Customer Experience Lessons From The Cafe Hotel Greinwald

You travel on business and your expenses are covered such that you can choose to stay at  a 5* hotel (with swimming pools, jacuzzi, sauna, various bars, three restaurants, fantastic lawns outside) or a family owned/run restaurant that is less than half the price and doesn’t have the look/feel nor the facilities of the 5* hotel.  Which do you choose after you have sampled them both by staying there?

Without hesitation I chose, and continue to choose the family owned/run restaurant: The Hotel Greinwald (www. hotel-greinwald.de) – a hotel in Marktoberdorf, Allgau region of Germany.  Why?  In one word: Family!

What I miss most when I travel on business (especially when I am staying away from home 4 nights a week is the feeling of being at home amongst family. And, this is the very feeling that I got from the moment of arrival to departure – every single week.  I would be greeted warmly usually by Gabi; Gabi and Eric, wife and husband, own and run the hotel with help form their son Martin.

Every encounter with the people who work there was a positive. For example, I got to know Quiran – the young man who often brought me cooked breakfast. Or Katerina, one of the waitresses who was such a delight to talk to.  And, not the only one – all the waitresses were.  Unfortunately, I cannot remember their names, though I do remember their faces, our conversations, and their kindness.

If you travel on business, then I ask you this: How many hoteliers have you reached out to since the start of covid=19, just to say “Hello, I wonder how you are doing given covid-19, I miss you and I hope to come back and stay with you as soon travel is possible!”  Zero, is my guess. Well that is the email I wrote and I addressed it to Gabi.

What happened? I got such a wonderful reply from Gabi’s son Martin as he is taking over from Gabi so that Gabi and Eric can do less.  He was delighted to hear from me.  He told me that Gabi and Eric are doing well. The financial impact of collapse of bookings. And the hope that things would get better soon…. And, I continue to think of the folks who own/run, and staff the Hotel Greinwald.  Every time I do, I find sheer gratitude present. And, I wish each/all of them well.

Hotel Greinwald Offers Six Customer Experience Lessons

What is it that makes The Hotel Greinwald excellent? Let me give you some of the moments that stand out:

1-The Welcome. Always greeted enthusiastically. Recognised as a returning customer. Told (and I can see it is meant) something like “I/we are happy to see you again!”

2-Catering for my preferences without even being asked.  There are something like 22 rooms, I stayed in many of them, then I found my favourite. And, I told Gabi about my favourite. From that moment on, I am given that room if it is available. Fantastic – I didn’t ask for it, yet it happens, and I am grateful.

3-The people who work there.  I cannot ask to be greeted by and served by a more welcoming and helpful people. My German is poor. All the staff switched to English to make me feel comfortable. I was greeted with genuine warmth/smiles. They remembered my preferences without the need for any CRM system (there isn’t one!). They danced with me when I opened up a conversation beyond the role. For example, when I asked Katerina about her personal situation. And she told me that she is, divorced  and thus a single mother, with children.

4-The quality of the rooms. The bedrooms that I stayed in were excellent. Yes, there was a bed and a table to work at. And, there was more: comfortable sofa and/or lounge chair to sit in.  The bedrooms were spacious. The bathroom/toilet/shower area was spacious. And, everything was clean.

5-Generosity. When I stay at hotels I have to pay ridiculous prices if I am thirsty and want a bottle of water or a soft drink. At the Hotel Greinwald, this didn’t happen. A fridge on the 2nd floor was stocked with a range of drinks, and we, the guests, could go and help ourselves. No charge. Just a gift from the owners.

6-Exceptional care, going beyond the expected. One evening, I was downstair in the cafe/restaurant. I was with a group of people. We ordered.  The starter came, and we ate them. Unfortunately, it happened to be a Monday evening and every Monday 8pm I have a call that I do not miss because it is with a very special person in the US. As the clock hit 7:50, I left instructing my colleagues to ask Gabi to put the meal, for all of us, on my tab.  Whilst I was up in my bedroom, on the call with my friend, I heard knocking on the door. I opened it to find Gabi holding a tray with my meal on it. Surprise! Delight! Gratitude!

