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…

 

 

 

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.

How To Transform Your Organisation By Centring On The Customer

I’d like to re-start blogging by sharing with you what shows up for me as a most enlightening and inspiring tale of leadership, customer-centricity, and organisational transformation.  Let’s start.

I encourage you to listen to Dr David Feinberg tell his story

When Dr. David Feinberg arrived at UCLA’s executive suite, the majority of patients said they wouldn’t recommend the hospital to a friend — even if the hospital saved their lives. He went on to transform the organisation. How did he go about it? I’ve listened to his story and I say it is well worth listening to him because it is a story from the man who has lived the experience – not an academic, not a guru, not a consultancy…..

You can find out by listening to Dr Feinberg share his story.  If you are not in a position to listen to his story then I have extracted the following highlights for you and me. Please note this post is long and it will reward only those with a genuine interest in leadership, customer-centricity, and organisational transformation.  Let’s start.

He started by talking with and listening to customers every day and in person

“What I did, and what I have done every day over the last six years, I went up and met with our patients… I knocked on the door ‘Hi, I’m Dr Feinberg. Can I sit down?’ And I’d ask how the care was, how were things going. I did this for 2 to 3 hours every day for the first three months.”

What did Dr Feinberg learn from his talks with patients? He says he learnt two important lessons:

1.  “At UCLA we perform miracles…. We do very high end high touch stuff”

2.  “The compassionate side we were missing. No-one [patients] knew who was in charge of their care. Nobody knew what was coming next in their care…… hot food that was never hot, cold fold that was never cold. The place was dirty. Two thirds, despite us saving their lives, would not refer us to a friend.”

Was Dr Feinberg or the UCLA hospital system under any pressure to make any changes? “After eight days in the job, US News and World Report changed our ranking from 5th best to the 3rd best hospital.”

So why did Dr Feinberg end up taking a stand, being a leader, making changes and eventually transforming the organisation? On the very day that UCLA moved from 5th best to 3rd best he met a patient who told him that he could not get a bed pan. As Dr Feinberg says, when you need a bad pen you need a bed pan!

Dr Feinberg comes face to face with complacency and ridicule

“I talked to the team. Why do we not have enough wheelchairs and bed pans?”

Their response? “We can never be like those other places. We are an academic medical centre, we are about curing ….. these are minor issues.”

Dr Feinberg goes on to shares his encounter with a 16 year old girl dying of leukaemia:

“Met a sixteen year old girl dying of leukaemia. The tv did not work in her room… did not have lot of family.. soap operas were her connection to the outside world… developmental age of 12 due to illness. Went back to the executive suite ‘We got to get the tv fixed upstairs! They laughed at me and gave me a screwdriver.”

Exercising leadership and focusing on patient

“After about three months of doing this I said ‘We’re going to focus on the patient. We’re going to take are of patients the way I want my family to be cared for.'”

How did the rest of the team react to this stance, this declaration, this exercise of leadership? “People looked at me as if I was crazy and said ‘We should have never hired a psychiatrist… We’ve done customer training before, I’ve got the coffee mug. Why are we doing this again?'”

Focusing on one thing and exercising leadership by living the stand

Faced with this resistance and being in the role only as an interim, Dr Feinberg sought advice. “Mentor of mine told me stay focused. Stay focused on one thing. And that can be something you can drive through the organisation.”

What did Dr Feinberg do? He lived his stand, he became a living example of the desired commitment and behaviours.  “I got the girl’s tv fixed. I helped patients to the commode. I went down to the pharmacy to get meds. I pushed patients in wheelchairs. And I still pick up trash all the time.”

Results: great accomplishment or cream of the crap?

“Went from 38th percentile to 99th percentile on question of would you refer us to a friend. Six thousand hospitals in the USA, we’re ranked at the very top…… academic-teaching hospitals, we’re ranked No1 on would you refer us to a friend.”

When I heard this, this statistic showed up as a fantastic accomplishment. What does Dr Feinberg say about this accomplishment?

“That actually sucks. To get 99th percentile on patient satisfaction, in my industry, 85 out of 100 checked the box. So, I say we are the cream of the crap. We now have brand new buildings. We have got great structure and customer service programmes that we developed over the last five or six years to sustain this. We’re making lots of money. We have the best doctors and nurses in the country. And yet out of the last 100 people we’ve taken care of, fifteen of them would not refer us to a friend.

