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Some thoughts on dialogue in the context of leading change in digital transformation

Summary: Dialogue and exchange are very common catch phrases used in today’s world of change and digital transformation. With the raise of social technologies in intra-company communications, dialogue and exchange became key drivers and motivators for introducing and motivating adoption of those new opportunities. Looking back on my years in the field I am frequently asking myself: What has to fundamentally change to really accelerate the impact and effectiveness of the new digital opportunities? This short essay contains my thoughts concerning the subject and was triggered by one of the latest TED Radio Hour episodes.

Disclaimer: As mentioned in my section on “Sources of Inspiration”, I get a lot of food for thought from the TED Radio Hour (by npr.org). Listening to one of the most recent shows on “Dialogue & Exchange“, two segments got my thoughts spinning. I need to mention, that what was triggered in my head does not match the actual context of the talks’s content. It’s more an “abstraction” of the two angles on dialogue & exchange.

TAKE 1: Moral Reframing. Manipulating the other side by using a resonating baseline of moral values to win an argument.

In his segment of the TED Radio Hour, Robb Willer and Guy Raz talk about the political divide in the US. Robb introduces the results of a study, in which democrats, republicans & liberals were surveyed on their position towards environmental protection after reading one of three essays. One essay was emphasising the moral values of republicans, one the ones of democrats, one was neutral and simply arguing the case. Republican & democrat participants were leaning towards supporting pro-protection arguments, if delivered in the moral value framing closest to their political position. Liberals would support the subject no matter what.

The study was proof for the method of “Moral Reframing”, in which the other side is persuaded to follow a particular argument, by delivering it through a morally resonating message. I believe, you can safely call that “manipulation”.

What my brain made of this…

Quite a while ago I realised that the saying

Don’t do unto others what you don’t want others to do unto you.

by Confucius is slightly misleading. It implies that we all live by comparable values, standards, preferences and ideals. I believe we can all agree, that that’s not really the case. At least I can name you a list of things – business and private – that I don’t want experience, while others would sincerely indulge in them.

Nevertheless, in a lot of change initiatives, the believes of either thought leaders, executives or advisors (or a combination of all three) are used as the driving arguments for change. Based on those believes new strategies are proclaimed, operating models established and IT tools get introduced. In only a very few of those initiatives the drivers really come from the base and represent the broad perspective on challenges, opportunities and options for a way forward. This is exactly the moment, where the arguments fall short and the need for change is only put out there but does not resonate with its audience.

What if we first listened to the ones that have to adopt change and that need to be taken on the journey towards the future? What if we decided to really seek to understand the fundamentals that move the people that we need by our side to really make a change? What if we used the learning from that process and modified the arguments in a “morally reframed way” to persuade people based on their values to come on board and take an active role?

I can hear the shouts of “that’s manipulation!”. But what, if you also apply another Stephen R. Covey habit of “thinking WIN/WIN“? Then the “manipulation” is not harmful but essentially in the best interest of everyone and a good way of getting a larger adoption of behaviour that is required to really make a change.

What if…?

TAKE 2: New challenges for diplomacy + The ability to have a dialogue without trying to convince the other side

Jonas Gahr Støre is the former Minister of Foreign Affairs for Norway. In his TED Talk he is picking up on the raise of intra-country conflicts and the roles of diplomats in a very difficult environment of extremism.  One piece of his talk that triggered a particular thought process in my mind was this chart (screenshot taken from a still of the video on npr.org):

ted_screen

Besides the fact that this is a massive challenge for diplomats that are trained to solve INTER-conuntry dispute, I suddenly asked myself: might it be the case that corporate leaders and managers are facing a slightly similar issue?

Looking back at my time in larger (and some small) corporations (as an employee at them or a consultant to them) I remember the phrase

“We are dealing too much with ourselves and not enough with the market, our audience or the competition.”

really well. Firstly this means that too many capacities are bound by internal ineffectiveness (not to be muddled up with inefficiencies!). Companies are not applying the right people or skill to solve INTERNAL problems, so things tend to drag on forever. They might be throwing some weight at the problems, but it’s not the right weight. I’ve learned about this angle in a talk from Dr. Gerhard Wohland when he said (something in the direction of):

Whenever a surprise hits, companies tend to ask the wrong question. They usually what to know “what are we going to do now?”. That’s the wrong question. If you knew your options, the situation wouldn’t be a surprise. What you need to ask yourself is “who is the right person in our company to deal with this and find out what to do?”.

