The simple formula you need to shape your post-pandemic planning

In a previous article I talked about the importance of knowing what business you are really in to get a firm hold on what’s going to be critical as your business emerges from the current crisis.

The business you are really in is another way of discovering your deeper purpose or as Simon Sinek puts it, your “why”. But it’s only one side of the equation: as well as understanding this purpose you need to have customers who share that purpose in some way. To use Sinek’s example, Apple would not be successful if their why didn’t resonate in some way for their millions of customers.

“Everything we do, we believe in challenging the status quo. We believe in thinking differently. The way we challenge the status quo is by making our products beautifully designed, simple to use, and user-friendly. And we happen to make great computers. Wanna buy one?”

Simon Sinek

However, organisations often don’t pay enough attention to their customers’ “why” (you could argue that since Sinek made that point Apple has lost its own why) and end up wondering why they don’t attract or retain enough business.

To uncover the customer why – let’s call it Y for simplicity – you need to look beyond the what and how of your products or services to uncover your customers’ deeper motivations in using them. This isn’t always obvious but luckily, it’s not that complicated, and I want to illustrate it with a recent example that’s quite close to home.

Can’t stop the music…

My son Dave is a graduate of Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama in Cardiff and has since graduating two years ago embarked on the precarious but noble career of freelance jazz musician. Resisting the siren call of London he remained in South Wales to work within its small but lively jazz scene.

He and some fellow graduates organised themselves into a collective – Bamzu – that, prior to lockdown, had begun to attract good crowds to regular gigs and jam sessions. Often the attendees were regulars from the college’s weekly Amser Jazz Time sessions who had seen the musicians develop through the years of their course.

When lockdown hit, Bamzu, like other venues and groups, moved their operations online, organising fortnightly ticketed concerts via Zoom live from performers’ homes. I’ve been to two so far and have been very impressed by the quality of musicianship and the sense of connectedness with the musicians (this isn’t just proud Dad bias as my son has yet to play on a session).

Simple gestures

But you can get online performances from almost anyone so what makes this special and what’s the Y? I’d say that what’s important isn’t just the what (jazz) or the how (Zoom) but the sense of community in these events. Having been to a few live events in Cardiff in the past few years I know some of the regulars by sight so seeing them on the call (we’re mostly all on video) is as close to turning up to a gig as I’m likely to get for the moment. Participants are off mute before the music starts so it’s a bit noisy and chaotic too.

This club-like atmosphere may be initially off-putting to outsiders, but two simple gestures add to the sense of community. When the music stops, the mute goes off so that the audience can applaud, whoop or whatever – not a common feature in most online shows – and at the end of the whole session, the host plays a danceable track and pans around the audience allowing a wave or some adventurous/embarrassing on-screen move-busting. It was during this part at the end of the last gig that the penny dropped: our Y was the sense of community and connection as much as the music.

The way of why?

For all those with a lifelong dread of maths, introducing a formula, even a simple one, may mean I lost you at the heading. But don’t worry, it’s a simple one. We have established that customers’ purpose in being your customer is Y so you simply need to make sure your own purpose – let’s label it y – equates to that, i.e.

Y = y.

Jazz has a reputation as a recondite art form (appealing to people who use words like recondite) so the Bamzu collective could have contented themselves with livestreaming performances with minimal communication, relying on their excellence as musicians to do the work. But, intentionally or not, they have recognised that the business they are in is more about community and involvement and – it’s early days so who knows – this may bring them an audience beyond their original geography.

I did it my y

Every day what gets me out of bed isn’t just the alarm clock or the thought of 30 minutes’ lockdown home gym work but because I believe that organisations of all shapes and sizes can do what they do for their customers differently and better than today by realising their inherent capabilities and thinking creatively about their business and its possibilities.

It’s taken me a while to articulate my y and I don’t claim the preceding sentence is the finished article but it’s a bit more specific, and hopefully more distinct, than simply management consulting, which is what I do. By definition then, my clients – ideally – have a Y that complements my y, in other words they want to think differently about their business and turn those thoughts into action.

The Y = y formula is a journey that organisations undertake, and that journey is fundamental to thinking positively and creating a viable and successful post-pandemic future. I have some fun ways of getting to Y (that’s part of my how) that I’ll share in future articles.

