A Personal Reflection On Change

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So what is my personal take on change?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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?”

Leadership Involves Mastery of Initiative Conversations

Effective Leaders Excel At Initiative Conversations

I say that a leader is s/he who brings about a future that wasn’t going to happen anyway. I also say that human beings are beings who live in-through language. This leads me to conclude that a leader is s/he who is a master of using language to bring about a future that wasn’t going to happen anyway. This begs the question, what kind of language? To bring about a future that wasn’t going to happen anyway a leader has to take the initiative and effect change in the present. This means that a leader has to excel in the art of Initiative Conversations.

An Enquiry Into Initiative Conversations

At this point you are likely to want me to define an ‘Initiative Conversation’. Here’s the definition:

An Initiative Conversation is a proposal to create a new future, with the intention of making the future a reality. What makes an Initiative Conversation unique is not that it is a way of talking about starting something. It actually does start something.

– Jeffery and Laurie Ford, The Four Conversations

I am aware of the limitation of definitions, so allow me to bring this definition to life by giving you an example of an Initiative Conversation:

I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth. No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind, or more important for the long-range exploration of space, and none will be so difficult or expensive to accomplish. Let it be clear … that I am asking Congress and the country to accept a firm commitment to a new course of action, a course which will last for many years and carry very heavy costs. If we are to go only half way, or reduce our sights in the face of difficulty, in my judgement it would be better not to go at all.

President John R. Kennedy speaking to joint session of Congress on May 25, 1961

What Makes Initiative Conversations Necessary?

In my conversations with my children I often say “The being of man, your being, my being, is not the being of this table right in front of us!” What do I mean by that? Allow me to shed light on that by sharing the following with you (bolding mine):

The twig has no relationship to it’s future, drifting passively in the wind.

People are not twigs: we can create a future by design. We have desires or intentions, goals or plans, and can have an active relationship to the future….. When we become active and intentional about our future, we can deliberately choose to make something happen… The desire for something better is characteristic of human beings. 

To make your goals a reality, begin by having Initiative Conversations: announce the future you want to achieve, and invite other people to join you in making it happen

Initiative Conversations are proposals that share an idea for an attractive and worthwhile future, and show people the possibility and the value in fulfilling it…. In many cases, the Initiative Conversation goes beyond informing people, and begins to engage them and excite them about being part of making something happen….

– Jeffery and Laurie Ford, The Four Conversations

How can you tell whether you have held an effective Initiative Conversation or not? Simple. An effective Initiative Conversation does more than inform or provide direction. An effective Initiative Conversation moves the people taking part in that conversation! The people are moved as in excited by the new future and being so excited they are moved to enter into the ‘arena’ where work has to happen to bring about the new future. At a very human level, you/i feel it: there is a certain energy, a certain buzz.

What Are The Constituents of An Initiative Conversation?

1. What-When-Why

The following three elements make up the heart of an Initiative Conversation:

1. What is to be accomplished (the desired outcome);
2. When (date-time) are we committed to accomplish the desired outcome; and
3. Why does it matter that we generated the desired outcome by such a date-time?

Regarding these elements I share the following advice with you:

What
The What element …. needs to be brief and compelling to attract the intended audience.

When
Every goal needs a timeline – that is what makes the new future a specific event instead of an abstract idea.

Why
The value of an initiative needs to be spelled out clearly for everyone, especially when it requires financial or material resources, or causes people inconvenience or extra work. Why is a value statement that provides the context for the change and allows people to choose to spend their time, money, and effort to reach the goal.

– Jeffery and Laurie Ford, The Four Conversations

2. Who-Where-How

Let’s imagine that you have thought through your What-When-Why. Are you now in a position to out into the world and hold Initiative Conversations? No. You need to think through the Who-Where-How:

Before taking your initiative on the road, consider Who needs to hear the message, Where the resources are, and How the work might get done.