Secondly, the majority of people hired for a job (if not hired for an HR role) are trained (and framed) to deal with OUTSIDE facing topics. They are (if hired well) diplomats to deal with EXTERNAL challenges on the client, partner or industry side. They have not come on board as diplomats and problem solvers for the INTERNAL conflict – even though that solving those would automatically lead to improved business success…I dare to quote Richard Branson in this context:

Clients do not come first. Employees come first. If you take care of your employees, they will take care of your clients.

Those two thoughts lead to two questions, that might be a starting point to resolving the INTRA-company challenges.:

  1. Are the right people dealing with our internal challenges? (instead of: are we doing the right thing?)
  2. How do we attract the right people that we need to deal with our internal challenges? (and most likely this will not be the next VP with an impressive commercial track record…)

Listening without the goal of convincing.

Another part of Jonas Gahr Støre’s talk referred to the ability to

Distinguish talking from making decisions.

What resonated with me here is the fact, that too many intra-corporate conversations don’t have the objective to understand. The dialogue is either “fake” (aka the feedback doesn’t really weigh as much as the initial statement) or the only aim of dialogue is to find the right angle to convince people of something else.

I am sure, we all have been in a situation where we’ve been invited to a “constructive conversation”, which turned out to be an environment in which – after having voiced the own perspective – the only objective was the attempt to convince us.

You’ve been there, right?

Now there is a difference between my TAKE 1 on “moral reframing” in this essay and the lack of dialogue I am referring to here. Because the sort of dialogue I am promoting in my TAKE 2 is a necessary foundation for being able to find resonating arguments. It can only derive from the will to walk into a conversation with the sole objective to understand, not to immediately respond and convince. For this methods like “active listening”, in which a listener repeats the perceived message in own words to then see if the sent and the perceived meaning actually match, can be very helpful.

If the objective of a conversation is a real understanding of all parties at the table, there is no need for neutrality or consensus to maintain a good conversational climate. It would be baked in by the fact that real interest into the other’s point of view is the driver of the talk, instead of the “polite waiting period before I blurt out what all the others have to believe anyway.”

My Essence: Effective change requires a foundation derived from a real dialogue.

Let’s not take the detour over “Starting with Why?” (Simon Sinek) again 😉

Let’s take it as a given and agree, that the purpose for change, for the introduction of new ways of working and the move towards a connected organisation has to start with a real dialogue.

Before companies whip out their value propositions and try to encourage behavioural change, they might want to get a deep understanding of the values and drivers of the people the change will affect. This will help us to work with resonating value propositions, which in itself are much stronger in their effect.

Let’s seek a dialogue that has the objective to understand, not to convince or manipulate.

If we want to proclaim the power of the crowd, holocracy and flat (or no) hierarchies, let’s find the real motivators to do so. Because a stock price, competitive advantage or a steep increase in bonuses won’t be it. That much we should really know already…

Let’s introduce a new breed of (non-HR) managers: diplomats for internal affairs.

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The Power of Purpose and the Balance of Goal, Value & Leadership

Intro: Two colleagues of mine started working on a model for the “power of purpose”. Purpose is one of the key subjects at the moment when it comes to change, leadership & management. One of the most famous talkers about the power of purpose might be Simon Sinek. You can see his TED Talk here. My colleagues point out the need that goal, value and leadership need to be in harmony in order to create an effective sense of purpose. I’ve fallen in love with the idea straight away so I capture my take & interpretation on the early stage of their model on my blog, you can find their publication here on LinkedIn.

The power of purpose.

“Why” is what you need to answer if you want to determine the purpose for “how” you are intending to do “what. From a leadership angle the “reason-why” might be the most important answer to give anyway. In particular in times of change, when the awareness for a need for change is charged with the urgency created by markets, competition or overall eco system. You need to move and you need to move fairly fast.

