A Personal Reflection On Change

What is change really about? Why is it that at times folks fight against change and other times folks embrace change?  What is going on here?  Allow me to give you my take by sharing my story with you.

At 9:34am 16th March 2016 I arrived at the Accident & Emergency wing of the Royal Berkshire Hospital. At the end of the day the surgical staff operated on my lower back for three hours. Why? Cauda equina!

Some 10 years ago I started experiencing considerable back pain. The kind of back pain where I could not move. This pain got worse and worse. Eventually I consulted a neurosurgeon. His point of view? One day you will need spinal surgery. His advice? Make lifestyle changes, take painkillers when necessary, and put off surgery for as long as you can so as to benefit from medical know how.

I followed the advice. In the process I gave up almost all of the activities that left me feeling alive: trekking in the mountains, tennis, badminton, cycling, visiting far away places… Eventually I even gave up playing table-tennis.  Please get a sense of my loss: my favourite holidays were those in far away places usually with some trekking in the mountains; my favourite spring/summer sport is tennis; my favourite winter sport is badminton; and I love playing table-tennis.

My wife sensing the loss of my world, and my self, encouraged me, again and again, to undergo surgery.  My mother-in-law  (French) even volunteered to take me to a French surgeon who specialised in spinal surgery.  I refused the surgery (whether in England or in France) and lived with pain.

Why did I refuse to undergo surgery for the last ten years? Was I scared of the operation? No. Was I concerned about all that I would need to do to recover post surgery? No.  Was I worried about the cost of the surgery? No. So why did I not undergo surgery?  Because, I was told that there was a 2 in 100 likelihood that I would be paralysed as a result of the surgery. For me there is no loss more devastating than this one.  This was not a loss I was willing to risk then nor today.

Why did I willing go to the Royal Berkshire Hospital on Wednesday 16th March 2016 and almost beg the surgeons to operate on me? What changed?  Before 16th March there was a 2 in 100 chance that I would be paralysed if I underwent the operation. On the 16th March there was something like a 98 out of 100 chance that I would be paralysed if I did not undergo the operation!

So what is my personal take on change?

1-Folks do not resist change. My 21 years old son quit a management position paying £24k to take a junior position paying £12k. Why? He was bored in his old job – he could do it in his sleep. His new job promises him that which matters to him at this stage of his life.

2-Folks resist loss – the loss of that which matters to them: identity, home, the familiar, social ties, possibilities, status, income, autonomy, choice, dignity.

3-Most organisational change calls forth resistance because folks have rightly worked out that the change involves them being stripped of things that matter to them so that their loss can be turned into gain for those in senior management.

4-Most change management practitioners are charlatans. I know more than one change management expert who cannot (even thought want to) cultivate meaningful / loving relationships with their spouses and/or children. Their knowledge of the dark arts vanishes where it matters the most – at home.

5-If you wish folks to embrace change then ensure that this change genuinely enriches their lives. And here I invite you to reflect back on my story. When the major back surgery showed up as enriching my living (rather than impoverishing it drastically) I willing embraced the surgery.  Now every day involves 3 hours of exercises that are not pleasant yet necessary.

Finally, I leave you with this thought on CX, innovation, and digital transformation: most folks in senior management positions have not really embraced any of these because these show up as risky – they involve loss! Better to talk the talk and continue tinkering (using proven methods) with business as usual to improve short-term earnings.

What Is The Single Most Critical Factor in CRM / CX / Digital Success?

Recently I was pitching for new work and the question that keeps coming up came up. This question is alway some form of “What is the single most critical factor in ……..?”   Examples include:

  • What is the single most critical factor in coming up with a great strategy?
  • What is the single most critical factor in CRM / marketing automation success?
  • What is the single most critical factor in customer experience success?
  • What is the single most critical factor in making a success transition into a digital business?
  • What is the single most critical factor in effecting organisational change?
  • What is the single most critical factor in managing CRM projects and programmes?
  • What is the single most critical factor in getting folks to adopt new systems?

