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Strategy Hero podcast - S1:E6 transcript - Bringing flow to the frontline

Philippe Guenet, who is our guest today, has operated as an independent coach under Henko, who is focused on building high-performing leadership teams. Philippe has also worked with organizations such as Lloyd's Banking Group, Deutsche Bank, Carnival in the UK, KFC.

Join us as Philippe talks through how his experiences have shown him the importance of getting value to flow throughout your business, so strategies and goals are understood, shared, and cared for by everyone.

Episode: S1:E6 - Strategy Hero - Leading strategy and change - Festus Akinsoboye


James: Hi again, and welcome to the Strategy Hero Podcast, the podcast that's all about diving into the world of business strategy, transformation, and operational excellence. Since 2017, Philippe Guenet, who is our guest today, has operated as an independent coach under Henko, who is focused on building high-performing leadership teams. Philippe has also worked with organizations such as Lloyd's Banking Group, Deutsche Bank, Carnival in the UK, KFC, and a number of startups, facilitating complex digital transformation initiatives. He's also an associate board member of the Thought Leadership with the International Coaching Federation and runs London's Digital Leadership Meetup. But today, he's our strategy hero. I'm very excited to talk to you today, Philippe. How are you?


Philippe: I'm all right. Thank you. It's a little bit daunting to be a hero, but we'll see.


James: Well, I'm glad that you accepted the title.


Philippe: I'll do my best.


James: Just to get started with kind of an overview of who you are.


I'm sure a lot of people on, you know, who are listening today have heard of you.


But for those who have not, could you just tell everyone a little bit about your background and how you found a way into starting Henko?


Philippe: Thank you. Thank you. One thing I cannot add is I'm actually originally French, and I moved to the UK a long time ago, in 96. Therefore, my accent is not completely the one of a local, but I'm UK-based, south of London.


I did my initial career very much in, I graduated in business and saw the internet and the potential of the internet early on in 93, 94, and ever since, I've worked in the world of digital. That has got me essentially in consulting organizations.


I probably have about 20, 25 years in the consulting world. And from 2017, effectively, I had a client that was really thinking about in-sourcing. And strategically, they have a view about in-sourcing, which is quite an existential problem for a consultancy.


That made me think actually they're right, and actually, there is a business model supporting them. But that business model is not about coming up with a solution. It's coming up with something different, something new that helps them develop the competencies, reorganize, rearrange basically their, rewire some of their company to something we call flow.


And reconsider many things around leadership and, of course, around strategy, with agility being also a guiding principle. When you get to that, you realize that the organization needs really profound change. And that profound change is not about doing things differently.


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It's also about being different as organizations, being different as leaders, being different as teams. That is more of a coaching concern than really a consulting concern. It's about creating the framework, creating the facilitation, creating the engagement of people, and getting people in collaboration together over certain things like excellence, like the future of the organization, strategy, like the relationship between the teams, and, of course, like delivery.


But very often organizations, are only organizing themselves around delivery, which is the problem. And doing those more profound changes is a change that has to come from the inside. And it is not about imposing some recipes from the outside. It's actually helping people making those changes on the inside and riding that journey. And that's why, in 2017, I just thought it was not about being a consultant anymore.


The new game is being a coach but facilitating change as a coach, as genuine coaching. And that's why I went on to a new career as a coach and a professional coaching. A qualified and certified as a coach with the ICF, and now I'm also a board member in the ICF UK to this purpose of embracing a different stance and different type of support.


Allowing the client to have the intelligence as a team, as individuals, bringing the intelligence of change, bringing a contextualized view working through their difficulties, working through their relationships, realigning organization, realigning their relationships, and doing this purposefully around creating excellence and creating the performance and the future of the business, which involves, you know, improvements, which involves strategy, which involves all those things. So that's my journey. Sorry being a bit long over it, but I think it's important to explain the nuance that this is bringing.


James: No, please don't apologize, Philippe. I think a lot of what you say there will resonate with our listeners because they are in, you know, they are either consultants or they're working in a plant or they're within the corporate office. And they're tackling the issues that you've tackled your entire career.


I think it's always inspiring to hear people that have been in your shoes and they've thought outside the box. They've thought differently. One of the things that I've really loved, I've loved about getting to know you personally. For our listeners, I head up marketing at i-nexus, and Philippe found his way to i-nexus, and we built our relationship through our content.


So, for me, it's always personally rewarding to see people come into i-nexus and engage with our content, but to get someone like yourself, Philippe, was an extra added bonus, I would say, to me.


Philippe: And maybe we should give a warning sign as well to people that I'm not too afraid being controversial because my job is to think outside the box, is to challenge the thinking, challenge the perspective. And Henko, as well, it's a name that has a meaning. The company I created has a meaning in the sense that it's helping people, you know, seeing things in a new light. And that's what the name Henko carries.


And it's not about telling people what different things they should do. It's helping them seeing in a new light so they can make better choices, better decisions. And it's very, very valid in the field of strategy because very often, in the field of strategy, we bring that strategy house to do it for us and know if the people have, and the leadership of organization has to take their own care of their own strategy. That's the important thing. And that's what I am to do.


