Why is a bridge and water such a good explanation of how people go wrong with business transformation?
I use this image to open a lot of my learning and teaching on service and business transformation. What do you see?
white water – froth and waste which we can remove one obstacle at a time, allowing us to see more at each step
the chance to bore out a concrete channel to carry the water smoothly… until the detritus builds up again
a flood of demand we need to build defences against
a rich, living ecosystem we should explore
upstream and downstream opportunities for improvement
a keystone arch – a miraculous way to make a bridge support its own weight. But try to copy someone else’s business excellence without understanding the scaffolding needed to make it work, and you’re just throwing stones in the air and hoping they stick.
The point is that when I say ‘here’s an image which is about business transformation’, everyone responds from their perspective, their understanding.
Honest conversations, discussing the undiscussable of emotions and reasoning – nothing can develop unless there’s a shared effort to get at the truth
Clarity – no learning is possible, and productivity and psychological safety are unlikely, without clarity of roles, tasks, decision-making, and relationships
Learning – true learning isn’t possible without planning, prediction, and learning and reflective practices
These three create a learning system
4. Culture shaping, understanding that leaders and systems and emotional responses to them create conditions which generate psychological safety and productivity – or not.
A productive system.
Intent – measure customer / citizen / community outcomes – as they judge them.
A purposeful system.
Culture and achievement of intent are self-correcting measures – if you measure the actual outcomes of your practices; the experience of employees and customers, and learn what works, you can’t go wrong.
But you have to make them a practice – daily, built-in, acknowledging your weaknesses.
If you want to really satisfy your customers, read on.
Most organisations hear ‘listen to what the customer needs’ and say ‘yes! optimise for this!’
They hear ‘transactional efficiency saves money’, and go ‘yes! everything efficient!’
Truth: there are two types of customer service flavours:
1) transactional – customers can reliably specify and find the right service, and just want it over with – or not needed at all. Paying a bill, changing address. You want reliable, standardised, low-cost activity to drive volume, fast.
2) emotional/’customer intimacy’ – when you really need to listen to know what the customer needs. Understand. Experts, specialists to work with them for a joint solution, and every requirement is a new, unique little project.
You can do one, or t’other. But try to mix and match, you’ve got problems.
Treating emotional as transactional fails to meet the needs, costs you more, and upsets customers. Treating transactional as emotional… well, same.
Which parts of your service require customer intimacy? Which operational effectiveness? Are you sure?
Have you ever been given the wrong sort of service?
First, you establish enough shared context to move on – so you all know what is happening around you.
Then, you establish enough shared purpose or intent to move on.
Remember, you all need to be able to move to the next step together – any problems, back down you go!
Then, identify the critical ‘what if’ (risk) and ‘how to’ (outcome) questions which, if answered, will allow us to define the work to achieve the intent.
Generate ideas to answer those critical questions, select the best, and check benefits and concerns of the actions they suggest – do a mini ‘seven steps’ on each piece of work if necessary
Then assign tasks and get on with work… and learn what you’ve done wrong.
The golden rule is:
any time you get a surprise, e.g. you learn that we didn’t understand the context, that our purpose might be counterproductive, that we didn’t really understand the context, that we’re answering a question wrong… …you have to all go back down as many steps as needed to correct that problem.
It takes practice. And it works.
Where does your team go wrong on decision-making in complex times? Where do you get it right?
This was a client, but it might as well have been me! With things changing so fast, unpredictably, and it being hard to know what you can rely on, how can we make any kind of business decisions for 2021?
Sure, we’ve learned!
How much we don’t know – the degree of uncertainty we were actually always operating in
How much we can cope with. If the pandemic, lockdown, economic impacts etc have shown us, it’s that we can keep on keeping on
In businesses I work with, decision-making has survived and improved in these main ways:
realising how important the ‘thick data’ is – the actual stories of peoples’ lives, to go alongside the cold hard analytics
increasing the effort to get the right information to really make decisions to the right levels of management – compared to how waffly and, ultimately, meaningless those meetings were before
realising how many decisions need to be, and are, taken at the frontline – freeing people up to get on and do that, with only big strategic decisions out of their hands
What’s your big learning about decision-making from 2020? How are you feeling about big business decisions in 2021?
Culture is the scoreboard, not the game. If you try to specify the score you want, you’re far more likely to do things that are counter-productive than you are to work on the things that will change how the game is going.
As soon as you publish values and behaviours, you get three things: 1- indignation from those who aren’t experiencing that, who judge you more harshly 2- fear from those who know they aren’t living it, and determination to avoid being found out 3- a double bind – ‘we say we’re an honest culture. But I’m not able to say what I think. But I can’t say I can’t say what I think – because we say we’re an open culture’
Instead, work humbly to change the score by changing how people experience the organisation, and what that changes.
It can work to publish values when you have a small team who can both set and police them (it might not last long).
In a bigger group, it can work when there’s enough momentum and frustration, and energy from knowing someone at the top really will enforce the changes. That person is likely exempt from the values they espouse – because who’s going to challenge them?
What’s the thing you’ve seen at work that most defines a culture?
‘Commissioning’ is misunderstood, denigrated, reduced to something else, and important. Often seen as just procurement, outsourcing, or a commercial activity, in fact it is about really achieving our goals as a society.
There are three versions of commissioning
1.0 started as a way to try to buy things effectively, thinking about the real needs, and learning from results. Commissioners were the centre of the universe, their budget what made everything happen
Imagine buying street cleaning services. Complicated, tough – but you sign the contract and things happen
Now think about how you achieve the goal of clean streets – it’s a much bigger picture
2.0 got us thinking about the outcomes we need, and how to get to them – immediately making the commissioner a humbler part of a much bigger, complex system
3.0 means thinking about what people are already doing and achieving for themselves – how can we help our community and businesses to have clean streets?
In each step, the commissioner gives up their centrality. And gains more power
Where could you play on a bigger stage – and step up from clever buying to outcomes focus to a strengths focus?
Shape and manage demand: effect behavioural change, reduce failure demand
Create economies of flow: match capacity, capability, contact points to demand
Reduce waste: re-engineer processes or develop a lean whole system
Optimise the use of resources: buildings, IT, vehicles, other assets, people (scheduling, downtime, contracts and management), income generation
Effective organisation: appropriate grouping and sharing of activities and services, organisational structures, role and task clarity
Optimise procurement: procure volume, shape the market, reduce or standardise specification or achieve multiplying effects, share services, social value
Change policy: stop, ration, reduce eligibility, delay, charge, develop policy to better meet organisational purpose, demand and underlying need, outsource, mutualise, use the third and social enterprise sectors
Do you agree? (We do, now, have an eighth way to save and improve – what do you think it is?) Which do you think is the biggest opportunity in your organisation?