Are Leaders & Management Practices The Key Obstacles To High Performing Organisations?

2015 has been another year where I have found myself at the coalface of organisational change: digital transformation, customer experience, CRM and marketing automation….  What is the key ‘thing’ that has struck me?

The ongoing blindness of Tops and Middles, the messiness of effecting any substantial organisational change, and how Tops and Middles are often the biggest barrier to effecting this kind of change.

Allow me to illustrate what I am getting at by sharing a few passages from one of the best business books (Creativity Inc by Ed Catmull) that I read in 2015. by sharing the following with you (bolding is mine):

When it comes to creative inspiration, job titles and hierarchy are meaningless. That’s what I believe. But unwittingly, we were allowing this table …. to send a different message.  The closer you were seated to the middle of the table, it implied, the more important – the more central – you must be. The farther away, the less likely you were to speak up – your distance from the heart of the conversation made participating feel intrusive…. Without intending to, we’d created an obstacle that discouraged people from jumping in. 

Over the course of a decade, we held countless meetings around this table in this way – completely unaware of how doing so undermined our own core principles.  Why were we blind to this? Because the seating arrangements and place cards were designed for the convenience of the leaders, including me. Sincerely believing that we were in an inclusive meeting, we saw nothing amiss because we didn’t feel excluded.  Those not sitting at the centre of the table, meanwhile, saw quite clearly how it established a pecking order but presumed that we – the leaders – had intended the outcome. Who were they, then, to complain? 

It wasn’t until we happened to have a meeting in a smaller room with a square table that John and I realised what was wrong. Sitting around the table, the interplay was better, the exchange of ideas more free flowing, the eye contact automatic. Every person there, no matter their job title, felt free to speak up….. At our long, skinny table, comfortable in our middle seats, we had utterly failed to recognise that we were behaving contrary to …..

Over time, we’d fallen into a trap. Even though we were conscious that a room’s dynamics are critical to any good discussion, even though we believed that we were constantly on the lookout for problems, our vantage point blinded us to what was right before our eyes…… I went to our facilities department…. A few days later …. our new table was installed, solving the problem.

Still, interestingly, there were remnants of that problem that did not immediately vanish just because we’d solved it.…. While we’d fixed the key problem that had made place cards seem necessary, the cards themselves had become tradition that would continue until we specifically dismantled it. 

This is the nature of management. Decisions are made, usually for good reasons, which in turn prompt other decisions. So when problems arise….. disentangling them is not as simple as correcting the original error. Often finding a solution is a multi-step endeavour. There is the problem you know you are trying to solve  (think of that as the oak tree) and then there are all the other problems (think of these as saplings) that sprouted from the acrorns that fell around it. And these problems remain after you cut the oak tree down……

For me, the key to solving these problems is finding ways to see what’s working and what isn’t, which sounds a lot simpler than it is…… in a way I’ve been searching all my life for better ways of seeing. 

Ed Catmull, Creativity Inc

I invite you to notice the following about the way we – human beings – show up and operate:

  1. We automatically assume that our actions are in line with our beliefs;
  2. As long as it feels right for us we assume that it is right;
  3. We can be blind to that which is right in front of us for decades. Why? See point 2 above;
  4. The access to change is breakdown in the routine that changes lived experience – in the case of Ed Catmull finding himself having a meeting with the team in a smaller room with a square table and feeling the difference in the experience of communicating with one another;
  5. The nature of human life is entanglement – many ‘things’ are entangled with many other ‘thing’ – therefore, solving problems is much harder than creating them;
  6. The key to high performance of any kind is deliberately setting about creating situations which expose you to new situations, shift your vantage point, affect your feelings.  So if you want to know what it is like to be a customer then be a customer. If you want to know what it is like to be a call-centre agent then be a call-centre agent – regularly……
  7. Transformation  – business transformation, customer experience transformation, digital transformation – does not occur overnight. And it certainly does not come ‘out of the box’ whether that is through the strategists toolbox, the best practices toolbox, or the cloud software as a service toolbox.

Continue reading “Are Leaders & Management Practices The Key Obstacles To High Performing Organisations?”

On Customer Experience, Brand Values, and a “Sense of Honour”

Let’s start today’s conversation with the following passage:

By strategy, Bourdieu… does not mean conscious choice or rational calculation. The strategies employed by the Kabyle are not based on conscious, rational calculations but on a “sense of honour” that guides complex manoeuvres of challenge, riposte, delay, aggression, , retaliation and disdain.