By definition these fifteen people are somebody’s mom, somebody’s brother, a child, a co-worker, a parent etc. Occasionally you meet people with unrealistic expectations maybe 1 or 2 out of the fifteen, but the other thirteen or fourteen people are like you and me..

My journey hasn’t stopped at all…. Still have a long way to go to get 99 out of 100 people, not 99th percentile, telling us how great we’ve done. “

On turning a vacuous mission statement into a meaningful-compelling one

“About five years ago … I don’t know what our mission statement was. It was something like ‘We’re UCLA. aren’t you lucky you get to see us’ cause that’s how we acted. We changed that ‘Our purpose is to heal mankind one patient at a time. And we do that by alleviating suffering, promoting health, and delivering acts of kindness.”

Is the reference to acts of kindness just marketing or CEO fluff?  Dr Feinberg shared the example of a grandmother dying of cancer whilst her daughter was delivering in San Francisco. The nursing staff, without asking for permission, flew in the daughter so that the granddaughter could be held by grandmother before she passed away.

What was the business impact of this mission?  Dr Feinberg mentions that UCLA has the ability to recruit and retain the best. And “deliver incredible volumes [of patients] to our institution”.

Flip it: shifting from provider-centric to customer-centric orientation

“I really believe if we get it right in  the room with the patient, that everything else will take care of itself….. The way we thought at UCLA … the illness didn’t begin until they got to us. Really the illness begins after that family when mom might have cancer or when the elderly parent falls. I think it’s our job to engage with our patients in a way that we connect with them from the second they call us until they are back in girls scouts, back doing their work, or back living independently.

What we had done historically, in healthcare, is create times when you came to see us in the medical profession and we used you as inventory and lined you up. And it was what we would call provider centric instead of patient centric.

So we are changing our waiting rooms…. Patients who come to see us will have a smart card on their dashboard. So when they come to see us, we know we have four minutes to get ready before they arrive upstairs. And we’ll have the room ready before they get upstairs. And the waiting room will be for the doctors waiting to see the patient. Patient will be in the room.

When you just flip it and take it as the view of the patient it becomes really clear what you need to do.

When we have clinic retreats now, when we talk with leadership, we never start a meeting without a patient being present and holding us to accountable.”

Breakdowns: what happens when staff members hear directly from the customer?

The access to breakthroughs is provided by breakdowns. Dr Feinberg seems to have an intuitive understanding of this.  In his talk he tells the story of 63 year old woman who turns up at UCLA at 2am in the morning. Here is the sequence of events:

2am – she turns up at emergency centre with abdominal pain.  Scans are done on her. She is told that she needs to have her gall bladder removed. Husband is sent home and asked to come back for 6am. He leaves the hospital taking his wife’s purse and coat.

Medical staff re-read the scans, determine the woman is OK and tell her she can go home. She asks for a taxi voucher to get home (9 miles away) as husband has already left with her purse. She is told she doesn’t qualify. She finds a few dollars in her sweater and takes taxi part way home.

Husband meets her half way and drives her home. On reaching home, phone rings and UCLA asks her to come back in for surgery: UCLA have re-read her scan and determined this is an emergency. Husband and wife drive back to UCLA where her gall bladder is successfully removed.

In recovery, she is asked to sign a consent form – to be tested for HIV. Why? UCLA made mistake: used a syringe on her that they had used on a previous patient. Test comes back negative.

What does Dr Feinberg have to say on the matter?

“Talk about this a provider centric way… we did a phenomenal job! We took out her gall bladder successfully. We didn’t give her an infection. But if you thought about that as your mom, how pissed off are you?

I brought together everybody who had anything to do with her care: valet parking, emergency room, transporters, social work, OR staff, ER staff, everyone from billing, collecting and IT….. She came in and told her story… She tells it a lot better than I do, there’s a lot more feeling….

What happens when these people hear the actual patient? Incredible things happen in the organisation. Nobody will ask twice for a taxi voucher at UCLA again. We had all kinds of policies about how not to use syringes twice….But now because her story is connected to it, I go to bed at night really believing that there’s a greater chance that we’re not going to mess up. There’s a real sense that that person and that face is connected to everything we do.

Did Dr Feinberg follow best practice: devise a strategy, follow a formulaic model, develop plans and then execute? 

“The journey has included a lot of changes and it sounds like we know what we were doing. I want to tell you that I had no idea what I was doing. I do know that we were focussed on getting it right for that very next patient”

Other lessons

Dr Feinberg points out the critical importance of:

1. selecting the right talent in the right way. In particular, he points out the need to recruit people  who are both competent AND have the service mindset; 

2. codifying and communicating the expected behaviours during the induction (on boarding) process; and

3. rigorously measuring and communicating performance against these behaviours.

