Leadership: What Does It Take To Generate Impressive Performance?

What Do You Make Of The Following?

Recently, Richard and I (along with another colleague) took part in a sales discovery workshop.  This is the feedback our colleague (the ‘sales guy’) got from the ‘client’:

Hi …….

Thank you for coming to …….. yesterday. I think we all agree that it was a very positive and useful workshop, which was run extremely well by Maz and Richard (Maz in particular is a very impressive facilitator – we could use him on other projects!)…….

What do you make of it?  Did you attribute the success of this workshop to Richard?  Did you attribute the success of this workshop to me – the “very impressive facilitator”?  Did you attribute success both to Richard and me, yet put me at the front of the stage and Richard more towards the back of the stage?  Allow me to share with you how almost all of us would interpret the situation:

Nice job all – particularly Maz Iqbal that is GREAT feedback!

Distinguishing Between A Statement-Description That Is Accurate And One Which Is True

Whilst the client’s statement is accurate it is not true.  Why?  Think of it this way, the client only got to see-experience the show.  The client did not get to see-experience all that occurred.  His position to some extent was that of a spectator in the stands watching the play occurring on the pitch.  And as such he is not in a position to know-experience the play occurring on the pitch and all that it takes to generate a high performance play.

Why am I pointing this out to you?  It occurs to me that there is a profound difference between observations and statements made by those in the stands (‘spectators’) and by those on the pitch (‘players’).  Given that almost all that you/i hear-read is spoken-written about is written by spectators. So whilst what they speak may be accurate it is never true.  Which means that almost all leadership-management-business advice that you/i are exposed to is misleading at best and damaging-destructive at worst. Why? It gives the illusion of answers whilst hiding that which is hidden in the background and which truly shapes that which occurs.

Who Creates-Shapes Performance?

Take a look at the following video:

I ask you, who-what created the context-space for the performance of the expert?  Was it the expert – as an individual?  Or was his performance shaped by the context-space created from him by the ‘sales guy’ and the project manager?

Now zoom out and look at the bigger picture: the bigger conversation that is occurring in the room and the performance of the whole group.  Didn’t the client also play a crucial role in generating the kind of performance that occurred in that meeting?

Let’s switch back to my very impressive performance as a facilitator. What was my response to this feedback:

@…. It occurs to me that I showed up as an impressive facilitator because the space for me to show up that way was created by @RichardHornby and @……. and the client. The folks from [the client] were great. We were able to co-create a great meeting as there were no egos in the room…..

Am I being modest?  No.  It occurs to me that I am simply stating what is so: the truth of high (impressive) performance.  The truth is this:

The ‘sales guy’ was big enough to let Richard and I shape-lead the workshop. At one point, I told the ‘sales guy’ that I was taking away his right to speak as his speaking, whilst necessary at some point, was inappropriate at that workshop given the challenge we were addressing and the time that we had. The ‘sales guy’ took it as it was meant and did what he was asked.

The ‘project manager’ Richard and I have shared history that goes back to the year 2000.  Richard listens to me as a skilled facilitator. In his listening it is simply not possible for me not to show up as a skilled facilitator.  He creates the context-space for me to show up that way AND his listening of me also ensures that it is simply not feasible for me to allow myself to let him down. Richard and I are friends! We designed the workshop together – collaboratively and iteratively.

By the time we got to the workshop Richard and I knew exactly who was doing what. And this is important: I got up to facilitate that workshop knowing in my very being that I was totally safe (Richard was holding the safety net) no matter what.  And in that space I was prepared to shine.

Ultimately I showed up as a “very impressive facilitator” because all members of the client team sitting around the team allowed me to show up that way. How did they do that? They left their egos outside of the room, the workshop. And as such there was all the space to work collaboratively on the challenge at hand.

The Challenge of Leadership: Creating The Context-Space For Impressive Performance To Show Up

I say that:

  • impressive performance shows up when you create the context-space for impressive performance AND only impressive performance to show up; and

  • leaders are those people who create the context-space for impressive performance and only impressive performance to show up at the individual and ‘team’ levels.

