Rightsizing organizational governance

Lars Vollmer made me think with his latest book about self organization. There is some sort of a chicken and egg problem – as soon as there is a rule or policy there needs to be some governance to verify its adherence.

“Governance is the way the rules, norms and actions are structured, sustained, regulated and held accountable.”

Many organizations have developed tons of rules and policies. I don’t think that this was planned upfront – it happened over time. Let’s rock an idea and think about what would happen if those rules and policies would be deleted? Would this lead to chaos?

This depends I guess on the organization. If the organization is driven by an external purpose and a mission, then the members of the organizations would continue to do the best to move the organization towards the vision. In a healthy organizations mistakes made by individuals would be corrected by the others on the base of common sense and shared principles. The organization learns by example how to act. It walks the talk.

In some organizations the members must sign that they have read and understood all rules and policies. In a healthy organization this is no issue – there are a few rules only and it is not a problem to keep them consistent and contradiction free. In large bureaucratic organizations such behavior can only have the purpose of ‘backside covering’. Somebody needs arguments he can use in case something goes wrong – look, it was clearly stated in the policy.

An organization which has many rules needs a lot of governance. Somebody needs to train the people on the rules, and track that all the rules have been followed. For the members of the organizations this reduces the amount of personal responsibility – it’s not intended to do what’s outside of policy even if it would make a lot of sense and it is fine to do things which don’t make sense as long as they comply to the rules.

Complexity is one of the key aspects in a world of VUCA (see Dance on the VUCAno) – it is not so difficult for a common sense based organization with a clear purpose and healthy structures to adapt to the increasingly fast changes. But it is impossible for a governance dominated organizations to do so for at least the following reasons.

  • Policies cannot be changed and adapted fast enough and keeping them free of conflict is impossible.
  • Members as a consequence have to react according to policy and will miss important developments and client needs.
  • The ones who define the policies will try to embed all eventualities to be on the safe side – the amount of rules grows.
  • Every mistake tends to result in new or changed rules.

It would be much better to have a small set of principles. Please note that a principle is not a rule – it is a meta rule which helps to identify the right decision. Many organizations have such principles in addition to the rules and policies. Just be careful to really stick to principles and avoid to state the obvious.

So what would be a good approach.

  • Clear vision and external purpose everybody in the organization shares (see Giving Direction)
  • A few guiding principles which help to channel the activities
  • The minimal set of rules and policies required to allow the organization to operate safely

Then let the people create the social structures and norms based on this.

