DCX/CRM: Avoiding Failure (4)

This is the fourth and last ‘conversation’ in this series of conversations dealing with implementation. You can find the first three conversations here, here, and here.

Wishful Thinking Leads to Failure Especially When Combined With Incompetence, and Playing Politics

1991, after exiting from the world of corporate recovery I find myself working in the  Finance & Administration function of a global drinks company.  My first mission?  To assist a highly experienced American with a delicate mission.  The hotly anticipated and much ‘advertised’ Management Information System has been live for a couple of months. The MIS, much touted by the Tops has cost a fortune and it doesn’t work. The Tops associated with the MIS are a laughing stock…

That which we ‘found’ to be so in 1991 continues to be so today:

  • Wishful thinking, politics, and incompetence abound in large organizations;
  • These do not cause serious damage with regards to day-to-day operations as ‘algorithms and machinery’ have been built over the years to deal with that which needs to be dealt with;
  • However, the same characteristics (wishful thinking, politics, incompetence) tilt the ‘playing field’ heavily towards failure when it comes to large-scale change – the kind with “transformation” in the title.

There’s a book called “Control Your Destiny or Someone Else Will”. I read this book back in 1994/95. And, I have forgotten it all except for this quote by Jack Welch:

Face reality as it is, not as it was or as you wish it to be

I say that one of the primary causes of DCX/CX failure is not putting the right people in critical roles

Which roles am I thinking about?  The Business Sponsor. The Programme Manager. The Product Owner. The Subject Matter Experts (Business Side). The Solution Architect. The Change Lead. The Project Managers. The Functional Leads. The Technical Leads.

What happens when one doesn’t respect the unforgiving demands of the implementation arena by letting standards slip – accepting/making compromises based on wishful thinking or political expedience – and putting those who are unfit for these critical roles into these roles?  This phenomenon has a history and a name: “Lions led by donkeys”.

Lions led by donkeys” is a phrase popularly used to describe the British infantry of the First World War and to blame the generals who led them. The contention is that the brave soldiers (lions) were sent to their deaths by incompetent and indifferent leaders (donkeys).

Let’s consider the role of Product Owner. What a responsibility comes with this role!  The person/s filling the role Product Owner in a CX transformation programme must have an in-depth lived/felt understanding of the those falling in the class Customer.  This necessarily means familiarity with variety for the class Customer tends to have considerable variety amongst its members.  This person/s also has to be an advocate for the interests of the Customer class – ensuring that whatever product (solution) is constructed meets the needs/wants of the Customer class. This person/s must bring the genuine voice of the Customer class into the transformation programme and make sure it is vividly present so as to inform thinking and decision making around the Product.

I say that the second cause of DCX/CRM failure is the failure to deal swiftly/decisively with those who are incompetent with regards to the demands of the role they are playing

Incompetence can be hidden relatively easily in the realm of the strategy/theory for there is no connection with the real world. In the arena of implementation, incompetence cannot be hidden for long: it surfaces when results have to be delivered – either they are delivered to the requisite quality or not. Which is to say that some of the “lions” turn out to be “donkeys” when measured against the context/role they find themselves in.

When incompetence surfaces those playing ‘leadership’ roles are confronted with an important choice: to face reality as it is and is not or to escape into wishful thinking. Few, in my experience, exercise the courage it takes to do the right thing. To take a hard/realistic look into the source of the incompetence and take the necessary action – almost always this is to move these people out of their roles and into other roles or out of the transformation programme.  The logical consequence is that those who are incompetent get to dig a deeper hole in which the transformation programme ultimately finds itself in.

Allowing me to give you an example.  On a recent engagement, one who was playing the role of project manager and solution architect with on the CRM workstream of a transformation programme found himself with a 6 person team – 4 offshore, 2 onshore. It took about four weeks for this person to come face to face with this realization: the entire offshore team was incompetent with regards to the work that had to be done.

