Transformation …

is something you go through, not something you are put through.

Most corporate transformation projects fail to deliver their expected benefits. Many fail to transform the business or bring about sustained change.

They are like a neutron bomb in reverse. They impact everything except the people, who pretty much carry on as before, albeit in a somewhat changed environment.

Their language betrays them. Transformation projects are ‘rolled out’. The people are rolled over. Then they get up, dust themselves off, swear at their leadership and carry on as normal (perhaps that should be ”leadership’ and “normal”. You’ll have to do your own actions).

Hearts and minds. Hearts and minds. Without winning them over, nothing changes.


The sandwich CEOs?

I have been pondering on the lot of the CEO (and the rest of the management team) in many organisations. It’s pretty challenging as they get assailed by change on all sides by change, whilst their organisations become more disfunctional and unmanageable. They frantically pull on levers that don’t really work anymore, whilst trying to get the caboodle to do tricks it’s not made to do, like innovate, be agile, attract the talent and keep relevant.

The I saw this article “Why do so many middle-aged men feel so lost” and thought it might be relevant (because, let’s face it, we’re talking mostly about middle-aged, middle-class white men here). Well, it’s not actually about business, it’s about their private lives: but maybe there’s more similarity than difference.

It talks about the ‘sandwich generation’ in their mid-40 and 50’s, stuck between the baby boomers and the digital natives. It sums up their situation as follows:

“Men currently in their midyears are caught between their traditional silent, strong and austere fathers who went to work and provided for their families, and the more progressive, open and individualistic generation of their sons. They do not know which of these two very different ways of life and masculine culture they should follow.”

Well, doesn’t that parallel their situation in the board-room as well? They don’t know whether to continue to work the machine harder, driving for efficiency and scale at the expense of everything else, or to get all soft-and-fluffy people-focused like the tech whizz-kids and Tony Hsieh at Zappos. They don’t know whether they should be insisting on stand up meeting and stopping the tea and biscuits, or putting in a snack bar surrounded by giant bean bags and chill-out pods.

The article explains that not only do these men find themselves confused and conflicted, they often become surplus to requirements as their wives realise they don’t need them in today’s world. To make matters worse, it seems these men are particularly ill-equipped to deal with the situation, having had it all their own way for so long. The behaviours that have been second nature in the past are now the cause of their malaise and they are struggling to change. Whereas women adapt and support each other and go on to be stronger.

Today’s CEO must feel a similar pressure. Is he (because it will be a he) about to made surplus to requirements? He can already see that the automatic behaviours of the past are losing their potency and efficacy as the growing cohort of millennial just don’t play that game. Is he able to change? Who has he got to help him? (hint: those behaviours don’t include mutuality and support). Does he stick with what he has always done, even though he can see it’s not working? Or does he make the leap of faith and change the whole business (assuming he even believes he can make it happen)?

We sometimes see these people at the top as the blockage, the obstruction to change, but perhaps they’re just the meat in the sandwich. And they’re about to get eaten. Instead of being censorious, we should use some empathy to understand their position. Then, maybe, we can help them find a way out.

When the UK was a technology leader

Today is the end of Teletext as the last analogue antenna is switched off. It’s a digital death and many of us (well, the old ones) are reminiscing at the wake, remembering how we used it, talking about watching the screen all Saturday afternoon to keep up with the football scores, and telling a few jokes. (Remember page 528? What a corker! Still makes me smile ….)

It’s also a poignant reminder of times when the UK dared to lead the world. Teletext, along with its sister service Prestel, was a world-leader in technology. It was based on a special chipset designed and developed for ‘videotext’ graphic display. Our television industry (we still had one back then) integrated it into television sets as a premium feature. In no time at all it was standard and up-to-the-minute information was available in offices and living rooms across the UK. There was nothing like it anywhere else (although France deployed the Teletel service using the same chipset, that compared more with the Prestel service – more of which in future blogs).

Nowadays we look to the US, Japan or the Asian tiger economies for this sort of technical innovation in our homes. However, there is a vibrant start up culture growing in London and other centres that gives us hope for the future. Perhaps we can begin to think boldly enough and have the courage to develop our dreams so that once again we can lead the world. Let’s hope that we soon have another success like Teletext.

The paradox of the expert

Derek Sivers, author of “Anything you want”, is often asked for his opinion and advice on the grounds that he founded and sold his business, CD-Baby, for $22million. In a video of his story he expresses his surprise at this as he is a professional musician, not a business genius. He asserts that he just found a bunch of stuff that worked and followed it where it took him. So, is he an expert or not?

There are lots of ‘experts’ out there who have gained that status because of their proficiency at what they do. They may consult on sales, presenting, networking or all sorts of things that they are really good at, through a natural talent, aptitude or enthusiasm. They are clearly expert at what they do, but are they someone who you can learn from, who can show you how to be expert as well? Are they worth listening too?

I had plenty of teachers at school and university who were experts in their field but quite useless at imparting their knowledge to us students. They were just not able to come down to our level and relate to us. There are plenty of top sportsmen who fail at coaching and management for much the same reason. They just don’t understand how we mere mortals work.

Time and again we find that the best teachers often were so-so students, the best coaches often were just squad players.

Derek Sivers is worth listening too because he is just the same as us, and he started from the same place as most of us are starting from. He may not consider himself an ‘expert’ but we can relate to what he has to say, to the struggles he has been to and the lessons he has learned. That makes him an expert in what is useful to you and I.

