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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

Generating Customer Loyalty Through The Experience Not The Program

First and foremost I thank each and everyone who continues to listen the speaking that occurs on this blog.  A special appreciation for those of you who make the time to add your voice to the conversation by commenting. I wish each of you the very best for this year – may this year be the best year of your lives.

Today, I’m up for grappling with the subject of customer loyalty as I have been immersed it it since the second half of 2016 – professionally as a consultant and personally as a customer.

What Are We Talking About When We Talk Customer Loyalty?

Before diving in, let’s stop and really think about what we are talking about when we talk loyalty. According to Wikipedia:

Loyalty is devotion and faithfulness to a cause, country, group, or person. Philosophers disagree on what can be an object of loyalty as some argue that loyalty is strictly interpersonal and only another human being can be the object of loyalty.

So customer loyalty, viewed in light of this definition, is about generating devotion and faithfulness to a company and/or its brands.

Is it possible to generate devotion and faithfulness to a commercial organisation?

I can read that which the Guardian newspaper publishes online for free. Yet, I took up the Guardian’s request to pay a fee and become a Guardian member. Why pay for something that I can get free? Because, I find myself in tune with the journalism/editorial values of this newspaper. And I wish to ensure its health so that it can continue to do that which it does.

Football fans.  There are folks (customers) who spend significant amounts of time and money to travel up and down the country in order to watch/support their football team. Their devotion isn’t limited to buying tickets / watching the games. These customers also tend to be the one’s that buy the club’s merchandise and proudly display it.

Then there is Apple – clearly there are many who have been devoted and faithful to the Apple brand through good times, difficult times, great times….

So the answer to the question is yes – it is possible to generate devotion and faithfulness to a commercial organisation.

Are Loyalty Programs The Way to Customer Loyalty?

Recently, I found water pouring through the ceiling of the room below the main bathroom upstairs.  Fortunately this matter was covered by home insurance. The claims folks were helpful and appointed a contractor to replace the ceiling, strip the wallpaper and put the room back into the state it was before the damage occurred.

Unfortunately for me and my family the contractor appointed to carry out the repair work did the work in a slapdash manner.  So I raised the matter with the insurance company and told them I did not want this contractor to do the repairs in the upstairs bathroom. Ongoing, I may name and shame at a later point in time.

Who to use to do the work on the upstairs bathroom?  When faced with this question the immediate answer was the contractor that had carried out work on my home in 2014 when a car had driven into the front wall.  Why this contractor?  Because this contractor did such a professional job: upfront work of scoping and detailing the work; organising the work so that the right tradesmen turned up at the right time/sequence; adhering to the schedule of work; doing a great job of the job to be done; and providing a 2 year guarantee.

So it was the experience of dealing with this contractor including and especially the quality of their work -start to finish – that made me remember them some 3 years later and turn to them.  Not because of any loyalty program.

Back to football clubs and their devoted/faithful customers – the fans. Turns out that collect points and cash them in for rewards type of loyalty programs don’t work. Why not? That is not how a fan (loyal customer) thinks of loyalty. How does such a fan think? Something along the lines of “Remember me. Occasionally, offer me a free drink at your bar and/or invite me in to meet members of the team / club.”  What kind of loyalty is this? The human kind – the kind that the human race has known / practiced for many years. The kind that has allowed human tribes to face obstacles, together, and flourish.

Conclusion: Genuine Loyalty is Built Through the Experience Not the Program

Quality. You can build quality into the production process. Or you can employ quality inspectors to find defective products at the end of the production line.  And/or customer services folks to deal with the complaints arising from poor quality products.

It occurs to me it is the same with customer loyalty.  You can either build loyalty into the way that you do business – product, marketing, sales, logistics, service etc – or you can setup customer loyalty programmes to compensate your customers for the defects in the quality of customer’s experience of your products, your services, your organisation.  And/or your failure to adequately differentiate yourself from your competitors.

I say that the smarter way is to build loyalty into the way that you do business such that no customer loyalty program is necessary to keep your customers coming back to you:

-For Apple this means regularly creating cool/useful products/services that nobody else provides and marketing them in the Apple manner.

-For Amazon it means continuing to do that which Amazon does so well: being easy to do business with, delivering the goods the next day or two, keeping customers informed, and importantly looking out for the customer in multiple ways.

-For the Guardian newspaper it means standing for the causes that matter to the kind of people who are Guardian readers.

