Fabio Capello, the England football manager, was forced to suspend his controversial player ratings website last week amid a storm of criticism from the press. They were upset because there were suggestions that the ill fated scheme might simply be a ruse to make Capello more money, and that it might take his eye off the ball during the upcoming world cup.
The idea behind the site was that Capello, after each game, would give each player ratings which in turn would encourage them to play better; after-all no-one wants to be at the bottom of the league do they?
This kind of scheme is very appealing to managers, ‘make my team members compete with one another and it will bring out the best in them’ they claim. But much to the misguided manager’s surprise, it makes performance worse not better.
I got my first (proper) managerial job at age 26 with Standard Life. I had 10 highly skilled, highly qualified technical consultants in my team. Naturally, I wanted to bring out the best in my team, so I set up a large white board on the wall and listed everyone’s name. Each person was then given a rating for their performance on a weekly basis (think Fabio without the money and media attention).
When I announced the board my team weren’t happy. I reminded them that competition is good for everyone [sic] and that they should stop bleating.
But I was soon proved wrong. Some members of the team simply gave up, stating that they’d never be as good as ‘what’s his face’, and that others would hold business back or bring it forward to make sure that they got to the top that week.
They also stopped co-operating. If a consultant needed a colleague to call in on a client and complete a deal they’d say no and ask ‘why should I help you get to the top of the ratings board?’
The lesson is this: put in place inter-team, department or division competition and you’ll have your teams competing against each other rather than concentrating on doing the right thing for the company and the customer.
So in the end my exercise in extrinsic motivation lasted 3 weeks and then I took the board down (if only Fabio had sought my opinion I could have helped him avoid all the embarrassment). Though for me I look back on it as turning point in my business life because it was one of the events that started me on my systems thinking journey.
I ask you to think now about how you might be trying to motivate your team, remembering that not all competition is good competition.
But I appreciate not everyone agrees with my views. I canvassed opinion on this issue and found a quote from a senior manager who says ‘I think Capello is a genius, internal competition is a good thing, everyone in my organisation believes that he should keep that ratings website in place.’ Still some might say that the Chief Executive of the Scottish Football Association is just a wee bit biased.
As usual if you have questions or comments just let me know.
First my apologies, I promised this on Tuesday; it’s been a hectic week.
Last week you may have read about my early experiences working with senior leaders, if you haven’t, go now to ‘My worst change management moment’. You might remember that the basic premise was that if you want to be treated as an equal advisor, rather than a peddler of change management, you have to position yourself differently; the key is to been seen as the authority on a subject.
I said that there were four steps in the positioning process:
Curiosity and desire
Bonding and relationship building
Providing a sample
This works because you’re (metaphorically speaking) lightly tapping your future customer on the shoulder and saying ‘hey have a look at this’, as opposed to a full frontal assault of selling.
It’s a process of soft influence, one where your client can feel like they’re calling all the shots and deciding when to move to the next stage of the process. And when you do get called in to have that meeting you’ll find that the atmosphere is very different to what you may have previously experienced. You’ll feel like you’re there to help and advise, you’ll be asked your opinion, and you’ll be given respect; sometimes I’ve even been offered coffee!
So how does it work?
Let’s look at each step in detail.
Curiosity and desire. In this first stage you are providing your client with information that is contrary to their current belief systems. For example let’s say you’ve developed a new breakfast cereal so good it’s being hailed as a superfood, and your potential client is someone who is interested in keeping a healthy life style.
Now imagine that client had spent their whole life believing that what they normally eat - muesli - was good for them. They may have eaten it every day for the past 10 years, and love it.
Then a special report comes out that shows that muesli is in-fact full of sugar and is very bad for them. Might they just be a bit interested to read what’s in the report? Further, the report then suggests that there’s a new superfood on the market that will not only help them stay fit and healthy it will provide other benefits such as energy in the morning. Wouldn’t they just be a bit curious and want to find out more about this amazing product?
That’s how the first stage of positioning works, you get some information to your client that A.) shows them you understand what they want (a healthy life style), B.) challenges their harmful current beliefs (muesli is good for you) and C.) shows the benefits of an alternative that will actually do what they want (the superfood). Stage 1 is complete, you now have their interest.
Proof. You may have their interest, but let’s be honest you’re the person selling the superfood; you would say it’s fantastic, wouldn’t you? So now you want them to hear from others who’ve eaten the food and now have the perfect body. So you’d take pictures and conduct interviews with others who’ve used the product and let them say how brilliant it is.
Now think change management. Most clients are about to invest a great deal of time and or money with you, so it stands to reason that they want to speak to others that have been though the process. Make it make it easy for them to get the information. For example you could interview previous people you’ve worked with, burn the interview to CD, or distribute it via an audio web link.
Bonding and relationship building. Maybe by now your client has decided that they want to try some of this superfood, but why should they get it from you? After-all they might never have heard of you. So this is where you give them information about your background, how you’ve been where they are and why you started to develop the superfood.