Recommendation

If you happen to be visiting the Allgau region of Germany, then I wholeheartedly, and without reservation, recommend staying at the Hotel Greinwald.  I have yet to come across a better people, a better experience – I have tried a number of hotels, and none comes close.

Finally, My Take On Where Corporates Are Going Wrong With The Customer Thing

Much of that which I see in the CX arena occurs as misguided to me.  Put bluntly, you can:

  • invest all you want in technology (e.g. CRM systems), and it will not make any real difference customer loyalty;
  • spend a lifetime designing and redesigning processes and you can keep an army of consultants busy/happy yet not make a dent in customer loyalty; and
  • change the organisational structure, play around with people’s job description, tinker with the performances etc and this will not make a dent in customer loyalty.

Why? Because your and your organisation are ‘in love with’ just about everything (revenues, profits, KPIs, strategy, processes, technology etc) but with those that truly matter:

  • your people – those who are vital to co-creating the customer’s experience; and
  • your customers – by this I mean the flesh & blood human beings (not customer segments, not personas).

Last but not least, you as in you and your organisation lack Soul.  I say Soul is decisive. If Soul is present then customers will forgive hiccups whether due to people issues, process issues, technology issues, or a combination of these. Without Soul, you can do pretty much everything correctly, and make no connection with the human heart – the basis of all loyalty.

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

 

What’s The Real Challenge That Lies At The Heart Of Customer Experience?

Monday 14th Jan19: My Story, My Experience

It’s Monday 14th January 2019. It’s the day I am due to meet up with ‘my’ NHS oncologist to learn whether I continue to be cancer free, or if cancer has returned.  So its an important day for me.  I leave early as finding a parking place is always an issue except at night time.

I arrive at the relevant unit, housed in a part of the hospital that has seen much better days. It’s old, it’s drab. I approach the ‘receptionist’ and wait for her to acknowledge me. After a minute or so she looks up and says, “Name.” I hand over my appointment letter. She ‘plays’ with her computer and then says “Take a seat.” I look around and there are plenty seated in the waiting area. Thankfully, there are some empty seats. I sit and start reading the book I brought along.  This is the only way I have found to deal with unpredictable waiting that always occurs.  These folks see you when they see you irrespective of the time slot they have given you; the time slot is there to enable them to turn you away if you do not turn up on time.

Someone calls my name. I respond, “That’s me, I will be along in a minute.”  In a minute I find myself in an unfamiliar room with an unfamiliar person.  He tells me that he is Doctor…. and asks if his colleague can sit in as a part of the training.  I say “Yes.” Then I ask “Where is Nicola, my oncologist?”  This is when I learn that I will not be seeing ‘my’ oncologist today.

This doctor dives into jargon. The only thing I understand is that there is something unusual in the results. That he is not ok with this. And is sending me over the X-ray unit to have an ultrasound performed in my neck.  He hands me the paper that I have to take with me.  I ask “Where is the X-ray unit?  How do I get there from here?”  He tells me to go ask one of the receptionists…..

Thankfully, the signage in the hospital is good and I happen to arrive at an entrance/exit where this signage is present.  I use this to make my way to the X-ray unit, hand over the paper to one of the receptionists, and then make my way to the next waiting area.  I get my book out again.

After waiting for about an hour, a young woman comes out of the main X-ray room and says, “There will be a delay of an hour…..”  As she is about to go back I ask, “What does this mean for me?  By what time can I expect to be seen? This information is useful to me as it allows me to determine if I can go for a walk, get something to eat, need to top up the parking meter.  Telling us that there is an hour delay is not helpful.  So by when will you be ready to do my ultrasound?”

She looks at me, almost as if she is in shock.  It may just be the first time that anybody has talked back to her and asked this kind of question. She recovers and then proceeds to tell me that there is an hour delay.  I respond by telling her that I heard her the first time. And that her answer does not give me the information that I asked for – the only information that is meaningful/helpful.  She says, “I’ll go talk to the doctor and come back to you soon.”  I wait. It becomes clear to me that her understanding of “soon” is different to mine.  I put my book away, get up, and make my way back to the original unit handling cancer patients.

I approach the receptionist, and when she looks at me I tell her that I did not get the ultrasound done as I am not willing to wait around for the rest of the day. And, that I am going home.  She tells me to wait. Then she takes me to the doctor and tells him that which I told her. What does the doctor say? This: “I got it wrong. After you left I took another look at your case history and I can see that……So there is nothing to worry about.  You can go home.”