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

 

 

 

 

State of Customer: What I Learned During 2016

Some years I find myself working on matters of strategy. Other years I find myself with ‘dirty hands’ working at the coalface – helping organisations build capabilities, and deal with operational challenges in the areas of marketing, sales, service, and CRM.  2016 has been a year where I have worked both on strategy and operations. What have I learned?

Customer Strategy

Either organisations do not have a clearly defined customer strategy or the folks working at large organisations are inept at articulating it. At best, I have found the customer strategy to be something like retain existing customers and get more new customers. That is not strategy. That is talking about desired outcomes without articulating how the organisation intends to generate those outcomes.  Maybe, I just don’t get strategy.

Customer Loyalty

I have found that the hard work of engendering customer loyalty has been bypassed by putting in place some kind of customer loyalty programme: do X and get Y points. The challenge with these loyalty programmes is that there is no heart in them. Mostly they are marketing gimmicks. Enough customers realise this and drop out of the loyalty programme – too much effort to win the points, and it takes forever to earn enough points to buy anything of value with the points. A sizeable number of customer loyalty members are inactive.

Then there are folks who see customer loyalty as a one way street. These folks see customer loyalty in terms of monetising the customer base. So they are busy figuring out which kind of marketing tricks will entice loyal customers / fans to spend more. Their heart is transactional – through and through. Why do I say that? Because what is missing is commitment to generate superior value for loyal customers and earn a suitable reward for creating that value. It is like noticing that someone is into you and then using that to get your way with that person just because you know you can.

Customer Experience

Without doubt Customer Experience is the latest buzzword. It is everywhere. Anything and everything is being linked to or brought under the umbrella of Customer Experience. Just about anything and everything is being justified on the basis of improving the Customer Experience.

What isn’t happening is this: real substantive efforts to actually improve the Customer Experience not just at specific touchpoints but also across the entire customer lifecycle. Further almost all organisations are thinking in a blinkered manner when it comes to CX. What do I mean by that? Think Amazon Echo.  What an improvement in the customer’s experience. How many organisations are working on new products that create entirely new, delightful, customer experiences?

Why so much talk but so little real action?  Because for many it involves the equivalent of turning the caterpillar into the butterfly. Just about everybody prefers the butterfly to the caterpillar. Yet, rare it is to find an organisation where the folks are up for the effort, pain, time, and risk involved in the transformation process.  There are easier-safer things to do like embracing ‘best practices’ and the latest channel or fad.

Digital Marketing / Marketing Automation

There is real shortage of skills when it comes to digital marketing / marketing automation.    It is easier to buy digital marketing / marketing automation systems than it is to operate these systems with skill.  There are folks with sophisticated content management systems yet the sophisticated features, like personalisation, are not being used.

Or you have organisations with digital marketing hubs that are not being used well. One organisation that I came across was sending out welcome emails, birthday emails, anniversary (of signing up) emails, and weekly/monthly newsletters. Why just these? Because only these emails came out of the box!  No event driven marketing communications. No dynamic content / personalisation. No predictive content… Yet, all of this functionality is there in the marketing automation suite.

Single View of The Customer / CRM

The biggest challenge / hurdle many organisations are facing is that of constructing that much desired yet elusive single view of the customer. The theory was that CRM systems would make that challenge easier by bringing more and more customer-centred data into one system. This hasn’t actually happened. What has happened is that there are more and more systems holding customer related data – each disconnected from the rest.  If anything cloud based vendors have driven fragmentation as it is easy for marketing folks to buy a marketing system ignoring rest of the organisation. What goes for marketing goes for sales, for the call-centre, for field service……

The Core Challenge is That of Integration

My experience is that the core challenge is that of integration. There is the challenge of integrating the various systems (data sources) to provide the single view of the customer. Then there is the challenge of integrating the organisation players around a well defined, coherent, clearly articulated customer strategy. And a clearly defined customer experience across touchpoints / interaction channels, for the entire customer journey.  It occurs to me that it is only worth gluing up the systems if the folks that run the organisation are willing to glue up the organisation itself. In the absence of that commitment, money spent gluing up systems is likely to be wasted.

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

 

 

 

 

Putting The Customer At The Centre of Your Business

Now and then a question comes along that provokes my thinking. Here’s a question that I came across recently expressed in different ways:

  • What does putting the customer at the centre of the business look like?
  • What does it mean to put the customer at the centre of the business?
  • What are the implications (for us) of putting the customer at the centre of the business?

