Tuesday, March 4, 2014

My Three Favorite Gary “Hamelies”

I’ve worked with many people in my consulting career, but one of the most insightful is Gary Hamel. I’ve worked with Gary on clients such as Whirlpool and Korea Telecom.  He usually plays the role of guru by giving keynote addresses, facilitating executive workshops, and presenting his breakthrough ideas to large audiences.

I’ve heard Gary speak so often that sometimes I find myself drifting off into the complacency of “… I’ve heard this before; doesn’t everyone know this?”  Then, wham!  I’m hit by a “Hamely” – a phrase that Gary has been polishing; a phrase that concisely breaks through complexity and rhetoric; a phrase that clears up my thinking and emerges in my discussions with clients.

Now I listen for “Hamelies.”  I’ve heard dozens of them, but here are my three favorites.

1.    Trees Don’t Grow To The Sky
This Hamely captures the fervent activity of planning for growth when a business has plateaued.  I see this all the time. 

It seems to me this is where JC Penny has landed.  Shareholders and board members are beating an old business model; plans produce numbers that refuse to materialize.  JCP keeps beating the dead horse business model of the 1960’s department store.  It’s changed jockeys, brought back the old jockey, and even given the old jockey a new whip.  It’s done everything but admit that the horse is dead.

For more than the last decade JC Penny was looking the other way when customers changed their shopping preferences.  The department store concept lost its luster.  Just like a pair of jeans, no longer does “one-size-fit-all.”  People want to buy designer jeans in designer boutiques.  Ron Johnson couldn’t change JCP around the idea that:  “If you want to run with the Apple crowd you have to look like the Apple crowd.”

But JCP’s loyal customers want more than Johnson’s square deal prices.  They want their coupons, no matter how confusing the pricing.  These are the people that grew the seedling into a majestic oak.  And they are the same customers who are atrophying the great tree.

2.    All Strategies Work – Until They Don’t
This Hamely captures the complacency of strategy without relevance; again a common management malady.

It seems to me this is where Blackberry has landed.  Less than a decade ago the “Crackberry’s” owned the business of doing business securely on their phone.  Blackberry’s value proposition even elected presidents.  According to Blackberyology, business is not personal; social has no place in corporations.

Blackberry didn’t see the discontinuity of disaggregated connectivity.  It didn’t see that the world continues to disaggregate to the level of the individual yet connect to the level of the world.   Unfortunately for Blackberry, organizations are people and people are social and they look for connections beyond their work – hello SnapChat.

Blackberry’s new strategy is one of being bought; going private; and likely selling the company’s network and patents.  Once the sell off is complete the ensuing strategy will work forever.

3.    We Don’t Build Organizations To Change
This Hamily captures hope without commitment; a most common affliction in business today.

It seems to me this is where Nokia landed.  What a storied legacy is Nokia.  It’s a tale of an adapter, a changer.  Nokia started back in 1865 as a paper mill and morphed through transformations in rubber making, cables, electronics, and telecommunications to become the world leader in the manufacture of telephone hand sets.

About four years ago when Stephen Elop took over as president he wrote his “burning platform” memo to call on Nokia’s transformation capabilities to move away from manufacturing and enter the software driven market of smartphones.  It didn’t work.  What happened?  The intransigence of core competence and orthodoxies, that’s what happened.

Somehow along the way Nokia forgot that its real core competence wasn’t making things, it was the capability to change itself.  Now it doesn’t have to worry about getting out of the business of making handsets; it can do that for Microsoft.

So Gary thanks for the Hamelies!  Now all we need are leaders who act on them because: Hamelies are truisms.