7 years, 4 months ago

How anti-clients happen (and what to do about it)

Link: http://weblog.tetradian.com/2012/10/08/how-anticlients-happen/

Are there any anti-clients for you in your enterprise? Who are they? How did they turn so actively against you? And what can you do about it, and them, in the design and implementation of your enterprise-architecture?

Who are anti-clients?

To make sense of this, we need a quick recap of the Market Model:

Our organisation’s clients, prospects and ex-clients are part of our direct market-context: they interact, may interact or did interact in the value-streams for our services’ main-transactions. However, the organisation’s business-context extends beyond the market, out into a much broader shared-enterprise, connecting via values (plural) rather than value (as in a supply-chain value-stream).

Anti-clients are a specific category of non-clients in that they don’t engage with the organisation in that direct market-space (though they may formerly have done so – a point we’ll come back to later): they’re ‘out there’ in the broader and more indirect enterprise-space. In that sense, anti-clients are significantly different from ‘the competition’ and suchlike, who do operate within that direct market-space. An anti-client is someone (or some entity) who shares the same or similar enterprise-vision, but who actively opposes the ways in which our organisation engages in that enterprise.

The reasons for that opposition are many and varied, but in some ways the reasons themselves often don’t matter all that much. What is important is that we don’t merely ignore the fact of that opposition – as so many organisations try to do – but instead acknowledge that the opposition exists, and, wherever practicable, try to engage with it as honestly and respectfully as we can. If we don’t, the anti-client opposition will continue to fester away on what may seem to be only the ‘far-out’ edge of the enterprise, but can suddenly ‘infect’ the active market-space and impact the organisation’s business. And in the days of social-media, that kind of anticlient-’infection’ may represent a kurtosis-risk that’s big enough to kill the company: in other words, not something that’s wise for us to ignore…

There are two main drivers for why people become anti-clients: an inherent values-clash, and a sense of betrayal. These are not mutually-exclusive – in fact things can get seriously messy when they coincide. Yet it’s useful to treat these as somewhat distinct, not least because we would usually address them through different mechanisms within the organisation.

An inherent anti-client is someone who is in the same enterprise-space – often with no choice but to be in the same space – whose values, morals and/or ethics collide those of the organisation, either in terms of intent or, even more, in terms of action. The feeling or assertion is that the organisation is inherently ’wrong in what it does or how it does it. For example, if you’re doing logging or minerals-exploration in a wildlife-reserve, you will have inherent clashes with environmentalists or indigenous peoples; if you run a family-planning clinic, you will have inherent clashes with ‘pro-life’ activists. And this will remain so whether or not the current law upholds the organisation’s activities: it’s a values-clash (enterprise), not a legal-clash (organisation).

betrayal anti-client usually starts out in the market-space, as an active client. At some point, for any of a vast array of possible reasons, their experience is that the organisation has been ‘unfair’ in its relations with them personally, or with others that they know. They want the perceived unfairness to be acknowledged and addressed: the sense of betrayal will continue to grow for as long as these concerns – from their perspective – are not appropriately addressed. Probably the most common example in business is unresolved customer-complaints, for which the classic betrayal-anticlient fightback is the song ‘United Breaks Guitars‘. That feeling of ‘unfairness’ is frequently described by betrayal-anticlients in terms of ‘abuse‘ by the organisation – which in technical terms, as ‘evasion of responsibility‘ by the organisation, it often actually is.

Perhaps the key point here is that this is primarily about trust – or, more specifically, lack of trust, and/or loss of trust. Without some means of (re)creating trust, there is no way forward – and all too easy for it to become a (literally) vicious-spiral.

