I Have a Lack of Strategic Vision

Posted by at 07:00

Better yet, I cultivate a lack of strategic vision within my team.
Because too many people confuse strategic vision and effort with progress.
Let me elaborate on that.

Up until several years ago, one of my employees would come up to me, at least once a week, with a new strategy PowerPoint, a new vision document or a new framework. And of course they had put a lot of effort into it. It was well-conceived, well-designed and more often than not it consisted of more than 100 lavishly bullet-pointed slides.

I have several fundamental problems with this.

First of all, the huge majority of vision documents or strategy PowerPoints are drafted from the company perspective and usually even from the perspective of the department of that specific employee. That means hardly any time is spent in thinking how our customers will experience this.
Secondly, they basically present a simplified overview of what’s happening in the outside world. Which makes them utterly useless. There’s a 99% chance things will happen differently.
But most important, the employee would feel really good about the document and would confuse strategic vision and effort with progress.

In this new digital world, nobody knows where we’re going. The only way to get a glimpse of what’s happening is by trying to understand what our customer wants, build a working prototype and test it in the real world. Fail fast and often. PowerPoints won’t help you do that; building, testing and tweaking will.

This is how two guys started out building Meet & Seat, a way to connect passengers on a flight based on their social media profiles. It is how one girl started Social Payment, a way to pay for your ticket through social media. And this is also how social servicing started, which is now firmly embedded in many airlines.

Several things I do to support this:

  1. Reward experiments. Experiments never fail, they can only bring results you didn’t expect. And that’s exactly what helps you learn. My role as a manager is to create the space needed for my team to experiment, which has hugely positive results as well as extremely negative results.
  2. Kill vision documents and strategy PowerPoints. The time people need to create a new strategy document could better be used to run a new experiment, which is way more valuable. My team now knows that I tend to skip emails with ‘process’, ‘strategy document’ or ‘vision’ in the subject line.
  3. Cultivate culture, rather than PowerPoints. I fully recognize the need for coherence in the services you develop as a company. But this coherence won’t come from a strategy document or an aligned vision document, but from your gut. So rather than create documents, I invest in spending time with my team, have disruptive days, go out for a drink and share successes. That is the stuff that creates culture and coherence.

Implementing this, completely changed team dynamics.

Instead of sharing PowerPoint documents, we are now sharing cases.
Instead of getting internal buy-in from documents, we are getting buy-in from results.
And instead of getting energy from finishing a PowerPoint document, we now get energy from success stories.

Never confuse strategic vision with progress.

16 Responses to I Have a Lack of Strategic Vision

  1. Hans van Dijk

    Never ever confuse change with progress. Can we please go back the latest working version of the KLM booking site?

    • MartijnvanderZee

      Thanks for your reaction. I also noticed your comments on Twitter, thanks for the feedback you gave us there. As I explained in my Blog we work via trial and error. Your feedback is therefore very valuable to us. Based on your feedback and feedback from others we’ll be implementing some changes in the coming period.

  2. Merwin Feitsma

    It’s nice to see such an entrepreneurial spirit in a large company like KLM. Experimenting and testing are important steps in the innovation process. And I agree that it’s better to act than to talk. But I don’t believe your title. :)

    • MartijnvanderZee

      Thanks Merwin for your
      feedback. indeed, the title does not imply that we don’t have to think about
      solutions :-)

  3. eCommerce

    As Peter Thiel’s once adviced to Airbnb: “Don’t Mess Up Culture” and as Tom Evslin once concluded: “PowerPoint presentations won’t get you into the meeting room of most venture capitalists” while “Working software that they can look at before they look at you, on the other hand, seems a great way to start.”

    Nice challenge for old companies like KLM and AirFrance. Probably more of a problem for AirFrance (history/culture).
    Happy flying!

