What’s THE Critical Matter That Gets In The Way of Business Transformation Efforts?

Accurate Real-Time Communication & Information Are Critical in a Time-Sensitive Game That Involves Many Actors

My local airport is London Heathrow. On average, 30 airplanes are landing and another 30 are taking off every hour.  Put differently, one airplane is landing or taking off every minute. Now consider that mishaps – crashes where people are injured/die and/or property is damaged/destroyed – are rare.  So rare that mishaps make the national news, usually the front page.

Who/what is responsible for that which occurs: 30 airplanes landing and another 30 taking off every hour using two runways?  Read this Wikipedia article especially the section: “Operations”; and the sub-sections “Facilities” and “Flight movements”.  So what’s  your answer to the question that I posed just a moment earlier?

Yes, the folks responsible have put in place a ‘tried and tested’ collection of facilities, practices, and rules that work. Is that all there is to it?  I say there is more. I say there has to be more – as the world we find ourselves embedded and constituting is dynamic: the drama/pattern we call life/world is forever changing, not static like stone.  What is the more?  I say it is communication/information.

Before we continue, let stop to consider what it is that we are talking about here – lets look at the etymology (origins) of these words:

Communication (n.)

late 14c., from Old French comunicacion (14c., Modern French communication), from Latin communicationem (nominative communicatio), noun of action from past participle stem of communicare “to share, divide out; communicate, impart, inform; join, unite, participate in,” literally “to make common,” related to communis “common, public, general”

Information (n.)

late 14c., informacion, “act of informing, communication of news,” from Old French informacion, enformacion “advice, instruction,” from Latin informationem (nominative informatio) “outline, concept, idea,” noun of action from past participle stem of informare “to train, instruct, educate; shape, give form to”

I say that one of the busiest airports in the world, with an aeroplane taking off / landing every minute, works (as in crashes are rare) because in addition to the system of rules and practices (static) there is the dynamic process of communicating/informing occurring between the players in the system; the primary players are air traffic control (air traffic controllers, practices, systems) and the aeroplanes (pilots, practices, systems).

Notice, the effectiveness of this communicating/informing is a function of honest (accurate) communicating/informing occurring between the parties on an continuous basis – the trigger being the arrival/departure of the aeroplanes from/towards Heathrow. Consider, that in this game (where lives are at stake, and people face public consequences for negligence or dishonesty) the human players communicate/inform that which matters honestly – as in accurately.  The players are not telling outright lies, not leaving out that which is essential because it is convenient for one player (in this drama) even though it imposes a cost on the other player.

What happens when miscommunication/informing occurs?  Crashes, and near misses. Here is an instructive example from TravelMole (bolding is mine):

Two passenger aircraft were reportedly just 600 feet from colliding because an air traffic “holding stack” became so congested… the controller, who could not distinguish the two plane’s call signs on his screen, “mistook another aircraft at 12,000 feet for the BA aircraft, which was at 13,000 feet”. “He then ordered the United aircraft to descend to 13,000 feet, into what he wrongly believed was empty airspace. Within 40 seconds the vertical distance between the two planes had reduced to only 600 feet, breaching the minimum safety gap of 1,000 feet.”

The misunderstanding occurred because there was too many planes in the holding stack waiting to land. That is to say too much information to digest. Information that was overlapping. Thus confusing to the human mind.  Notice, there was no deliberate intention by the pilots or the aeroplane systems to misinform.  Which is one reason it was only a near miss as opposed to a calamity that would have cost 500 lives.  Who/what saved the day: an intelligence that used the accurate information to guide intelligent action. Again, according to TravelMole:

The aircraft would have reportedly come much closer if it had not been for the BA jet’s collision avoidance system, which ordered the pilot to dive.

My Experience of Transformation Programmes in Large Organisations

Almost all of my work on the Customer side of business occurs within/from the context of enterprise wide transformation programmes that usually span multiple business units, many countries, many teams/players, many business processes, many information technology systems….. I say that these transformation programmes are operating within/from complex as opposed to complicated domains (Cynefin). The difference there is an inherent and significant uncertainty/unpredictability in large business organisations as opposed to complicatedness in the dealings that go with the safe take off / landings at Heathrow Airport.

So what is absolutely critical to the success of these business transformation programmes? Effective – as in timely, accurate, complete – communicating/informing occurring between the many actors/players and the business equivalent of Air Traffic Control – those who are charged with leading and managing the transformation programme.

Recently, I was brought in as a consultant to lead a significant work-stream within a larger programme which itself sits within a larger global transformation initiative.  One of my responsibilities is to communicate/inform those who are impacted by that which I know and they do not know.  I did just that sending out an email and copying in a key member of Air Traffic Control. This did not go down well, I was reprimanded. Why? Because I had honestly communicated information that a person did not wish to be communicated. His concern? The information, whilst accurate, may make the work-stream look bad in the eyes of those that matter: the ‘Air Traffic Controllers’.  I was told that in the future ALL outbound communications had to be direct to him. And he will choose who is informed of what, when, and how.