One of the other crucial points to understand here is that feelings are facts, whereas interpretations of feelings are not facts – they’re just interpretations. Far too many people get this point the wrong way round – and that’s when and why things tend to turn seriously wicked

Inherent-anticlients usually try to remain detached from the organisation, and betrayal-anticlients usually aim to become ex-clients (market) or non-clients (enterprise), where their potential for impact may often be reduced. But if they are forced into active relationship – such as where the organisation is physically in their homespace – or forced to become or remain active-clients – such as in a monopoly context – the sense of ‘wrongness’ or ‘unfairness’ will be continually reinforced, and has nowhere else to go. Such ‘trapped’ anticlients can act much like cornered wild-animals: if ‘flight’ is not available, and ‘freeze’ (ignore) doesn’t work, then the only remaining option is ‘fight’ – and since the underlying drivers are emotional, not ‘rational’, that fight can extend far beyond apparent reason, even ‘to the death’ and worse.

Hence why these are not issues that we can casually ignore in business: if we’re not careful how we handle them, and fail to understand what’s actually going, they can explode from any seeming unexpected-direction, without any apparent warning, yet bring enormous destruction in their wake. In short, not trivial…

All of which might still seem a bit abstract. So let’s put this into real-world perspective, with a live issue that’s affecting me personally, very hard, right now.

[Update: In case anyone gets too hung up about this, the section that follows is merely an example of typical drivers for an anticlient-relationship, and the kind of feelings and mindset of the anti-client. You can ignore the specifics if you want, because they’re really not all that relevant for most people: what matters is the description of the feelings, because those types of feelings are the core facts that you have to deal with in architecture and design for mitigation and resolution of anti-client issues. Seriously, believe me, that section below is trivial by comparison with what’s happening for and with some of your own organisation’s anti-clients: this is just a relatively-minor example to give you something to work with, that’s all. The most important part of the post is the ‘how-to’ section that follows this one. Okay?]

A first-hand example

If you’ve read this blog or read my earlier books, you’ll see that I used to be a strong promoter of the Cynefin framework and its use in enterprise-architectures. Not any more: far from it, in fact. Very far from it, over the past couple of years or so. So how and why has this happened?

The core of the disagreement centres around the definition, interpretation and application of the term ‘Chaotic’ within sensemaking and decision-making. Cynefin asserts that ‘Chaotic’ is solely a subset of and feeder into ‘Complex’ – the realm of complexity-science and suchlike – whereas I’ve been insisting that it needs to be viewed as something separate and distinct from Complex. At first glance, that sounds almost as abstruse and absurd as one of those bizarre ‘how many angels on a pin-head?’ arguments: but in practice that distinction between ‘Chaotic-as-a-subset-of-Complex’ versus ‘Chaotic-as-itself’ has huge implications in enterprise-architecture practice, around design for inherent-uniqueness, ‘market-of-one’ and many similar real-world concerns.

Which means there’s a disagreement. Sure. So what? Why’s it such a big deal? Why not just agree to disagree, and leave it at that?

Reality is that I can’t just ignore it, however much I might want to do so. Cynefin is one of the dominant models in the sensemaking space: and sensemaking is a context I must address in my work in enterprise-architectures, as an inherent part of that work.

I’ll admit I was a bit slow, because it took me some five years or so to realise that I had a fundamental disagreement around how Cynefin handles the Chaotic, viewing it – and everything else – solely in terms of its relationship to a specific model of the Complex. To me Cynefin seems to be ‘Complex-centric’ in a very similar sense to the way in which TOGAF and Archimate, for example, are inherently IT-centric – and hence with very similar problems and risks for the enterprise-architecture. To me, ‘anything-centrism’ is very bad news for an enterprise-architecture: not just a ‘bad idea’, but ethically ’wrong’, because it conceals a very high risk of damage to the enterprise. In that sense, I’m an inherent-anticlient for anything that promotes anything-centrism. Hence some fairly inevitable values-clashes in my work in enterprise-architecture…

My disagreements with Open Group and the like around IT-centrism were pretty intense for a while too: but there was a willingness on both sides to work through it, and there is now, I think, a general if perhaps sometimes grudging agreement that I was right to challenge them on it, and that a non-IT-centric approach to EA is the right way to go.