  4. Caroline Wilcox

    Very refreshing pov… love the philosophy of embracing space to test and experiment ideas. How many times has it happened that a once grest idea becomes a husk of what it once was after too many stakeholders get involved – drive by their fear of failure. Martijn – I salute you.

  5. Anoushka Drexhage

    Dear Martijn, As a Dutch person and cultural coach, I am appalled at the KLM tweet last night. It shows a total lack of cultural awareness in your social media team. How can it be that somebody did not realise that putting typical Dutch humour out in a global environment would be misunderstood, upset many and damage the KLM brand image in the process? What is the level of their cultural awareness, I wonder. Regards, Anoushka

    • eCommerce

      which tweet do you refer to? the flower power one?

    • MartijnvanderZee

      Hi Anoushka,
      Thank you for your reaction. As an international company we should indeed be aware of cultural differences and we normally are. That’s precisely why we have local Facebook and Twitter pages.
      And you are right that the Dutch blunt humor can definitely be misunderstood.
      Unfortunately our Mexico-tweet proved this. As you probably have noticed, we quite some reactions that kept us busy over the last days ;-) For some additional insights I refer to a blog written by our Social Media editors. https://blog.klm.com/learning-by-doing-it-wrong

      • Anoushka Drexhage

        Thank you for your reply, Martijn. Much appreciated. Yes, I noticed there was a strong reaction around the globe. I (being Dutch) like the blog by your team…. let’s hope that does the job for other cultures as well. Good luck with it all! Regards from Madrid.

  6. dvdantzig

    hi Martijn, Interesting post, describing a refreshing and no-nonsense approach both to running a business and to customer interaction. Inspirational and I would hope to see this attitude, or indeed culture, cultivated in more KLM departments.

    For example, a week or so ago, I received a lengthy communiqué by e-mail as well as by post, congratulating me on the fact that as a Flying Blue Ivory customer, I would soon benefit from a 50% discount on baggage charges for the first item of checked-in luggage. However, up until that date, I have in fact enjoyed one piece of checked luggage at no extra cost as part of this program. It was a major reason for me to sign up to the program, even though I’m not the most frequent of fliers.

    While it is quite possible that a loyalty program needs to alter its conditions to remain viable – fuel is not getting any cheaper, after all – it’s unnecessarily annoying to have a reduction in privileges communicated as an improvement. It’s marketing 101 to give a positive spin to any story, but this particular case took that maxim in the wrong direction. A more regretful tone of voice combined with a one time limited offer – say a discount to a favoured destination within the next month or two – would have been a much better choice to communicate what is essentially bad news for the customer and might even have given a slight boost to revenue over summer.

    Anyway, that’s how I would translate part of your observations to marketing, when reasoning from the perspective of the customer, as opposed to that of the marketing department.

    • MartijnvanderZee

      Your pinpointing one of the biggest challenges of a large international company: aligning attitude and tone of voice. I have seen the e-mail you received and I understand what you feel. The approach can indeed make or break the message that we want to bring across. I will make sure your response and your suggestions will be passed on to my colleague for Flying Blue communication. Thank you for your balanced and constructive feedback.

      • dvdantzig

        Thank you for taking the time to respond, much appreciated. By and large KLM is doing a great job communicating with customers, both in social media and in more traditional ways, as a recent emergency call with customer service illustrated. Keep up the good work.

  7. John Meulemans

    Amen! I wish more companies shared your vision and started experimenting, making sense of this exciting digital era.

  8. BiZZdesign – Business Architecture in the New Normal

    […] read a very interesting blog post by KLM’s SVP e-commerce Mr. Martijn van der Zee: “I Have a Lack of Strategic Vision” in which he points out that strategic visions in PowerPoint won’t cut-it for Air France-KLM in […]

  9. Dominic Pride

    Hi Martijn, When I read this back in 2014 I shared it massively as it was a huge statement of faith in the quality of decision-making of your teams. What has been the most fundamental change since then and are there successes and failures you have learned from ?

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