Why we all (should) hate “How”

March 25, 2014

So much can be read from the way people talk. The choice of words is something worth paying attention to. Are they constantly talking about I rather than about We? No need to explain what it means. Although: here context plays a role, too. Are you having a discussion about Strategy and choices? Than the I-sayers might have more focus on their own agenda and personal feelings than on the collective ambition and the team. Are they we-sayers when talking about Execution, Objectives and responsibilities? Make sure people take responsibility for what they promise to accomplish, for the effort they put into it, and for the results.

I have similar experiences with the word „How”. Usually How refers to the process, and as soon as people, for instance in a Management Team, start diverting attention from the content to the process, you can conclude that they either lack the content, and have no opinion about the subject at hand, or they are stalling. Both pose serious problems for decision-making. The question Why a decision should or should not be taken is the crucial one.

When executing, it is the other way around. When someone has taken responsibility for implementing a decision, focus from his Peers or his Manager on How he should do this will most likely not lead to better results, but reduces the responsible person to someone who does not feel trusted with the task.
Not letting your employees figure out how to go about their business is an excellent way to make them stupid. Treat them like kids and you will have a Kindergarten on your hands instead of a company. or an Army – which in some circumstances (like War) has it use too.
Slide1Talking about Words, War and Companies: don’t we all love the idea of People, Planet, Profits, as sketched by Peter Frisk? Or for the realists, like Ben Horowitz: People Product Profits? And don’t we usually see the exact opposite? More along the lines of Politics, Paranoia and Pay-for-Preceived-Performance? Now that is something we want to do something about. An excellent Why (we want to do it differently).

And what about “How”? Does it have any use? Sure it does. In: „How can I help?”


How to build a business – focus

January 9, 2014

POPA new year, that means resolutions, plans and budgets. This is a confusing process, both personally and professionally, since it has to do with choices. In business of course the first choice of course is: are we going to choose – and thus focus – or are we going to diversify – and thus have more opportunities and less risk? Then there is a multitude of related choices: Clients Satisfaction first, or Employee Engagement; Command and Control or Self Steering teams, Cash or Value?

 

 

Undecided, you read a book under the Christmas tree – thank you Santa – and you stumble across the immortal quote: “It is our choices that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities”. Admittedly it was not Seneca or Socrates who said that, and not even Jim Collins or Michael Porter. It was Harry Potter. He did not do too badly for himself, did he? So that is decided. We choose. We choose why we do things, and what we do. And on a personal level how we do them. Professionally we let others decide how they do the things they are supposed to do. Or we should, if we can resist the urge to manage, or at least: to micro-manage. There we go again. More choices: do we Strategize, do we Lead, or do we Manage? Zappos gets rid of managers this year  but not of all hierarchy, and it might work for them. We tried it at Qhuba, too, last year but were not too happy with the results. A lot of time got wasted on… making choices. Time that could have been spent on clients, or on communication, or on learning, or on employee engagement, building trust and celebrating successes.

 

The answer of course is: we need to do a lot, for different purposes, and at the same time we need to focus and filter out the distractions.

 

As a Business we will focus on what we do best and where we can make a real difference: Business Technology Management. If there is no Technology component we won’t do it. Better to build on an established reputation, network and organisation than trying to establish new ones. Saras Sarasvathy  would probably call this the Bird in Hand principle. A treat she recognized in expert entrepreneurs.

 

As Leaders we will focus our attention, too. That seems easy enough, but after some searching, researching and soul-searching, this is also a subject with several dimensions. Most things come in three’s (even airline crashes). In this case: focus on yourself, focus on others, and focus on the wider world.

 

The inward focus, usually associated with authenticity, self-awareness and self-control (or: willpower) is an important characteristic for leaders, if in balance with the focus on others.

 

The focus on others does not come natural to all. It is usually associated with the term Empathy, which is often misunderstood as “being overly sympathetic”, “soft” or “compassionate”. It is none of those, but has more to do with (of course) three things: how we can explain ourselves to others and understand how they perceive us (cognitive empathy), being able to understand how other people feel (emotional empathy) and being able to sense what other people need from you (empathic concern). Being able to do all that, and especially in emotional empathy some of us, including myself, could still learn a thing or two, enable us to decide if we want to meet the other person’s need. And hopefully that is a deliberate, and sometimes tough, decision.

