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A home for the Conscious Business community in the UK


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Outside in – bringing intelligence into the corporation

I found this great post by Lee Bryant of Post*shift the other day. Lee describes the clear divide between how social media inside and outside many large organisations is run. How, often, these activities are run by different departments, who may be pulling in different directions. As Lee points out, social on the outside is often run by marketing, while social internally is run by ops, HR and IT.

Marketing, of course, is about giving customers what they want and need.  So a core marketing activity is understanding those wants and needs and communicating them internally – so that the business can respond, and continue to fulfil those needs over time, even as the market changes. That is, in theory at least, how businesses respond to their markets.

But in practice few businesses seem marketing-driven. In a marketing-driven company everything the company does is driven by changes in the market. This means the real power sits with marketing.

Looking around, it seems to me the alternatives are more common. In most cases the power driving the business sits with:

  • engineers and R&D – this explains an apparent proliferation of product features at the expense of benefits that people actually want and need;
  • sales – this explains a short-term focus on increasing sales revenue – regardless of the longer-term brand damage and the like;
  • finance and ultimately the stock exchange – how else can we explain the way  the banking sector seems to be ignoring customer sentiment?

Who or what drives your company?

But Lee’s post is about how (social) marketeers can be part of the solution – helping the business transform so that it is more aligned with what the market truly wants and needs. Even when marketing doesn’t really have all the power it might like.

He rightly points to the need for changes in organisational structure, and the benefits of socialising key processes and workflows.

Content can also be very useful – thought leadership inside an organisation can form the basis of a real dialogue with customers. Leverage the content that people inside businesses work with every day – and use it to start meaningful conversations with customers and potential customers. The result is an increase in trust – and you start to build real relationships across the critical company/customer boundary.

Such relationships form the basis of gaining real intelligence about what the market is saying – what it wants and needs.

Market intelligence isn’t enough

But our experience suggests that even credible (business) intelligence simply isn’t enough to change organisational behaviour. If knowledge and intelligence was sufficient for behaviour change we’d all stick to the speed limit, get enough exercise and happily eat our 5-a-day .

And there are far too many stories of companies that knew perfectly well what was happening in their markets but did nothing about it for us to believe that intelligence is enough.

This is because telling people what to do (based on your superior knowledge/intelligence) doesn’t work – they resist.

Neither does educating them (giving them the benefit of superior knowledge/intelligence) – they still resist.

And actually, despite what some idealists would claim, neither does getting people to ‘buy-in’ through dialogue or the like – real dialogue is a very rare thing indeed.

These approaches don’t work because they tend to ignore the elephant in the room: power. Organisations are all about power – we all know it and yet we hardly ever speak about it.

Good solutions need to take power into account. In fact, leadership, in my view, is about helping people and groups find ways to understand and ‘align’ their power. We all have power – but we are often pulling and pushing in different directions. Leadership is about helping people align – even if only temporarily.

And just how does the marketing leader, or the leader of any kind, build that alignment? There are many ways but one good way is to start by treating other people well. By being respectful and empathic. This is the foundation for any good relationship, and I believe a good relationship is the starting point for finding ways to align power.

But to build good relationships it is also essential to learn to ‘speak up’ – to say what we believe to be true, when faced by other people, not just in the privacy of our own minds or homes. No one respects someone who just tries to please all the time, by keeping quiet, or by agreeing.

Unfortunately, speaking up  is really difficult – the pressure to collude, to fit-in, especially inside a business, is enormous. It is all too easy for the marketing leader to see what is going on but to keep their mouth shut when facing a skeptical ‘superior’.

The good news is that people can learn to speak up more. We use the term ‘congruence’ with our clients because there’s a bit more to it than just speaking-up. In fact, there’s a way of speaking up that enhances relationships rather than harming them, and that is what we are seeking: deeper, more meaningful relationships.

Self-awareness helps. As we grow in awareness we may start to see how much we collude.

A supportive culture helps. One that promotes ideological challenge, open dialogue, and risk-taking in service of a bigger purpose.

