JaCSA Graduation Event


This past week I had the opportunity to speak to the graduates of the first Jamaica Customer Service Association Certification Programme.

It was a wonderful event, to be sure, and I was surprised to discover that I had become known for the work I had done to define what I call the “3 Levels of Service” that I had witnessed here in Jamaica.

It was a bit startling to be told that I was “the Frien’ Service Guy” — based on one of the three levels of service. They had read and assimilated the points had I made in that blog, and apparently it had become something of a mantra for them.

This was exciting, particularly as I remember when the idea hit me, and I thought it was something of a joke for me to share with my friends. I never imagined that it would be included in a class on customer service, or that students would be using the idea in such a playful, and innovative way.

I shared this with my wife, and noted how powerful it was to give away ideas. It gave proof to the idea that I have on my website that ideas are strengthened when they are shared (a concept taken from “A Course in Miracles”). There are many who think, as I used to do, that ideas are stolen when they are shared, but in this respect “I’ve come a long way baby!”

I was encouraged by some to turn the ideas into a book, which is something that I think I would enjoy doing. In the meantime, I’ll be testing all the ideas here in this blog before fixing them up for “prime time.”

HRPS Conference 2007 and HRTrends

I thought this blog was particularly interesting, as it was a blog created specifically for a conference, as a way to share information about the HRPS Conference 2007.

I thought that this was one very quick way to connect to what’s happening, especially for those who could not attend. It could be updated from session to session throughout the conference days, and allow those who are at their desks in their offices to feel like they are a part of the happenings.

This is one of those solutions that could be particularly effective for our regional conferences, given the high cost of travel from one country to another.

Also of interest on that page are the results of a survey done on HR Trends.

Hopefully, there will be a conference next year, as it seems to cover some useful information.

Creating a Signature Experience


I recently read an article in the Harvard Business Review that spoke to the idea of “Creating a Signature Experience” for employees.

The idea is simple — what do employees experience as they work within the company?

I have worked as a consultant to several, and can think of a few examples of companies that left me with strong impressions. A few were so “strong” I have vowed never to do business with them again — this as a paid contractor.

For employees, some companies create the experience of chaos. Others are stingy. Some are challenging, with high standards. In others, anything goes.

I don’t think that any one experience is necessarily better than another, but I do get the impression that few companies actually give much thought to the experience they are creating for their employees.

This is too bad, as a good reputation leads to good people being hired, and vice versa. Also, some business results are better achieved by certain corporate cultures than others. For example, a culture of accountability is always a good thing — never bad.

Companies need to define the experience and its various drivers if they are serious about the destination they are headed in.

The Cost of a Broken Promise


In an earlier post, I mentioned this idea I have of a promisphere.

To take the idea a bit further, I have been wondering: what is the cost of a promise that falls through the cracks?

In other words, what happens when a promise is broken, by virtue of it being ignored, forgotten, or misplaced?

The follow-up question is simple. If companies found a way to improve the degree to which promises were kept, what difference would that make to the bottom line?

To answer the first question:

  • Cost to the the individual: I don’t know about you, but I remember those people who are unable to keep promises. I don’t ask them to do very much, or if I must, I replace their faulty memory with my reminder system. This costs me time and effort, but it also causes them to lose a bit of their personal brand in my eyes. I may stop doing business with them altogether if I realize, for example, that keeping the promises they make is just not important to them.
  • Opportunity cost: Projects fail, and opportunity costs are incurred as the project’s goals remain unmet
  • Rework cost: A failed project sometimes must be restarted. Efforts are duplicated and precious resources are wasted.

These seem to be the main costs of a lack of promise management.

The way I would fix that with some magical technology is that I would have a device hanging around my neck that detects whenever a promise is made. This “promise-keeper” would record the promise, the due date and the accountable person. It would automatically remind the person at regular intervals, and also send a request for an update whenever I wondered for just a
moment what the latest update might be.

In other words, I would not have to worry about promises. This system would do all the work for me.

Of course, others might find it to be a pain, because it would offer a perfect way to remind both of us when a promise was due. I would be able to accept hundreds and thousands of promises.