The sense of honour derives from sets of dispositions that internalise in practical form what seems appropriate or possible in situations of challenge, constraint, or opportunity. Thus, choices do not derive directly from objective situations in which they occur or from transcending rules, norms, patterns, and constraints that govern social life; rather they stem from practical dispositions that incorporate ambiguities and uncertainties that emerge from acting through time and space. 

– Culture & Power, The Sociology of Pierre Bourdieu by David Swartz

Look at the organisation that you find yourself leading or working within and for.  Is there such a thing as a “sense of honour” present in this organisation? If there is then who and what is honoured? Is it the customer?  Is it the humanity of the folks that work in your organisation? Your partners in the value chain? The shareholders? Making the numbers, getting ahead, becoming the largest, beating the competition? VW is not the only organisation – just the latest one to be exposed for what the modern organisation is centred on.

So you have customer experience centred digital transformation vision. And associated programme plan. If you are going about this in a ‘best practice manner’ you have defined the objectives, listed the business capabilities you will need, identified the data and content you will need, the information technology applications (CRM, marketing cloud, e-commerce, CMS…) and the IT infrastructure. Oh, and I forgot, you have a bunch of folks busy on mapping and possibly even redesigning business processes. You may even be enlightened and looking at the people part of the puzzle / architecture.

What about the critical question? The “sense of honour”.  Who is busy generating the “sense of honour” required to genuine show up and travel (as experienced by the customer) as a customer experience centred organisation that consistently does right by customers: like produce/deliver the product you are actually selling (like Apple, unlike VW), like treat the customer as s/he wishes to be treated – with attention, with courtesy (like Zappos or John Lewis, unlike your ISP/telecoms provider),  like create a platform for customers to access critical information and tools so that they can help themselves when it makes sense for them to do so (like Amazon)?

 

It is at this point that somebody will come up with brand values. Or corporate values. This somebody will state that these constitute the organisation’s “sense of honour”. But do these constitute that customer-experience centred “sense of honour” I am talking about here?

Let’s be straight with one another. You know and I know that the brand values are stuff that is cooked up by the marketing folks usually to differentiate where really there is no differentiation. You know and I know that these brand values are primarily driven for image making purposes. You know and I know that these brand values are seen as fictions outside of the marketing department.

What about the corporate values plastered on mission, values, purpose statements and usually on the walls?  Let’s be straight with one another again: they are empty aren’t they?  The fact is that they are not embodied in the organisation by most of the folks in the organisation. And rarely are they embodied by the Tops that pronounce these corporate values. Most of  us see these for what they are: propaganda, delusion, or simply aspiration.

So what is my point? My point is that almost all of the organisations that I have ever encountered (worked for, consulted for, been a customer of) lack  a “sense of honour”. And certainly they lack a sense of honour that values genuine care and loyalty for the folks that do business with your organisation. What this means is that you can make all the changes you want in communication channels,  technologies, data, and business processes and you are unlikely to attain your desired outcomes: genuine engagement, genuine loyalty. Loyalty is born of sacrifice. Sacrifice does not come easily beyond the family. Which is why tribes and communities (usually numbering in the tens to hundreds) go to great lengths to cultivate a “sense of honour” and practical dispositions attuned to the “sense of honour”.

My advice? If you are the leader and you wish your organisation to be genuinely customer experience centric and call forth loyalty then embody the “sense of honour” that necessarily goes with such a stance.  And work on infusing all the people in your organisation with this “sense of honour” such that this sense of honour become a set of practical dispositions where anyone in the organisation will naturally do what is right for the customer in any given circumstance. If you are not up for this then I wish to highlight one of my key learnings over the last 25+years:

Old Organisation + New Technology = Old Org. + Trauma – Money

Enough for today, I thank you for your listening and wish you the very best. A la procaine.

Latest Musings on Customer Experience, Digital Transformation, and Agile

It’s been a while – quite a while since the last conversation.  During this period I have experienced that which I have experienced and in the process some aspects of human existence inside organisational worlds have revealed themselves to me. Today, I wish to share a few of the experiences and revelations.

Some Matters Call Louder and Make Bigger Demands

This has been the year that I have found myself involved in digital transformation visions and initiatives aimed at designing and delivering compelling  omnichanel customer experiences. So my work has taken me across Europe. That has meant a lot of travel: taxis, airports, planes, more taxis….. Towards the end of September that travel became too much for my back. If I sat down I could not get up unaided.  What did I do?  Did I do as my advisers advised?  Did I stop this way of existence?  Did I take it easy?  Did I take time off work to let my back heal?