There are so many work-streams that have to come together for transformation initiatives of this kind/scale to work out well: generate the desired outcomes by the desired time, within the desired budget.  So many players involved who have to co-operate and collaborate. So it is no surprise to find that there is a complicated, experienced as burdensome, governance framework/structure in operation to manage the many interlocking dependencies.  Yet, the efficacy of this governance framework/structure/ organisation rests on effective communicating/informing occurring between the players and other players,  and  between the players and ‘Air Traffic Control’, and between ‘Air Traffic Control’ and the players.

Now it really hit me. Wow! How many other actors/players playing a leadership role in this transformation initiative are not communicating the information that needs to be communicating?  How many are delaying bad news?  How many are spinning the truth with falsehoods including false optimism? How many are aware of bad news and choosing to hide it from those in positions of power in ‘Air Traffic Control’?

Given this – that which is so – how effective is the burdensome/expensive governance framework?  Not that effective? This led to this thought arising: “Is it possible that the governance framework (people, practices, forums) is expanding because those in  ‘Air Traffic Control’ perceive that the process/journey of guiding the transformation programme is friction-full and unwelcome surprises pop up? And they think more people, more structure, more formal communication will fix the problem?”  Upon getting present to this thought, the absurdity of it all hit me: one part of my laughed uproariously, the other part cried.

Digesting this it occurs to me that traditional thinking and practices around large scale change transformational change are the obstacle not the solution. Why? I say effective leadership is missing: the fundamental platform upon which effective communicating/informing/teaming occurs is weak or absent.  

What is this fundamental platform?  Psychological safety: do I/you/we/us feel safe speaking truth to power?

As this conversation has been going on for a while and we may be at a point that you are no longer willing to listen to my speaking, I leave you with these resources if you wish to dive deeper into that which I am pointing at:

5 Traits of Effective Teams at Google

I thank you for your listening, and I wish you the very best until our next conversation.

On Self, The Customer & Leadership Blog, and Cultivating Loyalty With Employees, Partners, and Customers

Cancer, the impending arrival of death for my friend and later myself, concentrates one (at least me) on that which matters.  Today’s conversation is around that which has been unconcealed for me: about myself and the purpose/contribution of this blog.  So now is the time to leave if this is not the conversation for you.  I don’t even know, right now, how long this conversation is going to be.

Purpose of The Customer & Leadership Blog

Why did I create this blog back in 2010?  Was it to be recognised as a thought leader, a guru, in the Customer space?  Was it to get on the speaking circuit and make money? Maybe it was to sell my services e.g. paid for content and/or advertising as a result of having a thriving web presence?  Some folks think so. Enough people contact me to speak as a thought leader. More contact me about writing advertorials and passing them off as my conversations. Others contact me to search maximise this blog (as it is crap from a search perspective enough though it has great content – that is what I have been told). Then there are others that offer to write stuff, for free, that I can publish on this blog.

I decline all the content stuff. Occasionally, if the speaking stuff appeals to me I speak.  The rule is that I speak that which I speak – for that is the only way that the speaking shows up and expresses itself through me.  Once boundaries are putting up, the speaking dries up.  That is simply so and I work with that – life as it is and is not.

So what got me started?  Allow me to share the following quote:

“I had a vivid imagination. Not only could I put myself in the other person’s place, but I could not avoid doing so. My sympathies always went to the weak, the suffering, and the poor. Realising their sorrows I tried to relieve them in order that I myself might be relieved.” – Clarence Darrow

In short, I found myself identifying with particular folks in organisations: those with affinity for the customer, seeking to simplify/enrich the lives of their customers AND get a fair reward (money) for the difference they make in the lives of customers.  It occurred to me that these folks were being misled or duped by those with influence: academics, consultancies, thought leaders, and gurus.  I found most of their advice BS in the sense that Harry Frankfurt uses this term.

It occurred to me that these high priests (thought leaders, gurus, academics, consultancies) were sitting in the stands and at best sharing that which they saw from the stands. Few had/have substantive (many different trials over many years) experience in the arena. Yet, the game is played in the arena – always! The insight / truth that matters is the truth that arises from and makes a difference in the arena!  Not the commentary that comes from those sitting comfortably in the stands – spectators.

I have been in that arena playing many roles in many types of Customer games: salesforce automation, CRM, 1to1 marketing, CX, web design & commerce, digital strategy, marketing automation, sales & account management, customer service & contact-centres…

It occurred to me that I could/should make a contribution by sharing that which I had learned through many years in the arena; there is both success and failure in the arena, each provides learning opportunities, oftentimes the learning from failures is more powerful than the learning from successes.  This logically led me to this choice: the choice to share my perspective/learning/experience for those who find themselves in the arena or are about to enter the arena. Hence, the genesis of The Customer & Leadership Blog for the business domain.

