DCX/CRM: Avoiding Failure (4)

This is the fourth and last ‘conversation’ in this series of conversations dealing with implementation. You can find the first three conversations here, here, and here.

Wishful Thinking Leads to Failure Especially When Combined With Incompetence, and Playing Politics

1991, after exiting from the world of corporate recovery I find myself working in the  Finance & Administration function of a global drinks company.  My first mission?  To assist a highly experienced American with a delicate mission.  The hotly anticipated and much ‘advertised’ Management Information System has been live for a couple of months. The MIS, much touted by the Tops has cost a fortune and it doesn’t work. The Tops associated with the MIS are a laughing stock…

That which we ‘found’ to be so in 1991 continues to be so today:

  • Wishful thinking, politics, and incompetence abound in large organizations;
  • These do not cause serious damage with regards to day-to-day operations as ‘algorithms and machinery’ have been built over the years to deal with that which needs to be dealt with;
  • However, the same characteristics (wishful thinking, politics, incompetence) tilt the ‘playing field’ heavily towards failure when it comes to large-scale change – the kind with “transformation” in the title.

There’s a book called “Control Your Destiny or Someone Else Will”. I read this book back in 1994/95. And, I have forgotten it all except for this quote by Jack Welch:

Face reality as it is, not as it was or as you wish it to be

I say that one of the primary causes of DCX/CX failure is not putting the right people in critical roles

Which roles am I thinking about?  The Business Sponsor. The Programme Manager. The Product Owner. The Subject Matter Experts (Business Side). The Solution Architect. The Change Lead. The Project Managers. The Functional Leads. The Technical Leads.

What happens when one doesn’t respect the unforgiving demands of the implementation arena by letting standards slip – accepting/making compromises based on wishful thinking or political expedience – and putting those who are unfit for these critical roles into these roles?  This phenomenon has a history and a name: “Lions led by donkeys”.

Lions led by donkeys” is a phrase popularly used to describe the British infantry of the First World War and to blame the generals who led them. The contention is that the brave soldiers (lions) were sent to their deaths by incompetent and indifferent leaders (donkeys).

Let’s consider the role of Product Owner. What a responsibility comes with this role!  The person/s filling the role Product Owner in a CX transformation programme must have an in-depth lived/felt understanding of the those falling in the class Customer.  This necessarily means familiarity with variety for the class Customer tends to have considerable variety amongst its members.  This person/s also has to be an advocate for the interests of the Customer class – ensuring that whatever product (solution) is constructed meets the needs/wants of the Customer class. This person/s must bring the genuine voice of the Customer class into the transformation programme and make sure it is vividly present so as to inform thinking and decision making around the Product.

I say that the second cause of DCX/CRM failure is the failure to deal swiftly/decisively with those who are incompetent with regards to the demands of the role they are playing

Incompetence can be hidden relatively easily in the realm of the strategy/theory for there is no connection with the real world. In the arena of implementation, incompetence cannot be hidden for long: it surfaces when results have to be delivered – either they are delivered to the requisite quality or not. Which is to say that some of the “lions” turn out to be “donkeys” when measured against the context/role they find themselves in.

When incompetence surfaces those playing ‘leadership’ roles are confronted with an important choice: to face reality as it is and is not or to escape into wishful thinking. Few, in my experience, exercise the courage it takes to do the right thing. To take a hard/realistic look into the source of the incompetence and take the necessary action – almost always this is to move these people out of their roles and into other roles or out of the transformation programme.  The logical consequence is that those who are incompetent get to dig a deeper hole in which the transformation programme ultimately finds itself in.

Allowing me to give you an example.  On a recent engagement, one who was playing the role of project manager and solution architect with on the CRM workstream of a transformation programme found himself with a 6 person team – 4 offshore, 2 onshore. It took about four weeks for this person to come face to face with this realization: the entire offshore team was incompetent with regards to the work that had to be done.

This person asked for these people to be replaced by suitably experienced people asap.  The request fell upon the deaf.  So this person made his best efforts to coach/assist the incompetent. After a further few weeks, it became clear that this was counterproductive: the competent/effective were less productive because their time was taken up with the incompetent – teaching them, reviewing their work, correcting their work. Faced with this reality this person took all the work away from the offshore team, reassigned the work to the onshore team, helped the onshore team by doing some of the design and configuration himself, and disbanded the offshore team as soon as that option became feasible.