James: I wouldn't, again, I wouldn't apologize about being controversial. I think some of the guests we've had so far on the podcast have been anyone, you know, anything but traditional in terms of their point of view.


And I think that it's very important that we get people like yourself exposed to more audiences because through thinking differently is how you can actually make a change. And that leads me nicely onto our topic today. And before we hit record, we were talking a lot about flow and change.


And, like you say, you're thinking differently. And that's why when we came up with today's topic, bringing flow to the frontline, it seemed perfect based on your experiences and what you're doing over at Henko.


So, just to get started, diving into what is a really exciting topic for me to listen to, in your career, you've worked with some real big clients. You've worked with some smaller clients. From your engagements, what would you list as the reasons that drive change in leadership, organizations, and strategy as a whole?


Philippe: Yeah, very good question. And I think what we fail to recognize is how much digital is changing the way organizations work or should work. If we go a long way back around the digital industrial revolution, there was a lot of change around leadership. And the change in landscape, the change in possibilities also change. We led organizations and so on.


In more recent times as well, there was the sort of mass production where we have had basically years where, or many decades, through the 20th century, where it was about producing new, you know, producing things, and they would be customers.


So really, everything was oriented towards the production. And there is one notable interesting exception in Toyota. Through scarcity, Japan was really ruined after the war, they had to come up with something different. They had to build what they sold. Meaning that they would only build the things they sold because they couldn't have the luxury of stocks, which actually introduced the idea of viability or the possibility of viability.


Because as they were going towards more than one piece flow, they would build the thing only they sold, then they could actually pivot and build things different, different variations of things, different colours, different options. And bring that into an industrial cycle where they're churning cars and production.


And to me, that's really a massive change that they brought a bit by necessity, by the context, and this has opened up to all the lean thinking about reducing inventories, smaller production batches, or no batch at all. And then sort of getting the possibilities of viability, the possibility of configuring a car to your liking whilst the car is being mass-produced.


And that, to me, is really an important point in history. And fast forward to the digital times, with software, it's 100% viable. It's 100% tailored, pretty much. And we're trying to have an industrial production of software with a lot of the work in the services of most companies that use a website, that use an app, and so on.


And we see as well a lot of the things we consume are more software-based. And interestingly, you would buy a camera in the past, you would buy an iPod or Walkman in the past. Now it solves software on your mobile phone, for instance. And the world is going to go more and more software.


And with software, there is a possibility to change a lot more, a lot more often, which means that the speed of the industry is much faster, and there is an infinite possibility of tailoring and personalization down to the individual. So this is changing again, massively, and it is really opposite to basically the mass production time to the speed we're getting now.


Another also element and again, Toyota, is that, in the mass production sense, you would design something, and then you will have people putting it together, and their skills will be limited to putting some things together well.


Kaizen is really central to it, meaning that the people that are putting things together are also thinking. They start being knowledge workers in the sense that they start thinking, is there a better way to put it together? Is there a better way that the product could be?


Fast forward to digital again. The engineers on the production chain are really... it's not a production chain anymore, actually. It's a value creation chain, pretty much. The engineers there really have the knowledge, and actually, the leadership doesn't have so much knowledge of the constraints.


If you were putting them in front of an IDE to start creating some software, they wouldn't be able to. The languages have evolved. Even some of them that have engineering, in their past, a lot of things have evolved so much that they wouldn't know how to put it together anymore. And therefore, we have to lean and rely a lot more on the people that are closest to doing the work, that are closest to the customers to get involved, to have a say, to actually switch on their brain.


And that means bringing those people into the strategy.


That means getting those people to contribute to where we could go. And it's a fundamental difference where now we're talking about potentially and had talk in the past about that, a strategy to the people.


So, getting everybody as a sensor network and an ID network to contribute to the strategy. Now this completely changes how we see strategy because if you want to have that genuinely distributed, you are doing it bottom up instead of having a select few doing strategies at the top, and then all the rest of the organization delivering to that, which would work in a mass production type sense in the early 1900 or mid-1900 maybe.


Now, it's completely different, where the people need to be able to make daily decisions, and there isn't time to go up and down the hierarchies to make those. And so, therefore, they need to have the context in which they're working in. And if they're contributing to the strategy, they have that context in built in them. And the second thing is they're all seeing things that are important in the strategy.


There are ideas that few may be outliers ideas may be the ones that will be the future breakthrough of the business. How are we tapping into that, and how does that make its way to actually impact and decide and help better decisions and better opportunities for the business?


And that's strategy bottom up, which, unfortunately, is strategy upside down, but it's not a bad thing. It's rethinking how we get to that. And in doing that, you realize organizations are absolutely not designed for that.


They're designed to deliver most of the time. The coherence and the glue of organization is the delivery, the plans. It's not so much the strategy. And to change that is a massive, massive, massive task.


