April 24, 2013

Can your iPhone do this?

I travel quite a bit, as much as 1-2 times per week albeit primarily regional travel.

As such though I spend more time in airports than I would prefer and am always looking for opportunities to minimize time in line ups, minimize baggage and minimize any other aggravation.

Many of you road warriors probably use electronic boarding passes. I used to, but then didn’t as I was frustrated with my phone’s (iPhone at the time, but others too) constantly changing orientation depending on how you (or the security agent, boarding gate agent, etc.) were holding the phone.

But I tried something new that worked pretty well: essentially I was able to (on my Windows Phone) isolate the QR Code portion of my electronic boarding pass and pin it to my home screen. This way I can simply hand my phone to the agent, they scan and I go (although I’ve been stopped a few times by agents with, “what KIND of phone is that!? That’s cool!” as a result of this… which has caused it’s own delays!).

And this is what it looks like:

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Don’t have a Windows Phone 8? Too bad … you’re out of luck, but if you do, this is how you can do it:

Step 1: Receive your Electronic Boarding Pass

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Step 2: Zoom in on the QR Code so that it fills the entire width of your phone’s screen.

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Step 3: Pin the page to your Start Screen

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Voila! The agent can easily scan the QR Code, the phone isn’t jumping around between portrait and landscape orientation and you get to show off the phone (and photos of your gorgeous wife).

If you need the boarding pass details, simply click/press on the QR Code since it is also a shortcut to the boarding pass.

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By the way, if you DON’T zoom in on the QR code in Step 2 you will get the following (which is often too small for them to scan).

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April 21, 2013

Making VIPs of the Rejected

I love simple ideas that seem so obvious after-the-fact, but have real and immediate impact to business problems.

This was one of those solutions and the problem is fairly common, even outside of this industry.

We’ve all experienced it. You show up at 7pm at a restaurant that you have your heart set on only to be told by the host that it may be a 1hr or more wait. So you walk away, cursing yourself for not making a reservation and maybe even going to your smart phone to search for alternatives in the neighbourhood (having just paid $20 to park your car).

The Cactus Club (www.CactusClubCafe.com) is a mid-market Western Canadian restaurant chain that serves fairly standard urban fare, with a slightly up tempo atmosphere. A recent opening of a high profile location (Cactus Coal Harbour), being as busy as you would expect of any opening in downtown Vancouver, threatened to steal business from several other downtown Cactus Club locations, but when asked about the impact to the nearest location (Cactus Bentall), the manager exclaimed, “actually we’re up 20%!”.

The reason is simple and something that I think we can learn from. They took the popular opening of a new location, the obvious seating limitations and the resulting prospect of turning away paying customers and created a boon to their other locations.

The solution? They hired a sedan/car service, which was on stand-by on busy nights so that instead of apologizing for an unreasonably long wait, a host could simply offer an option: “At the moment we’re looking at a 60min or more wait. However, I’ve taken the liberty of confirming a table at one of our other two nearby locations and have a car service right outside the door waiting to drive you straight there. We’ll even pick you up when you’re finished. Which location would you prefer?”

Wow.

That is the type of experience that people talk about … and not only did they rescue their $50+/seat in revenue that would have otherwise walked away, but they likely have influenced future buying decisions for quite some time to come. The cost? Based on contract rates … I’m guessing in the ~$10 per roundtrip neighbourhood.

I wonder if those people felt “rejected”, having been essentially turned away from the restaurant of their choice, or did they feel like VIPs having been delivered “door-to-door”, ushered in to a table already waiting for them?

I think this scenario plays out in many other industries. In the consulting business we often have to “break bad news” to customers in terms of options, opportunities, risk/issues or other impacts and constraints. The difference though is to have an immediate solution (or several) available that has the effect of creating delight.

The car service was a no brainer. I wonder if I would have thought of that?

November 16, 2012

Clarity from Complexity

I just met with a former colleague who explained that one of objectives of his role was in simplifying the complex.

We explored that concept a little further and agreed that sometimes simplicity is not really the desired outcome. In fact, some organizations are just plain complex. How do you distil the manufacturing processes of an aerospace manufacturer?

Maybe ‘simplifying the complex’ is not the desired outcome, but rather ‘clarifying the complex’ is.