I say, “What about my next appointment – in six months time?  What about the blood test form that I get given each time? You do know that I have to get my blood tested about 4 weeks before my next appointment to see my oncologist?”  By his response, it becomes clear that he does not know.  Soon thereafter, I leave that hospital – the blood testing form that he has given me is not the one that I need.  And, I have not the patience to deal with novices.

The next day, I call ‘my’ oncologist’s secretary and leave a message along these lines: I turned up yesterday, the doctor who dealt with me did not know what he was doing.  He did not give me the blood test form that you give me.  And I have no confidence in anything that he told me.  Please ring me back as soon as you can.  As yet, I have not heard anything back.

Deconstructing My Journey: Why Is It That It Turned Out This Way?

I am clear that each unit of the hospital was operating as a silo. Each unit with its own agenda, priorities, constraints, people, tasks, practices…  These units just happened to be housed in the same physical location. And lumped under a label: X Hospital.  Further, it occurs to me that each person in a particular unit of the hospital was thinking in terms of his/her role: the work (tasks) s/he had to perform, the people s/he had to please, the priorities/constraints that had to be respected etc.

It occurs to me that nobody that I encountered on that day in that hospital was thinking in terms of the Customer (the patient – me) or the Customer’s experience. The doctor did not speak in a language I could possibly understand though we both spoke English fluently.  Neither the doctor nor the receptionist was concerned about how I would make my way to the X-ray unit.  The folks in the X-ray unit just assumed that I had all day to sit and wait.  Nobody was mindful that the clock was running down on the parking meter.  My oncologist clearly doesn’t get or doesn’t care that I am concerned about the accuracy of the information I was given by the ‘novice’ doctor.

Why Is It That Customer Experience Is So Poor In The UK?

How is it that an institution whose purpose is to provide care treats a human being like an object?  Let’s be clear I was treated as an object – to be processed according to the rules. I did not encounter any humanity at all. The people I encountered could be replaced by robots – the level of humanity would not be reduced one iota.

In Zen And The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance, the main character tells his traveling companions that his son has been diagnosed with mental illness.  Now lets following the dialogue:

‘What do the psychiatrists think?’ John asks.

‘Nothing. I stopped it.’

‘Stopped it?’

‘Yes.’

‘Is that good?’

‘I don’t know……..’

‘That doesn’t sound right.’

‘No one else thinks so either…..’

‘But why?’ asks Sylvia.

‘I don’t know why…..it’s just that….I don’t know…they’re not kin’…Surprising word, I think to myself, never used it before. Not of kin….sounds like hillbilly talk….not of a kind……same root…..kindness, too…..they can’t have real kindness toward him, they’re not his kin……That’s exactly the feeling.

Old world, so ancient its almost drowned out. What a change through the centuries. Now anyone can be ‘kind.’  And everybody’s supposed to be. Except that long ago it was something that you were born into and couldn’t help. Now it’s just a faked-up attitude half the time, like teachers the first day of class. But what do they really know about kindness who are not kin?

It goes over and over again through my thoughts……mein Kind – my child. There is it is in another language.  Mein Kinder…..

I walked away from my visit to the hospital thinking/feeling this: Nobody here cares whether I have cancer or not. Nobody cares whether I live or not. They are indifferent to my existence. And this is true for the society I live in.  Yet, here I am – the person who finds tears flowing down his cheeks whenever he remembers that one of his best friends is no longer due to brain cancer.  What a difference there is between how one is treated by kin, and those who are not kin!

Now ask yourself this: Is it any different in the business world?  I say that if you are truthful, you will see that which I see. And if you do see what I see then you will see the real challenge that lies at the heart of genuine customer-centricity, Customer Experience, and customer loyalty.

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

 

Maz Signature

 

DCX/CRM: Avoiding Failure (1)

Information technology centered programmes are prone to failure. This particularly true for the large/complex programmes – in the business world these kinds of programmes have the word “transformation” in them like business transformation, enterprise transformation, or digital customer experience transformation.

There are many factors that contribute to failure. Today, I wish to focus on the business requirements that represent the demand that the technology must deliver.

