Thursday, 24 September 2015

Car emissions and ethics

This was originally supposed to be a post about the dis-benefits of gaming the system as a car manufacturer and how there were wide-ranging impacts beyond the basic "it pollutes more, who's going to pay", but while writing, it scope-crept into a much wider piece on ethics.

VW recently gamed the vehicle emissions test, so that their vehicles recognised that they were being tested and produced more favourable results when on test.  No harm done, right?

Yeah, right.

The impact of this is massive, even beyond the initial fine that VW will be expecting.  It goes beyond VW, beyond the car industry, beyond everything to the core of our society.

This should send out a solid message to all of us - integrity is critical, not just while we're being tested, but when we're out there "in the wild".  Do we still do what we promised, and if not, what are the consequences?

Say that VW make the cars conform 100% and it makes the cars undriveable?  You bought it after a test drive, so can you get a refund?  If not, claims are bound to come along.  These cars aren't cheap, and that's quite a bit of capital that VW might have to buy back.  What if your promises don't live up to expectations?  Did you make claims at interview that you wouldn't be able to reproduce for real?  We all big ourselves up, right?

Moving back to VW, if owners accept that the performance needs to be 'as is', are they going to pay the back tax on excise duty and initial tax?  How does a prospective buyer know if the car is modded or not?  How do the people that you're working for know that you're a quality product unless you're honest and have a track record of that honesty?  We pretty much promote people based on their capability to blag (small lies), so isn't that acceptable?  Once you're caught, how can people be sure that they can trust in the future?  This is about fundamental ethics.

If you bought your VW as a company car, then will you get additional taken from your wages to cover the higher tax bracket?  Perhaps you might have chosen a different car in the first place?  This has parallels in the interview, psychometric testing and test scenarios.  Did you game the system to pass?  I know of people who did that and can't do what it 'said on their tin'.  How do we cope with that in employment?

It isn't yet known how many other manufacturers are affected, but as manufacturers share parts then it wouldn't be surprising for most of VAG to be affected.  Other manufacturers may do even worse stuff than this, but you can be sure that people are now going to be keeping a close eye on behaviour.  So how does that play out in employment?  Is it acceptable to share information on how to game interviews at your work?  Shouldn't the pass/fail be about the basics of 'will you fit in?' or 'can you do the job?'.  Ethically you should present a good view of yourself but not game the system to pass, or is it OK to do this if you're just going for a post that you want but not if you create a line of cars that break regulations?  Does scale matter?

So, before you talk about your capabilities in the future, think about how that may impact on you and your customers.  If they knew the truth, would they still choose you?  What are the consequences of your claims beyond your current role?

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

A shared landscape

So, was at a presentation/workshop today and there was some talk about a transformation programme that seems to have lost it's way somewhat.

This immediately cast my mind back to a discussion that I had with one of the Programme Managers when I first worked with them.  I said "There is no senior consensus view, no shared map of the landscape" and that assessment still stands.

The problem is that if you've not discussed, debated and agreed the shared map of the landscape, then you're all operating from different maps...and that's just chaos.

So how to recover?  Well, the key is to get to a shared landscape and get everyone on the same map.  Same map, same version.  People need to agree the map is an accurate representation of the world and then move toward that goal.  I don't think that current efforts have been wasted, but we need to avoid moving further apart than we already are.

No shared view?  Well, eventually everyone will just lose interest and go off on their own.  No big group of people moving towards a common goal, but instead lots of smaller groups diluting the effort.

Lego play

I attended a Lego Serious Play (LSP) event yesterday, with the intention of finding out a little more about the system.

Lego Serious Play is a system that is endorsed by Lego, and can be used in a variety of different ways, but the overall concept is to model, visualise and communicate the business system.  This allows communication and sharing with other members of the team.

The principles of the system are quite straightforward - break the ice and then work toward a visualisation of "as is" and "to be" models.  Working alone and then coming together to make a consensus view is similar to other systems such as Business Activity Models (BAM), Soft Systems Modeling (SSM), Porter's Five Forces and others, so I felt quite comfortable with the content and that there was something solid behind it all.  This type of thing is critical to joined-up business.  I've seen many times where there are different people pulling things in different directions and the reality is that you need to have a way to bring all that out of people, get it discussed and get to a consensus.  Until that happens, then you're all running separate, competing businesses.

I love using graphics in business and I've never really understood why many businesses like to convert these graphics (which is easily understood) to a narrative (which isn't).  Businesses need to get over the whole "writing it up" thing and accept that their teams will naturally engage better with something simple and visual than something that they have to put effort into, like 70 pages of text.  Once you accept that people don't read the text, then it sets your mind free.  I'm not religious but I know the basis of the 10 Commandments whereas I don't know the text behind it.  I don't know most of the policies where I work and neither do your employees in your business.  They say that a picture is worth 1000 words and I really do believe that.

One reflection is that the Lego system allowed people to use some really weird abstract things to represent various business objects, and I felt that this then meant that the participants needed to explain the visuals more than if a car was represented by a car, for example.  I just felt that if you represent your cashflow as a leopard then it probably says very little about your cashflow unless you explain further.  Even your own organisation might not understand the "cashflow as a tiger/tree" concept without more narrative, but then maybe that's the point - you have to get people talking about their perspective and listening to the perspectives of others before you can develop a fully-formed model.

I've seen the phrase "permission to play with xxxxxx" used in these types of events, and I can imagine that there are some businesses where this approach would work well, and others where it wouldn't.  I'd love to get a C-suite playing with Lego for a day and see their reactions.  I've rarely seen anyone not pick up some Lego and make a little something or other, so I imagine that it would work better than you might think.

Would I use the system fully?  Perhaps.  I've got some icebreakers that use Lego and people genuinely engage with those tasks in a way that I've not seen with silly questions, who you'd throw out of a balloon, etc.  So, I think I'll be giving it a try and seeing if I can use it further before I become a LSP practitioner.

Dave @jugglingsand