The joy of self-expression and contribution through this blog, The Customer & Leadership Blog got me thinking. Why not make a similar contribution to folks on the personal (non business) side of human existence. This led to the birth of a second blog: Play BIG: Live A Life Worth Living.

Still why did I do this and why do I continue to do this. Is it to be a thought leader or to establish myself as a guru thus win lucrative speaking gigs?  Talk to my wife. Talk to my great friend  Lonnie Mayne: you might find that I prefer to be in the background as a catalyst: coaching, educating, enabling/facilitating, and provoking original thought &/or action.  I wish to conclude this portion of the conversation with this quote:

There is a basic difference between the leader and the organiser. The leader goes on to fulfill his desires, to hold and wield power for the purposes both social and personal. He wants power for himself. The organiser find his goal in creation of power for others to use. – Saul Alinsky

I leave you to decide whether I fit the description of the leader or the organiser.

What Has The Process That Keeps The Customer & Leadership Blog In Existence Unconcealed To Me About Myself?

Let me be clear, I started with what occurs to me as altruistic motive.  I continue with the same altruistic motive – declining opportunities to write paid for content and pass it off as my work, to accept advertising, refusing speaking opportunities which are paid for PR/marketing for some business or other.

Despite or because of my altruistic motive, I have gotten a HUGE amount out that has left me enriched:

First and foremost, The Customer & Leadership Blog saw me through some of the darkest times of my existence. Where the world that constituted my world slowly disappeared. I am talking about the world of sports/activity: Paragliding, trekking in the mountains, going backpacking in third world countries, cycling, tennis, badminton, even something as simple/joyful as table tennis.

Second, In the process that is the Customer & Leadership Blog my image of myself shifted.  I start out thinking that I was a pygmy in the land of giants – that I had nothing to say that was worth listening to. Further, I was convinced that I could not write. Today, without hesitation nor doubt I say that I show up for myself as a thinker-writer-speaker who is worth listening to by those who know who/what to listen to.  It doesn’t stop there, I learned much more about myself.

Only as a result of these two blogs did I realise that I am more than a thinker.  I realised, that I create (these original conversations) therefore I have the capacity to be creative. What joy this realisation / experience brings!  What is the experience that I am seeking to share with you?  Allow me to point you towards that direction by sharing this quote:

Curiosity, irreverence, imagination, sense of humour, a free and open mind, an acceptance of the relativity of values and of the uncertainty of life, all inevitably fuse into the kind of person whose greatest joy is creation. He conceives of creation as the very essence of the meaning of life. In his constant striving for the new, he finds that he cannot endure what is repetitive and unchanging. For him hell would be doing the same thing over and over again.  – Saul Alinsky

Yes, fundamentally I am curious, I have that free and open mind, and accept the relativity of values/positions/theories and the inherent uncertainties that come with finding oneself in living in a complex non-linear world where prediction/certainty is for those who are either naive or fools.  Which kind of explains how it is that I have deliberately sought to make friends with folks from different countries, different faiths, different ages. It also explains how it is that my interests/thinking spans science, philosophy (eastern, western), history, psychology, sociology, anthropology, ecology, systems thinking, chaos/complexity….

Is it possible that it is irreverence that lies at my core?  It hasn’t escaped my notice that the subtitle of this blog is: “provocative conversations: questioning conventional wisdom / stimulating original thinking.”

They say you remember the moments in your existence that really matter. I must have been between 8 and 10 years of age.  Unhappy. Perplexed. Desperate to figure this thing out. What thing? Why is it that the stuff the (white) folks teach me at school about good/bad, right/wrong differs from and contradicts that which my parents (and their relatives) insist is good/bad, right/wrong?  Then one day, one moment, outside walking, a thought/insight arises and hits me.  It does not leave me the same person – it changes me fundamentally and forever.  Which thought/insight? Here it is:

Its ALL made up!

Once I got that, I started pushing the boundaries – at school, at home. I became the person who questions that which is taken for granted.  The one that asks the difficult questions like “Why be a team player in a competitive individualistic culture and economic system? Do you think I am stupid? What is a team player – one who censors self to fit in with the powers that be – you?  Why should I be that kind of person?  Anyway, why should you get to define what constitutes team playing?” Or”What makes you certain that your religion is the only true religion, that your way of life is the right one?”

There is a Chinese saying which goes something like “Beware, every stick has two ends, when you pick up a stick you get both ends!” I can vouch for the truth of that.  Curiosity, open mindedness, acceptance of relativity of values/perspectives, and especially irreverence have brought me great learning, memorable experiences, and joy.  That is one end of the stick.  The other end is that almost always I find myself the Outsider. And folks do not like that which they hold dear questioned. They don’t even like the opinions/prejudices/’facts’ they picked up from their media to be subjected to Socratic questioning or my blistering critique.

