Tag Archives: square one consulting

Decision Dysfunction in Corporate America

Nancy Newbee is the newest trainee for LOCO (Large Old Company). She was hired because she is bright, articulate, well-educated and motivated. She is in her second week of training.

Her orders include: “We’ll teach you all you need to know. Sammy Supervisor will monitor your every action and coordinate your training. Don’t take a step without his clearance. When he’s busy, just read through the procedures manual.”

Nancy is already frustrated by this training process but is committed to following the rules.

Upon arriving at work today, Nancy discovers the kitchen is on fire! As instructed, she rushes to Sammy Supervisor. Interrupting him, she says, “There’s a major problem!”

Sammy is obviously disturbed by this interruption in his routine. “Nancy, my schedule will not allow me to work with you until this afternoon; go back to the conference room and continue studying the procedures.”

“But, Mr. Supervisor, this is a major problem!” Nancy pleads.

“But nothing! I’m busy. We’ll discuss it this afternoon. If it can’t wait, go see the department head,” Sam says.

Nancy rushes to the office of Billy Big and shouts, “Mr. Big, we have a major problem, and Mr. Sam said to see you!” Mr. Big states politely, “I’m busy now …,” all the while wondering why Sam hires these excitable airheads.

“But, Mr. Big, the building…,” Nancy interrupts.

“Nancy, see my secretary for an appointment or call maintenance if it’s a building problem,” Mr. Big says impatiently, thinking, “Where does Sam find these characters?”

Near panic, Nancy calls maintenance. The line is busy. As a last resort, Nancy calls Ruth Radar, the senior secretary in the accounting department. Everyone has told her that Ruth really runs this place. She can get anything done.

“Ruth Radar, may I help you?” is the response on the phone.

“Miss Radar, this is Nancy, the new trainee. The building is on fire! What should I do?” Nancy shouts through her tears.

“Nancy, call 911!” Ruth says calmly.

Of course, this dysfunction is a ridiculous example. Or is it?

Assuming you are the boss, try this eight-question test:

  1. In your business, do you hire the best and brightest and then instruct them not to think, act or do anything during their training except as you tell them to do?
  2. Do you promise training but substitute reading of procedure manuals?
  3. Do you create barriers to communications, interaction and effectiveness by scheduling the new employee’s problems and inquiries to the busy schedules of your other personnel?
  4. Do you and your staff ignore what new employees are saying?
  5. Is the process more important than the result? Does the urgent get in the way of the important?
  6. Do layers of bureaucracy between you, your employees and customers interfere with contact, communications and results?
  7. Is “Ruth Radar” running your shop?
  8. Do you have any fires burning in your office?

If you answered “no” to all of these questions, congratulations!

Now go back and try again. The perfect business would have eight “no” answers, but very few businesses are perfect. If you are like LOCO (a large old company), you might be so far out of touch with your trainees, employees and customers that you won’t hear about a fire until it starts to burn your desk.

Look back at IBM, GM and Sears in the late 1980s. These were kings of their jungles. Yet all nearly burned to the ground. Many thousands of employees were terminated, profits ended and stock values fell. If you would have talked to any of these terminated employees you would have learned that the fire had burned for a long time and that many people had tried to sound the alarm.

Remember the large old insurance companies that are no longer here – Continental, Reliance, etc. Did their independent agents smell the smoke? Did the leadership of these carriers ignore the alarm?

Sam Walton, who had reasonable success in business during his lifetime, once said, “There is only one boss – the customer. Customers can fire everybody in the company from the chairman on down, simply by spending their money somewhere else.”

Sam was right. In your business, do you or Nancy have the most direct contact with the customer – the ultimate boss? If Nancy has the most contact, is she adequately trained, motivated and monitored? Is she providing feedback to you? Are you listening?

Take one minute to draw a picture of your organization. Are you, as the boss, at the pinnacle? Are Nancy and her fellow trainees at the base? Is it prudent to have the least experienced personnel closest to the customers?

Your organization was formed to meet the needs of customers. You exist to serve these same customers. Where are these customers in the organizational chart? Did you forget them? How much distance is there between you (as boss) and the customers?

Does this pyramid model facilitate the free flow of information between you and the customers or does it buffer you from the thoughts and feelings of the real boss (the customer)? In your business, is the customer and her problem seen as an interruption of the work or the very reason for your existence?

If your customers voted tomorrow, who would be retained? Who would be fired?

Think about it! Do you dare to ask?

Getting to 2020: Redefining the Culture (Part 3)

This is the third in a series of four articles that offer a “road less traveled” to Agency 2020. The first article focused on your agency in the marketplace’s current reality. The second article considered the world as it might be in 2020. Today, we address the processes necessary to ensure you have the “seed corn” to grow the culture and structure necessary to produce Agency 2020 and win in the marketplace of tomorrow.

Mohan Nair, in his book, Strategic Business Transformation, diagrams a world of yesterday where 80% of change was incremental/cyclical and 20% was structural/transformational. Today, he says, “When the unknown are threatening every variable we have counted on, 80% of the variables that shift are structural while 20% are predictable. We cannot use the strategic data used in the past to find our ‘true north.’”

Your successful organization today is driven by its culture: “the house rules,” “what’s tolerated.” This organization and culture were created for the world of yesterday (“Daddy, may I?”) and today (“What do our carriers say?”). If you believe the world of 2020 will be different, you must create a culture appropriate for that new world.