This person asked for these people to be replaced by suitably experienced people asap.  The request fell upon the deaf.  So this person made his best efforts to coach/assist the incompetent. After a further few weeks, it became clear that this was counterproductive: the competent/effective were less productive because their time was taken up with the incompetent – teaching them, reviewing their work, correcting their work. Faced with this reality this person took all the work away from the offshore team, reassigned the work to the onshore team, helped the onshore team by doing some of the design and configuration himself, and disbanded the offshore team as soon as that option became feasible.

This person was not thanked for this decision. Why? Recognizing and dealing with incompetence can reflect badly on oneself (if one has recruited those people into their roles) or it can reflect badly on those (usually higher up the status ladder) who did recruit them.  So you see the temptation for those who are politically savvy to bury their heads in the sand.

I say a third and important cause of DCX/CX failure is that politics takes priority over reality thus distorting the thinking and decision making

I can decisively say that rare is the person who will be truthful when his/her identity/status/livelihood is threatened.  Yet, this is the dominant, almost exclusive, context in just about every large organization that I have ever worked in (as an employee) or worked for as a consultant.

Why does this happen?  The lack of psychological safety within almost all organizations that I have come across.  Where one fears speaking the truth one does not speak the truth.  What this means is that one creates a circle of those with whom one can speak the truth (“us”) and those with whom one cannot speak the truth (“them”).

Where psychological safety is not in place, and “us and them” is operative/dominant,  there one finds that information, communication, thinking, and decision making are distorted. This distortion tilts the playing field on which the transformation game is being played towards failure.

How can those who find themselves in leadership positions deal effectively with reality if reality is actively being masked with information that hides/distorts/mislead? If this question interests you then I recommend listening to the following talk:

Enough for today.  I thank you for your listening and wish you the very best for 2019. Until the next time….

 

DCX/CRM: Avoiding Failure (3)

This is the third of a series of ‘conversations’ centered on avoiding failure when it comes to Digital Customer Experience and/or CRM.  The first ‘conversation’ dealt with articulation-understanding-ownership of requirements.  The second ‘conversation’ dealt with the challenge of integration.  This third conversation deals with the matter of thinking/collaboration that necessarily comes with a transformation programme.

Thinking & Collaboration: Christmas Day

Yesterday was Christmas Day and we (our household) celebrated it.  The day turned out great and it didn’t just happen. For the day to turn out as it did (workable, enjoyable) required thinking/collaboration: the five members of the family had to think, make decisions, and collaborate in making happen that which we decided upon.

Let’s start with thinking/decision making.  We had to decide (as a family of five) where we wanted to spend Christmas. With the children’s grandparents in France in their main home in the country?  With the children’s grandparents with their winter home in the Alps? With the children’s uncle Ralf (and his family) in France? With my sister in the New Forest?  At home?

Where did these series of conversations centered on this question/decision take place?  Around our dining table – as that is the place where we sit, eat, talk things through ever since the children were toddlers.  After listening to one another and thinking things through we came to a mutual decision: we will do Christmas at home!

Next decision: Do we do Christmas as a family or do we invite guests?  Once we had made the decision that we wanted guests for Christmas, we had to agree upon who and how many people to invite given the demands on shopping-cooking-seating-sleeping that necessarily comes with inviting guests.  How did these decisions get made? Through a series of conversations. Where did these decisions get made? Around the dining table.

Did the thinking and decision-making stop here? No. Next, we had to decide (as a group) what it is that we wanted to eat/drink and the dietary requirements of our Christmas guests.  The challenge? To come up with the minimum number of dishes as some wanted to eat meat, others fish, others had vegetarian/vegan requirements.  And ensure that these dishes are the ones that folks want to eat.  Where did this thinking through (as a family) and decision making occur? Around the dining table.

Once the thinking through/decision making) had happened it was time to formulate a plan of action: Who would do the food shopping and by when? Who would go and buy the wine/drinks and by when? Who would prepare the food? Who would do the cooking? Where did these matters get thought through and decisions get made? Around the dining table.  Then on the day itself, we collaborated with one another to make happen that which needed to happen: setting the table up, clearing up the table, doing the washing up etc.

