Category Archives: Management
This post got published before I intended to publish it. Sorry for this oversight. I have now completed it as intended and am republishing it. I apologise for any inconvenience and thank you for your understanding.
What do B2B technology vendors sell?
No, it is not the technology. Think again, what do B2B technology vendors sell? They sell dreams that speak to a fundamental human need. What dreams? Dreams of control-mastery-domination over the ever flowing, every morphing, character of a process we turn into a noun: life.
What need do these dreams take root from and speak to? The need for safety and security. At some fundamental level we get that nature is indifferent to our survival and wellbeing. To deal with this anxiety we embrace anything that provides the illusion of safety-security. The Greeks embraced the Gods, we embrace technology and the latest technofix.
I notice that the big data and analytics space is hot right now. It is the latest technofix being pushed by the B2B technology vendors. It occurs to me that this technofix is designed to speak to those running large enterprises – especially those who are higher up and divorced from the lived experience of daily operational life at the coal face.
What I find astonishing is that so few actually ask the following two questions:
1. “What kind of a being is a human being?”
2. “What kind of a culture is human culture?”
What is the defining characteristic of human beings?
Allow me to illustrate by share a story I read many years ago:
Psychologist: John, you have been referred to me by the authorities. They tell me that you think that are dead. Is that right? Are you dead?
John: Absolutely, I died a little while back. I am dead.
Psychologist: How interesting! You died a little back. Yet here you are talking with me. And I am not dead. So how is it that you are dead and I am not dead, yet here we are talking?
John: Beats me how this works or why it is happening. I know that I am dead.
Psychologist: John, I have an idea. Do dead people bleed?
John: Don’t be ridiculous! Everyone knows that dead people don’t bleed!
The psychologist suddenly reaches over and cuts John’s hand with a knife. Both of them are looking at John’s hand. Blood, dark red blood, is seeping through the cut. The psychologist looks at John with the look of satisfaction, of victory. Let’s rejoin the conversation.
Psychologist: John, do you see that blood on your hand? How do you make sense of it? You say that you are dead. And earlier you told me that dead people don’t bleed.
John: F**k me, dead people do bleed!
This is not simply an amusing story. It is a story that captures the experience of a respected psychologist who has been dealing with many kinds of people, dealing with many kinds of problems, over a lifetime. This story capture a fundamental truth of the human condition.
It appears that to survive in the world as it is and as we have made it, we need to be deluded. We need to distort reality: to make life more predictable, to make our current situation lighter-better than it is, to see a future brighter than is merited by the facts, to see ourselves stronger, more capable, more influential than we are. Studies suggest that those of us who lack this ability to distort reality and delude ourselves end up depressing ourselves.
What Kind Of A Culture Is Human Culture?
Symbolic and ideological. Why? Because human beings just don’t cope well with the world as it is. So we get together into tribes. And the glue that keeps the tribe together is a particular way of constructing the world, a particular way of giving meaning to the world, and a particular way of interacting with the world. And when I speak world I include human being, and human beings; a human being is always a being-in-the-world as in always and forever an intrinsic thread in that which we call world.
The next question: which ideology do members of society espouse? The dominant public ideology. In the world of business this is that of scientific management and in particular reasoning and making decisions objectively – irrespective of the past, of tradition, of our personal interests and opinions.
A more interesting question is that about the actual behaviour of the elites, the Tops. What is it that the Tops actually do? They do that which protects and furthers their interests: their power, their status, their privileges, their wealth, their dominance. So insight and recommendations (whether from big data and analytics or through conventional methods) that are in line with these interests are heartily accepted and actioned swiftly and vigorously.
Any insights and recommendations that challenge the vested interests of the elite (Tops) are repressed at the individual level, belittled-disputed-ignored at the societal level. I invite you to read this article which can be summed up as the UK Government sacks the chair of the official Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs. Why? Because the chair was insisting on the reclassification of drugs. What happened?
- The Advisory Council looked at the data (of harm to the individual taking the drugs and others affected by his/her behaviour) on drugs at the request of the UK.
On the basis of the data, the Advisory Council came up with the conclusion that “if drugs were classified on the basis of the harm they do, alcohol would be class A, alongside heroin and crack cocaine.”
The drug rankings, associated findings and recommendations were ignored by the UK government. Why? Because they went against the government’s stance on drugs.
The chair of the Advisory Council challenged the UK government’s refusal to act on the recommendations of the Advisory Council. So the appropriate UK Government minister sacked him.
What Does The Future Hold for Big Data & Analytics?