You get the idea.  No matter the domain, sooner or later a client will want to know what is the single most critical factor to success.

If find it interesting how it is that intelligent folks ask such a stupid question – with no awareness as to what makes this a stupid question. Do you get what it is that makes this question stupid?

The assumption behind this question is that the world, in which we find ourselves, is simple, silo’d, and linear.  It assumes that the when it comes to dealing with challenges (and creating new futures) you can identify, isolate, work on one key factor – and this will ensure the desired outcome.  It assumes that this factor is invariant across time – that it is always the same one thing that matters most irrespective of time, situation, context…

What if the challenge that we face is similar to the challenge that the juggler faces? The very nature of juggling involves juggling many balls at the same time. As such, does it not involve competence in using a wide angle lens to keep track of all the balls? And at the same time, focusing on the one or two balls which are at the forefront at the moment in time? And at the same time keeping one’s attention over the environment in which one finds oneself in: the audience, the surroundings, the weather….?

I say to you that what makes CRM, customer experience, digital marketing, digital business, marketing-sales-service effectiveness challenging is that there is no single factor that is critical to success!  I say to you that no ‘guru’, no consultancy, no vendor has the magical recipe that takes the messiness out of life and guarantees a quick-easy journey to success.

So what is it that you have to put into the CRM, CX, Digital game?  You have to start working on that which needs work. You have to attract the right folks to work with you on your challenge / desired outcome. You have to get hold of the necessary resources. You have to be attuned to that which is going on within and around you. You have to accept-embrace failures. You have to fail your way to success by keenly attuned to the visible and the invisible and making the necessary corrections as and when these are called for.  You have to give up the stupid notion that there is one single most critical factor to success. And you have to continuously free yourself (and others) from the addiction to the short-cut.

I say to you that it is foolish to search for and focus on that one most critical success factor. I say to you even more foolish than this foolishness, is the foolishness of searching for and fixating on some magical potion: approach, methodology, technique, technology… I say to you that any person that offers you a single most critical success factor or magical potion is either a fool or a charlatan.

I invite you to consider that there is no single most critical factor in CRM / CX / Digital success!  Enough for today, I thank you for listening.

Mazism 2: It Comes Down To People And Relationships!

This conversation follows on from an earlier conversation: Mazism 1: There Is Always A Price, It Is Always Paid.  

What lies at the source of organisational effectiveness? Is is strategic planning in the guise of strategy?  Is it process standardisation / reengineering in its many disguises?  Is it restructuring the business, offshoring and outsourcing?  Is it about embracing and making good use of the latest information technology?  Is it about embracing the latest management fashion: customer-centricity, customer experience, digital business?  Is it leadership? Or organisational learning?

After 25+ years spent engaged in the challenge of improving organisational effectiveness and business performance, I am clear that the access to organisational effectiveness and superior performance does not lie in any of these domains. Why?  Because they do not get to the heart of the matter: of what is actually so about organisational life and the game of business.  What is so?

I am clear that organisational effectiveness (team, function, business unit, corporate) comes down to the people and their relationships with one another.  By ‘relationships’ I mean the communicating-relating that has occurred and is occurring between people.  If the job of ‘leaders’ is to cultivate organisational effectiveness then it occurs to me that leadership involves-requires a focus on people and relationships. I invite you to read-consider the following passage (bolding is my work):

The lone warrior myth of leadership is a sure route to heroic suicide. Though you may feel alone at times with either creative ideas  or the burden of final decision-making authority, psychological attachments to operating solo will get you into trouble. You need partners. Nobody is smart enough or fast enough to engage alone with the political complexity of an organisation or community when it is facing and reacting to an adaptive challenge. 

Relating to people is central to leading and staying alive. If are you are not naturally a political person, then find partners who have that ability to be intensely conscious  of the importance of relationships in getting challenging work done. Let them help you develop allies. Then, beyond developing your base of support, let them help you relate to your opposition, those people who feel that they have the most to lose with your initiative. You need to stay close to them to know what they are thinking and feeling, and to demonstrate that you are aware of their difficulty. Moreover, your efforts to gain trust must extend beyond your allies and opposition, to those folks who are uncommitted. You will have to find appropriate ways to own your piece of the mess and acknowledge the risks and losses people may have to sustain. Sometimes you can demonstrate your awareness by modelling the risk or the loss itself…..