No. I continued working. The exception that I made because I had to make it was to cut down on the travelling. To do as much as possible working from home. When that did not work and I found myself forced to work from home, I worked from home. To even do that I had to take medicines. Medicines to ease the pain and make it possible for me to work – usually and mostly by standing up for hours at a time. And when the work was over (for that day) I took medicines to relax certain muscles by putting me to sleep.

Apart from the work of working and honouring my commitments to clients and colleagues, I cut everything else out. That cutting out included spending time with the family. It also included cutting out any and all matters that go into thinking about and sharing the conversations that constitute The Customer & Leadership Blog.

Why is it that I cut everything out except work – the very thing that my advisors told me to cut out?  Why did I put the emphasis on today (work that needed to be done) and not tomorrow (restoration to full health)?  The honest answer is simply that the matters of today (work) made a stronger call-demand-pull on me than the matters of tomorrow. Why? Because dealing with matters of today (the work that needed to be done on initiatives that I was deeply involved in) generated the income that funds my lifestyle – and that of those who depend on me.

What does this have to do with digital transformation efforts focussed on enabling client-centricity (single customer view, pull as well as push) and great omnichannel experiences?  A good question.  Here is the answer. These efforts are focussed on creating a future – for some a desirable and compelling future. Yet these efforts are starved of attention and critical resources. Why?  Because the day-to-day operational demands of the business – to keep it working and generating the necessary revenues and profits – make stronger calls/demands on the folks in the business. As such they suck and deeply enmesh the very folks that are needed to create the future. So the digital transformation journey turns out, for many organisations, to be that much ‘harder’, longer, and troublesome than the visionaries and architects imagine.

There Is A Big Difference Between Beginning / Doing CX-Digital Transformation and Truly Doing CX-Digital Transformation!

How can I best convey that which I wish to convey here? Perhaps it is best for me to share the following passage with you:

My solo three months hike on the Pacific Crest Trail had many beginnings. there was the first flip decision to do it, followed by the second, more serious decision to actually do it, and then the long third beginning, composed of weeks of shopping and packing and preparing to do it. There was the quitting my job …. finalizing my divorce… selling everything I owned…… There was the driving across the country… and a few days later, catching a flight to Los Angeles and ride to the town of Mojave and another ride to …….

At which point, at long last, there was the actually doing it, quickly followed by the grim realisation of what it meant to do it, followed by the decision to quit doing it because doing it was absurd and pointless and ridiculously difficult and far more than I expected doing it would be and I was profoundly prepared to do it.

And then there was the real live truly doing it.

The staying and doing it, in spite of everything, In spite of the bears and the rattlesnakes and the scat of mountain lions…; the blisters and scabs and scrapes and lacerations. The exhaustions and the deprivation; the cold and the heat; the monotony and the pain; the thirst and the hunger…..

Cheryl Strayed, Wild

Agile: The Latest Corporate Delusion?

What kind of people have we become? People who want it easy, painless, fast and if possible entertaining.  Further, we are people who are woeful at thinking. Really thinking – looking beyond the surface to see the genealogy of ideas, principles, methods, and practices to enrich our understanding of what it is we are talking about, dealing with.  I am clear that this is clearly the case with Agile.

How can I put this bluntly?  When I was a teenager, played tennis, enjoyed tennis, wanted to become better at tennis, and idolized Bjorn Borg I rushed out and bought a Donnay tennis racket.  That racket did not turn me into a championship winning tennis player.  Want another example? Certain matters are they way they are – they require time, effort, involve pain, making sacrifices…… and adding agile those matters does not magically get rid of this time, effort, pain, sacrifice…. Take pregnancy and the nine month process of giving birth (hopefully) to a health baby.  Add Agile to pregnancy to make it Agile Pregnancy. What difference does this make in the real world of those who become pregnant?

Based on my experience I say that adding Agile to your CX or Digital Transformation will not deal with the matters I have raised in the first two points: the primacy (pull) of the existing business and day-to-day operations; and the matters raised-shared by Cheryl Strayed.  What it will do is to delude you into taking on matters that you may not be well positioned-disposed to take on. And fail to deal realistically with the real hurdles in a pragmatic manner.

I thank you for your listening. If you missed these conversations then I say please know that I missed ‘giving birth to them’ and sharing them with you.  As the French say “A la prochaine” – until the next time…