SWOT Thy Best Practice Benchmarks!
Following my recent conversations with executives about turning strategy into outcomes, I had the opportunity to experience first hand the lack of IT and process alignment from the other end – as a customer.
A few days ago we got a set of iPhone4’s (of which two were broken shortly after, BTW) and the process to get a fitting Micro-SIM from T-Mobile (Austria) for mine was the worst customer service experience since cancelling my AMEX card. I had to go back to the T-Mobile store FOUR(!!!) times over two days to wait there for a total of two and a half hours. I wasn’t queuing, but just watching the clerk typing away on his keyboard and retourning because it didn’t work. First, they could not even transfer the existing phone number. Then the clerk ran from one colleague to the other to ask which rate offering would be compatible with others for international data roaming. (I have become very careful about the data-roaming ripoff.) Their software system broke down twice and the second time it was out for all afternoon. (I saw that the Java6 app crashed over and over.) The new Micro-SIM would not activate and they exchanged it TWICE before they figured out that it was assigned to my previous contract. In the end I had signed three faulty contracts that ALL had to be cancelled again.
While waiting, I overheard that every second person coming into the store was complaining about service and quality. One lady complained that her broken phone had to be returned THREE TIMES before being replaced causing at least SIX WEEKS of waiting with poor or no service. Clerk (with an annoyed undertone): “Lady, that is standard procedure.” I had the same situation with a USB modem a few months ago. They never fixed it. Incredible, is that a best practice too? Meaning, are other mobile phone companies as bad or worse? Am I the only one with the feeling that too many global businesses no longer know how to take care of a customer?
Where I see the problem at my customers, it usually starts with a disconnect between management and customer reality and ends in a lack of IT alignment. I propose that the customer orientation of a business can simply be measured by how many IN-PERSON contacts executives and managers have with customers. Executives are too focused on abstract strategy that can’t be executed. Employees do not have not enough information, no authority and no means/tools to perform service as needed. Processes are handed top-down from some abstract planning exercise. Goals are business goals but not customer outcomes or experiences.
Any kind of business planning that leads to execution has to follow some simple principles that to me as a boating person and part-time world explorer are utterly obvious. Know where you are, define the target, judge the direction and get going early, ready to hold and reorient when the next step looks too uncertain. There is an obvious difference between going to sea in a sailboat by yourself (SMB) or deploying a fleet (global enterprise). But regardless, each vessel ought to remain under the ultimate command of a captain (process owner) who has full responsibility for each and every action. Not so in business today. A captain has in difference to a business manager no time to call in advisors in times of trouble, who are made responsible should things go wrong.
I know, I know … all methodologies carry the (know where you are) AS-IS analysis flag in front of their troops, but once the shooting starts (complaints about cost overruns and time delays) it is thrown away in the hasty retreat, leaving the business with abstract improvement directions. At other times the AS-IS part takes so long that it is obsolete before it can be used to define the TO-BE. It is all a waste of time and resources, because how processes are executed today is NOT irrelevant. Only how your customers feel today is important! It is not that hard: Communicate with your customers, assign authority, provide the means and reiterate to satisfaction.
I thus propose that the golden times of outsourced strategic planning, best practices and benchmarks are over. Yesterdays abstract business knowledge (from inside or from others) is no longer of value. It never was, but it took the last twenty years for people to realize it. Some still don’t see it. To reiterate Peter Drucker: ‘Knowledge is between (your employees) two ears only.’ Enable them to focus on your customers.
Even software vendors such as SAP are now trying to move from a rigid transactional model into a strategy driven process model to save their aging, hardcoded process portfolio. I don’t think they will succeed because they ought to focus on customers and not strategy, but they might succeed by spending a lot of their money on advertizing. So will Oracle and a few other big names and the money won’t go towards better applications for businesses.
Is it so hard to see that there is no time to translate long and arduous planning exercises – strategic or budgetary – into execution in dynamic global markets? From former business models that focused on differentiation and competition, I now see continuous transformation as the only chance of survival. That is in-line with the evolutionary perspective of markets and businesses that I have been promoting for so long. Commodity and best practice processes, focused on cost and error reductions that worked in the past, are no longer strategic and replaced by the creation of value for the consumer. A Balanced Scorecard has to be modified to still be usable. I propose further that strategy support processes such as ITIL or TOGAF business models will not deliver the missing link between strategic vision and customer outcome. You equally can’t address an individual customer by statistical, predictive analytics. The fleet won’t even make it out of the harbour if each vessel movement requires a process map to be designed, adhered to, monitored, and optimized. And why bother, if the captain is on the bridge and his crew knows what to do? While the battle strategy must be communicated well to all captains, they shouldn’t be asking which way to turn the rudder.
So let’s use a methodology to assess a methodology: a SWOT analysis (a mindmap to assess strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) of using best practices and benchmarks. A best practice is a repeatable procedure (a.k.a. process) that has proven over time to be more effective or more efficient at delivering a particular outcome than any other. Best practices are identified by benchmarking, in which organizations evaluate their processes in relation to a comparison peer group.
According to Albert Humphrey, SWOT must start with defining an objective. Simply, it is to identify the processes that produce the best customer outcome and value. The SWOTs are estimated (as a matter of opinion) and then a decision is taken if the objective is achievable or not by the means considered.
- Strengths: a best practive is a well tried out process, less cost to identify
- Weaknesses: the business will follow and not lead, not enough focus on customer
- Opportunities: the best practice could be improved upon
- Threats: the best practice might not apply to the current situation, wasted time and cost, NIH syndrome, data are flawed or incomplete, the procedure can’t be replicated, does not match company culture, the procedure is outdated, technology has changed, the customer communication has changed (social aspects), … and more.
I propose that these threats are substantial and shouldn’t be played down! But as it worked for the competion and is recommended by advisors, who also lack better ideas, too many go for it. For both best practice and benchmark one would have to ascertain that the current situation, the target to be achieved and the ability to execute the process are a match. Most simply copy what someone else is doing to try and achieve the same result. There are however no two organizations that have the same culture. I would rather use business acumen, intuition and motivation of all my captains and their crews to fulfill a vision because the business remains truly agile and – more than anything – true to itself, authentic and unique.
Business competence is not about process execution, functional capabilities or abstract value creation, it is about the social competence of its people to provide the best possible outcome for its customers. To enable such outcomes requires (IT) empowerment on all levels of the organization. Empowerment is not decision-making for anyone about everything or hoping that someone will do it – it is about assigning authority, goals and (IT) means! Keep it simple, clear, and direct. Look at the rugged path proposed by SAP from strategic planning down the ASAP levels. It doesn’t lead to customer outcomes but ends in the swamp of business process governance, the ruins of software fragments, and the EA/BPM/SOA jungle! The hordes of experts necessary to work on ASAP V7 will not be able to march in sync, but have to tip-toe along the narrow path one by one. The customer is a fleeting memory from the first abstract goal definitions.
I propose that no amount of best practice benchmarking would improve what T-Mobile is doing. What would improve their customer service is a simple, transparent offering that employees and customers would understand, clerk beings able to execute as per customers needs, and adaptive process technology that does not restrict customer service, but enables it.