Archives: January 2007

Those Sand Flies

Tom reads some poems about rain and sand flies. (Apparently an abundance of both at this time.)

Are You a Master of Paradox?

Tom talks about the paradox of leadership. (And he talks about sand flies, too.)

Cool Friend: Brown

Mary Brown and Carol Orsborn are the coauthors of BOOM: Marketing to the Ultimate Power Consumer—the Baby Boomer Woman. At tompeters.com, we are glad to add Mary Brown to our list of Cool Friends. She spoke with us about the book, and about her work with J. Walter Thompson's BOOM: The 40+ Authority and Imago Creative, a marketing firm that she founded, the only one in the U.S. specializing in marketing to Boomer women. You can read her Cool Friends interview here.

Though she did not take part in the interview, we'd like to also introduce Carol Orsborn. She is known for her work addressing the concerns of the Baby Boom generation, and she is Senior Vice President and co-chair of Fleishman-Hillard's FH Boom. Carol also operates an online life mastery resource center for women: www.TheSilverPearl.com.

Not Just for Profit?

I was fascinated to hear a recent BBC Radio 4 programme whose subject was social enterprise—a concept about which I did not know much! In essence, these are organisations that set out to make a profit, but then direct that profit at "good causes." Among them are a number of fairly high profile organisations in the U.K. (e.g., The Co-operative Group and Cafédirect).

The story that really caught my attention was about Greenwich Leisure Limited, an organisation that 14 years ago took over 7 struggling leisure centres that had previously been run by the London Borough of Greenwich local authority. They converted the organisation into a worker-led trust and have transformed it into an innovative, high performing organisation, that makes more profit, now costs the council only 20% of what it did 14 years ago, and has become a business model that has been copied by at least 110 Leisure businesses in the UK.

Mark Sesnan, the leader who took the brave step of leaving the relative security of a public sector job to embark on this challenge, speaks enthusiastically about the change in attitudes that he was able to stimulate in his workforce. By treating his people as partners, adults, and fellow contributors he has found that it has converted 80–90% of them into "happy, co-operative people." One indicator of their commitment is that sickness levels in the trust are consistently less than 2% per year, which is exemplary by any standards in the UK!

The various programme contributors contend that social enterprise will be the business model for the 21st century. As one of them says, it's the Robin Hood approach to business! Some might say this is "pollyanna" thinking, but I'm not so sure. I think (almost) all of us are looking for meaning in our work that goes beyond what we pick up in our paypackets at the end of the month. What can we all learn from businesses with a real conscience?

The Question Is … HOW Do You Break The Habit?

Everything we are discussing here is true!! I admit it, I know it.

I am on board with "the new world of work," with vision, with engaging talent, with the need to obliterate past ways of working, with a customer experience beyond compare. I think everyone contributing to this blog site is, too. So ... why isn't it a done deal yet??? Not the believing it to be true—but the DOING it??

Here are some reflections from my perspective (ex-corporate, team worker, mum, wife, woman in the workplace, forty-something ...)

What we are trying to do in our world of work is to change human habit. How hard is that?? (An ideal thing to reflect on at the end of January, the month of resolutions, et al. Have you kept yours? If so, why, how? If not, why not?)

As I reflect on this, and I apply it to the work aspects of my life, all becomes clear. The way we work, the way business is run, all is based in habits from a bygone (Industrial/Command and Control) era. Globalisation, Technology, etc., removed the need for all those operating systems. Yet as humans in the workplace, we haven't managed to break our long-learned habits yet. And the pace of business means we are always more likely to respond as we always have, rather than in a new and (to us) unfamiliar way.

Old habits die hard: I once moved my waste bin from one place in my office to another, yet it took me a full month to stop habitually walking to the old position with my rubbish ... and how simple is that? Our workplaces are far more complex. We can't often allow ourselves 30 days of getting it wrong in action—though the brain has the desire—before our action finally matches the intent!

So in addition to "getting" the new world of work with its terminology, technology, and new fundamental operating system, we must "get" the core drivers of human behaviour—our own first, and then, those of everyone around us.

Do the leaders in your organisation "get" human behaviour?

Pros and Cons of Metrics

Tom talks from New Zealand. (The phone connection is a little scratchy.) About the pros and cons of metrics, and design on Air New Zealand.

Command & Control

"It is Command & Control, Jim—but not as we know it!"

Earlier this month I had a bit of a rant about "Servant Leadership" (follow this link if you're interested). The gist of it was: Military Officers and Business Leaders have the same role ... to ensure that all members of the value-creating community are the best they can be. That's an enabling service worth paying for. Today, as a leader, you serve those who choose to bring their talent to you/your organisation. They decide if you are doing a good job or not. They decide if you are worth your management package. They choose to stay or go. They determine if you/the company will succeed or not. Control ... forget it!

