Paradoxes and Dilemma’s

July 2, 2014

Last Sunday, for the first time in five years, Qhuba had a Beach Party: we had Beach Volleyball, a Sand sculpture-artist, barbecue, Soccer Championship on a big screen, and… partners and kids.

It was great. Why didn’t we do that before? Company – Family – Party,

Indeed, why did we not? Work life and personal life are interconnected nowadays, we work from home sometimes, they hear the stories, and how much fun is it when your kids and your spouse get to meet the people you work with and talk about? Great Fun! And probably I am the reason it never happened before, because work and home were different worlds me, and I kept them separate. This seemed like a good idea, and now it does not sound like such a good idea anymore. Or maybe for some people it still is, since not every attends these kinds of Parties, and not everyone who does attend brings his family. Not everyone has a family, for that matter.

Trying to think this through it becomes obvious that companies and people are constantly faced with Paradoxes.

This was an example; there are many more, bigger and smaller:

 

  • Work and Private mixed or separated
  • Command & Control, or Self Steering?
  • Customer Focus, or People First?
  • Collective growth or personal development
  • Lean, or Agile?
  • Exploitation or Exploration?
  • Management or Leadership?
  • Focus or differentiation?
  • Short term or long term
  • Cash or Value?
  • Product focus or Market orientation?
  • Network company or traditional Hierarchy?

 

The list goes on as long as you want, but first this: are these Dilemma’s or Paradoxes. I believe the difference is crucial. As far as I am concerned they are Paradoxes. In my definition a Dilemma is an “either-or” contradiction, usually the result of, or the solution to a problem. Good stuff for tough Leaders, because they need to make a choice between two alternatives that appear to be equally attractive or unattractive.

A Paradox on the other hand is an “and-and” challenge, seemingly contradictory and exclusive at first glance.

 

 

But what if the juxtaposition of alternatives is only perceived, and we do not think the challenge through, or we are not open to new possibilities as a result of our background or our worldview? Our opinions are often shaped by assumptions about what is right, and we act in accordance with those assumptions, without questioning where they came from.

If we do this, we turn Paradoxes into Dilemma’s, which we will then solve by making choices that have only losers, leading to polarization, negativism and missed opportunities.

 

Bob de Wit and Ron Meyer wrote about this in their book “Strategy Synthesis – Resolving Strategy Paradoxes to create Competitive Advantage”:

Most people are used to solving puzzles, resolving dilemmas and making trade-offs. These ways of understanding and solving problems are common in daily life. They are based on the assumption that, by analysis, one or a number of logical solutions can be identified. It might require a sharp mind and considerable effort, but the answers can be found.

However, most people are not used to, or inclined to, think of a problem as a paradox. A paradox has no answer or set of answers – it can only be coped with as best as possible. Faced with a paradox, one can try to find novel ways of combining opposites, but one will know that none of these creative reconciliations will ever be the answer. Paradoxes will always remain surrounded by uncertainty and disagreements on how best to cope.

 

So Paradoxes require effort, and learning how to deal with them, rather than killing them by making simple choices. A few simple steps might help, but it is a journey into uncharted waters.

The first step: Acknowledgement: make clear and agree on the fact that you are dealing with a paradox and not with a Dilemma that requires a “yes” or “no”, or a “left” or “right”.

Then: Accommodate a conversation, a discussion or a process. This might be the hardest part; talk about the paradox without all your preconceived notions of “how we do it”, or what is best, but instead look at the alternatives from all sides, seriously considering both their positive aspects as well as their negative aspects.

After that: Acceptance: we need to accept that for most paradoxes there are not simple solutions, and that the outcome is uncertain, as it the future. A change mindset helps. Let’s have that Family–thing and see what happens.

And finally: Creativity: look for workable ways to deal with complex concepts, systems, structures and solutions. Experiment and be prepared to turn the whole thing upside down.

 

And complexity…? If we can give each other the leeway to organize a Beach Party, to attend or not to attend, and to bring spouse and kids are not bring them, and if our kids can build sandcastles together, and decide to destroy them again, or finish them, or to play volleyball or watch soccer then we should be able to deal with the business paradoxes, too. Especially if we are able to admit that we will be wrong sometimes, or even that we want to be wrong.

