Framing Problems with the Enemy
It was a fight between them and us, my kakis (loyalists) versus his.
In 2007, Sophia and I joined a scientist friend at a BBQ party in East Coast Park. It was a relaxed atmosphere until suddenly, people jumped out of their seats to swarm around a guy who just walked in. “Bon Jovi just showed up,” I jokingly said. Soon, we found out the guy was Alan Colman, the stem cell scientist who helped clone Dolly the Sheep. In a move to build a world-class biomedical research industry, Singapore agencies parachuted in the crème de la crème of scientists like Alan Colman to create breakthrough change.
In some ways, I identified with Alan Colman’s situation. In a much less glamorous and publicised fashion, I was parachuted in from Nokia New Zealand to the regional office in Singapore to improve Nokia’s IT Services team. It was rough when I arrived. I was confronted with a closed service culture within the IT services team. They literally sat behind a wall with a tiny service window where people hand over their laptops. My job was cut out for me. I started painting a vision for a more customer-centric service culture — encourage more open interactions, seek feedback, provide service with a smile.
My vision went down like a cold cup of sick. My counterpart, who built the incumbent service, was combative to the new philosophy. It became a fight between them and us, my kakis (loyalists) versus his. Shortly thereafter, my counterpart resigned, together with half his team, taking with them their knowledge and relationships with suppliers and customers. The infighting put the business at risk, made it more expensive and slowed down the transformation.
Even though we did successfully transform into a customer-centric centre of excellence, looking back, I knew I could have done much better.
Mainly, I was not playing a big enough “game.” I parachuted from New Zealand with a fixed vision of the solution. People weren’t emotionally connected to the new vision. I positioned my vision against his, like a virtual sledgehammer. Instead, it would have been better if I opened a conversation with my counterpart to frame the problem — play to both our strengths by using our highest point of contribution.
By framing the right problem to fight together, we can paint a new vision and structure where everyone has a part to play. At the end of the day, our aim is to keep customers happy and reduce risk to the business. Instead of having a costly ego battle fighting each other, we bring the fight outside, fight the good fight by creating breakthrough change for our customers.
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