And people, as well, need to see the benefits, but also grow their skills and compute and understand how we are going to change all this, because you don't switch it on. It's a big journey, a very big journey. And once you do that, you have a better flow.


James: Thank you. There are a couple of things there that stood out to me, but I think above all else, what would you say are the main blockers to flipping strategy on its head and having the shop floor or the doers or however you want to call those people, what's stopping companies from being able to do that?


Philippe: I don't like the term mindset, and everybody will flag mindset. Well, it's a way too generic thing.


But I think we are at the tipping point of a transition where digital has been seen and digital transformations have been seen as a technology affair type thing.


Where you need to deliver the next big data, and then now you need to be on the cloud, and now you need to have AI and all those things. And a lot of companies are made feel inadequate, so therefore, and laggards, and therefore they're going to call some consultants that have something semi-intelligent to say about it, to rescue them. And fundamentally, and maybe that's right.


They need to catch up. If they are that far behind, if they're really in a laggard category, there is an experience out there that some consultant is able to maybe bring them to the right sort of level quickly to catch up.


It doesn't mean they're going to perform. And the things we are seeing more and more are the reasons and essentially the leadership and the wider leadership element that have got them to become laggards and not wake up to the speed of transition of the market.


Having a consultant helping them catch up is not resolving that problem. It's not actually, it's just playing catch up. It's not actually solving the fact that they're not aligned to perform in the new digital world, in a faster-changing world with software, and so on. And the gap is very big for some organizations because technology, as in digital transformation in so far as just technology thing, it has been a technology delivery element where people have been delivering those new things, but they have not necessarily challenged their perspective.


How do we move? How do we make better decisions faster? For instance, simple thing. How do we make decisions on the periphery, and really, how do we all contribute to the well running of the organization? Meaning that how do we adapt ourselves?


How do we all pay attention at our relevant level to excellence so that we don't have a hurdle? And so many companies will tell you about tech debt, and are we all aligned on the strategy? And a new way of being aligned on the strategy is really distributing the strategy and holding its coherence.


So it's a bottom-up strategy, an emergent strategy from the generation and the identification of ideas. And then it's actually coherently choosing the focus so that it doesn't go all the ways, but sometimes the focus can be also, well, we're going to have some teams that are going to diverge because there may be new ideas, serendipity coming out of that and dealing with riding that change we're talking about, and this uncertainty, ambiguity.


And this is often presented as a problem, and it is a problem if you're trying to control it, of course, but it's also the massive opportunities to find new business model, new ideas, new avenues because the world is getting disrupted all the time.


So, how can you ride that change? How can you lead in a way that, of course, needs agility so you can ride the opportunities that are emerging from the fast-changing pace of the industry? And that is, I think, a fundamental change. And we still longing from, and, you know, personally, I wrote a blog, actually not so long ago around.


We are still celebrating traditional readership. If you look at something like The Apprentice, if you look at what are the leaders that come to mind, and people will mention Elon Musk, will mention Steve Jobs, and they're all seen as those geniuses that make all the decisions. And I think it's really a dangerous perspective on leadership.


I think the better leadership today and maybe, you know, maybe there are some people that are such geniuses and working 24/7 and so on that can hold that, but up to what scale and how many people have that gift.


Now, I think the better leadership is to think about how you distribute that in your organization. How everybody has an element of engagement and involvement. And it is an, you know, around creating excellence, around working well with their colleagues, around harnessing, basically, the collective intelligence and the collective perspective and sensor network and so on to spot weak signals of possibilities.


And if you want to harness everybody on the direction, strategy is involving a lot of people, many more that are typically involved into the strategy are important. And all those things, when we talk about flow, it is all those things coming together really, and that achieve flow.


But it's important to appreciate that flow in... a lot of people talk about flow nowadays, but they talk about flow in the sense of flow of work. Which is the sort of older Lean concept of flow of work. But that is very much based on reducing the viability.


Now, we keep on talking about the flow of work in the context of complexity where the viability is inherent, and actually, you have to work with it, and you have to explore and exploit it. And that means that the idea of flow is a constant dynamic where you will need to recompose, you will need to explore possibilities when those possibilities happen, then how do you direct capacity to that?


And maybe what do you do, what do you stop, what you shrink, and the flow, therefore, becomes something extremely dynamic. That is a very, very fragile thing. You may hit the perfect flow, but it's going to be for a very, very short time because something will change that you have to adapt for. And it changes the dynamics of everything again.


So it's taking that perspective and writing it, really.


James: Yeah. I couldn't agree more, I think. When I think back to sort of how I've developed in my career, I have had what you talked about there, Philippe, where leaders have distributed responsibility, accountability, and participation in strategy setting. And that then flows, that's flowed throughout my entire career.


Every team that I've ever built and managed, I've always empowered them to think strategically and to carve out time to be able to do that. And it's so important. I think it's just going back to what you said at the very beginning about Toyota. Obviously, they innovated out of necessity, out of the post-World War II. Economic environment and physical environment that they found themselves in.