On the second point, he states that UCLA clearly spell out and train their staff on:

– how to go in and introduce yourself to a patients;

– how you ask permission before you touch patients;

– how you explain what is coming next;

– how you tell patients when you’re leaving and do they have any questions.

“In the past it was you’re a nurse, your a doctor come on in and take care of the patient. No patient at UCLA gets touched without permission, everybody introduces themselves, everybody gives their name and cellphone number.

I give my cellphone number out probably 100 times a day to patients and say call me 24 hours a day if there’s anything that I can do to assist you and your family.

We don’t always get it right, there are plenty of challenges that face us. I do believe being centred around the patient is the right way to go.”

How Well Are You Positioned to Make The Shift to Being a “Customer Company”? Answer these 10 Questions to Find Out

It takes something to run a marathon.  It takes something to orient your organisation around the customer.  It takes something to be a “Customer Company”.  And it takes a lot more than technology or changing some processes here an there.

What does it takes to be a “Customer Company”?  It takes passion.  It takes steadfast commitment. This passion and commitment has to reside in the hearts of your senior management (“Tops”). And this passion and commitment has to be visible and experienced throughout your organisation.

Why does it take this level of passion and commitment from your Tops?  Because an authentic shift toward customer-centricity requires changes at multiple levels: priorities, policies, practices, processes, people, and platforms. This kind and scale of change only occurs when there is genuine passion, commitment and leadership from the people at the very top of your organisation.

How can you work out if the Tops in your organisation have this kind of passion and commitment to creating a “Customer Company”?  There are dreams. There are intentions. There are fine sounding words. And then there is how people show up in the world: their being and their doing. Which is my way of saying that you should pay attention to how people show up in the world, not what they say.  With that in mind, I propose that you ask yourself the following questions:

1. Do the Tops know how many customers we have gained over the last month, how many we have lost, and the impact on our business?

2. How much time and effort did the Tops expend last month serving our existing customers – in the stores, in the call-centres etc?

3. What actions have the Tops taken, over the last month, to walk in the shoes of our customers? Have they bought one of our products? Have they attempted to assemble-use our product? Have they called customer services to return a product? Have they read our marketing literature etc?

4. When was the last time the Tops called our customers to thank them and learn what enticed them to choose us over our competitors?

5. When was the last time the Tops rang up customers who have chosen to stop doing business with us to find out what caused them to leave us?  And what it will take to win them back?

6. When was the last time that the Tops met with a cross-section of our frontline people, individually and/or collectively, to get access to their experience and their thoughts on what is and is not working for them, for our customers? Is this type of meeting a regular event or a one-off?

7. Have the Tops ever been undercover to experience the reality of being on the frontline?

8. Do the Tops know how many of our frontline employees have left us, why, and the impact of this turnover on our customers, and our business?

9. How much time do the Tops devote per week, per month, per quarter on discussing what they have learned/experienced by talking with our customers, and our frontline employees?

10. What changes are the Tops making in terms of priorities, policies, practices, processes, people and platforms?

Transcend The Process Mindset To Excel At The Customer Experience Game

Before I launch into this post, I want you to know that once upon time I was deeply immersed in business process design and business process re-engineering. I was process mapping in the late 80s before process mapping became a huge hit and became expert at it in the 90s.

You cannot excel at the Customer Experience game with a process mindset

I say process thinking occurs at one level of consciousness. I say the process mindset fixes one’s consciousness at the functional level: the level of work. Which means that the process mindset become permeated by mechanical/activity thinking and fixated with throughput, time taken, speed, cost, and efficiency.

What happens when the process mindset has infected the organisation?  My experience is that the process mindset drives out humanity and all that goes with human beings: empathy, flexibility, creativity, adaptability, responsiveness to the unique human being, the unique situation.

What happens when you take process people and get them working on the Customer Experience?  They inevitably focus on optimising the process: throughput, speed, efficiency, and standardisation. In such an organisation quality becomes adherence to the process/script/standard.  What gets missed is that if you are playing the customer relationship-customer experience game then quality can only be measured in terms of quality of connection with the customer.

I say that if you want to excel at the game of Customer Experience then you have to transcend the process mindset.  Why? I say that there is one level of consciousness associated with the process mindset. And another, different level associated with Customer Experience. Think in terms of an elevator that stops at different floors of consciousness. On one floor is the process mindset and all that goes with it. The Customer Experience mindset is on a different floor. You cannot be at both floors at the same time.

