What’s THE Critical Matter That Gets In The Way of Business Transformation Efforts?

Accurate Real-Time Communication & Information Are Critical in a Time-Sensitive Game That Involves Many Actors

My local airport is London Heathrow. On average, 30 airplanes are landing and another 30 are taking off every hour.  Put differently, one airplane is landing or taking off every minute. Now consider that mishaps – crashes where people are injured/die and/or property is damaged/destroyed – are rare.  So rare that mishaps make the national news, usually the front page.

Who/what is responsible for that which occurs: 30 airplanes landing and another 30 taking off every hour using two runways?  Read this Wikipedia article especially the section: “Operations”; and the sub-sections “Facilities” and “Flight movements”.  So what’s  your answer to the question that I posed just a moment earlier?

Yes, the folks responsible have put in place a ‘tried and tested’ collection of facilities, practices, and rules that work. Is that all there is to it?  I say there is more. I say there has to be more – as the world we find ourselves embedded and constituting is dynamic: the drama/pattern we call life/world is forever changing, not static like stone.  What is the more?  I say it is communication/information.

Before we continue, let stop to consider what it is that we are talking about here – lets look at the etymology (origins) of these words:

Communication (n.)

late 14c., from Old French comunicacion (14c., Modern French communication), from Latin communicationem (nominative communicatio), noun of action from past participle stem of communicare “to share, divide out; communicate, impart, inform; join, unite, participate in,” literally “to make common,” related to communis “common, public, general”

Information (n.)

late 14c., informacion, “act of informing, communication of news,” from Old French informacion, enformacion “advice, instruction,” from Latin informationem (nominative informatio) “outline, concept, idea,” noun of action from past participle stem of informare “to train, instruct, educate; shape, give form to”

I say that one of the busiest airports in the world, with an aeroplane taking off / landing every minute, works (as in crashes are rare) because in addition to the system of rules and practices (static) there is the dynamic process of communicating/informing occurring between the players in the system; the primary players are air traffic control (air traffic controllers, practices, systems) and the aeroplanes (pilots, practices, systems).

Notice, the effectiveness of this communicating/informing is a function of honest (accurate) communicating/informing occurring between the parties on an continuous basis – the trigger being the arrival/departure of the aeroplanes from/towards Heathrow. Consider, that in this game (where lives are at stake, and people face public consequences for negligence or dishonesty) the human players communicate/inform that which matters honestly – as in accurately.  The players are not telling outright lies, not leaving out that which is essential because it is convenient for one player (in this drama) even though it imposes a cost on the other player.

What happens when miscommunication/informing occurs?  Crashes, and near misses. Here is an instructive example from TravelMole (bolding is mine):

Two passenger aircraft were reportedly just 600 feet from colliding because an air traffic “holding stack” became so congested… the controller, who could not distinguish the two plane’s call signs on his screen, “mistook another aircraft at 12,000 feet for the BA aircraft, which was at 13,000 feet”. “He then ordered the United aircraft to descend to 13,000 feet, into what he wrongly believed was empty airspace. Within 40 seconds the vertical distance between the two planes had reduced to only 600 feet, breaching the minimum safety gap of 1,000 feet.”

The misunderstanding occurred because there was too many planes in the holding stack waiting to land. That is to say too much information to digest. Information that was overlapping. Thus confusing to the human mind.  Notice, there was no deliberate intention by the pilots or the aeroplane systems to misinform.  Which is one reason it was only a near miss as opposed to a calamity that would have cost 500 lives.  Who/what saved the day: an intelligence that used the accurate information to guide intelligent action. Again, according to TravelMole:

The aircraft would have reportedly come much closer if it had not been for the BA jet’s collision avoidance system, which ordered the pilot to dive.

My Experience of Transformation Programmes in Large Organisations

Almost all of my work on the Customer side of business occurs within/from the context of enterprise wide transformation programmes that usually span multiple business units, many countries, many teams/players, many business processes, many information technology systems….. I say that these transformation programmes are operating within/from complex as opposed to complicated domains (Cynefin). The difference there is an inherent and significant uncertainty/unpredictability in large business organisations as opposed to complicatedness in the dealings that go with the safe take off / landings at Heathrow Airport.

So what is absolutely critical to the success of these business transformation programmes? Effective – as in timely, accurate, complete – communicating/informing occurring between the many actors/players and the business equivalent of Air Traffic Control – those who are charged with leading and managing the transformation programme.