But ultimately this is a choice – about putting the goal of helping your business survive and thrive in the digital age ahead of personal fears and limitations. About learning to speak up – in service of others.

There are a couple of events coming up where some of these issues may be discussed: Tomorrow’s Company Today on the 2nd June 2014 (a Conscious Business UK event hosted at Post*shift’s great London offices). And Post*shift have their own event Organising for Social on June 12th.

 

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Conscious Business Strategy

We love helping people to build and implement their business strategy more consciously. What does that mean?

Like Conscious Business itself, Conscious Business Strategy is not a thing. It is a process. It is a way of approaching the world.

It has three stages. We call them Awareness, Agreement and Action.

Awareness

Awareness is often the first stage. Awareness means opening ourselves up to the situation in front of us. This means seeing it, understanding it, absorbing it.

That means realising that the world is out there – external. And in there – internal.

In business, the outer world is made up of people in all sorts of relationships – customers, colleagues, suppliers, investors, and other stakeholders. The products and services you offer.  Your supply chain. Your prospects and your sales pipeline. The market you operate in. Revenue, your profitability, and so on. Over time – past, present and future. Whole systems, not just patterns and events.

All these things – and many more – are connected. Opening up to the outer world means looking at it in all its glory – with all its complexity.  It is not one thing, it is a complex array of interactions and relationships. Awareness means starting to see all of that – not just one aspect of it. Seeing the whole system.

Awareness also means looking at the inner world. We know that what we see externally is moderated by how we are internally. Our perceptions are incomplete and often wrong. Thoughts, emotions, attitudes and beliefs all colour the world we see. So do our dreams and aspirations, states and moods. Our memories change to suit us.

So Awareness is also about looking at ourselves – being aware of what is going on inside us and how it affects everything – inside and out. Awareness – and self-awareness – mean waking up to that.

Aware of Purpose too

Awareness also means becoming aware of our purpose. There are lots of people out there trying to help us put our “deeper Purpose” (usually with a capital “P”) into words. This is probably a good thing. But purpose is complex too. We have many different purposes – not just one. Sometimes these are in conflict, sometimes aligned.

One way to understand purpose is simply to look at what we are doing. I am writing this blog post. Why? To communicate something? To get something out? To engage others in interesting dialogue? To while away some time on a Sunday morning? There are always many purposes, and many may also be invisible to me.

So Awareness also means looking to see what my purpose is. Using my self-awareness to understand what I am doing, and maybe why.

Agreement

We call the second stage of Conscious Business strategy Agreement.

Strategy isn’t necessarily about the long-term, but it is definitely about something that endures. Strategy is about following one course of action, sometimes despite the response from the world. That is why so many approaches to strategy refer to Principles, Policies, Precepts, Pillars etc. (For some reason they always seem to be words that start with the letter “P”).

These are all ideas or beliefs that we can hang our hats on. They endure even as we implement the strategy. We check back against them and use them to determine whether what we are doing is following or diverging from the strategy. They guide us. Following them allows us to implement the strategy consistently in a way that gives us the benefits we are seeking.

But we call this stage Agreement because it is essential to agree these Principles, Policies, Precepts and Pillars either with yourself or with other people. Once agreed, once we have committed to them, then we can hold ourselves and others to account.

Agreement means dialogue, and it means being congruent – authentic, transparent, choiceful. It means letting these ideas emerge, and then settling on them, agreeing them with oneself, or with others. Making a definite choice.

Once we have made these agreements, then we can say things like “We agreed we would hire a fair balance of men and women, and yet we are actually hiring more men than women. We are diverging from our hiring strategy. Why? And what are we going to do about it?”

Action

Finally, a conscious business strategy is really about Action.

If we do all that looking and agreeing, and then do nothing, we aren’t really implementing the strategy. It is only through action that we get to learn more and discover more. It is only through action that we get the chance to iterate and update the strategy. Strategy lives in operation.

We are always doing something. We are always acting. So acting strategically is to be conscious of those Principles, Policies, Precepts and Pillars. Making choices in the present but with awareness of those things we agreed. Reflecting as we go. This awareness affects our decisions, which affects our actions, which affects the results we get.