Emotional trust in an hyperconnected world

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Trust is an often used term in financial services.  What is trust, how is it built, gained or lost? Has trust building changed in the last few years of emerging digital hyper connectivity and will this have an impact on banking? (see “Banking evolution: Service Innovation,” “No Off Switch“)  Let’s together explore this a little bit …
There are at least four dimensions of trust:
  • predictability – ability to predict actions of others and situations which might occur
  • vulnerability – giving others the chance to take advantage of vulnerabilities
  • value exchange – exchange of values even though there is no full knowledge about the peer
  • delayed reciprocity – giving something now with the expectations to be compensated at some future point
The trustor has logical and emotional expectations against the trustee. The logical expectations are often contract related. In case of a loan a payback including interests is a logical expectation. The emotional expectations include the level of comfort and the experiences made during the time where the loan is granted and beyond.
The following little example explores these dimensions. Let’s assume you want to make a ride home and you call a cab.
  • An ordinary cab arrives with a smiling driver.  Before you enter the cab you need to trust the driver that he knows the place, has serviced the car properly and will not crash the car while you are in. This quick assessment is nothing simple but humans have developed senses during the evolution which support this interpersonal check.
  • The cab arrives – but nobody is in. There is a screen showing a friendly face in an office telling you that he is your driver. The cab is remote controlled in a way that it feels for the driver like being in the car. You can again perform the quick assessment described above based on the reduced amount of information and available senses.
  • A self driving car arrives with a smiling man in it. He has been mandated by law to sit in the car to intervene in critical situations. You may be tempted to make the quick assessment as in the first scenario but then you notice that this person has limited chance to intervene and influence the sequence of events in an emergency situation as the available time to react would be to short. In essence you notice that you need to trust the system, its sensors and the algorithms.
  • A self driving car arrives – completly empty. That’s a different story – the interpersonal element and the usual base for quick asseementis is completly missing. Maybe you should do a short ride first to see if this is safe and then, once you gain confidence into the car, its sensors and algorithms go for longer trip. With good experience, trust is built.
There are futher factors influencing your final emotional assessment  – the taxi could be dirty, the driver may have an unpleasant driving style or the climate control may be broken. Even when the target is reached on time, the experience may not great and you may decide not to rely on the services of this company again.
I guess it is rather clear what follows now. All these situations also occur in financial services today. The chance that you meet a banker which is an entrepreneur and personally engages in the trust relationship with you are rare. Such a banker would stand up with his name for the agreement made and would do the best to meet the logical and emotional expectations.
So let’s explore the other three scenarios in a little bit more detail.
  • The secenarios have all one thing in common – the ‘driver’ has limited skin in the game.
  • Remote meetings with specialists who can come up with creative solutions for complex problems are quite the norm in business and personal live today.  Finding the right specialist may already be a challenge and arranging a physical meeting may be close to impossible.
  • You may have an assigned  employee representing the bank as a sales clerk or relationship manager. The relationship manager will talk with you and then key in the data into some engine which finally processes the agreed business. You may build up a personal relationship to your relationship manager. If this is strong, then you will be tempted to follow him if he moves to another bank. If you trust more the brand, its system and processes, then you will stay and engage with a new relationship manager.
  • You may also be routed to a customer services desk which is used to deal with requests like the one you have. With each call you get to know another person – building an interpersonal relation is not intended. 
  • You may also interact through an electronic channel with the system. A hopefully cool user interface guides you through the necessary steps to get things done.
The objective of most companies is to operate with standard processes leaving the relationship manager very limited flexibility. Hyper connectivity leads to more transparency, the logical element of the trust relationship is performed by an engine and the emotional one is more and more an outcome of the digital experience.
 
Trust is still a key element in many things. In banking the logical element of trust is more defined by processes, algorithms and infrastructure while the emotional aspect becomes more and more a result of a great digital engagement.
Trust is shifting from personal relationships to systems and experience.

The challenge of (financial) mobility of the future

I had the great pleasure to join the “Impulse Apero” on Feb 6th organized by Kellerhals Carrard and Implement Consulting Group featuring the head of the SBB’s board of directors Monika Ribar. Monika walked the audience in her inspiring presentation through the challenges and opportunities of mobility of the future.
  • Transparency is the new currency – people estimate transparency. Its about enabling people to reach their goals independent of the provider and about being informed in good and in bad times.
  • Openness is the new norm – we are living in a network economy. Openness is the key to unleash the combined potential of all services in the network. Closed and monolithic systems are relicts of the past.
  • Holistic services – users want to have an end to end service and an broad overview. There is just the choice of providing it or let somebody else do it.
  • Simplicity  – the different pricing schemes used by the various service providers are hard to understand for the consumer. But all this complexity can be hidden using smart technology – either by offering a flat rate scheme which enables general usage or by simply billing the actual consumption with the optimal price for the consumer.
These points are very true for a mobility provider and also for financial services and other industries as the relate to big shifts in society. There is one huge difference – the SBB has a huge logistic challenge with a lot of infrastructure which is required to realize the desired degree of mobility. Financial services companies in essence just deal with information and have a simpler problem to solve.
I also would like to highlight a few other aspects which I found very interesting:
  • Empowerment – the people who are in contact with the users must be empowered to solve problems in creative ways.  They see the problem and they can directly engage and solve them with  their creativity. The SBB has allocated a budget at discretion for the ‘railway companions’ – this are the people in the train who make sure that the travelers have a smooth journey. This empowerment of employees at the point where the company engages with the clients is just cool.
  • Team – the rail clean organization is now a part of SBB again and wears he SBB logo. In more an more automated railway stations they are often the only people. Now the wear an SBB logo again and can help support travelers in case of problems. This is a win-win situation as the job has become more interesting and as clients have a further human touchpoint with the brannd.
  • Development –  all roles are changing due to the evolution of the environment and the technology. It is of strategic importance to think about the roles and their evolution paths. SBB grows and moves together with its employees into the future of mobility.
  • Data – SBB as a provider collects a lot of data about its users. Monika stressed that the data belongs to the client and not SBB. So the client decides when and how this information is used.
Again four aspects which can be translated very well into financial services. The empowerment of the staff is key, every employee is a part of the brand management and client data belongs to the client and not the service providers.