Not so, unfortunately, on the clash with Dave Snowden, the main promoter of Cynefin. His preferred style of debate is highly combative: as he’s said many times, he likes to “dish it out” to anyone who disagrees with him. It’s a style that may work well for him, but it doesn’t work for me at all: I don’t like it, I’m no good at it, and it feels ethically wrong to engage in that kind of relating. Result: I ‘lose’, whichever way I play it. Hence it feels not just ‘wrong’ (inherent-anticlient) but ‘unfair’ as well (betrayal-anticlient). And I’m trapped: I’m stuck in the same concept-space as Cynefin, whether I like it or not. Perhaps not surprising, then, that it quickly turned nasty – and has become steadily worse and worse over the past few years, with no end-point in sight.

If you want a direct illustration of how and why I’ve now become such an intense anti-client in regard to just about anything Cynefin, just take at look at this comment that Dave Snowden placed yesterday on a colleague’s website:

Tom’s description of Chaos are to my mind what the literature describes as Complex; I suspect he is using a common language definition rather than the scientific one which is fine but which I also think explains his confusion.

And also this Tweet yesterday morning:

RT @snowded: The comment deleted by @tetradian Every 6 months he repeats the same errors & deletes response   Can’t cope? #entarch http://t.co/VYh2b16r

There, in just two lines, we have the unsubtle insinuation that my work is ‘unscientific’, that I’m unable to understand ‘the literature’ (unspecified), that I am ‘confused’, that my analysis contains ‘errors’ (unspecified), and that I’m ‘unable to cope’.

(It’s possible that may not be how he intended it, but that is how I interpret it now: that’s how it feels.)

Elsewhere you’ll find many similar assertions from him that my work is a ‘hash-up’, ‘illegitimate’, ‘of no validity’ and much, much more of that ilk, repeated and repeated, over years and years and years.

(If you wonder why this hurts, read Snowden’s assertions as if they were said not about someone else’s work, but about you and your work, day after day, month after month, year after year. Makes a difference, doesn’t it?)

Evidence offered by Snowden for any of his assertions? None.

Acknowledgement of the possibility that my analysis might indeed be correct, and that the confusion and errors and incompletions might indeed be in his work, not mine? None.

Awareness or acknowledgement that there are very valid reasons why I delete his comments on my blog? None.

Nothing. Just the archetypal old-school IBMer’s indulgence in insinuation, smear, denigration and FUD.

That’s how it feels for me right now. And people seriously think there’s any point in my attempting to do proper debate with that?

Pah! To hell with it…

That’s how it feels, anyway: and feelings are relevant facts in this type of context – perhaps even more so than supposed ‘objective fact’. And to be blunt, I’m more than just a bit angry about it all, no trust whatsoever, and those feelings have festered for far too long a time. Definitely an anti-client, then… both an inherent-anticlient and betrayal-anticlient, because to me all of this not only feels ‘wrong’ (collective/ethics), but vastly ‘unfair’ (individual/abuse) as well.

So: what next? In terms of this specific mess, probably nothing that we can usefully do about it right now. My problem, really: that’s it. Deal with it. Oh well.

Yet if we sidestep all of that all-too-personal misery for the moment, there are some general principles that arise from this example, about handling of anti-client issues, that are directly applicable in enterprise-architecture and design: and it’s probably worthwhile exploring those before moving on.

Application in enterprise-architecture

To get clear from the ‘personal stuff’, let’s go over the basics in abstract again:

  • anti-clients become anti-clients because of values-clashes with the organisation and its perceived intent and/or actions within the scope of the shared-enterprise
  • inherent-anticlients tend to have little or no direct engagement with the organisation’s main business-transactions; the values-clash tends to be around abstract, collective, and perceived ethics or morals – a perception that what the organisation is doing is inherently ’wrong’
  • betrayal-anticlients tend to be or have been engaged directly with the organisation’s main business-transactions; the values-clash tends to be around concrete, personal and perceived actions or inactions – a perception that what organisation is (not) doing is palpably ‘unfair’
  • people may be or become both inherent-anticlients and betrayal-anticlients, with a variety of dynamics between the two forms
  • anticlient-relationships become more intense whenever the anti-client feels ‘trapped’ in the context – especially where the relationship is experienced or perceived by the anti-client as being ‘rigged’ in favour of the organisation
  • [Update (thank you Martin Howitt!): anti-clients are not necessarily external to your organisation: for example, there is a significant risk that employees will develop anticlient-type relationships with others in the organisation, and with the organisation as a whole, which inherently tend to become intense because the employee is in effect ‘trapped’ within the organisation; the intensity, and risk, increase with increasing dysfunctionality of the organisation – see the SEMPER diagnostic for more details on this]
  • all anti-clients represent variously-significant kurtosis-risks for the organisation
  • the core issue in all cases is a lack of trust
  • if nothing is done, the default is a tendency to fall into a vicious-cycle of ever-intensifying distrust, with an ever-increasing risk of damage to all parties (‘everyone loses’)
  • anti-client relationships and risks can be eased or resolved by systematic attention to values-themes and to trust – how trust is created or destroyed in the organisation’s interactions with others