If past behaviour is an adequate guide to the future then it is safe to say that technology vendors will get rich. And the business folks will have another layer of technology that they have to manage. One or two organisations may reap substantial benefits, the rest will be disappointed. Yet, this disappointment will not last long. Why? By that time the technology folks will have come up with the latest technofix!
I leave you with the following thoughts:
1. There are no technofixes to the kinds of social issues-problems we continue to face;
2. Incremental improvements lie in the domain of big data and analytics;
3. Breakthroughs lie in our ability to see that which is with new eyes – a shift in dominant concepts, dominant paradigm, dominant ideology, dominant way of seeing that which is.
Put differently, big data & analytics is a red herring for those who aspire to lead: to cause-create that which does not exist today. Managers, those whose horizon extends to daily operations and the next twelve months, may find big data and analytics useful – as long as it does not threaten the sacred cows of the Tops-Middles and the corporate culture.
The physical world in which we live is unforgiving
Which is to say that it works as it works, and pays no heeds to our needs-wants-desires-preferences. If you choose to jump from a tall building without a parachute or other safety tools, you will pay a price: death and/or seriously injury to yourself and possibly others. If you choose to send a rocket into space then you must pay the price in terms of engineering talent, tools, equipment, fuel, time….
What about the organisational worlds in which we expend our lives?
Are these organisational worlds forgiving as opposed to unforgiving? Do our beliefs-needs-wishes shape organisational worlds such that we do not have to pay a price for our choices-actions?
As I look back on my 25+ years of working in business, it occurs to me that the lived answer to the question is “Yes!”. Yes, we can take a course of action, hope for the best, and it will work out. Yes, if we exercise our intelligence-cunning we can escape paying the price. Yes, the organisational/social world is unlike the physical world, we can seduce these worlds to bend to strategic intent, our plans, our desires-wishes.
Is this way of showing up and travelling in organisational worlds limited to the Bottoms. No. My lived experience suggests this way of showing up and travelling in the world is widely dispersed, almost ubiquitous, at all levels of the organisation: Tops, Middles, Bottoms. It occurs to me that whilst this may be accurate, it is not true. So what is true? My experience suggest that this mode of showing-up and travelling in the world is most intense-pervasive with the Tops and least so with the Bottoms who work at the coal face.
The Law of Life? There Is Always A Price And It Is Always Paid
Having spent some 25+ years at the coal face of organisational life, in particular working on all kinds of organisational change and business performance improvement initiatives, allow me to share with you that which I call the ‘Law of Life':
There is ALWAYS a price. It is ALWAYS paid. We only get to choose whether we pay the price right up front, during the middle, or at the end.
Let me elaborate on this a little:
- Everything that exists, exists in relationship, hence interdependency is the fundamental characteristic of life. We recognise this interdependency when we talk about the system and systems thinking.
At the level of the system there is always a price and the price is always paid. It does not matter whether we want to pay the price or not. Nor the amount that we want to pay. The system determines the price. And the system extracts the price. Yet it is flexible on when the price is paid – it allows us some element of choice as to when we pay the price.
We, the organisational actors who are an intrinsic part of the system, can choose to pay the price right up front, during the journey, or at the end of the journey.
The wise-experienced-courageous tend on the whole to pay the price (demanded by the system) right up front (or as near to the front as practically possible) and thus forego all the additional pain-suffering that goes with paying the price during the middle or at the end.
What Does This Have To Do With Customers?
You may be asking yourself what does this have to do with Customers? Allow me to answer this question by walking through a typical CRM or Customer Experience initiative.
I say that CRM and Customer Experience are a game of cooperation not technology. What do I mean? I mean the technology piece is the easy piece. The real challenge is dealing with all the needs to be dealt with to call forth genuine cooperation from all the parts that have to cooperate for the dream of CRM and Customer Experience to bear the fruits that the gurus and academics promise so seductively.
So the price that needs to be paid is all that it takes to let go of history and co-create a promising future. Allow me to illustrate the degree of challenge that I am thinking of when it comes to large organisations – the ones that I work with. Think back to South Africa and the release of Nelson Mandela. The challenge was that of dealing with division and creating co-operation. What did it take? All that went with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission: the practical aspects (budget, people, buildings, equipment, processes, technology…) and the human dimension (courage, vulnerability, openness, forgiveness…).
What is the default practice? The default practice is not to pay the requisite price: not to get the people who need to be in the room in the room; not to openly talk about the elephants in the room; not to come up with an approach that works for all, none excluded.