– Jeffery and Laurie Ford, The Four Conversations

How much work do you need to do in this domain? Do you need to have fully fleshed out stakeholder management plan? Do you need a fully fleshed out business case and inventory of resources required? Do you need a detailed MS Project Plan running into hundreds, even thousands of tasks, that will send just about everybody to sleep? No. Just need to do enough to show that you have thought through what it will take to bring about the desired future:

Who Needs to Participate?

Identify all the different individuals and groups you believe will be needed to accomplish the initiative. Who could do the work? Who could provide the resources? Who will receive the benefits? Who needs to authorise, approve, or regulate some aspect of the initiative? This is your first guess, which you will probably continue to revise as you go forward….

Where Will The Resources Come From? 

The process of taking an idea through an implementation process to its fulfilment requires resources….. consider what resources are likely to be required and where they might come from. Where could you get the money, the people, and the tools?

How Might The Work Get Done?

Even though you do not need a fully detailed work plan at the initiative stage, it is helpful to think through what might be involved in accomplishing what you are proposing…. The objective is to begin sketching out what you think will be required… suggestive rather than definitive. The prime benefit of doing this task now is that it lets you see where you need input and ideas from others …..

– Jeffery and Laurie Ford, The Four Conversations

3. Hold The Initiative Conversations And Keep Holding Them

When you have both the What-When-Why and the Who-Where-How then you are in a good place to hold Initiative Conversations through a variety of communication methods. When you hold these Initiative Conversations I counsel you to heed these wise words (bolding mine):

The important thing is to include everyone who might have a direct or an indirect contribution to make to the fulfilment of the vision. You want to give people an opportunity to learn about the initiative and think about how their own activities and environment will change. Your goal for Initiative Conversations is to get people talking….

You will probably say this same initiative statement (What-When-Why) many times. One important job for the leader is to keep the big-picture goals alive for people by repeating them as the initiative progresses towards completion. Initiative Conversations tend to have short lives. Even when things are going well, people get caught up in their local details, and the big picture fades from view, so they need frequent reminders about the purpose of their labors.

– Jeffery and Laurie Ford, The Four Conversations

What Does This Have To Do With Customer Experience Transformation?

I invite you to consider that most organisations doing Customer stuff (CX, CRM) fail because the folks in leadership positions fail to plan for and hold effective Initiative Conversations. These ‘leaders’ fail to move the folks through communicating a compelling-energizing-uplifting What-When-Why.

I also find that many ‘leaders’ fail to do a good enough job of the Who-Where-How. Consider the Who. Is it not the case that when it comes to organisational change only the favoured circle are included, really included, in the Initiative Conversations; most of the folks who will do the work and whose lives will change (usually dramatically) are treated as pawns to be moved around the organisational chess board.  Consider the questions of resources (Where) by using an airline analogy. In the airline business one does not have folks flying planes with say 90 units of fuel if 100 are needed to get to the destination. In organisational worlds that I have witnessed, I have found it is common for those charged with implementation to be given only 80 units when 100 are needed, and then for these folks to be punished when they ‘resist change’ or do not bring about the desired outcomes. Consider the How: how often is it that folks that dream up visions, develop strategies, and mandate change do not adequately grapple with  how the work of change will occur  thus storing up trouble during the implementation phase.

And Finally

I thank you for your listening to my speaking. I look forward to listening to your speaking if you choose to speak by commenting.  I wish you a great day and ask that you cause this weekend to be a great weekend for you and all whom you touch. Why not hold Initiative Conversations about what really matters to you, with the folks that matter?  Initiative Conversations are just as relevant in the personal domain as they are in the business/organisational domain.

Please note an earlier slightly modified version of this conversation was published in May 2015 at CustomerThink.com as part of the  monthly Human-Centred Leadership column.

How To Think Productively About Customer Experience?