 

For all who want: another Beach Event next year. With kids, Or without, Or both. I will be there.


How to build a business – Conversations

January 27, 2013

In the KLM lounge of Atatürk Airport in Istanbul, waiting for my return flight to Amsterdam, I  am going through my notes. The last two days were good: lots of conversations with people in charge of Telecom Operators in both Turkey and Saudi Arabia. This involved multiple diners and lunches, and real exchanges on personal, business, political and cultural subjects. In Europe, a meeting usually lasts exactly one hour, involves one cup of coffee and one topic. For people in sales chances are they want to pitch something, hoping this is a solution to the problem they assume their client has. If so: deal. If not: off you go.

In our business, we believe finding the problem, or the opportunity is more important than solving it. So we want to listen, ask questions and find out what is driving who, and why.

Now I am going back to the first pages of my notebook, and find scribblings I made last summer. I think I turned them into another blog posting already:

In our search for what is cooking in our network and in the world of Strategy Execution we have organized What’s Qooking events: a combination of content and cooking in a workshop format. With small groups of twelve to fifteen people we have listened, cooked, discussed and eaten. To take this one level higher – and because cooking with a group involves quite a few concession in timing and results – we have decided to look for top chefs to do the cooking for us. Where to find the chefs?

Looking for a book called ‘In search of the stars”, about all he sixty-eight three star restaurants in Europe, I went to a bookstore and guess what: the clerk was a foody too. High class cooking, but lately mostly with insects. The new world: as nutritious, and much less of a burden on the environment.  I was not immediately enthusiastic, but he invited me for a workshop anyway. For this, he had chartered a local chef to cook in the bookstore. 

Now this chef had once had a very talented sous-chef, who became a freelance home-cook, and was looking for new clients. Introductions were made.

This is the point: you go somewhere to buy something. A simple transaction. But when you have the time and the curiosity to turn a transaction into interaction you will discover the Power of Conversations.

So, this is how we got to know a very enthousiastic young cook, who now cooks at home every month, for a group of ten to fourteen people, who do not have to participate in peeling the potatoes and cutting the onions, but can spend an evening having conversations. We call them the Third Thursday diners and believe me, everyone is looking forward to What’s Qooking this month.

And something else about questions and conversations: they are not only the key to finding things out, and getting to know people, they are the key to sales as well.

Sales has for a long time been our biggest challenge. Not because we could not sell, but because we did not want to.

In our network, where prospects or clients can be tomorrow’s staff or partners, we prefer interaction over transaction. Actually we want someone we are having a conversation with to clearly indicate that he wants to be a client for a while, instead of us telling him we want to be a supplier.

This posed two problems: our partners, who felt this way, were reluctant to show commercial behavior, and our commercial people, who did not have this reluctance, did not have peer-to-peer conversations.

The conversations of course serve many purposes (relationship, interest and curiosity) as well as finding the issues that keep our clients from sleeping at night, or from implementing their strategies. So finding the problem is not the issue, positioning ourselves to solve the problem is.

Traditionally, the ABC of sales people was: “Always Be Closing”.

Daniel Pink, in his recent book “To sell is human” proposes to replace this with a new ABC: Attunement, Buoyancy, Clarity.

Attunement: Bringing yourself in harmony with individuals, groups and contexts. This takes a bit more humility and curiosity than most people can muster. If you do not connect, and if you do not both inspect (ask questions) and respond (listen to the answers and do something with the information provided) you will not sell.

Buoyancy: Dealing with an ocean of rejection

Clarity: the capacity to make sense of murky situations, as Daniel Pink says. Identifying and framing problems takes two long-standing skills and turns them upside down. First in the past salespeople were adept at accessing information. Today they must be skilled at curating it – sorting through the massive troves of data and presenting to others the most relevant and clarifying pieces. Second, in the past, the best salespeople were skilled at answering questions. Today, they must to be good at asking questions – uncovering possibilities, surfacing latent issues and finding unexpected problems.

Big words. Not sure if they will stick. We are not sure if they cover the whole approach we have to sales either. Our way is CCCCC: Connections, Confidentiality, Conversations, Clarity, Cooperation. We hope they are so obvious  they don’t require a book to explain them.