What I'm sensing listening to you, and I think for listeners, if you go back to the episodes with James Davis and probably Pascal Dennis, what you're hearing in those episodes, and Philippe is absolutely echoing this, is that change has to happen. And the trigger for that change is that there are multiple reasons, but the thing that stands out more than anything is if you don't keep innovating, then you are dying.


So, just to slightly pivot away from sort of this scene setting, Philippe, how would you describe the world of strategy right now in terms of its change? What's going on with strategy and how is it evolving from what you are seeing in your engagements and generally, you know, what you are thinking about the space?


Philippe: I mean, it's still a place of great potential, to put it politically correct. I think I'm still seeing a lot of the old school strategy, and to be honest, and by that, I mean strategy and leadership that aims to create certainty out of something that is ignorant and ignorantly uncertain. And the net effect of that is people kind of put their neck on the line to saying, oh, I'm going to make that happen.


But they have, to make it happen, you're going to need some effort.


You're going to need heroes that we're going to clap at the end. You're going to need all those things that are not sustainable. And actually, you're going to need to have a fairly assertive, aggressive sort of leaders that all the ones that are going to make things happen in an organization.


And that is basically people that are going to build those through the dysfunction of organization. And you're not solving the dysfunction that way. You are burning people out. And I think that is still something that we praise.


That is still the kind of people we promote. And the danger is that organizations are not setting themselves up for being highly functional, adaptive, and so on. It's still relying very much on some individuals to make things happen. And as part of this, sometimes what you got is also the fact that we go from a strategy and we believe in a strategy, and we engineer a lot the thinking about it, the modelling.


We bring some external people to model industry data and so on. And we believe it's perfect, but we should be more humble to realize, no, we just have some direction effectively. And those are imperfect. And we're going to learn along the way. If you commit that strategy to a roadmap and a plan, now the delivery becomes the focus.


The strategy is no longer the focus. We need to deliver that based on the assumption that made in the business case. And many organizations will tell you, actually, we never look back on whether the business case has been realized.


You can imagine the problem with that, but are they actually solving that? Not so much. So I think we are still in the early days of completely shaking this up and working with some clients and challenging some clients on shaking this up. It is still quite dissonant.


You still have the leadership that, for 20, 30 years of career, those people have been used about, we set an objective, we paint that future, that idealistic future very well. And in leadership, we spend a lot of time doing that. And then we make a solid plan, and we are going to be successful as long as we execute well.


Now, there're a couple of problems with that, of course, this plan isn't perfect, and that picture we have in, you know, for the three to five-year horizon isn't perfect, and a lot of things are going to change in between. And actually, the time then is spent selling this to the rest of the organization, whereas you could have allowed more time for the rest of the organization to participate, and you wouldn't have to sell it.


And if you organize around that participation, you can actually iterate on that. So you can adapt along the way. And I also found that we spend a considerable amount of time to paint that perfect picture of the future, but we have a very, very imperfect picture of the present.


If you look at, I know very often when you go into, especially software, because software is not something we see how far the leadership that does the strategy knows about the constraint of software, knows about, oh, we have a problem with fraud around here.


This API is really so flaky. It's not working where it's supposed to go. The infrastructure is actually not right. And that's why the orders are not going through. And it requires investment, and none of that is visible.


People are swarming to have things sort of held up by bubble gum and sticky tape, sometimes. And it doesn't make it on the strategy radar. So the strategy becomes wishful, and the foundations are made of sand, and a strategy that doesn't consider the constraints is not a worthwhile strategy. So I do see a lot of that.


And if people recognize those problems, it is quite a fundamental thing to go and change them. And it's a hard thing to go and change it. Because that is what people have as a concept, and the way they see strategy is like that.


Now, to change the view and to turn it upside down about how you do strategy and how strategy is effectively a factor of alignment for the organization, it is a big step, a very, very big step. And it's all the more of a big step that it starts where who do you involve. What are they here to represent? And if you have people that are aligned by project and by competence, which most organizations are, then who is representing the customer and the product here.


What is the persistence of alignment of those people to the organization? And if it's projects, there isn't persistence. So, therefore, they don't really have an identity to represent in strategy. And it's difficult. So, they are some prerequisites to be able to have a strategy that is done more continuously.


And therefore more agile for the organization. And God, I could go onto the agile world as well. I might in a sec, but it's... You have some elements of prerequisite where you need to have some elements of flow in place where the organization should align and represent some products or services. Services, also products. And understanding your value chains, supporting the value to the customers. Because the strategy has to be oriented to the customers. They're the ones that keep the company alive.


To do that, there are some elements that, if you don't have that in place, it's very difficult to start distributing strategy and doing it effectively. I said as well, the foundations of sand, if there isn't an element of safety and an element of measuring how bad things are, it's very difficult to have solid foundations.


You don't have excellence. If you don't have excellence, you're going to be firefighting probably at least 30% of your time. If you are firefighting, this is the space you would've for strategy.


Having excellence as a foundation that you can really lean on is key. Otherwise, you end up firefighting, and you have no time. And you mentioned time earlier. You have no time for everything.


