The bureaucratic condition

Working in organisational transformation certainly produces some home truths. The latest for me has been realising  how deeply bureacracy resonates with human beings. I mean as a default behaviour, especially in times of stress.

In employees, stress is routinely caused by not liking your job; not having a purpose; not being properly trained, or emotionally or intellectually equipped for the job. Stress generates resentment, which is vented on colleagues and customers, thwarting brand delivery.

Change programmes also brings stress. Change makes the bravest manager and  the most insouciant Millennial  pause for thought. You can make the change progamme safe. You can get the CEO to champion it. You can ask  the marketing team to communicate it. You can whip the workforce  into a revolutionary frenzy on a teambuilding weekend. But, come the moment to create change, individuals still tend to hold back. Sometimes it’s like watching animals in a zoo ,where the cage doors have been opened …  but not even the Tiger is venturing out. Continue reading

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Broken teams

Building branded businesses takes true collaboration over time. Teamwork is hard to build and easy to lose. Years ago the management guru Tom Peters warned leaders to watch for three warning signs of a broken team:

  1. Constant firefighting in your business. Any leader will tell you the thrill of fixing daily problems quickly palls.
  2. Micromanagement becoming necessary. Deadlines slip, so the leader steps in and imposes tasks and timelines. And guess what? They’re not met either.
  3. Every discussion becomes aggressive or sensitive quickly. Staff become defensive; their stories (reasons for non-completion) become wilder and more impassioned. Fingers point. Then people begin to fall sick.

Nothing much has changed since Peters’ time and it’s unreasonable to expect that it would. Basic human behaviours take a long time to evolve, and each new generation seems to arrive in the workplace without any useful learnings from its predecessor.

But broken teams can be fixed; we do it all the time. It requires a top level decision to acknowledge the problem, and commitment to put it right. Turning the staff to face the customer helps. Continue reading

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Brand Value

Kantar Millward Brown recently released the 2018 BrandZ Top 100 Most Valuable Global Brand rankings with surprising news. 8 of the top 10 brands are technology or tech-related, with the top five being Google, Apple, Amazon, Microsoft and Tencent respectively. These are brands that use technology to understand consumer needs and then shape an ecosystem of services to fulfill them.

This is also the first year that growth was reported across every category and that non-U.S. brands outstripped U.S. brands, with 14 Chinese brands entering the lists.

The 2018 rankings show the list’s largest annual increase in value of nearly $750 billion (+21 %), for a total brand value of $4.4 trillion. Which begs the question, just how do you value a brand?

Wel,  it turns out there are more opinions on that that needles on a porcupine, and the issue is just as prickly. In a way, everyone is searching for something to replace the line item Goodwill in an auditor’s valuation. In the old days Goodwill seems to have been a thumb-suck attempt to value everything that an auditor coudn’t put a definite number to, but that made a business attractive. If we accept that most businesses are brands these days (no matter how well- or poorly-defined) then brand value – the combination of functional and emotional impact of a business on customers – is a strong contender for this role. Continue reading

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Culture: not fluffy

When CEO’s talk to impress they like to reel out the numbers, hit you with ratios, pump up the pipeline. Fun stuff for big boys and girls;  but none of it meaningful if you don’t have the people and culture to deliver it.

So the whole issue of how you bond together a group of people into a company, then line them up and point them in the right direction, is becoming of much greater interest. How can an Aid organisation claim to feed the world if the price charged by its employees is sex? How can the biggest advertising group on the planet retain client confidence when it masks its CEO’s departure under what can only be described as unfortunate circumstances by hiding behind a hastily imposed confidentiality agreement. How much will it cost to completely rebrand one of the world’s largest logistics groups after the CEO, in whose family name it trades, is taken to court to answer charges of manipulating elections in Africa?

Even the smallest companies need a culture. A defined way of doing things that guides the behaviour of the  Chief Technology officer and the Turn-Boy. It doesn’t have to be high-minded. It simply needs to say how we , the Company, have decided to do things around here. To be fair. To be fun. To be uplifting. To be careful. These are all simple human behaviours that any staffer can use in his daily work – and that can become recognisable attributes of the organisation. Continue reading

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Banks are doomed

Many people in Africa are still ‘unbanked’. Lucky them. As the global banking industry enters its final phase, ‘the unbanked’ are spared exposure to the largest failure of organistional culture on the planet.

Marketers know banks have the worst brand diferentiation. That’s been true for decades: you simply can’t tell one bank from another except by the colours of its  logo.

Banks have never had very positive cultures. Historically pompous and bureaucratic, their hold on the hard-earned cash gave them authority they didn’t merit. To their customers, their communication was inept and impersonal. To their staff, they communicated by the infamous bank circular – the corporate equivalent of junk mail.

Now their complicity in global, regional and local fraud (witness the latest National Youth Service scandal in Kenya) has turned their dysfuctional cultures to face the customer with-wild eyed paranoia. Now, as far as banks are concerned, the customer is not just a nuisance, he is a liability who could land Bank Directors in court (faster than they might overwise get there.) Continue reading

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Creativity needed

Last week I attended an important event at Safaricom’s prestigious Michael Joseph Centre in Nairobi. ( I told them I had just come from the Chris Harrison Building , but they didn’t laugh.)  Hubris aside, it was a great evening because the focus was on art created by young people. Business people had gathered to mark another successful creative competition from MASK http://mobileartschoolinkenya.orgDespite the ‘K’ in the name, MASK had solicited entries from all around our region – Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania and Kenya. The art came in many forms – sculpture, photography, illustration and painting –  and the quanitities were such that it had to be digitised for judging

Recent studies to assess the creativity of young African people have made a startling discovery. Very young children, indexed at 200 on whatever scale was applied, saw a rapid reduction in measurable creative output. By age 21, their index has dropped to as little as 2%. This supports what employers have been saying for some time – that the discipline, rote learning and conformity in African schools is blunting the edge of the Continent’s most valuable asset. One businesswoman I spoke to admitted, ‘I used to draw when I was young; but at school they told me ‘ “stick to something practical”.’ She’s now a Claims Manager in Insurance, but what might she have become?

