Business Transformation & attitude transformation

People keep talking about the importance of attitude over aptitude, especially in the context of individual development. Personally, I have encountered many cases where attitude makes up for aptitude. However, one does not associate such statements to be with an organization, in general. And yet, that is exactly what I was left thinking about an incumbent Service Provider’s business approach after a recent meeting with their top management team, dealing with an urgent need to transform their business.

The Service Provider is an erstwhile PTT and the market had been opened up recently to competition. The market is a duopoly and the competitor is a multinational operator. The competitor entered the market as a second wireless provider, and at the time of this blog has already cornered 50% of the wireless market. The incumbent, along with many MVNOs, owns the remaining 50%.

The wireline broadband services provided by the incumbent was dependent on copper based infrastructure until very recently, when the competitor-challenger started drawing up plans for FTTx based broadband delivery. The incumbent jump-started their FTTx initiative and are right now ahead of the challenger. The broadband market in the country is not very huge, partly because of poor computer literacy and mostly because of substitution by wireless (both wireless providers have 3G services). The incumbent operator has recently defined “Customer Centricity” as the theme for growth.

Prior to the meeting, we had sampled their service on the ground by one of the three of us getting into their wireless network for International Roaming, a second took a prepaid voice connection and the third took up a prepaid Blackberry-cum-data connection. The experience of each of us is as given below.

  • Prepaid voice started working within 5 minutes of activation from the airport counter (A $6 top-up service)
  • The Blackberry connection could be put to use only after 35 hours and entailed a few calls to a call centre, a visit to one of the official shops and a 30 minute wait at the shop disrupting all the plans for the evening (A $12 top-up service)
  • The Postpaid International Roaming service was operational immediately – though the welcome message came more than an hour after hooking to their network, this high revenue service worked flawlessly

We also scouted out opinion individually with members who are likely to be in the meeting to understand what in their opinion would be urgently needed corrections in their operations – almost all the people met pointed out to “People Issues” and resistance to change as major factors that need to be addressed! They even confided that there was a recent initiative to purge out poor work-related attitudes in the organization without going into how it was done.

In the workshop, we started the presentation with a concise customary introduction to our company followed by examples of some famous and not so famous transformation stories, some of which, our organization had enjoyed a ring-side view.

We then presented our framework for a transformational approach which starts with a metrics baseline that we call the “CEO’s dashboard”. We noticed that some of the senior managers in the room got uncomfortable and defensive on this point. Sample: when we posed a rhetorical question, “Do you know how long it takes for a Blackberry prepaid user to get his service activated?”, one of the seniors in the room shot back indicating that the measure is too trivial and that such small events cannot be monitored and tracked at a CEO level. The person was not even satisfied when the question was rephrased by adding the phrase “on an average”. Worse still, within the next 30 minutes, this manager came up with a reason to walk out of the meeting too.

So I guess that before we embark on business transformation there is a serious need for attitude transformation.

On this I have a lot of pet theories:

  1. Never indicate an organizational change process as a process of change; indicate it as a business initiative – e.g. I know of a service provider who decided that they would like to follow “Total Quality Management” as a differentiator; although they didn’t achieve any TQM certification (if one exists) they managed to raise the level of awareness about Internal Customers and the internal supply chain that caters to external customers. This operator actually achieved an average turnaround time of around half-a-day for technical customer complaints as against a previous average of 2 days.
  2. When manager’s attitude gets in the way, it is important to work around by reaching into his organization for a group of change agents; once again as a business initiative team or task-force. In one of the service providers that I know of, so much mistrust existed amongst the middle management, critical information sharing was becoming a bottleneck; the CEO, in consultation with the HR head, created a “Corporate Communication Task Force” formed out of the second layer of managers of the various departments. This helped the information flow and the middle management started realizing the importance of the information exchange process in their successes over a period of time.
  3. CEOs may have to be seen routinely performing deeds that encourage the desired change – e.g. in the above example in 2, change-agents were rewarded on a monthly basis based on how information shared by them enabled another department to function effectively.
  4. Another technique I have seen – especially in the context of reorganization – is to create a Single Point of Contact (SPOC) in each department connected virtually to a central authority (typically an executive from the HR or a special officer) who understands the spirit behind the reorganization to ensure consistent handling of reorg related issues.
  5. I also like some of the concepts in the book “A Sense of Urgency” – John P. Kotter (Harvard Business Press ISBN-10: 1422179710 / ISBN-13: 978-1422179710) which suggests that one should distinguish between urgency, false-urgency and complacency.

I would request readers of this blog to add to the above list based on their experiences.


4 thoughts on “Business Transformation & attitude transformation

  1. First of all congrats on restarting on B(Balajis)log – Blog.

    Now coming to the article it is good one specifically “aptitude vs attitude” in a biz transformation context.

    Change today has become a DIE HARD habit within business behemoths. New Web 2.0 rules are beginning to change this from board rooms to customer feedback driven cycles.

    Hopeful rate of change would not be difficult in times to come within our generation 🙂


  2. Good article – organizational behaviour shaped by attitude of individuals & teams is an abstruse subject. I have been witnessing a telco behemoth struggling to transform itself in the last few years – organizational behaviour has been a major bottleneck. But, I have been witnessing this at middle management level while Balaji seems to have witnessed at board level. My 2 cents: –

    1. Forward Info leakage: Top Management intention gets conveyed down with distortion & leakage – for eg: Goal to reduce People Intensity – gets conveyed in some quarters as ‘job cut’ – while actual business intent is ‘reduce cost, re-deploy redundant people in new programs funded by the cost saving’ ! While this is a spoiler for regular operations as well, the damage this does in a transformation program is bigger, for ‘urgency & change’ associated with a transformation program magnifies the latent ‘forward leakage’ that was hitherto present in normal operations.

    2. Reverse Info leakage: Top Mangement needs ‘realistic’ inputs but gets distorted & leaked input. Reason for leakage are: 1. Intention to confirm to a pre-conceived notion of what ‘top management’ wants – this happens at multiple levels AND 2. ‘Shoot the messenger’ attitude of seniors (at various levels) if the message does not confirm what they ‘think’ is the ideal input!

    3. Pessimism due to history: This telco has had a history of small & medium transformation failures! Naturally, many people at various level have an inherent pessimism – this contributes to the ‘inertia’ which is one of the ingredients of the ‘attitude’ problem !

  3. @Sundar: Great points. Especially point 3 – I have been to meetings with many telcos where I am advised against the use of the “word” transformation! The word – uttering it reminds them of past failures and pains!

  4. A thought provoking article. I would like to add the importance of ‘information dissemination’ within the organisation when an organisation migrates from its legacy processes to a contemporary process with a view to enhance its operations both in the technical and finacial domains. The success of this migration is fairly and squarely dependent on the following factors: –
    (a) Identification and the acceptance of the need for the proposed migration within the constituents of the orgn.
    (b) The implementation road map should be conversant to all stake holders
    (c) Tangible and intangible benefits to be accrued through the migration is known to all stakeholders

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