Stop. Hold the automatic weapons fire – the hail of ready made generic and almost always abstract and theoretical answers.


Many years ago I came home after a long difficult day. Upon entering our flat my two year old rushed towards me with a huge smile and with both his arms held up. As I lifted him up and gave him a hug, I found myself making a decision: to put him at the centre of my life.

Grappling with that question it became clear to me (over some weeks) that it meant that his wellbeing came first. That my decisions and actions had to be mindful of the impact on his well being. It also became clear to me that his wellbeing was tied to the wellbeing of his mother – he spent most of his waking life with his mother.

Did it stop there with that abstract realisation?  No. Looking at the way of my living it became clear to me that work came first in the way I showed up and travelled. My son and his mother, got what was left for me to give after I had given all to work. As I was often away from home during the week this meant that he got to spend time with me only at the weekends.

I made a decision – to do just enough at BigConsultingCo whilst actively looking to move to a smaller more local employer. Within a year, I left BigConsultingCo and moved over to a software company which was five minutes drive from home. And for which I did not have to travel….

Let’s be clear on one thing: putting my son’s wellbeing first meant, for me, giving up chasing the promotion to partner in BigConsultingCo.  It also meant leaving a world with which I was familiar/comfortable and walking into a new industry / new company and having to learn a new way of doing business.


Back to the question of putting the customer at the centre of your business – your particular business.  What are your answers to the questions I shared earlier?

It occurs to me that you can put the customer at the centre of your business in at least two ways. You can take the busy road where you will find many: you can put the customer at the centre of your business with a view to learning all you can about that customer, and using that knowledge to influence, shape, manipulate customer behaviour so as to enrich you.  Which may account for the fact that customer loyalty has been declining even whilst big brands have been spending a fortune on their IT armoury.

Alternatively, you can take the road less travelled. You can focus your efforts on gaining a deep understanding of your customer and using this insight to enrich the life of your customer.  How do you enrich the life of the customer?  No generic answer will do.  You have to generate this answer for your customer, your business.  It requires insight – insight into the life of your customer, the expressed needs, and the hidden unexpressed needs/wants.

Apple has enriched the life of their customers through compelling/superior products, a distinctive/superior in-store experience, and premium image.  Amazon has done it through an effortless convenient shopping experience and value for money pricing.  John Lewis has done it through a combination of good products, outstanding service provided by friendly knowledgeable human beings, and a culture of integrity.

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

 

A ‘Fresh’ Look at Customer Retention and Loyalty (Part II)

Let’s recap Part I of this conversation. The key points as I understand them are:

  • You cannot have customer loyalty without cultivating employee loyalty and investor loyalty. Why? Because they are fundamentally and inherently interconnected.  So debates about which comes first (customers, employees, investors) shows that folks lack a fundamental grasp of that which we are dealing with.
  • Customer retention-loyalty has implications that extend to every corner of the business. It is necessarily a strategic matter. As such the ownership-responsbility-accountability  belongs with CEO.  It cannot be handed off to the Marketing function (or any other function) nor given over to a Chief Customer Officer.
  • Retention is not just another metric. It is the defining metric for the whole business. Retention is used to integrate all aspects of the business into a coherent whole.

OK, now we are in a position to move forward and conclude this conversation. Allow me to set the scene by sharing this assertion with you (bolding mine):

“Stemming the customer exodus is not simply a matter of marketing; it demands a reconsideration of core strategy and operating principles.

I say that it demands a reconsideration of core strategy and operating principles in the context of a new theory of doing business.

What Theory of Business Enables Customer Retention and Loyalty?

Practice is always based on some theory of how the world works. The dominant theory that fuels just about every large business is one of profit maximisation and shareholder enrichment.  With this focus customers and employee are seen purely as means and almost never as ends in themselves.  Which is to say that they are viewed and treated as tools rather than human beings.  Human beings do not tend to be loyal to folks who treat them as tools.

If you are serious about generating sustainable improvements in customer retention and loyalty then you will need to jettison this theory and embrace a new theory of business. Why?  Lets listen – bolding mine:

The new theory sees the fundamental mission of a business not as profit, but as value creation. It sees profit as a vital consequence of value creation – a means rather than an end, a result as opposed to a purpose…

Profits alone are an unreliable measure because it is possible to raise reported short-term earnings by liquidating human capital. Pay cuts and price increases can boost earning, but they have a negative effect on employee and customer loyalty….  