A little while back Bob Thompson asked this question on the CustomerThink.com site.  Thereafter, this question called forth 60 or so comments from a range of folks including Customer Experience gurus, thought leaders, experts, practitioners etc.  I found this conversational thread interesting.  Why?  The lack of shared understanding and agreement as to what constitutes Customer Experience / Customer Experience Management. In this conversation I wish to consider how one can think productively (usefully) about Customer Experience.

What Is Customer Experience?

It occurs to me that many think of Customer Experience as a bucket/container.  And so get busy thinking about (arguing about) what does and does not go in to this container.  So some folks put a lot of stuff into this bucket including product and pricing.  Other folks, like Bob Thomspon, would like this bucket to be more restrictive: to contain only customer interaction with the organisation through the established channels.   Let’s take a step back and ask this question: Is Customer Experience a bucket (container)?

Many years ago one of my children came up home upset. Why? Someone had called him stupid!  After giving him a hug, I played an instructive game with my son. I asked him to think of what he could buy with £100.  I listened to his excitement. Then I told him that I would give him £1 if he could show me a chair. Without hesitation he walked over to a chair and pointed at it. I gave him a £1. Then I told him that I’d happily give him £1,000 if he could show me stupid.  It took about ten minutes (of ‘to and fro’) but he got it. What did he get?  He got that stupid is an idea, a concept, a label that folks apply.

I say to you that Customer Experience is not a thing. Customer Experience is not a function like Marketing, Sales, Service…. Customer Experiences is not a process like say ‘Enquiry to Proposal’ or ‘Order to Cash’. Customer Experience is not a technology nor a set of technologies.

I invite you to consider that Customer Experience is a concept (idea).  Please remember that idea comes from idein (to see) and such is simply a way of seeing.  What does it allow you to see?  That everything that your organisation does or does not do has an impact on the customer’s experience of you.

What Is The Value of The Concept: Customer Experience ?

I say that the value of the Customer Experience concept lies in the following:

First, it helps us remember that a customer experiences your organisation/brand: your stores, your products, your pricing, your branding, your website, your sales people, your delivery people, your service people, your communications.  I invite you to consider that a customer (or potential customer) can and does experience your brand without interacting directly with your brand. How so?  By reading about your organisation. By listening to others talk about your organisation….

Second, it opens up the possibility of competing at the level of the Customer Experience (how the Customer experiences your organisation/brand as a whole) rather than at the level of product, or solution, or service; one can create-deliver a ‘product-service-solution’ in a manner that leaves the Customer cold, indifferent, or deeply moved-touched-inspired-uplifted.  One can provide exactly the same product-service-solution yet show up and travel as a good citizen – one who genuinely cares about the wellbeing of other citizens.

What Is The Challenge That Goes With Customer Experience? 

The challenge of Customer Experience is not that of carving out Customer Experience as container and then determining what does and does not go into this bucket.  The challenge of Customer Experience is not setting up a Voice of the Customer Experience program.  The challenge of Customer Experience is not creating a Chief Customer Officer position / CX team and charging this person/team with putting in new touchpoints / channels or redesigning business processes ….

If you choose to compete on the basis of the Customer Experience then it is not enough to get a team of folks together and decide how wide-long-deep the Customer Experience container is, what goes in it, and who owns it.  Then set aside a budget and get busy with creating new interactions channels, improving existing channels….. Why? This is not a productive way of looking at Customer Experience. Disagree?  How many organisations have taken or are taking their route – first with CRM and now with CXM?  Of these how many have become the beloved of their customers?

I say that the challenge of Customer Experience, to use a computer analogy, is like the challenge of erasing the existing operating system and replacing it with a new operating system.  What do I mean by ‘operating system’?  I mean a new way of ‘showing up and travelling’ for everyone in the organisation.  So that when someone in procurement is faced with the task of choosing one product supplier or another s/he considers the impact on the Customer Experience. Or when someone in IT is choosing between system A or system B, he considers not only the cost and fit with IT standards but also the usability and usefulness to the users who are either dealing with customers or supporting those who are dealing with customers.  Finally, it means moving power from those who sit in HQ to those who are on the front lines in direct touch with customers.  It means that the folks in HQ are there to support those interacting with and serving customers.