This person was not thanked for this decision. Why? Recognizing and dealing with incompetence can reflect badly on oneself (if one has recruited those people into their roles) or it can reflect badly on those (usually higher up the status ladder) who did recruit them.  So you see the temptation for those who are politically savvy to bury their heads in the sand.

I say a third and important cause of DCX/CX failure is that politics takes priority over reality thus distorting the thinking and decision making

I can decisively say that rare is the person who will be truthful when his/her identity/status/livelihood is threatened.  Yet, this is the dominant, almost exclusive, context in just about every large organization that I have ever worked in (as an employee) or worked for as a consultant.

Why does this happen?  The lack of psychological safety within almost all organizations that I have come across.  Where one fears speaking the truth one does not speak the truth.  What this means is that one creates a circle of those with whom one can speak the truth (“us”) and those with whom one cannot speak the truth (“them”).

Where psychological safety is not in place, and “us and them” is operative/dominant,  there one finds that information, communication, thinking, and decision making are distorted. This distortion tilts the playing field on which the transformation game is being played towards failure.

How can those who find themselves in leadership positions deal effectively with reality if reality is actively being masked with information that hides/distorts/mislead? If this question interests you then I recommend listening to the following talk:

Enough for today.  I thank you for your listening and wish you the very best for 2019. Until the next time….

 

DCX/CRM: Avoiding Failure (3)

This is the third of a series of ‘conversations’ centered on avoiding failure when it comes to Digital Customer Experience and/or CRM.  The first ‘conversation’ dealt with articulation-understanding-ownership of requirements.  The second ‘conversation’ dealt with the challenge of integration.  This third conversation deals with the matter of thinking/collaboration that necessarily comes with a transformation programme.

Thinking & Collaboration: Christmas Day

Yesterday was Christmas Day and we (our household) celebrated it.  The day turned out great and it didn’t just happen. For the day to turn out as it did (workable, enjoyable) required thinking/collaboration: the five members of the family had to think, make decisions, and collaborate in making happen that which we decided upon.

Let’s start with thinking/decision making.  We had to decide (as a family of five) where we wanted to spend Christmas. With the children’s grandparents in France in their main home in the country?  With the children’s grandparents with their winter home in the Alps? With the children’s uncle Ralf (and his family) in France? With my sister in the New Forest?  At home?

Where did these series of conversations centered on this question/decision take place?  Around our dining table – as that is the place where we sit, eat, talk things through ever since the children were toddlers.  After listening to one another and thinking things through we came to a mutual decision: we will do Christmas at home!

Next decision: Do we do Christmas as a family or do we invite guests?  Once we had made the decision that we wanted guests for Christmas, we had to agree upon who and how many people to invite given the demands on shopping-cooking-seating-sleeping that necessarily comes with inviting guests.  How did these decisions get made? Through a series of conversations. Where did these decisions get made? Around the dining table.

Did the thinking and decision-making stop here? No. Next, we had to decide (as a group) what it is that we wanted to eat/drink and the dietary requirements of our Christmas guests.  The challenge? To come up with the minimum number of dishes as some wanted to eat meat, others fish, others had vegetarian/vegan requirements.  And ensure that these dishes are the ones that folks want to eat.  Where did this thinking through (as a family) and decision making occur? Around the dining table.

Once the thinking through/decision making) had happened it was time to formulate a plan of action: Who would do the food shopping and by when? Who would go and buy the wine/drinks and by when? Who would prepare the food? Who would do the cooking? Where did these matters get thought through and decisions get made? Around the dining table.  Then on the day itself, we collaborated with one another to make happen that which needed to happen: setting the table up, clearing up the table, doing the washing up etc.

Thinking & Collaboration: DCX/CRM Transformation Programmes

Now think of your transformation programme (DCX/CRM): the elements, the actors, the interplay between the various elements/actors, the sequencing of work, the design of the end-to-end solution, orchestrating dependencies, dealing with the arrival of the unexpected – challenges, opportunities… Ask yourself these questions:

1-Is thinking (and decision-making) required?

2-Is this thinking (and decision-making) a one-off event or an ongoing series (a process)?

3-Is the thinking (and decision-making) that is called for, simple/easy – as in here is a round block of wood, here is a round hole, insert that block of wood into that hole?