 

The focus on the outside world – and this is where the distraction lurks in the shadows – is a balance between focus on the job at hand: taking advantage of what we have and what is working now (exploitation), and all the people, information and opportunities out there, that might be crucial for your future success (exploitation). The problem is that there is so much out there, and the minds of the curious easily wander off. Or maybe exploration is just much more fun than exploitation. Still, more is not always better, and more than forty years ago we have been warned that “a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention”. The original text of Herbert Simon’s “Designing organizations for an information-rich world”   is fun and gives an interesting perspective on where we came from, if you can spare the time and attention.

 

 

And as a person? Well: get back to the my New Year’s resolution:

Focus your attention, pick your battles, plan your travels and pop your bottles.

Oh yes and I have just sent in my registration for a coaching course. Questioning, ok. Listening: to be improved. Emotional empathy: might need some work. Happy New Year.

 

POP with Power


How to build a business – Strategy Execution Cycle

August 3, 2013

Building a Business starts with an idea, which is then converted into action.

Simple and straightforward, but not always enough to be successful. Libraries can be filled with books about how this conversion is done, and usually the terms Strategy and Management are introduced on the first page. It is not always clear what is meant by the terms, and the explaining usually involves many more terms, like mission, vision, leadership. Once you are sufficiently confused you are lucky if you can understand where the author is taking you. Bullshit Bingo is never far away.

What is a Strategy really: is it a statement, or a plan, or just a hypothesis about value creation?

And what about Management? Sometimes you are introduced to the world of let it all run it’s course, your people will know what to do, the collective will manage itself (as Ricardo Semmler does), and sometimes to give every single employee a specific responsibility and task, and constantly measure how the task is performed, with Key Performance Indicators (Robert Kaplan).

Unless you want to turn into a one-man show, it is important is to be able to share your idea with others: Why do you want to do it, what do you want to do and for whom. And how will you be successful: Can you identify what the success-factors are, decide which of the underlying activities are vital and are you able to measure if they are performed up to the standard you have set for yourself and your business?

There is no single truth of course: are we talking about a bar in Berlin, a multi-national enterprise run from the United States, or a Production Plant in China? Hardly the same thing. Where you do it matters a lot: Context is crucial.

Equally important is who you have around you. Can you inspire them and share your vision and some of your responsibilities with them, delegate some of the vital activities to them? Time to get organized.

This requires planning and probably money. Decisions are needed on what initiatives have priority are and how they are funded.

Once you are in business the execution of your idea needs constant evaluation and adjustment, just like a hypothesis needs testing and change.

We believe these are five steps that not only reflect common sense but are also universally crucial to bring a business idea to fruition. We have called this approach SCOPE. An acronym where each letter represents a stage in the process of Strategy Execution:

Strategy – Context – Organisation – Planning – Execution

For Qhuba and its clients we have taken the “buffet approach”. You will pass all the five stations, but what you use from the process and the templates depends on your needs and appetite. The full cycle looks like this:

Slide2

In the middle the basic templates for communication:

  1. The Business Blueprint, which describes the building blocks behind the idea: the values, and the vision, the words you want to own and the x-factor you think you have. In short: the success-factors
  2. The Strategy Map, which describes the value creating activities through series of cause and effect linkages, clustered per success-factor
  3. The Scorecard, which describe the objectives per activity per success-factor.

Nothing is new here, nothing is revolutionary. The Plane, the Crew with the Flight Plan and the Cockpit, if you like analogies.

The only aim is to make a clearly defined approach with unequivocal terms and definitions and some practical tools available for all.

In five short articles we will describe the five steps, as well as the three tools, and then we will go through the whole sequence for our own company.

If you like the approach you might want to do the same for yours.


How to build a business – Net Promoter Score

January 30, 2013

Two things have always been crucial in the assignments we do for our clients: what are the benefits we create (expressed in Economic Value or Cash Value Added) and are they truly excited and delighted by what we do. Over qualified resources, continuous support by peers and validation of the results are key in accomplishing this. But at least as important: are we able to measure and prove it? benefits Management has developed into something of a specialism, especially if you do not only measure in financial or quantitative terms, but also in areas like Risk, Scalability, Agility, Motivation.

