Sunday 29 September 2013

Clarity of communication

A text from my personal trainer last Thursday evening said:

"If its raining I'll come to yours, if it's not - see you at the park in the morning."

Fairly clear we both thought and went to bed.

On Friday morning:
  • I woke to no rain and therefore drove 5 miles east to the park.
  • He woke to rain and therefore drove 5 miles west to my house.
A wonderful example of so many things - not least because by the time the PT session was due to start there was no rain at either location!

For me, however, a great reminder that its easy to see things from our own perspective, especially when we have logic to support it, and forget there's another perspective that may be as equally supported by logic.

Alison Smith
Inspiring change inside and out

Monday 16 September 2013

Planetary sustainability

Last week I explored examples of people in business doing the right thing when anonymity was lost and empathy was felt for another person. In another blog I also discussed the impact of the hard wired desire for self preservation that sometimes supports wrong, rather than right, doing.

If right doing isn't always a given, especially when in the context of corporate social responsbility, a subsequent blog started to explore how an organisation's cultural web might be used to increase the likelihood of support for right doing.

Today I'd like to think a little more widely - about planetary sustainability!!

It's not going to be a blog with facts and figures that prove or disprove global warming, nor will it discuss how many planets full of resources we need to sustain the current population. I'll leave that to others.

What I'd like to do is continue the conversation and exploration from recent blogs. That is if right doing comes from empathy and/or the threat to personal survival then what does that mean when we're wanting people to seriously act in ways that support planetary sustainability?

Threat to your personal survival
You'd like to think that a link between the current state of the planet and our personal survival could be easily made. 

Many do see the link and do act believing their personal survival is at stake. Many, however, do not, and get annoyed with those on their 'the end of the world is nigh' soap boxes. The evidence may be there but its not easily digested and the impact is still seen as too far away to inspire change in many of the population. 

I don't wish to suggest its not a great strategy, and wholly support the many organisations and people packaging the information and data in ways that hope to convince people of the threat to their personal survival.

I just think we're missing something otherwise why hasn't it worked and why are things seemingly getting worse?

Indigenous cultures had, and continue to have, empathy with nature and the planet. This empathy led them to relate to nature and the planet in ways very differently from how we do currently. 

If my hypothesis about empathy leading to right action is correct, then the solution to planetary sustainability isn't just more data and persuasion but more empathy for nature and the planet. It can't only be about logical persuasion of other's minds, it has to be about inspiring their hearts too and that will only come as they each individually find empathy with the planet.

Which then leads to the questions of: how do we get empathy for the planet? And how do we help others get empathy with the planet?

I'd love your views. Here are a few of mine to get us started on what I believe could be a very important solution to getting 'right action' with respect to the planet. 
  • Education that is about being with and in nature
  • Organisations connecting to nature 
  • More recreational pursuits that connect to nature
  • Games, books and apps that connect to nature (not sure I mean FarmVille but am open to be persuaded that it does facilitate more empathy for nature and the planet)
  • Using nature as our teacher - I'm a practitioner of landscaping your life which is a profound tool because, I believe, of its link to nature 
As you can see not an exhaustive list and one I'd love your input to.

Over coming weeks and months I look forward to exploring further with you this hypothesis and solution.

Alison Smith
Inspiring change in purchasing - inside and out

Picture courtesy of Pixabay 

Sunday 15 September 2013

Organisational culture, CSR strategies & ethics

Yesterday I hypothesised that to inspire leaders to support sustainable and responsible actions these actions needed to be linked to organisational survival. That is so long as someone felt they had a choice they might opt for a different less sustainable and responsible one.

In the blog I suggested that to use 'survival' as the motivation for support for a corporate social responsibility (CSR) strategy would require understanding the organisational culture.

One model I think enables a better exploration of organisational culture and the potential areas to be considered is Johnson, Scholes and Whittington's cultural web as shown above.