Ronald A. Heifetz and Marty Linksy, Leadership On The Line

Time after time I have witnessed promising ‘strategies’ and plans come to nothing during the implementation phase because those leading change have been blind to the importance of people and relationships – during the strategy development phase, the implementation phase, and/or the post implementation phase.  

I say look at any effective organisation (team department, business unit, corporate, society) and you will find healthy communicating-relating occurring between the people who collectively constitute that organisation. And healthy communicating-relating occurring between members of that organisation and the people who they interact with in the broader environment in which that organisation organises and executes its work.

I continue to be amazed that some Tops and Middles want to work on improving customer relationships and the Customer Experience. Why? Because they and their organisations have little appreciation-consideration-feeling for the quality of communicating-relating that is occurring in the organisation. And no lived experience nor appreciation of the the Employee Experience: whether on the front line or the back office.

 

On Culture Change, Leadership and Change Management

CRM, Customer Experience, and Digital Business Require Culture Change

What I notice is that in order for an organisation to be effective in the games of CRM (building profitable relationships with customers), Customer Experience (competing on the basis of a superior customer experience) and/or digital business (rethinking the business through the lens of what digital technologies enable) require culture change: a change in the way that people think, in their expectations, and in the way that they go about doing things.

Yet, rather than deal with the challenges of culture change, I find that just about every management team in every organisation that I have come across gets busy with buying the technology. And thus ignores the risk spelled out in the following ‘equation’:

Old Organisation + New Technology = Expensive Old Organisation

Why does this happen, again and again, one management fad after another?  I point you to these wise words:

It is easier to buy stuff than it is to create and stabilise new ways of relating, new frameworks for organising, and new expectations and norms. Those are the tough, messy issues that accompany shifts to more mindful, reliable, resilient functioning….

Karl Weick and Kathleen M. Sutcliffe, Managing The Unexpected

What Is The Default Mode Of Going About The Challenge Of Culture Change and Doing Change Management?

This week I found myself in a meeting talking about culture and change management.  I found myself listening to one senior person articulating the challenge of getting his organisation especially senior management and the sales teams to move from one way of doing things to a substantially different way of doing things.  Yes, a shift in the “way we do things around here” is needed for the longer term. And yet there is an awkward reality to deal with. What awkward reality?  The existing “way of doing things around here” has been and continues to deliver the results (sales, revenue growth, profits).

Without a moment’s hesitation I found another senior person (an advisor) offering a solution to this challenge. Which solution? The solution that occurs to me as the default one: the application of “stick and carrots”. I noted that the particular emphasis was on the stick rather than the carrots.  The assumption being that if the Tops yielded a big enough stick then the Middles and Bottoms would fall into line.  I found myself dismayed. Why?

My 25+ years of experience suggests that this approach is largely ineffective and in some cases does considerable damage to the organisation’s long term resilience-performance. Why? I can think of at least two reasons:

First, change in behaviour is merely compliance. And repeated use of the stick to get compliance almost always, and inevitably, leads to a reduction of motivation to do one’s best. And usually an increase in motivation to ‘get back’ at or merely ‘resist’ those wielding the stick.

Second, the people who are the most able tend to leave (as few of us like to be treating as cattle) thus disrupting the network of relationships, degrading the quality of communication and information flow between the players, and putting a dent in the intellectual capital of the organisation.

One more point. It occurs to me that those of us who advocate the sticks and carrots approach to change have failed to appreciate that lasting-sound change requires change in two levels; change at the behavioural level is one of these levels.  I will go into what these two levels are and the critical importance of both levels in another post. Let’s continue with this conversation.

 What Does It Take To Effect Culture Change?

