Tuesday, 27 April 2010

How visible is your leadership?

I was once working with a factory that made parts for cars. My assignment was to help them improve the quality of their products. The Senior Management Team had begun to put in place many of the critical ingredients of their strategy and were beginning to make progress. The workforce we unconvinced.

Over the course of several conversations it became clear that their doubt rested on what happened on Friday afternoons. "We know that the senior managers don't really mean all this stuff about quality because when push comes to shove at the end of the week, we ship the parts to keep the numbers up. We know that they will come back in a few weeks time under warranty." 

We took this message back to the senior managers who said this was not the case and they were totally committed to quality as evidenced by the number of posters they had put up. 

But then one day something significant happened. 

The Managing Director went down to the shop floor one Friday afternoon. He listened, he observed and he took action. "Stop the line - we have to sort this out!" 
It probably took all of 4 minutes for these words to echo around the plant. From that point onwards, whilst the quality strategy was never plain sailing, the workforce began to believe that it was there to stay. 

What are you going to do today? 

What have you already done?

Friday, 16 April 2010

Tackling the financial crisis: What is your ‘legs eleven’?

The challenge is on to find ways to reduce costs, maintain essential frontline services and do what can be done to protect jobs. However as the general election campaign continues to unfold, the true scale of the reductions in public funding are becoming ever clearer. Soon we are probably going to be in ‘another country’ where the usual efficiency measures simply won’t be enough.

To quote a politician from the last few days (and I forget who!) “it can’t just about reducing the paper clip budget, wishing for an end to bureaucracy and freezing a few empty posts”. New and starkly different ways thinking & acting are going to be required.

And so I came to wondering how the beliefs about how to do ‘more with less’ might need to change. I came up with 11 ideas – 3 beliefs to stop, 3 beliefs to start & 3 beliefs with which to carry on. The 10th idea is about stepping back and the 11th poses a radical ‘why not...?’. 