I often find I have empathy with managers because I was a manager myself. I think they’re relieved to find out that I wasn’t born carrying a laptop and mobile phone. I went through the same struggle they might have, I did all the traditional management stuff and I too found it difficult to accept that I’d been doing things wrong for ten years.
Provide a sample. They’re now keen to try your fantastic product, so give them some. Share some of your ideas and insights and recipes. I’m a genuine believer that if you help people you’ll get back ten times what you give out. So don’t hold, back send them some of your best ideas.
Here’s how you do it when marketing change management.
Curiosity and desire
Sit down with a piece of paper and write out what your prospective client wants to achieve.
Brainstorm all their current beliefs about how they think they will achieve their goals.
Write a short report which provides them with information about the wrong paths and methods you know many try in order to get where they want to go.
In the report also provide the benefits of using the more effective alternative method.
Drop a short email to your client to let them know you have written a short report about X and where they can get it.
Even if someone begs you to help them, insist they read the report first so they move forward informed.
Interview a client or write a case study detailing the work you’ve done previously. Write to your client to let them know where they can get the report or audio.
Get a colleague to interview you so you can explain your background and what you do for your clients. Make sure you lay out the journey that led you to you your current beliefs and practices.
Provide a report, audio or video that gives away one of your best methods for creating change
Only now should you suggest a meeting or even better invite your client to a seminar to learn more.
This process works because you’re giving useful information and along the way positioning yourself as the expert. And once you have done it once you can re-use the information over and over again.
Please take the time to re-read and implement this method, it’s (in my opinion) some of the best advice I’ve ever given away - and it works.
You’ll find that by using these tools you’ll get more chance of getting people to listen and let you help them and better commitment to putting changes in place with less effort. More importantly however, when you kick off your next change programme you’ll know how to position yourself so that you’re being asked to provide advice and being asked to guide, rather than pushing your opinions onto others.
As usual if you have any questions just drop me a comment.
PS If you think a friend or colleague may like this blog please pass it on.
First I want to say thanks for all the emails I get every week giving me suggestions and ideas for the blog. I read them all. Also to those of you have written with questions I hope that you have found my answers useful. Thanks again for taking the time to read and interact.
Now on with the blog, this week’s was inspired by a story from Scott Finnie. Scott wrote to tell me about an article he read in a magazine.
It’s just over a year since I attended the process mapping workshop with Azmi and I’m still very early in the journey to enlightenment. Systems Thinking has however brought a new ‘waste aware’ lens to my life and given weight and depth to my customer-centric intuition. So for that I’m very grateful.
Anyway, to the main point of the message. I receive various industry journals one of which (”Call Centre Focus”) has an article this month entitled “Dying to Help”. It chronicles the very sad case of France Telecom, where 24 members of staff have committed suicide in 18 months. The latest victim - a 51-year old contact centre worker - caused the company to halt its re-organisation, suspend the programme’s mastermin, and scrap staff performance indicators in its call centres.
As a response, that sounds like a potentially decent start by the company (albeit late - why the previous 23 deaths didn’t cause alarm isn’t covered in the article).
That however, is the only modicum of good news. The rest of the article is given over to tips and suggestions for agents to deal with stress in the contact centre. Let me list them for you:
1. Learn to manage your time more effectively
2. Adopt a healthy lifestyle
3. Know your limitations
4. Find out what causes you stress
5. Avoid unnecessary conflict
6. Accept the things you can’t change
7. Take time out to relax & recharge your batteries
8. Find time to meet friends
9. Try to see things differently, develop a positive thinking style
10. Avoid alcohol, nicotine and caffeine as coping mechanisms
In other words, an entire article focused on the 5% (the people) and no mention of the 95% (the system). There’s a passing hint that maybe helping employees deal with stress might be treating the symptom rather than the cause: “communicate context and purpose to employees”, “…as a manager you are responsible for peoples’ workload and their feelings of satisfaction…”
But there’s no mention - and I suspect no understanding - of the need to work on the system. Perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised, but it’s nevertheless quite depressing when a supposed industry best practice magazine prints such a misinformed message.”
My reaction, maybe like yours, was to want to write a piece on the poor quality of this advice and how it’s in rife our organisations.But then I took a deep breath and thought ‘no, be helpful, what should the contact centre have done?’
1. Study the nature of demand and response. I suspect that much of the problem is that there is a high volume of failure demand calls (calls caused by a failure of the system to do the right thing for the customer).
There’s a simple logic here, if you give people crappy work to do their life will be crappy. And having customers moan complain and shout at you will certainly ruin your day. Prolong that and you will soon become tired, angry and depressed.
And to make matters worse…what if in addition to being shouted at you are unable to help? This is a common issue in service organisations. The system is designed (not deliberately) so that the agent can’t do what matters to the customer.
