Modernize Leadership: Observe and Improve

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In a previous post, I described how today’s management techniques reflect outdated assumptions of technology-enabled practices, human behavior, and the meaning of success. That’s why organizations must shift to what I’m calling Modernize Leadership.

I’m writing individual posts for each of the eight key changes required to modernize leadership. In this post, I’m examining the shift from:

Measure and Track to Observe and Improve

Here’s some more information to better understand this shift:

Outdated Thinking
Here are some ways in which leaders must change how they view the world:

  • You can’t manage what you can’t measure. That’s a refrain that I often hear, and it pushes people in the totally wrong direction. The reality is that most things in life are managed without explicit measurements. Think about a typical day. You get up, get dressed, eat breakfast, and commute to work without referring to a dashboard of metrics. That does not mean that measurements can’t help, but they hardly ever tell the entire story.
  • Managers often look for metrics they can to use to hold people and organizations accountable. Setting measurable goals is not a bad thing, but it can cause bad behaviors. Managers will sometimes overly focus on the metrics and ignore nuances such as actual behaviors of the team and shifts in the situation. They act as  if it’s possible to manage something you don’t truly understand. That all falls apart when the an organization needs to deviate from a “straight ahead” orientation.
  • When employees believe that a metric is very important, they are explicitly and implicitly encouraged to do whatever it takes to achieve the goal. This can lead to inappropriate behaviors such as a car salesperson insisting that you give him a “10” on a survey. At Staples, a metric of $200 of add-ons for each computer pushed employees to refuse selling computers to customers who weren’t going to purchase add-ons.

Heres a quote that is often attributed to Albert Einstein:

“Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.”

Modernized Leadership Actions
Here are some ways in which leaders should act based on a modernized perspective:

  • Look positively forward. Metrics often show how an organization has performed during some previous timeframe, but what you really care about is how it will get better in the future. Make sure that your discussions with people are focused on what the organization can learn in order to  improve, not on blaming people for the problems that caused a poor score.
  • Encourage the right behaviors. If you want your organization to make improvements, then nurture the employee behaviors that will deliver better results. So celebrate employees who are doing the right things, even when the metrics aren’t great.
  • Build operational empathy. If you want your employees to do the right things, then they should feel as if you know their environment. Rather than having employees just see you commenting on metrics from afar, set aside time to regularly get immersed in different parts of the organization. Ask employees how they think the company can improve. This will help you understand when to “back off” reacting too strongly to the metrics and let employees know that numbers aren’t everything.
  • Enable continuous improvement. Instead of using measurements as a pure grading system, use them to identify places for improvement, and always ask: what have we learned and how can we get better? Your organization needs to have an ongoing improvement cycle that is at least at the same pace as your measurement system, otherwise metrics will only lead to frustration.

The bottom line: Observe your organization and focus on improvements.

Modernize Leadership: Detect and Disseminate

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In a previous post, I described how today’s management techniques reflect outdated assumptions of technology-enabled practices, human behavior, and the meaning of success. That’s why organizations must shift to what I’m calling Modernize Leadership.

I’m writing individual posts for each of the eight key changes required to modernize leadership. In this post, I’m examining one of them, the shift from:

Amass and Review to Detect and Disseminate

Here’s some more information to better understand this shift:

Outdated Thinking
Here are some ways in which leaders must change how they view the world:

  • Leaders rely on periodic, deep understanding of the business. But the pace of change is increasing, and that point-in-time understanding of the past does not always provide a meaningful view of the future, or even how to compete in the present. Leaders need a more continuous set of insights.
  • Leaders often act as if customer insights are difficult to gather, so they periodically ask for a large project to provide a Powerpoint-dump to their executive teams. But current technology allows for more ongoing collection and presentation of insights.
  • Customer insights teams are required to focus many of their resources on the needs of the leadership team, providing support for a few key decisions. At the same time, a myriad of decisions across the organization are being made without the benefit of strong customer insights.
  • Customer insights teams aim to provide “statistically significant” insights, requiring large datasets and extensive timeframes for collecting data. But it takes only a few datapoints to create actionable insights when they are presented to employees across the business who have more context about the business.

Galileo Galilei, the father of the scientific method, once said:

All truths are easy to understand once they are discovered; the point is to discover them.”