Customer satisfaction, or even Client Delight is another challenge. Luckily this topic has been addressed some twenty years ago, by Fred Reichheld, a consultant from Bain & Company. He spent years researching enthusiasm, loyalty and commitment in customer relationships. Surveys did not seem to provide the answers he was looking for, partly because the answers from dissatisfied, undifferentiated and enthusiastic customers were so different that they could not drive any management decisions on improvement.
For answers he focussed on the happy customers only and decided to measure their enthusiasm by asking them one question, that he thought related directly to their loyalty: how willing were they to recommend the firm. We see this unpaid marketing department at work every day, nowadays through recommendations on the internet, and more than anything else, by the Like button of Facebook.

Like

Back then, it was a new concept, which he called Net Promoter Score, or NPS. More than the financial benefits our clients have, and definitely more than the revenue we generate, the level of loyalty created is key to success, and yes it is similarly important to measure the level of frustration and disappointment of those who might become active detractors.

With growth come more formalized processes, more dashboards and reports. close relations and intuition alone is no longer enough to keep track of our performance, and the time has come to also implement this process: Basically all that is required are three steps

Step 1.: ask each and every client one question: “How likely are you to recommend us?”, and have them score the likelihood on an eleven-point scale from 0 to 10

Step 2: Break the results up in three categories: those  that gave ratings from 0 to 6 are “Detractors”, the one that logged a 7 or 8 are “passively satisfied”, and only the score of 9 and 10 represent the “Promoters”.

Step 3: Compute the score by only looking at the difference between the Detractors and promoters: %Promoters – %Detractors = %Net Promoters.

NPS

So far so good. That is to say: there is potentially a lot wrong with NPS. A 0 score and a 6  have the same impact on the score, but from the client’s perspective there is probably a large difference. Also 0% detractors and 60% promoters gives the same result as 20% detractors and 80% promoters. So we want more: we want to know what are the reasons behind the score, and we want to be able to act on specific cases if there is reason. It is a one-question-only thing some say. If you do not understand the data you cannot act others argue. It seemed so simple

Now, three decisions need to be taken. Do we ask this question only, or do we ask more to find out what drove the score? Do we ask the questions ourselves, or do we get more honest answers if someone else asks them, and do we ask face-to-face, by phone, or by mail/online?

More discussions. We asked for advice. The specialists gave us options. One question, a few questions, many questions. Open questions, closed questions. Damn.

We asked more advice. some of the reactions were outspoken, almost emotional:

On line surveys are no more effective than written… only difference is the envelope.

The problems with written/on-lines include…

  •  Only outliers are motivated to respond… those who are very happy or very unhappy… so you get skewed results.
  • You don’t know who actually responded (the VP’s emo-punk daughter? An Admin? The dog?
  • The spontaneity (and any associated honesty) is lost.

Why in the world would anyone follow-up by phone to a written survey?

Respondents should NEVER be “followed-up” on unless they specifically request it.

Even if their responses are negative!

No respondent wants to justify their response or discuss it further… unless they ask for it.

The right way to do it is to be sure you ask enough open-ended questions in the survey to get the info you need without follow-up.

When you follow-up (and especially if you quiz them on any response), you bias or destroy their future cooperation.

Phone is best, 3rd party, brief is good.

Okay, we got the message.

So this is what our survey looks like. Two questions, preceded by an e-mail, asked by phone, by someone the client does not have a personal relation with:

1. Based on the work Qhuba did for you, how likely is it that you would recommend Qhuba, on a scale from 0 tot 10?

2. What factor had the most impact on your answer

  • the character and behavior of the resource (like integrity, cooperation)
  • the competences of the resource (knowledge, execution power)
  • the benefits realised versus the cost
  • the cooperation with other people in our firm
  • the relation and connection you have with our network
  • something else

Now I have one last question: How likely do you think it is that the NPS score we log and the answers to these questions will help us create more value for happier clients?


How to build a business – the American Dream

October 29, 2012

The American Dream: it does not exist.

From rags to riches on the basis of an excess of ambition and talent is a nice story, but in practice there is more to it. Malcolm Gladwell, who previously wrote books like The Tipping Point and Blink published an entertaining book about why some people are much more likely to succeed than others. Outliers.