To explore that last theme – about trust created or destroyed – it’d probably be useful to do a recap on the Market Cycle, or Service Cycle:

In a conventional transaction-oriented perspective, the business-relationship begins by gaining the attention of the prospect, and ends when the organisation achieves its own aim in the transaction. This is an ‘inside-out‘ view of the market, with clients and others seen only in terms of their relationship with self (the organisation).

The danger is that this is only a subset of the full service-cycle, the latter of which we tend only to be able to see from an ‘outside-in‘ (client-oriented) perspective. The outer parts of the cycle relate to trust and relationship: trust underpins relationship which provides the ground for conversation, and so on. If there is no trust – which is exactly the issue in anticlient-relationships – then there is no way for the cycle to get started; if trust is not actively renewed – by ensuring that the transaction is completed in terms of the client‘s success-criteria – then trust itself is eroded, such that eventually no new cycle can be started. And when that happens, everyone loses.

Note too that some interactions never reach a conventional transaction as such, but still need to be completed in terms of the client’s success-criteria: in effect, it only goes through the outer part of the loop. In the earlier stages of client-relationships, and in all non-transaction relationships, this outer-loop cycle is the norm rather the exception.

The core requirement for all of these interactions is that trust must be created and maintained if the cycle is to function successfully from anyone’s perspective, especially over the longer term.

And the way we build trust, and maintain trust, is via the vision and values of the enterprise – and explicitly demonstrating the organisation’s alignment to those values.

To work with inherent-anticlients, the typical core mechanisms that we’d use are essentially the same as those for investor-relationships. (This is because they are ’investors’ in the organisation, whether they want to be or not: the forms of value invested are rarely financial, but it is explicitly investment nonetheless.) The way to build trust is to identify and then leverage shared aspects of enterprise-vision and/or shared-values.

To work with betrayal-anticlients, the typical core mechanisms that we’d use would be embedded in and/or an extension of the existing customer-service capabilities. (This is because they usually are customers or clients before the perceived ‘betrayal’ kicks in.) The way to build trust is to ensure that the person first feels heard, and then demonstrate through action conformance to declared enterprise-values.

Beware that enterprise-values are a definite two-edged sword here. In effect, the organisation’s declared-values represent the overall value-proposition of the whole organisation in respect to the shared-enterprise: if actual-values (enacted values) do not align with espoused-values, this will destroy trust, often irreparably. In short, don’t declare a value to be significant to the organisation unless it does demonstrably pervade every aspect of the organisation and its architectures – otherwise the malconformance will come back to bite you hard in terms of loss of trust and increased anticlient-problems and -risks. (To use Kevin Smith‘s term, value-malconformances represent a huge source of unidentified and unacknowledged Enterprise Debt.)