Thinking & Collaboration: DCX/CRM Transformation Programmes

Now think of your transformation programme (DCX/CRM): the elements, the actors, the interplay between the various elements/actors, the sequencing of work, the design of the end-to-end solution, orchestrating dependencies, dealing with the arrival of the unexpected – challenges, opportunities… Ask yourself these questions:

1-Is thinking (and decision-making) required?

2-Is this thinking (and decision-making) a one-off event or an ongoing series (a process)?

3-Is the thinking (and decision-making) that is called for, simple/easy – as in here is a round block of wood, here is a round hole, insert that block of wood into that hole?

4-Is the thinking deep, intricate, multi-dimensional – the kind of thinking that comes up with options, thinks through these options, considers the advantages/disadvantages of promising options, and identifies the impact of an option on the wider transformation programme?

5-Is the thinking (and decision making) an exercise for one omnipotent person? Or does the ‘nature’ of the thinking, decision-making, action planning, and execution necessarily require the active participation/contribution of a group of people?

6-If the thinking is not superficial/simple and cannot be done (or should not be done) by a single person then ask yourself this: Have we created a suitable context & space for the kind of thinking/collaboration that needs to occur in order for this programme to deliver on the promise?

Of What Do I Speak When I Speak ‘Context’?

What is it that I mean by ‘context’?  Imagine that you open your mail and find a wedding invitation for someone who matters to you.  What happens? You automatically know the context by having attended (or seen if it is via the movies) the context that goes with a wedding: the mood, the music, the place (most likely a church for the wedding service), the actors, clothing, the sequence of events, what actions are expected etc.  Now imagine you open your mail and learn that a friend has died and you are invited to his/her funeral.  Again, you know (almost immediately) the context that goes with a funeral – for example, the mood (and setting) will be dramatically different to that of a wedding and the expected behaviour/clothing will also be radically different.

Of What Do I Speak When I Speak ‘Space’?

Imagine that you are charged with staging a soccer game, in a foreign country,  between two well-known soccer teams. On the day of the match, you, the soccer teams, and the fans turn up to the venue What do you find?  The pitch, the space, is set-up for cricket! There are no goal posts. There are none of the markings that a game of soccer requires e.g. half-way line. Instead, the space has been set-up and thus calls forth (supports) a game of cricket as there are wickets. And there are the markings that go with a game of cricket e.g. the crease.

Avoid Failure By Cultivating a Context-Space That Calls Forth Deep Thinking and Collaboration

Time after time I come across transformation programmes where the space in which the actors show up and operate is that of a large call-centre.  Have you spent time in a large call-centre?  If you have, it cannot have escaped your notice that the environment is like that of a large warehouse. What is warehoused?  The people who answer calls!

The kind of space that one finds in a large call-centre operation is suited to the context of almost all call-centres. Why?  Because the context is one where ZERO original thinking is required. And ZERO collaboration is required.  Everything of significance has been thought through and turned into a script: for call type X follow script X, for call type Y follow script Y.

If you wish to avoid failure in your transformation programmes then it is essential that you create a context that signals, to all actors, that here we have to think (deeply) and collaborate – this is the default.  And, you have to create the space to support this signaling and enable this deep thinking/collaboration to occur.  Specifically, this means:

1-Plenty of meeting rooms – where the availability of these meeting rooms is kept up to date and made visible (electronically) to all working on the programme;

2-Range of meeting room sizes – from four people working on a challenge through to 20 people working on a challenge;

3-Each of these meeting rooms equipped with the equipment that goes with the kind of thinking/collaboration that the meeting room is designed for e.g. whiteboard/s, pens, ‘erasers’, sticky notes, audio-visual equipment…

Heed My Warning For The Transformation ‘Game’ Is An Unforgiving One!

