Mutiny of the Mounty

This is originally a post on Psychē, but since it is a little more ‘op-ed‘ than my usual pieces there, I thought I would cross-post. Also note, this is a longer version of the letter to the editor I submitted to the Ottawa Citizen.

RCMP Saluting Obama - Inauguration

RCMP by Connect2Canada

I have been watching with interest the tenure of William Elliott, the first Commissioner of our Royal Canadian Mounted Police who was not a RCMP officer. I am not surprised at this recent mutiny (that is what it is) but not because of anything to do with Mr. Elliott’s management style.

The Allegations

First, some perspective on the allegations against him: One of the biggest complaints is that Mr. Elliott is a petulant –some say passionate– boss, prone to outbursts and paper-throwing (unsubstantiated). It seems to me that the typical beat cop is subjected to more petulance from the public, or even risk of physical harm on a daily basis, than anyone sitting in a board room. You’d hope that the veteran officers reporting to Mr. Elliott were made of sterner stuff, and able to deal with petulance!  This is why I think this is an excuse, not the real reason they want Mr. Elliott out.

The second allegation suggests –more subtly– that Mr. Elliott isn’t capable to lead the force. Much has been made of him being a career bureaucrat, not a police officer. If we extend this logic, we would argue that iTunes dominance of the music business now means Steve Jobs shouldn’t lead Apple because he doesn’t have the requisite experience in the music business. Closer to home, do we suggest a veteran officer can’t lead the RCMP if they haven’t had experience in special weapons and tactics (SWAT), counter-fraud and forgery, musical ride, or any other one of the specialized functions in the RCMP? Top executives need to have the skill to learn what is important, and fast! A career RCMP officer may be good for morale, but the person that leads the RCMP needs to be a skilled bureaucrat first and foremost. Supporting this observation is the fact that the RCMP hasn’t fallen apart with Mr. Elliott in the top seat, and seems to be doing a better job keeping out of trouble (if you really are stuck on credentials, it is also worth pointing out that the RCMP enforces the laws of the country, and Mr. Elliott IS a lawyer).

Is the real reason  for the mutiny that someone is tired of waiting for their shot at the top job? This seems to me the most plausible explanation.

Mutinies Don’t End Well

Leadership change via mutiny doesn’t lead to desired results for anyone involved. Mr. Elliott’s job either becomes more challenging if he stays, or he loses it entirely. However this plays out, the RCMP further establishes its reputation as an organization that is stuck in its ways.

And then there is what happens to the new person if they succeed in their coup d’état: you still have all the same problems, but now you have nowhere to hide. After a 2-3 month grace period, employees will start wondering why nothing has improved with the change in command. While Mr. Elliott provided a convenient scapegoat for all the new requirements placed upon the force, the new Commissioner will see that the pressures that motivated Mr. Elliott are still present and now the buck stops with them. They will also have helped foster a new culture where mutiny is a valid means to affect change at the top, and even more organizational energy will be spent on politicking that before.

What To Do?

It is no surprise that Mr. Elliott has faces opposition from the start. He came in as a ‘fixer’ in 2007 when past commissioner Giuliano Zaccardelli left the force rocked by scandal and in crisis, and nobody likes to be ‘fixed’. The RCMP has a strong identity, much of it deservedly positive, but this also gives it a strong immune system when it comes to change. I’ve seen a new ‘outside’ CEO come in to a large organization in crisis (Nortel), and the strong reaction that it will illicit from those that want to protect the status quo.

Mutineers have to recognize this, and decide where their true motives lie. Are they really trying to make the RCMP a more effective organization, or are they trying to promote themselves? Those that can see the latter motivating their behaviour should remember the oath they took, and realize that their job is to help protect citizens, not promote their careers (maybe consider a job in the private sector).