My professional existence is been that of a traveller: travelling from one employer to another, moving from domain to another.  History suggests that I tend to last about two years in an organisation. At about that time I usually find myself bored – having learned that which there was to learn. And/ or I find myself facing a ‘superior’ who shows up for me as ignorant/stupid/arrogant or just a bully.

There’s an ancient story of The Oak and the Reed. According to this tale, the smart choice is to be the flexible/supple reed. I am the reed when it comes to means to accomplish ends. When it comes to values/ends and the way I have chosen to show up and travel in this existence I am the Oak. Why?  Because these matter – these are what I choose to orient/navigate my existence by.  How important are they to me?  This quote says it all:

“A man is not made for defeat,” he said. “A man can be destroyed but not defeated.” – Hemingway, The Old Man & The Sea

What Has This To Do With Customers and Leadership?

Good question.  Allow me to respond with a few questions of mine:

Do you identify with the customer (see the Clarence Darrow quote at the beginning of this conversation) and so are committed to simplifying/enriching the lives of your customers? Or are your in it purely for yourself – to make a name for yourselves, to get rich?

Are you playing the Customer game because it is THE game that you want to play because it is THE game that calls you – your deepest self?  Is playing this game the expression of your deepest self?

Do you have or are you cultivating the curiosity, the open mindedness, the awareness of the relativity of perspectives, and the inherent uncertainty of existence to get out of your existence (your default existence) and really enter into / live the lives of your customers? And thus to generate original insight, and cultivate empathy, for your customers?  How can you simplify/enrich their lives if you do not truly understand them – not as mere personas nor statistics – but as concrete human beings?

Do you get all that is – you, your organisation, the economic model, society as such – is all made up?  And are you up for unmaking that which is necessary to unmake to become a giant in the Customer arena – as seen through through customers’ eyes?  Is this a mission that appeals to you – calls forth intellectual interest and emotional passion? How do you know that passion is present?  Passion brings boundless energy and it does not get stopped by obstacles that appear on the path.

Are you willing to pay the price that comes with questioning the status quo and threatening the powerful who seek to lose by the changes you are proposing to make or making? Are you willing to be that Outsider?  Are you willing to accept Hemingway’s truth that a man is not made for defeat, that he can be destroyed but not defeated?

If you answer these questions honestly you may get why it is that few are successful in calling forth genuine loyalty between themselves and employees, between themselves and their value chain partners, between themselves and their customers, between themselves and the communities in which they operate.

Thank you for your listening, I wish you the very best, until the next time.

 

Is The Customer and/or Employee Experience Your Priority?

You may have noticed that my speaking here at The Customer & Leadership Blog has been sparse since 2016. A mere eight conversations so far in 2017. There was a time when I’d write that many conversations in one month.  Why the change? Because of change in that which takes priority.  Before we continue, allow me share the definition of priority that I wish to use in this conversation:

something that is very important and must be dealt with before other things.

The Critical Importance of Priority

I say knowing and being mindful of your priority (not priorities) is essential to being effective – to making your dent (whatever that may be) in this world.  A leader has to show up and operate in manner that embodies and discloses his priority to those s/he seeks to lead. Effective managers plan and execute in the context of that which takes priority. Why?

Priority enables one to focus. Shared priority enables social cohesion and brings into play the power of focus – strength. There is huge difference between one man aiming at a ‘target’ and a cohesive army of men aiming at the same ‘target’.  Human history is the history of WE (including the breakdown of we) rather than ME. One is rarely present to this in the Western world because the ideology of the individual conceals/distorts it.

Human existence is a messy affair that requires us (individual, community, nation, world) to make trade-off’s. Being clear on one’s priority enables us to make the right trade-offs and do it quickly.  This is especially important when we are talking about groups – where power lies in the members of the group aligning with one another without the gimmicks (almost always expensive and ineffective) that one often sees in business. Gimmicks, to me, disclose that the fundamentals are missing and folks are looking for an easy solution to one of life’s most difficult challenges.

How does one determine if a genuine change has occurred in priority?  I say you see a significant shift: in being (how one shows up & travels);  in doing (who/what one focuses upon), and in having (the desired outcomes that one is committed to attaining/having).

Think about that. Think about significant shift in being, doing, and having. Significant is the key word – significant enough for those who you touch to notice the change in your priority.

The Central Question Regarding The Customer/Employee Experience

Now tell me if you, your team, your organisation has made easing/enriching the lives of your customers (and/or your employees) the priority.

Ah, I hear you say yes. Yes, CX is one of our priorities. Yes, employees and their experience is also one of our priorities.

I say you didn’t answer my question. Or perhaps you did without meaning to answer my question.  What do I mean?  What am I pointing at? The clue is this: I used the term “the priority” not “a priority”. Why?

The One & Only Point of This Conversation That’s Worth Remembering

There is a huge difference between priority and priorities.  Priority is by definition that which becomes everything else in importance.  For a priority to be a priority and work its magic as a priority there can only be ONE priority – always, no exceptions. Turning priority into laundry list of priorities (common practice) is like adding so much water to milk that milk no longer functions like milk.