How to build a business – What’s Qooking

May 26, 2012

In our search for what is cooking in the Qhuba network and in the world of Strategy Execution we have organized What’s Qooking events: a combination of content and cooking in a workshop format. With small groups of twelve to fifteen people we have listened, cooked, discussed and eaten. To take this one level higher – and because cooking with a group involves quite a few concession in timing and results – we have decided to look for top chefs to do the cooking for us. Where to find the chefs?

The Michelin Guide seemed a logical starting point.

Since the weather was nice and I was in town anyway, I decided not to use Amazon for once, but to walk to the good old-fashioned bookstore. Not the most efficient way to buy a book as it turned out. The first bookstore did not stock Michelin Guides, but was kind enough to direct me to a colleague which they assured me would have them. So I walk further into town. On my way to the second store I passed my tailor. He called me in for an espresso, and enquired about the suits he had sold me earlier. As I explained why this was not a day to buy suits (too warm to try on anything, and besides the suits he makes last too long) and where I was going, we came to talk about three star restaurants. He warned me not to try to visit them all, because the last guy who tried – probably – did not survive.

In the summer of 2008 the Swiss gourmand Pascal Henry executed his plan to visit all sixty-eight top chefs in Europe in sixty-eight days. Everyday he ate at a different restaurant, drank a few glasses, and spoke at length with the chef. Henry kept a diary with notes, menus, and occasionally a note from a chef or sommelier. On the fortieth day of his journey he was in El Bulli. As usual he had ordered the Chef’s menu which here consisted of many small courses. His hat, his notebook and wallet where – this was also usual – on the table. Towards the end of the meal he walked out, never to be seen again. Maybe he jumped of the cliff, maybe the idea that he would for the rest of his life have to make the concession of having to eat less exquisite meals, maybe he was abducted by aliens who wanted to know how eartheners eat. We don’t know. This story is written down in a book by an author who has also written a book about etiquette together with my tailor.

intrigued, but not deterred, I continued to the next bookshop, and then to the next. A good time to reconsider the merits of e-commerce, with their long-tail strategies. Online you will find it all. But what you mostly find is transactions, less interaction. And that is exactly what you get with people, in shops.

The last shop I visited did stock the Michelin Guide. The guy behind the counter advised me to also have a look at a book called “In search of the Stars”, written by a Dutch chef, Paul van de Bunt, who undertook, with his wife Sandra, a similar journey as Mr. Henry. The differences are clear: they took a year to visit all fifty-four three star restaurants in Europe, and they lived to write a book about it. The book was not the goal by the way. Paul just wanted to learn, to see and taste the innovations, and to talk about them with his colleagues. Then for every restaurant he visited he created a dish, inspired by the chef he talked to. Obviously, he did not see them as the competition, but as people with a shared passion.

Cooking appeared to be a passion shared by the bookseller, too. When I told him about my “What Qooking” plans, he suggested that our first stop should be a new restaurant in Utrecht, called Podium. The chef Leon Mazairac worked for Alain Ducasse in Paris.His style he described as “no pretentious but lots of ambitions”. That sounds about right for us.

He just happened to have the chef’s business card in his pocket, and – talking about innovation – invited me to come to his bookshop next week where the chef would prepare insects, which are not only an answer to food shortage, the inefficiency of raising cattle for consumption, but are apparently quite tasty, too. I asked him if he would eat them, and of course the answer was yes.

 

To prove his point he produced a package of dried grasshoppers that he was going to prepare that night. Quite interesting. Probably coincidence. Wonder if he would have produced as double edged commando knife if I had asked him about the “SAS Survival Guide”. Quite a useful little book, by the way.

Anyway, I have all the information to plan our next What Qooking event, and however convenient e-commerce portals may be, they do not offer the Power of Conversations. As I said: the network enables interaction rather than the transaction.


How to build a business – Managing Customer Tasks

February 23, 2012

Several times a year we organize “What’s Qooking” events, where professionals in our network share their ideas on themes that interest them, while cooking our own food.

Last week we had Gerry McGovern as our guest. Gerry is the founder and CEO of Customer Carewords and an authority on increasing Web satisfaction by managing customer tasks (more about that later).