The summary: origins, environment, and coincidence are just as important as intelligence, talent, ambition and perseverance. It would like to add (Gladwell does not): the ability to recognize opportunities and to grab them with both hands. I have written a blog about this ability – Effectuation – earlier.

Therefore, contrary to the stories that usually circulate about highly successful people – a story that focuses on intelligence and ambition, Outliers argues that if we want to understand how some people succeed, we must study in detail things like their background, their generation, their family, their place of birth, and even their birth date. These usually drive the coincidences that make them who they are. There is also such a thing as “making enough hours”. This is the “10,000 hours theory”, developed and popularized by Dr. Anders Ericsson, who basically found out that spending massive amounts of practice hours on a specific subject will lead to expert mastery in that field, more than talent will. Or the other way around: virtually no one who did not spent ten thousand hours of something, became really good at it. Whether a person has the opportunity to make those hours depends on… coincidences and perseverance.

The story of success is much more complex and interesting than it appears to be at first.

The logic that Gladwell uses to explain the success of the Beatles, Bill Gates, Asians in Mathematics, Jewish takeover lawyers and others is peculiar and interesting. It is all about coincidences. For Gates: the availability of sufficient computer time at exactly the right time, for the lawyers: they were all born from garment makers around 1930, they do not have to fight in the war, were not eligible for the WASP Wall Street firms, and had, around 1970, sufficient experience with acquisitions, which until then were not fancy. Before 1970 Yankee law firms refused to do this inferior work, which after the ‘70s was considered to most prestigious legal work.

So it boils down to: talent, ambition, and ten thousand hours of experience. Character and competence. We should start asking our candidates whether they have ten thousand flying hours. For those who join us as Professional (sometimes call the “professor” role) this will not be a problem. For entrepreneurs (the pilots in the plain), the headhunters, the networkers and sales-people that might be a challenge.

 

Thousands of hours experience with a specific task, seems contradictory to what Ricardo Semler propagates in his book The Seven Day Weekend.

The title is misleading. Weekend does not mean doing nothing but: do things that you like and make you happy. Semler, then CEO of Semco, a company with roots in Sao Paolo,  introduced a style of leadership that took liberalism and democracy as a starting point. Why do most people in most countries agree that democracy is the best way of governing, but why are most businesses organized along dictatorial line? Companies and the Roman army have many similarities. Companies and kindergartens have many similarities. What are the similarities between armies and kindergartens? 1. Decisions are made for you. 2. Personal initiative is not really appreciated and 3. Hardly anyone really enjoys it.

Semler turns it around: If employees care first and foremost about their self-interest, if Management refuses to impose (or even take) decisions, if there is a culture of transparency and trust, intrinsic motivation and peer pressure will do the rest. This involves making employees responsible for a lot more than putting in the hours.

It has taken decades to turn his business around to a democratic, innovative and successful enterprise, where employees determine their own working hours, their own salary, their location and decide who will be their bosses and their colleagues.

How nice is that: A company where people may attend the meetings they want to attend and all business information is available for everyone.

Employees are no longer just a means of production, but adult people with talents and ambitions who are asking, as many times as possible, the question “why?”.

It would be quite something if this could work, and I am convinced that it can work. I am not so sure if we have the patience and time to make all the mistakes, and to accept everyone making all the mistakes that are part and parcel to such a process.

 

But then, why not? If we are able to select and interest only the most talented people, with the highest integrity, and if we can all be fully transparent about our intentions, we will get there. First we will be looking for people with 10,000 hours on the clock.


How to build a business – Ten Questions

October 16, 2012

We have been in business for several years, we have more than sixty world-class people working with us, worked for eighty-eight world-class clients, held one hundred and fifty-three management meetings and published numerous internal and external documents. At some point it seemed to make sense to bring it all back to ten basic questions. The answer to those questions should describe all the major aspects of our business. Answers that all of our people should be able to give, when the questions are asked.