If time is short and just want the main point you can stop here.  If you are interested in my story – my absence and, now, my return then stick around a little longer. Allow me to tell you my story.

My Story Told As Briefly As I Can Tell It

Writing as a form of self-expression and contribution was my priority between 2010 and 2015.  Why? I no longer had access to my previous priority: sports. Why? Back pain due to a prolapsed disc pushing against the spinal cord.  So I had time – lots of time – and nothing to fill it with.  Filling it with writing as a form of self-expression and contribution  occurred as a magical way of using my free time.  I loved it.

December 1995. I see the neurosurgeon specialising in dealing with the kind of issue that I was dealing with. Yes, there had been a huge change since the last consultation: the spinal cord was in the kind of state that an electrical power cord is when it is trapped under a fully laden chest of drawers.  I had come to see the neurosurgeon because I suffered back pain continuously, it had got worse over the last 10+years, the sciatica was worse, most importantly my arms were getting paralysed from time to time. The neurosurgeon was clear: “Before (many times) I had advised you to wait, now I am telling you that you need surgery and soon.” I chickened out because there was a 4% chance I would be paralysed as a result of surgery. I continued writing this blog as best as I could given the back pain. And writing made me happy.

16th March 2016. I walk into the emergency area of the Royal Berks Hospital, it is 09:20. Why? The conditions that my neurosurgeon had told me to watch out for had showed up. Now, with these conditions, there was a 98% probability that I would be paralysed unless I was operated on immediately. Thankfully, the head of the unit (Chris Brown) put on an extra operation at 21:15 that day – as I needed to be operated on that day.  I don’t remember much about that day as I was drugged out with morphine.  I was told that a 1.5 hour operation had turned into a 3 hour operation due to the damage that the prolapsed disc had done to the sheathing protecting my spinal cord.

To Sept 2016. Recovery and all that goes with recovery. Hospital visits. Physio. Exercises….  The priority, now, is recovery – not this blog, not my family, not friends, not work.  No, the priority is recovery – getting back into shape, and healing.  Not doing anything stupid that would end up putting me back in hospital.

Oct 2016 to Jul 2017. I get my health back! I say that I find myself blessed with a new life – another shot at the kind of life that I had lived and enjoyed. The priority is living!  You know the kind of living that occurs as living – as in being fully alive.  I travel abroad with my wife (something I couldn’t do before due to back pain).  I walk all day long in Barcelona – day after day for four days.  I play badminton after a sixteen year absence – with my 20+ year old racket and it feels great!  My family buy me a new bicycle and I am back cycling: 2 miles, 4 miles, 8 miles, 12 miles, 24 miles…. Oh, what a joy living is.  Why sit inside and write when I can outside cycling in the sunshine?

Aug 2017. Cancer is confirmed and life changes dramatically.  I know what kind of an impact cancer has because I have been walking the path with a friend very dear to me. I found out about his terminal cancer in May17 – I cried, I cried, I cried more. Now it is my turn. How bad is it?  Now the priority comes cancer – dealing with that which cancer brings: hospital visits, blood tests, scans, surgery, radiation/chemo…..

16th Oct 2017. I am told that the iodine ablation (chemo/radiation) seems to have worked. There is news not so good news mixed in with good news. The priority becomes living again – this time a balanced living as in sports as well as reading, and self-expression through sharing that which occurs to me as worth sharing through the two vehicles I use – this blog, and the other more personal one.

Yesterday. I find a deeper part of me calling me get up and converse again on the Customer & Leadership Blog. So here I am.  And the next conversation will be on the importance of cultivating psychological safety in order to harness the power of the hive mind.

And Finally

I dedicate this conversation to Richard Hornby – a dear friend who has been there for me every time I asked. A friend who may or may not make it past the next 18 months as he has a brain tumour – the kind Senator John McCain has.

For those of you who have continued to stick with me, with The Customer & Leadership Blog, I thank you for your listening.   I wish you great health and the blessing of real friends and friendship.

Calling Forth The Best From Folks Working For You

 

“I like coming here!”  was confessed with a smile. The speaker?  A highly skilled professional who is undertaking a major refurbishment project for me in my home.

 

It hit me that this is the fundamental ask. Every professional including those who deal directly with customer and shape the customer experience is looking to feel-think “I like coming here!”

I say that this is the most fundamental ask because only those folks who as they show up for work AND find themselves confessing to themselves “I like coming here!” are likely to give of their best. It is necessary to feel good – about oneself, about one’s colleagues, about one’s manager/leader, about one’s work – if one is going to find oneself doing great work.

How is it that we arrived at this stage: “I like coming here!”? I can tell you that I did not turn to HR specialists. Nor did I make use of the kitbag of tools/tricks called employee engagement.  I didn’t even set up a reward and punishment framework – commonly labelled performance management.  So how did this come about?