Summing Up: Customer Experience As A Way Of Showing Up And Travelling

I invite you to consider that there is not much power in choosing to see Customer Experience as a bucket with certain functions, people, processes, channels, technologies inside it and others outside it.  I invite you to consider that a productive (transformative) way of thinking about and orienting oneself towards Customer Experience is to see it as a way of life: It is way of ‘showing up and travelling’ that is mindful of how one’s decisions, actions, inactions, impact the Customer Experience: how the customer experiences you.  This way of life has to be embraced by everyone.  And the biggest barriers to this change are not the folks on the front line interacting with-serving customers. No, it is the folks sitting in HQ.

 

 

Customer / Leadership: What Is The Access To Cultivating Greatness?

It is the time of the year that many are pushing out their predictions for 2015. I am not in that business: I lack a crystal ball.  Further, I say that the future is not already made. The future is unborn and how you/i/we show up and operate in this world will shape how 2015 turns out.  So in this final conversation of 2014, I want to share with you my thoughts on what it takes to become great; greatness necessarily involves effecting significant and substantial change.

Let’s assume that you wish to reshape your organisation – to effect significant, substantial, change in the way that the organisation operates.  Perhaps, you wish to transition your organisation from a product-centred orientation towards  customer-centred orientation. And/or shift the fundamental stance of your organisation from ‘extracting value’ from your customers to being generously rewarded (by customers) for simplifying-enriching the lives of your customers. It could be that you want to move from treating your employees as resources (things) to treating them with dignity as fellow human beings…..

What is the access to that?  Is there an organisational equivalent to Ali Baba’s “Open, Sesame!”? You know some kind of hidden magical recipe that provides you access to untold riches, instantly, without significant effort, discipline, and/or sacrifice?  I invite you to answer that for yourself. How has all the strategy stuff worked out? What about all the process change / six sigma stuff? Or the customer journey mapping? What about your investments in CRM systems and other technologies (e.g. IVR) have they taken you to the heights of sales effectiveness and/or customer service delight?  Let’s not forget the VoC feedback- has that unlocked the door to customer loyalty riches?

Greatness does not lie on the road well travelled, greatness lies on the road less travelled. Greatness requires dedication – the kind of dedication that flows from total commitment; this kind of commitment arises in response to a possibility-call that resonates with the very core of your being. Greatness requires the ultimate sacrifice: yourself – your way of showing up in the world and the manner of your travel in this world.  Allow me to give life to this through a story (bolding mine):

There was an artist who was so devoted to her art; nothing else in the world had any attraction for her. She had a studio, and whenever she had a moment to spare her first thought was to go to that studio and work on the statue she was making. People could not understand her, for it is not everybody who is devoted to one thing like this. For a time a person interests himself in art, at other times in something else, at other times in the home, at other times in the theatre. But she did not mind; she went every day to her studio and spent most of her time in making this work of art, the only work of art that she made in her life.

The more the work progressed, the more she began to feel delighted with it, attracted by that beauty to which she was devoting her time. It began to manifest to her eyes, and she began to communicate with that beauty. It was no longer a statue for her, it was a living being. The moment that statue was finished she could not believe her eyes – that it had been made by her….. She felt exalted by the beauty of the statue.

She was so overcome by the impression that this statue made on her that she knelt down before this vision of perfect beauty, with all humility, she asked the statue to speak, forgetting entirely that it was her own work…… there came a voice from the statue: “If you love me, there is only one condition, and that is to take the bowl of this poison from my hand. If you wish me to be living, you no more will live. Is it acceptable?” “Yes,” she said, “You are beauty, you are the beloved, you are the one to whom I give all my thought, my admiration, my worship; even my life I will give to you.” ….. She took the bowl of poison, and fell dead. The statue lifted her and kissed her by giving her its own life, the life of beauty and sacredness …..

