At the Forward Edge with State Farm, Enterprise, Pizza Hut

May 3rd, 2007

The Forward Edge is that point where the capabilities of your business, interact directly with customers. This typically comprises a small number of the capabilities in an organization, but this the most important part of a business. There is something to learn for our organizations from looking at our experiences as customers at the Forward Edge. I have had three notable Forward Edge experiences in the last few weeks.

I was rear-ended a few weeks ago by a driver with State Farm insurance. We reported the accident from the scene and got a police report. State Farm took everything they needed from that initial report and the police report. They arranged for the appraisal, scheduled the repair at my car dealership, handled all the paperwork with the dealer, arranged for the rental and payment of a rental car, and paid every cent of everything. Their interactions with me were timely and professional.

Enterprise rented the car to me during the time the car was being repaired. They picked my up at the dealership when I dropped off my car, had the car ready when I showed up, called a couple time to make sure I was happy and that the service had been friendly, checked me in quickly and drove me back to the dealership when it was time to pick up my car. Their interactions were too warm and friendly from my perspective, I don’t need an emotional connection when I’m renting a car. The calls to check on my satisfaction both came a bad times during the business day and took too long. But they were consistently friendly and warm.

On Friday, I tried to order pizza from Pizza Huts website. My password wouldn’t work. I tried the option to resend my password, but after 30 minutes had never received my password – I even checked my spam folder. I tried to register again but I couldn’t because I had already used my email address. I tried to look up the menu, but couldn’t because the system said I was in the middle of placing an order. Their use of technology frustrated me.

So I called customer service. They could not reset my password or make sure it got sent to me. They had to forward the request to their web master. It took four days for my email and password to get to me. They knew this was a problem that people were experiencing. They couldn’t take my order either. They gave me the number of the local Pizza Hut to call. When I called, the person that took my order was obviously very busy and let me know that in the future I could place my order on-line. Their use of technology did not serve their business either.

State Farm clearly has their capabilities aligned with the customer’s needs and expectations at the Forward Edge. Their use of technology to integrate with their partners and keep track of everything was seamless. Enterprise also has their capabilities aligned with the Forward Edge. I wonder how many other people feel that the tone of the service reps on the phone calls were too invasive or took too much time with pleasantries. Pizza Hut has the trappings in place of serving the customer, but their capabilities are not aligned with my needs. I sure the ordering system saves them a lot of time and expense, but I may never order from Pizza Hut again.

Pizza hut made an unhappy customer and wasted a lot of their time because their website has a bug and their customer service reps don’t have access to the right tools. How well do you understand your capabilities at the Forward Edge? What do you have in place to understand the customer’s needs and satisfaction at the Forward Edge?

Blog Update Complete

May 2nd, 2007

We have completed the move of our blog over to If you are still receiving this blog at, please update your links. Part of the upgrade involves an update to the way we will blog.  We will try to provide focused blog entries you can read in less than three minutes. We will continue to publish the e-zine with a more detailed article every week.

Back in the Saddle

April 22nd, 2007

Its been a couple weeks since there has been regular activity on this blog. I have not been actively blogging for a few weeks. Spring Break with the family, a sinus infection, a series of client commitments, and collaborating with some very exciting thought leaders in the project management community has consumed my available time.

But there is a silver lining. My research and the collaborations regard the social aspects of project management. This is a area rich with opportunity to improve the performance of project teams and therefore the ability of organizations to execute on their strategy. I look forward to making for the lapse in activity by sharing insights in this area.

Why Can’t We Just Get Along

April 12th, 2007

Is it that the Iraq War has made Europeans dislike North Americans, or is it that North Americans feel that they only have the right answers? I am not quite sure, and recently I have been involved in a Battle Royale. I am talking about a large software company where both sides have acted like school children on the playground. In this corner, North American sales team. And in this corner the Rest of World sales team. Let’s come out fighting fair.

