WorldCC Things That Matter Webinar: Going Deeper

On 29th Feb 2024, as part of WorldCC‘s Thought Leadership webinar series, Stephen Bruce introduced our concept of ‘Things That Matter’, and the process and thinking behind it.

The webinar asked “How can your commercial relationships succeed when the ‘Things That Matter’ aren’t clear and aligned?” and this led to some excellent questions and comments from attendees, which Stephen has answered and expanded upon:

“Would love to see some worked examples: how do you put the theory into practice?”

It’s not really a question of putting theory into practice, but rather the other round, because the process we outlined in the webinar reflects 30+ years of practice and experience being put into theory.

Anyone adopting the process is therefore not putting theory into practice – they’re putting practice into practice!

That said, there were of course time limits during the webinar, so for more information on what this all looks like in practice:

  • This set of videos (~23 minutes) is a key resource that sets out the whole process in detail with many illustrative examples.
  • This article (pages 60-62; Optimism in the face of complexity) describes a set of three iterations of the process in a struggling, complex and diverse £1.2bn outsourcing contract, where the relationship had been rapidly deteriorating.
  • (You can also read our case study about this piece of work.)
  • Contact Stephen to directly discuss other examples where commercial sensitivities and restrictions prevent us from openly sharing full details – these examples include work in diverse sectors (e.g. aerospace, retail and local government), which indicates the general applicability of the process.

“How to convince the execs of both parties that bottom-up is the way forward…?”

Much usually depends on the specifics of the situation, but there are several options.

In general, the most powerful thing is to show execs something they didn’t already know, and that can take several forms.

One reason we advocate starting with the symptoms diagnostic is that it can show up issues that execs didn’t know about – even if that’s just looking at one relationship (starting small is often a good way to go), it indicates at the broader picture and makes a case for change.

Another approach is that execs are on a hiding to nothing with top-down approaches, whether they realize it or not: we’ve got a piece on this which might help here.

And finally it’s worth saying that bottom-up doesn’t mean that all top-down is “bad” – we need to start where we are, and that means that execs can use their (top-down) influence to encourage this new approach; there also remain situations where top-down can work well.

In all situations, though, being clear about what matters has to be the way forward, at which point simply asking questions to establish that there’s lack of clarity, lack of alignment, etc, can be a great way of generating material to engage an exec.

“How do you solve for what matters to a number of functions involved in your org?”

This is why we stress engagement at scale – to make sure that all those different functions are heard – but that can then lead to two challenges:

  • A high number of priorities to decide between.
  • Some priorities that seem opposed.

With the former, we often end-up using a diagnostic approach to “rank” and prioritize Things That Matter; with the latter, it’s a case of finding out if the “clash” is real or only apparent, and then either:

  1. Reframing things in a way that everyone can get behind.
  2. Deciding which party needs to give ground and by how much.
  3. Finding a way to manage the differences.

The Value Code measurements we then showed being put in place provide objective inputs into where things are really at and the evolving consequences of decisions taken, allowing for this all to be continuously revisited.

None of this is easy, but the difference is that it’s tackling this stuff head-on, rather than leaving it implicit, hidden and (all too often) divisive.

“Can we see the poll results?”

Yes! (This article analyzes the striking findings in more detail.)

Poll 1: How confident are you that those involved in your commercial relationships are clear and aligned on the Things That Matter?

- Extremely confident: 0%
- Very confident: 8.47%
- Fairly confident: 44.07%
- Not too confident: 38.98%
- Not at all confident: 6.78%
- Not sure: 1.69%

Poll 2: How and where are the Things That Matter to your organization currently articulated and communicated (choose as many as apply)?

- Vision, mission and values statements: 63.64%
- Annual reports and/or quarterly business reviews: 29.09%
- Corporate strategy and plans: 60.00%
- Tenders and contracts: 40.00%
- Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) and KPIs: 60.00%
- Behavioral charters: 18.18%
- Job descriptions and performance reviews: 32.73%
- Governance and operating procedures: 40.00%
- Other: 0.00%
- Not sure: 1.82%

Poll 3: Which of the following are you currently experiencing in your high-value commercial relationships (choose as many as apply)?

- Need to do more with less: 60.38%
- Missed targets, pressure and a sense of blame: 47.17%
- Communication problems: 50.94%
- Clash between contract and relationship management: 54.72%
- Difficulty nurturing culture: 26.42%
- Disagreements over value: 35.85%
- Change not embedded: 37.74%
- None of the above: 0.00%

(This article analyzes these striking findings in more detail.)

“This seems like a common sense approach to collaboration: why hasn’t it been spelled out before?”

Part of the answer is that it’s often the case that something only seems like common sense in retrospect, and that’s because you then have a new lens through which to see things that you didn’t have before… but those things haven’t really changed; it’s your perspective on them that’s changed.

That’s essentially the definition of a paradigm shift, but providing the new lens needed to “see” with the new perspective is really difficult, and – as we saw in the webinar – there’s a lot of depth behind the Things That Matter concept: that’s not been easy to develop.

However, the main building blocks of our approach date back over 20 years in some cases, and – including specifically with collaboration – more far-sighted individuals have been advocating for some time for a value-led and more “bottom-up” approach.

Again as we discussed in the webinar, though, the challenge has been that conventional “wisdom” and practice is primarily steeped in top-down standards, best practice, training, etc, and it’s taken hitting a crisis point in terms of complexity to make the issues with such approaches undeniable, and make the world “ready” to have the new approach spelled out.

“Useful to also consider when the things that matter may change”

Absolutely. The Things That Matter change for lots of reasons – new ones emerge, progress gets made, priorities shift, things happen externally – and lifecycle stages are also often periods of adjustment (although all too often it’s at least as much of an issue that Things That Matter aren’t communicated and carried through stage changes).

The process we looked at in the webinar is therefore absolutely intended to be ongoing and iterative – whilst the first iteration is usually the “big” one (as everything needs surfacing for the first time), subsequent iterations are then usually more about adjustments (often around a set of “core” Things That Matter that remains far slower to change).

“How much does the work on cultural mapping (Erin Meyer) have implication to the act of surfacing what matters?”

[For those not familiar with Erin Meyer’s work on the Culture Map, the idea is that cultures vary in where they “sit” between the opposing poles of eight different scales (e.g. “Persuading: principles-first vs. applications-first” or “Leading: egalitarian vs. hierarchical”) – each culture therefore has a different profile or “map” across these eight scales, and overlaps and differences between cultures helps to explain synergies and issues.]

It’s true that variations in culture can affect how Things That Matter are surfaced (e.g. due to varying levels of openness), and we looked during the webinar at how anonymity is recommended when gathering inputs for Things That Matter – it’s a great leveller “across” cultures.

Cultural variations then certainly also affect what the surfaced Things That Matter are (due to differing priorities).

However, we’d turn it round at this point to say that it’s more the case that the surfaced Things That Matter indicate the implications of culture (and cultural differences) – implications that can then be consciously understood, accommodated and managed – and it’s worth adding that we have a diagnostic that often follows the Symptoms of What’s Not Working specifically to focus on and understand cultural values and differences.

Contact Stephen to follow up anything else from the webinar.

A full version of Stephen’s slides – including speaker notes – can also be downloaded here.