 

Here are the questions:

1. Where do we come from?

2. Why do we exist?

3. What do we look for in our resources ?

4. How do we behave?

5. What do we do?

6. How will we succeed?

7. What is the one most important thing right now?

8. Who must do what?

9. How are we organized?

10. How we make decisions and deliver on them?

 

And here are the answers

 

1. Where do we come from?

Qhuba, founded in 2007, is a fast-growing network organisation with more than sixty Partners, Staff and Associates (‘Qhubans’). Qhuba means drive, the drive to work together, to learn, to grow and to succeed.

 

2. Why do we exist?

We exist because we believe running companies can be fun and strategies can be implemented successfully when people of character and competence work together.

Qhuba believes that strategies are best executed by a multi-disciplinary leadership team that takes collective responsibility.

 

 

3. What do we look for in Qhubans ?

Regardless of whether they are Clients, Candidates, Network Partners, Prospects, Associates, Staff, Associate Partners, Partners, Managing Partners, Equity Partners, Practice Directors, Shareholders, or Friends, we expect:

  • Character (Integrity and Intentions)
  • Competencies (Hard and soft skills)
  • Network
  • Track record
  • A drive for Autonomy, Mastery, Contribution and working with Peers.

 

4. How do we behave?

We are Independent, Reliable, Uncompromising, Connected

 

5. What do we do?

When organizations look for support in the successful execution of their strategies, we provide (introductions to) people with the right character and competence. We can do this based on Client Value Pricing, on temporary assignments, on the client’s payroll, for a success fee or without a fee.

 

6. How will we succeed?

Together Qhubans use conversations to build a network of world-class professionals to make clients successful by providing capable people and by arranging introductions, opportunities and exposure, meanwhile building a highly recognised organisation as a platform for professional and personal growth.

 

7. What is most important right now?

Increasing Reputation in our network

  • Increase NPS with clients by delivering results
  • Increase credibility with prospective clients through content-marketing, sales and references
  • Increase Trust within Qhubans through growth and success
  • Increase Reputation with candidates through marketing

 

 

8. Who must do what?

Strategy, Structure and Reputation:   Wouter Hasekamp

Network:                                              Tjibbe van der Zeeuw (Liesbeth Hans)

Knowledge and Research                   Liesbeth Hans

Publications:                                      Hotze Zijlstra

Marketing:                                           Wouter Hasekamp, Rachelle Nall

Enablement and Support:                  Dennis van Alphen (Tom Kisters, RikJan Kruithof)

Portfolio:                                             Partners and Practice Directors (Peter Rappange, Mohammed Chaaibi, Gerard Kok, Evert-Jan Tazelaar)

Sales:                                                 Mario School (Susanne van Kleef, Gerard Kok, Evert-Jan Tazelaar)

Delivery:                                             Tjibbe van der Zeeuw (Beatrice Friebel)

 

 

 

9. How are we organized?

Qhuba is organised in Practices that address specific areas of expertise, without losing sight of the collective goal: strategy implementation across disciplines. Practices in the portfolio of Qhuba are:

  • Interim Management
  • Recruitment & Executive Search
  • Programme and Portfolio Management
  • Lean and Transformation
  • Finance and Benefits Management
  • Sourcing Support
  • Lean IT
  • Cloud Consulting
  • The Qloud Company

 

 

10. How we make decisions and deliver on them?

We believe in Collective Leadership: given our values and despite different intentions and goals we want to be able to operate as a tribe of peers, each contributing as a person and as a professional, without giving up our autonomy. Starting points for this ‘Tribal Democracy’ are:

  • Freedom of Thought
  • Freedom of Speech
  • Freedom of Choice
  • Freedom of Dissent
  • Radical Transparency

 

 

Conditions for participation in decision-making are:

  • Trust, which consists of Character (Integrity & Intentions) and Competence (Capabilities & Results)
  • Transparency of Information and Opinion. Silence equals disagreement. This is our first rule of engagement.
  • Commitment, both active commitment and formal commitment. This is the second rule of engagement
  • Accountability; there is zero-tolerance for lack of Trust, lack of Integrity, lack of Transparency, lack of Commitment, but also for Passivity, broken promises, non-performance
  • A shared definition of success made measurable and a focus on results. One team, one goal.

 

Success is measured by:

  • Client Benefits Realized and Nett Promoter Score
  • Staff retention en recruitment
  • Revenue – Margin – Profit

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.