And then just to tip the agent over the edge they will get a 1:1 from their manager asking why they’d not hit their call targets. Here’s an example, I needed to transfer money from my business bank account to my personal account last week. My passkey had broken. Despite the fact that the bank knows more personal stuff about me than my wife does, the agent couldn’t help.
She told me that I should have had my accounts linked, I responded by telling her that I’d completed 4 forms and that accounts hadn’t been changed. I ended the call and we were both disgruntled; me because I didn’t get what I wanted, her because she was disempowered.
2. Act on the system . Having understood the main types of failure as well as transactions where the agent was unable to add value guess what the manager should do? You got it; fix it, it’s not difficult really.
The problem is that fixing the system requires an admission from the manager that their thinking about the design and management of the work is the problem. And that it’s likely that this thinking is ubiquitous in the organisation.
So change requires that managers get knowledge about how the work works (or doesn’t) and then learn to give up their ideas about managing top down, using service standards, targets and incentives within a functional design.
Look this is really important. If you want change you can get it, fast. And it’s easy, get knowledge about the work, use the knowledge to make change and then find out if what you have changed has made things better. Then repeat.
Though I do have to say that I think an industry sector magazine could give better advice than ‘find time to meet friends, and avoid alcohol’, that’s weak, they should have said ‘drink more!’
So let’s finish with some good news of people we helped to do it the right way. The roads department of the City of Edinburgh Council won the Guardian Public Sector Award for Frontline Engagement on Tuesday night; you can read their story here.
Also Alison Angus who worked as part of the team who made the change tells how they did it in the interview I did with her last night. Click here and listen or download for listening on your MP3 player.
The global economy is in a mess, why? Simple, managers were more interested in making money than innovating and solving customer problems; had they done so profits (not losses) would be the obvious outcome. In the public sector cost reduction is the by-product of such actions. Which begs another question, how do you innovate? The answer: by being in the work.
Managers say “We can’t innovate, do you know how much it costs?”
In some cases they may be right but not all innovations cost money. So let’s start by defining innovation. When you think of innovation typically what comes to mind? The iPod, The Sinclair C5, The Segway, or maybe the new airbus. And associated with these projects is typically a massive spend for all too frequently - a poor return on investment.
But what about the other type of innovation the type that starts by with identifying a clear customer or staff member with a problem and fixes it.
In my work I never cease to be amazed at the how many ideas are just waiting to be released into the consciousness of an organisation. What is also interesting is that the ideas are always born out of getting closer to the work, not further away, i.e. you won’t get flashes of inspiration by spending a few days in a hotel or visiting another organisation to see how they do things.
And some of these ideas are truly remarkable. Our country really needs remarkable right now. I experienced remarkable last week at the DVLA, and if they can do it…
On Tuesday I had to renew my road tax. I usually spend an hour trying to find all the forms and then stand in the queue at the post office. This time I decided to have a go at doing it on line. I say have a go because I expected it to be rubbish. But it was brilliant. I loved it. I told about twenty people, and now I’m telling another one thousand.
What if some of the people I told renew their tax on line, because it was so easy, also buy a private registration? The DVLA have saved, and generated money at the same time. They’ve freed activity that was using mundane brain power that could now be used in further innovation. What if the DVLA did motor insurance, or sold cars on-line. Why not?
The real secret to what the cool people at the DVLA did was they started from the customer and worked back, not the other way round, I hope the person that did this got promoted, if you know them let me know?
Over the years we’ve been proud to have nudged our clients to innovate. I say nudged because what we did was to show them how to find the ideas, as opposed to a cook book of recipies. But what’s really important is that they now have the knowledge about how to innovate and can replicate their actions over and over again. And once infected by the bug they tend to just keep doing it. I saw a great sign on a van yesterday, it said:
“Knowledge combined with passion is an unbeatable force”
Here’s a few notable nudges:
Edinburgh City Council - First time fix on potholes
Lothian and Borders Police (lost and found) - Lost items in clear plastic bags so quicker and easier to find
West Lothian Criminal Justice system - Give police access to fiscal reporting to reports easier to submit
Haldane UK - Numbering boxes containing handrails so that fitters know which ones to open first
VELUX - Training staff to deal with 80% of all demand and having experts on hand so that other 20% could be handled whilst customer on the phone
Haldane UK - Changing the staples on the boxes so that clients didn’t cut their hands
Dundee City Council - One assessment for elderly in need of care
Edinburgh Council advice services - Benefit checks over the phone
West Lothian Council Housing voids - inspector meets new tenant to discuss what needs done to the house.
Next question is how do you innovate? Here’s the best five ways that I know how:
1. Study demand (listen, look, read e-mails, read letters). Look for customer requests to which you currently say no. Find out what it would take to say yes.
a. VELUX did this and now sell windows direct.
2. Watch people doing their work:
a. When I got a puncture repaired last week I wondered why no-one asked to give me a quote for my car insurance when I was in the depot. Instead they called 3 days later during dinner.