Unfortunately, such a system does not exist.

But Promisystem does, and is well on its way to becoming a magical way to keep track of promises.

Developing Trinidadian Managers


Last year Framework Consulting issued the findings of a study of Trinidadian executives in Jamaica (the report is available by sending an email to fwc-triniexec@aweber.com.)

In the study, we interviewed over 30 Trinidadian executives on their experience working in and leading companies in Jamaica, and the report distills the best practices that we found.

A new Trinidadian manager to Jamaica needs to keep in mind certain Guiding Principles, and also to learn some new habits.

Principle #1: Accord Respect
Above all, a manager must be respectful towards each and every employee. A manager is conferred with greater hierarchical power than they would normally receive in Trinidad, and when they come to Jamaica this power may not be well understood.

Practice #1: Be deferential and humble, until it starts to almost feel silly. Use Mr. and Mrs. wherever possible. Start conversations in formal language, and in a very formal manner, as if one were meeting the Queen of England. Say Good Morning, Good Evening and Good Night in a way that connects with people. Look for the moment when the formality is broken, and seize it, because at that moment the real conversation is about to start.

The manager is expected to be the most formal person in the room, until the environment becomes relaxed.

e.g. Say Mr. __________ or Mrs. ______________ even with good friends in the workplace

Practice #2: Don’t tell jokes in public at other people’s expense. Pecong has no place in the Jamaican workplace. It is a dangerous practice in this environment, to be used only in private, and only with the closest of friends. Never use humour to pull people down, or to give any kind of feedback, even jokingly. A Trinidadian manager is better off practicing jokes at their own expense.

Principle #2: Stay in the Role of Manager
Jamaicans will expect a manager to always be the manager — 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. They don’t expect them to behave, dress, socialize or drink differently after hours, on weekends, on holidays or at parties. It is better to play ignorant, and ask for help about how to interact with people in a new social environment.

Practice #1: Dress the part of manager, even on weekends, until it becomes abundantly clear that the culture will accept any deviation from the expected.

Practice #2: Drive a clean, modern car.

Principle #3: Demonstrate a powerful social conscience
If there were ever a “History of Jamaican Workplaces” book written, the dominant themes would be force and exploitation. The idea that a company exists primarily to enrich its shareholders is one that is simply unacceptable. A Trinidadian manager must learn that a Jamaican company exists for everyone in society and in the community.

Practice #1: Seek to give back to the community outside the company in tangible and visible ways.

Practice #2: Give gifts to employees at Christmas and Easter time, and create programmes to assist employees’ families that are well publicized.

Principle #4: Understand an Executive’s Phases of Adjustment
Coming to fully appreciate Jamaican culture is a process, and the Trinidadian manager needs to understand the phases that they will go through as they adjust to the new environment. Read the section on Phases of Adjustment for Executives from the report.

Practice #1: Get help. Cultivate a network of other Trinidadian executives outside the company. Get outside help if the transition is proving to be difficult.

Principle #5: Maintain the Hierarchy for a Long Time
While Jamaican workers appreciate being included in decision-making, executives need to be seen as the decider of important decisions (until sufficient trust is built). Workers will quickly criticise a manager who delays making decisions by trying to be too participative.

This is not to say that the hierarchy should be maintained forever. Instead, it should be abandoned only slowly, and carefully, as the manager transforms his relationship with the workers. It often takes longer than the Trinidadian manager thinks it should, but once the foundation is built, he/she will frequently find that the depth of loyalty that’s generated is deeper than they found in Trinidad.

Practice #1: Ask for input to decisions, but stand ready to make a command decision.

Practice #2:Break instructions down into the simplest details, and be ready to follow-up intensely. The average workers education level in Trinidad is much higher, and it shows.

Learning Points

Learning Point #1: Individual Application

One manager’s habits and style may not work for another. Each manager must develop their own style, and experiment with different approaches until they find one that works for them. This takes some willingness to feel uncomfortable as they adapt practices that might be laughed at in Trinidad.