Commitment, dedication and intrinsic motivation is what leaders and managers should seek in their organisation. They are strong pillars for a stable environment in which trust can grow and distribution of accountability and responsibility is possible.

Goal. Value. Leadership.

In their model, Christian Heraty and Kevin Hansen, imply that a harmony or balance of the three core elements

  • Goal (What are we trying to achieve?)
  • Value (What benefit will derive from achieving the goal for whom?)
  • Leadership (How is a common understanding for the journey ahead created and sustained?)

are essential for an effective purpose. This is essential if you perceive “purpose” as a key resource to success and you required the maximum effect and impact of it on organisation and culture.

Read their description on the model here. The following text is my personal perspective on their angle:

Where we fall short in so many instances…

1. Setting Goals

If communication is only successful when sender and recipient are aligned, I believe the majority of goals – or better the way they are delivered to the affected audience – are far from “clear”. Yes, our goal can be to “increase net sales by 20 million”, but as long as your not the highest person in charge of sales, it’s not really “concrete”. Set aside the fact that motivation is definitely not driven by such a statement.

There are various ways of setting goals. SMART is probably one of my favourites:
<S> specific
<M> measurable
<A> achievable
<R> realistic
<T> timely

In our day to day work at Infocentric we for example use a structure called “PO3” to frame meetings, initiatives or projects.
<P> purpose (why)
<O> objective (what)
<O> outcome (result)
<O> output (deliverables)

I believe there are even more way of driving a common understanding and alignment across teams, departments of even companies. They all have one things in common: it requires time, thinking and recipient orientated communications to get it right…all three not necessarily the strongest pieces in goal setting processes.

2. Make value understood

One of my key learnings in my time at Tieto was “Industrial Buying Center Management (IBCM)”. As part of a development program obviously focussed on empowering us to drive business. Over time and in particular in my work as a consultant one concept of IBCM has proven to be extremely valuable: the resonating value proposition (read the original Harvard Business Review article here).

Essentially the concept is simple: the more a value proposition resonates with the actual recipient, the more powerful it is.

In practice it means that the value for e.g. digital transformation is substantially different for HR, CFO department, Sales or Engineering. If you want to make sure that your initiative or change program get broad acceptance you need to cater to all relevant (or affected) parties.

In the context of purpose it is essential to convey “value” in a way that people can understand it and thereby buy into it as a core element. And just for the sake of mentioning it: people ain’t stupid. Whatever companies do, has one some level a commercial or otherwise business orientated sense – even for an NGO. I can only urge leaders and managers to not beat around the bush and show how “this is your value – and this is how it connects to the value for our company” transparently.

3. Leading purpose

For this one I have a very, very tangible example. The past 8 years I’ve spent in the field of Advanced Intranets and the Digital Workplace. I had to learn the hard way that the C-Suite “we need to function as one tree hugging and super productive family” efficiency story sounds different when the board room doors are closed. Suddenly efficiency isn’t much of a topic anymore. If work gets done in 8 or 11 hours is…well…a working level issue. And unfortunately past experience proves that they are right. People get stuff done…no matter what obstacles you throw in their way. That’s what makes us human.

In the board room “effectiveness” is like magic: grown in additional regions without growing staff at the same ratio. Sell more without more sales staff. Ensure that the resource applied to achieve a goal has it’s maximum effect.

Why I am telling this story? Because if there is a dissonance between message and reality, then conveying purpose will be almost impossible. It disables operations to create tangible and resonating value propositions to the board room. Because, in the example above, they think efficiency (= value) to reach growth (= the goal). For the recipients, however, effectiveness is the real budget magnet. This immediately puts value & goal out of synch and a potential purpose is dead in the water.

Together it all makes sense…

If you think about it carefully: it actually makes sense. You cannot make purpose up. You have to mean it. In order to be able to mean it Goal, Value and the means of implementing both through authentic and coherent Leadership have to be in place. Otherwise “purpose” is another way of “marketing” whatever message you want to bring across.