…there are two kinds of profit. Call the first kind virtuous: it’s the result of creating value, sharing it, and building the assets of the business…. the other kind of profit is destructive. Destructive profit does not come from value creation and value sharing; it comes from exploiting assets, from selling off a business’s true balance sheet. This is the kind of profit that justifies terms like profiteering…..

When profit is a company’s goal and purpose, virtuous and destructive profits serve equally well. But once you see profits as a means to, and a consequence of, the sustained creation of value, then only virtuous profit will do.”

What Kind of Stand Do Those Who Excel in Customer Retention and Loyalty Take Toward People?

Which means that a customer retention and loyalty centred approach to doing business requires a particular way of seeing-treating people, and managing the business. Let’s listen – bolding mine:

“…see people as assets rather than expenses, and they expect these assets to pay returns over a period of many years. Loyalty leaders choose human assets carefully, then find ways to extend their productive lifetimes and increase their value. Indeed, loyalty leaders engineer all their business systems to make their human inventories permanent. They view asset defections as unacceptable value-destroying failures, and they work constantly to eradicate them. 

Why treat people (customers, employees, investors) in this manner? Because loyalty to count as loyalty has to be given willingly. Listen:

“You cannot control a human inventory, which of course has a mind of its own, so you must earn its loyalty. People will invest their time and money loyally if they believe that their contributions to your company will yield super returns over time. The secret is … to select these human beings carefully, then teach them to contribute and receive value from your business…”

Is Loyalty a One-Way Street?

The assumption (and practice) as I see it is that the game of loyalty is all about loyalty from customers to the company. Which is to say loyalty is a one-way street. Is this the right way to cultivate and demonstrate loyalty?  Let’s listen – bolding mine:

“The need to keep losses under control led many companies to cover the claims required by their contracts…. then refuse to renew customer policies to avoid future losses. State Farm took a radically different view. It had no intention of canceling customers it had expended so much energy and expense to acquire and maintain, most of them for many years….. Most important, disloyalty to customers would be philosophically unacceptable. Loyalty is a two-way street. Moreover, loyalty must be seen to be a two-way street. How could State Farm possibly expect its customers and agents to remain loyal if the company did not demonstrate loyalty when the chips were down.”

Why Is It The So Many Have Accomplished So Little When It Comes to Customer Retention and Loyalty?

I’ve in the customer retention and loyalty game for 15+ years. I’ve been in the arena not just a mere spectator. I have witnessed many talk fine words, I have seen many undertake all kinds of projects and programmes to increase retention/loyalty. Yet, I have seen none succeed in any meaningful-sustainable way.  Further, when I read about which companies are doing a great job in this domain it is always the same names or new entrants with new business models.

What gets in the way of existing large, publicly quoted, companies excelling at cultivating customer loyalty?  Almost every company approaches retention and loyalty tactically. So you have a bunch of business practices that drive customers to leave. Instead of changing these practices executive put in place retention teams. Let’s be clear, most organisations have merely added on retention teams and other gimmicks to their existing way of doing business. Is this enough? Let’s listen:

Building a highly loyal customer base cannot be done as an add-on. It must be integral to a company’s basis business strategy. Loyalty leaders …. are successful because they have designed their entire business system around customer loyalty…

 

Summing Up and Closing Out This Conversation

 

I have shared a particular perspective with you and I have invited you to listen to the speaking of a particular author.  How does this strike you?  Revolutionary? New? Fresh? Stale? Impractical? Nonsense?

Now is the time for me to come clean.  The perspective that I have shared with you is the perspective that I have held since my earliest days in the Customer arena. And the speaker you have been listening to is none other than Frederick F. Reichheld.  When did he speak the words that I have shared with you?  The words were put on paper and issued as a book (The Loyalty Effect) back in 1996.

Look around at what is going on and you are likely to find that customer retention and loyalty has been approached tactically. The usually result is add-on’s to the existing way of doing business. The add-on’s can take many shapes: new website, Facebook / LinkedIn presence, customer retention team, an online customer community, new CRM system…. The results?  Are they not meagre?  Which companies by taking this approach have vaulted into loyalty leaders?  I cannot think of a single one.