Recently, I was brought in as a consultant to lead a significant work-stream within a larger programme which itself sits within a larger global transformation initiative.  One of my responsibilities is to communicate/inform those who are impacted by that which I know and they do not know.  I did just that sending out an email and copying in a key member of Air Traffic Control. This did not go down well, I was reprimanded. Why? Because I had honestly communicated information that a person did not wish to be communicated. His concern? The information, whilst accurate, may make the work-stream look bad in the eyes of those that matter: the ‘Air Traffic Controllers’.  I was told that in the future ALL outbound communications had to be direct to him. And he will choose who is informed of what, when, and how.

There are so many work-streams that have to come together for transformation initiatives of this kind/scale to work out well: generate the desired outcomes by the desired time, within the desired budget.  So many players involved who have to co-operate and collaborate. So it is no surprise to find that there is a complicated, experienced as burdensome, governance framework/structure in operation to manage the many interlocking dependencies.  Yet, the efficacy of this governance framework/structure/ organisation rests on effective communicating/informing occurring between the players and other players,  and  between the players and ‘Air Traffic Control’, and between ‘Air Traffic Control’ and the players.

Now it really hit me. Wow! How many other actors/players playing a leadership role in this transformation initiative are not communicating the information that needs to be communicating?  How many are delaying bad news?  How many are spinning the truth with falsehoods including false optimism? How many are aware of bad news and choosing to hide it from those in positions of power in ‘Air Traffic Control’?

Given this – that which is so – how effective is the burdensome/expensive governance framework?  Not that effective? This led to this thought arising: “Is it possible that the governance framework (people, practices, forums) is expanding because those in  ‘Air Traffic Control’ perceive that the process/journey of guiding the transformation programme is friction-full and unwelcome surprises pop up? And they think more people, more structure, more formal communication will fix the problem?”  Upon getting present to this thought, the absurdity of it all hit me: one part of my laughed uproariously, the other part cried.

Digesting this it occurs to me that traditional thinking and practices around large scale change transformational change are the obstacle not the solution. Why? I say effective leadership is missing: the fundamental platform upon which effective communicating/informing/teaming occurs is weak or absent.  

What is this fundamental platform?  Psychological safety: do I/you/we/us feel safe speaking truth to power?

As this conversation has been going on for a while and we may be at a point that you are no longer willing to listen to my speaking, I leave you with these resources if you wish to dive deeper into that which I am pointing at:

5 Traits of Effective Teams at Google

I thank you for your listening, and I wish you the very best until our next conversation.

Can You Solve This Customer Interaction Puzzle?

Q: What Is The Cause Of This Customer Interaction Turning Out As It Turned Out?

Do you have an avid interest in designing-conducting research, eliciting-capturing requirements, listening to the voice of the customer, or designing customer experiences?  If you have this interest then I invite you to help me solve the following customer experience puzzle:

Last week, while on an average holiday shopping trip, my mother and I decided to stop by Starbucks to get a quick snack…..

When we got up to the counter, my mother placed our simple order, at which point she asked for a “tall” cup of two percent white milk. This is how the conversation played out:

“Mocha,” said the barista.

“No. Milk,” my mother repeated.

“Mocha?”

“No. Two percent white milk.”

“Oh… Milk!”

….. I attempted to withhold my personal thoughts. Milk. You know, that white stuff you pour in the coffee? Yes, well, we want an entire cup full of that. Minus the coffee, of course.

Our barista proceeded to ask if we’d like the milk steamed, but we opted for cold. (They steamed it anyway.) Eventually, we managed to get our order straightened out, but not without a few stifled giggles.

– See more at: http://www.1to1media.com/weblog/2013/12/milkin_it_a_starbucks_story.html#sthash.q04UKrYT.dpuf

I ask you to put your intellect and expertise into action. Please consider the situation and give an answer to the following question: What is the cause of the mismatch between the customer’s request for “milk” and how Starbucks responded to the customer’s request?  

Why it is worth spending time on this puzzle?  Because we are grappling with that which lies at the heart of making sense of the customer’s voice and sound experience design.  It is also the reason that so many systems, including CRM systems, disappoint customers even though the designers are convinced that they have listened to the customer and designed the system to meet the customers needs-requirements.

What Explanations-Interpretations Have Been Put Forth To Date?

To date, I have come across two ways of explaining-interpreting that which occurred between the customer and the Starbucks staff.  Allow me to share these with you.