It’s a paradox but maybe the ‘expert’ is the least qualified person to show you the way.

Do less, ship more

If we all shipped more stuff, we’d be more successful. It’s one of Seth Godin’s mantras – “Ship it!”. So why don’t we? Because we are doing too much stuff. Our focus is all over the place.

We’d actually ship more if we did less. If you only have one project to work on, then you have complete focus. There’s nowhere to hide, your progress is evident. You ship, or you are going nowhere.

OK, so that’s not realistic for most people or businesses. Even in a start-up, there’s a myriad of things that have to be worked upon. But we all allow projects and activities to accumulate. We let our day get filled up with stuff. So it’s time to weed out those projects and get back to the vital few.

Here’s a quick and dirty way to review your projects and get that focus. Firstly, list out all the projects you have on the go – and I mean ALL. Development, marketing, admin, people, IT, contracts, facilities – the lot. Then ask 4 questions:

  1. Is it still relevant?

Projects have a life of their own. You would be amazed how they keep going when the reason for starting them has been forgotten. It was a great idea when you started it but what impact is it going to deliver today?

  1. Does it have a completion date?

This is a sign of a project out of control. If you don’t when it’s going to finish, how can you know what resources it will take? Or when it will deliver the benefits? This will tell you straight away that it is not relevant, or badly managed, or probably both.

  1. Is it realistic?

Often, we start a project because we want what it will deliver, not because we know we can achieve it. So ask the hard questions – can it really deliver what it was intended to? Do we have the skills, knowledge and talent to pull it off?  Or are we just fooling ourselves?

  1. Can we live without it?

The vital few projects are the ones that are critical to the business, they underpin the business plan, the sales targets, the financial plan. If it doesn’t affect the numbers at the end of the year, or deliver a specific business objective, then you don’t need it.

So now you have a list of projects that are irrelevant, out of control, unrealistic and unnecessary. Easy. Now comes the hard bit. You just have to stop them. Now.

There will be loads of reasons why you should keep them – we’ve put so much into it; it’s nearly there; it doesn’t need much resource; it’s your favourite project because you started it; it might be the one that delivers a big, new client.

You have to ignore these siren calls and emotional hooks and kill them all off. Even your little pet ones. Or they will continue divert you from doing the one thing that will make you successful. Shipping the ones that matter.

Start doing less. Start shipping more.

Why techies don’t get the iPhone5

There were quite a few people who thought the new iPhone was a bit, well, underwhelming. They predicted lukewarm sales. Not as good as Android phones like the Samsung Galaxy S III or the HTC One X, which have better specs and you can customise them.

The new iPhone 5 is flying out of the shops.

You see, techies, just don’t understand people will pay more for an inferior product, especially one that is ‘locked down’ and limited to the Apple ‘walled garden’. Why people buy something that you can’t mess around with, hack and make unique to you. They think we’re all a bunch of iSheep, hoodwinked by Apple’s spin and cool designs.

The answer is simple. People would rather buy experience than product.

They buy the Apple brand, of course, but that’s not just about ‘looking cool’.  It’s the certainty that it will be easy to do the stuff you want to do, that you won’t have to get all technical and mess around with it. It’s easy to buy apps and media. It’s easy to sync with other devices. It’s easy to get fixed. You can go to a shop and get help. The whole thing just works. Beautifully.

It’s not the phone. It’s all the other stuff. The whole ecosystem.

Most people just want to do things.  They don’t want to customise their stuff. Don’t believe me? Remember the Nokia ring tone, and how many people left that on their phone, even though it was a running joke (HELLO? YES. I’M ON THE TRAIN.) They weren’t being ironic. Or stupid. It just wasn’t important to them.

It’s why Apple is still ahead of the pack. And, until the penny drops in another tech company, I can’t see that changing any time soon.

Because some idiot in Redmond thought it was a good idea…

I have been known to get a little frustrated with certain Microsoft products. Only really Office. And Windows. So just 75% of the stuff I use.

I know I am not alone. This is particularly apparent when they ‘upgrade’ the products. Functions that were once easy to find and use are buried beneath lots of new ‘features’ and work completely differently. Sometimes, they have disappeared completely. (or maybe they are just so deeply buried that I can’t find them, which is effectively the same thing).

The obvious question is “Why did they do that”, to which my response is “Because some idiot in Redmond thought it was a good idea”. I have in mind a particularly geeky programmer with glasses and bad complexion (I know, cheap stereotyping) who has never used the product in anger and has no understanding of how most business people and office workers think. In fact, I think of someone who has very little contact with normal people. How else can you explain the changes they have made?

Now, I know that’s ridiculous and there are probably hordes of people who have to sign off the changes to the user interface. Well, perhaps none of them understand how real people work. Or perhaps they don’t care. Either way, I am mystified, annoyed, upset and outraged. And I don’t think that’s what they were aiming for.

It’s really, really important that you understand your customers. Not just understand them, get inside their heads, think like they do, see the world like they do. The Empathy Map is a good tool to help you with this but you have to keep working at it. Of course, you should be talking to them and enlisting their help to design the product, but you need to have your own reference point as well. (They need to go home, eat, do their stuff, after all).

Remember, it’s them you need to please, not you. Don’t be like that idiot in Redmond…