Learning Point #2: Experimentation

Learning Point #3: Learn about oneself is the key to changing

Learning Point #4: Most practices will feel unnatural and phony

Many of these practices will feel unnatural at first, and would fail miserably if attempted in Trinidad. The point is that they work here in Jamaica, and they are exaggerated somewhat in order to provoke a Trinidadian manager into a different mode of action. The mistake that many Trinis make is to assume “all a we is one” when in fact the workplaces in both countries are very different.

Many of the ideas in this article were developed from the Caribbean Acquisition Project and the book “Why Workers Won’t Work” by Kenneth Carter. They are available as downloads from the Framework website (http://www.fwconsulting.com).

Opposable Thinking


As I wrote the last post, it occurred to me that it was connected to a prior post I made on the Opposable Mind.

In that post, I made reference to another article that made the point that breakthrough thinking came from an ability to hold two opposite concepts in the mind at the same time.

Now, I wonder if success as an entrepreneur has something to do with an ability to hold multiple accountabilities within a single human being — a little bit like the opposable mind, except there are more than two opposing concepts at play, and more like 5-10 different accountabilities.

This idea seemed to resonate with me, and may explain why so few are cut out to run their own business. One of the most difficult disciplines to learn as a new business owner is that one may move from one accountability and skill-set to another in a matter of moments.

Also, a good business owner knows that their company is only as strong as its weakest accountability. If, in the case of a solo professional, their accounting is in poor shape then that is the weakest link, and the link most likely to cause the company to fail. If the company is not run in a systematic way, then that in turn is the weakest link that will cause things to fall apart.

Being a Multi-Disciplined Entrepreneur


Recently, a relative breakdown in a key result — following up on sales leads — had me ponder where I have not been managing myself properly even as a sole operator (which is the role I play most of the time in the central affairs of Framework).

It occurred to me that I had failed to manage a relationship between one part of myself and another.

In a prior post, I wrote about how the ideas of Michael Gerber transformed the way I think about running a small business. It lead me to think about the roles I play as actually divided into eight positions or accountabilities: Leadership, Management, Financial, Marketing, Lead Generation, Lead Conversion, R&D and Client Delivery.

The hard part, I am finding, once these areas have been defined, and operating manuals have been written for each, is how to manage them separately when in fact there is only a single person behind all of them

In other words, how does “Financial” relate to “Managerial”? How does one hold the other to account, when in fact behind the scenes there is only one person… me?

To start out, I began to wonder what it might be like to have a “Managerial” meeting each week to look at the different accountabilities, as if they were held by other people.

And this seemed to provide the key: to manage myself as if I were only the Manager, for at least a few minutes, and the ask the questions that a Manager would ask, with the concerns that a Manager has — without immediately flipping into one of the other roles and enter into instant “problem solving mode”.

I was shocked to find that this was different from anything I had ever done before.

I could immediately see that there were several things I had not been doing effectively in several accountabilities. For example, I could see that as the Manager I was not doing a good job apportioning time between accountabilities. I needed to put more time in Lead Generation and less time in R&D. I happen to have a natural affinity for the latter, so I was not surprised to find that I was spending more time there than I would if I could see the entire picture.

In essence, the Manager was not doing his job of directing time away from one accountability to another. That was happening because there were no regular meetings to do the kind of thinking that only the Manager could do. Also, I was not spending enough time as the Manager to clarify the questions I needed to get answers to. I started to develop the discipline of presenting the question, without immediately trying to get an answer.

When I discovered the imbalance, I saw that the Manager needed some different kind of information each week in order to manage each accountability, and in particular the ones that were not performing up to snuff. The result was a series of requests that would be directed towards each accountability for some new reports, and for a couple of new plans of action.

For example, here is an example of a conversation that I had in my meeting with myself in 2 roles:

Manager — “I need a report that shows me how well the Lead Generation activities are working. I need this weekly, and it also needs to show me how the conversations to enter a new company are going, and which companies we are targeting. I need this in our Monday morning meetings.”

Lead Generation Manager — “OK Boss, I’ll have a prototype next week.”

Manager — “Thanks. Mr. Financial Manager, I need a weekly report showing our projected cash-flow for the next 12 months. The same applies — it’s for our Monday morning meetings.”