Here’s my contribution:

  1. Made sure that my drive was free so that John (the skilled professional) could park is van without any hassle;
  2. Welcomed John each day when I found myself at home;
  3. Asked my wife to do that which I would do if I were home;
  4. Gave John a key to get in the house when nobody was at home;
  5. Asked John and his assistant what they wished to drink – each day, every few hours;
  6. Made John a tea (his favourite drink) and poured the assistant his favourite drink – an orange juice – at least four times a day;
  7. Occasionally, took up slices of cake and some biscuits – without being asked;
  8. Offered to make John and his assistant a sandwich lunch – which they declined;
  9. Regularly checked in with them to see how they were doing and if they needed anything from me;
  10. Actively looked for the opportunity to strike up a human conversation and create a human relationship with John and his assistant;
  11. Listened to John’s point of view when tricky matters came up, discussed the matters, and jointly came up with an appropriate solution that worked for both of us; and
  12. Jumped into my car to go to the store and buy urgently needed supplies that John had forgotten to buy; and
  13. I did not make John wrong (including in my speaking of him to myself) for forgetting / not doing that which he was supposed to do.

In short, I sought to transcend the conventional role based performance (customer – supplier, employer – employee, manager – subordinate) that folks so easily fall into.  Instead, I focussed on cultivating a genuinely human to human relationship: a relationship of equality of dignity whilst recognising inequality of expertise and power.

Whilst all of the above has been necessary in calling forth great work from John it is not sufficient. It is a new age myth and fashionable nonsense that folks will do right by you if you treat them right. Some folks will simply walk over you if you take this approach with them – they will see your generosity / friendliness as a weakness that they can exploit.

Perhaps, the most important thing that I did is to take my time in selecting the right person. I asked around to find a true professional. Then I met the professional and experienced how he worked. Finally, I waited – I waited six weeks for him to come free despite the fact that the work needed to be done urgently.

Summing up, I say:

If as a manager you are not receiving great work from the folks that work for you then you either recruited the wrong folks and/or you are not treating them right – as fellow human beings worthy of equality of dignity.

If as a customer you are unhappy with the performance of your supplier then I say the same to you: you didn’t select/recruit the right supplier and/or you are not treating this supplier right.

Transcend the default roles (customer – supplier, employer – employee, manager – subordinate) and plays. Instead strike up a genuine human to human relationship – its the key to calling forth the best, including loyalty, for human beings no matter which role they are playing.

 

 

 

 

 

Want to Make a Success of Your CRM/CX/Digital Initiative? Listen to Montaigne

I’ve read many times that something like 70% of CRM initiatives fail to deliver the goods?  What about CX. marketing automation, and digital transformation initiatives? I don’t remember reading any statistics on the success / failure of these. Yet, I have been involved in these areas. My experience is that the process tends to be painful, and failure is more likely than success.

What Accounts For The Dominance Of Failure?

Success is an option. So what accounts for the dominance of failure in change / transformation initiatives? This is the question I found myself confronted with this week.  So what is my answer?

Before I provide you with an answer, I want you to know that over the last 30 years I have been involved in many kinds of projects-programmes-initiatives: accounting systems, management information systems, business process re-engineering, ERP systems, shared services, lean, CRM, website design & development, ecommerce design and implementation, customer loyalty, customer experience design, marketing automation, digital transformation….

Montaigne’s Insight Provides The Answer

Back to the question. What is the primary reason that many, if not most, change / transformation initiatives fail to delivery on the promise?

I say that THE primary cause of failure is a certain blindness/arrogance in those who initiate-shape-lead-manager such initiatives.  Blindness to what?  Blindness to the workings of human beings – as individuals, as groups, as the crowd. Arrogance?  The arrogance of the powerful in assuming that they can ignore the working of human beings and treat people like widgets.

Allow me to bring home that of which I am speaking by sharing the following with you  by sharing the following:

“His Scepticism makes him celebrate imperfection: the very thing Pascal, as much as Descartes, wanted to escape but never could. To Montaigne, it would be obvious why such escape is impossible: however high we ascend, we take that humanity with us.… He wrote:

It is an absolute perfection and virtually divine to know how to enjoy our being rightfully. We seek others conditions because we do not understand the use of our own, and go outside of ourselves because we do not know what it is like inside. Yet there is no use mounting on stilts, for on stilts we must still walk on our own legs. And on the loftiest throne in the world we are still sitting only on our own rump.”

Sarah Bakewell, How To Live, A Life of Montaigne

Now let’s make this real by looking at some examples.

Customer Relationships.  Take a moment look around you. How do human beings do when it come to relating and relationships?  Are we masters at this? No. Most of us struggle most of the time when it comes to relationships: unhappy husbands, unhappy wives, unhappy parents, unhappy children, broken marriages, affairs/cheating, unhappy teachers, bored/unhappy students, dissatisfied bosses, resentful employees….

