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.
In amidst all the talk of the importance of a customer-centric culture, customer obsession, building customer relationships and improving the customer experience I find something missing. What? The commitment to tell the truth: being straight (levelling) with the customer. What I notice is that the ubiquitous business practice is to:
1) bullshit – make things up because they support the narrative/agenda irrespective of concern for truth-falsehood of assertions;
2) deceive by actively misrepresenting and/or omitting essential information; and
3) lie – to know the truth and assert the opposite.
So I find myself delighted to read that recently Honda has recalled ‘1.8m cars around the world after a scare over an airbag in another manufacturer’s vehicle but made by its supplier Takata’. I’d like to believe that the folks in Honda are decent folks who put the lives of their customers before profits. And that may be wishful thinking. At the very minimum, it occurs to me that Honda has learned some lessons from Toyota and GM: when you find there is an issue, share what you know with your customers, and do the right thing.
Does it pay to do the right thing: to tell the truth? I share with you the following story (bolding is my work):
What many hospitals don’t consider is that a positive error culture could increase the trust of patients, as the following case shows. Matthias Rothmund, a professor of surgery, once made a big error. When one of his patients was checked a few days after a successful tumour operation, the x-ray showed a surgical clamp that had been mistakenly left inside the patient’s body. Rothmund immediately informed the patient, removed the clamp, and reported the incident to his insurance, which gave the patient a settlement.
For a long time the surgeon was plagued with the thought of his error. Five years later the patient returned to his office with a hernia and said he wanted him to perform the operation. Rothmund was surprised. The patient explained that he trusted Rothmund and his clinic precisely because Rothmund had immediately admitted his error and corrected it.
- Gerd Gigerenzer, Risk Savvy
Did you notice the trap that I set for you/us? Did you notice that the question that I asked is this one: ‘Does it pay to do the right thing: to tell the truth?’ If you formulate the question/challenge of right action in this manner then you show up and travel in the world in the manner of the Tops at GM. The folks at GM kept the knowledge of a faulty ignition switch secret for over a decade and in the process at least 13 people lost their lives. Why? Because by their calculations it didn’t pay (revenues, profits) to tell the truth, recall the cars, and fix the ignition switch.
What is my point? If you are genuinely committed to putting in place a customer culture then you do right by the customer, always, irrespective of how the ROI calculation works out. And whilst Mary Barra may lay the blame on the corporate culture, I say that the responsibility ALWAYS lies with the Tops.
I leave you with this final thought: Steve Jobs may have been able to bring about that which we he brought about because his actions were not dictated by ROI. What were his actions dictated by? Simplicity? Beauty – in its fullest, holistic, sense? The customer experience?
CRM, Customer Experience, and Digital Business Require Culture Change
What I notice is that in order for an organisation to be effective in the games of CRM (building profitable relationships with customers), Customer Experience (competing on the basis of a superior customer experience) and/or digital business (rethinking the business through the lens of what digital technologies enable) require culture change: a change in the way that people think, in their expectations, and in the way that they go about doing things.
Yet, rather than deal with the challenges of culture change, I find that just about every management team in every organisation that I have come across gets busy with buying the technology. And thus ignores the risk spelled out in the following ‘equation':
Old Organisation + New Technology = Expensive Old Organisation
Why does this happen, again and again, one management fad after another? I point you to these wise words:
It is easier to buy stuff than it is to create and stabilise new ways of relating, new frameworks for organising, and new expectations and norms. Those are the tough, messy issues that accompany shifts to more mindful, reliable, resilient functioning….
Karl Weick and Kathleen M. Sutcliffe, Managing The Unexpected
What Is The Default Mode Of Going About The Challenge Of Culture Change and Doing Change Management?
This week I found myself in a meeting talking about culture and change management. I found myself listening to one senior person articulating the challenge of getting his organisation especially senior management and the sales teams to move from one way of doing things to a substantially different way of doing things. Yes, a shift in the “way we do things around here” is needed for the longer term. And yet there is an awkward reality to deal with. What awkward reality? The existing “way of doing things around here” has been and continues to deliver the results (sales, revenue growth, profits).
Without a moment’s hesitation I found another senior person (an advisor) offering a solution to this challenge. Which solution? The solution that occurs to me as the default one: the application of “stick and carrots”. I noted that the particular emphasis was on the stick rather than the carrots. The assumption being that if the Tops yielded a big enough stick then the Middles and Bottoms would fall into line. I found myself dismayed. Why?
My 25+ years of experience suggests that this approach is largely ineffective and in some cases does considerable damage to the organisation’s long term resilience-performance. Why? I can think of at least two reasons:
First, change in behaviour is merely compliance. And repeated use of the stick to get compliance almost always, and inevitably, leads to a reduction of motivation to do one’s best. And usually an increase in motivation to ‘get back’ at or merely ‘resist’ those wielding the stick.
Second, the people who are the most able tend to leave (as few of us like to be treating as cattle) thus disrupting the network of relationships, degrading the quality of communication and information flow between the players, and putting a dent in the intellectual capital of the organisation.
One more point. It occurs to me that those of us who advocate the sticks and carrots approach to change have failed to appreciate that lasting-sound change requires change in two levels; change at the behavioural level is one of these levels. I will go into what these two levels are and the critical importance of both levels in another post. Let’s continue with this conversation.
What Does It Take To Effect Culture Change?
I invite you to consider-grapple with-meditate on the following way of looking at culture change:
The culture change process is a two-sided coin. On one side is the “bottom-up” phenomenon that many changes arise from those actually doing the work. On the other side is the “top-down” reality that changes in conducting business often get made by direction or sanction from top management. Both are essential …
Changing the organisational culture ….. will require commitment at every organisational level…. Culture change is not triggered by a magic bullet or directive. Rather, culture is changed by a series of small steps taken by the leading members of the culture at all levels.
Leadership is standing up and leading the way. It is behaviour and it is demonstrable. It is showing, not telling....
Changing the way business is conducted requires people at all levels to lead by personal example in demonstrating new approaches to achieve safer (and more reliable) operations……. This requires that we strengthen accountability at all levels of the organisation…..
- TriData Corporation, Wildland Firefighter Safety Awareness Study, Phase III Implementing Cultural Changes for Safety (1998)
At this point, I confront you with that which is so about us, human beings: our freedom. I leave you to choose which road you wish to travel: that which is convenient-easy and on the whole ineffective even damaging to long term performance (“sticks and carrots”) or that which is effective, takes time, requires embodied leadership day after day from the Tops, and calls forth leadership and accountability from all people at all levels: Tops, Middles, and Bottoms.
One thing that I am absolutely clear on is this: buying technology in the absence of cultural change (changing how we think about, what we expect from one another, and how we do things around here ) is likely to turn out to be a waste of time-effort-money.
I wish you a great week, and I thank you for your listening.
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.