When you choose not to pay the price upfront, there tends to be a lot more pain-suffering during the middle. What happens? Disagreements between the various actors on what the vision means in practical terms: objectives, priorities, roles and responsibilities, business processes, technology, metrics….. And it is possible to work through this phase usually through fiat and fear. Some initiatives never make it through this phase.
Sooner or later you arrive at the end: implementation. If you haven’t paid the requisite price at the front end or during the middle then the system demands payment here at the end. What form does this payment take? When it comes to CRM systems the price is the lack of adoption. With regards to VoC systems and programmes the price is the failure of the people in the organisation to actually act, in any significant way, on the voice of the customer. In the realm of Customer Experience you find that the changes that you have made don’t have the kind of impact you expected them to have: happier customers, more repeat business, higher prices, higher revenues, higher profits….
What Does This Have To Do With Leadership?
It occurs to me that effective leadership is all about figuring out what the true price is, determining whether you have the means/willingness to pay the price, and paying the price right up front.
Often the up front price is as simple as not following blindly (like sheep) the path that happens to be in fashion at that moment in time. Or taking a courageous decision when it becomes clear that the path that you have embarked upon requires a much higher price that you are willing to pay. It occurs to me that a great example of a courageous decision is that made by John Wren and Maurice Levy in calling off the Omnicom-Publicis merger.
What Do You Make Of The Following?
Recently, Richard and I (along with another colleague) took part in a sales discovery workshop. This is the feedback our colleague (the ‘sales guy’) got from the ‘client':
Thank you for coming to …….. yesterday. I think we all agree that it was a very positive and useful workshop, which was run extremely well by Maz and Richard (Maz in particular is a very impressive facilitator – we could use him on other projects!)…….
What do you make of it? Did you attribute the success of this workshop to Richard? Did you attribute the success of this workshop to me – the “very impressive facilitator”? Did you attribute success both to Richard and me, yet put me at the front of the stage and Richard more towards the back of the stage? Allow me to share with you how almost all of us would interpret the situation:
Nice job all – particularly Maz Iqbal that is GREAT feedback!
Distinguishing Between A Statement-Description That Is Accurate And One Which Is True
Whilst the client’s statement is accurate it is not true. Why? Think of it this way, the client only got to see-experience the show. The client did not get to see-experience all that occurred. His position to some extent was that of a spectator in the stands watching the play occurring on the pitch. And as such he is not in a position to know-experience the play occurring on the pitch and all that it takes to generate a high performance play.
Why am I pointing this out to you? It occurs to me that there is a profound difference between observations and statements made by those in the stands (‘spectators’) and by those on the pitch (‘players’). Given that almost all that you/i hear-read is spoken-written about is written by spectators. So whilst what they speak may be accurate it is never true. Which means that almost all leadership-management-business advice that you/i are exposed to is misleading at best and damaging-destructive at worst. Why? It gives the illusion of answers whilst hiding that which is hidden in the background and which truly shapes that which occurs.
Who Creates-Shapes Performance?
Take a look at the following video:
I ask you, who-what created the context-space for the performance of the expert? Was it the expert – as an individual? Or was his performance shaped by the context-space created from him by the ‘sales guy’ and the project manager?
Now zoom out and look at the bigger picture: the bigger conversation that is occurring in the room and the performance of the whole group. Didn’t the client also play a crucial role in generating the kind of performance that occurred in that meeting?
Let’s switch back to my very impressive performance as a facilitator. What was my response to this feedback:
@…. It occurs to me that I showed up as an impressive facilitator because the space for me to show up that way was created by @RichardHornby and @……. and the client. The folks from [the client] were great. We were able to co-create a great meeting as there were no egos in the room…..
Am I being modest? No. It occurs to me that I am simply stating what is so: the truth of high (impressive) performance. The truth is this:
The ‘sales guy’ was big enough to let Richard and I shape-lead the workshop. At one point, I told the ‘sales guy’ that I was taking away his right to speak as his speaking, whilst necessary at some point, was inappropriate at that workshop given the challenge we were addressing and the time that we had. The ‘sales guy’ took it as it was meant and did what he was asked.
The ‘project manager’ Richard and I have shared history that goes back to the year 2000. Richard listens to me as a skilled facilitator. In his listening it is simply not possible for me not to show up as a skilled facilitator. He creates the context-space for me to show up that way AND his listening of me also ensures that it is simply not feasible for me to allow myself to let him down. Richard and I are friends! We designed the workshop together – collaboratively and iteratively.
By the time we got to the workshop Richard and I knew exactly who was doing what. And this is important: I got up to facilitate that workshop knowing in my very being that I was totally safe (Richard was holding the safety net) no matter what. And in that space I was prepared to shine.