Customer Loyalty. In the world as lived do we reward loyalty?  Yes? Then consider that parents spend a great deal of their lives caring for their children and in the process making many sacrifices. What happens when these parents get old? Do the children exercise loyalty – make sacrifices and look after their elderly parents?  Or is the reward of such parents a place in a nursing home – out of the way with strangers?  How about that employee who has worked for you for 20+ years when you make his job redundant by moving it offshore?  Or the employee who can get a similar/better job with a competitor with higher pay? If we do value loyalty then why it is that the new customer gets a better deal than an existing-loyal customer?

Customer Experience.  Walk in the shoes of the customer! That is the mantra which few really step into and live. Yet even if I did step into your shoes I wouldn’t necessarily experience that which you experience?  I am not you! It may be that when you step in your shoes they pinch whereas I find them comfortable. How can man experience what it is like to be a woman?  Or youngsters what it is to be elderly?  Or a English person what it is to be French?

Cooperation & Collaboration.  There is much talk about the need/importance of cooperation and collaboration. What is the reality?  In my home there has been fierce completion between siblings to be the first/best.  In the classroom there is completion to be the best. When it comes to school plays each actor wants the prominent/leadign role. In the corporation, employees are force ranked so that only a small percentage come out as high performers, and most come out as merely ok. Why? Rewards and honours are reserved for the few so as to encourage competition at all levels.  In the context of competition what will most people do most of the time? Compete!

CRM and Marketing Automation.  Look at the way that these technologies are implemented and you are likely to find that there is minimal time-effort-money given over to educating and training the people who will be expected to use these systems. Further, the folks are expected to go from novice to expert instantly.  The reality?  These systems are not intuitive – they require time, effort and even certain kind of dedication. Time, effort, and dedication that most users are simply not willing to put in – this shows up as extra burden on a back that is just about carrying the existing burden.

Summing Up

If you wish to make a success of your change / transformation initiate then you have a choice: to work with the ‘human nature’ or not. Remember, if you are not actively working with ‘human nature’ then it is almost certain that you are working against ‘human nature’. If you work against ‘human nature’ then you are likely to end up where most folks do end up when they take this route: failure.

 

 

Good Strategy and Effective Execution Necessarily Involves a Sound Appreciation of the Context

I find myself in the midst of an ocean of generalities: frameworks, models, recipes, formulas, 10 steps to…. Every one promising easy/quick arrival at the promised land merely by following the authors secret/revolutionary formula/recipe.

Folks even turn to me, as a subject matter expert, for advice on how to craft a customer-centric strategy, create a customer-centric culture, build meaningful engagements with customers, call forth the very best of the employees.  Sometimes, vanity get the better of me and I do offer an approach.  When reflection sets in I realise my arrogance/stupidity. Why?

Consider deeply, you may just get that the question is not how does one motivates human beings. No! The question is what motivates this flesh & blood human being right in front of me. The question is not how does one build a customer-centric culture. No! The question is how to go about shifting this particular organisation, these particular people, towards a customer-centric way of showing up and travelling. The question is not how one calls forth customer engagement. No! The question is what calls forth engagement in this particular customer.

Put differently, effective strategy, effective execution, effective change require a sound (even intuitive) grasp of the nuances of this particular person, this particular group of people, this particular culture, this particular technology.  Why?  Allowing me to illustrate through the following:

“If a house caught fire, intervention would require an understanding of the type of fire and the strategy required to extinguish it. Clearly and electrical fire cannot be doused with water, and a chemical fire will require will require a specific type of retardant.”

-Dr Eric C. Amberg, The Five Dimensions of The Human Experience

It’s even more complicated than that, the nuances are deeper. You turn up and find it’s an electrical fire. You search for water but there are no water sources nearby. Or there simply is not enough water.  Maybe it is even more complex, it is a chemical fire yet from a distance you cannot determine which chemical is involved. Or you have to persuade some person / group of people to do what they are doing AND make some chemical retardant especially for you.

You get the idea: the nuances present in the concrete, yet always absent in the abstract, have the determining influence on how things turn out. One must be sensitive to these nuances – detect them, and know how to deal with them.  This kind of understanding can only come through a certain repertoire of lived experience. In days gone by this kind of familiarity with the particular was achieve by becoming an apprentice /disciple of a master for many years.

Today we have taken the easy route. Too many folks treat the realm of human beings – a realm of contingency, of approximation, of probability – like the realm of mathematics where 2+2 always equals 4. The price to paid for taking this path is ineffectiveness.  Ask yourself what the telcos have to show for the fortunes they have invested in CRM, customer experience……

You can ask me to advise you on how to craft a strategy right for your organisation, or how to cultivate good relationships with your customers, or how to effect culture change. Please don’t expect me to provide an answer from a distance. I am not a seer nor am I a charlatan. To help you answer the question I have to get a feel for your particulars: you, the people in your organisation, it’s history, the kind of work that occurs, how folks show up and travel in your organisation, the kind of people who are your customers and how you / your products / your competitors occur to them.