Why is it that those who have jumped on the Customer bandwagon have jumped on it tactically, and not strategically?  20 years ago, Frederick Reichhheld said this:

The real trouble is that many, perhaps most, executives today have adopted a paradigm which at its heart is inconsistent with loyalty-based management. Press them, and few will insist that the primary mission of their companies is to create superior value for customers and employees so investors can prosper…”

This strikes me as being the heart of the matter. Within the context of the current paradigm it is simply not possible to cultivate meaningful loyalty. So all that is left is tactics, add-on’s, poverty of increases in loyalty, more tactics….

I wish you well and thank you for your listening. Until the next time….

 

A ‘Fresh’ Look At Customer Retention and Loyalty (Part I)

It isn’t just Donald Trump that mixes tidbits of fact with much fiction to appeal to those eager to believe. This is also the case when it comes to the business world. Especially so when we get to customer-centricity, customer experience, customer loyalty….. Whilst some folks can tell that Trump is talking nonsense, in the Customer arena it is that much harder to separate fact from fiction, and useful advice from nonsense.  So, today, let’s take a fresh look at customer retention and loyalty.

What Is The Central Assertion of Customer Loyalty?

No, I am not talking about the often mentioned statistic that goes along the lines of “A 5% increase in the customer retention rate can increase business profits by 25% to 125%.” That is just greed that has driven many to go for customer loyalty without a deeper appreciation of what is involved in generating this kind of financial outcome.

I am inviting you to do something that is rather extraordinary in these times: look beyond the surface, go deeper, and think.  What lies behind this statistic?  Consider that the central assertion is something along this line:

“…doing business with people you trust and understand is more predictable and efficient, and thus more profitable than doing business with uninvested strangers.”

Where Do Employees Fit Into The Picture?

As I understand it, Wittgenstein pointed out that a lot of nonsense is spoken due to language itself. One of the major defects is our habit of speaking-thinking in terms of either/or.  Another defect is simplistic cause-effect thinking which looks for only one major cause for any effect. Which might explain why there is so much opinion offered on where employees fit into the Customer Loyalty picture. Some say employees come first. Some say customers come first, employees second. Others ‘say’ employees aren’t all that important just one factor amongst many. Where do you stand?

Listen to this:

“…we could not progress beyond a superficial treatment of customer loyalty without delving into employee loyalty.….. there was a cause-and-effect relationship between the two; that it was impossible to maintain a loyal customer base without a base of loyal employees; and that the best employees work for companies that deliver the kind of superior value that builds customer loyalty…. our concern with employee loyalty entangled us in the thorny issue of investor loyalty, because it is hard to earn the loyalty of employees if the owners of the business are short-sighted and unreliable….. investor loyalty was dependent on customer and employee loyalty, and we understood that we are dealing not with tactical issues but with a strategic system.”

I also invite you to consider that just about every organisation that has jumped on the Customer bandwagon has done so tactically, not strategically.  And almost all the advice on Customer, that I came across, is tactical – which is to say it is centred on tactics even if these are given strategic clothing.  Which is to say that these folks have taken a superficial approach to loyalty.  Still wondering why most if not almost all large organisations have failed to make a meaningful dent in customer or employee loyalty?

Should Marketing Own Customer Retention and Drive Customer Loyalty?

Who should be responsible for cultivating customer loyalty? Who should be keeping a firm eye on customer retention?  Should it be the marketing function as many who serve the marketing function argue?  What is your stand on this?  Now listen to this:

Loyalty has implications that extend to every corner of every business system..… Tempting as it may be to delegate customer retention to marketing, what can marketing do to stem the outflow of employees and investors?  Retention is not simply one more operating statistic, it is the central gauge that integrates all the dimensions of a business..”

Ok, so the marketing function is not in a position to the do the job.  So, should you go out and hire yourself a Chief Customer Officer?  You know someone who sits in the staff function with little authority over the line functions of marketing, sales, service, logistics, finance…?  Will that do it?  Listen to this:

“..customer loyalty is too important to delegate. It has a crucial effect on every constituency and aspect of a business system….The responsibility for customer retention or defection belongs squarely on the CEO’s desk, where it can get the same kind of attention that is lavished on stock price and cash flow.”

Enough for today. Let’s continue the conversation another time and look into what it actually takes to cultivate loyalty and generate the kind of increase in customer retention that results in superior growth, profits, and cashflow.  In the meantime I thank you for your listening and I wish you great living.

 

 

 

 

Against Slavery to Ideology & Method

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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