React vs Respond

Most of us are good at reacting. The pandemic required it. And, we were good at it. We figured out fast what was necessary. What will stick? It is no longer enough to react to circumstances, we now have to respond.

Think carefully about your business and the accommodations you have made. Fingers crossed, we had hoped to relax back to January, but reality is clearer now. It is easy to find the trends. Which are impacting your business model?

Technology, geography, sensory substitutes, communication channels, I am curious to hear your stories. Most interested in hearing about the opportunities.

Death of the Third Place

Ventured into my first Starbucks since March. The parking lot was empty, signs on the floor for social distancing, but no customers to distance from. Two baristas behind the counter mentally wrestled with who was to take my order. Waiting, I looked around at the cordoned seating. Is this the death of the Third Place?

Most companies have managed to return to some threshold of spaced out (space between people) operations. Products are moving, services provided. But, what of the customer experience.

Starbucks built their business on the notion of the Third Place and caffeine. I am certain they could have been more efficient had they applied six sigma principles to the order taking and coffee preparation, but what would be the point? Starbucks was all about the Third Place between home and the office where time was NOT of the essence.

What has changed about your customer experience? “Yes, you can come to our office, but please text us when you arrive. Remain in your vehicle until we confirm by text that we are ready for you.”

What happens to the Third Place in your business model?

The Learning Never Stops

We are in the process of learning and the learning never stops.
What are the impacts to your business model?

  • Pretty much everyone has discovered Zoom. It is not as good as being in person, but it works pretty well. We are learning its impact on travel budgets, travel time avoided, continuity stops and starts between travel trips that did not occur.
  • Individual initiative. We have learned who can work independently (making decisions and solving problems) and who struggles without constant oversight.
  • Necessity of being there. When it is not possible (or prudent) to be there, we learn more about the necessity of being there. Human inspection is replaced by remote sensors, providing not periodic data, but constant 24/7 data.
  • Distributed decision making. If it is convenient for managers to make decisions, decisions get made by managers. With a distributed workforce, where it is not convenient (incomplete data, delay) for managers to make decisions, decisions get made by the most appropriate person.

What are the impacts to your business model?

Agile

I let others conjecture the path of COVID-19, AND a couple of things are clearer. My focus is not on the pandemic, but your business-model-response to shifting circumstances.

  • The heat of summer in the northern hemisphere will reduce the ability of the virus to survive, creating a seasonal impact. This does not appear to be true.
  • There will be waves of contagion. I don’t know if we are in the second wave or the lingering impact of the first wave. Does it matter? There will be more waves.
  • Hope against hope, there will not be a vaccine until early next year.

Those business models that survive will be those who adapt to reality.

  • Find a market with a business need, set out to solve it.
  • Test the solution to be adequate and understand its value in the market.
  • Determine if the cost of the solution is less than the market value (profit).
  • Determine if the market is large enough (enough profitable transactions) to build a business.
  • Determine the next adaptation required to sustain the business model.

This begs the question of innovation and creativity. What is the agility of your organization?

Interviewing for Soft Skills

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
I attended your presentation a couple of times. At the last event, you mentioned that you would share a list of interview questions which would help us to evaluate candidates for soft skills rather than just technical knowledge.

Response:
Interview questions about any soft skill uses the same model as any attitude or characteristic.

  1. Identify the behavior connected to the soft skill.
  2. Identify a circumstance where we might see that behavior.
  3. Develop questions about the behavior.

Behaviors related to listening –

  • In a coaching situation, where corrective action is required.
  • In a coaching situation related to misbehavior.
  • In a coaching situation, where a new skill is being learned.

Behavior – Listening in a coaching situation, where corrective action is required.

  • Tell me about a situation with a team member, where corrective action was required.
  • What was the project?
  • Who was on the project team?
  • What was your role on the project team?
  • What did you observe that required corrective action?
  • Where did you have the conversation with the team member?
  • How long did the conversation last?
  • How did you approach the team member?
  • Step me through the conversation?
  • How did the team member respond in the conversation?
  • What was the result of the conversation?
  • What steps did you take to follow-up on the conversation?

Behaviors related to individual initiative –

  • Appropriately beginning a project without being told.
  • Continuing a project without being reminded.
  • Finishing a project (all the last steps) without being reminded.

Behavior – Appropriately beginning a project without being told.

  • Tell me about a project that needed to get started before your manager knew about it?
  • What was the project?
  • Who was on the project team?
  • What was your role on the project team?
  • How did you know what needed to be done without your manager telling you?
  • What were the first steps in the project?
  • How did you know those steps would be okay to complete without specific direction from your manager?
  • Did your manager ever review the initial work on the project?
  • What was the result of starting the project before your manager knew about it?

Behavior – Continuing a project without being reminded.

  • Tell me about a project you worked on, where the flow of the work was interrupted by other work, perhaps a long project that had stages to it?
  • How were the stages of the project planned?
  • How long was the project?
  • How did you know you were at a stopping point in the project and it was okay to complete other work?
  • How did you know it was time to pick the project up where you left off?
  • What flexibility did you have to decide where to stop and where to pick up with all of your other work?
  • How was your work scheduled?
  • Did you have your own schedule that you created?
  • How did you remind yourself that you still had uncompleted work on a project that you stopped?

Behavior – Finishing the work (all the steps) on a project, without being reminded.