The author of the story (Anna Papachristos) explains this breakdown in communication (and the resulting experience) as follows:

I’m not sure what was more baffling–the fact that no one in the coffee shop listened, or that they’ve become blissfully unaware of the basics. I understand that Starbucks stands as a status symbol more than anything, but have we really distanced ourselves from the simple things in life that badly? This barista’s mistake may have been the result of a random miscommunication, but her confusion was nothing short of hilarious. 

Don Peppers in his post (How To Deal With Customer Variability) sees the same situation in terms of variable customer needs-behaviour coming up against standardised processes and operations:

Starbucks, like the roadside diner and any other business, tries to maintain quality and control costs by standardizing processes and operations. Routine tasks, if they can’t be automated, are at least handled in the same way by every employee.

But customers are all different. They want different things – different sizes of products, different delivery dates, different specifications for services, and so forth.

Variability like this is something Frei and Morriss call “customer chaos,” and they suggest it can be managed in two basic ways: either by eliminating it, or by accommodating it. If you choose to eliminate variability, you will generate more efficiency. If you choose to accommodate it, you will generate better service.

My Take On This Interaction?

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p>I do not find myself in agreement with the author (Anna Papachristos). Nor do I find myself in agreement with Don Peppers.  I propose to share my answer to this customer interaction puzzle in a follow up post – hopefully after some/many of you have put forward your answers by commenting.

Are These the 7 Key Difference Between Effective and Ineffective Leaders?

In light of my experience and the continuing scandals – NSA/Prism and Lloyds PPI complaint handling – I have been reflecting-grappling with the leadership, accountability, and integrity. As such I wish to share with you my  take on the seven key differences between effective and ineffective leaders.

1. Effective leaders are clear on what matters, communicate what matters, and model the desired values and behaviours. Ineffective leaders are either not clear on what matters or simply not able to able-willing to rule some stuff out. Ineffective leaders suck at communicating what matters. And they don’t live-model-embody the fine sounding values, beliefs, and behaviours that they talk about.

2. Effective leaders name and insist on dealing with the most important issues no matter how unpleasant these issues are. Ineffective leaders find all kinds of reasons and excuses for not dealing with the real issues and instead spend their time on what they are comfortable with.

3. Effective leaders focus on getting a rounded-realistic-fact based picture of reality. And as such they give real thought to who needs to take part in the conversation, and how to create a context that calls forth the ‘truth of each participant’.  Please note that feelings are facts! Ineffective leaders are drunk on their own importance and thus push their views, their agenda, on to the favoured few that they invite to the conversation.

4. Effective leaders deal with the thorny issues in a way that tends to build the self-esteem, confidence, learning, and goodwill of their people. Ineffective leaders issue orders, discount the concerns-views of their people, and make threats thus rupture one of the most critical pillars of an effective organisation: relationship and emotional affinity and loyalty.

5. Effective leaders think about the well-being of the wider system – all stakeholders inside and outside the business.  Ineffective leaders focus on what matters to them and their favoured constituency.

6. Effective leaders first hold themselves accountable. And by doing so they create the powerful access to holding their people accountable. Ineffective leaders hold others to account but not themselves. And sometimes they don’t even hold others accountable for fear of being confronted with their own lack of accountability.

7. Effective leaders get the critical importance of integrity. As such they put in place powerful ‘instruments’ that will: detect any ‘out of integrity’ ways of showing up in the world; and call the effective leader to get back into integrity quickly and clean up any mess s/he has made. Ineffective leaders don’t get that integrity is essential to ‘workability’ and ‘performance’ and as such there is little fit between what they say and what they do.  For ineffective leaders, integrity is optional.

How does this resonate with your experience? Please note the word ‘experience’ and specifically the phrase ‘your experience’.

 

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…..

Communication, responsibility, leadership and customer-centricity

Did I make a ridiculous fuss about nothing?

Recently,  a reader (pxfast) read this post on Klassic Books and commented:

“You are making a ridiculous fuss about nothing. Leaving feedback is a normal part of online trade so we know whom to trust. It was request, not an order, although the email could have been worded slightly differently so as to be clear it was optional. But is there enough time to consider all nit-pickers? What your list of questions has to do with the email I do not know, but you seem to be super-sensitive about your own affairs. They were simply confirming your order and politely requesting an optional acknowledgment in return, not a surly reply.”