4-Is the thinking deep, intricate, multi-dimensional – the kind of thinking that comes up with options, thinks through these options, considers the advantages/disadvantages of promising options, and identifies the impact of an option on the wider transformation programme?

5-Is the thinking (and decision making) an exercise for one omnipotent person? Or does the ‘nature’ of the thinking, decision-making, action planning, and execution necessarily require the active participation/contribution of a group of people?

6-If the thinking is not superficial/simple and cannot be done (or should not be done) by a single person then ask yourself this: Have we created a suitable context & space for the kind of thinking/collaboration that needs to occur in order for this programme to deliver on the promise?

Of What Do I Speak When I Speak ‘Context’?

What is it that I mean by ‘context’?  Imagine that you open your mail and find a wedding invitation for someone who matters to you.  What happens? You automatically know the context by having attended (or seen if it is via the movies) the context that goes with a wedding: the mood, the music, the place (most likely a church for the wedding service), the actors, clothing, the sequence of events, what actions are expected etc.  Now imagine you open your mail and learn that a friend has died and you are invited to his/her funeral.  Again, you know (almost immediately) the context that goes with a funeral – for example, the mood (and setting) will be dramatically different to that of a wedding and the expected behaviour/clothing will also be radically different.

Of What Do I Speak When I Speak ‘Space’?

Imagine that you are charged with staging a soccer game, in a foreign country,  between two well-known soccer teams. On the day of the match, you, the soccer teams, and the fans turn up to the venue What do you find?  The pitch, the space, is set-up for cricket! There are no goal posts. There are none of the markings that a game of soccer requires e.g. half-way line. Instead, the space has been set-up and thus calls forth (supports) a game of cricket as there are wickets. And there are the markings that go with a game of cricket e.g. the crease.

Avoid Failure By Cultivating a Context-Space That Calls Forth Deep Thinking and Collaboration

Time after time I come across transformation programmes where the space in which the actors show up and operate is that of a large call-centre.  Have you spent time in a large call-centre?  If you have, it cannot have escaped your notice that the environment is like that of a large warehouse. What is warehoused?  The people who answer calls!

The kind of space that one finds in a large call-centre operation is suited to the context of almost all call-centres. Why?  Because the context is one where ZERO original thinking is required. And ZERO collaboration is required.  Everything of significance has been thought through and turned into a script: for call type X follow script X, for call type Y follow script Y.

If you wish to avoid failure in your transformation programmes then it is essential that you create a context that signals, to all actors, that here we have to think (deeply) and collaborate – this is the default.  And, you have to create the space to support this signaling and enable this deep thinking/collaboration to occur.  Specifically, this means:

1-Plenty of meeting rooms – where the availability of these meeting rooms is kept up to date and made visible (electronically) to all working on the programme;

2-Range of meeting room sizes – from four people working on a challenge through to 20 people working on a challenge;

3-Each of these meeting rooms equipped with the equipment that goes with the kind of thinking/collaboration that the meeting room is designed for e.g. whiteboard/s, pens, ‘erasers’, sticky notes, audio-visual equipment…

Heed My Warning For The Transformation ‘Game’ Is An Unforgiving One!

I consider this to be a MINIMUM requirement.  Since 2016, I have worked on (and or witnessed) four transformation programmes.  Of these, only one company (global Oil & Gas operator) has provided the context and space I have set out here.  The rest, in my view, failed – the degree of failure varied from one company to another.   Allow me to end by saying this:

1-If you fail to provide a context-space for deep thinking to occur then I guaranteed you that your transformation programme will end up with superficial thinking;

2-If you fail to provide a context-space for collaboration to occur then I guarantee you that you will get silo-based thinking (and actions) and you will end up with requirements that do not gel across the elements of the programme, solution components that will not fit/integrate with another, and dependencies that are not identified early enough nor orchestrated effectively;

3-Where there is lack of context-space for deep thinking and collaboration there you will find a lack of effective leadership and programme management; and

4-The transformation ‘game’ is unforgiving as in failures in effective leadership and programme management will be punished through missed milestones, rework, escalating costs, demotivated actors, finger-pointing, scapegoating, and a sub-optimal ‘solution’ from the perspective of end users – your prospects/customers, your distribution partners, and the people on the front line of your organisation dealing with prospects, customers, and distribution partners.