Financial Manager — “Yes Boss, will do. That will help me to give you the information you need, no more and no less.”

Then things got interesting, because then I discovered that I was essentially making myself promises that I needed to keep, from one accountability to another.

In another prior post, I mentioned the ground-breaking work by my colleague, Scott Hilton-Clarke, on a system for executives to manage projects. In a major breakthrough, he has evolved that work radically by evolving it to manage the smallest possible element in a project — a promise. He calls the latest version of the programme “Promisystem.” (It used to be called Executive Slice.)

It struck me that I could use his programme to manage myself in different accountabilities, as if I were different people. As I started to use it last week, I found it to be a good start, as I start to develop a certain “firewall” between the thinking I do in each accountability. The software helped me to stay in one accountability, without drifting into another. As I used the software, I found that I was more demanding of results, and more focused than when I bounced around.

Something similar happened when I had my first meeting in one of the accountabilities. In Promisystem, I responded to the request from the Manager, and started to come up with some new ideas. I could see that my old way of thinking — mixing up accountabilities — had become routine.

Now, the truth is that Promisystem is not made for this purpose. It really is built for the executive who is managing promises from different people. It really is not made for the individual business owner who is managing him or herself, but with a few tweaks it could easily be adapted by Scott and his team.

I hope he makes these changes at some point, because I could expand the way I am using Promisystem.

I also discovered that my company, like any other, is as strong as the weakest accountability. The one that I am least proficient in is the place where the company tends to experience problems. In the case of the sales breakdown, I saw it as a Managerial problem more than anything else.

Within each accountability, I discovered that there happens to be a mix of routine, maintenance items and others that are strategic and novel. Of course, the new and novel tend to be more exciting, while the routine items are more likely to fall to the side.

What I am asking myself is how do I turn routine, maintenance-driven items into must-do’s? Also, how do I teach myself new habits and what kinds of supports can I use to keep the habits going?

This is a question I am also asking with respect to the 2Time Management System I am developing, as it requires the self-teaching and learning of new habits over a protracted period of time.

One new one I am looking at is Joe’s Goals, and other one is a plain sheet that I picked up from Productivity 501.

I am open to new ideas on this.

Setting and Maintaining Standards


In a prior entry, I mentioned the fact that when I look for consultants and volunteers to work with here in Framework, I find myself looking for a particular standard.

In thinking about this, I realize that my standards are similar whether I am looking to hire a copy-editor to review a single article, or someone to lead programs to CEO’s of critical client companies.

There are certain basics that I look for, and the best business-partners are those who are able to match my own commitments to the following cornerstones, which I would call “The Unreasonable Commitments”:

  1. An Unreasonable Commitment to Keeping Promises
    This is especially true for basic practices such as starting and ending events on time, keeping due dates and working as hard as possible to create an environment in which everyone keeps their promises, and acts as if their word is an important part of who they are. They are careful in what they give their word to, because they treat the act as an almost sacred one, even when it seems to be unimportant. They break their promises infrequently, and only under duress.
  2. An Unreasonable Commitment to Mastery
    I like working with people who love what they do, and give 100% of themselves as often as they can. They are always looking to learn and master their craft, and are willing to practice the basics over and over again (a la Tiger Woods) for smaller and smaller gains that add up to greater expertise in whatever they might do.
  3. An Unreasonable Commitment to Communication
    There are some people who can be counted on to reply to business email, and to keep channels of communication open with those who they consider to be business partners. They just don’t drop off the radar of others, and work hard to stay in touch. They know that “80% of success is showing up” according to Woody Allen.

These are “Unreasonable Commitments” not because they are all that crazy, but just because in the Caribbean environment it may well be that no-one else is willing to keep these commitments.

Make no mistake about it — our regional companies are (in general) operated at lower standards than the average international companies. There are a few exceptions, it is true, but they demonstrate the rule.

Individuals that insist on these three commitments will appear to be “Unreasonable” simply because they are operating very, very differently and it might be hard to understand at first why a consultant should be on time even when the client never is.

On a slightly different note, my wife insists that it is easy to make money in Jamaica. All one has to do in business is the basics — return phone calls, answer the phone, be a little pleasant most of the time, keep the most basic promises and stay in touch in some way.