I like to think of myself as a learner so I revisited this post and the memory of my experience. Then I went and looked at instances where I had been complimentary about the communications of book companies.  Three instance  came to mind:

If you look through these three cases of communication and compare them with case of Klassic books, I am confident that you will notice the following regarding the communications:

a)  Better World Books and the RocketSurgery Crew are being of service to me – making my life easier and/or enriching my life.  Whereas the Klassic Books communication is focussed on its needs and asking/expecting me to make the time/effort to fulfil their needs.

b)  The tone of the Better World Books and the Rocket Surgery Crew communications lands as human/warm – human talking to a fellow human being possible across a cafe table.  Whereas the tone of Klassic Books shows up as corporate/cold – lacking that human touch.

I say it is possible that I misinterpreted the intent of Klassic Books.  I say it is possible that I read into their email to me what was not in the email.  I say it is quite possible that I have been ‘unfair’.  And the issue is that my experience is not as such.  My head may speak this way, my heart does not.

My experience is that Klassic Books expected me to provide them a good customer review simply because they delivered a book on time.  Something that shows up as ‘table stakes’ of being an Amazon partner and getting my business.  And when I did not provide them with the review they sent me a second email and told me off for being a ‘naughty customer’: We once again request you to leave your valued feedback on this purchase.”

What stance can you take regarding your communications to your customers?

Before I dive into this I wish to point out that the lack of communication (including none at all) is powerful in itself. Why? Because, no communication communicates!  I hope that you get that.  Now let’s dive into the matter of communication and its relationship to customer-centricity and leadership.

When it comes to communication it is worth remembering the following:

– the communication will land/be experienced in a specific way e.g. helpful, unhelpful, warm, cold, relevant, irrelevant…;

–  the communication will make an impact leaving the customer thinking more or less highly of you and feeling closer or more distant towards your organisation; and

–  the communication will elicit a response – a non-response is a powerful response if you listen for it.

Which is my way of saying that when you communicate – and you cannot help communicating because you are always communicating – you act on your customers.  And when you act on your customers they respond, they communicate to you.

Now my question is this, who is responsible for the response that your communication calls forth from your customers?  It occurs to me that you can stand in one of two places.

1. You can make the customer responsible for his/her response to your communication.  This often leads to labelling and blaming when customers don’t respond as expected.  Customers are labelled ‘stupid’, ‘lazy’, ‘greedy’ and so forth.  And they are blamed for not responding to requests, filling in forms incorrectly, asking ‘stupid’ questions, wasting company time…. This the default stance of many/most folks and organisations.  Why? The charitable view is that we are blinded by our intentions and not the consequences of our communication.  The less charitable view is that we will do just about anything to ‘look good and avoid looking bad”.

Notice that this is what pxfast – the reader who triggered this post – is doing.  He is criticising me and other customers like me as ‘nit-pickers’.  Have you noticed the negative labels being applied?  “Ridiculous fuss” and “nit-picker” If a customer is labelled a “nit-picker” and “causing a ridiculous fuss” then the logical thing to do is to ignore that customer.  I call that a ‘get out of jail’ card being played.

2. You can take responsibility for the customer’s response to your communication.  This is taking responsibility as in I am the author of this response.  Or I am the ’cause in the matter of’ the communication that I have received from the customer.  This mode of being is rare at the individual, group or organisational level.

If you want to show up as a leader and/or as a customer centric organisation then embrace responsibility as opportunity

I say that if you want to show up as a leader then it is necessary for you to own up to your communication: how it lands, what impact it makes, and what response/s it generates.

I say that if you want your organisation to show up customer-centric then all the people, especially those who communicate with your customers, must take responsibility for their communication and the communication of your whole organisation: how it lands for your customers, what impact it makes in/on your customers, and the responses it generates from your customers.

Why take responsibility?  Because, it is the most powerful place to stand if you wish to be effective.  When you take responsibility you let go of the option/luxury of labelling/blaming customers.  Instead you listen for how your communication lands, what impact it makes, and what responses it generates. And where there is a difference to what you expected you say to yourself “How interesting!  I wonder what I did to cause that?  I wonder what I need to do more of?  And what do I need to do less of?  And what do I need to do differently to show up the way that I want to show up in the lives of my customers and generate the kind of response that I am up for generating?”

When you have that kind of listening then you have all that you need to become a master of communication; every leader has to be/become a master of communication; and every customer-centric organisation has to be a master of communication.  And if you have not noticed then ‘social’ is all about effective communication between you, your people (employees), your customers.