Enough for today. I thank you for your listening and wish you the very best for 2019.  Until the next time….

Dialogue on CRM, Customer Experience, and Customer-Centricity

Colleague: So much money has been spent and continues to be spent. On CRM. On CX – voice of the customer, journey mapping etc. In the name of customer-centricity – whatever that means.  Yet, there is little to show for it.

Me: Seems that way.

Colleague: Which big company, as in the kind of company that we end up consulting to / working with, has anything to show for the time-effort-money that has been spent on the whole Customer thing?

Me: I am not aware of a single one. Maybe there is big company out there that has become customer-centric as seen through the eyes of the customers. And If there is I am not aware of it. I distrust whatever the folks who go to the Customer circus (conference circuit) say about themselves. What matters is what the customers say.

Colleague: What’s your point of view on what’s going on?  You’ve always got a point of view on pretty much everything! Let’s hear it then.

Me: Have you come across a philosopher called Heidegger?  His thinking provides a good clue as to what’s going on.

Colleague: Never heard of him. What’s he got to say that’s relevant.

Me: He introduces the distinction between “in order to” and “for the sake of”. This distinction sheds light on the failure of the whole Customer thing. And what it will take to generate success.

Colleague: Explain then!

Me: Imagine a man in a workshop working on wood.  He happens to be sawing a piece of wood.  Why is sawing this piece of wood? In order to make a cabinet.  Why is he making a cabinet? In order to sell it?  Why is he looking to sell the cabinet?  In order to get money / make a living. Why do that? In order to care for / feed his family? Why do that? For the sake of his own conception of what it is to be a good father/husband.  Why does that matter to him? It just does!  Here the chain of in order to comes to an end.  There is no in order to. Showing and travelling as good father/husband is the sake of which he gets up in the morning and works/lives.

Colleague: There you go again not answering the question. What the fork has this to do with the whole Customer thing?

Me: Let me explain it another way.  Imagine that there are two spherical round hollow cylinders. The walls are quite thin, and of the same size.  It is possible to fit/slide into the other one by squeezing it as the cylinders are made of flexible material.

Colleague: OK.

Me: One is labelled “Revenue & Profits”, the other is called “Customer-Centricity”.  You are told that you need to slide one of these cylinders into/inside of the other cylinder.  Which one do you slide inside? Which one has to fit inside the other one?  Do you fit/slide the “Customer-Centricity” cylinder inside of the “Revenue & Profits” cylinder? Or do you choose to do the opposite: squeeze/fit the “Revenue & Profits” cylinder inside the “Customer-Centricity” cylinder?

Colleague: No question, the ‘Customer-Centricity” cylinder goes inside of the “Revenue & Profits” cylinder. That’s the whole purpose of CRM, Customer Experience, and Customer -Centricity – to boost revenues, increase profit margins, and so boost profits. And to keep on doing this year after year.  Isn’t it?

Me: As a philosopher I say that purpose does not inhere in the things itself. Purpose is a human construction. And as such the speaker who speaks of purpose gets to say what the purpose is. And sure, pretty much everyone that has taken on CRM, Customer Experience, and Customer-Centricity has done so for the sake of ambition/greed: for revenue growth, raising profits margins usually by cutting the costs of serving customers, and for profits and profit growth.

Colleague: What’s wrong with that!

Me: Wrong is not found in the world.  Wrong is a human construct. It’s wrong if you say it’s wrong and get enough other folks to agree with you.  I’m not saying there is something wrong with it. I am saying that when we choose one course of action over another there are always consequences.

Colleague: I think you are saying that there is little that big companies have to show for the time-money-effort they have spent on CRM, Customer Experience, and Customer-Centricity because they have been squeezing “Customer-Centricity” inside of “Revenues & Profits”.  Is that what you are saying?

Me: That is exactly what I am saying!  Yes, that is exactly what I am saying. Almost every big company has gone about it that way. The prime, unquestioned directive, is to make the numbers, and grow the numbers. The latest magical recipe is CRM, Customer Experience, or Customer-Centricity. So lets hire a bunch of consultants to fit these magical solutions into our organisation so that these solutions help us deliver on our sake of: sake of making the numbers, sake of “Revenues & Profits”. And this approach has generated that which it has generated: limited benefits, incremental improvements in cultivating genuine loyalty.