Modernized Leadership Actions
Here are some ways in which leaders should act based on a modernized perspective:

  • Build a customer insight backbone. Given the state of technology, companies need to stop viewing customer insight as a set of market research projects and see it as a core organizational infrastructure. That’s why companies need to build what we defined in 2010 as customer insight & action (CIA) platforms. The goal should be to enable a continuous flow of customer-insightful decisions.
  • Distribute role-based insights. All employees make decisions on a regular basis, and many of those would be improved with a deeper understanding of customers. But distributing a common set of monthly Powerpoint slides is not the answer. Engineering teams, for instance, don’t need the same information as the legal department. Companies must tailor insights for each organization to provide the right information at the right time to fuel the decisions that are being made by employees with different roles.
  • Tap into the power of context. While analysis of large datasets may be great, people across an organization can often act on smaller timely nuggets of data. A call center supervisor, for instance, only needs to see one negative piece of customer feedback to kick off a coaching session if she is already concerned about that phone rep. These relevant datapoints fuel what we call contextual insights.
  • Raise all employees’ customer-awareness. Since insights can be more easily distributed, leaders should look for ways to tap into the insights in order to make everyone in their organization more aware of (and empathetic to) customers’ needs and perceptions.

The bottom line: Turn customer insight into a continuous, distributed capability.

Modernize Leadership: Learn and Adjust

ML_LearnAdjust2In a previous post, I described how today’s management techniques reflect outdated assumptions of technology-enabled practices, human behavior, and the meaning of success. That’s why organizations must shift to what I’m calling Modernize Leadership.

I’m writing individual posts for each of the eight key changes required to modernize leadership. In this post, I’m examining the shift from:

Strategize and Plan to Learn and Adjust

Here’s some more information to better understand this shift:

Outdated Thinking
Here are some ways in which leaders must change how they view the world:

  • Leaders spend a lot of time with their leadership teams fine-tuning precise strategies and laying out high level plans, hoping that their Powerpoint slides will come to life throughout their organizations. Unfortunately, employees need to make adjustments in order to operationalize elements of any strategy. As a result, many strategies and plans fall apart when those adjustments don’t live up to the original plans. Sometimes leaders can force their organizations to initially come close to delivering on their strategies, but there’s no way to consistently live up to those expectations.
  • Leaders amass a lot of information to develop their strategies and plans. Unfortunately, the information they use to make those decisions can often change between the time that they make decisions and when things get rolled out. The pace of change is accelerating in most industries, which shortens the useful lifecycle of the analysis that leads to decisions.
  • The improving technology for collecting data and doing analysis is making it easier to more frequently understand what’s happening in most organizations. This makes it much easier to make decisions more frequently, instead of waiting until the annual strategy cycle.

As Winston Churchill once said:

“To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often.”

Modernized Leadership Actions
Here are some ways in which leaders should act based on a modernized perspective:

  • Increase strategic planning frequency. If you make most of your important strategic decisions once a year, then you’re likely losing connection with the marketplace. At least make key strategic decisions on a quarterly basis, and look to get it monthly. The shortened cycles will push you to make learn and adjust a continuous activity.
  • Test, test, test. Instead of blindly executing on a large strategic plan that defines a single direction, you need to be constantly experimenting with multiple, smaller ideas. But don’t start this process unless you are committed to actively learn from them and adjust your activities.
  • Embrace failures. As you become more nimble in your decision making, you’ll be making more decisions which will lead to a larger number of smaller failures. In most cases, there’s a lot that you can learn from things that don’t work out the way you expected. You have to create a thirst for learning from these situations, and keep from looking for blame.
  • Double-down on successes. Part of being better at learning and adjusting is the ability to invest (time, energy, capital, etc) on ideas that appear to have strong potential. You need to be prepared to more aggressively shift resources to activities that show promise, even if it means more quickly closing down some other activities.

The bottom line: You need to learn and adjust more frequently.

Modernize Leadership: Engage and Empower

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In a previous post, I described how today’s management techniques reflect outdated assumptions of technology-enabled practices, human behavior, and the meaning of success. That’s why organizations must shift to what I’m calling Modernize Leadership.