I invite you to consider-grapple with-meditate on the following way of looking at culture change:

The culture change process is a two-sided coin. On one side is the “bottom-up” phenomenon that many changes arise from those actually doing the work. On the other side is the “top-down” reality that changes in conducting business often get made by direction or sanction from top management. Both are essential …

Changing the organisational culture ….. will require commitment at every organisational level…. Culture change is not triggered by a magic bullet or directive. Rather, culture is changed by a series of small steps taken by the leading members of the culture at all levels.

Leadership is standing up and leading the way. It is behaviour and it is demonstrable. It is showing, not telling....

Changing the way business is conducted requires people at all levels to lead by personal example in demonstrating new approaches to achieve safer (and more reliable) operations……. This requires that we strengthen accountability at all levels of the organisation…..

– TriData Corporation, Wildland Firefighter Safety Awareness Study, Phase III Implementing Cultural Changes for Safety (1998)

At this point, I confront you with that which is so about us, human beings: our freedom. I leave you to choose which road you wish to travel: that which is convenient-easy and on the whole ineffective even damaging to long term performance (“sticks and carrots”) or that which is effective, takes time, requires embodied leadership day after day from the Tops, and calls forth leadership and accountability from all people at all levels: Tops, Middles, and Bottoms.

One thing that I am absolutely clear on is this: buying technology in the absence of cultural change (changing how we think about, what we expect from one another, and how we do things around here ) is likely to turn out to be a waste of time-effort-money.

I wish you a great week, and I thank you for your listening.

Change/Leadership: The Wisest Words Spoken On Creating Change?

“The only way we really create change is to enter any situation with the humility to listen and to recognize the world as it is, and then the audacity to dream what it could be, to have the patience to start and let the work teach you, to be willing to lead when you need to lead, and to listen. To have a sense of generosity and empathy ….. If there’s one value that is immutable, it’s integrity or respect, for others and for yourself.

The best change that comes to the world is when all parties are seeing each other as equal, and all parties have the opportunity to be transformed.” 

  •  Jacqueline Novogratz

Six Guidelines for Strategy Execution and Transformational Change

Take a look at just about any significant change initiative in customer service, CRM, marketing effectiveness, digital transformation, customer experience etc and you will find that the top barriers to successful implementation are do with lack of commitment from the Tops and ‘resistance to change’ from people within the organisation.

In the last post I shared David Maister’s assertion that our performance (individual, group, organisation) often does not improve because we are not willing to do what it takes over the time frame that it takes. Today, I share with you David’s insight into what it really takes to execute strategy, effect organisational change – which always involves personal change as well as organisational change.

This is a long post and I suggest that you read it only if you have an avid interest in strategy execution and/or transformational change. Or if you are wondering why it is that so few organisations have made the shift to being great with customers. And what it will take to make that shift.

Is the transition to customer-centric business like curing a fat smoker or helping an alcoholic recover?

It occurs to me that many organisations are addicted. What are they addicted to? I say they are addicted to a number of factors: a dominant ideology usually manifested in the business model; ‘bad profits’ – profits made at the expense of customers; a fixed way of being including policies, practices, and processes; the short-term fix etc.

In his book, Strategy And The Fat Smoker, David Maister says:

If all business improvement is like curing a fat smoker or helping an alcoholic recover, then what actually motivates people and organisations to change?

We all know the main thing that works: a major crisis! If revenues drop off sharply, it’s amazing how quickly businesses can act to deal with known inefficiencies and bad habits they could have tackled years ago.

… when the first heart attack comes, it’s amazing how many people suddenly find the self-discipline to start living right.

Does David Maister have any guidelines for us on how to effect personal-organisational change without waiting for that ‘heart attack’ to show up and force us to change? He does.

Six guidelines for strategy execution and transformational change

1. Get that it is about a permanent change in lifestyle

In my last post I mentioned that I worked for an organisation that carried out a quarterly NPS rain dance. Everyone went through the motions to get it out of the way quickly and get back to business as usual. To take it seriously, to do what was really necessary at levels-functions of the organisation showed up as being too much effort, too disruptive.