Social-media monitoring is an often-essential method to track and intercept potential anti-client problems before they spiral out of control. For example, here are a handful of (de-identified) Tweets that I tagged as potential anti-client examples over the past few months:

  • Ryanair emails me to say it’ll debit my card with increased Spanish departure tax. BA will absorb it. If only I had a choice to Reus. // Does anyone, if given a choice, book with Ryanair?
  • So Ryanair tell me they will debit my card to cover new Spanish airport tax. But not by how much. So I just trust Ryanair, right?
  • ‘the volume of hazardous waste produced by suspected Apple Inc. suppliers was especially large” http://bit.ly/NFKB0a
  • After the third f/u in one day by @united, you begin to understand it’s a pattern and a business philosophy, not passenger bad luck. #fail
  • Ok Marriot and Starwood…I’m not paying $18 4 an on demand movie when I can download 1 4 $5 on iPad. Wake up 2 reality.
  • Too much airline maneuvering this week. Fortunately at @SouthwestAir there is a will & an eventual way; at @United, there is simply no will
  • Airline rants, cont’d: It’s actually shocking to compare what people tweet about @SouthwestAir (good!) vs @United (abysmal) #whatsaschedule
  • Apple refuses to carry a book because it mentions amazon http://bit.ly/PWCVtI
  • Copenhagen Airport is not designed for human needs: only very few toilettes and places to sit near the gate
  • Forget UnitedBreaksGuitars: How about @United loses 10yr-old and doesn’t care? http://bit.ly/R9C1N7
  • Today I have seen “improvements” from American Airlines and Google that worsened the quality of my user experience #ux #ia #ixd
  • Wow – Sales Incentives at Staples Draw Complaints — The Haggler http://zite.to/OjuWbF
  • Most annoying forms of Web adverts: 1) Pop-ups when you mouse over a word…. 2) Videos that start blasting as soon as you load a web page
  • Does @telstra make a special effort to have such bad customer service? Is there a selection process for incompetence nurtured with training?

Some of the common themes here: betrayal of expectations, perceptions of poor value and misuse of ‘captive market’, loss of trust, lack of trust, and even disgust and dismay. You’ll also see one organisation (Southwest Airlines) specifically singled out as a contrast of ‘good’ versus ‘bad’. There’s a lot that can be learnt from this, especially in terms of need for proper vision-based value-propositions, viable customer-service design and need for live customer-available information (another very common complaint about airports and airlines).

One theme that rises time and again is that one of the quickest and most powerful ways to restore trust is simply to ensure that the person feels ‘heard’ – that their complaint is acknowledged, listened-to and respected. In a surprising number of cases, that’s all that need be to shift someone out of an ‘active betrayal-anticlient’ mode, and into concrete engagement in mutual-responsibility for what happens next.

With care and proper system-design and system-operation, most betrayal-anticlient relationships can be resolved, even to the point of becoming a virtuous-cycle trust-relationship. The same is true – or true in part – of some inherent-anticlient relationships: Walmart’s engagement with sustainability-activists is one well-documented example. However, the enterprise-architecture must acknowledge that all anti-client relationships will carry some wicked-problem components, because of the inherent and in some cases irresolvable value-clashes.

One of the first requirements in architecture-development for anti-client concerns is that it’s essential to identify the respective values, expectations and value-clashes. Nigel Green’s VPEC-T (Values, Policies, Events, Content, Trust) is one framework that’s especially useful for this purpose.

Wherever wicked-problem components occur, it’s also essential to design explicit mechanisms for arbitration or conflict-resolution. One of the keys here is to make it clear that the clash itself is ‘no-one’s fault’: it’s inherent in the relationship, not the people. (It definitely is ‘someone’s fault’ if that ‘someone’ fails to uphold the espoused values of the enterprise: identifying that that has occurred, and what to do about it, is one of the core responsibilities for the arbitration mechanism.) There’s a brief description of such a mechanism in the post ‘Unbreaking‘, about a wicked-problem between scientists and engineers in a research-facility:

Note too in that example another key characteristic of success here: everyone wins. In this specific case, the overall resolution design included improved scheduling (which supported the engineers’ need for better predictability in their very time-constrained work-context) and better structuring of the engineers’ work-records output (which supported the scientists’ need for re-usable data for analysis and experiment-design). The reason why ‘everybody wins’ is such an important design- and operations-principle is that it reduces the key driver that creates betrayal-anticlients: the sense that something is ‘unfair’.

Anyway, more than enough for now: hope you find something useful to make a start on from all of this.

Over to you, perhaps?