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.

What Is The Access To Innovation Including CX Innovation?

Some time ago I found myself in a workshop listening to and observing that which was occurring. As time flowed onwards and my existence kept ebbing away, i found myself sad, deflated. Here were a group of intelligent people who were charged with charting the future of their organisation. And that future included the label of ‘a customer-centric organisation’. There was much talk about customer obsession, trust, customer experience innovation etc.

So how is that I found myself sad and deflated?  I found myself present to that which did not appear to show up for the rest of the team. What was I present to? The following says it as well as it can be said:

We construct realities and then forget we were the ones that constructed them. When our relationship with reality has a kind of “is-ness”or “fixed-ness” to it, – it limits what’s possible and allows only for options like explaining, trying to fix, resisting or accepting. The answer to the question, what does it mean to be human, gets looked at only through that lens. The movie The Matrix says it well: “Welcome to the desert of the real.”

– Gale LeGassick, Landmark Education

Time and again, I find myself in meetings and workshops where the talk is lofty yet where the course of action is merely reasonable.  What magnitude of possibility lies in a reasonable course of action? Reasonable possibility. What kind of possibility is that?  More of the same and results which are merely reasonable. What is another word for reasonable? Average.

The access to new realms of possibility and the generating of extraordinary results lies in the unreasonable.  Unreasonable given the taken for granted “is-ness” yet not at all unreasonable when one lets go of the cage of “is-ness”. It occurs to me that if there was a master of ‘reality distortion’ it was Steve Jobs. Which may explain why it was that he was the source of new worlds of possibility and extraordinary accomplishment.

It occurs to me that the deeper reason that so few organisations innovate – in any dimension – is that the folks who are doing the innovating are reasonable folks taking reasonable courses of action.  What is more reasonable than going for the ‘low hanging fruit’? Or sticking to the proven methods?  Or involving only the people that have proven themselves to be good team players and safe pair of hands?

Innovation is not simply a matter of process / methodology. Nor is it a matter of tools and techniques. At its heart innovation, and that is just another word for transformation, is a matter of being: the being of the folks in the organisation, and the being of the organisation as a whole.  Only those whose being is ‘unreasonable’ have access to generating innovation and transforming business.

Put simply: plodders do not cause innovation or transformation, they simply plod along no matter what tools and techniques you put in their hands.

The accessing to innovation / transformation? Leaders: those who are ‘unreasonable’ enough in their being to put their very being at stake to bring forth, into the world, the ‘unreasonable’: new worlds of possibility.

 

 

Transformation: Brief Exploration Of Two Radically Distinct Customer Experience Paradigms

What Is The Context For This Conversation?

I am following the lead taken by Dawna MacLean in her recent post on encouraging businesses to become more human. It occurs to me she is a brave lady worthy of admiration and respect. I dedicate this post to her, in service of the stand she is taking and the possibility that she is living from and into.

There are many actions that I regret. Few bring me shame. One in particular is etched within me despite it occurring ‘a lifetime ago’.  I reckon I was 14 at the time, walking, alone, on my way into the town centre. I am stopped by an old lady, she has a walking stick, she tells me she is lost, she asks for directions. I draw closer to hear-understand what she is saying. She smells! I tell her that she need to turn around. I tell her she is only ten minutes walk from her destination. And I spell out the directions – twice.

A voice speaks to me along the following lines: “Take her hand, walk her there, it is even on your way somewhat. Without your help she will struggle.” Another voice speaks: “She smells awful! You are in a hurry and it will take ages to take her there. You have given her what she asked for. She’ll be fine.” I listen to the second voice, leave her to make her own way, and I walk into town.  I cleaned up a lot of history whilst participating in Landmark Education. And that is one that I never got to clean up.  If that old lady were here today, I’d ask for her forgiveness.

Why am I sharing this with you?  So that you have the context from which to make sense of what I speak-write.  I write is not to help you make it: sell more, be more successful, obtain higher status, live happily ever after.  I write to open eyes, unblock ears, touch hearts. I write to encourage-facilitate a shift of worldview. I write from the possibility of meaningful-fulfilling human lives and the possibility of a ‘world that works for all, none excluded’.  Arguably a world that works must include meaningful-fulfilling human lives.  And such a world has plenty of space for businesses that do great by doing good: enriching human lives, and life as a whole.

What Is The Experience That Goes With Transformation?

The last post ended with “So the challenge of Customer Experience is the challenge of a transformation in worldview.”  When I speak transformation, what am I pointing at?  Look at the following picture, keeping look at it until a shift occurs in what you see.

Gestalt Shift Cuble

 

What occurred? If you are like me then you probably started out seeing a small cube sitting inside of a an ‘open box’ and then came a moment when you saw a big cube from which a small cube (left hand corner) was cut-out, missing.

Please notice, the reality (that which is) has not changed. It is the same picture – nothing about the picture itself changed. Yet, that which you perceived-saw changed and you had something like a surprise: an ‘aha’ experience.  Why?  Because the perceptual switch that occurred was not simple a change-adjustment-variation of what you saw originally. What you saw was distinct from what you had seen earlier. Put differently, a transformation occurred in your seeing.