In my view, we need to:
  1. Stop believing that inefficient embedded cultures & engrained practices are impossible to change (Yes, it won’t be easy. But now is not the time for pusillanimity: the public services who will thrive through this turbulent times will be the ones who grasp nettles and robustly put delivering sustainable value to citizens / customers / clients / taxpayers very centre stage)
  2. Stop believing that there is heaven in the closely & rationally argued detail (The age of 356 page strategic plans is surely over! The endless iterations of turgid guidance should now also be history. This may not [yet?]be the time to throw caution to the wind, but it surely is the time to let it float on a breeze while people are encouraged and allowed to make bold decisions based on shrewd intuition and just a little less than endless ‘due diligence’)
  3. Stop believing that yet more ICT is what is required (Without doubt ICT has enabled and streamlined much of what we do. But I also remember a time when word processing was meant to do away with lots of tiresome clerical tasks. The documents are prettier, cutting & pasting has become a fine art for people who have never done it with real glue but we still have yet to reach that mythical kingdom where people don’t have to key in an address several times over. Perhaps it is time to call a halt, or at least a moratorium, on purchasing that next ICT fix)
  4. Start believing that citizen engagement can deliver efficiency, effectiveness, economy and empowerment (Cuts or no, we still need public services to educate our young people, to care for older people, to tackle crime, to maintain our roads. But how many of these services that are done for, or even to, citizens would be better off being done with the public? Once upon a time a forecourt attendant filled up our petrol tank: now we do it ourselves. Is that so bad? What public services must go a similar way?)
  5. Start believing that there is real and immediate value to had from collaboration and mergers (I have sometimes seen obvious collaborations staring people in the face but then well argued reasons are found to prevaricate or even block such changes. On the other hand, I have seen organisations take the view that “where there’s a will, there’s a way” and drive through a successful collaborative structure. This is a time for such bold action. It is not the time for pickiness, preciousness and posturing to stop progress)
  6. Start believing that radical reforming, reframing, redesigning & rethinking services can happen without a legion of expensive consultants (It is my belief and experience that within every organisation there is a huge reservoir of small, and sometimes large, creative ideas for improvement. Often these reservoirs are left untapped whilst the same organisations pay buckets of money to large consultancies who then either plunder the ideas or impose inappropriate models of change on the client or both. I would argue that far more needs to be done to create the leadership and organisational cultural environments whereby these ideas are allowed to flourish like poppies in a field of corn. (Please see my blog: http://smallcreativeideas.blogspot.com/ for hundreds of examples of such ideas)
  7. Carry on believing that the employees are the best asset any organisation has (Sadly it is inevitable that there will be redundancies from these cutbacks. I would argue that the way that this is done is critical to the ongoing health of the organisations left behind. There will be much to do to plan wisely and humanely about how this should be done with the staff who will be directly affected. This will also wash over the staff who are left behind. In my view, everything that can be done to make the process as respectful and supportive as possible for all involved is both ethically and financially imperative)
  8. Carry on believing in the vital importance of leadership through all of this (These turbulent times will demand superlative leadership that will ensure that strategic, rather than knee jerk, actions are taken. Good leadership will also ensure that cuts are taken intelligently tackling the areas of ‘quick fix’ waste rather than imposing, say, a 15% cut across all budgets, even the ones that are of most value and efficiency. Excellent leadership will mean that the organisations come out the other side of this process even stronger, more flexible, and ever more tuned to citizen demands & aspirations.)
  9. Carry on believing in the worth of evaluation to evidence what works, what is most efficient and why (There is no point ‘throwing good money after bad’. There never has been. And now we certainly cannot afford to do so. Whilst it will be easy to cut budgets for evaluation, I would argue it is now even more critical to understand what is working and why, as well as understanding what is not. Evaluation is an investment in efficiency, economy and effectiveness)
  10. Step back, explore and challenge all our other beliefs & assumptions that may be costing us dearly (One story I am reminded of is from a council in Yorkshire that investigated its processes for fixing street lights. They found that when a member of the public phoned in to report a defective street light they sent an engineer to verify the report was correct. Usually it was and then they sent another engineer to fix it. They made a remarkable discovery. If they changed their assumption from not believing the members of the public to believing them – they saved themselves a whole lump of resources. How many assumptions do we make that cost us huge amounts of money?)
  11. And why not, stop cumbersome procurement and start smart negotiating instead (Have you tested the value of procurement as against old fashioned negotiation? It strikes me that vast amounts of time go into ‘feeding the procurement beast’ that are simply not accounted for when it comes to evaluating the worth of the process. The people who iterate endless specifications, produce impenetrable invitations to tender and then allocate many person days to the process of scoring the bids might be far better off if they simply sat the existing suppliers down in a room and just haggled a bit. There is more I could say on this subject as regular readers will know: http://jonharveyassociates.blogspot.com/2009/05/13-ways-to-ensure-that-procurement.html But why not?)

What ‘legs eleven’ ideas would you put forward? What ideas / beliefs / activities / services / processes / politicians (!) / etc. would you stop, start, carry on, step back from and challenge with a ‘why not’ ?

Thursday, 8 April 2010

Customer Journey Mapping: New Workshop!

Will Haywood from Stoke-on-Trent City Council has kindly emailed me to say they have organised another workshop about their CJM approach. It is on 28th May starting at 10.00am. If you wish to go - please email him either by clicking here or here 

Details of previous workshops and their approach can be found by clicking on these links here:
I have also blogged about this too - if you have an interest:
Some questions I would pose about CJM are:
  • Can too much mapping lead to exhaustion? (see this post for further ideas on this)
  • Can mapping get in the way of exploring?
  • Is it appropriate to use the term 'customer' when financial restrictions will mean that partnering with local citizens becomes an economic necessity (see here for more about this debate)
  • Is CJM on its own enough? What other organisational development is required to make the most of the insights and ideas gained?
  • How hard is it to engage executive and political leaders in CJM? What else needs to be done?
  • How much danger is there that CJM sanitises the frustrations and ambitions of local citizens by turning it into a 'map'? How direct, face to face and authentic conversations between service users & providers (at all levels) built into the process?
  • What change of culture is required to make the most of CJM? Or does CJM itself stimulate a change in culture?
  • How should the investment in CJM be evaluated? How has it been evaluated already? 
  • In these increasingly stringent times - is CJM a nice to do or a need to do? What are the key arguments to assert its value?
Just some thoughts. As always I wish Will and his colleagues all the best with their forthcoming workshop!