Clarity occurs when the ‘signal-to-noise’ ratio increases substantially and a sense of purpose and engagement overcomes a sense of overwhelming process and work.

When my friend explained that the overall raison d’être of his organization comes down to two things, fixing people and fixing cars, he was not simplifying their understandably complex business, but rather clarifying it’s mission. Who can’t identify with that?

I think then that before establishing more complex notions of alignment and engagement in your business, first seek to clarify it without suggesting it is ‘simple’.

October 21, 2012

All Businesses are Services Businesses

A business is simply a collection of related services that together produce and deliver value. Even within manufacturing, energy, agriculture and other resource-based organizations, it is the effective management of services that distinguishes the good from the great. All the more so with organizations that are squarely part of the service sector.

What do you think? Do you agree? Are businesses necessarily in the business of service?

Let me know.

October 17, 2012

It’s all about Strategy Execution

“Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without Strategy is the noise before the defeat.”

Sun Tsu (”The Art of War”)

If there is one thing missing from so many otherwise great organizations I’ve worked with, it is strategy execution.  Many managers understand that a strategy is essential for success over the long-run, but surprisingly few are capable of mapping that to operational terms meaningful to the rest of the organization.

Robert Kaplan (co-creator of the Balanced Scorecard) suggests that according to a recent Bain Consulting study, seven out of eight companies (in a sample of almost 2,000 large corporations) fail to achieve profitable growth, even though more than 90 percent had detailed strategic plans.  (Link)

Why is that?  It is assumed that failure is assured without a strategy, but with a well crafted, informed strategy success is destined.  In fact, we see that the mere existence of a strategy means very little in terms of contribution to success.

Using a sports analogy, teams heading into game day will have prepared a strategy that has been chosen as the best means to victory given the conditions, the opposition, their roster, the officiating crew or style and even the reputation of the fans.  But what good is a strategy without the playbook?  The result is a team that understands the elements required to win, but without the direction to apply their efforts cohesively.

Strategy execution is all about the “operationalization” of strategy, but this is not straightforward and takes as much introspection as it does external analysis.  I intend to further explore this “gap” between strategy and tactical operations in subsequent articles, but would like to focus here on the Strategy Execution as an organizational trait.

A few years ago I attended a discussion led by Robert Kaplan where he suggested that there are five key principles that management should assess when developing a Strategy Execution Plan.  I’ve modified them somewhat to my own taste and experience, but the themes remain consistent:

  1. Deliver Exceptional Leadership. 
  2. Communicate the Mapping. 
  3. Demonstrate Organizational Alignment. 
  4. Provide the Inspiration.
  5. Strategy as a Continuous Process.

In Summary:

Delivering Exceptional Leadership
Corporate change in a leadership void is a recipe for disaster.  Organizational leaders need to be visible and consistently available when attempting to align the organization to a new (or even existing) strategy.  The concept of a “leadership coalition” is cited as a key contributor to successfully implementing a strategy execution plan, and more importantly a culture of strategy execution.

Communicating the Mapping
The mapping of strategy to operational terms needs to pervasive and communicated consistently and constantly.  In Kaplan’s words: “Say it seven times, in seven different ways”, which is to say that the delivery of the message needs to become as much a part of the fabric of corporate culture as your core values and mission are.

Demonstrating Organizational Alignment
A common question is, “What happens if the result of my Strategy Map is the realization that one or more of my initiatives are off-strategy?”.  This is further complicated if the initiative has significant momentum or has had a significant amount of investment.  The answer (as any good consultant will always tell you) is that it depends:  However, the “answer” depends less on the tangible elements of the problem, and more on the resolve of leadership to stay on-strategy and to assure organizational alignment.  Make alignment to strategy another cultural trait of your organization.

Providing the Inspiration
Kaplan in his talk actually suggested providing the right “motivation” for your team.  I prefer to explore inspiration than motivation.  Motivation urges action often through the enticement of reward (or threat of correction), whereas inspiration draws from deeper purpose that provokes greater engagement for a longer period. 

How can we ensure that a strategy execution plan is meaningful for line employees?  How can we inspire alignment in our team?  I don’t know … or at least the answer varies by organization.  Because organizations invariably consist of people, each with varied degrees and sources of purpose, developing inspiration is a black art.  Having said that, a very common human trait is the inspiration one feels when efforts are appreciated and their effects are correlated to the success of the organization (which leads me back to the concept of “Personal Brand Development“).