Those that truly believe that changes Mr. Elliott is directing are going to harm the RCMP’s ability to protect citizens and enforce the laws of the land, need to make this very clear. The timing is perfect for them to give Mr. Elliott their support and explain where they see lines being crossed. By doing so, they can avoid a mutiny that will hurt the RCMP, and help create a more effective organization.

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Who Hasn’t Seen the ‘Last Lecture’?

Randy Pausch’s last lecture has come up in several recent conversations I have had, and I am always surprised to find people who haven’t seen it. I mean, the guy was on Oprah, everybody must have heard of this guy or his book by now!

We are coming up on the two year anniversary of Randy’s last public post to his blog (June 26th, 2008) before his death on July 25th 2008 of pancreatic cancer, so it might be a good time to remind the world (well my small world anyway) about his gift to the world: His Last Lecture.

If you still don’t know if you want to invest 70 minutes of your life on this, watch the 10-minute version that was on Oprah. But I challenge you to watch this, then not watch the 80 minute version; so pick… 80 minutes or 90 minutes.  😉

Brand Police: When Brands Go Horribly Wrong…

I doubt it's a 'Chevy'

There was a time when the marking teams held sway in organizations. When Nike was rising to the top, selling bits of rubber at 5x the competition’s prices, it seemed that a simple logo and marketing campaign was the key to success. But, as the saying goes, absolute power corrupts absolutely.

The marketing teams –drunk with this power– started enforcing brand etiquette, like some kind of secret police: “Our logo should never be used on a blue background!” or how about “You should never say Chevy, but ‘Chevrolet’!”

The latter isn’t some throwback to some corporate debate from the 80’s, it happened TODAY.

One of the biggest signs that a company is on its last legs (and I, unfortunately, have first hand experience with this), is that it starts flagellating wildly trying to do anything that will right the ship. Some marketeer has convinced the top executive at GM that it is somehow important to call their ‘Chevrolet’ brand ‘Chevrolet’ instead of ‘Chevy’.  It is under the auspice of ‘reducing confusion’ in internal communications:

“I get calls from international colleagues asking me ‘What is a Chevy,” said German-born GM spokesman Klaus-Peter Martin. “It takes quite a long time to explain to them.”

How long does it take to say “You know when you call Alexandre ‘Alex’, it’s like that.”

Instead they waste the time and energy of their employees bringing attention to this ‘issue’, instead of focusing on the key elements of building a brand. I can just imagine the remaining employees of GM rolling their eyes en-masse when –those that still read corporate communications– review this corporate memo. Basically, your executive is telling the world that its employees are too stupid to use your own company name.

Remember guys, your ‘brand’ is your promise to your customer, so how about you quit navel-gazing and BUILD SOME BETTER CARS!

So before you hit ‘send’ on that next company-wide memo, ask yourself: “Is this helping us build a better car?”

Want to Present Like Steve Jobs?

Few speakers are as anticipated as Steve Jobs. My Twitter feed is already filled with comments from the many people watching his WWDC keynote today.

Clearly nobody would be interested if he didn’t provide stellar presentations (performances?) to accompany his company’s stellar products; here is a great presentation that illustrates just how he does it:

OK, So What is With the Logo? –> ē

For my regular readers, you will notice my usual plea for ‘Support Wikipedia’ has been replaced by an ominous green ‘e’ with a bar over top. An explanation:

I have been busy. Since my departure from Nortel I have been working on my new consulting business called ‘Psychē’ and officially (according to the government) called ‘PSYCHE CONSULTING’ in the business of ‘ORGANIZATIONAL DEVELOPMENT CONSULTING’.  Apparently the government likes yelling capital letters.

So why an ‘e’ instead of a ‘P’? ‘P’ logos look stupid IMHO. Except for the Philadelphia Flyers logo, which I only just now realized is also a ‘P’, and it’s already taken.