Colleague:  The alternative?  Squeezing/fitting “Revenue & Profits” inside of “Customer-Centricity”, how does that work?

Me: As members of the senior leadership team you show up & travel in a way that makes it clear to all that you, and the company, that you represent is there for the sake of enriching the lives of your chosen set of customers.

You can do that as Zappos does through it awesome customer service.  You can do it as Apple does by creating great (as in cool, high quality, unique) products for folks who are willing to pay a premium. You can do it as Amazon does – attractive prices, huge product range, ease/convenience of shopping, and next day delivery.

Amazon, in particular Jeff Bezos, sets a clear example.  You choose to be customer-centric, to build that long term customer loyalty, to play for the long term, and you take the hit to “Revenues & Profits” over the short and even medium term. And you tell your shareholders that this is what you are about.  If they don’t like it then they should sell their shares and move on to other enterprises.

Zappos is also an instructive example.  The leadership team of Zappos started out putting the “Customer Centricity” container within the “Revenues & Profits” container. At a critical point when the Zappos was on its last legs the leadership team had to make a choice: to continue providing a lousy customer experience or do the opposite.  And it looked like doing the opposite changing the operation model so that “Revenue & Profits” had to squeeze into / fit into “Customer-Centricity” would leave to ruin faster.  The choice they made? To make “Revenues & Profits” subservient to, and for the sake of “Customer-Centricity” as in delivering an awesome customer experience.  It so happened that this change worked out for Zappos. And there is no guarantee that another company in the same situation as Zappos taking the same course of action will generate the same result.  You have to be a particular kind of idiot to believe that taking the same course of action in a open/dynamic/non-linear/uncertain/unpredictable world will yield the same results as you got last time.

Colleague: But CEOs of big listed companies cannot do this. They have to make the numbers – that’s what the analysts want, that’s what the shareholders want.

Me: Which is why I say that big listed enterprises will continue to make incremental improvements at best when it comes to the customer experiences (as viewed through the eyes of the customers) and customer loyalty.  And the field for creating an awesome customer franchise belongs to outsiders – the Zappos, the Amazons, the Apple’s of the future.

 

 

Hall of Fame: How Folks At Apple Support Turned Me Into An Apple Advocate!

An Apple Customer Becomes an Advocate Due to Apple Support

apple_support_twitter_logo_smallUntil recently I was merely a customer of Apple. That changed over the last two weeks. How so? I ran into a problem and had to reach out to Apple Support to get that problem addressed.  That problem was addressed in a way that leaves me with a delightful experience – one that calls forth a smile and gratitude.

What Calls Forth Customer Loyalty / Advocacy?

Before, I tell you about my experience I want to address the matter of customer loyalty. How do you turn a mere customer into a loyal customer and advocate?  I don’t know as I suspect that it depends on the concrete (flesh and blood) customer.  I can tell you how the folks at Apple Support turned me into a loyal customer and advocate:

  1. You make it easy for the customer to get through to you when that customer needs you;
  2. You staff the front line with human beings (not bots) who embody the human touch and are technically competent;
  3. You put in policies-practices-tools that encourage/enable your people to sit side by side with your customers and together address the matters that matter to your customer;
  4. You make sure that the customer feels that you have made his problem (job to be done) yours and that s/he is safe in your hands;
  5. You don’t leave your customer’s side until you have gotten him/her to his/her desired destination – which is almost always a desired outcome; and
  6. You convey the impression that it has been a pleasure helping the customer in a way that the customer gets (at an experiential level) your pleasure

How The Folks At Apple Support Turned Me Into An Advocate

I own two Apple products: MacBook Pro, and MacBook Air.  My daughter is the one who is the heavy user of the MacBook Air and so I hadn’t used it for months. When I did use it I noticed that there was an opportunity to update the operating system to the latest version. So I went for it.  Something went wrong and the MacBook Air ‘died’.

When my daughter found out she was not at all happy. Why? Because she had important homework on it. Homework that had to be handed in the following day. Suddenly, it became both important and urgent to get the MacBook Air working again. This is when I noticed fear taking root. Why so? Because I was thinking something like this: “The MacBook is 5 years old. Will Apple help me?  I don’t see any reason why Apple should help me out with a 5 year old product. There is no warranty in place…”

I googled “Apple Support” and after two clicks ended up here: Contact – Apple Support.  What is the statement / promise Apple makes? “We’re here to help”. Is it an empty promise? No.  Look at the webpage! It invites you the customer to “Talk to us” – that is exactly what I did.

