an artist …. then presses it lovingly into place with is fat, pink fingers, every one of which he has licked a hundred times that morning…..
Dirtiness is inherent in hotels and restaurants, because sound food is sacrificed to punctuality and smartness. The hotel employee is too busy getting food ready to remember that it is meant to be eaten. A meal is simply ‘une commande’ to him, just as a man dying of cancer is simply ‘a case’ to the doctor. A customer orders ….. a piece of toast. Somebody pressed with work in a cellar deep underground, has to prepare it. How can he stop and say to himself, ‘This toast is to be eaten – I must make it eatable’? All he knows is that it must look right and must be ready in three minutes. Some large drops of sweat fall from his forehead onto the toast. Why should he worry? Presently the toast falls among the filthy sawdust on the floor. Why trouble to make a new piece? It is much quicker to wipe the sawdust off… And so it was with everything…..
Apart from the dirt, the patron swindled the customers wholeheartedly. For the most part the materials of the food were very bad, through the cooks knew how to serve it up in style. The meat was at best ordinary, and as to the vegetables, no good housekeeper would have looked at them in the market …… The tea and coffee were of inferior sorts, and the jam was synthetic stuff out of vast unlabelled tins ……. There was a rule that employees must pay for anything they spoiled, and in consequence damaged things were seldom thrown away. Once the waiter on the third floor dropped a roast chicken down the shaft of our service lift, where it fell into a litter of broken bread, torn paper and so forth to the bottom. We simply wiped it with a cloth and sent it up again. Upstairs there were dirty tales of once-used sheets not being washed, but simply damped, ironed and put back on the beds. The patron was as mean to us as to the customers ….. And the staff lavatory was worthy of Central Asia, and there was no place to wash one’s hands, except sinks used for washing crockery.
In spite of all this the Hotel X was one of the dozen most expensive hotels in Paris, and the customer paid startling prices. The ordinary charge for a night’s lodging, not including breakfast, was two hundred francs …. If a customer had a title, or was reputed to be a millionaire, all his charges went up automatically…..
George Orwell, Down and Out in Paris and London
What is that the astute change agent can learn here?
I don’t know. Here is my take on the matter of leadership and organisational change – including shifting organisations to be more responsive and aligned to customer needs:
The context is decisive
- Werner Erhard
The underlying structure of anything determines its behaviour
- Robert Fritz
I urge those of you who strive to be effective in effecting change need to master and obey these insights. Most of us don’t – even if we get these distinctions we don’t have the time, the energy, the resources, or the passion to do that which is necessary. Which explains why it is that most organisational change efforts yield disappointing harvests. And why most ‘customer-centric’ change efforts fail to yield an organisation that shows up as customer-centric. Perhaps genuine customer-centricity is unnecessary – maybe it is a matter of faking it like the patron and employees of the Hotel X were faking it. Perhaps not – today just about everyone has digital media and access to social media. You decide.
I dedicate this post to James Lawther who reached out to me when reaching out occurred as a most welcome kindness. James called me back to the conversation that occurs in this blog.
I find myself interested and caring for the human. So the following slogan caught my attention: “There is no more b2b or b2c: It’s human to human”. This got me wondering: What does it take for us to show up and operate as ‘human to human’?
If we are to do business in a ‘human to human’ way then it helps to have a good grasp of what the defining characteristic of human is. In Being and Time, Heidegger asserts that ‘Care (Sorge) is the being of dasein’. For the purposes of this conversation dasein = human being. What does Heidegger mean by this? I take it to mean that I do not find myself indifferent: to myself and my experience of living, to the world in which I find myself in, to my fellow human beings. It matters (to me) how I live and how my life turns out. It matters (to me) how my fellow human beings live and how their lives turn out. And it matters (to me) how this world is and is not. I care as I am aware that I am being-in-the-world-with-others-towards death.
If we are going to show up and operate from a ‘human to human’ way of doing business then we must genuinely care for ourselves, the people we work with, the people we sell to, the people we buy from, the people whose lives are touched by us and our way of showing up and operating in the world. How best to illustrate this? Allow me to share a story the following story with you (bolding is my work):
Harry, an emergency physician …. One evening on his shift in a busy emergency room, a woman was brought in about to give birth…….. Harry was going to deliver this baby himself. He likes delivering babies, and he was pleased…… The baby was born almost immediately.