What can we learn from this?  Given the same ‘that which is so’ you made sense of it in two distinct ways.  And, this is important, each way of seeing ‘that which is’ occurred as natural, correct and absolute whilst is was occurring the way it was occurring for you. Only by looking at the picture for a sufficient period of time, in a specific manner, did the gestalt like shift in your seeing occur. And when it did occur, it occurred in an instant.  Transformation is like that.

Now think of business and organisational life and apply that which you have experienced here. And learned. Ask yourself this question: is the way that the business world is ‘pictured and talked about’ the only way of picturing and talking about it?  Is it possible that there are many ways of picturing, talking about, and showing up in the business world?  I say that there are numerous ways of seeing-interpreting the business world – that the number of ways is only limited by our imagination AND the influence-strength of the dominant paradigm of seeing.

Customer Experience: Two Radically Distinct Paradigms

Let’s take a brief look at each in turn.

CX Model 1: The Dominant Way of Seeing-Using Customer Experience

It occurs to me that a lot has been written about Customer Experience. For me most of it shows up as shallow, or simply putting ‘lipstick on the pig’.  What am I pointing at when I speak that which I have spoken. Take a look at the following picture:

Dominant Model of CX
Dominant Model of CX

In this way of seeing, Customer Experience is viewed-treated simply as a means of:

  • Increasing revenues
  • Reducing or containing costs e.g. through using lower cost channels to ‘serve’ customers; and
  • Risk management given that every customer has access to a smartphone and social media and thus is in a position to damage brand-corporate reputation.

The goal of business within this dominant paradigm is that which it has been since the ascendency of shareholder value and ‘greed is good’ ethos. This goal is characterised by a focus on self (oneself and one’s tribe), and greed: to extract as much value as possible in the short-term. Any value created for the customer is the minimum that it is necessary to create in order to extract as much value for ‘Self”.

Within the dominant paradigm, CRM (including social CRM) is simply a technology that is used to augment-strengthen the existing business logic: getting as much money out of the customer as possible whilst giving away the minimum; and getting as much value (productivity) out of employees whilst giving back the minimum.

Finally, in this model (as practiced) the deep business logic stays the same. Competition rather than collaboration. Self at the expense of others. Efficiency rather than effectiveness…… Importantly, people are neither trusted nor treated with respect and accorded the dignity that goes with being a full human being; threat, fear, and game playing are pervasive.

CX Model 2: A World Waiting To Be Invented, And Mastered By Few

I call the second model ‘A World Waiting To Be Invented’ because it is only practiced-mastered by a few. The rare few that come to my mind include: John Lewis/Waitrose, USAA, and Amazon/Zappos.  What constitutes this second model? Here is a picture:

 

A World Waiting To Be Invented
A World Waiting To Be Invented

In this model Customer Experience is a subset of Experience. Experience encompasses the experiences of all the participants-actors-stakeholders: customers, ‘partner’s (the people who actually work in the organisation and create value for customers), value chain partners (suppliers, channel partners, outsourced partners…), and the community.

The ‘Goal’ of the business within this paradigm (way of seeing the world of business) is one of creating value for and sharing this value with the whole system (all the participants, all the stakeholders). Such a business is focussed on making a contribution and serving: enriching the lives of all participants. And usually takes a stand and operates from-into a specific possibility. Take a good look at the John Lewis constitution and you will see the stand and the possibility spelled out. Read Jeff Bezos’ annual letters or Tony Hsieh’s book, Delivering Happiness, and the possibility-stand is clearly articulated.

In the model, the business logic of the organisation is designed-operated from the context of creating-generating the kind of ‘Experience’ that is mandated the ‘Goal’.  Put differently, the ‘Business Logic’ now serves as the means of delivering the Experience.  Not the other way around.  Put differently, ‘Experience’ precedes’ Business Logic’.

From where does the design of ‘Experience’ flow?  From the ‘Goal’. Remember the goal is to cater for the needs-welfare of the whole. Which is why ‘Experience’ encompasses all the actors, all the stakeholders.

In this way of looking at the world of business, and according to me, Customer Experience takes it’s rightful place. Rather than dominating the discussion, Customer Experience is seen for what it is, just one component whose meaning-impact comes from how it fits into the other components of Experience. And how it gives life to the ‘Goal’.

What becomes of CRM in this model?  CRM systems are simply tools to give life to the ‘Experience’ that the organisation is committed to creating-generating.  As such CRM systems must take into account the needs of Customers and ‘Partners’ (people who will use the systems) and deliver the kind of experience(s) that these folks are looking for.

Enough for today. I may elaborate on these models in the future. If you find yourself moved to share your thoughts then I invite you to do so.

 

Change/Leadership: The Wisest Words Spoken On Creating Change?

“The only way we really create change is to enter any situation with the humility to listen and to recognize the world as it is, and then the audacity to dream what it could be, to have the patience to start and let the work teach you, to be willing to lead when you need to lead, and to listen. To have a sense of generosity and empathy ….. If there’s one value that is immutable, it’s integrity or respect, for others and for yourself.

The best change that comes to the world is when all parties are seeing each other as equal, and all parties have the opportunity to be transformed.” 

  •  Jacqueline Novogratz