I think she has a point.

An Opposable Mind


Reading an article today reminds me of why I love new ideas.

Usually, it’s not because the notion is absolutely foreign to me. Instead, the best feeling is when I am able to recognize some piece of thinking I have already done, taken to an entirely new level by someone obviously much smarter than I am.

In the July 2007 Harvard Business Review, an article entitled “How Successful Leaders Think” stopped me in my tracks. I realized upon reading it that the author had articulated for the first time in my understanding the way I try to think, when I do my very best thinking, or designing.

Roger Martin, the author, starts by quoting F. Scott Fitzgerald, who said that “the ability to hold two opposing ideas in the mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function” is the sign of a truly intelligent individual.

His modern day research of successful corporate leaders backs this up.

He compares the importance of this kind of intelligence with the evolution of the opposable thumb. Human beings have the most developed opposable thumbs in the animal kingdom, and have been able to create magnificently simply because of their ability to maintain a sustained and precise tension between the fingers. Without it, there would be no ability to write, build, paint and use tools.

This mechanical tension is likened to a certain mental tension – the ability to hold competing ideas in mind at the same time, without discarding one or the other prematurely. In other words, an “opposable mind,” according to Martin.

With an opposable mind all sorts of magic can be created, and the good news that he delivers at the end of the article is that it can be learned, grown and deepened through practice, just like any other skill.

We are born with this kind of mind, he says, but often become anxious because we prefer simplicity and clarity to ambiguity and complexity. This leads us to develop simplistic answers, and to cling to them as if they were gospel truth.

My grandfather did not believe that man really landed on the moon. It was just simpler to believe that it was all a hoax.

Many believe that the earth was created in 7 days, that Eve ate an apple in a garden, that Noah built a boat that saved all creatures from a flood and that Jonah was literally swallowed by a whale which somehow happened to be a fish.

Over time, mankind has progressed in many ways, but not without a fight.

Our tendency is to seek the right answer and discard the wrong – quickly and permanently. Education systems that encourage this kind of thinking even into the college years don’t help the situation.

Martin notes that what he calls “integrative thinkers” welcome complexity, and are therefore able to see the entire problem at once, without trying to break it into small pieces. They also question cause-and-effect relationships that are over-simplified e.g. “if we pay people more money then they will be more productive.”

He gives the example of Red Hat, the software manufacturer, whose CEO was able to abandon the conventional thinking of his industry to create a new revenue model for itself, allowing it to stay ahead of its competitors.

If there is one thing that I aspire to bring to my clients, it is solutions that are based on opposable thinking. At the times when we have been able to achieve these kinds of breakthroughs, it truly has been a collaborative effort that pulls the best from their direct experience, and a fresh look at their issues that I sometimes bring.

While it’s not the easiest path to take, it usually is the most fruitful.

Study on Workplace Engagement


I found this study astounding, although not altogether surprising.

It was published in the 2003 HBR in an article entitled Fair Process: Managing in the Knowledge Economy, by authors Kim and Mauborgne.

Their central finding is that employees will commit to a manager’s decision — even one they disagree with — if they believe that the process the manager used to make the decision was fair.

In other words, employees care as much about the process used to derive the outcome, as they do about the actual outcome themselves. This says much about how Caribbean managers need to manage, in order to gain the buy-in that is needed to change behaviour and produce a positive culture.

For example, in the case of the Jamaican workforce, the book Why Workers Won’t Work as well as our project report from the Trinidadian Executive in Jamaica both describe the importance of respect in the local workplace. (A summary of the book can be downloaded by sending email to fwc-whyworkers@aweber.com, and the Trinidad report can be downloaded by sending email to fwc-triniexec@aweber.com.)

In coming to decisions in the Jamaican workplace, it is critical that managers go the extra mile to demonstrate a certain kind of respect for the workers. The following paragraph from the HBR article seems to fit in perfectly:

“Fair process responds to basic human needs. All of us, whatever our role in a company, want to be valued as human beings and not as “personnel” or “human assets.” We want others to respect our intelligence. We want our ideas to be taken seriously. And we want to understand the rationale behind specific decisions. People are sensitive to the signals conveyed through a company’s decision-making processes. Such processes can reveal a company’s willingness to trust people and seek their ideas – or they can signal the opposite.”