If we agreed our strategy is to hire men and women equally, then that is what we need to do. Our strategy affects how we advertise, how we interview, how we assess, how we speak and what we do. We change our behaviour and we get different results.

When you pick up a stick you get both ends. Decisions have consequences. It is often difficult or impossible to predict the consequences. Strategy isn’t about somehow forseeing the the future. No one can do that. It is about acting consistently over time, despite the immediate response, and thus eventually getting something that is more aligned with what we wanted in the first place.

Sometimes this stage is where we make a plan. Strategy is definitely not planning. But planning – building lists of actions, to be completed in a particular order, and at a particular time – sometimes flows from strategy.

But of course, we need to iterate, to pivot, to be agile and lean. Maybe we need to abandon our plans. So all the time as we take action, we look to see what response we are getting. We stay aware. And we choose whether to continue, or whether to update our Principles, Policies, Precepts and Pillars. So really Conscious Business Strategy is a cycle, not a linear thing.

Awareness, Agreement, Action. That’s it.

(If you want to read more about Conscious Business as a way of doing business, take a look at this).

 


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Is truthfulness a competency?

As human beings, we tend to ignore the elephant in the room because we fear the consequences. Truth is a time bomb; the fuse is lit, and when it goes off we’ll all get blown to bits. Really?… It could just be that when it blows there’s nothing more than a lovely colourful (and perfectly harmless) foam fountain. Why do we fear the worst?

Duncan Brodie, a former NHS Director I interviewed for Undiscussables.com a while ago, questioned the logic of a health service that effectively works a Monday to Friday schedule when those who depend on it (i.e. require medical treatment) typically do not conform to an office hours only schedule when falling ill. I’ve also talked before about the notion that what is undiscussable in an organisation is, in and of itself, often undiscussable, and idea that stems from the work of Chris Argyris.

Reading a pointed (as ever) and thought-provoking post by Roy Lilley at NHSManagers.net recently, what struck me is that the two states of undiscussability that Arygris describes may need defining separately.

The undiscussable undiscussable

A subject that is taboo and has yet to reach the stage that it can even be alluded to.

Sexual and physical abuse, whether that alleged to have taken place by Jimmy Saville or within the Catholic Church, often seems to fall into this category. The difficulty that those who have been abused have in having their stories heard, let alone believed, might suggest that this pattern is particularly difficult to break. In organisational/work contexts, they can arise also.

The discussable undiscussable

The taboo alluded to, hinted at, ‘known’, tantalisingly out of reach

Writing that heading I question my logic momentarily, and it is this category that Roy Lilley describes powerfully in another post re mortality rates in the NHS. Analysis of three years of data and four million patient outcomes have revealed a statistically significant increase in mortality rates the nearer to the end of a working week you have elective (i.e. non-emergency) surgery.

It’s a bit like ‘Area 51’, the US Military…. It’s an open secret. Everyone knows it’s there but the US Government pretends it isn’t. Just like MI5. Everyone knew about it but it took the British government until 1994 to admit it existed. And, The Stig, BBC’s Top Gear test driver; apparently everyone knows who she is.

Elephant in the Room, Open Secret.

This is the ‘classic’ elephant: the thing we all know is there but do not want to acknowledge and/or discuss, yet there is tacit agreement that it exists. The undiscussable undiscussable is different: there is no agreement, tacit or otherwise, of existence because the consequences of doing so are too high for some of those involved. Or because those who witness what is happening cannot bear the consequences of even acknowledging it (the bystander effect)?….

There is no easy answer, although I am drawn to two suggestions, both sparked by Lilley.

Data, data, data… Give me more data

The mortality rate issue above was revealed and discussed in sharper terms because not only was there data available, it has been used to make sense of complexity to reveal an underlying pattern. With data, you get to a conversation that takes you closer to a decision based on reality rather than the shifting sand of opinion.

Truthfulness is a competency

In the post on mortality rates, Lilley laid out a challenge for leadership in and around the NHS, in the context of the recommendations in the Francis Report calling for a new approach to leadership practice.