  • Strategy as a Continuous Process
    I have personal experience with organizations that insist that strategy is a document that was produced years ago, printed, and distributed to staff.  Often this strategy still maintains a prominent home at the top of a dusty shelf or even helping to prop up a computer monitor.  Instead the concept of continuous strategy development needs to be embraced.  Much like the analogy of a sports team with a game plan (strategy), the same game plan applied to different circumstances may fail.  The team must have the ability to adapt to changing environments, different competitors, etc.

In my experience three critical themes contribute the greatest to developing an environment conducive to strategy execution. 

  1. Make it Cultural.  What better way to make a strategy execution plan succeed than to make strategy execution a central theme within the culture of your organization.  The team in shipping needs to insist that they understand how their efforts contribute to financial sustainability (for instance).  If it isn’t clear, demand clarity.
  2. Make it Personal.  Why can’t a strategy execution plan be delivered with the entire organization comprising the principle audience.  Too many reports, plans and “strategies” are written by, for and to the general amusement of consultants and executives.  A litmus test: Does your junior accountant in accounts receivable identify with your vision and your organizational strategy?  Can she articulate how that strategy applies to what she is doing right now? Why not?
  3. Make it Practical.  Does understanding the correlation of my every-day tasks to overall organizational success need to be complex?  If it is, maybe it isn’t correlated.  Re-thing the strategy map.

What do you think?  What are your experiences?

October 17, 2012

Too many Chiefs?

I just finished reading an article by Gartner (“CEO Advisory: Information and Technology Leadership Jobs Are Proliferating”, October 16, 2012) introducing several new “Chief Officer” roles within corporate IT, or at least the trend as Gartner perceives it.

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It strikes me that there are already so many “chief officer” roles (including Chief Sales Officer, Chief People Officer, Chief Innovation Officer, Chief Marketing Officer, and on, and on …) that we run the risk of devaluing the intention behind the modifier.

To me a true CxO role is one that a) has statutory/regulatory responsibility (whether in a reporting/public company or not), b) has a clear strategic business role and c) has a seat at the “senior executive” table with the CEO and CFO and possibly has some level of exposure directly to the Board of Directors. Am I wrong? Doesn’t this devalue the “real” CxO roles (i.e. CEO, COO, CFO, etc.)?

I’m wondering if a true litmus test should be, a) “if your role reports to another CxO role, you’re probably not a real CxO” and b) “if there is already another (more senior) CxO role in your business unit, you’re probably not a real CxO”.

January 3, 2012

How to be a Democrat Dictator

“It is virtually impossible to find any example where leaders are not acting in their own self interest. If you are a democrat you want to gerrymander districts and have an electoral college. This vastly reduces the number of votes a president needs to win an election. Then tax very highly. It’s much better to decide who gets to eat than to let the people feed themselves. If you lower taxes people will do more work, but then people will get rewards that aren’t coming through you. Everything good must come through you. Look at African farm subsidies. The government buys crops at below market price by force. This is a tax on farmers who then can’t make a profit. So, how do you reward people? The government subsidises fertilisers and hands it back that way. In Tanzania vouchers for fertilisers are handed out not to the most productive areas but to the party loyalist areas. This is always subject to the constraint that if you tax too highly people won’t work. This is the big debate in the US.”

- Alastair Smith, Professor of Politics at New York University, from “How to be a dictator” (The Economist)

November 21, 2011

Three Types of People to Fire Immediately

I was forwarded this article the other day not knowing who the original author was. I liked the message though:

Want a more innovative company? Get rid of these folks. Today

We (your authors) teach our children to work hard and never, ever give up. We teach them to be grateful, to be full of wonder, to expect good things to happen, and to search for literal and figurative treasure on every beach, in every room, and in every person.

But some day, when the treasure hunt is over, we’ll also teach them to fire people. Why? After working with the most inventive people in the world for two decades, we’ve discovered the value of a certain item in the leadership toolbox: the pink slip.

Show of hands: How many of you out there in Innovationland have gotten the “what took you so long?” question from your staff when you finally said goodbye to a teammate who was seemingly always part of problems instead of solutions?

We imagine a whole bunch of hands. (Yep, ours went up, too.)

These people—and we going to talk about three specific types in a minute—passive-aggressively block innovation from happening and will suck the energy out of any organization.