3. Be a demand, follow it through to the end look for friction:
a. In planning departments the main problem is that the planners have to constantly multi-task so everything takes longer. If management followed the flow they would see.
4. Be a customer:
a. The food at David Lloyd health club is terrible, maybe if Mr Lloyd ate his own spaghetti bolognese he would change the food.
5. Be a front line person for a day, week, month:
a. If the senior management of the HBOS spent a day being a corporate mortgage adviser they would see how stupid it is not to give them a direct phone number so that clients can call them direct rather than going through the call centre.
So you’re an innovator the next question is how do you become remarkable? I will answer that next week. And if you want the above list in a handy check-list that you can pin on your wall you can get it free here.
PS If you haven’t downloaded the first 4 steps of my presentations system click here now
PPS. If you think a friend or colleague may like this blog please pass it on.
Dear Mr Brown, would you spend a day with me to see what I see?
If you did you would see housing associations failing because they are scared to challenge the regulator. They use service standards that cause repairs to take longer than they should. They use public money to take residents to court because they haven’t paid their rent, even though much of the failing is because of the housing benefits system.
If you did you would see local authority leaders who spend no time at the front line of failing services like adult elderly care, and child services. As a result they have little information on what to do to improve the service, but are quick to blame hard working front line staff when something goes wrong.
If you did you would see ministers who cite special causes when there is a failure of public services, rather than getting to the root cause of the problem and asking if it is predictable.
If you did you would surely stop the waste of spending millions on pointless CRM systems in the public sector.
If you did spend a day with me in the work, you would see private sector employees beleaguered by incentive schemes, targets and outsourcing; come to think of it you’d see the same in the public sector.
If you did spend some time in the work you would see that our lack of competitiveness is not because the workers don’t care but because the leaders don’t know how.
If you did you would see a criminal justice system that doesn’t work because of functionalised work design, a lack of cross functional measures, and no common purpose.
If you did you would see that our call centres don’t work because managers are obsessed with measuring number of calls per operator, time to answer, wrap up time and cost per call. You’d notice that these same managers think that service can be improved by outsourcing to India without realising that often fifty percent of their calls are failure demand.
If you did you would see that our manufacturing organisations don’t offer reliable delivery times or great product quality because they still care too much about batch size and efficiency rather than fulfilling customer demand.
If you did you would see managers wasting their time doing 1:1s, quarterly reviews, and annual appraisals.
If you did you would see why chartermark and investors in people don’t work.
If you did you would see that our banking sector will continue to make the same mistakes because the leaders haven’t realised that their failing is in not understanding the dysfunctional consequences of bonuses and incentives.
And most importantly if you did, and asked your ministers to do the same, you would have your eyes opened about how to fix the whole thing. You see I don’t doubt for one minute your intent only your methods.
Over the past eighteen months I have lost almost three stone. It’s been hell. I have two pounds to go before I go on holiday next week, and as I was dying on the treadmill this morning I was thinking how there are lessons from dieting that can be applied to change programmes.
1. Admit you have a problem
For me I spent my thirties putting on weight, I went from eleven stone to over fifteen. And with each stone I put on I just managed to convince myself that it was a natural turn of events, I was just getting older.
Then two things happened to shake me out of my complacency. The first was that when I turned 40 I got a letter from my Doctor to go for a cholesterol test. My cholesterol turned out to be five points higher than average (I tried to explain to the doctor that using averages was not a good way to think about measurement) but in the end he won; no contest really especially as I had high blood pressure, and was (at 5ft 9inchies) the weight of man considerably taller. My GP told me that if I didn’t lost weight I’d be going on drugs to reduce my cholesterol, and as these drugs were not the good kind, I reluctantly decided to get dieting.
But the real crisis came when I feel asleep on the couch with Matthew on my stomach. Denise took a, supposedly cute, photo. But let’s say that the reason that my three year old went to sleep on my tummy was because it resembled (although I think I was photo shopped) a fluffed up pillow. It was then that I decided enough was enough.
In organisations it’s much the same. The once lean healthy company starts to get sluggish. The processes can no longer cope with the variety of demands of placed on the system and the whole thing starts to slow down. The people, much like blood in an unfit body, can’t perform in the way that they want to and after a while they give up.
But often leaders won’t admit they have a problem. Setanta sports, a predominantly football TV channel, have just gone bust. Vicky, a Vanguard consultant, tried to arrange Setanta sports for her Dad’s Christmas.Â The process was so convoluted that in the end he got a jumper (obviously both Dad and Setanta lost out there). Vicky wrote to the TV company to point out where they went wrong, they wrote back apologising but saying there was no problem. Setanta went bust because of lack of subscribers; I wonder how many people tried to become a customer but simply gave up in the end because it was too difficult.
So step one is that for the leaders to admit there is problem. Often however they are too remote from the business and their measures tell them nothing about its health. Hence they need to get into the operations and find out how it feels to be a customer of the business. Listen to demand, find out how much is failure, how much is handled one stop, get data on actual capability to fulfil a customer request, ask what is the purpose of a process and see how well it achieves its purpose.