– Hazrat Inayat Khan, The Art of Being and Becoming

Let me end this conversation by posing this question: What possibility (or cause) matters to you such that you are willing to be and do as the artist (in the story above)?  It occurs to me that this is question worth pondering and answering as you/i head into 2015. I wish you a great beginning and the very best for 2015.

What Way Of Being Creates Access To Effectiveness In The Exercise Of Change Leadership?

Looking back, I see that I have been involved in drama of organisational change since the days I did corporate recovery work as a part of Price Waterhouse’s Corporate Recovery division.  That must have been around 1990/91 – some 20+ years ago.  What is it that I have ‘learned’ about this domain: the domain of leading-facilitating organisational change?

After 20+ years, I find myself totally clear on the following: almost every Top and Middle I have come across, in just about every type of organisation, in just about every type of industry, sucks at leading-enabling-facilitating organisational change.  I found myself face to face with this truth, in a recent organisational context, where I find myself acting as  an outside advisor on a Customer project.

If you find yourself in this ‘place’ and are content with this then stop reading and go do something useful with your life.  On the other hand, if you find yourself in that ‘place’ and looking for an access to being effective in the exercise of change leadership then I invite you to listen – really listen and grapple with these words of wisdom:

Position is everything. Everything changes, even when the circumstances remain identical, when you shift your position. Try it sometime with someone who is your adversary. Shift your position. Be that person and the adversary disappears.

Shift positions with whatever barrier you are facing … in your life. Be the barrier, and it is no longer there. It is only there because we pull back, separate ourselves from it. The more we pull back, the bigger and more overwhelming it gets, and the angrier or the more frightened we become. If we really look at the anger that makes us crazy or the fear that stops us cold, we see that it develops step by step from our thought process. And starting point of that thought process is separation ……

When you really acknowledge that it is nothing but yourself, when you realise this fact, you cannot live your life in the old way. You’ve suddenly taken responsibility for it. Before, the problem was outside – your bad luck, what other did to you, the circumstances you could do nothing about… When you realise that the cause is you, you empower yourself. You suddenly become a ten thousand-foot-high buddha……. Nothing is outside of you.

– John Daido Loori, The Great Way, Best Buddhist Writing 2008

Just about every one of us (as a human being) sucks at relationship, at experience design, at calling forth engagement, at change, and at the exercise of leadership due to the neglect of this radical truth. Some of us are not aware of this. Many who us, who are aware of this truth, choose not to give life to this truth in our way of being (showing up and travelling) in life.

Is it then any surprise that just about every organisation sucks at cultivating relationships with customer, at designing-generating appropriate customer experiences, at calling forth the best of their people popularly labelled employee engagement, and the exercise of change leadership?

What hope is their for an organisation to make a shift to a customer-centric way of being-in-the-world and doing business with customers, when the Tops and Middles are not even effective in the exercise of change leadership in the context of designing-implementing a CRM system?

Revisiting Strategy: Does Effective Strategy Involve More Than Strategy?

Is Strategy Purely An Exercising In Thinking?

Is strategy an analytical exercise where one collects useful data, crunches this data, finds where the opportunities lie, and then selects the most promising opportunity? Is it merely a matter of ‘scanning the landscape of opportunity’ and selecting the most suitable opportunity?  Put differently, is the job of the strategist to select which table to play at?

It occurs to me that this is pretty much the view articulated by Michael Porter – the person who really put strategy on the corporate landscape.  Arguably, it is also what Tony Hsieh is getting at when he writes the following in his book Delivering Happiness (bolding mine):

 I noticed so many similarities between poker and business that I started making a list of the lessons I learned from playing poker that could also be applied to business:

Evaluating Market Opportunities

  • Table selection is the most important decision you can make.
  • It’s okay to switch tables if you discover it’s too hard to win at your table.
  • If there are too many competitors (some irrational or inexperienced), even if you’re the best it’s a lot harder to win.