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If you need a Chief Digital Officer, you’re probably doomed…

Summary: I’ve deliberately chosen the title to be a little *smile provocative. Of course I don’t mean it literally but where’s smoke there’s fire. So this article is about my very personal angle on the role of a CDO…more or less.

Maybe I need to say that McKinsey Quarterly isn’t my only inspirational source. However, I’ve learnt to appreciate their triggers to summarise some of my experience and complement it with their almost academical angle on my little digital world.

Unfortunately we have to make you our Chief Digital Officer

One of my colleagues at Infocentric just recently forwarded me a McKinsey article on “Transformer in chief: The new chief digital officer”. Reading the article I actually reflected a little on my perception of organisations that decided to install a CDO as part of their Digital Transformation strategy.

Let me make a brutal statement: Digital, Social, Transformation, Web… whatever Officer. Whoever decided to invent those titles gave in to two things:

  • Our DNA is not able to embrace the digitalising world and we need someone with an (compared to us) attitude and unorthodox behaviour
  • Our Shareholders need to believe that we do something about the danger of disruption – we need a change on board level without changing anything

Again, provocative…maybe it’s the core of my article and therefore its real purpose: I want to provoke!

McKinsey put’s the famous quote

If you digitalise a shit process, you end up with a shit digital process

(Thorsten Dirks, CEO Telefonica Germany)

into a different frame: “(…) Many companies are focused on developing a digital strategy when they should instead focus on integrating digital into all aspects of the business, from channels and processes and data to the operating model, incentives, and culture. (…)” (Source: “Transformer in chief: The new chief digital officer”, McKinsey, September 2015).

Digital Transformation means to embrace digital in all its, sometimes even disruptive opportunities. Disruption is nothing but the merciless elimination of something that was pushed into “outdated” by a new eco system anyway. Sometimes it happens to entire business models. Sometimes “only” an IT, communications or customer interaction strategy will be affected by it.

If you need some bearded guy with thick rimmed glasses that wears suit and trainers to tell you that you need to address the new requirements to your business model or strategy, you might have not done your home work…per se. Like in: the people that are in charge have somewhat left touch with the outside world and how things are moving forward. That’s a pretty rough sign in general.

Learn to fail

Looking at my past years in Digital Transformation I can say with confidence that very rarely companies allow themselves to really (really!) learn from mistakes. Try, fail, try again, fail harder and then succeed, however, is something that some companies have used to re-invent entire industries. We know them as the “new economy”. And the old economy is traveling to them from all over the world to learn on how to do things differently.

Now, for doing things differently a lot of paradigms and “measures of success” have to change in the first place. “Doing things right the first time” is something that companies should strive for…when it’s about the core of their business logic. When it comes to change, transformation and evolution, well, you might need a couple of iterations. No matter if you’ve been in charge of process design for 34 years, if you hold three PhDs in science or if you have been a sales over performer in three consecutive years. Sometimes you just don’t know straight away.

The way out: “Leading” a learning culture

I suggest that leaders and top managers start to use the phrase “I don’t know, I need to find someone who does.” more often. Because in an organisation with more than 50 people it’s pretty likely that there is someone who at least knows someone how knows. If you run a multi divisional, multi regional company…well, you do the math.

If leaders allow for bottom up change (not only preaching it, but actually nurturing it) then the phrase “I don’t know” can be magical. Suddenly you get the bits and pieces of your own DNA that could be the starting point of your change if you let it. Sometimes this is called “incubation”…but even that is more of a fig leave in too many cases.

For me “I don’t know” stands hand in hand with one of Franklin Covey’s 7 habits of highly effective people:

Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood.

It does not stand for weakness, disinterest or lack of competence. It’s merely the acknowledgement that real organisational power is built from a combination of many perspectives on the same subject. Like with a tribe…

Advisors are a sign that you actually care to learn

Alright, this might sound a little like a sales pitch for my profession. Nevertheless, if I look at people that have told me: “I didn’t know, so I brought someone to our conversation that actually does know”, I immediately developed a lot of respect for them. And I am not talking about external advisors anyway. Imagine if board & strategy meetings would (at least partly) be open for the digital or digitally savvy portion of the company. If the own digital DNA (no matter how small in numbers or young in age) would complement the decades of business and industry experience to take the next leap. Complement, not replace or push out or compete with.