Again, if, as a leader, you find yourself with no time trying to coordinate the activity all the time, you are effectively firefighting. And it's the time to take a step back and focus on what's important, limiting the work in progress and so on.

Since I mentioned agile, I think we have associated a causation between agile and agility, and organizations have recognized that there is a changing, fast-changing landscape, and they need to adapt, and they associated doing an agile transformation will make that possible.


And what has happened is they have adopted some agile techniques, maybe some scaled agile techniques and methods, but they haven't gone more agile as a result. And very often, the challenge is, it's not the process that was the problem.


Operating in an agile way might be something around process, but building agility or if you operate in an agile way towards agility, it's about alignment a lot. And it's about strategy. And on that agile, has been quite empty. So an agile that doesn't provide agility for me is as useful as a chocolate teapot.


So it's really about, you know, I think some organizations have done massive amounts of agile transformation for some time to know agility benefit. They have to pick themself up and dust themself up and just rethink: how do we bring agility to our business, and where do we start?


And if you want agility, if you want autonomy of teams, then that means the team participates in the strategy. That means your strategy is going to be iterative. That's agility. If you have a rigid strategy, rigid plan, and roadmap, you're not going to have agility.


So our strategy becomes in the mix, and agile has latched on around OKRs for agility. Because academically or theoretically, it's actually a nice idea that you have objectives. People have intent and key results.


And, as we work out, are we getting there? Which is fair enough. The challenge is if your objective becomes a sort of delivery objective, then it starts breaking down because your key results become delivery. And very often, you see things like that.


And unfortunately, OKRs are a little bit of, you know, we have introduced that as the panacea solution. But they are more of an art to get right than really a science. And I don't see them being implemented very effectively. And that's where I think the X matrix is actually helping massively.


And I'd like this concept, this idea from Mike Borrows, the creator of Agenda Shift. And he has this thing it says, do meaning before measure and measure before method. And the method is sort of your solution, your action. And that's navigating an X matrix.


So you understand your meaning, your aspirations, your strategies. You understand your measures. So, how you going to measure the progress of your strategy? And then, you're going to take the action and determine the actions you're taking. And you don't need to have a massive backlog. It's actually counter-intuitive.


We need to have a smallish backlog that is just in time. And once you start hitting the measures, do you need to continue? Is there more potential in those measures? Or, actually, do you need to pivot to more important things? And if you want agility, people that have one year of backlogs they can't have agility. They are delivering to a backlog. That's what they're doing. You need to bring the more just-in-time element. And that means connecting the strategy and its deployment a lot closer and a lot more often. And the X matrix is a great tool for that.


James: You talked a lot, Philippe, about, I'm hearing about value chains, value stream mapping, the X matrix just in time, business centres of excellence, agile.


There's a lot of what you could say, buzzwords here or tools that people probably are aware of. I think you've done a brilliant job, and I could keep talking for a very, very long time. I wish we could. You've done a brilliant job of kind of setting the scene and really explaining the theoretical side of what you're talking about here in terms of bringing flow to the front line.


We love theory. This space loves theory, but what really helps people stand out as leaders, and that could be people in the C-suite or people on the shop floor. What really helps people to stand out is practical, actionable advice and putting into practice what you're talking about here.


So, with in mind, I know our listeners are probably itching to hear the execution part of this strategy. So, how can you put all that you've talked about here today into practice?


Philippe: Good, very good question. Very good question.


Each situation is specific. So there isn't really a rule of thumb or a recipe to go about it. But I have isolated, somehow, some pillars, and generally, those pillars need to happen in sequence.


So when, and let's say you get into a traditional landscape or, you know, sometimes it's more evolved, but essentially we all, all initiatives, very often, organized as projects. And the projects typically have a conflicting demand. So, there are people that start getting shared across teams to accommodate those things. And sometimes, the teams are not stable, and so on.


So, that is very often a starting point. It's nice if we already have some ideas of teams that are set, and persisted and they're aligned to something. The first key part is trying to put some stability in the organization. And how can we align to something?


Generally, we look to align to value, but it's also understanding what is that chain of value because you can't have all the knowledge concentrated on one team. So you need to keep a team size around 5 to 10, and then the teams get connected.


So, understanding that connection, what is the landscape of the system in serving value? And in this, you tend to map your system and the relationship between teams, and it's also very useful. That's something I'm quite a specialist of, and I train it on O'Reilly and so on. Wardly maps. I'm a big fan of worldly maps because they start from the user, and you map all the users you got in your business, their needs, and how your business aligns to their needs. And that gives you really a sense of granularity of your business, and at the same time, alignment of the different parts of the business to the needs of the customer. So, getting that view of the landscape and trying to establish teams in everything is important to start with.


Teams will bring you resilience. And once you have that, you can look at focusing as well on excellence. So now that those teams are stuck with the software they're building, or whatever it is they're building, how can they start ironing out the process issues, the performance issues, the quality issues, and now how can they start doing Kaizen effectively, really? So, continuous improvement.


