Friday, November 24, 2006

BRFSStrategic announces a new C.F.O.

Following on from 'Acronyms: What's in a Name?', I'm pleased to announce that BRFSStrategic has a new
hief Friendliness Officer

as part of the team.

, pictured, at nine weeks already has a natural ability for her main role concerning friendliness, and is rapidly learning how to carry out her other onerous duties including lying/sleeping under my chair while I'm blogging, reminding me not to take myself too seriously
and chewing everything in sight!

Congratulations are also in order to the team at on the appointment of their new C.E.O. (Chief Eating Officer).

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Acronyms: What's in a Name?

Acronyms! Love them or hate them? You know what I mean - those words formed from the initial letters of other words. You can go to and look up over 3,000,000 million of them.

Governments are really good at making them up so that they are pronouncible but carry no meaning other than identification: e.g.

  • NOFEAR (National Organisation for European American Rights)
  • NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation),
  • CSIRO, pronounced 'sigh-row' (Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation),
  • ASIO (Australian Security Intelligence Organisation),
  • and apparently about 3,000,000 others.

Geez, I've even done it myself with BRFSStrategic - Big Red Flying Squirrel. You'd think I'd know better!

But consider when an acronym can become a useful metaphor full of meaning:-

NESST - National Executive Strategic Sustainability Team - the idea being that this top-level team was to be a nest to nurture various initiatives.

CAST - Change Agent Support Team - for a team responsible for implementing change, the acronym made it clear that the team members were the cast who were the main players in any effort, not just directing but actively participating.

NeWT - New World Training - for a training program designed to give participants awareness and tools to manage their own culture. Quite apt, because a newt is an animal capable of regenerating lost limbs.

What I found really fascinating was that the culture in each of these cases was 'robust' enough to tolerate some digs at these acronyms.

For example, one wag described NESST as a place for those who were feathering their own! CAST was quickly referred to in some quarters as CAST-AWAY. NeWT left some people wondering what parts needed regeneration.

These sort of meaningful acronyms tell a story of their own, and give people some way of judging when they are no longer apt
acronyms but only anachronisms (sound pretty close don't they?), which could indicate it's time to change, give them up and do something else.

Do you have any favourite acronyms???

addendum 24/11/2006: there's a lovely post about acronmyms by John Maeda here.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Buy In ... Sell Out

Do you have any phrases that when you hear them make your flesh creep or start to ring warning bells?

Just about any sentence that contains the words “
get buy-in” will do that for me. “Getting Buy-In” is a concept that I hate – I hate hearing it, I hate talking like that and I hate thinking like that.

I hate hearing it because it automatically smacks of insincerity and manipulation to me. Like what we’re wanting to do isn’t quite palatable on its own so we have to spice up the dish somehow, like using curry to disguise meat that’s off.

I hate talking like that because it feels like I’ve gone over to the other side, the dark side where I’m not relating to others as whole people but more as commodities that can actually be bought and sold. Hmmm, let’s see; exactly how much buy-in can I get?; as if I can measure how many grams of co-operation I can buy (extract) from another’s heart, mind and soul.

I hate thinking like that because, frankly, it’s a cop-out. It’s too easy to assume that I can buy compliance at some level, rather than take my proposal to the people who will have to execute it anyway and genuinely, respectfully ask them what they think. It’s easier in the short term to go for compliance rather than develop co-operation or even collaboration.

Do you think that the people you are trying to get buy-in from don’t know? At some level they do – at some level they know that a very calculated exchange is taking place. And they are weighing that up constantly – not just at the moment when they have given you
‘buy-in’, which most people wrongly assume is forever and unchanging.

That’s the essence of my objection to ‘buy-in’ thinking – it’s transactional rather than relational and don’t be surprised if at some point the people you thought you had eternal ‘buy-in’ from suddenly decide: “Right, well, I’ve bought enough of that! It’s time to
sell out.”

And I think they have every right.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Building the Pyramid, Running Round the Circle


Hugh Macleod, somewhere on his Gaping Void blog,
has this neat cartoon depicting the company hierarchy. It's a pyramid, naturally enough, and at the base are 'losers', in the middle are 'clueless' and at the top are 'sociopaths'. Fair enough, even if it's not totally fair. Perhaps it's only 95% fair ;-). And while Hugh labels the bottom layer 'losers', it seems to me that in this particular pyramid, everyone is a loser.

Dave Pollard's post, Living on the Edge, presents a diagram of a series of concentric circles - the outermost circle which comprises 10% of the population are the innovators on the edge, and the innermost circle which comprises just 1% of the population are the political and business elite. I suppose that if you had a conical pyramid instead of the usual square and looked at it from a hot-air balloon :-) both Hugh's and Dave's drawings might look similar. Not that I equate Dave's edge-dwellers with Hugh's losers!

There's another connection, too. Both Hugh and Dave have described systems - very sick systems, full of wicked problems: and full of people, too, including some wicked ones no doubt.

Today a thought popped into my head - just what do most companies do that actually adds real meaning to people's lives? When I talk to business owners, and when I talk to employees, I'm often struck by the similarity of the conversations. The really serious conversations, which don't happen so often because they are so scary, all seem to lead to 'meaning' ... like, "What does all this activity really mean?" or "Well, now I've made it, it just doesn't seem to mean what I thought it would". And the same inquiries could be made not just by individuals but also by entire systems, however defined; a team, a company or even a country.

Somehow I know that it doesn't matter how much training you have or take, how many 'change management' initiatives you introduce, or how many workshops, focus groups, seminars or Open Spaces you invoke, nothing makes much lasting difference, nothing sticks, without 'meaning'. It's tricky because 'meaning' doesn't get decided - - - it sort of arises, and I have a hunch that it does so individually AND collectively almost simultaneously because we are relational beings. (If it doesn't arise, then it's basically imposed, which is the cause of the lament of so many business owners that their employees just don't seem to get it - of course they don't ... it literally means nothing to them.)

Practically, what does it mean, say, for a company? I'm of the view that most strategic activity is basically what could be called sense-making. The best analogy I've heard is that it's making sense of a game where no one has told you the rules or how many players there are and the rules and the players keep changing all the time! Which is also about wicked problems.

Sense-making is only a stepping stone to meaning. Lots of people tend to equate the two but I think there's a big difference. The best way I know how to explain the difference is through what my father told me about death: "We may comprehend death, but we will never understand it" - sense-making is aligned with comprehension, but meaning is about understanding.

What's more, there's no sense in your making sense all alone - you have to communicate it to others, both to be affected by them and their perspectives and to test the reality of your sense-making. In a company those others are what I call a 'strategic team'. Teams really are the greatest strategic asset you have in a company, but most so-called teams have quite a way to go before they perform in this way. It's more than a functional or operational arrangement, which is where most teams seem to be.

It's the situation where you realise that without the team and the other people on the team, your life would somehow have less meaning even if only because being part of the team brings out the best in you, work-wise and personally. Now that's a tough call for the company, for the team and for the individuals. It's also a choice that involves paying as much attention to the process of the team as to getting the job done.