Category Archives: Culture and Climate

Keep it simple stupid – but don’t be simply stupid

Albert Einstein allegedly said:

“Everything should be as simple as possible but no simpler”

The constant drive for efficiency and effectiveness has encouraged the use of standardised solutions in situations where similar issues or events need to be handled but we need to take care that we don’t over simplify our approach or over-standardise our solutions. Perhaps we need to take note of this observation:

“Rules are for the obedience of fools and the guidance of wise men.”

Harry Day – Royal Flying Corps First World War fighter ace.

A short story to illustrate the riskPay and Displays.

An early morning visit to a local town-centre supermarket led me to park in their underground car park. The store offers short-term parking at competitive rates and the fee is refunded to shoppers who make modest purchases. The system is managed using a pay and display system which dispenses a ticket and a voucher for the refund.

Approaching the nearest machine, I noted that it was out of order as was the next nearest. Looking round the car park, I spotted two security men at one of the more remote machines and decided to approach them. I asked whether that machine was out of order too. Their response took me by surprise. “They are all out of order at this time of the morning, until we have replaced the batteries – they are solar powered!”

This system has been in place in both the above ground and basement car parks for at least 10 years.

Some observations:

  1. The design and selection of the pay and display machines was probably appropriate to the most of the locations in which they were required – but clearly not all. The choice of a standardised solution is also understandable but perhaps it would have made sense to have considered the situations where the standard design would not be appropriate.
  2. There are mains powered items in the basement, lighting, signage but did anyone do an analysis to compare the cost of running cables to the machines with the cost of changing the batteries every day?
  3. What does it say about the culture of the organisation and the engagement of the staff if this situation was not reported to the management [or perhaps it was reported but not acted upon]
  4. Many organisations outsource their facilities management, one could question whether these arrangements encourage the reporting of such absurdities and whether the people employed in these roles have any incentive to report them.
  5. Does this demonstrate an organisation which knows how to learn and improve?

Do you have any problems caused by inappropriate standardisation?

Would your people report it to the appropriate manager?

Would any action be taken?

What do your customers think when they spot this type of situation?

Being “Best in Breed” may not make you “Top Dog”!

In services it is very difficult to differentiate yourself from your competition and it is even more of a problem for professional service organisations. It is very difficult to be distinctive, memorable and stand out from the crowd when everybody is qualified, capable and seems to be the same.

One route you can take is to become the very best at what your business does – what you might call a “Best in breed” strategy – but is this the best way forward?

“Best in Breed” Strategy

In a dog show, such as Crufts which has just finished, the best in breed winner is the dog which most closely matches the “breed standard”, it ticks all the boxes and has no faults but you have to ask whether the fine distinctions which gain favour from the judges are noticeable let alone memorable to the general public. And of course, there is only room for one “best in breed”.

Moving into the business arena, being “best in breed” may be a useful approach if you have a very narrow niche or have the resources to get ahead of and stay ahead of the competition but it won’t work for most businesses. You need to be different, you need to have personality and you need to build a community of customers who value who you are and how you do what you do. That’s what makes you “you”, makes you distinctive and makes customers [and employees] come to you.

Distinctive and Memorable?

Family DogYou need to have the key elements of the “breed standard” demonstrate capability but it is the other factors which make you distinctive and memorable. Unless you want to compete in Dog Shows, you don’t pick your family dog because of how closely it matches the standard!

All your competitors will have similar:

  • People [qualifications and experience]
  • Processes
  • Experience

Or they wouldn’t be in the business. You need to find a way of being different and that is best achieved through your people and your processes [what you do and how you do it]. To turn some customers on you may have to take the risk of turning some off, not everyone will like what you do and if you try to please everyone, you will end up being bland! You need what my friend Andrew Thorpe calls a “Marmite Pitch”

Very good but very ordinary

If you want to stand out from the crowd, you can’t be ordinary and it is very easy to be very good but very ordinary. Barry Gibbons then of Burger King was quoted by  Tom Peters’ as saying “Even when we did it right, it was still very ordinary”

Ordinary is not memorable and it’s not distinctive.