Some of my clients/colleagues over here think I've gone soft. Quite the contrary, actually. I think servant leadership is much harder than command & control/micromanagement/authoritarianism. Why bother taking the harder route? Here's the disquieting logic—if you think I'm wrong, please tell me:

Traditional Command & Control logic is based on the world as it used to be, rational, predictable, and stable. A world where well-defined processes produced predictably good results, and refining processes produced better results. It was a world where there was little scope for discretionary human value added to the execution of process. As a consequence, engaging people was unnecessary in a management culture conceived in the blast furnaces and assembly lines of the 19th Century. Unfortunately, relative to the social and technological changes in the last century, little has changed in management culture.

Future winners are turning the old logic on its head by making the value creators the heroes. (Think sports teams!) The future losers are those companies where doing well is about getting out of a customer value creation role and into management (Think Fortune/FTSE500). How many talented value creators will stay in a company where management fat cats out-earn people like themselves by ratios of 4/5/6/7:1? No—they'll leave and go somewhere more rewarding to work their magic and make their money.

I'd propose that our role as managers is to ensure that each member of our value creating (read org successes ensuring) community is contributing to the maximum of their potential. If we are doing anything other than that, we should STOP IT NOW or fire ourselves for dereliction of duty. We are no longer process policemen but talent coaches. It's 100% a trust thing. We're in BIG trouble.

As the personal implications of this scare me half to death, I'd love to be convinced by you that I'm wrong on this. Please try (hard)!

Executing a Strategy

The headline reads "Ford Posts Worst Loss in Its History," due to slumping sales and large restructuring costs. Alan Mulally, the new CEO, has a plan to slash white collar jobs by 14,000, redesign and introduce new products, and continue to re-structure the business.

We have heard these words before in many companies. Ford and other companies often create great strategies on paper, but somewhere between the paper and the factory floor, something gets lost. People on the floor know that jobs are cut, talent is lost, sales are down, and they have to work harder and smarter.

Larry Bossidy, coauthor of Execution, believes that focus on execution is a leader's most important job. Getting a strategy executed requires more than a detailed plan, it requires getting everyone in the organization from the front lines to the C-Level engaged, passionate, and excited about the plan. Great execution happens in small manageable chunks by taking large plans and breaking them into manageable parts. Otherwise, the path to execution can seem so overwhelming, people can't conjure up the energy. Ford has a massive plan, and only if they can execute this plan will they pull through this crisis. (Assuming it is the right strategy.)

It's the beginning of the year, and a lot of organizations have "announced the grand plan," that will fall short unless leaders energize the talent, set rewards and recognition in place to support it and have visible tracking of results.

I am curious to know what has made execution of strategies or changes work in your organization and not work?

Are Words Getting in the Way?

Recently we seem to have found ourselves caught up in heated debates with clients around the meaning and purpose of traditional business language—in particular, terms such as Vision, Mission, Ambition, Purpose, and Strategy, which appear to confuse people where clarity is required. A kind of paralysis results, and people are reluctant to do anything until the senior team have crafted the appropriate statements on what the organisation should do to achieve the prescribed "vision" or "mission"—or whatever word you would use.

All this reminds me of a quote from Dee Hock:

Given the right circumstances, from no more than dreams, determination and the liberty to try, people consistently do extraordinary things.—Dee Hock, 1999, Birth of the Chaordic Age

People will energise themselves around a cause that matters to them. So, how do organisations go about achieving a shared sense of purpose; how much direction do talented people need from the top in order to give their best; and what is the role of the CEO and the Executive Team in making "the dream" meaningful to all?

Sharing the carefully crafted "company vision" at the annual conference is a start and will be enough for some—those that have worked it all out for themselves anyway! To help people truly engage, then isn't dialogue more important than getting the words right the first time? Leaders who make things happen have a knack of keeping things simple. They talk to people about the future, listen to their responses, and engage in thousands of conversations in which people create their own meaning.

What Companies Would You Like to Promote?

Rather than wait until the Chinese New Year to start my new year's resolutions (normally I'll use any excuse to put this off), I'll make one pledge right now: to promote companies that truly "get it" about customer experience! I'm referring, of course, not to what a company does with a customer (a transaction) but what the customer is feeling and thinking as a result of that transaction (an experience). This is where a brand has to walk the talk. As Steve Yastrow says, "Your brand is not what you say you are, but what your customer thinks you are." As James Carville might have said, "It's the EXPERIENCE, stupid!"

When I can go on Amazon.com and order a book, CD, or DVD (usually for under 10 bucks, used, including shipping) in the time it takes to boil water for tea (about 50 seconds), I'm left thinking, "SOMEBODY gets it about convenience!" Then I'm energized to do battle with the next 20 items on my To-Do list. When I call Commerce Bank and an exuberant call rep answers, predictably, within 1 second (no kidding!), my reaction is "How come everybody can't provide this?" My faith in commerce (small c) is restored. Of course it requires TALENT in high measure to pull this off (including usability experts, I presume, in the case of Amazon.com, and highly motivated call center agents in the case of Commerce Bank).

So what companies would you like to promote, which consistently provide you a great customer experience?