Truthfulness emerges as a key competence when an organisation is faced with the unachievable. Soldiering-on, to protect reputations and careers, not confronting the real issues leads to an environment fertile for fraud, fictions and fabrications. Obsfucation, cover-ups and smokescreens disguise the actualite and defer the inevitable.

Relative to the NHS, and given my own experience working with people within the UK health sector, I would agree. What is more, I am not aware of any psychometric tests, competency frameworks or similar that explicitly seek to inquire into the capacity of individuals in organisations to speak the(ir) truth, relative to role and context (suggestions welcome if there are). And…

A challenge to leaders and leadership development practitioners

My experience of working with(in) organisations and with leadership teams is that the desire for simple answers and certainty undermines those who make the case for slowing down to seek more data in order to establish what is real and not real, what is fact and not opinion. This desire for simple answers and certainty, delivered in as short a time as possible, places a primacy on an illusory form of truth. ‘Directness’ and ‘honesty’ are not the same as truthfulness, the essence of which is grounding in fact or reality, and means you are exposed to the possibility that reality may not be how you imagine it. So a couple of questions, relative to the taboos and challenges in your organisation:

  • To what extent do you know what is true (real), and based on what data?
  • To what extent are you prepared for the truth, whatever it is, or to speak a truth?
  • To what extent is your organisation ready for the truth?
  • What are the consequences, all of them, of speaking out and not speaking out?

Your move.

(Ed: This post was initially published on Undiscussables.com)


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Learn-Learn

I have always liked, and disliked, the term “win-win”.

I guess I heard it first from Stephen Covey, or at least that was when I first ‘got’ it. The concept appears widely in both popular and serious business books. I have been known to bandy it around myself with clients – and even use it at home with the kids (much to their amusement).

The term has developed, of course. The most recent version I have seen is from John Mackey’s and Raj Sisodia’s great book on Conscious Capitalism – Liberating the Heroic Spirit of Business.

Raj and John use the term Win6 – they use a superscript 6 to signify the 6 different stakeholders of a business.

They mean a refusal by a business person to accept a trade-off (or a “win-lose”) in every one of 6 domains:

  • with customers
  • with employees
  • with suppliers
  • with investors
  • with communities
  • and with the environment

I particularly like the idea that any business person has a choice (Covey made the same point, I think) to either seek a win-lose, or seek a win-win. In fact, I think we may face that choice many times a day.

Hopefully, we choose the win-win. Even though, as Raj and John seem to suggest, seeking a win-win, or a win-win-win, or even a Win6, may be harder work in the short-term. Finding solutions that help more than one stakeholder may require much creativity and innovation.

I guess most of us involved in Conscious Business buy in to the idea that in the long-term that effort will be amply rewarded.

In fact, I think many business people, especially people running smaller and medium-sized businesses, do take a win-win approach.

Raj and John are simply suggesting we expand that approach – to multiple stakeholders.

But back to my dislike.

I suppose it is partly because win-win has been so well parodied over the years, in comical take-offs of business people. The husband in the brilliant “Little Miss Sunshine” comes to mind.

But maybe it is also partly to do with my approach to life? I am definitely more comfortable with learn-learn. That is an easier choice for me – to promote learning, amongst colleagues, and clients.

Although, now of course, I need to promote that to Learn6.


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Manage yourself

Quora sent me a link to an interesting topic the other day: As first time entrepreneurs, what part of the process are people often completely blind to?

There are many good answers, but mine would be: Manage Yourself.

What I mean is look after yourself physically, mentally and emotionally.

I have seen entrepreneurs and other business people make themselves ill. And clearly if they are physically unfit, developing and growing a business becomes hard if not impossible.

I have seen entrepreneurs suffer much mental distress. They have made poor decisions, blamed other people, and failed to take the right action at the right time.

I have seen entrepreneurs stay unaware of their emotional selves. And in doing so they have often inadvertently pushed away those who would help them under other circumstances.

What’s more I have done all these things myself. And therefore I know that I was completely blind to these things at the time.

Hey ho. Onward and upward.