When confronted with any of the following three people—and you have found it impossible to change their ways, say goodbye.

1. The Victims
“Can you believe what they want us to do now? And of course we have no time to do it. I don’t get paid enough for this. The boss is clueless.”

Victims are people who see problems as occasions for persecution rather than challenges to overcome. We all play the role of victim occasionally, but for some, it has turned into a way of life. These people feel persecuted by humans, processes, and inanimate objects with equal ease—they almost seem to enjoy it. They are often angry, usually annoyed, and almost always complaining. Just when you think everything is humming along perfectly, they find something, anything, to complain about. At Halloween parties, they’re Eeyore, the gloomy, pessimistic donkey from the Winnie the Pooh stories—regardless of the costume they choose.

Victims aren’t looking for opportunities; they are looking for problems. Victims can’t innovate.

So if you want an innovative team, you simply can’t include victims. Fire the victims. (Note to the HR department: Victims are also the most likely to feel the company has maliciously terminated them regardless of cause. They will often go looking for someone—anyone—who will agree that you have treated them unjustly. Lawyers are often left to play this role. So have your documentation in order before you let victims go, because chances are you will hear from their attorneys.

2. The Nonbelievers
“Why should we work so hard on this? Even if we come up with a good idea, the boss will probably kill it. If she doesn’t, the market will. I’ve seen this a hundred times before.”

We love the Henry Ford quote: “If you think you can or think you cannot, you are correct.” The difference between the winning team that makes industry-changing innovation happen and the losing one that comes up short is a lack of willpower. Said differently, the winners really believed they could do it, while the losers doubted it was possible.

In our experience, we’ve found the link between believing and succeeding incredibly powerful and real. Great leaders understand this. They find and promote believers within their organizations. They also understand the cancerous effect that nonbelievers have on a team and will cut them out of the organization quickly and without regret.

If you are a leader who says your mission is to innovate, but you have a staff that houses nonbelievers, you are either a lousy leader or in denial. Which is it? You deserve the staff you get. Terminate the nonbelievers.

November 5, 2011

I’ve landed.

This may come as a complete surprise to many, but I’ve decided where to call my “vocational home” for the next several years. I’m sure it isn’t a shock that I moved on as I seem to get the 4-5 year itch if I’m not starting something new. I guess I have Attention Deficit Disorder to some degree, though I’ve always said that ADD (or ADHD apparently) is a common, and perhaps even positive, trait of many consultants.

Anyway, I’ve decided to take a role at Microsoft. Specifically the role of Engagement Manager within Microsoft Canada’s Consulting Services organisation.

This role will help me to develop two clear gaps in my professional profile, specifically:

Large Company Experience

I’ve never worked for a large company. In fact, outside of working for a few different companies that had acquired my companies (and a handful of small start-ups), I’ve never really had a “proper job”. In some senses this role at Microsoft is my “first job out of University” (even though that was almost 18yrs ago).

A former business partner of mine and still close friend always said that we are in an ideal demographic. The opportunities that will be available to us in our 40s and 50s will be substantial given the leadership vacuum caused by the baby boomers leaving the work market en force. As such, he would say, we need to start preparing ourselves to be qualified for those opportunities as they come up.

The glaring gap in my profile is demonstrated success within a larger organisation.

Performance in a Focused Area

As an entrepreneur that has founded, developed and sold three different companies over the past 17 years, I’ve always had a role that could only truly be measured by the overall success of the company. The adage of “chief cook and bottle washer” is always correct insofar as you are simultaneously head of sales, finance, operations and delivery … even if you have a head of sales, finance, operations or delivery.

For some time I’ve always wondered how I would do if I was only measured on a few key areas vs. all key areas.

Why Microsoft?

There are three reasons I took this role at Microsoft:

  1. Familiarity. I’ve been partnered with Microsoft for over 10yrs and have developed dozens on dozens of great relationships in the Microsoft Canada subsidiary as well as down at corporate headquarters in Redmond. Not only that, but I have a very intimate knowledge of most of the products, services and solutions and feel as through I’ve almost been an insider anyway for most of my career. The team that I will be working directly with is in particular one of the highest performing teams within their practice globally at Microsoft… and I love a winning team.
  2. Potential. I believe that Microsoft has lost much of its “mojo” in the last 10-14yrs. I won’t go into my personal position on the why, but I can say that Microsoft is poised to either surge ahead past some of its key competitors or cede further ground all the way into effective oblivion. I’m certain the next five years will be a crucial period for Microsoft. I’d like to be a part of it either way as there is a lot of change coming.
  3. Lifestyle. This role at Microsoft addresses both key gaps in my professional profile, but still allows me to a) remain primarily customer-facing, b) be home most nights with my family and c) work within the community that I have invested heavily in for years.