I say to you, if you wish to be effective in devising strategies, influencing people, effecting change then it is necessary to give up the easy paths, the short cuts, and take the road less travelled.  To get to grips with the particulars – not just intellectually. This getting to grips must be at a deeper level – an intuitive feel for that which you are dealing with.

Why go to this effort?  Werner Erhard summed it up beautifully: “The context is decisive.”

I thank you for your listening and wish you the very best in your living. Until the next time…

 

 

 

Against Slavery to Ideology & Method

The older I get the more I notice that the autonomy and the intelligence of folks in large organisations is put at the service of some ideology and/or method that has taken root in the heart-mind of someone higher up in the organisation.  Typically, this happens when that particular ideology (e.g. “customer-centricity”) and/or method (e.g. “Agile”) has planted itself in the wider business world.

What’s the impact?  Allow me to convey the impact through the following assertion made by Jean-Jacques Rousseau:

“Man is born free and everywhere he is in chains.”

What tends to show up when folks in organisation are ‘in chains’ to some doctrine/method?  This is what I have observed: Stupidity, game playing, and a decrease in effectiveness.

Adherence to the doctrine/method surpasses reasoning hence folks end up doing stuff which they know does not make sense.  To get things done it is often necessary to bypass-bend the doctrine/method.  Therein starts the game playing – making it look like the doctrine/method is being followed when it is not.  The overall impact is a decrease in effectiveness. By effectiveness I mean both outcomes and the workability/capability that generates the  outcomes.

New ideology, method, toolset is introduced with great fanfare. Yet with little understanding: know-how as well as know-what and know-about.  Given sufficient time performance declines.  The Tops and Middles blame the people.  Clearly given the God given status of the ideology/method/toolset the people have to be at fault.  They are not following the method.  I have yet to see the suitability of the method/tool being seriously questioned.  As a result, adherence to doctrine/method is tightened rather than relaxed.  This further degrades the workability/capability of the organisation.  I refer to this as layering stupidity on stupidity.

What is an intelligent way to go about leading-managing an organisation?  Forget doctrine / ideology. Forget method.  Forget blind obedience to anything. Instead focus on calling forth the collective intelligence of your people AND enhancing the workability of your organisation. Let me put this simply: take a zen stance, let fall all fixed thinking (ideology, doctrine, methods, tools..), go to where the action is occurring, and look – really look. Then select the right course of action / method / tool. Once the method/tool has served its purpose, drop it! Like the canoes, when you have used it to cross the river, leave it there at the side of the bank.

Allow me to end this conversation by sharing this story with you:

When the bishop’s ship stopped at a remote island for the day, he determined to use the time as profitably as possible. He strolled along the seashore and came across three fishermen mending their nets. In pidgin English they explained that centuries before they had been Christianised by missionaries. “We Christian!” they said, proudly pointing to one another. The bishop was impressed. Did they know the Lord’s Prayer? They had never heard of it. The bishop was shocked.

“What do you say, then, when you pray?”

“We lift our eyes to heaven. We pray, ‘We are three, you are three, have mercy on us.”

The bishop was appalled at the primitive, the downright heretical nature of their prayer. So he spent the whole day teaching them the Lord’s Prayer. The fisherman were poor learners, but they gave it all they had and before the bishop sailed away the next day he had the satisfaction of hearing them go through the whole formula without a fault.

Months later, the bishop’s ship happened to pass those islands again, and the bishop, as he paced the deck saying his evening prayers, recalled with pleasure the three men on that distant island who were now able to pay, thanks to his patient efforts. While he was lost in that thought, he happened to look up and noticed a spot of light in the east. The light kept approaching the ship, and the bishop gazed in wonder he saw three figures walking on the water. The captain stopped the ship, and everyone leaned over the rails to see this sight.

When they were within speaking distance, the bishop recognised his three friends, the fishermen. “Bishop!” they exclaimed. “We hear your boat go past island and came hurry hurry meet you.”

“What is it you want?” asked the awe-stricken bishop.

“Bishop,” they said, “we so, so sorry. We forget lovely prayer. We say, ‘Our Father in heaven, holy be your name, your kingdom come…’ then we forget. Please tell us prayer again.”

The bishop felt humbled. “Go back to your homes, my friends,” he said, “and each time you pray say, ‘We are three, you are three, have mercy on us!”

Summing up: Many, many, many leaders/managers can do with keeping this story in mind, putting aside the arrogance that goes with their elevated roles, and adopting the pragmatic humility of the bishop.  Focus on workability and use whatever method/tool is appropriate. Do not make a God of a specific doctrine, method, tool.  If you are going to make a God out of anything, then make a God out of your people – their potential to do amazing work and create amazing works.

Enough for today. I thank you for your listening and wish you great living. Until the next time….