Is There More To Strategy Than Table Selection?

There might be.  It may not be as simple at selecting the right table.  Let’s get back to Tony Hsieh, he writes (bolding mine):

Strategy

  • Don’t play games that you don’t understand, even if you see lots of other people making money from them.
  • Figure out the game when the stakes aren’t high.

This is great as far as it goes. As a strategist you can sit in your ‘war-room’ crunch the ‘big data’, create a map of the opportunity landscape. And then select the right table to play at based on the consideration of two factors: the opportunity potential at a specific table, and your competence in playing the game that is played at that table.

Is this all there is to the game of strategy making?  Put differently, now that the table has been selected, can the strategist/s hand over the baton to those who excel at execution-implementation: playing the game that is played at the chosen table?  For me the answer is “No”. Why?

I invite you to consider that what is so is always in flux: change/flow/becoming/birth-death-birth characterise the world in which we find ourselves. One of the central assertions of complexity science is that a small intervention at the right place at the right time can move a stable system over the change and into a radically different state. If you grasp this then you get that there is space to act, to shape the game so as to increase your likelihood of winning.

The Work of Strategy Includes The Work Involved in ‘Tilting The Table’

If the first part of strategy can be likened to ‘selecting the right table’, then I say the second and vital part of strategy involves the work that is involved in ’tilting the table’. What do I mean by ’tilting the table’?  I mean acting on the world – orchestrating the elements of a situation – so as to generate the desired outcome. Notice, here we are in the realms of implementation (execution).

So what levers are available to the strategist who seeks to ’tilt the table’?  Let’s answer that question by imagining a scenario. Let’s assume that as the strategist you have selected the digital table to play at. How might you go about ’tilting the table’ so as to increase the odds of success?  I can think of the following levers:

  1. Actions that destabilise the existing power structure in your organisation e.g. making people changes and shifting the balance of power between business units, functions, products etc;
  2. Actions you take to ‘de-stabilise’ your key competitor/s e.g. luring away their key people;
  3. Who you choose to lead the digital transformation programme;
  4. Governance structure and rules of engagement;
  5. Resources (money, people, information, tools) that you make available to the digital transformation programme;
  6. The timescale you set for the shift to digital to occur and the associated metrics for gauging movement along the digital path; and
  7. Actions you take to make the shift toward digital necessary and attractive e.g. making promotion dependent on digital skills-expertise-projects, and funding digital education-training.

You get the idea. The levers that you can identify are limited only by your imagination, your creativity.  And some will have more leverage than others.

As a strategist, is your work finished once you have done that which you can to ’tilt the table’ in favour of your team, your organisation?  It occurs to me that the answer, again, is no.

Strategy Involves An Ongoing Attunement-Adjustment to The Facts On The Ground

Given the dynamic nature of the world in which we live and in which the game of business is played out, it occurs to me that strategy making cannot be a one-off exercise.  It occurs to me that effective strategy, in a dynamic context, is alive. What do I mean by that?  What is the core characteristic of living organisms? They are attuned to their environment. Why? Because attainment is essential for timely adjustment to occur; adjustment promotes survival.

What does this mean for the strategist? Here are the words of Tony Hsieh in Delivering Happiness (bolding is mine):

Strategy

  • You need to adjust your style of play throughout the night as the dynamics of the game change. Be flexible.

Summing Up

I leave you with the following thought: the effective strategist is one who not only has experience of the arena but is in the arena where the game is being played.  And it is this involvement and mastery of the game, along with reflection and creativity, that allows him/her to be effective in strategising.  I get that this is unconventional.

Thanks for listening, I invite you to share your thoughts-experience on the matter.