Shining Example Of A Servant Leader
Shining Example Of A Servant Leader

 

I dedicate this ‘conversation’ to my friend Richard Hornby.  Richard shows up for me as a shining example of a servant leader.  I owe him more than I can ever repay.  And I am clear that this world is a richer-better place for Richard being in it.

 

 

 

 

Is This The Answer to Collaboration, Creativity, and Innovation?

I met up with a ex-colleague today who is passionate about customers, about service, and about the customer experience. He showed me the NPS charts and figures and lamented that so little real change is occurring in the organisation and so the NPS scores are static. He even went to a call-centre, sat with call-centre agents, and observed them responding to customer calls.

What did he notice? He noticed that these agents were not picking up on the customer’s emotional state and responding creatively to generate a meaningful connection. They were too busy on the task of working many screens-systems, finding information, and relaying this information to customers.  He noticed that the call-centre agents were going about their customer conversations (and work) in a robotic way. I detected a hint of complaint towards the call-centre agents.

This got me thinking about organisations and work places. In my 20+ years of experiences I have worked with-for many organisations and I have noticed that most organisations are dead. Only a handful of organisational environments are alive. I have also noticed that robotic behaviour and dead organisations go together. Have you noticed that when people finish work and leave the building they sigh with relief – relief that they are out of prison. Have you experienced the same?

I ask you how likely is it that collaboration will show up in dead organisational environments? How likely is it that creativity and innovation will show up? How likely is it that the people working in dead organisational environments will show up in a way that leaves customers feeling happy?

Which begs the question, how do we turn dead organisations into alive organisations where empathy, collaboration, connection, creativity and innovation flourish?  I have noticed the there are plenty of people providing answers to collaboration, creativity, innovation and employee engagement. There are all kinds of tip, tricks, techniques and frameworks – some simple, most complex. If they worked then collaboration, creativity, innovation and employee engagement would be flourishing; the tips, tricks, techniques, and frameworks have been around for a long time.

So what is the answer to this riddle? How do we turn dead organisations to organisations that are alive with empathy, with collaboration, with creativity and innovation? I share with you a profound insight, from a radical thinker, that gets to the heart of the matter:

People who are without creativity build dead organisations.

– Krishnamurti

 

Shareholder value or customer delight? Choose

It doesn’t work if you fill up the tank with petrol when your car runs on diesel.  It doesn’t work to turn up at a nightclub and expect to get peace-quiet.  It doesn’t work to drive down the wrong side of the road at a busy time when there are lots of cars on the road and expect no problems.  It doesn’t work to turn up in your bikini for work or to turn up with your business suit to sunbathe on the beach.  And almost all of us get that.

So why is it that in the world of business we forget this.  Why is it that we still cling to stupid ideas, and practices, like what gets measured gets done. Rubbish. In the world of business what gets measured gets gamed. And if it isn’t being gamed now, then you can rest assured that someone is working on finding a way to game it especially if his/her bonus cheque depends on that measure.

Take the idea of best practice. When all the players in the industry go for best practice, the best practice is to do something totally different. Isn’t that what Jobs did?  And in the process he reinvented and created industries. So worshipping at the altar of best practice and benchmarking is a stupid practice especially if you are on of the followers, the laggards.

Then there is the stupid idea that you can generate genuine collaboration and teamwork within the organisation – social business – when the context the players operate from is one of competition: for resources, for recognition, for rewards.  In a context of competition what shows up is competition.  If you are stupid enough not to accept this and demand collaboration then you will get competition disguised as collaboration.

Which is the most stupid idea of all within the realm of business?  It is the one that was invented some 30 – 40 years ago.  It is the idea of shareholder value as being the sole purpose of a business and its management team. Why is it stupid?  Allow me to quote Roger Martin, Dean, Rotman School of Management:

Customer delight is a more powerful objective than shareholder value ….. if you take care of customers, shareholders will be drawn along for a very nice ride. The opposite is simply not true: if you try to take care of shareholders, customer’s don’t benefit, and ironically, shareholders don’t get very far either.