E stands for engineering, and in this case ‘Human Dynamics Engineering‘ (AKA ‘HDE’) a new term I am coining for what it is I am doing. E is also for ‘Engagement’ which is predominantly what the business is all about, engaging employees in their work environments, large and small. Also, the bar above the ‘e’ is “a macron, from the Greek μακρόv (makrón), meaning “long”, is a diacritic placed above a vowel” to indicate the ‘long e’ sound (‘eeee’ not ‘uh’). This is to distinguish the correct ‘psyche’ from the two possible interpretations:

(Courtesy Reference.Com)

1. The one I intend: psy·che [sahy-kee] -noun “Psychology, Psychoanalysis. the mental or psychological structure of a person, esp. as a motive force.”

2. The potentially unfortunate: psyche [sahyk] -informal verb “to intimidate or frighten psychologically, or make nervous (often fol. by out): to psych out the competition.”

And as a complete piece of trivia, ‘e’ is also the Proto-Semitic ‘H’ which is often used by people as my nickname, and has a symbol that looks like a person with his/her hands up.

Psychē LogoIf you would like to learn more about Psychē please drop by http://psycheconsulting.org. The site is rapidly evolving to become a resource for improving the workplace through ‘HDE’.

While I had always intended to use the ‘e’ with a macron above, the much-improved style of the final version is attributed to my friend and graphic designer Wendy Koch. I will provide a link to her fabulous graphic design website once it actually exists (Wendy: hint hint).

So why have I apparently gone insane, ditched the potentially lucrative field of telecommunications, and started a consulting firm?

In short, during my tenure in the Nortel MEN ESAT team as ‘Career Development Prime’ and then the overall Chair, I spent a lot of time thinking about the business impact of the level of engagement in the organization. I also found a passion for the topic which has led me to study the area ever since, amassing 4+ years of practical experience and research into the field. Based on this background, I have come up with an approach that I think would be very effective in any environment.

Now, off to work…

Oh, and support Wikipedia!!

P.S. I have been receiving a heart-warming quantity of well-wishes for my new endeavour. I am going to need some time to get back to you all, but I plan to do so!

I’m GLAD We Didn’t Own the Podium

14 Golds, and #14 being the Men’s Olympic Gold, no Canadian could have asked for a better result! What an amazing Olympics!!

But there were at least a few Canadians that did expect more.

Men’s Pursuit Speed Skating Gold Medalists by mariskar

Own the Podium, a >$110M investment to get Canada to the top of the medals list, almost ended in disaster. It was only the last few days of the games where we went from 5th place and a decent medal count to #3 with a record gold medal haul. If not for the last minute push, all this money would have seemed a poor investment.

Own the Podium is patterned after the success of other countries –notably Australia– who created similar programs netting great success in the summer games. Perhaps it is the way that media has decided to cover these initiatives, but I got the strong impression it was expected that money would directly translate into medals. Effectively, you could buy your way to the top of the podium.

This makes some intuitive sense, one of the longest standing arguments about the Olympics is if you should allow professional athletes into the games. Professional athletes have their own ‘Own the Podium’, where their professional status allows them to perfect their endurance and skill with full-time focus. Is there any surprise that the dynamic of Olympic hockey or basketball completely changed when pro athletes were allowed?

We need a lot more than money to own the podium.

As I was watching Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir put on the performance of their life to win gold in Ice Dance my ears perked up when I heard that they had been dancing together for 13 years. Wow, they must be able to read each other’s minds when they are on the ice! 13 years reminded me of the 10 years or ‘10,000 hour rule’ that Gladwell popularized in Outliers, describing the time commitment to become exceptional at something.

There is much debate about this ‘rule’, but I think you will also question how much a program launched 5 years ago (Own the Podium was Launched in 2005) can impact the success of stars that have been 13 years in the making?? Clearly the impact isn’t zero, our success has improved, and the athletes sounded very genuine when they thanked the Own the Podium after winning their medals.

If we ‘owned the podium’ with a 5 year effort I think we would be selling ourselves short.