His clients include: the Tetra Pak, HSBC, Microsoft, IBM, Cisco, UK Ministry of Justice, and the U.S. Internal Revenue Service.

 

Gerry speaks, writes and consults on web content management. He has been doing this since 1994. His latest book, The Stranger’s Long Neck: How to Deliver What Your Customers Really Want Online, was published in June 2010.

 

Gerry propagates and uses a quantitative method, which results in changes in website navigation and content that transform websites into profitable tools. He has done this for customer-oriented websites, business partner portals, and intranets.

Gerry is a funny person, full of stories from practical experience. He is the ultimate wake-up call for everyone involved in creating and improving websites. He will not stop stressing the importance of Facts Not Opinions. This is a generic problem he touches. In any business, but especially in consulting we are short in facts, long in opinions.

Another one that Gerry uses in his book on website, but where you can replace websites with businesses: “If there’s one reason more than any other that Web sites fail, it is because the web teams managing them lack understanding of, nd empathy for, their customers. The customer is a stranger (…)”

Whatever you intuitively think is right, usually has a negative effect

 

 

Web task management is about managing your website around top tasks. Success is measured on the ability of customers to quickly and easily complete these top tasks.

Traditional website management focuses on managing the technology and/or the content.

 

These management approaches fail because they manage and measure the wrong things. If you manage from a technology perspective, then the metrics are nearly always volume-based. It’s about the number of documents that are published, or the number of searches that are carried out.

 

Managing from a content perspective is even more volume-based. Many senior managers are still quoting the utterly useless measure, HITS. (HITS stands for “How Idiots Track Success.”)

 

Task management is based on the idea that your customers come to your website to complete top tasks as quickly and simply as possible. It measures success by how quickly your customers can complete these tasks.

 

Web task management measures success based on a simple question: Was your customer able to quickly complete the task they came to your website to complete? Answering this question demands a very different website management approach.

 

This is interesting stuff for marketeers, and one of the most important lessons would be: “Offline is for getting attention, online is for giving attention”, but in general the fact-based practical approach to Why we are doing things in business, and how we measure success is something all business should focus on. In one of the next Qhuba blogs I will focus on Benefits Management, another area of expertise that many companies don’t spend too much time on.

Strange phenomenon: thousands of projects are started, based on business cases, but for very few projects the outcomes and benefits realized are measured. Room for improvement.



How to build a business – Themes 2012

December 13, 2011

The year is almost finished. That makes it time to look forward. We had some discussions in our management team, in our network, and with external media partners to talk about what themes will be or should be on the agenda in 2012.

Below the result

Themes for Professionals

  • Intrapreneurship: Most professionals – capable talented people who are on the payroll of companies – we speak to are looking for opportunities to develop themselves and their careers, and believe the most important steps they have to take involve development from professional to entrepreneur (or intrapreneur). Wikipedia about intrapreneurship: In 1992, The American Heritage Dictionary acknowledged the popular use of a new word, intrapreneur, to mean “A person within a large corporation who takes direct responsibility for turning an idea into a profitable finished product through assertive risk-taking and innovation”. Intrapreneurship is now known as the practice of a corporate management style that integrates risk-taking and innovation approaches, as well as the reward and motivational techniques, that are more traditionally thought of as being the province of entrepreneurship.

 

Independent Professionals: Once a professional has taken the step to become independent, and thus in a sense an entrepreneur, the themes highest on the agenda are

  • Growth: on the one hand there is growth as in; Personal Development, on the other hand the growth of their business through more professional services, such as acquisition or sales, personal marketing and risk mitigating services on the fiscal, legal, and pensions side.
  • The Shift: another theme we picked up is the interest of especially independent professionals, to make the move from ambition to Purpose & Mastery.

 

Entrepreneurs: among entrepreneurs the prevailing themes (next to “what the impact of the economic crisis, the credit crisis and the euro crisis really is”) are

 

 

CIO

  • Business Execution: IT is now beyond the first two phases (more efficiency through IT in the backoffice, and more efficiency in IT), and can now become in integral part of a business strategy. Technology and Information deployed to create value. IT needs to build better cases for business value, it needs to play a role in driving customer centricity (and track customer sentiment, usage, and profitability through analytics), and it needs to leverage business analytics to foster innovation.
  • Business Technology Integration: Making money with technology. CIO’s need to be much greater strategic partners for the businesses they support Business Model Transformation. CIO looses and business takes control.