You object, you say that they are similar.  To which I say that rugby and soccer do have similarities and yet are distinct games. And what makes for a winning combination in soccer does not make for a winning combination in rugby.

Example: from ‘Registrations’ to ‘Welcome to TelcoX’

Can you make dramatic improvements in the Customer Experience without changing the people, without doing lean to business processes, without changing the IT systems?  Yes, you can.  How? By operating from Customer Experience consciousness. Allow me to give you an example.

One of my friends, a Customer Experience professional, told me this story. His organisation was helping a telco to improve the customer’s experience at the very start of the customer journey: when the customer signs-up and has to be registered on the various systems so that he can use his mobile phone.  What was the name of the team doing this work?  Registrations.  Makes perfect sense if you come from a process mindset.  From a process mindset the job to be done is the job of registering the customer on the system.

What happens when you look at the world from a Customer Experience consciousness?  You end up renaming the team Welcome to TelcoX (I am not at liberty to name the telco).  Notice the difference?  Stop and really notice the difference in emotional tone.  Do you notice that Registrations is flat, devoid of emotion, generates a focus on the task?  Do you notice that Welcome to TelcoX generates emotion?  I bet you can even notice a difference between “Welcome to TelcoX” and “Welcome to TelcoX!”

“Welcome to TelcoX” is rich with meaning, with guidance, it orients attitude and calls forth a certain kind of behaviour whilst ruling out another class of behaviour.  Do you notice that it taps into a human stereotype of welcoming guests to our home? What do we do when we welcome guests to our home? Do we simply register them? Let them in and hand them a drink?  Or do we make sure we connect with them, show the right emotion, offer them a drink, get them a drink, introduce them to a guest they are likely to enjoy talking to, make sure they are comfortable. And then go and greet the next guest?

What else happens when you operate from this frame, the human frame of relationship?  You ask yourself what is the equivalent in the telco world of welcoming your guests and getting them to the emotional state where they are comfortable at your home or party.  This led to the folks at this telco realising that the end point of their interaction with the customer was not an account registered on the system. No, the end point was a happy customer who was up and running using his phone.  This meant bringing additional work steps in the Welcome to TelcoX team; steps that had until then been in another team; steps that had caused problems for customers and driven customers to call in and getting them addressed.

By transcending the process mindset and operating at this human-empathic-storytelling level of consciousness, customer satisfaction rose, employee engagement rose, and the telco saved money by not having to take calls from dissatisfied customers ringing up to say that they could not use their phone. And asking for help. Notice, the telco did not have to undertake a culture change programme.

Summing Up

I say that one of the biggest hurdles to excellence in the game of Customer Experience is the process mindset which is endemic in large organisation. I say that it is a big mistake to hand over the Customer Experience to folks who are gripped through and through by the process mindset. I say that if you want to excel at the game of Customer Experience then you have to involve and listen to people who excel at the human game: the people who excel at empathy and have sound business sense.

What does it take to embed values and effect cultural change?

Barclays Bank boss wants to effect culture change through new values

Today I read that the Barclays boss tells staff to sign up to new values or leave.  It makes interesting reading, the following paragraph resonated with me:

“Over a period of almost 20 years, banking became too aggressive, too focused on the short term, too disconnected from the needs of our customers and clients, and wider society. We were not immune at Barclays from these mistakes.”

Then I read the following paragraph and my mouth fell open:

“He said bankers pursued short-term profits at the expense of the values and reputation of the organisation, and in the coming weeks more than 1,000 staff would be trained to spread the new values and embed them throughout the bank.”

Any ideas as to what it is about this paragraph that stopped me in my tracks?  I can tell you that it is not the first part of the paragraph. No, what stopped me in my tracks is the following:

“…. in the coming weeks more than 1,000 staff would be trained to spread the new values and embed them throughout the bank.

I get that the top man at Barclays wants to effect cultural change. And he is using values as a pillar of the new culture.  So far so good.  My question/concern is centred on how one embeds values and roots cultural change.

How do you train adults to spread the new values and embed them?  

I know you can train people to use a fire extinguisher.  I have undergone that training.  I know that you can train some people – if you put in a five days of intensive role based training – to become great facilitators.  I have undergone that training.  I know that you can train people to use a new CRM system. I have undergone that training.  Can you train people to live specific values?