I have seen companies like Swisscom go on stage in a combination of HR leadership, experienced digital transformers and  trainees. They showed how they, united as a team, take a stand for the transformation of organisation and business model. It was impressive and motivating at the same time.

I strongly believe that the winners of today’s competition for digital dominance will be the companies that don’t extend the board but transform the board.

You don’t need a CDO. You need a “C-Suite that is infected by and passionate about digital“.

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My thoughts on boxes, construction sets & custom solutions.

Summary: As part of my work in the field of the Digital Workplace I get asked one question a lot (even though I am not really a technology expert): “It’s 2016. Can’t we just buy this as a box somewhere?”. My answer to that is always: “Depending on how flexible you are as an organisation and what you mean by ‘box’.” So, this article is my personal(!) angle on the three main options to deliver modern digital services (probably as blurry as communication & collaboration in its scope). Personal angle, because I am not an analyst and because I don’t have the ambition to come across as one. My point of view is primarily driven by my experience in projects when I represent the business side of things.

I sincerely believe that we are moving out of the age of proprietary and specification driven development. Two factors seem to influence this with tremendous momentum:

  1. The substantial change of quality SaaS (that’s what we used to call the cloud in the old days) provides on almost all levels: scope, easy-of-use, governance, performance, availability, evolution/roadmap, mobility etc.
  2. The lack of effectiveness in allocating OPEX and CAPEX to infrastructure and systems that aren’t remotely core to the source of business

A third seems to emerge as well: compliance. In various projects (and it feels like a trend already) business owners have made sure that data touched by the project is business critical but not regulated! This means that there is very little legal leverage to argue “cloud security” by principle. For non-regulated content it’s almost a guarantee that cloud vendors have a better angle on data security than the heavy metal t-shirted guys in your basement.

The most significant change in this new playground: requirements engineering.

To play with boxes or modular systems requires new rules. The best way to determine, if you play by these new rules, is to never need a specification. In the new world, requirements and processes have to adapt to the capabilities of the target infrastructure and solutions (or the combination of modules/solutions therein). There simply isn’t the option to ask for the button on the upper right instead of a text link on the lower left anymore. The designers of the box want it up there, and if you don’t like it: get another box!

Organisations have to even learn a different way of determining requirements. They have to leave wiggle room to ready-to-use services in order to address the requirements properly. That requires intellectual flexibility on all sides: business stakeholders as well as (internal) solution experts. Therefore new methods of requirements engineering and documentation are needed.

Let’s talk about the scenarios

The following part of this article will only refer to three scenarios but not solutions or platforms that might fall into those. Primarily because I don’t want this article to be perceived as “analyst material” but more importantly because the “modular” scenario can be built from more than one solution/platform/service.

IMG_0435

In order to provide the core content of this article in a somehow re-usable format I will use a structure: my take on each option divided by

  • non-DWP analogy
  • benefit
  • consequences
  • key questions in the business context

Firstly this structure will help to align my point of view with yours, the reader (most likely not always 100% matching). Secondly I want to provide inspiration for readers that are confronted with the decision between the scenarios and seek for additional input for the decision process.

Option1: Boxed

Analogy
You buy a space ship in a toy store. It’s called “space ship” and it comes in one piece – as a space ship.

Benefit
You know what you get. You know what to expect and so does everyone who’s going to play with you. If your play requires space travel, interstellar transport and artificial gravity, you’re all set.

Consequences
The play is limited to the context in which a space ship makes sense. To play “summer camp 2014” will require a lot of creativity in

  • framing (change management)
  • execution (user experience & add value)
  • adaption (requirements re-engineering)

Questions in a business context

  • Are your business requirements clear enough so that you can determine a (reasonable) match with a technology? Do you need a space ship?
  • Can everyone use the new box? (e.g.: do you infinite bandwidth everywhere?)
  • Have you made sure that “out of the box” doesn’t mean “out of the boxISH” in the vendor’s sale pitch? In German you say “Auslegungssache” ;o)
  • Do you know all the other boxes in your company? Do you know the boxes that will be brought in in the near future? Do you understand how things will play together or create redundancy?
  • Are your functional requirements flexible enough so that they can adapt to how things are done within the new box?
  • Is your organisational willing to change the current standards (processes, ways of working, guidelines etc.) so that YOU will be compliant with the new box (not the other way around)?