Extraordinary Expertise

Whether you are in:

  • Accountancy
  • Law
  • Architecture
  • Engineering
  • Project Management
  • Financial Services

You and your people need to be extraordinary and that means paying attention to how you do things and how you interact with your customers, it’s not about getting better at what you do. That is obvious and easy to copy – if you can do it, everyone else can do it. To be distinctive and memorable and maintain this, you need to get brilliant at things that your competition doesn’t take seriously.

This means building outstanding customer care, building strong customer relations and giving your team extraordinary expertise by developing what are often called “soft skills” but they are not soft, they are hard and they are crucial to your business success. You need to encourage enterprise and build distinctive capabilities.

You don’t get to be top dog by being best in breed!

How flexible is your consulting style?

Reflecting on a successful presentation of “Company Watching” to a group of consultants / interim professionals earlier in the week, I noted that they had been most interested in how an understanding of corporate culture could help them fine tune their style to suit the personality of their clients and potential clients. They recognised that this will help them pitch more effectively and work more effectively once engaged.

The importance of this was brought home to me last night when I watched Peter Jones’s [of Dragons Den] documentary on entrepreneurs “How we made our millions” – BBC 2 [9th November 2011]. It was striking how different the cultures of the two businesses were and the extent to which they reflected the character and style of their owners – Michelle Mone [Ultimo] and Richard Reed [Innocent].

Imagine the challenge of pitching for work to either of them if you were unaware of their respective approaches.

Are you sufficiently flexible to be able to appear credible to both of these companies?

If not, can you become more flexible?

Do you need to qualify your target customers to improve your chances of success?

Either way, you will need to be good at recognising the clues on their corporate culture – “Company Watching” will help you do this.

I’ll be increasing the focus on these issues in future talks and workshops on the subject.

Company Watching – 7 Ways to understand your client’s personality

We are all very used to the idea that individuals have personalities and moods that affect their demeanor, manner and behaviour. Skillful communicators can adjust their content, style and delivery to take account of these difference. But have you ever thought of applying similar thinking to the companies you deal with?

By understanding their organisational culture [personality] and climate [mood], you will be able to tailor your approach to meet their needs and maximise your chances of success.

When I visit a potential client for the first time, I try to arrive a little early; early enough for it to be likely that I will have to wait but not so early that it looks as though I got the time wrong. In those few minutes, I try to gauge something about what makes the company tick by watching what goes on.

In this short period, it is only possible to get a few initial insights into the way the company works, but any information is better than none. I try to use the following 7 topics to guide my assessment as I get to know the company and its people. As I wait, I’m normally able to pick up a few tips on the first couple of ideas.

Interaction

What is the level and style of interaction between the people you see? Is it formal or relaxed? Do they know each other’s names? If so what do they call each other? [In particular what do they call “the boss” and do they all use the same name?] Do they only talk about work or is there some social chat? etc

Rules and Procedures

The issue here isn’t whether they have rules and procedures, every business needs them, the question is whether they are proportionate to the business and the risks it faces. Are the number and method of publication of rules and procedures appropriate to the business. What is relevent to a major business operating in a highly regulated industry, is different to that required for a SME in a low risk business. Do the rules seem about right, over the top or too slack. [and are people following the publicised rules?]

What is [real] work?

Which of the organisation’s activities are considered as real work – is it just their core activity or is it broader activities, such as marketing, people management etc. Sometimes, this can be picked up from what the departments are called!

It can also be interesting to work out whether informal communication, discussions over coffee / water cooler etc are counted as work; favoured or frowned upon.

How important is time?

Is time seen as a valuable resource or as an enemy. Are deadlines real or purely indicative? Is getting things done by a particular time more important than how it is done [are rules and procedures “bent” to meet deadlines]? Does process and protocol beat the importance of time?

What is the level of acceptance and challenge

Do people accept things as they are, do what they are told and accept management’s explanations or do they challenge, raise alternatives and concerns? Would they point out that the Emperor’s new clothes were non-existent?

Do people co-operate?

What are shared areas like – do they all do their share to keep things tidy or do they leave it to others?

When asked a question do they answer exactly what is asked or seek to provide the required information?

Are people judged by their intentions and actions or the results they get?

This is fairly straightforward – do those who get the right results in inappropriate ways become better regarded than those who do the right things but don’t get the desired results.

If you keep these ideas in mind and keep your eyes and ears open, you will get to know what makes your clients tick and that will help you build better relationships with them – to benefit you both.