I consider this to be a MINIMUM requirement.  Since 2016, I have worked on (and or witnessed) four transformation programmes.  Of these, only one company (global Oil & Gas operator) has provided the context and space I have set out here.  The rest, in my view, failed – the degree of failure varied from one company to another.   Allow me to end by saying this:

1-If you fail to provide a context-space for deep thinking to occur then I guaranteed you that your transformation programme will end up with superficial thinking;

2-If you fail to provide a context-space for collaboration to occur then I guarantee you that you will get silo-based thinking (and actions) and you will end up with requirements that do not gel across the elements of the programme, solution components that will not fit/integrate with another, and dependencies that are not identified early enough nor orchestrated effectively;

3-Where there is lack of context-space for deep thinking and collaboration there you will find a lack of effective leadership and programme management; and

4-The transformation ‘game’ is unforgiving as in failures in effective leadership and programme management will be punished through missed milestones, rework, escalating costs, demotivated actors, finger-pointing, scapegoating, and a sub-optimal ‘solution’ from the perspective of end users – your prospects/customers, your distribution partners, and the people on the front line of your organisation dealing with prospects, customers, and distribution partners.

Enough for today. I thank you for your listening and wish you the very best for 2019.  Until the next time….

DCX/CRM: Avoiding Failure (2)

In the first part of this series, I pointed out that IT centered programmes that involve the term “transformation” tend to be complex and tend towards failure – failure to deliver the desired outcomes to time, to budget, to end-user expectations.  And, I dealt with that which I consider as one of the most important sources of failure – inserting business analysts between those who will be using the technology and those configuring/building that technology.

Integration: The Formidable Challenge of Getting Systems to Work Together as an Ecosystem in a Transformation Programme

Today, I wish to consider, the most troublesome cause of failure: transformation programmes necessarily cover multiple functions, lots of business process, many end users from across the business, and these necessarily require many discrete IT applications (from different vendors) that must talk to one another fluently.  Fluently! Nothing less is acceptable to the end users – whether customers of the business or those in marketing-sales-service who are charged with facilitating the interactions/transactions with these customers

How big of a challenge is this?  Let’s consider this in terms that all of us, especially those not familiar with technology will understand. Imagine a board of directors meeting – there are seven people there, each speaks a different language, and none speaks/understands the languages spoken by the others.  How are these seven directors going to communicate with another and thus work as one to generate that which is expected from a board of directors?

The same is the case for IT systems!  There is a multiplicity of systems none of which ‘talk’ to one another yet they must ‘talk’ (integrate) to one another such that ‘conversation’ (data) flows easily/quickly across these systems.  How to arrive at this – an integrated solution where all the systems ‘talk’ to one another?  How one approaches this challenge determines whether one avoids failure or not.

Here’s One Way to Approach The Integration Challenge

1-Get a bunch of folks together whose title usually includes ‘architect’ as in “solution architect” or “enterprise architect” and get them to agree upon a design and publish a document to the rest of the players – those responsible for configuring/building the individual systems, and those responsible for connecting these systems with one another;  and then

2-Walk away sayings something like “Now, you vendors get together amongst yourselves as and when you see fit and figure out the specifications for the interfaces/integrations” thus neither facilitating nor overseeing this vital matter of working out how the interfaces/integrations are going to work (protocols, data that will flow across systems, direction of travel of this data, the mappings between one system and another, error handling…) and dealing with unexpected complications that always arise.

What Happens When You Take This Approach? 

If you take this approach then I guarantee (as I have seen it with my own eyes) that you are guaranteeing failure. What does failure look like?

1-Many errors are picked up in the Systems Integration Testing phase, and/or the User Acceptance Testing phase. Considerable rework is required from multiple ‘vendors’.  This takes time and effort resulting in Go-Live pushed out further and further, and increasing costs.

2-The ‘vendors’ dodge responsibility and point at others. The client team, including those with ‘architect’ in their title, scapegoat ‘vendors’ instead of taking responsibility for their failure to own/orchestrate/oversee the business of integration – often the most complex piece when you look at transformation in technology terms.