The authors mention 3 basic principles of fair process:

  • Engagement — involving individuals in the decisions that affect them by asking their input and allowing them to refute the merits of one another’s ideas and assumptions
  • Explanation — everyone understands why final decisions are made as they are. All inputs were considered impartially in the interests of the company. This helps people accept the decision even if it runs counter to their own opinion.
  • Expectation clarity — once a decision is made, managers state clearly the new rules of the game. What are the news standards, and how are people to be judged?

The authors also make the case for 2 psychological kinds of justice, distributive and procedural (which I will simply refer to as Model A and Model b.)

In Model A, the idea is that when people get what they deserve (compensation or promotion) they feel satisfied with that outcome. They will reciprocate by fulfilling their obligations to the company to the letter.

In Model B, trust and commitment are built, which produce voluntary cooperation, which in turn drives performance, leading people to go beyond the call of duty by sharing their knowledge and applying their creativity.

I remember a funny story told to me by a good friend of mine over 15 years ago, that illustrates the difference between the two (thank you Tom B.)

Some kids used to pass by an old man’s house that had a zinc roof on the way from school each day. It was the kind that made a very loud sound when it rained.

One day, they decided to pelt his roof just to hear the sound it made, and sure enough it was loud like gunshots!

The old man, who had a reputation for being crotchety, ran out, and shouted at them and waved his stick, looking quite upset. The kids ran away laughing.

The following day, they told their friends, and even more of them showed up to stone the old man’s roof, hear the loud sounds it made, wait for him to come out, watch him wave his stick and have a good laugh.

On the third day, even more showed up, and the same thing happened, except that the following morning, the old man woke up with an idea.

Once again, the kids showed up, but this time he was there waiting outside. He called them over, and told them that he would pay each of they $1 to pelt stones on his roof that day.

They cried with glee- was was not only crotchety, he was also insane!

They pelted, he paid up and they ran off happily.

The following day, they showed up again, and this time he apologized, as he only had a quarter for each of them. They pelted his roof, and took their money and ran.

The next day they came, he again apologized and said that no he had only pennies to give.

They refused — he couldn’t expect them to pelt stones on his roof for that little money! So they left in a huff, never to return.

In summary, the old man was able to manipulate the kids into adopting Model A, when they had in fact started out by using Model B. Once they moved to Model A, he could take control of their desires.

So it goes for many employees, who respond to their managers using Model A because their managers are using it themselves.

The authors presented the following summary in the form of a chart:

Model A

  • Tools: resource allocation economic incentives, organizational structure
  • Attitude: Outcome satisfaction “I got what I deserved”
  • Behaviour: Compulsory cooperation “I’ll do what I’m told, or else”
  • Performance: Meets expectations

Model B

  • Tools: Fair Process (engagement, explanation, expectation clarity)
  • Attitude: Trust and commitment “I feel my opinion counts
  • Behaviour: Voluntary cooperation “I’ll go beyond the call of duty”
  • Performance: Exceed expectations (self initiated)

The authors make the point that fair process is rare in companies. When managers are asked for evidence that they are fair, they point to equitable treatment, authority and freedom given, resources provided and rewards earned.

The authors say that these answers confuse fair outcomes/results with fair process.

Most managers are loathe to get too much into engagement, explanation and expectation clarity for reasons that I find particularly pertinent to managers in the region.

The first reason has to do with power. Some keep the rules for success and failure vague as a way to keep control. Others use memos, speeches and purely one way communication to keep away direct challenges. For these managers, fair process is a threat to their authority.

The second reason comes from an unconscious belief that people will only care about what’s best for themselves in the very narrow, short- term sense. However, the research shows that people will go along with decisions they disagree with, and might impact them negatively as long as they perceive the process to be fair.

In other words, they can understand that short-term sacrifices are sometimes needed to advance long-term interests — if they trust the process.

N.B. The authors note that fair process is not the same as consensus, compromise or democracy.