But they aren’t fighting fair. Both teams have lied, cheated, and stolen opportunities from the other. Can this go on? What is the cause? Is it just about the wallet or is it about power? Is it that the compensation model is broken, or is that there is a lack of leadership or not enough negative consequences to change behavior?

The history between senior executives is literally hostile, and brokering an agreement can’t currently be done with both of them in the room. Getting to the VP’s and Directors has been difficult because of time constraints and the pressure being put on each team at the top.

Being the facilitator is exciting because our rule is simple – brutal, and I mean brutal honesty!! Defining the rules of engagement will take hard work and deep understanding of emotional intelligence and defining the social complexity and mastering collaborative communication (if it even exists).

We have now had two meetings where no punches have been thrown and we discussed the social complexity that exists and the organizational constraints that limit collaborative interaction. Getting everyone to talk about the obstacles is progress. 

I would be very interested in hearing what others have done in similar situations.

Resistance to Change

April 9th, 2007

We have typically promoted three types of resistance to change: fear, embarrassment, and loss.  These have their roots in people’s innate desire to be successful. They are probably built-in very deeply to our survival mechanisms from when being successful meant staying alive.

Fear deals with uncertainty about the future. A person may realize that there is potential to do things better than they are currently doing it. But if the way they are doing it isn’t getting them fired and they aren’t completely certain they can be at least as successful in a new way, they will resist the change until their fear is addressed.

The important thing about addressing fear is that fear is in the perspective of the person who is facing the change that matters, not the people initiating the change. Historically, we keep doing what we have always done because it kept us alive.

Embarrassment deals with admitting that the way we have done things isn’t the best way to do it. People have a very strong drive to be right and to be appreciated. When you point out that they aren’t doing things the best way, they tend to become defensive. You don’t understand how things got that way. It sure is easy to come in after the fact and point out the problems. You must think they are stupid if you think they don’t understand the flaws in how they do work.

Embarrassment is dealt with by letting people tell their story. Let them know it is clear that they made the best choices they could over time. Its ok that things got the way they are because the got the way they are.

Loss is much broader. People have made an investment into developing the competence that they have been rewarded for and that gives them influence. Any of these points can be an emotional sticking point, loss of investment, competence, rewards, or influence.

Explaining how things will be better for the business on the new .NET platform doesn’t help the guy who spent the last 20 years becoming the absolute expert in the COBOL application. Explaining the focusing benefits of social marketing techniques doesn’t make the sales person who spent the last 20 years developing relationship more valuable. The manager who has thrived in chaos and been rewarded for it will resist the effort to put in standard processes.

When we change the way we do things, we can’t replace the investment made by individuals in developing the competence that has led to reward and influence. We pull that out from under them. Loss is the most difficult challenge to deal with. We can commit to supporting a new investment, although it is difficult to replace 20 years of experience. People want to be valued. Try treating them with a great deal of respect and recognition for what they have accomplished. This will help with the transition, but won’t necessarily set them up for a complimentary level of success in the new way of things.

The bottom line is that overcoming resistance to change is critical to the success of most strategic changes. Typical change management approaches teach us to communicate, communicate, and communication again. But, notice how of the sources of resistance are all at a personal level. Explaining how the change will benefit the business, or the manager, or even the customer isn’t sufficient.

Next time you are facing resistance to change, don’t push – listen. The person resisting understands the benefit to the business. It is fear, embarrassment, or loss that is motivating the resistance. Often it is a combination. Spending time understanding and addressing resistance at its root may seem like an unneccassary investment. However, the investment is almost always less than the cost of the resistance itself.

HR as a Discipline

April 4th, 2007

One of the core problems in getting the most out of people is that HR gets treated as a kind of black art. Everything is wrapped in a veil of compliance, secrecy, and touchy-feeliness (I made that word up). The HR practictioner’s are often generalists who are trusted (they deal with compensation information) and well liked (that’s what HR is about isn’t it), but there is a lack of business discipline in their approach.