Here’s what David Maister says:

A major source of failure in implementing sensible business strategies is that we underestimate how much effort is truly required to bring about significant improvement.

Individuals and organisations frequently fail to incorporate the new activities into their daily lives. Strategic actions are viewed as special, separate events rather than regular business activities. In other words, there’s real life, and then there’s the diet.

It is about routines , not special events. 

My experience since 1999, working on helping organisations shift towards a customer-centric way of doing business, including smarter marketing-selling-service, resonates with David’s words. The customer centric orientation has to be weaved into the very fabric of the organisation through it daily practices  – routines – such that these practices become so taken for granted that they become invisible.

2. You must change the scorecards

There is a world of difference between playing a game where one has no skin in the game. And playing a game where one has something that really matters (like one’s reputation or wellbeing) is at stake in the game.  Let’s listen to David Maister:

If strategy is to be lived and achieved, it must be publicly tracked, measured and monitored.

We all forgive ourselves too easily. We all find it quite easy to live with guilt. Even a high level of guilt doesn’t always change people. However, embarrassment, even in small doses, can be far more effective.

3. Leadership: get serious or get out of the way

One of my biggest issues with the whole customer bandwagon and business advice in general is that it panders to the Tops and Middles. That is to say the hidden assumption (which serves the interest of those seeking to sell to the Tops and Middles) is that Tops and Middles are perfect – do not need to change their way of showing up in the organisation. And the only obstacles to strategy execution, organisational change, and customer-centricity, are the  Bottoms.  What does David Maister say given that he has had lots of experience working with the Tops:

Organisations often rush to figure out how the troops need to change in order to live the new standards. However, this is not the first task.

If an organisation’s leaders want their people to believe that a new strategy is being followed, they must establish credibility by proving that they are prepared to change themselves: how they act, measure, and reward. 

David Maister goes on to say that he can share countless examples of “failure to do this”.  And gives a great  example of the instructions he received from senior management prior to running training for managers in the company:

“Please don’t raise the topic of how we ourselves manage these middle managers. We’re not ready to discuss the terrible job we do at that. Keep their attention on what they could do better. We want them to change first.”

4. Principles are more effective than tactics

One of my biggest issues with the whole Customer (service, CRM, VoC, customer experience, loyalty etc) conversation is that it shows up for me as just tactics.  That is to say that under all the hype and ideology of customer-centricity and employee engagement there lies a selfish concern with interests of the enterprise: the realm of expediency not principle.  What light does David Maister shed on this?

.. successful implementation of a strategy requires both sustained commitment over time and broad participation across the whole organisation. Strategies in business, like diets and alcohol recovery, are implemented much more effectively when the ideas are presented as matters of principle, not just as matters of expediency. 

If strategic rules are justified only in terms of outcomes … the diet will always be seen as a punishment on the way to an uncertain and possibly unattainable reward…

If … diet achieves the force of moral principle (“Treating clients and employees with respect is the right thing to do”), the odds are significantly higher that successful implementation will be achieved.  

Managers who get things done are people who are viewed as having an ideology. Their people believe that they believe in something …. buy-in and excellent implementation result from a sense of not wanting to let people down.

5. People must volunteer

Looking into and beyond the whole field of change management and what do you see? I see that it exists to deal with ‘resistance to change’. How successful is the change management industry when it comes to dealing with ‘resistance to change’? I say that it’s effectiveness is questionable. What advice does David Maister have for us?

To achieve any goal, you must really want the goal.

A self-improvement program is successful and sustainable only when the individual chooses to to it for himself … The motivations must be intrinsic, because the essence of successful strategic change is not technique, but will …….. you can call it determination. 

.. the single biggest barrier to making change is the feeling that “it’s OK so far.” People don’t disagree that the future state of being a nonsmoker would be beneficial, but they resist when they are told that they have to do it.

One of the leader’s roles is to act as a coach, drawing people’s attention to imperfections in the status quo .… asking whether things could actually be better, and questioning whether the desired change is both achievable and desirable…..