A lot of the issues that I see in the customer thing is that many of us are attempting to force it into the shareholder value game.  And it doesn’t fit.  The shareholder value game is the ‘one night stand’ game – get me laid this year!  Whereas the customer delight game is a longer-term game, an affair that keeps both parties interested in each other over the longer term.

Ultimately is it all about the contribution one makes?

This is a personal post inspired by great conversation with a great person who carries the title of CXO. If you do not do personal then I advise you to stop now and carry on with the impersonal.  Let me start by giving you a glimpse of what I am going to be dealing with in this post:

People, and relationships, matter more than stuff, whatever the stuff.

What is the game of business about?  What is your life about? 

What I notice in business is busyness.  Just about everybody is busy.  Just about everyone is running from one meeting to another, from one deliverable to another, from one sales call to another, from one kill to another, from one problem to another.  Busyness everywhere in business.  And it occurs to me that the whole Customer thing (insight, analytics, customer focus, NPS, VoC, customer experience, customer-centricity…) is the latest fashion for being busy.

I ask, does anyone actually stop and ask the question: “Why?”  I ask you, do you stop long enough with this question?  Have you grappled with this with real intention long enough to let the hidden surface?

Why do we expend our lives in the game of business?  For what purpose?  Does anyone stop to ask “What is it all about?  What really matters?” Is enriching shareholders what really matters in life?  Is it? I am asking you.  Is the reason you exist to enrich shareholders, to maximise their financial return, to drive up their ROI?

Who do I have to thank for being alive today?

I must have been around 7 years of age when I stepped on to the main road and got hit by a white van.  I don’t remember much.  I don’t know how long I spent in hospital.  I do know that my fellow human beings saved my life.  One of my fellow human beings ran to the telephone box and called the ambulance.  Another of my fellow human beings dispatched the ambulance.  The ambulance crew took me to the hospital. Doctors operated on me to save my life. Nurses and later my parents nurtured me back to health.

I was 25 – 26 years old and the future looked promising.  I had been admitted into the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales. It had taken three years of hard work. I had a good job. My health was good. Actually everything was just great. On a Monday morning I turned up at my doctors surgery.  My left arm had ballooned up over the weekend.  The doctor took one look at my arm and called the hospital. Then he told me to follow him.  He asked me to get into his BMW. He put on the flashing light and drove as fast as he could to the hospital. There a team of doctors were waiting for me. I arrived, I was sedated immediately.  While I was out cold the doctors operated on me and saved my life.

Both of these events occurred unexpectedly and when I was young. So nothing interesting showed up for me when they occurred. No deep insight into life and what matters.  This changed.

What I learned being face to face with death

The pain in my chest woke me up around 2am.  Clearly, my friend Asthma was visiting me once more.  Being used to this I was calm and focussed on relaxing assuming he would go away within 60 seconds as that was his custom. This time he did not go away. Instead, he tightened his grip: the pain increased and my breathing became shallower.  I walked over, gently, to the windows and opened them to get fresh air.  Usually, that helped, this time it didn’t.

Asthma tightened his grip once more.  Pain increased and my breathing came shallower.  It was then that it hit me: I am going to die! I am going to die, all alone.  After 30 seconds or so my fear subsided and absolute calm and clarity was present.  What showed up at that moment?  Take a guess.

“Who contributed to my life?  Who made my life easier?  Who was there through the hard times?  Who was there through the fun times?  Who will I miss?  Who will miss me?”  There facing death what showed up for me was a question of people, relatedness, and relationship.  As my breath was short, I phoned my wife (who was in France with the children) got through to her voicemail. I told her I loved her and thanked her.  Then I phoned my brother and got through to his voicemail: I left him the same short message.  Then I phoned my sister and left the same short message. After that I had no breath left.  And it occurred to me that my time had come.