The power of messing things up

To focus your project, add a To-Not-Do list to your to-do list

There’s an exercise that’s both entertaining and useful when setting up and planning a new project or business venture: thinking of all the ways you could make it fail.

Sample ideas, admittedly not that hilarious

Here’s how it works: in a planning process, once you have alignment on the goals of the initiative that you’re developing, it’s time to transition into planning delivery. I find teams can get a bit stuck at this point, so it’s a good idea to flip the idea of planning on its head. Ask how you could really screw this thing up then throw some ideas around and write them down. Unless your team’s had a collective humour bypass you’ll find this pretty hilarious.

Sample implementation principles act as a guide to successful implementation

Before it gets too out of hand though, stop and review. Flip the list around so all those screw-ups become positive actions. What you then have is a powerful list of principles to adhere to during the implementation phase.



Make it personal

I’ve started to use this approach on projects I’m running, even if they just involve me. I spend a few minutes jotting down a few ways in which I could fail to deliver. I call it the result my To-Not-Do List and I use it, unaltered, as a check against any bad habits that I might fall into unawares.

Stop laughing

Amidst the hilarity that a group session might foster when creating their own To-Not-Do List there’s a sobering realisation. A lot of the screw-ups that are identified are things that the organisation is doing now. The fact that the negatives usually flow so easily in this kind of a discussion is that they are bad habits that are often ingrained and indeed tolerated in the organisation.

The To-Not-Do List offers a sharp corrective to a team that may find it starts out with great purpose and ambition but then enters a state of drift, where deadlines are missed, and the required change doesn’t happen. High-performing change teams have to model the required behaviour in the new organisation that they are building and having a robust and candid discussion about the To-Not-Do List can help immensely.

To find out how Open Chord can help you plan and execute change effectively, please get in touch.

Featured image by Steve Buissinne from Pixabay 

Listening to dissenting voices could be your organisation’s D-Day

Sometimes it pays to listen to the minority view

The recent D-Day commemorations have reminded me that last year I saw a great play about weather forecasting… don’t stop reading there because it was weather forecasting that made D-Day successful and that, in turn, made me realise how important minority views can be.

Under pressure

Pressure” is a play written by the actor David Haig and covers the events leading up to D-Day. Haig plays John Stagg, a meteorologist advising the Allied Expeditionary Force. Despite a run of fine weather in the days leading up to the operation, Stagg persuades General Eisenhower that the weather will deteriorate sharply on the planned date and a delay of 24 hours would be necessary to avoid a catastrophic military failure. After much debate – including with another meteorologist, the American Irving P. Krick, whose own data (crucially derived from the US not the UK) suggests everything will be fine – the weather is terrible on 5th June but clears in 24 hours; the operation takes place and the rest, as they say, is history.

Despite having been turned into a compelling, if traditional, piece of theatre, these events actually happened and John Stagg is, arguably, one of the unsung heroes of WWII. Without his insight – based on a combination of experience and intuition – D-Day would not have had the effect it did on the outcome of the conflict.

Listen up

But what strikes me is that Eisenhower listened to Stagg’s expert opinion. The Normandy Landings constituted the largest seaborne invasion in history, so that’s a lot of effort and careful planning put under threat by one – albeit expert – opinion.

Change leaders don’t always do enough listening to dissenting voices, particularly when they have invested a large amount of effort in a particular solution and someone comes along with a last-minute change.

I think we can draw some leadership lessons from this particular episode in history (apart from the “we must never let this happen again” ones that have been recited endlessly over the last few days). When running a significant change programme, do we:

  1. Take our ideas out for testing, running the risk that people may disagree or propose alternative solutions?
  2. Use experts to provide relevant input on the areas where their knowledge adds the most value?
  3. Trust the experts’ judgement, without requiring excessive proof?
  4. Fully understand the risks of not adhering to their recommendations?

This isn’t to suggest that every change leader should proceed by committee, but an understanding of potential points of failure and their consequences is critical. Sometimes a minority, expert voice can be the difference between success and failure.

This post was originally published on The Next Ten Years