Anyway … as with anything, this is a measured risk, but I want to throw everything into this.

Here goes …

(and if you’d like to contact me, you can reach me at Jame.Healy@Microsoft.com).

October 21, 2011

A New Chapter

Some of my most challenging and rewarding experiences have come in the last 3-4 years and I wouldn’t trade them in for the world.

Recently I decided to step down as Managing Director at Avantage Partners (www.Avantage.com), effective October 31, 2011 for several reasons:

  1. Term-based Leadership Assignments. At Avantage, we believe that leadership is not management and management is not leadership. We therefore instituted a policy from the very beginning that all leadership roles, or “leadership assignment” as we call them, would be term-based. My role as Managing Director for instance was a four-year term. I am now at the tail end of that term and this year has been one of transition to a new leadership team.
  2. Avantage has never been in a better position. Avantage today is stronger than it has ever been both financially and operationally. Our strategy of careful, measured growth has paid off through a period of economic uncertainty, while still allowing for the development of an extremely deep and skilled core consulting team.
  3. Avantage has a strong leadership team. I recognise that the company that I founded over four years ago is in great hands. A team led by Stephanie Hayes will continue to grow the company and ensure that it continues to be a preferred place to work for years to come.
  4. New Challenges. Ultimately though, after four years, I look forward to new challenges and opportunities. Avantage, in a sense, is an extension of two prior organisations that I co-founded, Form Consulting and Sunaptic Solutions. In a way I have been in this business (through all three organisations) for over 15yrs and I look forward to new challenges.

I am proud of some of the unconventional aspects of the Avantage business model that I developed, including “term-based leadership assignments” (vs. a management track), “total objectivity and transparency” (for ALL team members, including one organisational compensation model for all; total access to financials, accounting, legal and internal documents), and “open partnership” opportunities for all of our consultants, based on a completely objective and performance-based model.

We also demonstrated commitment to the concept of a “consultant’s consulting firm”. What we mean by that was providing a preferred place to practice for highly skilled professional consultants, within a narrow, specialised field. This allowed us to demonstrate that we were the best at what we do, deliver premium value at a fair price, and continue to develop deep capabilities in business integration as opposed to broad IT and business services skills.

We provided an extraordinarily flexible work environment, encouraging telecommuting and even pursuing “alternative markets” of skilled consultants (including stay-at-home professional mothers and remote workers outside of the Vancouver area).

I’m particularly proud of the research and development I led on The Connected Business Framework will no doubt continue, with further development of the various methodologies, tools and models that are included within the framework. Central to the Connected Business concept was that we felt that the key to commercial success in the present economic and political environment was a greater degree of “connectivity” between workers, trading partners and the services that we leverage internally and externally. The concept of “connectivity” was defined as a function of integration and of alignment. Our framework provides tools that helps to measure the current state of “connectivity” within the enterprise, develop a development strategy or roadmap to achieve a target state of “connectivity” as well as methodology on developing key underlining capabilities of the organization. We argued that organizations needed to look at internal processes, workflow and activities as services, each with unique contributed value, underlying cost and by extension “service margin” (value, less cost to deliver). It is only when we shift our thinking to a service-oriented mindset that we can find opportunities to drive greater integration and alignment of services between our workers and our trading partners, which delivers enhanced cost efficiencies, improved service delivery and a better overall competitive outlook.

Finally, I am most proud of the great name we have developed in the market place. We are known as highly skilled specialists that are clearly the deepest in the field of business integration, including shared service integration, service and process automation, application integration and workforce alignment.

As of the writing of this post, I have not yet committed to another opportunity, but have complete faith in the new leadership team to take Avantage in the direction that they deem best without the distraction of my continued involvement.

The team at Avantage remain, in my opinion, the best in the business and they have my complete support. I look forward to watching them succeed.

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