Admitting you have a problem is by far the most difficult step, and though some might see it as recognition of failure, you need to get there so you can move forward.
I decided that I would remove all Ch’s from my diet. This meant no more cheese, chips or chocolate (or white bread, or biscuits, or white pasta etc). I replaced the bad stuff with low GI carbs (ooh listen to me), proteins that were low in fat, and fibrous vegetables. During the first two days I would have happily traded my house for a wispa, but I soon realised that most of my eating habits were simply that, bad habits.
Managing change is just the same, purge the P’s. Get rid of the policies, processes and performance indicators that don’t work. Many of the rules and process exist simply out of habit, “that’s the way we’ve always done it” I frequently hear people say. But if they don’t add value then they should be removed and changed for healthier option.
To find out what works and what doesn’t requires that build you have a picture of how the system works from the customers perspective such as this system picture of the West Lothian criminal justice system. The areas shown in red were those that required change. And don’t forget that changing the process is not enough, the deeper issues such as management thinking is ultimately what needs to be tackled. It’s much like losing weight, giving up Mars(TM) bars isn’t enough you have to actually change your lifestyle.
3. Keep track using visual measures.
I could not have lost weight without weight watchers. I entered my food daily on their points calculator. It kept me honest and gave me an awareness of what I could and couldn’t eat the rest of the day. Every so often I just eat what I want but I still put it in to the calculator, and then I work extra hard (two hours cardio and a green bean for tea) the next few days to get my points back.
The other great thing about the weight watchers site is that you enter your weight once per week and you get a graph to show you just how far you have travelled. After all every so often we all need to be reminded that we have done and can do remarkable things in our lives.
Change programmes work the same way. To get it going you need to be honest about where you are right now and to keep it going to you need constant updates about how you are doing on a daily basis. This is best done via a visual measures board
A visual measures board should do three things.
Give you instant data on how the business is performing today.
Provide insight into why it is not working
Remind you of what you have achieved.
I recently attended a visual board meeting run by Alison Angus at Edinburgh city council, the new system had been going well but then started to flounder, as Alison said “at least we knew and were able to get the new system back on track quickly, this would not have happened without the regular board meetings”. Why not set up a visual measures board this week. A PDF on the rules of running a board meeting can be downloaded here.
4. Get expert help
Once into my diet for a few months I soon hit a plateau. I wasn’t getting the results that I thought I should have been getting. So I sought out some help. I started to train with a fantastic personal trainer who sorted out my diet and training. Most importantly he became my conscience and kept me on the straight and narrow.
It was Deming that said that managers need help externally to see their business differently. Hence the role of external help is to show leaders how the business works from the customers perspective and how this is connected to how leaders think.
Laurence Barrett (now Chief Executive of Falkirk Enterprise) reports that when he was a Director of VELUX that they were losing sales because front line staff were incentivised to only take calls from people who wanted to buy a product now. Those customers that wanted to ask questions (that may have led to a sale) they were passed around the business, and left to shop elsewhere. Laurence says that he would never had seen the problem (his incentive scheme) unless he had someone come in from the outside to give him a different perspective on how to view the problem.
5. Get objective feedback and never stop improving.
Finally during my diet it was important to have people around me that gave me honest feedback about how I was doing. This wasn’t very difficult. I remember asking Daniel (fifteen year old son) if my stomach looked smaller he replied “I don’t know dad it’s currently blocking out the light from the sun so I can’t see anything.” My family keep my on the straight and narrow.
On a change programme it’s common for leaders to stop once they have made some gains, often because those around them get complacent. So it’s important to get a vision of what perfect would look like and continually remind people that the end goal is to be remarkable.
Let’s be honest at forty two it’s unlikely that I will ever look remarkable but in shooting for the best it may at least avoid Daniel calling me chubby dad, and for me that will be good enough. But I want to finish with the best bit of advice I got which was: don’t wait, start today.
What about your business is it unfit? Does it need to change? When are you going to start?
At 10.50am on the 29th of November 2005 Matthew, my youngest son, was born. He was seven weeks premature and weighed only four lbs. Denise had to go into the operating theatre so I was alone at the side of Matthew’s incubator feeling scared and helpless. He was crying, so in an effort to try to do something I put my hands on either side of his little plastic cot and prayed he would be ok.
I was startled by a whisper in my ear. It was the nursery matron. She said “What are you doing?” I replied “I’m trying to help my baby. She laughed softly saying “Son, you won’t help him from behind the glass.”
So she lifted Matthew gently and placed him inside my shirt. He cuddled in and went back to sleep. Though I sometimes reflect on my failings as a father and in business, at that moment with Matthew sleeping on my shoulder I felt like I could have changed the world.
I believe that if we reflect on times on our life when we feel our best, it is when we are helping others. And I also believe that the more you help others get what they want the more you get what you want.