According to’s new article, HR Dinosaur’s, some HR departments view HR as an "art" rather than management science. The article advocates technology as a solution. While I don’t agree that technology alone will solve the HR problem, there is a need for systematic approaches to managing the talent in the organization. Here are four key problems from the article that arise from a lack of business discipline in HR.

  1. Silo’s: As long as their jobs remain a mystery, they are powerful. They build power by limiting information and controlling access to management on anything HR related. They use the need for secrecy around compensation and HR issues to drive this secrecy. But the strategic power of HR doesn’t come from compensation, compliance, or handling behavioral issues. There needs to be consistency, transparency, and partnership between HR and the organization when it comes to getting people in the right jobs.
  2. No measurements: What are the result metrics associated with HR? There don’t tend to be any. If there are any, the metrics are around how quickly jobs are filled. Not around how well the jobs are filled. Or, they are around legal and compliance issues. Everyone has the training required by law and all the paperwork is in place to protect the business from law suits. There is no value add in this, just risk management. This is like everyone else showing up to work. The metrics should be to make that there are no Knowledge, Skill, or Ability related obstacles to successful job performance. HR should be making sure that qualified people are getting hired, placed, developed, and measured so the organization can achieve its strategy.
  3. Relationships rule: Instead of using business results to determine HR investments, they are made based on who has the best relationships with HR. Want more money for some special training you think will benefit your employees, take the HR person to lunch and smooth talk him.
  4. They are not experts: This is my favorite quote from the article. They are just "highly paid HR assistants who help general managers fill out forms, get through the performance appraisal process and handle troublesome people issues." 

We have reached tremendous value in organizations through process improvement and technology. In an economy that is moving towards service and knowledge as the accelerators of value, we need to establish systematic ways to leverage the talent in our organizations. This is done through the application of systematic business discipline to placing, developing and measuring the peformance of the people in our organizations.

Is HR serving a purpose beyond compensation, legal compliance, benefits, and behavioral issues in your company? Does your organization have a systematic method for ensuring that the right decisions about talent are being made? How important is this to your company today? How important will it be in the next five years? Is it time for your HR organization to start running HR with business discipline?

Forward Edge of the Customer Area

April 3rd, 2007

Over 20 years ago, as a young Marine, I learned about something called the FEBA, or the forward edge of the battle area. This is where our troops engage with the bad guys. This is where things are messiest, and the point where every logistical aspect of the Marines are focused on supporting.

Now, forget for a second that we are talking about combat. Let’s talk about serving our paying customers. This edge is the most single most important aspect of your business. Let’s call it the forward edge of the customer area, or FECA. It is also where things are messiest. Sue Willet at Bird’s Eye View has a great cartoon that scoffs at the implementation of automation to control costs at this point.

Serving our customer’s is what it is about. I haven’t read about or been in a single strategic planning meeting where the objective was to reduce our ability to provide service to our customers. We need our best, most prepared, most flexible people there. We need to focus our all of our automation, logistics, and process support at preparing these people to deliver value to the customer.

Yet, in the interest of cost savings or  consistency we make decisions about compensation, outsourcing, and automation at these points that result in a less favorable customer experience. If you did a detailed inventory of the capabilities within your organization, it is likely that less than 15% are actually directly interacting with the customer. This is where effectiveness is more important than efficiency. In every other aspect of your business, you can focus on efficiency, but not here.

Unwelcome automation, inflexible service, blaming the customer for lapses in the organization, failure to deliver what was promised to the customer — and I experienced all of these in the last week. What are you to make sure your customers have great experiences? What are you doing to focus all other aspects of your business on the forward edge of the customer area?

Crucial Conversations

April 2nd, 2007

I was reviewing the February 8, 2007 Silence Fails data today. Over 80% of people are engaged in at least one significant organization wide initiative they know will fail to achieve the advertised results. Let me say that again.