The cultural web is a means of documenting the 'taken for granted assumptions' of an organisation. It's this culture that drives strategy and therefore it's this culture that you can use to get support for the CSR policies you're wanting to implement.
  • Stories - what stories are continually told about and within the organisation, who are the heroes and the villains, how is success defined, what about failure, what character traits do they support, what character traits do they disapprove of? How can these patterns hidden within the stories told by employees be used as you develop your strategy for CSR? 
  • Symbols - status symbols, language and jargon are all characteristics of this element of the cultural web. Use of appropriate language and threat of loss of status may play a part in a CSR strategy. 
  • Power structures - which individuals, departments and business units are the most powerful. Stakeholder mapping will help you understand how to best manage the complex relationships that exist within your organisation and how best to facilitate support for your strategy.
  • Routines and rituals - if you try to implement a strategy that is counter to 'the way we do things round here' you're increasing the chances of failure. How can you support 'the way we do things'  in your strategy, its implementation and how you sell it to others? 
  • Control Systems - what do the measurement and reward systems in place say about the organisation? How can your strategy support these? 
  • Organisational structures - you can spend a lot of time winning over managers who have no say what so ever in the decision to support, or otherwise, your strategy. I'm not saying talking to other managers isn't important, especially if their support will be needed to implement any strategy. However you do need to focus your effort on those making the decision. 
Like any model I suspect the benefit when using the cultural web comes in identifying the one thing that's been ignored whilst developing the strategy. That is we're likely to have considered many of the above unconsciously without referenced to these six headings. Although we may view them differently when using 'survival' as the criteria for obtaining motivation.

Would undertaking an analysis of the cultural web for your organisation identify alternate means of obtaining support for your strategies? As it will certainly be easier to understand if this works when applied to a real situation do please let me know how you get on. 

Alison Smith
Inspiring change in procurement - inside and out

Saturday 14 September 2013

Personal and organisational survival

In an earlier blog I argued that many ethical decisions are compromised because personal survival is placed as higher importance than ethics. I can get on my soap box about integrity and doing the right thing, but we're hard wired to survive and need a huge amount of will power to override our internal programming that prioritises personal and family survival.

With thoughts of that blog still in my mind I attended the CIPS Supply Management awards. The overall winner was a team successfully raising the awareness and changing behaviours with respect to sustainable purchasing. 

Before the dinner I spoke to one of the other nominees for the award. As we spoke I realised that for that organisation the choice to support sustainability was clear cut and the right decisions were being made. Then the realisation dawned that the right doing arose because the organisation felt its survival was conditional on not doing the opposite. Brand and customer loyalty would be seriously jeopardised if they didn't get sustainability right - ROI, profit and competitive advantage would all be detrimentally impacted too. 

I wonder therefore how the internal programming to survive can, and is being used by procurement teams to inspire more businesses to do the right thing? That is how can we link sustainable action to survival of our own business and how can we link sustainable action to survival of our suppliers' businesses.

Perhaps more importantly what does that look like in terms of specifics:
  • Certainly following through on not dealing with suppliers who don't take the necessary action (all talk and no action is a strategy that's bound to fail if survival is being used as the motivation).
  • I also suspect culture will play a big part in how to tell the story to leaders within an organisation to enable them to accept the urgent need for changes in direction. 
Another blog last week suggested having empathy also supported right doing. I wonder how powerful a strategy that uses empathy and personal survival might be in removing the resistance to more sustainable and responsible actions in business? I suspect that's the topic for a future blog.

Alison Smith
Inspiring change inside and out

Picture courtesy of Pixabay

Friday 13 September 2013

Does empathy ensure we do the right thing?

"To understand someone you need to walk a mile in their moccasins" 

Recent blogs I've written here and on supply management have touched on doing the right thing. On making the right decisions irrespective of the personal impact on yourself. After conversations in the last 48hrs I realise that it's really anonymity, and therefore lack of empathy, that supports the wrong decisions being made.

Earlier in the week, after a very long day that started at 0500, the travel lodge I had booked with called to tell me they were moving me to a different hotel due to an "unexpected maintenance problem" with some rooms. A euphemism I now realise for "we've over booked". Certainly if those tweeting at the time and the 2 others booking in at 0030 as I did, all from different hotels but all given the same excuse, is anything to go by. 