The Gospel of Mark (3:25) and then Abraham Lincoln stated that “a house divided cannot stand.” This was true in their world of incremental change. Theirs was a world that moved at the pace of a tortoise. Tomorrow’s world will move at the pace of the hare (but never stop for a coffee break).  As has been said: “It’s not the big that eat the small. It’s the fast that eat the slow!”

Most people are reluctant to change. As Maxine puts it, “Change is good as long as I don’t have to do anything different!” In your organization, most folks are comfortable in their jobs, see the world as it is and are terrified that things will change. A minority of folks who are enthusiastic about the new, virtual world and global economy see the world as it will be and are terrified that your organization won’t change.

Your house is already divided.  What you need to do is merely focus each segment on the role right for them.

Both groups are necessary for success, but you must answer one question for each group and each individual. WIIFM? – What’s in it for me?

Do this, and they’ll embrace your plan; ignore WIIFM, and they’ll sabotage your future. Be respectful of all. Understand that there are different “tolerances” for risk and that people discover, learn and adapt at different speeds.

Gather your team. Put them at ease. Make the environment safe for them. Explain that you want to structure change to give every contributor an opportunity to continue their success today and find the right fit in the world of tomorrow. Celebrate your past and thank them for their participation. Clearly articulate your embrace of the inevitable change necessary for tomorrow and your commitment to your team’s success in the future.

Announce your plans to begin an Agency 2020 initiative. Explain that to build a foundation for success you need two teams. This process will not be instead of their existing roles but as an extracurricular activity. This initiative is about assuring a future with opportunities for each other. This is about each voice being heard.

The first group will immediately focus on the existing organization – making it more efficient and effective to create the “seed corn” (profits) necessary to finance tomorrow. The group’s task will be to create an operational “to do list” defining and acting on what is necessary for enhanced success today and to quit doing those things carried forward from yesterday but no longer needed today – “we’ve always done it this way.”

The “tomorrow team” will be the young at thought and the young at heart. They will be your pioneers. They will be charged with discovering tomorrow as it will be and creating a blueprint to build your organization as it must be to fit in 2020. This process is not intended to exclude the traditionalists. Both teams will be encouraged to share their discoveries and enthusiasms – to create excitement about today’s improvements and refinements and tomorrow’s innovations.

Don’t create competition between the teams – encourage collaboration so that respect and trust will build. This will work because each group is focusing where “they live” – their comfort zone — and you are not forcing them, at this time, to go to where they don’t want to be. Assure all team members that, as the blueprint for 2020 is designed and new roles are defined, each person on staff will have the right to be considered for jobs right for them and your organization. Promise them the training necessary for success. If they can’t or won’t fit into the world of 2020, facilitate their exit. Make it as painless as possible.

For the Today Team, some ideas to consider and questions to ask (there are more):

  1. Focus – take out the microscope and study every function you perform.
  2. If “we’ve always done it this way” – it can be changed for the better.
  3. What are five things we do today that no longer need to be done?
  4. What are five things we do today that remain important and can be improved?
  5. What are the jobs skills that remain important today? How do we improve these?
  6. What are skills no longer needed in the world of today? How do we let them go?
  7. Do we have the technology (systems and social media) needed for today?
  8. What and how can we maximize our results from this technology?
  9. Does our “client experience” differentiate us, or are we “the same old same old?”
  10. Are we capturing the data available and converting this to actionable knowledge?
  11. Where must we invest our time and energy?
  12. What must we leave behind?

Please remember – the Today Team is about updating (remodeling) the organization you have. Its role is small steps – process improvement.

Think outside of the box. Remember the words of Einstein – insanity is “continuing to do what you’ve always done and expecting a different result.” The world has changed more in the past 10 years than the previous 50, yet most agencies continue to do what they’ve always done. Don’t be crazy. Discover and do what needs to be done today to prepare for tomorrow.

The Tomorrow Team is about designing a blueprint and facilitating the building of the organization and culture you’ll need for the future. The team’s role is “giant leaps” – innovation. You are moving from the mechanical processes of yesterday to a new “living” system for tomorrow. Be bold. Don’t be afraid to fall – just do it, and learn from the experience.

For the Tomorrow Team, some directions and innovations to consider (there are more):

  1. Scan the horizon of the world and technology. Look outside your comfort zone.
  2. Determine if “place” will matter — where you, your employees and clients are.
  3. Determine if “time” will matter? Is “Working 9 – 5” only right for Dolly Parton?
  4. Determine the role of cultures and generations for buyers and those who influence decisions.
  5. What are the talents needed? Prioritize communication, technology, insurance, etc.
  6. What will be client needs? How can you deliver solutions profitably?
  7. Shift your focus from products sold in the past – to client needs in the future.
  8. What will be the demographics and psychographics of the populations served?
  9. What will be the industries/market niches in collapse/decline? Avoid them.
  10. What will be the industries/market niches in ascendancy? Focus on these.
  11. How do you manage in a “virtual” (no time, place and more non-verbal) world?
  12. What will be the role of big data? What will be your ability to use it effectively

The questions are offered as a starting point for discovery. You have many more questions to ask and answer. Yours is a world yet to be – not a world that is. Nonetheless, the better you ponder and plan, the better your head start on the future – the New World of 2020 – will be.

Learn from the great change architect Peter Drucker, who said, “The best way to predict the future is to create it.”