3-End users involved in the User Acceptance Testing rightly become concerned about that quality of the solution. This concern tends to be shared in the wider Business community thus making the challenge of ‘winning heart & minds’ that much greater as few of us have the time or the inclination to give up the familiar and learn the unfamiliar.

4-The Go-Live having been pushed out once, has to be pushed out again. And perhaps again. Then again. And when politics intervenes and the solution must Go-Live then most likely the solution will not be that which was envisaged. It falls short of delivering the desired outcomes: functionality, ease of use, and usefulness to those who use it.

5-Those who make the decisions promise that the deficiencies in the Go-Live solution will be addressed in phase 2.  This promise is rarely kept – at least not in the timescales that matter to the end users. It’s rather like sex: after climax, the passion/desire dwindles to nothing – the parties to the game are satiated.

Is There An Alternative – An Effective Approach To Dealing With The Challenge Of Integration?

Yes. What does this look like? I can only tell you what it looks like for me:

1-With regards to that which truly matters to me, I take full ownership – always, no exception- as in I design the play, I orchestrate the play, I facilitate the conversations/thinking that matters, I oversee to ensure that all are doing that which they are responsible for doing;

2-In the domains where I lack expertise, I bring in the experts as in those who have handled the challenge that I am facing and proven themselves. By “bring in the experts” I do not mean the organisation that claims this expertise – rookie mistake. I mean those individual human beings who embody the expertise either as individuals or as individuals that have worked together with one another as one team;

3-Put in place practices that allow me and those who are supporting me in the challenge of handling integration to keep in touch with individual teams/systems – on a weekly basis. Why, so that we know what is happening on the ground and pick up early if team A is doing something regards to system A that is going to mess with that which Team B is doing with system B.

4-Chair a regular Integration Workshop where ALL involved in building the IT solution attend – always, no exceptions. And, in this workshop I ensure that we actually work as opposed to merely talk. By this I mean, that we deal with that which impacts integration – this may just be issues, equally it could be design changes in one system that may impact other systems, or changes in business requirements that impact the design of the systems and the integrations.  And one output of the Integration Workshop might me that the integration blueprint published a long long time ago by the ‘architects’ has to be re-worked as it turns out to be flawed in one or more areas.

Does what I suggest sound like hard work?  Yes, it’s hard work. Which might explain why it is that so many go for the easier approach – the one I outlined at the start, the one prone to generating a failure.

I thank you for your listening and wish you the best. Until the next time….

 

DCX/CRM: Avoiding Failure (1)

Information technology centered programmes are prone to failure. This particularly true for the large/complex programmes – in the business world these kinds of programmes have the word “transformation” in them like business transformation, enterprise transformation, or digital customer experience transformation.

There are many factors that contribute to failure. Today, I wish to focus on the business requirements that represent the demand that the technology must deliver.

How It Used To Be

When I started out implementing IT systems as a management consultant, we had the consultants who were going to configure/build the system in direct (face to face) communication (typically workshops) with the business users (subject matter experts, end users):

Consultants <———————-> Business Users

This set-up was not perfect. Why?  Because the Consultants and the Business Users came from different worlds. In a sense they spoke different languages: the Consultants spoke the language of the application, the Business Users spoke the language of their industy-function-job.

A bridge between the two worlds tended to be built through a series of face to face workshops between the Consultants and the Business Users. And it was common for at least one member of the consulting team to have relevant domain experience: industry-function-process. Further, and importantly the Consultants and the Business Users shared culture as in came from the same culture so understanding was facilitated.

How It Is Nowadays

Nowadays it is common (in my experience) to have three sets of players:

Consultants  <————->  Business Analysts <—————–> Business Users

In this setup, it’s the Business Analysts who are responsible for:

  • ‘gathering’ the requirements from the Business Users and ‘packaging’ them up;
  • communicating them to the Consultants; and
  • responding to the questions posed by the Consultants.