After a delay of an hour to get me to the substitute hotel I was still annoyed the next morning. The receptionist couldn't have been more helpful. Taking it upon herself to book a taxi this morning and arranging for payment before she'd got hold of the original hotel to approve her decision. She understood the issue, made the right decision and acted on it. Excellent customer service. Those making the decisions to over book I'd suggest do that because they don't get to see the consequences of their decisions nor get eye contact with the customers. 

As I was driven towards Kings Cross in the taxi we had occasion to need to be let into a queue of cars and then later to let others in. Eye contact, as anyone in a queue not wanting to let anyone in, is the key. Try not letting someone into a queue in front of you, having got eye contact first, and you'll know what I mean.

Which reminded me of the recent undercover boss here in the UK. In all instances, once the 'boss' experienced firsthand what was happening to those who worked for them, they immediately made changes. Contracts were changed, conditions enhanced, communication improved, opportunities discussed. Fairness and respect that had been conspicuous by their lack were once more regained. 

For me, in all the examples above, the right thing was done because empathy was experienced. 

Do you think it's empathy that triggers human nature every time, and if it is I wonder how we can use this in other situations to ensure the right things gets done? 
  • Paying the living wage - I know watching a friend fail to live without help from others, working 40 hours a week, in conditions that don't meet minimum health and safety standards, has opened my eyes to the necessity for us to mandate its payment. 
  • Truth telling - this blog explains more.
  • Stopping murder in Syria - I know there's not a simple solution and it's not a subject I generally stray into. I can't, however, help but feel if we saw the whites of the eyes of those impacted, or even the light go out in the eyes of those murdered, we'd do something more than we are. 
How do you think we can bring more empathy into the world so 'doing the right thing' becomes the norm?

Alison Smith
inspiring change inside and out

Thursday 12 September 2013

Thank you

The guy taking rubbish on the train has just gone through the carriage. Of course, as I handed him the rubbish, I said "thank you" as I got eye contact and acknowledged him for the work he does. Not many others in the carriage did the same.

I often walk up to the guys working for Fife council who clean the local beach, park, streets and roads and do the same. I'd suggest 75% of the time they're surprised at me making the effort. Appreciative of the recognition certainly, and yet surprised too. I once stopped the car in a local B road between villages to thank someone - I think he was shocked. I'm assuming for the thank you rather than feeling threatened by my actions. 

When I mention it to others the response I often get is "they get paid for it". Yet those very people, giving me that response, expect thanks for their work. It's as if that's different somehow. 

If you never got thanked for the work you do how would you feel? It's nothing to do with getting paid, or who's doing the paying, it's to do with courtesy. 

Who will you thank today? 

Alison Smith
Inspiring change inside and out

Thursday 5 September 2013

Ethical behaviour comes with integrity

I've been thinking about business ethics in advance of a session I'm facilitating on 2nd October on 'Business values and ethics' near Perth for the Scottish Institute of Business Leaders (still places left I believe).

I wondered about waiting to share this blog until after that session. Instead I share it now and would love to hear your thoughts so that they may inform, and provide additional insight, for the session next month.

Everyone has a belief about what ethical behaviour looks like in business. It's doing this or its not doing that. I'm sure, even if as a group we started with very different opinions, we could, after some debate, identify a short list of what ethical behaviour is in business. 

The challenge is can we organisationally and personally live up to those ideals?

Our values are what determine our individual actions. That is they determine what we do, what we won't do and the choices we make. As we have a number of values the hierarchy of these will also impact our behaviours.

For example - if you have values of achievement and connection the order of these would impact the decision you make - ie whether you stay at work till 20:00 to finish a piece of work or go home to read the kids a story instead. If you also have security as a value then the decision may be different. A higher priority to having your need for security met allowing you to stay at work even if at the expense of not connecting with the kids. (I'm obviously making huge assumptions about what achievement, connection and security looks like. After all achievement might be having happy kids and nothing to do with success at work - but that's another blog.)