That's the first step where they start taking responsibility for themselves. Because another challenge is the human challenge of they have been used to being told what to do for so long. Now, we are telling them to think for themselves, and we need to start training those muscles and training those muscles.


Kaizen is very effective because it deals with their context, with things that are near to them that they can change and influence. So it's about training that.


So, number one, alignment.


Number two, igniting some continued improvement and Kaizen. And by that, the responsibility of the teams.


Number three, it's also the teamwork relationships within teams and across teams. So understanding, at a team level, the roles, but not in a segregated way, in a relationship way. I absolutely hate with passion the racing metrics.


So responsibility, accountability, consulted and informed, which are the typical consultant toolkit that people bring. This isolate responsibility, it doesn't create collaboration. So if we are to create collaboration, first, the team has the accountability, not the individual. The team has the accountability and the responsibility together.


Number two is about recognizing the relationship people have in the team and the outcomes of those relationships and making sure they're lived. And making sure very often, as well, that it creates cross-functional leadership in teams. Because you realize you may have a product owner, you may have a scrum master. You may have an engineer, you may have an architect. They become the leadership together. It's not some leader that takes the leadership and all the accountability on behalf of.


So, if you want to have distributed accountability without dilution of accountability. Very important point that. You need to actually invest into creating teams and continually coaching those teams to be accountable. Accountable to the outside, accountable to each other on the inside. So there's an important element of teamwork relationships because it's intangible. People don't know how to work with that. And all you see out there is we need psychological safety, we need, we need, we need... but how do you work with it?


And team coaching brings that element, and team coaching outside of the system it's about recognizing the relationship teams have with other teams to get things realized. And that leads to ideas of topology. It's a very good book called Team Topologies that looks at the typology of teams and how they work into a topology and the relationships of teams.


I'm also currently writing something around the relationships between teams and the idea of the three Cs of coordination, cooperation, collaboration. Most organizations, based on project management, budget management, and single accountability, are effectively coordinated.


Meaning that somebody takes responsibility on behalf of others and is going to coordinate the relationship, and often micromanages the relationship of people to get it realized. This is the project management territory.


You can evolve to cooperation. And cooperation is basically having more of an idea of teams. Each team has its own objectives, and they all made, you know, they're all getting together every so often. And as where the scaling agile techniques with big room planning and so on is useful.


They're all getting together, and they contribute to each other projects. And you organize something like that. And then you have collaboration. And very often, it's an empty word in organization. HR department wants collaboration, but collaboration doesn't happen because it's not designed for it.


Collaboration is bringing people together very frequently to co-create, meaning you don't distribute the work. You don't divide the work. You actually get the bigger objectives, the more distal goal of the work, and you swarm the people on the work as a team. And sometimes it's a team of teams that do that.


So, understanding how you deploy across teams, a coordinated approach, a cooperated approach, or a collaborative approach is very important. And it depends with the complexity of your problems because you can't afford collaborating on everything all the time. So you need to recognize where you are only going to coordinate, where you're only going to cooperate, and where you can afford collaboration.


So a key element, number three, is the team relationships. And once you have all those things in place, you can actually start affording your strategy. And, generally, strategy in most of the change programs I do is the last piece. And it is, unfortunately, the hardest to get to and also the keystone to make it hold together. And strategy, the way I look at strategy, is continuous strategy.


So basically, how do we get teams to continually think about strategy? So every couple of weeks, you know, getting together to talk about strategy, very often supported by worldly mapping and so on. And then strategy refreshes. So looking to organize things around once a quarter. And instead of organizing a regroup around delivery, we organize a regroup around strategy. And the delivery itself is organized through lean portfolio management, which is continuous.


So the regroup around strategy is about refreshing and everything that has emerged through the quarter, through the strategy, continuous strategy activity people are doing, then goes into an input to the refresh, which is looked at the system, more systemic level. And, basically, all the teams have a day or a couple of days of facilitated progress where they look at what's the impact. What do we need to change, how do we need to align on certain things, how are we aligning on those, what do we need to expedite, what do we need to stop?


Maybe how do we need to carve the organization differently to make space for collaborative teams that start a new initiative? So, looking at this, very often periodically at least once a quarter as a strategy refresh. And for that, we use... you'll be pleased to know the X matrix and I axis to create that alignment where we create the alignment across the space and, effectively, we are looking to the input is future suggested changes, and the output is normalized on the coherent sort of progress for the next quarter.


So, effectively, the idea is we are here to disturb what we think of the delivery, what we think about the initiatives we are taking, how do we need to disturb that? And we regroup every quarter for that. And that allows us to have that emergence coming in and that coherence working through. So, actually, we are all put in the same direction at the end of it. And continually, we challenge that again and over again.


So, one alignment. And flow around the alignment. Two, getting the excellence. Three, wiring the network of relationships in the teams and across the teams. And four, organizing the collaboration around strategy, which is a part of continuous strategy and strategy refreshes. Does that make sense?