Over 80% of people are engaged in at least one significant organization wide initiative they know will fail to achieve the advertised results.

60% of the people don’t believe the important issues have been discussed.

On projects that have failed, 60% knew it would fail right away or shortly into the project and 90% of the people new half-way into the project.

In over 80% of the cases, the project could have been gotten back on track if changes had been made. In 70% of the cases people tried to get to the person that could make the change but were unsuccessful.

We know from reviewing past research that most projects fail to deliver the promised results. The thing is, the people on your projects know before it happens, and in most cases while there is still something to be done about it. Why aren’t we having these conversations in our organizations.

For the most part, because no one is asking. And if someone tries to bring it up, no one is listening. We punish people for bringing bad news or being nay-sayers. We think they don’t understand the problem.

We need to learn to listen. How should we listen. As usual, Hal Macomber is out ahead of this issue in Revisiting Two Great Wastes.

Here’s one thing to remember. Adopt an unconditionally positive stance when speaking (and listening). Operate from a concern for keeping the promise of the project. When you take care of the client and the promise(s) you made to the client you can’t go wrong. Don’t attack people. Instead, express your concern or worry that continuing on the current path might lead to failure. And if you get chastised for speaking up, then you know you are on the wrong project.

Organizations, the initiatives to create change, are getting more complex. At the same time, the rate of necessary change is increasing. Isn’t it time we learn how to listen in our organizations?

The Map and the Terrain

March 31st, 2007
This comes from a paper I wrote with Dr. Stephen Walsh a couple years ago. One of the points of the paper is that we  believe pretend that the management methods that we practice are working, because we are doing what we were taught or have seen other effective managers do. But we know they aren’t working. But without other insight, we continue to pursue what "has always worked in the past".

This might come from the Swiss Army Survival Guide. "When lost in the woods, if the map doesn’t agree with the terrain, in all cases believe the terrain."

A project plan, an executive’s vision, and the team members’ perspective all tend to be based on how things ought to be or were supposed to be. That’s the map. The terrain is what is important to the success of the project. You can’t manage from the map. You have to get grounded and manage from the terrain. That means deeply understanding: your objectives and obstacles, what has really been accomplished and what needs to be done (whether the project plan reflects it or not), the performer’s motivations, the organization’s values, and what we personally are capable of and interested in achieving. Why spend a lot of energy pretending that a map is valid when we know that it isn’t?

As innovators in management we need to look for the realities of the people, the organization, the work, and ourselves to be successful. When the map becomes more important than the terrain, we aren’t helping anyone.

What will you be doing in 10 years?

March 30th, 2007

Once again, Tom Peters provides inspiration for what we are trying to do at Synaptus. In his post yesterday Now Don’t You Worry Your Little Self…,  he raises the alarm about 40 million jobs moving out of the US in the next 10 years.

40 million jobs, is that a lot? According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics there are about 150 million Americans in the work force. 40 million jobs moving overseas is over 25% of the jobs in the US. What could cause this to happen?

China has 798 million people in their labor force. India has 509 million workers available in their labor force. Their real wages are far below the US and Europoe. As education rises in these countries and communication technology improves, businesses will move work to where it can be performed well-enough at the best cost.

Stop and think about what this means. The way companies do work is going to change.  We are just entering the knowledge-based, or project-based, or information-based world. My kids will be entering the job force as this world becomes predominant. It took 50-100 years to get really good at managing industrial based organizations. The businesses and individuals that figure out how to thrive in this new world of work are the ones that will survive and grow.

Aligning a dynamic organization with strategy, understanding and improving processes across your business (regardless of your organizations boundaries), productive collaboration, talent management, and project management become key skills to build and manage organizations that will thrive now and survive in future.

The ability to gain competive advantage from these shifts, both for you and your organization, is there today. On the other hand, 10 years is a long way away. You can wait for someone else to figure out how to run businesses profitably and manage the new workforce. I chose not to wait. What will you be doing in 10 years?