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March 2013

Four Plus One Reasons Not to Change

It would appear that change is ubiquitous and unavoidable, and the net result of that is that everyone – who has a mind – wishes to control it, to get on top of it, to be a master of change rather than its victim. The Earl of Salisbury was in quite another era when he said, "

Change? Change? Why do we need change? Things are quite bad enough as they are"! But change is difficult and perhaps the great quality guru, Philip Crosby, put his finger on the pulse when he said, "Good ideas and solid concepts have a great deal of difficulty in being understood by those who earn their living by doing it some other way". And there are so many people who earn their living by doing things another way.

In the UK alone in the last three years the attempt by Government to bring down its spending and reduce public debt has been spectacularly ineffective. Why? Because at least 50% of the working population has been earning a living by doing things another way. Earning is perhaps too strong a word, for – from bankers above to unionized workers below and the public sector in the middle – we have huge swathes of unproductive employees who expect to make a living without being productive. And that doesn’t even account for the numbers of people who are paid long-term for not having any job at all. As the Arabic proverb says, "The person who really wants to do something finds a way. The other person finds an excuse."

However, when we come down to the reality on the ground we find there are four main change stoppers that over and above the ‘I am already comfortable Jack, thanks’ philosophy really do stymy progress or effective change.

First, is what is called the dependency culture. This is associated with hierarchical management – all too common in organisations worldwide; and its consequence is people who lack information, skills, confidence, or power; they cannot make the changes and so accept second or even third best. The key antidote to this is the development and promotion of the core skill of delegation. Can bosses actually let go, and let others?

Then, there is, second, the busy-busy management style which is symptomatic of authoritarian types. You know them? The perennially busy leader or manager who never stops to ask  - why? Why are we so busy? Why are we always firefighting, living on the edge of adrenalin rushes and crises? The hope here is possibly that such leaders at some deep level know their inadequacy and want, desperately, to have credibility. This can make them open and receptive to the latest fads and ideas, which may produce change enhancements if not overload. The two key skills to develop are listening as a skill and planning as an activity.

Third, there is isolation through the cultural climate or communication systems. Thus, without access to others' ideas, individuals become more resistant to change. In this respect it is easy for leaders to ignore implications of  simple geographical layout in terms of effective communications. So, the core skill to develop here is communications: systems comms, one-to-one comms, presentation and written skills.

Finally, there is blaming, an too familiar phenomenon, and something which the effective leader never does. For blame destroys a creative, risk-taking culture; it also reduces the effectiveness of the individual, and in any case subordinates harbour grudges even when the blame is justified. The antidote to blame is to focus on what needs to be done  - and how it might still be done despite some temporary setback. One has to believe at a fundamental level that making a mistake is the most effective form of learning. Thus, the key here and  to blame generally is developing a systems approach within your organisation.

Let’s bear in mind, then, as Guiseppe di Lampedusa  said, "If you want things to stay the same, they have to change". That isn’t going to be easy, but it is necessary, and if we bear in mind the guidelines above we have some chance of success.

Why "Layering" Your Business is Important

If we are entrepreneurs and are in business we all want to run a successful business and one of the major obstacles to that happening is the competition taking our idea and creating their own version of it and so depleting us of customers. This is a very real threat, and it happens over the most basic commodities. You have a taxi or a mobile ice cream parlour in a successful patch and the next thing you know ten others have suddenly sprung up. In my local area the £1 shop went bust when literally across the street the 99p shop opened up. Hmm – so much for customer loyalty.

But aren’t I a professional, providing professional services, and isn’t it different there – more relationship driven? Well, it’s different, but the customer still wants the best deal, and wants it yesterday, so taking client loyalty for granted is a huge mistake. If we are going to have a sustainable business we need to create something special, and that is where my concept of "layering" comes in. I say my concept – that is what I call it; perhaps somewhere else it has a more technical name; it doesn’t matter, what’s important is the principle.

To contextualise this: I was a trainer, coach and consultant for ten years, ten great years, doing great work with some wonderful clients. But I began to realise that I was only self-employed, and not running a real business because as soon as I stopped billing hours the income ceased! Thus I made the big decision to be entrepreneurial – to create passive revenues stream whether I did hours or not. And so I got to my first big mistake: namely, to train others as licensees of my innovate mentoring and coaching toolkit. Over ten years I had created some simple, but powerful and original tools. Other coaches and trainers loved them – the trouble was, after the initial agreement was signed and the training and sharing delivered, all those who signed up seemed to have perfectly reasonable reasons why – thanks James but would you mind if … - they might withdraw from the agreement! The training and the innovative tools could not so easily be revoked. I could have, but I didn’t want to spend my life in litigation, so I let it pass.

Then, it became clear that one of my special tools that I had developed – on paper – might make a brilliant on-line product, and this would mean … it could be protected. And here is where layering comes in. Think: initially, a paper questionnaire with 36 questions, moving to an online diagnostic producing a 4 page report. Seven years later we have moved further: first, to 45 questions and a ten page report; and further a 15 page team report. But then to a complete revision of the initial map to a 15 page report and the team map to 22+ pages. All the algorithms revised and more powerful; and to take one example, the algorithm we use to tiebreak equal scores has now 8 levels of complexity, which means that even if all 9 motivators are scored 20 points each (an event which has occurred only once in over 10,000 maps!), the program can determine the correct order. And, not to stop, an organisational map is the next step.

But what’s the point of this? Twofold, with two seemingly contradictory intentions. First, though, one needs to say that if someone is determined to copy you, they probably will; so what I am about to say is about securing a mote around you to discourage them. The first intention is to simplify your product/service for the client/customer so they increasingly are delighted by what they receive and can more readily perceive its value. In effect, they are always getting more for either the same amount or less.

And here’s the "layering" bit: at the same time as you are intending to simplify the product for the client, you intend to complicate the behind the scenes workings, so that it becomes fiendishly difficult to emulate. There is in fact then layer on layer of complexity that is hard to unpick, much less grasp how it works. Think of an antique table you want to preserve: you layer with varnish, again and again, and eventually the varnish is so thick the layers provide complete insulation from any knocks or chips. That is "layering" for you.

If you have a service or product open to competition and emulation, are you layering your intellectual property? Remember, the more simple it is for the user, the more complicated it needs to be inside its guts. Good luck – solving this problem can give you a real competitive edge.