Notice that there are 2 sets of communication: that between Business Analysts and Business Users; and that between Business Analysts and Consultants. So the challenge is for the Business Analysts to understand that which the Business Users need/want. And then pass on this understanding to the Consultants at the level needed for the Consultants to configure-build the application.

And notice this: the vital communication between the those who will configure/build the IT solution and those who will use it has been severed – it is no more.

Herein, lies a critical source of failure in CRM/DCX programmes that I have been involved in.  What is it that I am pointing at?

  • The Business Users no longer feel a sense of ownership over the business requirements nor the success/failure of the change programme;
  • The Business Analysts have become ‘Product Owners’ yet they do not see themselves as such nor operate as such;
  • The Business Analysts typically write up the requirements – create a document and email to the Consultants with the expectation that the Consultants will simply read the document and understand what is being asked of them;
  • The Consultants read the document and typically don’t understand the requirements and have plenty of questions for the Business Analysts;
  • The Business Analysts had thought their job done when the business requirements were documented and published so they tend not to be keen to meet with the Consultants;
  • When that meeting (often a Webex) occurs between the Consultants and the Business Analysts occurs it tends to become evident that the Business Analysts have only a superficial ‘understanding’ of the requirements.

This is where the matter becomes interesting. If we were living in an ideal world then the Consultants would insist that the Business Analysts supply the level of clarity/detail that is needed to configure-build the application. Ours is not an ideal world so events play out differently.  The Consultants can be young/inexperienced. The Consultants may come from a culture where confrontation is avoided and there is extreme deference/subservience to those with higher status.  The Consultants are under considerable pressure to get moving – to meet the deadlines that the client has set.

So the Consultants tend to move forward with whatever they are given.  They too have zero ownership of the business requirements.  They are handed an ‘order’ by the Business Analysts and so they fulfill that ‘order’. If this order does not make sense then it’s not their problem – as long as they can prove that they met the order.

If You Wish To Avoid Failure

If you wish to avoid failure as in wasted time/effort, wasted money, disappointed end users, and the business disruption that failed IT implementations bring then I advise you to do the following:

  1. Cut out the Business Analysts and restore the direct communication between the Consultants and Business Users;
  2. Only accept Consultants who between them are familiar with your industry (by having worked in it for several years), are familiar with the function – marketing, sales, service – that is being ‘automated’, are familiar with configuring-building the application you have chosen to implement in your  business;
  3. If your culture supports it then choose Consultants who are likely to bring ideas/experience and are likely to challenge you and your people as in challenge your thinking, your operational practices, the business requirements you have come up with;
  4. Make sure that you create the role of Product Owner, assign the best persons to these roles, and make these persons accountable for the quality of the ‘product’ created/delivered by the Consultants;
  5. Give up the notion that business requirements are merely lying around on the corporate carpet waiting to be gathered up – this is nonsense;
  6. Understand the business requirements are best co-constructed iteratively by the Consultants and your Business Users collaborating with one another through a series of face-to-face workshops;
  7. Make the Consultants and your Product Owners jointly responsible for the Business Requirements asking both to review and sign-off the documentation, and apply version control.

Enough for today. I thank you for your listening and wish you the best. Until the next time…

 

 

 

 

 

Want to Make a Success of Your CRM/CX/Digital Initiative? Listen to Montaigne

I’ve read many times that something like 70% of CRM initiatives fail to deliver the goods?  What about CX. marketing automation, and digital transformation initiatives? I don’t remember reading any statistics on the success / failure of these. Yet, I have been involved in these areas. My experience is that the process tends to be painful, and failure is more likely than success.

What Accounts For The Dominance Of Failure?

Success is an option. So what accounts for the dominance of failure in change / transformation initiatives? This is the question I found myself confronted with this week.  So what is my answer?

Before I provide you with an answer, I want you to know that over the last 30 years I have been involved in many kinds of projects-programmes-initiatives: accounting systems, management information systems, business process re-engineering, ERP systems, shared services, lean, CRM, website design & development, ecommerce design and implementation, customer loyalty, customer experience design, marketing automation, digital transformation….