And then there are the technology driven themes like:

  • Mobility: Bring your own device, Client/Consumer interaction, Mobile payment
  • Consumerization: the trend for new information technology to emerge first in the consumer market and then spread into business organizations, resulting in the convergence of the IT and consumer electronics industries, and a shift in IT innovation from large businesses to the home. For example, many people now find that their home based IT equipment and services are both more capable and less expensive than what is provided in their workplace. The term, consumerization, was first popularized by Douglas Neal and John Taylor of CSC‘s Leading Edge Forum in 2001 and is one of the key drivers of the Web 2.0 and Enterprise 2.0 movements
  • Social: Social Media, If you don’t have a strategy by now, you’re behind. Globalization and tech savvy millennials are forcing firms to rethink how relevant current and future customers will find their firms. Put together a social media panel or team, Think about how you can effectively manage the data you collect
  • Cloud: ‘nough said, but still a theme for years to come.
  • Big data: ‘Big Data’ is a term applied to the rapid growth of data that has resulted from more automated collection methods and greater capacity for storage and processing. This exponential rise is driven by the proliferation of sensors for gathering data automatically, including those in mobile phones, and more activity taking place online, which can be more easily recorded. Although the use of large data volumes for business is not new, some things have changed, creating new opportunities for innovation. There are three key changes that have brought the issue of data onto many more agendas. Firstly, data storage, processing power and cloud services continue to make large scale data analysis more and more accessible. You no longer need to build your own data centre to use this technique, expanding the pool of users. Secondly, there are many more opportunities to capture data, from sensors in phones and RFID tags in products, as well as a greater social acceptance of contributing manually entered data to social services. Thirdly, it is now possible to analyse unstructured data, so it is not necessary to run your business with detailed customer forms or electronic point of sale terminals to benefit from this form of analysis. Natural text in emails, photographs and sound can all be analysed and ‘mined’ for insights, rather than only structured, coded information that needed to be captured electronically or manually coded.

 

CFO

  • Cash: CFOs believe they should play lead roles in managing financial risks, designing the capital structure, optimizing working capital, and managing investor relations. They also think they should more frequently play lead roles in managing capital investments and revising the dividend policy
  • Growth: Growth remained the top priority for CFOs globally in the first quarter of 2011. With capital supply and efficiency gains largely accounted for, companies now appear focused on growth in a post-recession environment. New products and services, acquisitions and foreign market expansion are expected to be the key drivers behind this growth. Across EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa)2, growth through product and market expansion tops the agenda for the majority of CFOs, with a focus on both raising capital expenditures, as well as making strategic acquisitions.
  • Refinancing
  • Acquisitions: With improved access to capital in most economic regions, and with the risk appetite of CFOs consistently increasing around the world, it is no surprise that strategic acquisitions top the priorities list for many CFOs globally. However, despite expectations of increased M&A activity in 2011, there is concern that activity will be constrained by several key factors. In North America, CFOs are wary of unleashing the more than USD 2 trillion in collective balance-sheet cash that has remained on the sidelines since the recession. This limited spending appears to be the result of concerns about the economy and consumer demand, industry regulation, and a shortage of attractive investment opportunities. In EMEA, CFOs continue to expect M&A activity to increase in 2011, with the improving economic outlook and availability of financing. However, the ability for companies to secure targets with the right strategic fit and at the right price is increasingly becoming the limiting factor for CFOs. A similar story is unfolding in Australia, where the majority of CFOs intend to pursue M&A opportunities in 2011 but cite that the greatest hindrance to undertaking an acquisition has been the inability to identify a suitable target.
  • Emerging Markets: Investing in emerging markets

 

 

 

CHRO

  • Performance Management: Move from administrative role (hire to retire), HR directors can play a boardroom role by identifying the decisive factors that play a role in strategy execution.
  • Commoditization of HR: HR services will turn into commodities. HR resources will be outsourced together with the payroll activities, or replaced by do-it-yourself tools from the cloud. Before the term “Chief HR Officer”  has become widely accepted, he or she will have the same fate as the CIO… early retirement. Recruitment can be done online, the Linkedin network will offer plenty opportunities to interact with candidates. References, assessments, salary benchmarks and training can be obtained online. So unless the CHRO becomes Chief Talent Officer, Chief People Officer or Chief Performance Officer, with a direct relation to the company’s strategy, he will be commoditized, or outsourced.
  • Workforce Analytics: Workforce Analytics and – Planning
  • Talent: Will there really be a war for Talent?