Multipurpose Traverse

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As today’s business challenges span across boundaries within and external so too must leadership. The ever-increasing complexity of today’s world calls for a critical transformation in leadership from managing and protecting boundaries to boundary spanning ( see Never fail to fail, Giving Direction, Dance on the VUCAno) With that it’s business model reflects towards a multipurpose traverse offerings supporting the client’s dynamic behaviors and journeys ( Banking evolution: Service Innovation, Banking Today)

Under the context of digital offering(s) is its simplicity of a single-purpose business model/ offering/ app the wave of the future?

WeChat, or Weixin in Mandarin, is quickly becoming one of the most popular multi-purpose platforms, not just in China, but the world. Released in 2011 by Chinese internet giant Tencent, With nearly 800 million active monthly users, its user base has grown consistently in every single quarter to date. More importantly the point that I would like to focus is it’s actual embodiment of the app.

It’s safe to say that the most ardent of technophiles have at least 100 apps on their smartphone e.g. Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, Telegram, Skype, Google Hangouts and Duo for instant messaging. Uber, Lyft, Citymapper, Waze, Tripadvisor, AirBnB and Skyscanner for directions/maps. In addition for gastronomy related: Deliveroo, Just Eat, OpenTable, Zomato, Yelp or Urbanspoon. That’s 19 apps to cover three essential functions. WeChat includes capabilities above and more.

WeChat lets users do everything you’d expect it to – instant messaging, sharing life events and chatting to family members. But its feature list extends far beyond custom emojis and profile pictures. WeChat allows you to arrange a catch-up with a friend, pre-order food from a restaurant, book a taxi to the restaurant, get directions on foot, pay for the meal (or split amongst your friends at the time of payment), check movie times and book tickets, and also purchase other items. All without hitting the home button.

The possibilities for brand-to-consumer engagement on WeChat are almost unparalleled anywhere else in the world, and this is almost entirely due to the way the app manifests itself in as many aspects of daily life as possible. By knowing a person’s current location and when they usually have dinner, all in one app, fast-food brands can hyper-accurately target consumers when they’re most inclined to purchase. And by tapping into the app’s data on payments and money transfers, marketers can get a good idea of when, where, how and why users spend their money, before using this to hyper-accurately target their audience when they’re most likely to buy. With such understanding of a client’s behaviour enables to proactively provide financial wealth services be it from suggesting dynamic relevant payment methods to making recommended investments, wealth management and advisory, etc…

The need for banks to traverse beyond its current boundary is imperative to regain expediency with the new paradigms ( see Digital Tur Tur).

NIST Blockchain Technology Overview

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) hast published a draft report on blockchain. This report is an excellent summary and overview of the technology, its key characteristics and use cases.

“Blockchains are immutable digital ledger systems implemented in a distributed fashion (i.e., without a central repository) and usually without a central authority. At their most basic level, they enable a community of users to record transactions in a ledger that is public to that community, such that no transaction can be changed once published.”

This has the following implications on organizations:

“However, on a blockchain, it is much more difficult to change data or update the ‘database’ software. Organizations need to understand the extreme difficulty in changing anything that is already on the blockchain, and that changes to the blockchain software may cause forking of the blockchain. Another critical aspect of blockchain technology is how the participants agree that a transaction is valid. This is called “reaching consensus”, and there are many models for doing so, each with positives and negatives for a specific business case.”<

Indeed – this highlights a few foundational aspects – blockchain realizes high data integrity and immutability based on a certain level of transparency required to reach a consensus on the validity of transactions. The report outlines the most important consensus algorithms – each with its drawbacks and advantages.

  • “In the proof of work model, a user gets the right to publish the next block by solving a computationally intensive puzzle.”
  • “The proof of stake model is based on the idea that the more stake a user has in the system, the more likely it will want the system to succeed, and the less likely it will want to subvert it.”
  • “In some blockchain systems there does exist some level of trust between mining nodes. In this case, there is no need for a complicated consensus mechanisms to determine which participant adds the next block to the chain.”