Montaigne’s Insight Provides The Answer

Back to the question. What is the primary reason that many, if not most, change / transformation initiatives fail to delivery on the promise?

I say that THE primary cause of failure is a certain blindness/arrogance in those who initiate-shape-lead-manager such initiatives.  Blindness to what?  Blindness to the workings of human beings – as individuals, as groups, as the crowd. Arrogance?  The arrogance of the powerful in assuming that they can ignore the working of human beings and treat people like widgets.

Allow me to bring home that of which I am speaking by sharing the following with you  by sharing the following:

“His Scepticism makes him celebrate imperfection: the very thing Pascal, as much as Descartes, wanted to escape but never could. To Montaigne, it would be obvious why such escape is impossible: however high we ascend, we take that humanity with us.… He wrote:

It is an absolute perfection and virtually divine to know how to enjoy our being rightfully. We seek others conditions because we do not understand the use of our own, and go outside of ourselves because we do not know what it is like inside. Yet there is no use mounting on stilts, for on stilts we must still walk on our own legs. And on the loftiest throne in the world we are still sitting only on our own rump.”

Sarah Bakewell, How To Live, A Life of Montaigne

Now let’s make this real by looking at some examples.

Customer Relationships.  Take a moment look around you. How do human beings do when it come to relating and relationships?  Are we masters at this? No. Most of us struggle most of the time when it comes to relationships: unhappy husbands, unhappy wives, unhappy parents, unhappy children, broken marriages, affairs/cheating, unhappy teachers, bored/unhappy students, dissatisfied bosses, resentful employees….

Customer Loyalty. In the world as lived do we reward loyalty?  Yes? Then consider that parents spend a great deal of their lives caring for their children and in the process making many sacrifices. What happens when these parents get old? Do the children exercise loyalty – make sacrifices and look after their elderly parents?  Or is the reward of such parents a place in a nursing home – out of the way with strangers?  How about that employee who has worked for you for 20+ years when you make his job redundant by moving it offshore?  Or the employee who can get a similar/better job with a competitor with higher pay? If we do value loyalty then why it is that the new customer gets a better deal than an existing-loyal customer?

Customer Experience.  Walk in the shoes of the customer! That is the mantra which few really step into and live. Yet even if I did step into your shoes I wouldn’t necessarily experience that which you experience?  I am not you! It may be that when you step in your shoes they pinch whereas I find them comfortable. How can man experience what it is like to be a woman?  Or youngsters what it is to be elderly?  Or a English person what it is to be French?

Cooperation & Collaboration.  There is much talk about the need/importance of cooperation and collaboration. What is the reality?  In my home there has been fierce completion between siblings to be the first/best.  In the classroom there is completion to be the best. When it comes to school plays each actor wants the prominent/leadign role. In the corporation, employees are force ranked so that only a small percentage come out as high performers, and most come out as merely ok. Why? Rewards and honours are reserved for the few so as to encourage competition at all levels.  In the context of competition what will most people do most of the time? Compete!

CRM and Marketing Automation.  Look at the way that these technologies are implemented and you are likely to find that there is minimal time-effort-money given over to educating and training the people who will be expected to use these systems. Further, the folks are expected to go from novice to expert instantly.  The reality?  These systems are not intuitive – they require time, effort and even certain kind of dedication. Time, effort, and dedication that most users are simply not willing to put in – this shows up as extra burden on a back that is just about carrying the existing burden.

Summing Up

If you wish to make a success of your change / transformation initiate then you have a choice: to work with the ‘human nature’ or not. Remember, if you are not actively working with ‘human nature’ then it is almost certain that you are working against ‘human nature’. If you work against ‘human nature’ then you are likely to end up where most folks do end up when they take this route: failure.

 

 

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.

Leadership: The Practice Of Granting an A

What way of showing up and travelling (being) lies at the heart of human-centred leadership?