Yes, you can preach values to them. Yes, you can pressure them into going through the motions of spreading values. No, you cannot embed values through training.  You cannot get people to live value simply through training and spreading the word.  To think that you can do so is to fundamentally misunderstand the being of human beings, values and culture.

I notice that the values that I live, often without even noticing that I live them, arise out of the way my parents lived and thus how I lived as a child.  I notice that there are values that bore themselves into me slowly by virtue of training intensively to become a chartered accountant.  I notice that there are values that gripped me as a result of working with a wide variety of people when I was running companies that had gone into receivership or administration.  I particularly notice the creative values that sized my being-in-the-world after spending twelve months working for a creative digital agency.  Up to that point I had put analytical value on the throne and looked down on creative people, creative values, creative lifestyles. Now I value the triad of creative-analytical-systemic values and thinking.

Do we have values or do values have us?

Listen carefully, we don’t seize/live values, values worms themselves into us and eventually live us!  Yes, you read that right.  I am father to three and I can categorically state that their values are not the ones that I preached. No, they are the values that my wife and I lived.  How does that tend to happen?  Through a totality of interconnected references: language, talk, practices, equipment, paraphernalia, and projects pursued.

My advice to you and the top man at Barclays, forget the preaching, forget the training. Listen to Chris Bailey. Why? Chris, who has a post-graduate degree in anthropology, shed light on values and culture in his recent post titled Three Myths of Corporate Culture.  It is worth reading. Here is what he starts his list of myths with:

“Myth #1. Culture can be built, top-down.

Yes, it’s important for leadership to clearly articulate goals, values, and mission. But these elements merely provide direction and structure, the expectations of management. They are not the culture themselves. The problem is that management has come to see culture as one more way to institute controls over employees. If you read, “This is the [insert company name] way” when discussing culture, then you’re reading a top-down, executive mandate for what management wants the culture to be…but likely not what actually is. And just because the CEO says, “This is our culture” doesn’t make it true. It’s way bigger than that.”

To effect cultural change focus on equipment, language and practices

You might be new to culture change.  You might be new to the language I am using. And you might be wondering what is he talking about?  My response to Chris’ post on culture should clear up your confusion:

“Hello Chris

It occurs to me that you do have a richer nuanced understanding of culture. I am a simple guy and I strive to ask simple questions those to do with phenomenology. And so the question that I ask is where does culture reside? Put differently, where can I find it?

The likes of Khun and Heidegger have provided me with an access to that question. Culture lies in and is enacted in a totality of references that includes people, language, practices, equipment, paraphernalia, and projects pursued. If you get this then you get, for free, that the culture in marketing will not be the same as the culture of sales and neither will be the same as the culture in finance….

Sometimes the easiest access to influencing changes in culture is to change equipment, paraphernalia, language and practices. Let’s just take equipment and eating. What happens if I take away knife and fork and replace them with chopsticks? This little change does have significant ripple effects. Given time, it changes cooking and eating practices. Notice, I did not have to issue instructions, do marketing, deliver presentations, engage in propaganda, change KPIs…...

Sadly, culture is misunderstood, as you say, that most of what passes for culture change is pre-destined to failure.

Maz”

Summing up

You do not embed values and effect culture change by sending people to classroom training.  You do not embed values by preaching.  The access to effecting change and culture is through language, discourse, practices and equipment.  Oh, I forget to mention: it all starts with the man at the top and cascades downwards – that is to say that the man at the top has to be a visible living example/embodiment of the values in action through practices.

Timpson: shifting/transforming culture through ‘language and practices’

Why did John Timpson commit to making this shift in culture?

This is what he says:

“I am embarrassed that it took me 22 years as a Chief Executive before I found the secret behind good personal customer service.  But i’s true.  I didn’t discover Upside Down Management until I met Ian Siddall at UBS……  I learned that we faced a new threat, a competitor with more money than I could possibly imagine, who was well placed to inflict major damage to our business.  He could have opened shops next door, bribed our best people to jump ship and undercut our prices.  To survive we had to be good at shoe repairing and key cutting, engraving and watch repairs and be great at looking after our customers.”

What are the  fundamental principles behind Upside Down Management?

There are five fundamental principles:

  1. All colleagues have the freedom to do their jobs they way they choose;
  2. Every boss’s job it to help his or her team;
  3. No KPI’s, no boxes to tick;
  4. Bosses don’t issue orders;
  5. Head Office is a helpline – it does not run the day to day business.

What does it take to make this shift in culture?