I’m writing individual posts for each of the eight key changes required to modernize leadership. In this post, I’m examining the shift from:

Command and Control to Engage and Empower

Here’s some more information to better understand this shift:

Outdated Thinking
Here are some ways in which leaders must change how they view the world:

  • Leaders focus on assets such as products, customers, and cash, but don’t fully recognize the true value of employees. In many cases, employees are THE critical asset. As a matter of fact, engaged employees are the start to a virtuous cycle that leads to better financial results. It’s no surprise that companies that significantly outperform their peers financially have 1.6-times the number of engaged employees than do companies that underperform their peers.
  • Leaders often act as though the success and failure of their business is based solely on the decisions being made by their most senior people, so they focus a large portion of their time and energy on developing and vetting strategies. But all too often, strategies fail because of a lack of support and follow-through by employees who are unaware of what needs to be done, unable to do what it takes, or unwilling to support the change.
  • Leaders often respond to problems by putting in place new processes and stricter rules, while there is no ongoing mechanism for removing or simplifying those elements. Over time, the organization gets bloated with so many rules and regulations that employees feel little ownership for the success of the company. And the company loses its ability to adjust to new situations.

Southwest Airline’s founder and former CEO Herb Kelleher captured thinking about Engage and Empower when he said:

“If you create an environment where the people truly participate, you don’t need control. They know what needs to be done and they do it. And the more that people will devote themselves to your cause on a voluntary basis, a willing basis, the fewer hierarchies and control mechanisms you need.”

Modernized Leadership Actions
Here are some ways in which leaders should act based on a modernized perspective:

  • Influence better decisions. Leaders need to be less focused on the small number of decisions that they make, and more focused on the myriad of decisions that they influence across their organizations. How can you help employees make better decisions?
  • Measure employee engagement. If you measure other assets, why not employee engagement? But only do it if you plan on taking action on what you find. Consider using the Temkin Employee Engagement Index.
  • Master the Five I’s. How can you engage employees? Learn and master the five employee engagement competenciesInform, Inspire, Instruct, Involve, and Incent.
  • Assume positive intent. Instead of trying to keep employees from making mistakes by limiting their span of decision-making, find more ways to enable them to use more of their own judgement. Start by believing that your employees can (in almost all cases) be trusted—and train them.
  • Activate middle managers. It’s hard to get any group of employees to change their behavior when their managers are still reinforcing old processes, measurements, and beliefs. When you’re rolling out changes, don’t consider these efforts as being successful until your middle managers are fully on board. This may take some extra work, but the initial investment in time and effort will pay dividends.

The bottom line: Engage and empower your employees.

Modernize Leadership: Steve Jobs Demonstrates Purpose and Values

wordle4bIn a recent post, I discussed how management practices have become outdated and that there’s a strong need to Modernize Leadership. This change requires eight distinct shifts in how we lead organizations.

I just ran into this great video of a speech that Steve Jobs gave in September 1997. It’s really worth watching. Jobs demonstrates a few of the elements that I discuss in Modernize Leadership, and in particular he does a great job of highlighting this necessary shift:

5) Goals and Objectives to Purpose and Values

The bottom line: Tap into your purpose and values to drive simplicity

Modernize Leadership: Shifting 8 Outdated Management Practices

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Over the previous decade, I’ve had the opportunity to work with and study thousands of companies. One of the things that I’ve noticed is that the world has changed a lot, but organizational management has stayed substantially the same.

Technology has enabled entirely new practices and we’ve developed a much deeper understanding of what drives human behaviors and business success. But these new realities have not been translated into how leaders run their companies. Instead, management techniques continue to reflect outdated assumptions such as:

  • Mainstream economics works on the assumption of Homo Economicus, a model of people as rational self-interest maximizers. So “agency theory” informs management that employees can’t be trusted to act on behalf of the firm and, therefore, controls must be put in place to align their efforts.
  • Strategic planning cycles (annually, quarterly) have been established based on a constraint of limited data availability. When these processes and cycles were initially created, it was impractical to more frequently pull together meaningful insights about the business.
  • Management focus has been driven by economists like Milton Friedman who argued that corporate officials have one core responsibility: making as much money as possible for their shareholders. But the value that a company creates comes from a combination of resources contributed by different constituencies (not just investors) who’s returns should also be maximized, especially employees who contribute their knowledge and skills.

While these underlying assumptions aren’t necessarily discussed explicitly, they frame the basic structure of today’s approach to management. Well, it’s time to Modernize Leadership. We need to redefine how we run organizations based on the realities of today, which will require more inspiring leaders in the future.