James: Absolutely. I feel like we could probably do an episode per those topics in fairness, Philippe, but I think that's very clear in terms of a, I guess, a plan, a roadmap for people who are listening in terms of, you know, a lot of the people that I talk to, they do have a business system or an operating system, and that does incorporate Lean, Kaizen, project management tools, et cetera.


But what Philippe, what you are talking about is, okay, that's good, but actually, now you need to build these other elements into this overarching methodology.


Philippe: If you are doing good at Lean, and I mean the Lean of Toyota style, you already have an embedded culture, an embedded alignment, and so on, that should get you into a really good place already. So yes.


James: For those people who don't have that, though, what would your one piece of advice be to someone on getting started with all of this?


Outside of, naturally, I'm going to ask you how they can work with yourselves, but if you are looking at this with a fresh pair of eyes and you're thinking, wow, Philippe, there is so much great content here.


I haven't thought about the importance of flow and agility, but where can I get started above all that? Like, what's that one piece of advice for someone to get started with this process?


Philippe: I'm tempted to say I don't know because it is so contextual. And the answer is that you need to read your context, and you are going to try things. And I'd like, that's actually a very important question and something that I continually feel people are not getting and not getting enough attention to.


The idea that, you know, a bit like there's warm holes in space or this idea of worm holes. I think there are warm holes in change. And there's this idea of dispositionally. Influence or modulators.


If you hit, if you create, I mean, you need to recognize some constraints of your system, and sometimes, unplugging certain constraints is going to enable a lot. And here we're talking about limiting constraints, but there's also this idea of, potentially, enabling constraints or constructors.


We could also try and call them. And sometimes it's actually very interesting to think if you do a small thing, somewhere, maybe it changes completely how people will perceive a situation. So, an example is, if you want excellence, I often ask engineering teams to report on the tech that they are leaking, and, at first, they don't have the psychological safety to do that because it's like putting bad marks on their job. But then I tell them, well, if you are able to mark and put a bad mark on your job you do, you actually know, and it's not your skills that are your problem. You're not given the time to do the job right. So it is somebody else's problem, the person that doesn't give you the time to do your job right has the problem.


Now, you are only creating visibility of that problem, and without that visibility, nobody can make the decisions to give you the time. So few things like this, and you can only change so many things because people, you know, want maybe a dozen things to change in an organization, small changes.


But are there some key changes that will allow you to create leverage in your change to accelerate certain things and address many of the other changes as a by-product. And leadership needs to understand what are those modulators, those dials, that if I tweak them a little bit, it's going to create an imbalance, and actually, the dispositionally of the system will go towards more of the things we would like and less of the things we don't like.


Sometimes, there's inertia and belief, as well. I've been in an organization where, that was a fantastic story like this. And if you think, you know, we discussed about the Porsche as an organization as well. Change often happens in an organization when they're in the dire strait.


And some don't make the change. Some make this change, and it's quite spectacular. But because of the context of that situation being in dire strait, they're ready to take more radical solutions. And I've been in... and you can exploit if some change is happening in your organization, people have a dispositionally to reorient. Now, can you use this to go in the right way? Like Covid, for instance. It was one of those things.


You didn't have a choice, but as it was happening, what can you make of it? How can you use a good crisis, like Churchill was saying? And sometimes you have to engineer it. If you see inertia in your organization, then you can think, how are we going to basically poke something, create a disruption that will allow us to overcome that inertia? And I've had a situation once where people were hearing, being told, yeah, we need to focus on quality, but for them, they were focusing on delivery. For them, it was about delivering features. And if they had to compromise quality, so be it.


So the message was not landing, and one day, the release got actually... it wasn't going to happen. There were so many problems. It wasn't going to happen. And so what we said is, you down tools, at the end of the day, if we're not releasing software, there is no value that we're providing, no value that we're creating.


So you down tools and 200 people, when you say to 200 people, you stop what you're doing, you're down tools, it creates an impact. And then we told them there is one thing that is absolutely critical in that release. One team is going to re-engineer that into the past working version of the system.


So it's going to take the change we did just for that and retrofit them into the past version that we know is working. All the rest, you swarm into teams to figure improvements on things that have made this release fail, this work fail. And it was really disturbing and upsetting for some people.


But from that point on, they knew that quality mattered. From that point on, the message about quality landed. So sometimes, it's about creating those things that will change some belief systems.


And there are big tickets like this that you can work with. And the reason I'm saying I don't know is because those are so contextual. And even when you are facing them, you don't know how they're going to work. You can only try them, and you'll know afterward.


James: I think that's absolutely fair. I can imagine it. It really is dependent on not just the vertical but the company itself and the size of the company.


Philippe: You can have a lot of linear approaches to do that. But, you know, for leadership, that is interested is how can we look at warm holes of change, that can accelerate things by using the dispositionally of people to reorient around constraints that are being created or that exist in the system.


And it requires quite some thinking and a lot of probing, a lot of trying. And then you see what reacts, and then you orient, and you navigate your change as a dynamic thing. You don't follow a set plan, a settling plan.