How It Used To Be

When I started out implementing IT systems as a management consultant, we had the consultants who were going to configure/build the system in direct (face to face) communication (typically workshops) with the business users (subject matter experts, end users):

Consultants <———————-> Business Users

This set-up was not perfect. Why?  Because the Consultants and the Business Users came from different worlds. In a sense they spoke different languages: the Consultants spoke the language of the application, the Business Users spoke the language of their industy-function-job.

A bridge between the two worlds tended to be built through a series of face to face workshops between the Consultants and the Business Users. And it was common for at least one member of the consulting team to have relevant domain experience: industry-function-process. Further, and importantly the Consultants and the Business Users shared culture as in came from the same culture so understanding was facilitated.

How It Is Nowadays

Nowadays it is common (in my experience) to have three sets of players:

Consultants  <————->  Business Analysts <—————–> Business Users

In this setup, it’s the Business Analysts who are responsible for:

  • ‘gathering’ the requirements from the Business Users and ‘packaging’ them up;
  • communicating them to the Consultants; and
  • responding to the questions posed by the Consultants.

Notice that there are 2 sets of communication: that between Business Analysts and Business Users; and that between Business Analysts and Consultants. So the challenge is for the Business Analysts to understand that which the Business Users need/want. And then pass on this understanding to the Consultants at the level needed for the Consultants to configure-build the application.

And notice this: the vital communication between the those who will configure/build the IT solution and those who will use it has been severed – it is no more.

Herein, lies a critical source of failure in CRM/DCX programmes that I have been involved in.  What is it that I am pointing at?

  • The Business Users no longer feel a sense of ownership over the business requirements nor the success/failure of the change programme;
  • The Business Analysts have become ‘Product Owners’ yet they do not see themselves as such nor operate as such;
  • The Business Analysts typically write up the requirements – create a document and email to the Consultants with the expectation that the Consultants will simply read the document and understand what is being asked of them;
  • The Consultants read the document and typically don’t understand the requirements and have plenty of questions for the Business Analysts;
  • The Business Analysts had thought their job done when the business requirements were documented and published so they tend not to be keen to meet with the Consultants;
  • When that meeting (often a Webex) occurs between the Consultants and the Business Analysts occurs it tends to become evident that the Business Analysts have only a superficial ‘understanding’ of the requirements.

This is where the matter becomes interesting. If we were living in an ideal world then the Consultants would insist that the Business Analysts supply the level of clarity/detail that is needed to configure-build the application. Ours is not an ideal world so events play out differently.  The Consultants can be young/inexperienced. The Consultants may come from a culture where confrontation is avoided and there is extreme deference/subservience to those with higher status.  The Consultants are under considerable pressure to get moving – to meet the deadlines that the client has set.

So the Consultants tend to move forward with whatever they are given.  They too have zero ownership of the business requirements.  They are handed an ‘order’ by the Business Analysts and so they fulfill that ‘order’. If this order does not make sense then it’s not their problem – as long as they can prove that they met the order.

If You Wish To Avoid Failure

If you wish to avoid failure as in wasted time/effort, wasted money, disappointed end users, and the business disruption that failed IT implementations bring then I advise you to do the following:

  1. Cut out the Business Analysts and restore the direct communication between the Consultants and Business Users;
  2. Only accept Consultants who between them are familiar with your industry (by having worked in it for several years), are familiar with the function – marketing, sales, service – that is being ‘automated’, are familiar with configuring-building the application you have chosen to implement in your  business;
  3. If your culture supports it then choose Consultants who are likely to bring ideas/experience and are likely to challenge you and your people as in challenge your thinking, your operational practices, the business requirements you have come up with;
  4. Make sure that you create the role of Product Owner, assign the best persons to these roles, and make these persons accountable for the quality of the ‘product’ created/delivered by the Consultants;
  5. Give up the notion that business requirements are merely lying around on the corporate carpet waiting to be gathered up – this is nonsense;
  6. Understand the business requirements are best co-constructed iteratively by the Consultants and your Business Users collaborating with one another through a series of face-to-face workshops;
  7. Make the Consultants and your Product Owners jointly responsible for the Business Requirements asking both to review and sign-off the documentation, and apply version control.