To help make the shift, I plan to write individual posts that describe eight key shifts required to modernize leadership. In those posts I’ll describe the move from:

  1. Command and Control to Engage and Empower
  2. Strategize and Plan to Learn and Adjust
  3. Amass and Review to Detect and Disseminate
  4. Measure and Track to Observe and Improve
  5. Goals and Objectives to Purpose and Values
  6. Problems and Solutions to Strengths and Appreciation
  7. Process and Projects to Culture and Behaviors
  8. Price and Features to Experience and Emotions

ModernizedLeadershipOutdatedAssumptions

The bottom line: Let’s Modernize Leadership together!

Customer Obsession Lessons From Amazon.com’s Bezos

Amazon.com CEO Jeff Bezos recently sent a letter to shareholders sharing his view on how Amazon would avoid what he calls “Day 2,” because…

Day 2 is stasis. Followed by irrelevance. Followed by excruciating, painful decline. Followed by death. And that is why it is always Day 1.  

I’ve shared the full letter below, but want to share my thoughts on Bezos’ four themes he shares for avoiding Day 2:

  1. True Customer Obsession: Obviously this theme completely resonates with me. I love the line… “Even when they don’t yet know it, customers want something better, and your desire to delight customers will drive you to invent on their behalf.” My take: Companies need to look for the unchartered white space, and innovate at the intersection between customers’ latent needs and emerging capabilities.
  2. Resist Proxies: Bezos calls out “process” and “surveys” as proxies to watch out for. Process is an issue because it can reinforce compliance and complacency, instead of empowering individuals to drive innovation.  Surveys are an issue, because they can provide employees with a superficial understanding of customers. Deep insights into what people like, love, and dream about aren’t fully answered with percentage points. My take: You need to create deep customer empathy, not just statistically significant charts and metrics. Find ways to include more qualitative research.
  3. Embrace External Trends: Amazon will likely be more adept at grabbing the “tailwinds” of trends than most companies, but it’s critical for all leadership teams to keep an eye on how the world is changing. That’s why we issue our annual listing of CX trends. I was also very intrigued by Bezos’ discussion about easy access to Amazon’s “deep learning frameworks.” An API that taps into Amazon’s rich analytics backbone could be much more exciting than even IBM’s Watson. My take: Every organization should identify a set of key trends and ask the question: “How will these put us out of business or help us to create even more value to customers?”
  4. High-Velocity Decision Making. Bezos discusses three elements of his leadership philosophy. First of all, treat many decisions as reversible, so that you are creating an option — not just putting all your chips on a single approach. Second, is to get comfortable with making decisions without full information. Thirdly, he talks about “disagree and commit” which means that everyone needs to get in line when a decision has been made. Finally, he wants true misalignment to be identified and dealt with immediately. Nothing kills a culture more than lingering, unaddressed issues. My take: It’s smarter to get moving and learn along the way (see my post Modernize Leadership: Learn and Adjust).

The bottom line: Every leadership team should proactively avoid Day 2.

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5 Market Research Lessons From Election Polling Miscues

161111_tornmarketresearchIn the NY Times article Pollsters Face Hurdles in Changing Landscape and Aaron Zitner discuss a number of reasons for recent high-profile polling failures, the Brexit vote and the U.S. presidential election.

Why should customer experience (CX) professionals care? Here’s what they say in the article:

The outcome also raises questions about the research businesses rely on to test new products and measure customer behaviors, since many of the same survey methods are used for market research.

The article brings up some good reasons for the poor predictions:

  • People are less likely to answer surveys, so it’s harder to get representative samples.
  • It’s more difficult and expensive to reach people via cell phones than it was by landline.
  • Decision factors are changing. For instance, education level was a more important decision driver in this election than it was in 2012.
  • The people who choose to respond to polls don’t fully represent the population.

My take: I’ve been talking about the need to shake-up market research for many years. As a matter of fact, my 2011 post Market Research Needs An Overhaul remains relevant today. All of the issues with recent polling projections are similar to what many companies face when trying to understand their customers. Here are five thoughts on how to prepare your market research efforts for the new realities:

  1. Embrace outliers. The traditional approach for dealing with data points that don’t fit a model is to ignore them or discount them as being “outliers.” But these counter-trend pieces of data can be much more than that. They may be a window into an emerging trend or a small signal about a set of customers that your current research is missing. When you see an outlying datapoint, don’t ignore it anymore. Think about what it might be telling you, and what insights you may missing.
  2. Always ask “who are we missing?” All research processes, including surveys, are biased in many different ways (see my Latest 9 Recommendations for NPS). You can minimize and address some of the biases, but there’s always the risk that you just don’t see some of them. One of the things you can do is to proactively look for the biases. Always seek to define the populations of people that you are missing or under-representing in your research, whether it’s caused by a demographic or attitudinal blind spot. If you can’t find them, then you haven’t looked hard enough.
  3. Listen, don’t just calculate. A lot of my insights about the election came from listening to what people were saying, not from crunching datasets. As the environment around your company changes, you need to spend a lot more time with qualitative, unstructured content. Why? Because structured data collection reflects historical assumptions, and may very well be missing the key variables required to fully understand changing customer attitudes and behaviors.
  4. Over-emphasize recency. If you’re building a predictive model, make sure that it is very sensitive to recent data. If you’re mapping out a long-term trend or trying to fit the data to a historical model, it may take a while for you to identify a substantive change in the environment. Even if you don’t change your core model, look at what it says if you significantly over-weight recent data points.
  5. Modernize your leadership. The way that organizations can and should use data is one of the shifts that is making traditional management techniques obsolete. That’s why you should adopt what I call Modernize Leadership: Shifting 8 Outdated Management Practices. This requires making a shift to Engage & Empower, Learn & Adjust, Detect & Disseminate, Observe & Improve, Purpose & Values, Strengths & Appreciation, Culture & Behaviors, and Experience & Emotions.

The bottom line: It’s hard to project from the past when the future is changing.

Infusing Humanity Into CX, Discussion With Barry Schwartz

It’s CX Day in New Zealand, so that’s reason enough to kick off Temkin Group’s CX Day celebration. I can’t think of a better way to start CX Day in The Year of Emotion, then to share my Q&A with Barry Schwartz.

During this one hour video focused on Infusing Humanity into CX, we discuss some of Barry’s key findings about people and happiness, and explore what it means for customers, employees, and leaders. Sit back and enjoy the discussion, and then follow the links below for more information.

In case you don’t know Barry (and you should!), he’s the Emeritus professor of psychology at Swarthmore College, and has spent forty years thinking and writing about the interaction between economics and morality. 

This Q&A was a real pleasure for me, because Barry has heavily influenced my thinking over the years. He’s one of the key thought leaders of our time, and I believe that all CX professionals (and all leaders) can learn from him.

Here’s some of Barry’s work that we discuss:

Here’s some of our research that we discuss:

The bottom line: Thank you Barry Schwartz!

14 Highlights From the 2016 Sloan Sports Analytics Conference

This week, I made my 5th annual pilgrimage to the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference. As always, I really enjoyed hearing players, owners, general managers, members of the press, and experts discuss two of my favorite topics: #sports and #analytics.

This was the 10th year of the conference. I want to say congratulations and thank you to the two co-founders and leaders of this great event:

  • Jessica Gelman (VP of Customer Marketing & Strategy, The Kraft Sports Group)
  • Daryl Morey (General Manager, Houston Rockets)

Moneyball Reunion

The conference opened up with a session called Moneyball Reunion, looking back at the book that fueled the sports analytics movement. Jackie MacMullen led a panel with Michael Lewis (author of Moneyball), Bill James (godfather of sports analytics), and Paul DePodesta (key player it the Moneyball story and now Chief Strategy Office of Cleveland Browns). Here’s one of my favorite scenes from the Moneyball movie:

Interesting comments from Michael Lewis:

  • He started out researching an article on financial inequities in baseball, wondering what the Oakland Athletics’ right fielder (who made $100K/year) felt about the fact that the right fielder was making $4M/year.
  • Bill James referred to a picture of the baseball diamond that was on his wall as a “field of ignorance.”
  • “Billy Beane had to learn not to trust his intuitive judgement.”
  • When he looked at the Oakland Athletics coming out of the shower for the first time, he was shocked at how fat and un-athletic they looked. He went on to say that the trick was to “find people with some defect that was overvalued.”

Interesting comments from Bill James:

  • I was just trying to get from a question to an answer. I never thought of the use of the data by baseball professionals.”
  • There was a lot of discussion about what people can’t do, which is irrelevant. What’s important is what people can do…. You win games with what people can do.”
  • When MacMullen asked how to speed up the game of baseball today, James said to get rid of the balk rule. He said the balk rule slows down the game the same that basketball would be slowed down if the fast break was eliminated.

14 Key Highlights From the Conference

Here are some other key themes that I heard during the conference. They don’t represent a full view of the event, because I only attended a subset of the sessions.

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