Is life and business ultimately about contribution? 

My encounter with death taught me, that for me, life is about contribution.  It is about being of service and making a contribution to my fellow human beings and life itself.  For me, business is a realm of life. And as such I am clear that for me business is also about being of source of contribution to my fellow human beings and to life itself.  It is about empowering people rather than disempowering them. It is about inclusion rather than exclusion. It is about generating happiness.  It occurs to me that Tony Hsieh of Zappos gets this and operates from this context.

Is it possible that the secret of employee engagement and of customer loyalty is this simple?  Make a contribution, empower, generate happiness in whoever you touch.

So I ask you, when we leave strategy, process, technology, business models, value propositions etc aside, is the game of business ultimately about being of service, being a source of contribution to our fellow human beings. And playing our part in co-creating a world that works for all, none excluded?

I have one further question for you.  Is it possible that this is what real leadership is?  Is it possible that real leadership is operating from the context of You AND me, together, co-creating a world that works for all, none excluded?  Is it possible that when we operate from this context that co-operation and collaboration show up?

What do you say?  What is the game of business for you?  What is your life about?  I look forward to hearing from you.

IBM’s CEO 2012 study: is technology really the number1 priority of CEOs?

In the second half of 2012, IBM issued its fifth biennial Global CEO Study titled Leading Through Connection.  IBM says this study is based on face-to-face conversations with more than 1,700 CEOs in 64 countries.  I have been reading it and want to share with you what I make of it.

Social – concerned, fearful, skeptical, uncertain?

It appears that CEOs are increasingly accustomed to volatility and expect unpredictability.   The same cannot be said for social. 

My reading of the study suggests that CEOs are concerned and fearful about social, in particular, its role in enabling customers to exercise power over organisations.  Second, most of them are skeptical of the value of social media – I suspect in driving revenues and profits. Even those who do see value in getting into social, are uncertain as to how to go about it.  Given that so few of them have dived into social media this does not surprise me.  How does one get comfortable with riding a bike?  By riding a bike – you get on the bike, you ride, you fall off, you pick yourself up, you get back on the bike and soon you are riding the bike.  Is social any different?

Are CEO’s customer obsessed and what is their take on customer analytics?

According to the study, CEO’s told IBM that three leadership traits, in particular, are the most critical for navigating through this disruptive era:  ‘customer obsession’, ‘inspirational leadership’ and ‘leadership teaming across the C-suite’.  I’ll come back to the latter two, let’s take a look at ‘customer obsession’.

When the world is unpredictable and the power continues to shift to customers it makes sense that ‘customer obsession’ is seen as the critical leadership trait.  Yet I wonder what this means?   Does this mean that CEOs will get out of their offices and get deeply involved with customers?  Spending time with them face to face like Lou Gerstner did when he took charge of IBM.  Or undertaking the kind of experience showcased in Undercover Boss.

According to the study, CEOs are investing in analytical capabilities that promise to yield customer insights.  More than 70% of CEOs say that they are looking to get a better grasp of customer needs and generate improved organisational responsiveness to customer insights. So, I suspect that ‘customer obsession’ entails spending money on technology in the hope that this will yield insights into customers that enable the enterprise to stay one step ahead of customers.  This is great news for the organisations selling analytics technologies (SAS, IBM….).  Whilst I see the value of analytics I remain doubtful of the impact this will make until and unless the CEO gets out and actually walks in the shoes of the customer and experiences the experience of the front line workers.

What does IBM advise?  IBM recommends that CEOs orient their organisations to get insight into and engage customers as individuals rather than aggregates (segments, markets).  The earlier IBM CMO study suggested that marketers are stuck on traditional research methods that look at and provide insight into these aggregates and not individual customers.  Where can organisations get insight at the level of the individual customer?  Through harvesting and mining ‘Big Data’ according to IBM.