Germany & USA, the countries that beat us in the medal standings, have been developing their amateur athletic programs for years via various means (note they were also the top 2 in Turin 2006 and in the top 3 in 2002): The USA through their strong varsity programs, plus a concerted effort to beat the Soviets during the cold war, and Germany through cold war funding on both sides, plus a strong desire to rebuild a national identity tarnished by two World Wars. Each of these countries are benefitting from the strong community of athletes, coaches and facilities that have been build up over decades of olympic success.

Owning the podium needs a concerted and consistent effort supported by funding and a rich support network of people that have experienced their own olympic success.

And that’s the good news.

With our 14 gold medals, we have now doubled the number of golds that were won by Canada in the previous two olympics (Turin 7 & 7 in Salt Lake), and have a new generation of people who have stood at the top of the world in their sport. This new generation will inspire and teach our next generation of athletes and non-athletes the commitment, effort and mindset required to succeed, with (I hope!) the sustained support of Own the Podium or programs like it.

Isn’t $110M a lot of money for olympic success? Actually, it is a pittance. For perspective, $110M is about what a new high-tech start-up has to raise to make it from inception to having a product to sell to the market. Its well known that 9/10 businesses fail. With this $110M, and the much more significant volunteer effort that it supports, Canada stands on top in a record 14 events, and is world class in 10’s of others. Or to put it another way, about $3 per Canadian to remind us how great a diverse-yet-united nation we are, and how proud we all are to be Canadians.

And that is why I am glad we didn’t own the podium: Because we still have something to strive for, something to justify the continued long-term investment that is required to be competitive on the world athletic stage, and reap the many direct and indirect benefits for years to come. And to remind us it isn’t that easy!

What do you think?

Success at NORTEL

Now there is two words you probably haven’t heard in a the same sentence for a while!

During a presentation to a large consulting firm on Chip & Dan Heath’s ‘Made to Stick’, things got rather casual/direct and I ended up presenting some of my challenges at moving forward with my next career (which we’ll call ‘management consulting’ for lack of a better term):

  1. How do I package the ‘Made to Stick’ principles for my purposes?
  2. How do I translate this information session into a consulting opportunity for me?
  3. And the biggie… How do I address the fact that the last 12 years of my career has been with a company the public associates more with management ineptitude, than an environment that could foster an effective ‘management consultant’?

One of the attendees said something which took the whole room aback: “Why don’t you use this ‘Sticky’ method to convince people that there was ‘Success at Nortel’?” After a pause, and about a minute of laughter from the room at what was clearly a joke, he says: “No, I’m serious, wouldn’t that prove your point?”

While others in the room suggested that the employee in question may be off some important medicine, I told him I really liked the idea, didn’t see a path to get there, but I would certainly give it more thought!

That challenge stuck in my mind until I had a lunch meeting with one of my previous Nortel managers (ironically).  I was discussing how my new venture was going to be focussed on a systematic process to increasing customer and employee engagement in organizations to boost productivity, boost profit and –in Seth Godin’s words– increase the level of humanity. He matter-of-factly said: “Wasn’t our network planning team exactly that [success via customer and employee engagement]?”

WHOA!

Some background: Network Planning is a function that exists in all companies that build telecom networks, but was rather unique at Nortel because we were a company that sold equipment to build telecom networks, and we offered this service for free. As a simple analogy, imagine an architect who works with you to help design your home for free, before you have have even committed to buy it.  Sounds like a bad business model doesn’t it?  Not so fast!

Vendor-provided network planning services started at Nortel (AFAIK) and became an industry table-stake over the years as clients clearly decided to do more and more business with companies that would help them design their networks, evaluate new technology and specify the equipment required. This was widely replicated by our competitors with all companies in our product segment –even the smallest startups– having this function in some way, shape or form.  Some will charge for it (a bad idea, but that is worthy of another post), others offer it as a free service.  I joined Nortel to become part of the planning team, stayed in it for 7 years, unable to find a more appealing job in the whole company.  Anyone who had experience in Nortel Network Planning will tell you how great a team it was, and most of its alumni have moved on to great success in roles such as PLM, market development, sales and planning leadership roles at other companies.