6. People must get on or off the bus

If “people must volunteer” showed up as being naive and idealistic for you then this guideline is likely to speak to your concern. David has keen sense of the pragmatic:

Every individual can, and must make a personal choice. But then the organisation must decide how to respond to those individual choices. For an organisation, strategy cannot be what “most of us, most of the time” do.

As all married people who diet know, it’s hard enough to stay the course and resist temptation when you are both attempting to do the right thing. It’s well nigh impossible if those around you continue to indulge and tempt you with food, alcohol etc.

we cannot force others to do what we want. We can … protect those who have chosen to participate; doing so may require ridding the firm of those who refuse to come on board.

People have a desperate need for the mutual support …. that comes from joining in a common cause. The need to help each other through the tough times … instead of being part of a forgiving culture that keeps discouraging extra effort (“Oh, that’s OK, you can skip exercise today. You deserve a break.”).

Final words of advice on managing the process of change

It occurs to me that too many Tops and Bottoms live in the world of McDonald’s. They decide that they want to improve customer service, focus on the customer experience, build stronger relationships, generate growth through effective use of digital technologies etc – and they want it NOW!

Here’s David Maister’s sage advice based on lived, first hand, experience of making-sustaining transformational change:

Like alcoholic recovery, it is a process that requires you first to make a lifetime commitment, and then you take it one day at a time.

The key is to manage with a philosophy of “It’s OK to stumble; it’s only a sin if you don’t get back on the program.” The primary goal of the beginning stage of a change program is to get people to believe that it is doable and that all we are asking is that they try.  This means early successes.

All that wise leader …. talk about is the next step. And they enthusiastically celebrate each small accomplishment. They focus on requiring improvement, not on requiring excellence

Managing a weight loss program means you stop talking about the ultimate goal….. if someone says to me: “Let’s focus on losing one pound in a week, David. Do you think you can do that? That doesn’t sound impossible, does it?”

Good trainers know that life-changing improvements can and does fail by rushing to either of two extremes. The first extreme establishes overtly ambitious or time-consuming improvement goals, leading to frustration and abandonment of the program. The other extreme fails to establish any pressure to improve, allowing people to pretend they plan to get on the plan, but not just today.

Change Only Works When…..

The shift towards an authentic customer-centred orientation is a huge shift for just about every large organisation.  That means organisational change. At the heart of all effective organisational change lies effective communication.  Effective communication is radically different, I say distinct, from what passes for communication in the workplace.

If you are going to make the kind of organisational shifts that are necessary to cultivate customer relationships, call forth the best from your employees, and excel at the customer experience game, then I advise you to listen to the wise words of Danny Meyer, in his book Setting The Table:

Communication is at the root of all business strengths and weaknesses. When things go wrong and employees become upset ….. nine times out of ten the justifiable complaint is, “We need to communicate more effectively.” I admit that for many years, I didn’t really know what this meant……… I thought I was a pretty good communicator, but then it dawned on me: communicating has as much to do with the context as it does content. ……. Understanding who need to know what, when people need to know it, and why, and then presenting that information in an entirely comprehensible way is a sine qua non of great leadership…..

People who aren’t alerted in advance about a decision that will affect them may become angry and hurt. They’re confused, out of the loop; they feel as though they’ve been knocked off their lily pads.  When team members complain about poor communication, they’re essentially saying, “You did not give me advance warning or input about that decision you made. By the time I learned about it, the decision had already happened to me, and I was unprepared.” Team members will generally go with the flow and be willing to hop over ripples, as long as they know in advance that you are going to toss the rock, when you’ll be tossing it, how big it is, and – mostly – why you are choosing to toss it in the first place. The key is to anticipate the ripple effects of any decision before you implement it, gauging whom it will affect, and to what degree. Poor communication is generally not a matter of miscommunication. More often, it involves taking away people’s feelings of control. Change works only when people believe it is happening for them, not to them.  And there’s not much in between…..