Not a single young would-be artist who stood on stage cited a teacher as inspiration for their interest in art. That’s an indictment,because creativity can surely be taught and learned. According to creativity expert Edward Be Bono, ‘only five hours of creativity training given to unemployed youth increases their employment rate five times’. In Kenya, six million young people aged 18-25 are unemployed. There is virtually no art in school: only two per cent of secondary schools offer art in Kenya (but 85% do in the US). Continue reading

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Brand Culture must include safety

There’s a growing realisation that ‘brand’ really means the market perception created by everything an organisation does. Sometimes brands put their staff or customers in harm’s way, so this now needs proper consideration as part of a QHSE assessment.

In 2016 an Amtrak railway train travelling at 100mph smashed into a maintenance train on the same track. Two workers died and 39 passengers were injured.Many factors contributed to the accident, including athe failure to take the track out of service while it was being repaired. Many other safety protocols were violated: both the workers killed and the train’s driver tested positive for drugs. The National Transportation Safety Board report was blunt: “Amtrak’s safety culture is failing, and is primed to fail again unless Amtrak changes the way it practices safety management. Investigators found a labour-management relationship so adversarial that safety programmes became contentious at the bargaining table.”

It went on: “Investigators did not find a culture of compliance. Rather, they found a culture of fear on one hand and a normalisation of deviance from rules on the other hand. Amtrak’s focus on rules produced widespread non-compliance. That is ironic.”

Here in East Africa the emphasis on mandating compliance to an increasing maze of rules is making life harder for even the most responsible employee. (And around 50% of our employees are actively disengaged.)

Even when it comes to rules about good stuff like customer experience standards, we make delivery a series of obligations. Articulated in lengthy SOP’s and tidily ring-bound, they gather dust on our office shelves. Continue reading

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Branding post-merger

After two decades of progress and innumerable calamities, the supermarket category in East Africa is again in flux. This time the highly professional retail brand Carrefour is coolly selecting the best growth opportunities from the wreckage of the supa-duka boom.

Over in UK, German discounters Aldi and Lidl have disrupted that market and forced a bold merger initiative. Asda and Sainsbury’s were facing market share decline, so they have decided to seek competition authority to join forces. This would give them a starting position of 31% market share. Category leader Tesco holds 28%.

I use the words ‘starting position’ advisedly. Too many mergers focus on immediate benefits: cost savings and efficiencies take priority over value creation. But this union of two different brands – one known for value and the other for product quality – will need a marketer’s eye. If it was being conducted in East Africa we might well end up with something called Sainsda – with a mishmash colour scheme; banal mission, vision and values: discombobulated staff and disenfranchised customers. A handicapped beast that the Carrefour crocodile would snap up. So, this story is worth following for the lessons we can learn.

YouGov Brand Index rates Sainsbury no. 2 only to Marks & Spencer; but Asda No.8 of 26 brands.  But detailed analysis suggests opportunities for the two to work together to exploit each other’s differentiation.  Mike Coupe, the Sainsbury’s CEO – now infamous for singing “we’re in the money” to calm his nerves before a TV interview –  is very clear:

“These days many companies operate more than one brand without confusion.” Continue reading

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Understand brain capacity

I was listening to a CEO address her team on their execution of the brand strategy; and what began quite reasonably turned into a repetitive rant. I’ve seen it before, so many times. So afterwards I asked why she felt she needed the repetition, to which she replied ‘I wasn’t sure they were getting it.”

Knowing her audience to be a group of sharp people, I had my doubts about this. I probed a bit more. “There was nothing in their faces to tell me that they had got the point and were prepared to address it.”

I then made one of those synaptic connections that (at my age) make me grateful. My mind went back to some behavioural profiling we have done recently with another leadership team.

During that session, it became clear that many senior people were using impassiveness too distance themselves from the heat of the immediate issue. It’s not that they didn’t get what was being said; they were simply reserving their position. By contrast, more junior people often wear their hearts on their sleeve and their opinions on their face. They have not yet learned to dissemble.

But whether your staff plays its cards close to its chest or animates every response, you have an obligation to make things as easy as possible for them to understand. Continue reading

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The human touch

Notable economists have projected the loss of one third of all jobs to automation by mid-2020, a daunting concept. Here in Africa we are fully part of this global revolution. We’re a connected continent full of bright young people. In most of our economies most of them are unemployed or underemployed. Will AI deny or create opportunities for them?

I hope it will create them, and with some reason. As automation continues to develop over the next few years, these technological advances should assist organisations to complete process tasks faster. That means we humans can spend more time serving customers better.

I also believe that it is impossible to synthesise humanity, and especially so in Africa.  Although Western societies have actively suppressed intuition since The Enlightenment championed Reason, here in Africa we still place great value on how things make us feel. That handshake that wasn’t quite right, the eye contact that flickered, the empathy that cracked a little too soon.

Our brains are hard-wired to protect us. They examine our surroundings and make thousands of pattern-matches for us every minute. Looking for the mismatches that alert us to trouble; and the matches that signal security.  Consumer brains do this when they are examining brands, choosing products from the shelf. Client brains do it when they evaluate professional services: It’s not what you’ll do for them, it’s how.

Property developers and architects use AI to demonstrate new concepts. But the involvement of people who can discuss properties, help negotiate deals and work through buyer issues will be difficult to replace. Continue reading

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