Maintaining ethical behaviour, whether personally or organisationally, therefore, requires a value of integrity to be top of the list. Otherwise other values may mean we end up supporting unethical behaviour and may even do it ourselves. 

Ethical behaviour means saying "no" when asked to do something we know to be wrong. Ethical behaviour might even mean leaving a job or leaving a relationship because we know what we're being asked to do is wrong. The issue is we don't - we justify our support of unethical behaviour as acceptable because, to us, the consequences are too high.
  • I can't say no to my boss because I might lose my job
  • I can't make the right decision because it will impact my bonus
  • I can't do that because I may lose my house
  • I can't whistle blow I might be thrown out of my country
In other words if I stand up for what I know to be right the situation will be worse for me and at a level that I'm not prepared to accept.

Unfortunately unless we're prepared to live with the consequences above then we'll all continue to make some decisions that support unethical behaviours! Yes seriously. 

The problem is I'm sure any political, economic, social, or environmental crisis has the seeds in the same quandary. People making decisions that ensured they weren't personally negatively impacted by the decisions being made. 

I've said no in the past that had the potential to put my house and living on the line - it wasn't because it was practically easier for me than anyone else it was because I have a value of integrity higher up my list of values than security or many other values that might have me say "yes". It not right or wrong - it just is. 

don't know the answer - I'm not sure there is one. 

Although the belief I have is unless we each choose integrity as our highest value nothing is going to change. However, with my values hierarchy, of course that would be my solution :-) - what's yours? 

Alison Smith
Inspiring change inside and out

I realise I need to return to my blog on Maslow's hierarchy of needs to see how that informs this topic. There's also a blog on why I don't think business values exist that will provide input and I concede that sometimes decisions are being made without our knowledge

Wednesday 4 September 2013

Don't cut corners unless its safe to do so

On the road if you cut corners you might get away with it. Sooner or later, however, there will be another vehicle on the same part of the road as you. In other words an accident is assured at some point.

I'm not saying I don't cut corners. There's a lovely bit of road between Grantown on spay and Forres near Inverness in Scotland that twists and turns. It's a gorgeous piece of flat moorland and there's complete visibility of the road ahead. Which means I can cut corners to smooth my journey, maintain my speed whilst being safe, and yet know with confidence that I won't meet other vehicles. Yet when driving the same road at night the ability to do that disappears. 

When training or coaching on category management I can hear myself 15 years ago when delegates say "it's too much" "I don't need a process" "that doesn't apply to my category" "I know that already". They're sitting there, as I did then, believing that cutting corners is the way to go every time.

What I've learnt in the intervening 15 years is that when I rigorously apply best practice tools and techniques to a category, in other words when I've not cut corners, I've delivered the most innovative value unlocking category strategy. 

I'm a control freak and hate being told what to do. I want the flexibility to go with the flow, be spontaneous and be able to react to what's happening. In the past I'd assumed that rigorous application of best practice tools and techniques would mean I'd have to give all this up. I now realise I don't. I can have my cake and eat it. 

What I realise is that the process, those tools and templates are guides only. A checklist if you will of what I need to be thinking about. A checklist I need to apply intelligently to the category, organisation, country, supply market and suppliers in hand. 

Of course I won't spend months gathering the data if spend, market complexity and risk is low. Of course I won't do something because it's in the process if it doesn't apply. Of course I won't complete that template in PowerPoint if the information is already conveyed elsewhere in Excel. 

What I will do is rigourously consider each part of the process. If I choose to cut a corner I'll have decided, as I do on the road near Forres, that it's safe to do so. I'll have decided that at this time, with these road conditions, in this weather, today, in this vehicle, with me driving, with the other road users, it's ok to cut the corner. Its okay to miss something out. The decision, however, may change the next time I need to make it. 

For me having a checklist ensures I don't cut corners without knowing it. It also means I deliver more value to the organisation - which can only be good? Even if once in a while I can hear the old Alison muttering about it.

Before you next cut any corners please make sure it's safe to do so.

Alison Smith
Inspiring change inside and out

To find out more how I can unlock value in your organisation please do get in touch  +44(0)7770 538159