 

 

CEO

  • Growth: Growth in an uncertain economy
  • Customer retention: Customer retention: In a world of eroding customer loyalty, customer retention must be a top-down, high priority, company wide mission
  • Reputation: Guarding your reputation
  • Technology: Technology and Innovation
  • Talent:
  • Risk: Risk management and investments, Contingency
  • Strategy Execution: Strategy Execution (Strategy consulting is dead…)

 

 

ExComm

  • Steering Teams: ExComms as teams: cooperation/interaction between boardmembers
  • Value Creation: Strategy is not about power and money, but about Value Creation – and not only shareholder value. Strategy development and execution with value and purpose in mind will be a theme
  • Innovation. in order to survive, companies – especially those operating in an increasing dynamic and digitalized environment, with knowledge being the most indispensable and important resource for innovation – need to establish trusted relations to aligned communities, networks and stakeholders. The notion of “embeddedness” is introduced to mark the increasing challenge of substantially integrating firms into their surrounding communities so as to assure the absorption of their exploitable knowledge. Innovation 3.0 (social Innovation) goes beyond Technological innovation, or Open Innovation (defined as “Innovation 2.0”) and clearly beyond Closed Innovation (defined as “Innovation 1.0”).

Non-execs: Consultancy, Contingency and Contacts instead of control and advice.

We expect to read and write articles about these themes – especially those that are on the agenda of different stakeholders –  and we will no doubt see them pop up in conferences and seminars. And just maybe there will be some others, like “how to grow after the crisis”, or “the next Big Thing after Social Media”.

 


Building a Business – Conversations

October 24, 2011

Sharing information and intelligence is one of the key drivers for people to join our company. We regularly organize What’s Qooking events, where we have conversations about interesting developments in the world of Business Technology Integration, while cooking.

 

The last one was in a Ferrari showroom, with a guest speaker – Dave Lamereis – who gave us an insight into what’s qooking in the technology labs around the world.

David believes that scientist have already started to transform humans to become living gadgets, with electronics embedded in our bodies to supplement human intelligence and emotions. Depressed? Push a button instead of popping a pill. We will wear contacts with augmented reality displays built-in and we will be able to print anything we want on our 3D printer. Need a new organ? The doctor will print one for you.  Experimental beating hearts and functioning kidneys have been printed.

Sounds a bit scary. The fact that it is possible does not mean that we will all use this, though. We are still autonomous people, making our own decisions.

The people we are working with strive for personal growth, professional growth, expansion of a network of peers, possibly also financial growth. I have the impression that rather than only focusing on the virtual, most of us also want to make something, Make a tangible contribution. Not only consulting, but also execution. Maybe with 3D printing the age of creation is back again.

Still the most important word for us might be growth. We expand our knowledge, our network, we increase the relevance of what we are doing, and for this purpose, our company has to grow as well. There is safety in growth in numbers, in optimization based on data and KPI’s. This is what we could be characterized as puzzles: more pieces, more chances. More data to be analyzed by experts, more solutions to be designed and implemented. A good start, but it gets really interesting when we are not looking at puzzles, but at mysteries. If you don’t know what the pieces are, if you don’t know how to measure success, experts are of little use. Here you need teams, with an open mind, who want to explore rather than exploit, who are ready to work together in an agile manner, striving for effectuation rather than for cause and effect.

We had the experts, and we have the challenges that they can sink their teeth into.

Our next challenge was to create and put to work these teams. Have them, using their collective knowledge, experience and creativity, come up with executable ideas, opinions, products, ventures that would genuinely excite our clients. That is much more in the area of idea to market, or market to order processes, than on the order to cash (production, supply chain, delivery) process, where most of the effort of most of the companies is directed at.