Whilst the little girl was still attached to her mother, Harry laid her along his left arm. Holding the back of her head in his left hand, he took a suction bulb in his right and began to clear her mouth and nose of mucus. Suddenly, the baby opened her eyes and looked directly at him. In that moment, Harry stepped past his technical role and realised a very simple thing: that he was the very first human being this baby girl had ever seen. He felt his heart to go out to her in welcome ….
Harry has delivered hundred of babies. He has always enjoyed the challenges of delivery, the excitement of making rapid decisions and feeling his own competency, but he says that he had never let himself experience the meaning of what he was doing before. He feels that in a certain sense this was the first baby he ever delivered. He’s says that in the past he would have been so preoccupied with the technical aspects of delivery, assessing and responding to needs and dangers, the he doubts he would have noticed the baby open her eyes or have registered what her look meant. He would have been there as a physician but not as a human being. It was possible, now to be both…
-Rachel Naomi Remen, Kitchen Table Wisdom
This is what I notice about the whole Customer thing: the focus is almost exclusively on the technical stuff (metrics, data, analytics, technology, processes) and almost no recognition of the human. Does this matter? Yes. Why? I leave you with these words of wisdom:
Quality matters when quantity is an inadequate substitute. If a building contractors finds that her two-ton truck is on another job, she may easily substitute two on-ton trucks to carry the landfill. On the other hand if a three star chef is ill, no number of short-order cooks is an adequate replacement. One hundred mediocre singers are not the equal of one top-notch singer…
- Richard Rumelt, Good Strategy Bad Strategy
We may not be able to define-measure-calculate quality. Yet we are present to it when we experience it. The quality that you/i/we experience from the people we interact with, work with, sell to, buy from, makes a huge difference to our experience of living. This quality of caring cannot be faked, though many folks make the attempt to fake it.
Interestingly, in our age, it is easier to build this caring into the ‘product’ itself (Apple) or the digital interface (Amazon) than it is in human to human conversation-encounters. Why? Because we have become so wrapped up in the technical that we have lost touch with the human – including our own humanity. Yet, it is possible to get in touch with this humanity and give it expression: to show up as a CEO and as a human being; to show up as a CMO and as a human being; to show up as CFO and as a human being; a sales person and as a human being; to show up as call-centre agent and as a human being……
Please note: I am about to go on vacation and will be out of touch for several weeks. I wish you well and look forward to being in communication after the holiday.
This conversation follows on from an earlier conversation: Mazism 1: There Is Always A Price, It Is Always Paid.
What lies at the source of organisational effectiveness? Is is strategic planning in the guise of strategy? Is it process standardisation / reengineering in its many disguises? Is it restructuring the business, offshoring and outsourcing? Is it about embracing and making good use of the latest information technology? Is it about embracing the latest management fashion: customer-centricity, customer experience, digital business? Is it leadership? Or organisational learning?
After 25+ years spent engaged in the challenge of improving organisational effectiveness and business performance, I am clear that the access to organisational effectiveness and superior performance does not lie in any of these domains. Why? Because they do not get to the heart of the matter: of what is actually so about organisational life and the game of business. What is so?
I am clear that organisational effectiveness (team, function, business unit, corporate) comes down to the people and their relationships with one another. By ‘relationships’ I mean the communicating-relating that has occurred and is occurring between people. If the job of ‘leaders’ is to cultivate organisational effectiveness then it occurs to me that leadership involves-requires a focus on people and relationships. I invite you to read-consider the following passage (bolding is my work):
The lone warrior myth of leadership is a sure route to heroic suicide. Though you may feel alone at times with either creative ideas or the burden of final decision-making authority, psychological attachments to operating solo will get you into trouble. You need partners. Nobody is smart enough or fast enough to engage alone with the political complexity of an organisation or community when it is facing and reacting to an adaptive challenge.