Option 2: Modular

Analogy
You buy a construction set to build a space ship. The set it build from some common standards and some space ship specific pieces. *

Benefit
You are way more flexible in your play. You can adapt the space ship depending on space ship play relevant factors. You don’t even have to use all pieces and still build a space ship. Some standards in the set will help you to address needs that aren’t specific to space ship plays.

Consequences
If you don’t follow the exact (child proof) plan on how to build the space ship you need the experience (not just the vision) on how to build a space ship. Not everything you can build from a space ship construction set will be a space ship, which might be confusing to others.

You need a solid understanding for the priorities in your space ship play, so that you can cater to them. If you leave pieces out you need a reason-why. If you leave out all the space ship specific pieces, there was no need to buy the set in the first place.

Questions in business context

  • Do you have a plan? (literally)
  • Do you have internal competence to work with and maintain construction sets? It is a different ball game compared to standard solution operations…
  • Have you matched your plan to the construction set?
  • If you leaves pieces out, do you have a reason-why for the ones that “always wanted something like that”?
  • If you start small, do you have a roadmap for adding the other pieces?
  • Does your construction set play well with other sets and boxes in your organisation? Does it have to?

Option 3: Custom

The following statements will make you feel that I am not necessarily a “custom” fan anymore. However, there can be good reasons to go fully customised. It’s all a matter of requirements engineering and cost/benefit analysis.

Analogy
You get some raw material and you build a space ship.

Benefit
It’s the space ship that fits a specification, which was built on known requirements. It’s yours. You are in charge, if you don’t sell and lease it back…

Consequences

  • Your requirements have to be spot on (correct and complete)
  • Your specification has to be spot on (correct and complete…and ideally tested)
  • Prioritised requirements automatically lead to a roadmap and release management. It’s good to have the future 1.5 releases in mind to avoid “cul-de-sacs”.
  • You better test your space ship before you fly off because it’s a brand new space ship

(Pragmatic) questions in business context

  • There is really no box out there that would fit your requirements? Really, really?
  • Is “custom” connected to the people in charge? (that’s always how we’ve done it)
  • Could you adjust your requirements to fit a box or a construction set?
  • Could you change (like in: processes, ways of working, etc.) to become more box or construction set compatible?
  • Could you win your CFO over to your team by creating a business case that sets out
    • benefits of generally changing “ways of working” (aka organisational evolution)
    • freed up CAPEX and OPEX for more core business focussed actions

 


“Modular” can stand for “built from multiple specialised/best of breed solutions” as well. The available eco system of services simply becomes the construction set.

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Like a #magnet; very nice metaphor for a strategic #enterprise20 #framework; #e20 #socialbusiness #socbiz

Summary: I suppose most of us have been confronted with the question why a transformation needs the ‘big picture’ – the strategic framework. During one of my recent workshops a client of mine drew the picture of a magnet on a flip chart and it’s probably the nicest metaphor that I’ve seen so far for the subject.

This post actually doesn’t need many words beyond some context.

Most companies don’t just have one single IT project in the pipeline. Depending on the source of business there can be hell of a lot of things going on – all in parallel: ERP, productivity infrastructure, CRM, Unified Communications, collaboration, intranet etc.

Now…Stephen R. Covey already told us to always ‘have the big picture in mind’ while walking along a roadmap ‘doing first things first’. Walking towards one common goal needs guidance. That guidance could be a (magnetic) pole that helps to adjust the direction of all moving initiatives. Like we would orientate towards the North Pole with a compass. That North Pole is represented by the strategic framework or transformation program that helps to align everything so it will fall together in one place eventually.

I love it…

magnet

(The credit for the foundation of this drawing really goes to my client…)