You navigate based on all the things you're trying, and 20% of those will succeed, probably. And then you try some more and some more and some more, and your change morphs more towards the good thing, less towards the bad things.


James: Yeah. I can imagine. Just to finish this up for today's episode, Philippe, and again, thank you. It's been really, really interesting.


Can you just tell us a little bit about the support that you can offer over at community.henko.co.uk and, I guess, the sort of work that you can offer people to take today's learnings and put them into action?


Philippe: So, we run a community of digital leadership. It's a meetup. So we have frequent meetups, and I'm rallying some team around it to support it.


The idea is sharing something back but also probing as an industry. Understand what's resonating. I eat my own dog food as people say.


So it's a permanent sort of experimentation and sharing so that we recognize, it's not basically talking from a top of a soft box type thing. It is actually participating and the community is more involved.


The idea is being more on the experimental side and the high-end side of what's next. And for me, a lot of the things I've been working on for the past six, seven years, and actually in my previous job, I was already really doing quite a lot of that too, has been about always what's next. Very early on is what's next to that agile transformation.


I won't bring agility. What's next to the digital transformation that one brings basically business and technology working together. And that's what we explore because, I think, there's still a lot more in it. But we start also looking at themes beyond that around leadership in complexity. Where is the next complexity going to come from as well.


There is a lot around sustainability, responsibility, and we don't think about diversity. We are connected as well with our tech legacy, for instance, that looks at how can we look at tech, in terms of sustainability. And when you think, you know, some large bank, for instance, probably has the data centre electricity consumption of a small city and all that with a server utilization in 3 to 5% maybe.


So, the cloud offers a lot of possibilities around that, around optimizing tech. But there's going to be emerging things. And the more we are going towards a more complex world, and I was in research with Simon Ward as well around retail, and we are seeing probably the supply chains in retail, it's not that different than the financial crisis where people knew their counterparty who they were selling to, and the counterparty where they were buying from.


And in the financial crisis was around, where they were ensuring their risk really and what they were selling to. That has been a recipe for disaster. We know the poor knowledge of the wider counterparty network has been a recipe for disaster in the 2008 financial crisis. And more recently, it's been also a disaster in the supply chains of the car industry and many industries. And how the product and so on are going to change the supply chain dynamics.


Also very much changing. And how do you carbon test as well as supply chain. How do you become more responsible in your supply chains and your carbon footprint? All those things.


You know, if you think the complexity of digital about working with technology, working with sustainability, working with responsibility, working with resilience into a very, very fast-changing world and changing dynamics and geopolitics and so on, it is going to increase multifold the complexity that we are struggling to today to deal with. And I see that being the direction of what we look into.


And the direction for me as a business as well is still very much about how organizations learn to lead in a changing environment rather than trying to create certainty around that.


And how do they adapt very fast to the changing circumstances and conditions for resilience, for managing the risk as well as for exploring the opportunities that it brings.


James: I think that's, yeah. I think given the uncertain conditions economically and geo-politically that we find ourselves in as we record today, I think yeah, what you're saying there, Philippe, is very, it's very timely, and it's something that listeners should definitely go out of their way.


If it does resonate, they should go out to visit community.henko.co.uk. On behalf of myself, and the production team, and everyone else that supports this podcast, I just want to say thank you, Philippe.


I think this has been another one of those episodes that I've really learned a lot and changed quite a few opinions that I had. Thank you so much, Philippe, for joining today and being our strategy hero.


Philippe: You're very welcome. And thank you for having me. I hope I lived up to the Avenger type. I think I'm more here to help. I think there's something as well in the engagement process that for me, the heroes are really the leaders and so on that have to make those difficult changes.


And we are just here to support them. Let's be humble and let's work with them as a team because it's not an easy change. We like to say, oh, people, and they're not doing this, and not doing that and not getting it.


It's not easy changes. It's difficult. And maintaining the running business and all the problems, as well as driving fundamental change on it, is difficult. Very difficult. So sometimes, I also act as a coach and as a one-to-one coach, and the stories you get, you realize that there's pressure on people. There's pressure on people, and it's difficult to leave them.


That's the other side of the curtain that is confidential. And I'm not able to expose the conversations I'm having, but we need to appreciate it's not easy for people. And to me, they're all the heroes and we have to make them the heroes. We just send a little help here.


James: Well, I'm sure that... I'm sure that you've helped a lot of our listeners to realize that they are the heroes. Thank you, Philippe. I look forward to hopefully having you back on the podcast in the future.


Philippe: We'll be glad to. We'll be glad to. Thank you.


James: Thank you, Philippe. Take care.


Philippe: Cheers.



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Philippe's episode was the last episode of six in our opening season of Strategy Hero.

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Published on the last Wednesday of every month, the Strategy Hero podcast delves into the world of business strategy and transformation.

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James Milsom is Head of Marketing at i-nexus, but James is a storyteller. He’s the UK’s biggest Georgia Bulldogs fan (go Dawgs!) and lives and breathes marketing.

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