Relating to people is central to leading and staying alive. If are you are not naturally a political person, then find partners who have that ability to be intensely conscious of the importance of relationships in getting challenging work done. Let them help you develop allies. Then, beyond developing your base of support, let them help you relate to your opposition, those people who feel that they have the most to lose with your initiative. You need to stay close to them to know what they are thinking and feeling, and to demonstrate that you are aware of their difficulty. Moreover, your efforts to gain trust must extend beyond your allies and opposition, to those folks who are uncommitted. You will have to find appropriate ways to own your piece of the mess and acknowledge the risks and losses people may have to sustain. Sometimes you can demonstrate your awareness by modelling the risk or the loss itself…..
- Ronald A. Heifetz and Marty Linksy, Leadership On The Line
Time after time I have witnessed promising ‘strategies’ and plans come to nothing during the implementation phase because those leading change have been blind to the importance of people and relationships – during the strategy development phase, the implementation phase, and/or the post implementation phase.
I say look at any effective organisation (team department, business unit, corporate, society) and you will find healthy communicating-relating occurring between the people who collectively constitute that organisation. And healthy communicating-relating occurring between members of that organisation and the people who they interact with in the broader environment in which that organisation organises and executes its work.
I continue to be amazed that some Tops and Middles want to work on improving customer relationships and the Customer Experience. Why? Because they and their organisations have little appreciation-consideration-feeling for the quality of communicating-relating that is occurring in the organisation. And no lived experience nor appreciation of the the Employee Experience: whether on the front line or the back office.
In dynamic-turbulent times positions of authority require those who fill these positions to exercise leadership: to stand for a sense of purpose, to articulate a mission, to lead people, to effect change in attitudes, beliefs, behaviours, practices, relationships. This is challenging work; we (you/i) find ourselves situated in particular ways of life and are deeply fearful of any change that hints at adaptation, discomfort and loss for us.
If you find yourself in such a leadership position and the burdens-cost of such a role are having the kind of impact that I have listed above, I offer you the following in the hope that it will make a contribution to you:
…. leadership cannot be exercised alone. The lone-warrior model of leadership is heroic suicide. Each of us has blind spots that require the vision of others. Each of us has passions that need to be contained by others. Anyone can lose the capacity to get on the balcony, particularly when the pressures mount. Every person who leads needs help in distinguishing self from role and identifying the underlying issues that generate attack.
Partners come in two general types: the confidant and the ally. The confidant is the person to whom one can cry out and complain. A confidant can provide a holding environment for someone who is busy holding everybody else. People attempting to lead need partners who can put them back together again at the end of the day. These partners, often friends, spouses, lovers, or close colleagues, provide perspective. They help on climb back up to the balcony to understand what happened….
Listening: Using Oneself as Data
To interpret events, a person who leads needs to understand his own ways of processing and distorting what he hears. To sustain the stresses of leadership, he needs to know enough about his own biases to compensate for them.…Compensation requires the inner discipline to step back and test the accuracy of one’s own perceptions and the appropriateness of one’s reaction….
How do people maintain an adequate level of self examination? …. two general principles apply. First, we learn by reflecting on daily actions, successes and failures, of ourselves and others. In particular, we can learn from those habits that repeatedly get us into trouble and from those behaviours that surprise us….. Second, we can use partners as hedges against self-deception…… often they will be informal partners, who, when permitted to do the job of debriefing us, can promote reflection because they are the people to whom we ordinarily can talk openly…..
Finding a Sanctuary
Listening to oneself requires a place where one can hear oneself think.…. When serving as the repository of many conflicting aspirations, a person can lose himself in the role by failing to distinguish his inner voice from the voices that clamour for attention outside. Partners can help greatly, as can a run, a quiet walk, or a prayer to break the spell cast by the frenzy of the floor. We need sanctuaries.
To exercise leadership, one has to expect to get swept up in the music. One has to plan for it and develop scheduled opportunities that anticipate the need to regain perspective. Just as leadership demands a strategy of mobilising people, it also requires a strategy of deploying and restoring one’s spiritual resources.
- Ronald A. Heifetz, Leadership Without Easy Answers
I dedicate this to a friend whose existence elevates my existence. And whose commitment to do good and contribute to a world that works for all leaves me inspired.