I suspect that some of you are confronted by this.  Upside Down Management is not just some change from ‘business as usual’ (command and control management), it is transformation – a genuine one akin to that of the caterpillar and the butterfly.  What does it take to make this shift?  Is it a question of technique or implementing a new information technology?  No, it requires an existential quality – courage.  Here is how John Timpson puts it:

Upside Down Management isn’t for wimps, it’s for managers with the courage to give people their freedom……….. It took me 10 years to ingrain this way of working into our culture.  My deepest thinking colleagues realise that this is never ending project…….’We always live on a tightrope – it wouldn’t take long for the magic dust to disappear‘”

How easy was it get the people in the organisation to step up, embrace, live into/from Upside Down Management? Here is what John Timpson says about that:

“I put an upside down chart on the front of our weekly newsletter and wrote a letter to everyone explaining my new philosophy, but nothing changed…..  What I proposed was so contrary to the way a normal business is managed that they simply didn’t trust me.  I discovered that lots of people like rules; they don’t want the freedom to make up their own mind.  The rules give a degree of comfort, providing something to complain about and something or someone else to blame.” 

And here is a revelation about the role of the middle managers in any culture shift:

One of our biggest challenges is to get area teams to treat their people the way we want………  It was only when I spent a day out with one of the most experienced that I understood why they seemed to be so uncooperative…… Then he revealed the real problem.  ‘Apart from anything else,’ he said, ‘if I let my assistants do my job, what will be left for me to do?’  That comment made me realise my mistake.  I had changed the job of an area manager but I hadn’t described what their new job was or how to do it.”

Shifting the culture through language and practices

I say that shifts in organisation culture occur through the heartfelt and persistent shift in the language and practices of the CEO and the Tops.  When I use the term ‘language’ I mean more than speech, with ‘language’ I am pointing at everything about the CEO that speaks to people who come into contact with the CEO.  If the CEO comes into meetings late that speaks to people.  If the CEO dominates talk and shoots down anyone that disagrees with him then that speaks to people.   Allow me to give you an example, back in the 90s Ernst&Young got a new ‘CEO’ and he asked partners to ‘give up their offices’ as they took up a lot of space and were rarely used.  Nothing changed.  Then the new ‘CEO’ gave up his office, this spoke to some partners and they followed in his tracks, and then more followed.

So what did John Timpson do to get the people in the Timpson shops to get that he was serious about Upside Down Management?  Through language that spoke powerfully to everyone – the customers, the staff in the shops, the area managers.  Here is how he puts it:

After a time I realised that just telling people that they’ve got the freedom to act was not good enough.  I had to give them examples of what that freedom meant, so I stuck a notice up in every branch:”

I want to draw your attention to a feature that is so important and you might miss.  John Timpson, the CEO, went in person to each of the retail shops and stuck that notice up in every one of them.  He did not delegate to anyone else.  He didn’t just visit one shop – he visited every single shop.  This is powerful language, I say the most powerful language.  It says this is mine, I own this, it matters to me, I mean it, I trust you, I take responsibility.   It occurs to me that here you have an act of leadership and an existential commitment that is in the same vein as the American Declaration of Independence signed by the founding fathers of the USA.

Now onto practices,  these are not exhaustive and yet should give you a good insight as to what I am pointing at when I say that the access for shifting culture is to shift ‘language and practices’:

Notice, the change in ‘language’ around the Head Office.  The most obvious example is the change in name from Head Office to Timpson House.  The less obvious is the fact that no-one is allowed to use the term Head Office.   And that is accompanied by practices that do genuinely take away Head Office.  Put differently, a Head Office that does not have the right/authority to issue edicts and expect compliance is no longer a Head Office.  Which is my way of saying that the ‘language’ and ‘practices’ have to complement one another to be effective in shifting culture.  Finally, notice how the practices tie up as a whole under an overarching philosophy around doing business.  The philosophy guides the language and practices and in turn the language and practices give life to the philosophy – a virtuous circle.

For those of you grappling with culture and culture change, you might want to read the two earlier posts I wrote on culture change:

Culture change: what does it take to change culture in business? In banking?

‘Collaborative customer-centric’ culture: what does it take to make the shift?

This post concludes this mini-series on culture and culture change.  I hope that you have found at least some of it disturbing / thought provoking.  Last tip/POV – most of the stuff out there on culture change is mistaken and not useful, it really isn’t because it works from a mistaken view of human beings. If you want a more useful access to people and culture then contact me I can point you in more useful directions.