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

 

 

 

 

 

Hall of Fame: Amazon Delights Cultivating Loyalty From This Customer

Amazon claims to be the Earth’s most customer-centric company.  If Amazon were like just about every other company this claim would be just a marketing slogan – deceitful, empty at best. However, Amazon isn’t like just about every other company.  It’s exceptional in that the folks at Amazon get what it takes to cultivate, keep, even grow that particular emotional bond, which I say lies at the heart of loyalty, with customers.  Of what do I speak?  Allow me to share my story with you.

During December 17 I bought presents, some of them from Amazon.  One of the presents was electric toothOralB Smart4 4000Nbrush for my oldest son.  Whilst my son can do with a new toothbrush he doesn’t want this one. He didn’t even open the packaging. He Googled it and found that it’s not the most expensive one.  So the task of returning it fell to me.  And as I have returned stuff to Amazon before I was expecting it to be straight forward: click on order, select item to return, print out return labels, and drop-off at local post office.

To my surprise it didn’t turn out that way.  I found myself annoyed and angry: why isn’t Amazon allowing me to return an item which is within the return period, and which hasn’t even been taken out of its packaging?  What kind of sh**t is this!  That was my emotional state especially as Amazon didn’t tell me why I wasn’t allowed to return it. I was asked to click a link which took me to a return (home) page which I found unusable – as it wasn’t evident which item on that long menu (of items) I should click.

When I know I’m in the right I tend to be dogged in pursuit of my goal. Luckily, Amazon, offered me the ability/opportunity to speak to an agent.  So when option 1 (looking at the Returns page) didn’t work out, I selected option 2 (live chat with an agent).

“Why are you not allowing me to return this given it is well within the return period, never used, not even taken out of its packaging?”  That was the starting point of the chat. Once, I provided order details and specified the item, the agent told me to give her a minute or two to look into the matter.

Have you had the experience of jaw dropping moments?  The first one occurred when Amazon (website) told me that I couldn’t return this item. The second one occurred when the agent came back with “We’ll refund you for the item and you can keep the item – no need to return it. Is that OK?”  My experience?  “Shocked. Delighted. Grateful. Puzzled. What the fork is happening here?”

My response to that agent was along this line: “I’ve been an Amazon customer for a long time. I buy regularly. And Amazon has always been fair to me.  I wish to be fair with Amazon.  Honest, the toothbrush has NOT been used. It’s not even been taken out of its packaging. I am happy to return it so that you can resell it.”

The agent’s response? “We’re happy for you to keep the toothbrush and to give you the refund you have asked for……”  I had another go at returning the toothbrush. She wasn’t having any of it.  I relented. And something was present that I needed to express. What was present?  Gratitude!  How did I express this gratitude?  I asked the agent to give me the refund as an Amazon gift card rather than a refund on my credit card.  She asked “Are you sure?” and I replied something to the effect: “Yes, I’m sure: I was brought up to reciprocate – to repay helpfulness/kindness with helpfulness/kindness.”

Please get that I am fortunate.  The monetary value of this toothbrush is pennies. I will go and spend double-treble this amount taking out an acquaintance (dying of liver cancer) for lunch in an hour or so. And I am so grateful – so grateful!  Grateful for what?  Grateful for the way I was treated.  Think about how I was treated.  How often are you/me treated in this way?  It’s rare isn’t it?  To be able, easily, to get through to someone helpful. For that person to, swiftly, get you/me to our desired outcome. And then on top of that be given a gift.  Wow!

So here I am on my Sunday doing that which occurs to me as the final act of paying Amazon back for its helpfulness / generosity.  That’s the power of cultivating gratitude by treating customers (employees, suppliers, distribution partners…) right.

I leave you with this question:  Is the way that Amazon shows up and behaves towards its customers (decency, fair treatment) rocket science?  No?  Then why is it that other organisations don’t show up in this manner?  Is it because those who lead/direct/manage these organisations lack heart?  Or is it that these folks are self-centred and only focussed on the short-term – this quarter/year’s results?  How the fork is technology (CRM, CX, digital commerce…) going to do the job of the heart – having/putting into play a big heart?

Thanks for your listening to my speaking.  I wish you the very best for this year – may it be the best year, yet, of your existence.  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.