So, If you want to help people at work, first make sure they have strong sense of purpose. They need to know why and what they are trying to do, they get feedback in the form of measures and are also allowed to contribute to the improvement of the system. But more than anything else, you must get involved. As I was reminded through Matthew’s birth, you can’t help people from behind the glass.
What about you? How much time did you spend solving problems with your team last week?
Following last week’s blog on leadership. A number of people have written to me to ask the question, how we best get leaders to change their perspective on how to lead?
First a quick review on what we want leaders to do differently. The answer is their thinking and behavior. Thinking differently means that leaders shift their perspective from managing their organisation as a top down functional hierarchy, typically with decision making removed from the work. They realize that measures related to budgets and targets are futile. And there is a shift from the belief that their primary role is to manage and motivate people.
Instead they start to view their organisation as a system, viewed outside in (from the customers perspective) with decision making in the work. Measurement is related to customer purpose and capability. And the primary leadership role changes to acting on the system.
Take for example a housing association. When a customer calls in to report a repair it is normal to speak to someone who lacks expertise in diagnosis (functional thinking), who is measured on the number of calls they take (targets and service standards). But the leader doesn’t see the poor customer experience because they are remote from the work (top down, decision making separate from the work). The customer is not given a date for a repair because the scheduling is done in a different please to the diagnosis (more functional design). And when the tradesman turns up it is not uncommon for the job to incorrectly diagnosed; but as he works with schedule of rates codes he can’t make a decision to change the specification and finalise the repair. The customer loses and costs rise, but management are in the dark as to why.
The problem is that the leader doesn’t see it, because they get data that suggests everything is fine. The call targets were hit, the visit was done within the time specified by the regulator and job re-inspected to comply with the rules around schedule of rates.
If the leader knew how to look they would see failure demand: customers calling to re-book a failed repair, and requests for specific times for visits. The leader would also notice poor diagnosis leading to repeat visits; and a failure to handle calls one stop due to the functional nature of the design. Lack of decision making, poor morale and cheating would also be evident, a feature of the design of the system. And if they were really clever they would see that in their managers were spending all their time trying to get people to hit their targets and service standards rather than understand and improve the system.
Which begs the question how would you get the leader and the mangers to change?
There are three options, coercion, education and normative change.
Coercion means do this or else. And sometimes, when a business is failing or there is a crisis, it is a legitimate method of change. But long term it only gets compliance, and if those being asked to change don’t really understand why or buy in, the new behavior will at best be passive. My eldest son, Daniel, cleans his room when I promise a threat, but an inspection would soon confirm his heart wasn’t in it.
Education is also a poor method of change. Those who change as a result of education have already accepted that there is a problem and therefore a need to change. It is also likely that they have tried a number of different methods with little success and are eager for a solution. I could spend hours in a room explaining to my son, Daniel, how best to clean his room but if he didn’t see the need for a change, my dazzling presentation skills would be wasted.
Tactically, when using education as a means of change you should focus on the problem not the solution, and then show examples of other similar systems and the impact of their failures. For example I could show Daniel examples of messy rooms and how other kids of a similar age failed to impress friends and member of the opposite sex, and how that made them an outcast. This might work as long as Daniel made the connection and cared. Otherwise education is a poor method of change.
The final and best method change is normative change; which means that I come to the conclusion for myself, that I have a problem. In studies of alcohol and drug addiction (Prochaska, Norcross and Declemente 1994), the researchers found that a change in behavior was most likely to occur when the addicts recognized themselves that they needed to change.
In organisations helping managers to realize that they have a need to change requires that they go out into the work and see for themselves the unintended consequences of their policies, measures and processes. Many years ago I did some work for a sports centre. Management had recognized that in the evenings there was a high demand for five-a-side football. So in order to give everyone a good chance of getting a booking they instituted a policy.
A) Football pitches can only be booked seven days in advance from 6pm.
Management were proud of this policy because they said it meant everyone now had the same chance of getting a booking, or so they thought.
We went to the sports centre to study the nature of demand. From 4.30pm a queue started at the front counter. The queue was made up mostly of school children, they were in-fact the children of the fathers who played football, and were keeping their place in the queue.
From around 5.30pm the phone would start ringing, these were the people trying to secure the bookings for their next game of football; and because it wasn’t yet 6pm management put in place another policy that from 5.30 till 6pm the phone would not be answered (even though some of these calls were to book other facilities in the centre).
But the worst piece of data we uncovered was that the people, who were supposedly fighting for a pitch, were not actually in competition. Those that played football played at the same time every week, every month, every quarter and had done so for years.
So management’s assumption that they had made things fair for everyone was wrong on two counts.
1. There was no need to make the system fairer because no-one was competing for the same slot.
2. If a new person moved into the area put together a team and tried to get a slot they would fail, because the current system was so well known by the locals. And as far as I know there have been no new five-a-side football teams that have moved to the town.