  • Tell me about a time when you worked on a project that never seemed to end, that when you thought the work was done, there were still more steps to complete?
  • At the end of the project, what kind of items popped up, still undone?
  • At the end of the project, how did you find out about those undone items?
  • At the end of the project, how did you keep track of those undone items?
  • Did you personally have to complete those undone items, or were there other people working on those items with you?
  • How did you track what you got done and what others got done?
  • At the end of the project, when ALL the items were finally completed, how did you know there were NO uncompleted items left?

You can interview for any attitude, characteristic or soft skill, as long as you can connect it to behaviors.

What Do We Bet On?

As we wait, what are the possibilities? What are the uncertainties? Ambiguities? And what do we bet on?

  • We look for things we hope for.
  • We look for things that drive our optimism.
  • We look for things we like to see.
  • We look for data that supports our wishes.
  • We look for data that confirms our suspicions.
  • We look for data that supports our own bias.

Reality always wins.

Do not be mislead by hope, what we like, our wishes, suspicions and bias. It is too easy to be lead astray. Most managers I work with are optimists. It is a valid way to see the world, AND there are other possibilities.

What is the worst that can possibly happen?
Prepare to accept the worst-case scenario.
Work to improve on the worst outcome which you have mentally agreed to accept.

I suggest these are not mutually exclusive AND we can hold two simultaneous thoughts that appear to contradict. The intersection of worst outcome and the position of optimism may provide the guidance we seek. It will ALWAYS be better than the worst outcome.

Improve on the worst outcome comes from Dale Carnegie, How to Stop Worrying and Start Living.

What’s New?

Problem solving at S-II works really well as long as we have solved the problem before. Elliott’s problem solving schema related to states of thinking –
S-I – Declarative (trial and error)
S-II – Cumulative (best practices)
S-III – Serial (root cause analysis, single system)
S-IV – Parallel (multi-system analysis)

S-II – Cumulative state is one of connection. Given a problem, a person with S-II capability can see the pattern causing the problem AND only has to match the pattern to an existing (documented) solution. This is the world of best practices. Best practices work well as long as the problem is one we have solved before. Forty percent of the population can effectively use best practices to solve problems (which is why “best practices” are so popular in management literature).

But, best practices are of little use if the problem is new (we have never solved it before).

S-III – Serial state is one of cause and effect. This is where NEW problems are solved. And, only 4-7 percent of the general population can effectively engage in root cause analysis. COVID-19 presents itself as a problem in all four states of thinking. Initially, COVID-19 was characterized as something we have seen before and could be dealt with using best practices (treat it like the flu). When it became apparent that the contagion rate was higher and the (yet to be defined) mortality rate was higher, the medical community responded with trial and error problem solving (S-I), recommending social distancing, initially no masks, then masks. Trial and error solutions became best practices and now the world is mask-wearing (go figure). But, root cause analysis (S-III) will provide the only inroads to a lasting solution (vaccine).

S-IV – Multi-system analysis will confront the longer term problems of vaccine distribution (capacities and priorities, medical systems) along with economic impacts (economic systems) and social behavior (social systems).

How much trouble do we create for ourselves when we mix up an S-I solution to an S-IV problem?

Too Busy

“But I am busy,” protested Byron. “How am I going to find time to read resumes?”

“Schedule it. You need to be thinking, each and every day about your team and what would happen if any of them needed to make a change. Your most important function as a manager is personnel and recruiting. In fact, if that is all you ever did, was to build a high performance team, and then walked away, I would describe you as one of our greatest managers. Because you left behind, a high performing team that could carry on.”

“It’s that important?” Byron tested.

“Top priority. In the past 120 days, your labor pool has gone from record low unemployment to record high unemployment. Now is the time to look.”

Off Balance

“Sometimes, during the day, I feel like I am lost,” Miriam lamented.

“How so?” I asked

“Things just seem off-balance. I don’t know if it’s the circumstance we are in, with all the changes, or if it’s me?”

“It’s easy to see the circumstances that have changed. And, part of it is you,” I nodded.

“So, it is me?”

I continued to nod, “Yep. Think about the moment you feel off-kilter, what happens?”

“I am just about to do something, out of instinct, then I have to second-guess, is this what I should really be doing, right now?”

“So, you have a habit that is breaking, at least in question?”

It was Miriam’s turn to nod. “And, breaking a habit feels off-balance. Habits are supposed to help me take consistent action. And, now I am not so sure the next action is right?”

“Miriam, it’s normal, welcome to the world of professional growth.”

Your Business Model and Constraints

Every business has a model, an internal structure that helps to understand the way it interacts with its market. Business Model Generation defines these elements –

  • Customer Segments
  • Value Proposition
  • Channels
  • Customer Relationships
  • Revenue Streams
  • Key Resources
  • Key Activities
  • Key Partnerships
  • Cost Structure

I suggest another element surfacing as the world comes back on line in this pandemic – constraint.

Every system (business) has a constraint. That constraint is connected to a-capacity-of-something. Initially, constraints show up as whack-a-moles and we arm ourselves with mallets to snuff them out. Eventually we understand that every system will always have a constraint, our job is to put the constraint where we want it (strategic constraint). Some constraints are internal to our business model, sometimes they are outside (external systems, like the market, regulation, finance, labor, technology).

Examine your business model and its constraints. Capacity may have shifted due to the pandemic, your constraint may have moved, your business model may be wobbly because something subtle (or not-so-subtle) has changed.