This is the question that I have been pondering over the last month. It occurs to me that it comes down to one’s embodied stance towards one’s fellow human beings and in particular the human being one seeks to lead or is leading.

As a leader what is your stance towards your people? How do you relate to and treat your people? Do you see your people as defective – lacking something is some or other domain? Or do you see your people as whole, complete, and perfect? Do you treat some of your people as A’s, others B’s, many as C’s and some as D’s? Or do you grant each and every person in your organisation as an A and treat him/her accordingly?

What is it that I am getting at here? I invite you to listen to and reflecting on the following (bolding mine):

“Michelangelo is often quoted as having said that inside every block of stone or marble dwells a beautiful statue; one need only remove the excess material to reveal the work of art within. If we were to apply this visionary concept …… it would be pointless to compare one … to another. Instead, all the energy would be focused on chipping away at the stone, getting rid of whatever is in the way of …. developing skills, mastery and self-expression.

We call this practice giving an A. It is an enlivening way of approaching people that promises to transform you as well as them ….

An A can be given to anyone in any walk of life …. When you give an A, you find yourself speaking to people not from a place of measuring how they stack up against your standards, but from a place of respect ….. Your eye is on the statue within the roughness of the uncut stone.

This A is not an expectation to live up to, but a possibility to live into.

– Rosamund and Benjamin Zander, The Art Of Possibility

Allow me to make this real for you. In a recent Customer project, the folks in head office were doing all the decision making and not involving anyone from the branches where customer interactions took place. As I probed and listened I found that the head office folks listened to the people in the branches as being unskilled, lazy, selfish, resistant to change. That is to say that they had granted these folks C’s and Ds. And treated them accordingly – excluded them.

I had never met any of the folks in the branches. Yet, I granted them A’s just as I granted the head office folks A’s. After several weeks of encouragement, the head office folks invited several people from the branches into the discussion – to review the prototype that had been built and provide feedback. What was the outcome?

The folks from the branches were delighted to be asked for their point of view. The came to head office, they worked with the prototype, they provided useful insights into the way that work occurred in the branches and suggested a number a tweaks that would make the prototype useful and thus increase adoption. In the process respect and relationship were cultivated between all and a bigger team was created. The leader of the head office team became enthusiastic about my suggestion: involving the folks at the customer coalface early and deep in the analysis and design of any and all changes to the ‘way we do things around here’.

Listen To These Words of Wisdom: Transformative Wisdom

I wish to end this conversation by leaving you with the following words of wisdom (bolding mine):

The freely granted A expresses a vision of partnership, teamwork and relationship. It is for wholeness and functionality, in the awareness that for each of us, excess stone may still hide the graceful form within…

The practice of giving an A both invents and recognises a universal desire in people to contribute to others , no matter how many barriers there are to its expression. We can choose to validate the apathy of a boss, a player, or a high school student and become resigned ourselves, or we can choose to honor in them the unfulfilled yearning to make a difference ….

When we give an A we can be open to a perspective different from our own. For after all,  it is only to a person to whom you have granted an A that you will really listen …

In the measured context of our everyday lives, the grades we hand out often rise and fall with our moods and opinions. We may disagree with someone on one issue, lower their grade, and never quite hear what they have to say again.  Each time the grade is altered, the new assessment, like a box, defines the limits of what is possible between us.”

– Rosamund and Benjamin Zander, The Art of Possibility

Summing Up

It occurs to me that a human-centred leader calls forth the very best from us through the ‘granting of an A’.  Through focus-alignment s/he amplifies the power of this ‘very best of us’ in the service of a possibility that leaves us (human beings) elevated: moved, touch, and inspired.  And thus creates a context that call forth the extraordinary accomplishment from a team of ordinary human-beings.

I thank you for listening to my speaking and wish you a great day.  If you find yourself inspired to show up and travel as human-centred leader then I encourage you to get hold of a copy of The Art of Possibility.  And learn-embody the practices that are outlined in this delightful-transformative book.

Please note: an earlier version of this conversation was published in November 2014 at CustomerThink.