Teams having conversations. Amongst themselves, with clients, with everyone. In marketing speak what they deliver is consultancy, contingency and contacts. But what they really do is have conversations. Not easy for most conditioned professionals, but very enjoyable and valuable. We formed one such team for a prospective client, Travix International. Travix – a billion euro company – is the result of the merger of five online ticketingcompanies (Cheap Tickets, Vliegwinkel, Flugladen , BudgetAir and Vayama). It is run by capable entrepreneurial people who are focusing on the integration of the hitherto independent operating companies, and all core activities but at the same time having conversations all over the world with people from different industries to shape ideas, exchange experiences and connect to people who will increase the chances of growth and success. Last Thursday we sat with Gerhard van der Bijl, Jos Schreurs, Dave van Stijn, Willem van Groenland and Tjibbe van der Zeeuw. Next Thursday we will meet again with the board of Travix.

Real conversations between real humans. That seems difficult in a business world full of processes, models, frameworks and things. This is our ten-step approach:

  1. Relax
  2. Have a sense of humor
  3. Be curious
  4. Listen
  5. Find your own voice
  6. Tell the truth
  7. Enjoy yourself
  8. Be brave
  9. Don’t panic
  10. Go home and think, then go back to 1.



How to build a business – Procrastination and Return on Relationships

September 5, 2011

My daughter has just started DP1. That is the Diploma Programme of the International School. Her tutor Mrs. Chowdhury has warned both students and teachers that time management is the biggest challenge, and social networks are the biggest threat. “That and procrastination” my daughter told me. I was going to tell her about the limited value of all these superficial friends sharing all these hardly relevant pieces of information. Mere distractions and reasons to shift focus away from serious study and school work. Apparently she was a step ahead of me.

And are we not on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, too? Aren’t our most valuable assets our network, our knowledge and the intelligence we can gather about people, the companies they work for and the trends and themes affecting our markets? Aren’t we persuading our people to do what I am trying my daughter to dissuade from doing? Maybe we run the risk of procrastinating, too.

Great word… I looked it up.

The American Heritage Dictionary, for example, defines procrastination as “To put off doing something, especially out of habitual carelessness or laziness,” while Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary calls it “To put off intentionally the doing of something that should be done.”

Some psychologists have suggested three criteria for a behavior to be classified as procrastination: it must be counterproductive, needless, and delaying. And while all procrastination is delay, not all delay is procrastination. It is “to voluntarily delay an intended course of action despite expecting to be worse off for the delay.”

Now I noticed a funny juxtaposition: where teenagers delay schoolwork because of relations and information, independent professionals often have the tendency to postpone networking and intelligence gathering to focus on the content and on their proposition. We see that in some of our partners. When on an assignment there is a tendency to focus on the job and to submerge in the pressure of the assignment, sometimes forgetting to actively maintain connections and share knowledge and opportunities. In between assignments productivity goes down, and although high on the to-do list, phone calls and research are postponed, or done at the last minute.

On the other hand, others – like myself – with more time for network- and research related activities run the risk of becoming addicted to meeting ever more people, to digesting more and more information in thousands of little pieces of information from RSS feeds, headlines, Twitter and LinkedIn updates and to storing and distributing contacts, opportunities and intelligence through applications like Salesforce.com and Yammer.

What makes sense, what does not, and how do we invest our time wisely?

Rolf Dobelli has written an interesting article, which was translated into Dutch and published last week by NRC-Next on how this constant stream of information affects us. In his view news (information) is to the mind what sugar is to the body: not very healthy, but difficult to resist. He calls it “small bites of trivial matter, tidbits that don’t really concern our lives and don’t require thinking. That’s why we experience almost no saturation. Unlike reading books and long, deep magazine articles (which requires thinking), we can swallow limitless quantities of news flashes, like bright-colored candies for the mind.”

According to Dobelli “At core, human beings are cavemen in suits and dresses. Our brains are optimized for our original hunter-gatherer environment where we lived in small bands of 25 to 100 individuals with limited sources of food and information. Our brains (and our bodies) now live in a world that is the opposite of what we are designed to handle. This leads to great risk and to inappropriate, outright dangerous behavior.”