The report also explores the most important types of blockchains :

  • If anyone can read and write to a blockchain, it is permissionless.
  • If only particular users can read and write to it, it is permissioned.

The permissioned blockchains are similar to an intranet only visible to the nodes on this network while a permissionless blockchain mimics the characteristics of the Internet.

“The use of blockchain technology is not a silver bullet, and there are issues that must be considered such as how to deal with malicious users, how controls are applied, and the limitations of any blockchain implementation. That said, blockchain technology is an important concept that will be a basis for many new solutions.”

The technology is indeed no silver bullet but is has huge potential for all applications which require a shared agreement and a high level of security.

“Blockchain technologies have the power to disrupt many industries. To avoid missed opportunities and undesirable surprises, organizations should start investigating whether or not a blockchain can help them.”

NIST asks for comments and feedback until February 23, 2018.

 

In a world of VUCA seek anti fragility

Fragility is the quality of being easily broken, delicate or vulnerable. A fragile system, similar to a vase, are easily impacted by a slight shock. Vases are fragile – and broken when hit. Once they break, it may be possible to glue them together again but will never look and function the same from its original state.

What is the opposite of fragility? Durability and adaptability. A system which adapts and gains strength from the impact of a shock(s) –  vases getting more robust with each stone hitting them.

Nature shows many examples of anti fragile systems. The human immune system is anti fragile. Each infection is overcomed further strengthening it. The immune system is especially design with the need of “shocks” / intruders in order to evolve and remain strong.

Currently we typically aim to protect systems from a set of expected events. In the world of VUCA (Dance on the VUCAno) the aim must be making environment and its systems anti-fragile. Why not expose a system continuously to shock events and train it to handle them? Expect the unexpected, make the unexpected to anticipated.

Related:

Dance on the VUCAno

The notion of VUCA was introduced by the U.S. Army War College to describe a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous multilateral world which resulted after the end of the Cold War. This applies well to the world we see today where a lot of things evolve in parallel influencing each other. VUCA stands for:

  • Volatility – fast rate of change
  • Uncertainty – as things change fast we seem to live in a world of uncertainty
  • Complexity – small things can develop huge effects, nothing seems linear anymore
  • Ambiguity – things can be interpreted differently, context matters, answers depend

People like stability and simple situations – but in reality is different. The elements of VUCA can be seen as a threat or an opportunity. I prefer the opportunistic view with observable developments within each elements of VUCA

  • Volatility – opportunity for those who can adapt, are agile and have access to resources
  • Uncertainty – opportunity for those who look at the bigger picture
  • Complexity – opportunity for those who can adapt and influence
  • Ambiguity – opportunity for those who live and breath diversity

Here are some thoughts triggered by VUCA

  • Having a vision or a longer term purpose is key to channeling activities towards a common goal. It enables all to make the right decisions at any time (giving direction)
  • Projects or initiatives must be structured as small steps each leading to a stable and beneficial state.
  • Approaches may look promising upfront but may become unattractive or even unpractical when being implemented. It s key to acknowledge, learn and move on (never fail to fail).
  • Try to travel light – adjusting direction and acting quickly does not work when we have lots of baggage.
  • Avoiding technical and business debt becomes instrumental in enabling the ability to renew systems and organizations.
  • Old patterns and theories become stumbling blocks. Be creative and innovative to develop patterns and tools which match the new reality.
  • Best practices are good to learn. They are for a specific situation – yours is different.
  • We live in a world of networks and network effects matter. Its about connections and influence not about hierarchy.
  • If one acts to isolated he loses influence which lacks the stimuli and interactions in order to drive innovation and creativity.
  • Try new things if you expect something new. Be curious and open for surprises – there is always something positive in it which can be used to build on.

In the world of ambiguity it may sound promising to try to keep and defend one’s current strong position. Why try to be creative and innovate? Why not just wait, optimize the current state and buy what turns out to be a success. This does not work well in a networked world. Such strategy typically leads to a limited time success followed by a serious threat.