Finally to make matters worse, the very people who paid their money week after week - the loyal customers - were being aggravated by the silly booking policy.
Management were astonished by what was happening, and quickly realized that they were to blame. Just showing them the data without the emotional experience of seeing the children queuing and the ringing phone being ignored by the staff would not, in my opinion, have had the same effect.
So what are the lessons for helping managers to change?
1. When starting with education focus on the problem and showing systems similar so management can make the intellectual connection to their system.
2. Get knowledge about how the organisation functions as a system, draw a system picture (see Understanding your Organisation as a System)
3. Take a manager to study the work (download our FREE process mapping guide) and let them see for themselves what is really happing in the work.
4. Ask questions (like why is that happening) until they recognize the link between their policy and the performance of the work.
5. Get their agreement to do check on their system
6. Identify levers for change and improve the system.
Does this mean all leaders will change? Probably not in all cases, but why don’t you give it a go and let me know what happens.
Changing for good. 1994 Prochaska, Jo. Norcross, JC. Diclemente, CC. Avon Books New York
What if the answer was neither? Much has been written about leadership, but in my opinion not much of it is helpful. The literature seems to be divided between the views that there are certain personal traits which make a good leader, or that events caused a mere mortal to step up and exhibit some superhuman leadership skills. The problem is that there is no evidence that a leader’s personal traits make much difference to the performance of an organization.
Likewise there are no real clues in business books about what skills leaders should learn, other than the obvious: some financial acumen and market knowledge that might make a business perform better. My view is that great leaders are neither born nor made but that they are able to give up their old beliefs and develop new thinking and behaviour that ultimately sets them apart.
As a young manager I was taught that leaders demonstrated energy, intelligence, they were hard working, displayed good interpersonal habits and were as - if not more - technically competent than their team. And in terms of skills I was taught how to coach, counsel, read a budget, present well, communicate concisely, and set big goals. I believed so much in this manifesto that I worked in the evenings as a trainer teaching those skills.
One night a delegate on a course approached me and asked a question, “if what you are teaching is so effective, then why has nothing changed for me, other than I have a bit better relationship with my team?” I had no answer for him, except the glib reply that things take time to change. He left the course, and I was left looking for answers. I had three questions.
1. What do good leaders achieve?
2. What do good leaders do?
3. How do they do it?
Though it’s taken me twelve years I now think I have some answers.
To the first question, I think the answer is obvious. Good leaders help to improve the performance of their organization. And by performance I mean better service to the market, good use of capital employed, they design work so that people learn are happy and committed and they are able to see what’s happening in markets and translate this into how operations effectiveness.
In his book, Strategy Safari, management thinker Henry Mintzberg described the role of the leader as someone who understands what matters to customers and makes sure that the organization is capable of delivering it.
Unfortunately many of the leaders I have observed over the years don’t do what Henry says they should. Many of them are more interested in serving themselves, manipulating the numbers, and avoiding the truth about how the organization is really performing. Do you think I’m being unfair? Please let me know what you think.
So assuming that we agree on what leaders achieve, the next question is what do they do to achieve it? Here I think the answer lies in how they think. That ultimately drives what they do.
The idea of leadership in an organizational sense came at the start of the industrial revolution. Bethlehem Steel and Ford being two of the organizations that formalized the concept of leadership. Leadership at that time was seen as top down; leaders got their knowledge about the work from reports. Leaders tended to make decisions about how work was done; and to make the work easier for what tended to be immigrant workers, the work was functionally designed. Measurement was about adherence to budgets. And the core belief that, as most workers were lazy and only motivated by money, then the job of the leader was to motivate the workers.
This knowledge about how to run an organisation worked for a while. It worked as long as customers took what they got, there was a shortage of jobs and a lack of competition. But the cracks in the thinking started to show after the war when Toyota, a sewing machine company, used what seemed like little resources to steal much of the share of the car market in the US.
What Taiichi Ohno, the creator of the Toyota production system, realized was that when you think differently about running an organization, you get dramatic results. Because he had little money he had to make cars at the rate of market demand, make workers multi-skilled, have managers solve problems on the line and have the workers involved in the decision making. What he found when he did this was that costs fell, he could respond to the market faster and by the end of the late 1990s Toyota was making more money than all the other car companies put together.
But in the West we continued to stagnate. Still managing by the use of budgets, functionalizing the work, assuming that people needed to be motivated and management staying out of the work meant that our private sector became less competitive and our public sector a money consuming monster.
Being a good leader requires that you think differently about the design and management of work. What that means you should do is understand then take action on improving the system, use measures that help you understand and improve the work, design work so that workers have variety and are challenged and spend time in the work improving it.
Which leaves our final question how do you do it?
First is to be clear on the perspective from which you view the organsiation, i.e. rather than top down you must be able to see the system from the outside in, the way that a customer does. This means setting your purpose, what you do and how you do it, in customer terms.