There is some encouraging news in there: humans are suited for working in tribes, for thinking and Dobelli encourages us to take time to dive deep into he content. That sounds familiar: relations (a network), and content (knowledge). That sounds like us. But how do we strike a balance?

The 1970’s the management theories focused on Product Life Cycles. Companies were organized around how products were conceived, designed, tested, developed, approved, manufactured, sold and distributed to the market.

Of course customers made up the “market” and therefore in the 1980’s the focus shifted to customer-centric theories and the Customer Life Cycle.

Still, what defined the seller and the buyer was a transaction, when a product or service changed hands in return for payment. The customer life cycle provided a way for a seller to look at a buyer as not just a single transaction but as a series of “one-off” orders. Thus we moved from focusing on “getting the order” to “serving the customers needs” in the hope that the same buyer would return to the seller for more business.

However, due to the one-directional information flow, there were still some significant benefits being left on the table. The most visionary and innovative companies wanted to steal a lead in the Value Chain race and to do this the Relationship Life Cycle was developed.

The transaction thinking is replaced by interaction thinking, and instead of only measuring Return on Investment, and focusing on the bottom line, or on “What’s in it for me”, network companies like ours should focus on Return on Relationship or “What’s in it for everyone involved”. In other words, the measurement is on relationships and determining how everyone has benefited from the relationship, as well as how everyone can continue to benefit from it.

It is not easy to measure what investment is required to build a network of serious relationships. Let alone what the return is. This is abundantly clear for people who are active in the executive search business: it takes years to get to know, assess, and interact with a network of people, that at some point in time might be candidates for jobs at your client. To be able to determine who is the perfect candidate for a role in a company requires that you not only have an excellent idea and an expert opinion about someone capabilities, but also about how they would fit in the clients environment, in the longer term ambitions, in the personal situation. And then it takes a relationship build on trust to approach and convince someone to change jobs. What the clients sees is a few phone calls to someone you already knew, not what is involved in knowing. That is why we do not charge our clients based on the hours we spent, or on a percentage of the annual salary of the hired candidate, but leave it to the client. He can base the reward on the value he perceives, on how satisfied he is.

Return on Relationship is a term most often used by Ted Rubin.

Rubin makes a case for establish social networking metrics based on “conditions of satisfaction” (a concept promoted by Jeffrey Hayzlett, former CMO of Kodak and the author of The Mirror Test). In other words, what are the specific outcomes that will bring satisfaction to you, your brand, your business, and your customers? Engage, Educate, Excite, Evangelize. Evangelizing by your users is the end goal. To get there concentrate on building relationships and not numbers of viewers or visitors. Most measurements and statistics that are used with regard to relationships (such as number of Facebook fans, Twitter followers, retweets, site visits, video views, positive ratings and vibrant communities) are merely indicators that a brand is doing something that is creating value. That is only a starting point for RoR.

I cannot say we are able to measure our RoR. A metric like Net Promoter Score could give an indication on how clients look at the relation, and the satisfaction it brings to them. What we do know is that relations are not only established with clients, but – and equally important – with candidates, partners, suppliers, staff, thought leaders and others. We also know that metrics should include words like “trust”, “engage”, “authentic conversation” and “reputation” – all things that are at the heart of what a network company stands for. And possibly these things can be defined by setting up conditions of satisfaction, based on our purpose, vision and values.

So if Relationships are the new currency, and if we continuously invest in them, and want to be able to measure them, should we reward our staff and partners also on how they create value from their relationships?

In all three areas of focus we distinguish: reputation, structure and performance relationships play a role. We used to make the interaction transactional in all here areas, by allocating to our partners (besides a large portion of their personal turnover) a percentage of turnover based on how effective they were bringing new people into the partnership (Reputation), but we recently decided to change this and now allocate only percentages (but a larger percentage than before) for commercial activities that lead to revenue (Performance).

Instead of rewarding for RoR we decided that the knowledge and the network are assets that are so integral to who we are that we select partners on both.

Information and access are no longer scarce commodities. Attention is. On a personal level we should be careful what information we pay attention to, and then it should better be serious attention. In the network it works the same we, we can organize access to anyone, but our success will be determined by being able to decide with whom the interaction will lead to a relationship that is authentic, meaningful and beneficial for all.