What are the roadblocks on this ‘data based, insight driven nirvana’?

In its study IBM refers to come organisations as ‘outperformers’ (they are doing better financially than their peers) and ‘underperformers’ (doing financially worse than their peers).  What are the three key differences between these ‘outperfomers’ and ‘underperformers’ according to IBM?

  • ‘translate insights into action’ – 84% better than industry peers;
  • ‘excel at managing change’ – 73% better than peers;
  • moving into adjacent industries – 48% better.

So here we see the two major obstacles in the way of ‘data enabled, insight driven nirvana of business performance’.   Ability to act on insight.  And, in particular, act in such a way as to effect organisational change with efficacy: to make changes in the business (based on the insight) and to get the people in the organisation to go along with and internalise these changes.  And to do so quickly before the window of opportunity closes.  Clearly some organisations are better at this than others – those that excel at this are in the minority.  Interestingly, this issue of taking action/effecting change based on insight has been surfaced by VoC vendors like Mindshare.

Are CEO’s aware of the scale of the challenge?

It appears that CEO’s are aware of the scale of the challenge that is facing them.  How do I come to this conclusion? Leadership traits that are of importance to CEOs and what traits CEO’s are looking for in employees.  Let’s consider the leadership traits first and what they can tell us.

When it comes to critical leadership traits, ‘customer obsession’, ‘inspirational leadership’ and ‘leadership teaming across C-suite’ were almost equal in importance.  Statistically speaking, I suspect there is no significant difference between the three of them.   It kind of suggests, to me, that these are inter-related.  Let’s take a look at the latter two and what they can tell us.

‘Leadership teaming across C-suite’ suggests that CEO’s get that the default state of organisation – the silo structure and silo metrics – is that of optimisation of the parts and suboptimisation of the whole.  It also indicates that CEOs are aware that genuine collaboration and teamwork starts at the very top – if the C-suite does not work well together then it is highly unlikely that the lower ranks will work well together.  I also read into this an implicit acknowledgement that many C-suites do not work well as one team – personal interests and functional agendas compete against the well being of the whole.  This explains why ‘inspirational leadership’ is seen as a critical leadership trait: CEOs get that they have to inspire (to bring forth) the best of their people (starting with the C-suite) including working as one team for the collective benefit.  Is it possible I am concocting a story that appeals to me and is not in the study?  I leave you to decide for yourself.

IBM claims that CEOs are creating more open and collaborative cultures.  That does not strike me as being an accurate description of what is so based on my travels.  And I get that I have only experienced a small number or organisations.  What is more interesting is the claim that collaboration is the primary trait that CEOs are looking for in employees: 75% of CEOs label this trait as critical.  Why?  According to IBM, CEO’s see technology as an enabler of collaboration and relationships and are focussed on changes in how people engage with the organisation and with one another in order to fuel responsiveness, creativity and innovation.

And finally

It is interesting to note that CEO’s put ‘human capital’ as the most important source of economic value closely followed by ‘customer relationships’, with ‘product/services innovation’ being in third place.  If ‘human capital’ is that important then the value placed on collaboration and open-cultures is understandable.  If ‘customer relationships’ and ‘product/services innovation’ are this important then the investments in analytics and collaboration technologies make sense.  What does not make sense, to me, is the attitude around social: customer can be a great source of innovation.

Only 33% of CEOs consider business model innovation as key source of economic value.  This puzzles me given that one of the key issues that organisations have to grapple with is that of coming up with fresh business models that make the most of the opportunities and deal effectively with the disruptions caused by ‘social’ technologies and customer behaviour.   Perhaps many CEOs have not fully awakened to the scale of the challenge/disruption/opportunity facing them.  What do you think?

I doubt that technology is the no1 priority of CEOs.  Why?  Because ‘technology’ got 71% of the votes, closely followed by ‘people skills’ at 69% and ‘market factor’ at 68%.  It occurs to me that there is nothing in it – that all three of these factors are as important as each other.