Second is to establish measures of capability related to your purpose.
Third, once you are honest about how the organization performs, you spend time in the work studying process and finding out why the work is dysfunctional.
Fourth, you examine the policies that have caused the poor design and management of the work.
And fifth, you find out and change the thinking that lead to the badly designed policies in the first place.
But, if I’m being realistic, only a few will ever make remarkable leaders, because being remarkable requires that you unlearn the teachings of the past one hundred years. This means making an absolute commitment to being obsessed with customer needs, be honest about how you really perform, spend time out of your office, and be willing to change the very policies that you yourself might have put in place.
It all depends on whether you want to be remarkable or ordinary. For those of you that want to be extraordinary start by finding out how many of the following you can answer yes to:
1. My staff and I are clear on who we are trying to serve
2. We have clarity of purpose in customer terms
3. We have measures of capability related to purpose
4. I spend time in the work solving problems
5. I constantly review and change policy to better serve customer
6. I am aware of how all managers think about how to best design and manage work
So in conclusion, I think that leaders are neither born nor made, but that they are those unique individuals that are able to let go of what they have been taught and follow a different path. In that sense leaders are people that can unlearn what they know and then do the exact opposite to their peers. Maybe if I had done that twelve years ago I would have been a better leader. What about you?
A few weeks ago I walked with a client through the ground floor of the offices of the Scottish Government in Edinburgh. There was an amazing display of clay models made by children. The models were a representation of the what the children wanted to do when they grew up.
Needless to say there were models of footballers, astronauts, dancers and many other exciting occupations. Scott (the client) joked that there were no models representing management consultants or civil servants. He was right, and neither were there factory workers, insurance clerks, call centre workers or any other job deemed to lack excitement.
Maybe that’s because these kind of jobs are designed to lack excitement. But it doesn’t have to be like this. After forty years of research Czechoslovakian psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, (Csikszentmihalyi, M. 1997) concluded that to make a job exciting requires four things.
1. That the person doing that job has the ability to influence events up and down stream of their work.
2. That they are challenged to the maximum of their intellectual capacity.
3. They have lots of variety in their work.
4. They get feedback on the performance of the system.
Whilst that sounds fine in theory the question I want to address today, is how do you make those job characteristics practical? Let’s take each one in turn and discuss.
1. That the person doing that job has the ability to influence events up and down stream of their work.
To do this requires, first, that everyone in a process has a common purpose, and measures related to purpose. And that they meet regularly to discuss the performance of the system. The have a leader that encourages them to study each others work and make changes.
2. That they are challenged to their maximum capacity.
The team gather data on the types of problems that get in the way of them serving the customer and, working with the leader, are taught how to get to the root cause of solving problems. The leader is required as tackling root causes means being willing to change measures, policy and structure; but always it comes from knowing the work.
3. They have lots of variety in their work.
The role of the leader is to study the type and frequency of demand in the team and ensure that everyone has the ability to do all the work. However this typically goes against convention as most leaders are consumed by breaking work up into easy and hard parts. All that happens is people get bored and spend their time working out how to re-classify the work rather than do it.
4. They get feedback on the performance of the system.
To do this simply requires that there are visual measures providing data on how well the system achieves its purpose; and with the data the freedom to experiment with different method.
What about your organisation? Is there clarity of purpose from the customers point of view? Are teams encouraged to study each others work? Do they meet regularly to solve problems using data? Do they get trained in doing everything? Are there visual measures that allow front line staff to experiment with method? And do you have or are you- a leader that can make these things happen?
And just maybe if we start now, when our children walk through the halls of the Scottish Government there will be paper-mache models of managers, leaders and internal consultants.
When I think about what Vanguard Scotland has achieved over the last 10 years it makes me smile with immense pride.
However my pride is tinged with a little bit of frustration when I think about the organisations that could have achieved so much more if their leaders had the confidence, the drive and the back bone to implement all of the changes we proposed.
The fact is that leaders like Laurence Barrett, Ron Skea, Rachel Mackenzie, Colin Peebles, Colin Mckerracher, Eric Mcqueen and John Tinline have all shown that big change can happen fast.
But rather than being a frustrated revolutionary I am prepared to do something about it.
I want to prove that big change can happen with a unique 3 Day Challenge for one lucky subscriber of the Vanguard Scotland blog.
If you are a leader in a service organisation that needs service you want changed then I will personally give you three days of my time for free. You however have to agree to spend all three days with me, provide a few people to do the analysis, do what I tell you to do and agree to cameras and a journalist to cover the story.
At the end of the 3 days, if you feel that the experience has delivered significant change to your organisation, all I would ask is that you make a donation to the Sick Kids Hospital.
Please note only leaders who have the power to make decisions about policy, process, and structure need apply. No internal consultants.
I am ready to put my reputation on the line. Is there anyone else up for it?
If you are ready to take me up on my challenge, simply drop me an email explaining your situation and your objectives and let’s make it happen.