Gallup Research, in their fabulous book Human Sigma (little to do with Six Sigma by the way) identifies two hierarchical pyramids that characterizes what is required for customer and employee engagement to exist.  Gallup asserts, and I certainly concur, that companies that strive to engage customers and employees significantly improve business results. I am going to apply the elements of one of these two pyramids to Network Planning at Nortel to highlight why it was so successful:

Elements of the Customer Engagement Pyramid

  1. CONFIDENCE : Can I trust the company, and do they always deliver on their promises? The kind of business Nortel is in has long product lead-times and product cycles. It is often very hard to develop a rapport with key decision makers purely through standard interaction on products, especially since these decision makers are far removed from the products themselves (they may never actually see them). The planning function allowed for regular and deep discussions about what the customers problems were, allowing us to help them do their job.  By doing this with great competence, and to schedule, we could build trust and deliver on our promises in a parallel stream to our products. To perform this function needed great trust between the carrier and vendor, because we often had as much –or more– information on their network than they did to do our job well.
  2. INTEGRITY: Does this company treat me fairly? Again, planning was in a position to develop a rapport with decision makers that sales or operations could not.  Sometimes this was even taken to extremes: I can remember one case where the customer was under time pressure, and asked us to rework a network design over the Christmas break, which we did (it showed we had engaged employees!).  Reactions like this clearly showed the customer that we were committed to their business and –more importantly– to the individuals that were decision-makers.
  3. PRIDE: Am I proud to be their customer, do they treat me with respect? I think another company providing you with extremely bright and energetic people to help you do your work is a great sign of respect! The planning teams were often providing these clients with detailed network designs and studies which would in-turn be presented with great pride as their own work. In other cases, the planners themselves became an integral part of the customer’s team, even assigned their own office space in some cases.
  4. PASSION: This company is perfect for a person like me, I can’t imagine a world without this company. What more proof do you need of this than the customers hiring the planners to be their own employees? This happened in several occasions. Because the roles of the people we were interacting with were typically cost-centres (not revenue generating) they were often under-staffed and under-appreciated.  They were asked to evaluate many complex options of how their networks were to evolve, and had many potential vendors & products to consider.  Nortel would come in with great talented people and give them a helping hand, and make our customer contacts look like miracle workers with their own executives. If you had someone make you look like a star to your boss, could you imagine a world without them?

So according to Gallup, we had created a function that created a very high level of customer engagement!

Were the results of having the planning function directly measurable? Unfortunately not*, but here is a few data points:

  • The function still exists to this day. It would seem obvious that functions that do not directly contribute to revenue were great opportunities for trimming in a company with severe financial trouble, especially after >80-90% of the workforce has been cut! The function had such a reputation in the industry, and was so leveraged by other teams like market development, sales, R&D and PLM, that I don’t think it was ever considered for the chopping block, even while many other valuable functions were thrown over the side.
  • Alumni of this function were heavily recruited by established industry players and start-ups because of the relationships these people had made with customers, and their broad network & business perspective.
  • As already mentioned, planners were regularly imbedded as key members of the customer’s own organizations or even hired by our customers.
  • Many of the networks in existence today were designed by planners from Nortel with Nortel equipment (the latter was the big payoff).

If I need to make a case for ‘Success in Nortel’, I would have no trouble positioning the network planning function as a great success story that was about engaging people and not technology.  It built stronger relationships with our customers, allowed a deeper understanding of the customer’s challenges and requirements, and helped Nortel build better products while creating a large pool of Nortel employees who could speak the customer’s language.

So now I have the content of the presentation, now I just have to go put it together.

*I have since figured out a way to do this, but you will have to drop me a line for that advice.

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