Hub & Spoke: which method is best?

Traditional way of building a strategy / plan / set of actions:

Whole systems way:

How do you do it?

Why fragment decisions about the future?

Why not bring everyone in a room together and sort it out...?

Simulations and managing the future

Leaders are often very good at managing the present and responding to events and issues as they arise. After all, it is often people's ability to troubleshoot that helps people get promoted. But, a key part of being a good leader is managing the future. This is far more challenging.

The one thing that we do know about the future is that we do not know what the future holds in store. We can make predictions based on past trends, we can devise likely scenarios and plan around these. But in the end, managing the future is a journey into the unknown. What makes the future particularly difficult to predict is not knowing how people will react to changing circumstances. Economists spend years devising models to anticipate the effect of various changes to taxes, commodity price changes and so forth. But these models often struggle with anticipating the capricious and messy decisions that people make within these changing circumstances. For example how many economists or business leaders predicted the recent recession?

(Some have argued of course that the reason that astrology exists is to make economics appear scientific!)

One approach that is widely used to manage the future is to use whole system open simulations. These are different from simulations that you may have come across such as console computer games (including flight simulators, of course) or training exercises where there are a limited number of options from which to choose. These are essentially 'closed' simulations and a great deal of effort goes into designing the 'rules' of the simulation (if x is chosen then y occurs). In essence they seek to codify and 'bottle' human complexity. Whilst they are interactive they are not developmental nor do they change much in the light of learning and experience. Such closed simulations also struggle with people who seek to break the rules or who are just not sure what to do.

People breaking the rules (or at least bending them) is almost, perhaps, what makes us human rather than automatons.

So if an organisation wants to investigate
  • how a new service might be delivered,
  • how a new organisational structure might work,
  • how a new product might change the market,
  • how a partnership or strategic alliance might work out

... a whole system open simulation might well be a very effective and efficient way to do this.

The basic ingredients of a whole system open simulation are:
  • Get all the stakeholders in the room together - ie anyone who will be affected or will want to affect how the future happens
  • Put people into roles that are similar to (but critically not the same as) their existing roles so that they can apply their knowledge, experience and insights
  • Give people a 'map' of the new system/structure/product (etc.) with enough information to bring it to life but not so much as to overload people with spurious detail
  • Set up some tasks and objectives for the stakeholders to work on (such as agree a plan, or test an idea, or trial a new service...) within a concertinaed time frame
  • Consider how you may want to 'interrupt' the flow with 'events' that could happen in order to test reactions and consequences
  • Give people the time to reflect on what they have discovered from being part of this fictional system - what did they learn, what surprised them, what concerned them etc?
  • Finally give people time to resolve - 'now what?' - what learning needs to be applied to real world and how?

Because these are whole system 'open' simulations there is no need to try and predict or seek to contain the simulation. The simulation itself is a voyage of discovery and becomes a crucible of learning. People find out how they may need to adjust what they do and how they will behave in the future within the new circumstances. (As a consequence, simulations are a very effective tool in the development of leaders and managers.) Strategies & plans can be devised, refreshed or jettisoned.

Perhaps one way to sum up whole system open simulations is to say that they are about taking your shoes off rather than forcing shoes onto your feet. People can play (and bend the rules) within such a simulation and so learn, innovate and plan for the future. As Roger von Oech (author of 'A Whack on the Side of the Head') said "Necessity may be the Mother of invention, but play is certainly the Father"

Do you want to play?

Friday, 2 April 2010

When the seas of calm

I am just about to head off across the channel for a couple of days in Brittany with some friends, and I have been paying close attention to the shipping forecast... It doesn't look good!

This has reminded me of what Machiavelli says about calm seas:

a common failing of mankind (is) never to anticipate a storm when the sea is calm. A wise prince … must never take things easy in times of peace’*

This is not just a question of you: 
  • developing your people
  • developing your systems
  • developing your structures
  • developing yourself

It is also about how do you get your team and the wider organisation to stay ‘keen’ when the seas are appearing calm...? 

How many organisations are currently weathering the current economic storms & Government cutbacks OK because they kept themselves keenly ready for such an eventuality? 

* Machiavelli “The Prince” – translated by George Bull – Penguin 1961