Almost immediately I found myself listening to a friendly male voice. He helped me to find the serial number. With the serial number he knew it was a 2012 MacBook Air. Then he told me how to reset it.  I initiated the process and noted that that computer was telling me it was going to take hours downloading operating system over the internet. So I thanked the young man and told him I was ok to take this forward. The Apple Support chap told me that he had logged my case, ‘gave’ me the case number, and asked me to quote that case number just in case I needed to call back.  He showed up as pleasant, knowledgeable, and helpful.  I felt gratitude.

A day later, I found myself on the phone to Apple Support. Why? The laptop had been downloading software for hours and then just hung up when it got to “40% remaining”.  This time I found myself talking with Danae. She detected my concern (given that the laptop had my daughters homework) and responded beautifully: she told me that it was not an issue and that she would help me to get the MacBook Air working. It was the tone of her voice – a combination of human warmth, confidence in what she was asserting, and her commitment to her promise.

Then she set about keeping her promise.  Whilst she was helping me I asked about her and learned that she is Greek. We talked a little about Greece given that I had been reading Adults in the Room by Yanis Varoufakis (ex Finance Minister of Greece), and have positive experience of Greek people. With the reset process in operation again I noticed that the laptop was telling me it was going to take hours. I told Danae of this. It is her response that floored me. Why? She made it plain that she was by my side, continued  to own the problem, and would see it through to the end.  She followed up the verbal promise with this email (I have replaced numbers with *):

Case Number: ********
Dear Mazafer,

Thank you for contacting Apple !

It was pleasure working with you, I will take you in the right path to get your issue resolved!

Should you need anything further regarding this issue, please do not hesitate to contact me personally.

Looking forward to hear from you!

t: 00800 ******* ext.****
I will be in the office this week :
Sunday-Thursday 8.00.-16.00 UK time

Kind Regards,
Danae Panagopoulou
Apple Distribution International

This time the download process completed to the end. The latest operating system was installed and the MacBook Air was operational. A fact that was a great relief to me and a delight to my daughter.  I wrote back to Danae:

Hello Danae

I so enjoyed talking with you this morning – feel blessed that our paths crossed today.

Thank you for being a beautiful person – in a world that shows up an mostly inhuman it is soul filling to come across such as you.

I want you to know that you have helped me to fix my problem.

The MacBook Air is up and running and I know that this will please my 17 year old daughter who is never far from it.  She will especially welcome getting here homework back – so that she does not need to redo it!

I shall be writing about the GREAT folks at Apple Support and especially you.  Keep a tab on this blog here:  www.thecustomerblog.co.uk

How to end?  I wish you and your loved ones the very best. Also, is it possible to keep in touch perhaps through LinkedIn?

This is the reply I received:

Case Number: ***********
Hello Maziqbal,
Thank you for contacting Apple and for replying to my email (much appreciated)!
Good news, excellent!
I am very happy the issue is resolved and that you are more than satisfied with our support!
I really wanted to resolve this issue for you as much as you did.
Please whatever you will need from now and on just drop me an email and I will contact
you as soon as I will be available.
I wish you all the best!
Looking forward to hear from you!

t: 00800 ******* ext.**********
I will be in the office this week :
Sunday-Thursday 8.00.-16.00 UK time

Kind Regards,
Danae Panagopoulou
Apple Distribution International

Richard Shapiro in The Welcomer’s Edge stresses the critical importance of Welcomers – customers, to the business, by cultivating loyalty through genuine heartfelt service.  I am clear that Danae is a Welcomer!

I am also clear that the folks in leadership positions are the ones that create the context/space for Welcomers like Danae to show up as Welcomers. Great support does not happen by accident.  Great support flows from a certain kind of customer philosophy: take care of your customers and your customers will take care of you. This kind of philosophy requires a long term orientation and faith in the decency of human beings.  Few, of those that I have encountered, in leadership positions embody this orientation, this faith.

So I offer my thanks and gratitude to the folks at Apple – those in Apple Support, and those who in leadership positions who enable Apple Support to provide great support.

I dedicate this conversation to Danae Panagopoulou – I am grateful that she exists for it makes this world that much more beautiful with her in it.

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

Maz Signature

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.