Ultimately I showed up as a “very impressive facilitator” because all members of the client team sitting around the team allowed me to show up that way. How did they do that? They left their egos outside of the room, the workshop. And as such there was all the space to work collaboratively on the challenge at hand.
The Challenge of Leadership: Creating The Context-Space For Impressive Performance To Show Up
I say that:
- impressive performance shows up when you create the context-space for impressive performance AND only impressive performance to show up; and
leaders are those people who create the context-space for impressive performance and only impressive performance to show up at the individual and ‘team’ levels.
I dedicate this ‘conversation’ to my friend Richard Hornby. Richard shows up for me as a shining example of a servant leader. I owe him more than I can ever repay. And I am clear that this world is a richer-better place for Richard being in it.
Why Not Replace People With Technology?
In the second half of the 90s I was involved in consulting in the area of shared services. Being a sidekick I got to witness the sales pitch. What was the sales pitch? No human beings. Everything in the back office was subject to business rules. The business rules could be codified, programmed and back office work could be automated. No human necessary. Nirvana: 24/7/365 nirvana of efficiency guaranteed to deliver the same outcome each and every time.
Today, I notice the same love of technology as regards the front office: where the customer meets the enterprise. In this age of technology do people still matter? Do we need sales people given that content marketing will generate the interest, product demos can be put on the web, and the ‘inside sales’ people can take the orders? Do we need to have any people in marketing given that big data will generate the insights, decision engines will contain the heuristics, market resource management systems will hold the marketing assets, and marketing automation will take care of the execution of marketing campaigns? Do we need people in the call-centres taking calls given the extensive self-help that can be enabled through digital channels and every customer would prefer to interact via Twitter? Do we need people in the stores? Why not rebuild the stores so that they resemble a combination of a website and a vending machine?
What Do These Two Women Say On The Matter?
Allow me to share a conversation that I overheard the other day between two women. Before I do that let me set some context. Waitrose is supermarket chain in the UK and it is owned by The John Lewis Partnership. The John Lewis Partnership has been and continues to do well despite tough times for retailers. Tesco used to be the darling of the CRM press and used to be the dominant supermarket chain. It has not been doing so well since austerity hit. Morrisons is the fourth largest chain of supermarkets in the UK.
As promised here is the gist of the conversation (between two women) that I overheard at the weekend:
Mrs A: “Waitrose is known for their great customer service and rightly so. It’s easy to find someone to help you. And when you ask for help in finding something, the Waitrose person walks you across the store and takes you right to the item you are looking for. They are so helpful.”
Mrs B. “I was in Waitrose this week and wasn’t sure what ingredients I needed for eggs Benedict; I haven’t cooked them before. So I asked for help. The Waitrose man didn’t know either but he told me that he would find out. I saw him walk to one of his colleagues. Then he came back and told me what I needed and how to cook eggs Benedict. He was so helpful: he made my problem his own. That’s such good service.”
Mrs B. “The staff in Morrisons don’t walk with you to the item you are looking for. Yet, I always find them warm, friendly and helpful.”
Mrs A. “I don’t like Tesco. It is hard to find people in the store to help you. And when you do find someone to help they tell you where you can find the item, point towards it, and then leave you to it. They don’t walk with you and show you where it is. They don’t care – not at all like the Waitrose people.”
Mrs B. “I used to do all my shopping at Tesco. Then Tesco got greedy – pushing up prices and cutting down on the customer service. Now, I shop for the basics at Morrisons and the rest from Waitrose.”
My Take On The Situation
I’ll leave you decide whether people matter or not in the age of technology. For myself, I am clear that humans are simply more at ease in dealing with other human beings. And there is no substitute for great customer service – the way that the folks in Waitrose (and John Lewis) stores interact with their customers, and amongst themselves.
Before you rush off to revamp your customer service remember that one ingredient does not a dish make. A great dish always consist of the insightful application of a recipe – and the recipe requires a mix of ingredients, in the right measure, and sequence, cooked for just the right amount of time. How does one generate such insight? Through experience: on the battlefield of life. What is the recipe? The business philosophy and organisational design: what matters, who matters, the operating principles, how conflict is handled, how rewards are shared, how people are structured into groups, and how interactions-relationships-differences-conflicts are handled…
Please note: I am not in the business of giving advice (in this blog). So you shouldn’t take anything in this blog as constituting advice. In this blog I find myself involved in sharing my thinking and experience. That is all. Then you make of it what you make of it.