How Well Does The Behaviour Of Customers Conform To Customer Experience Dogma?

CX Dogma: In Today’s World The Customer Experience Is Critical

What do the CX gurus say?  Do they not proclaim the critical importance of Customer Experience?  Do they not assert that in the age of social media Customer Experience is everything?  Do they not say that those organisation that do not pay attention to the Customer Experience will go out of business?

What does the research around Customer Experience say?  Does this research not find that the Customer Experience matters to customers: that customers want easy access to critical information; that customers want a seamless/effortless experience; that 80% of customers will switch to another supplier after one poor experience?

Allow me to sum this up: In today’s business climate the health of a business depends on providing a good to great Customer Experience as customers expect nothing less and will readily switch after one poor experience

Let’s Do A Thought Experiment

You wish to buy a car. You go to a dealership and are greeted by a salesman who tells you that he is not paid on commission. This reassures you – no high pressure selling to guard yourself against. Thereafter, a test drive takes place. You ask for the price and receive it written on the back of the salesman’s business card. So far good – a refreshing difference to your experience with a different car dealer.

After consulting with your wife you decide to buy the car. You ask for the paperwork: formal quote, details of the warranty, and lease payments if decide to lease rather than buy. What happens?  How does the salesperson respond to your request? Here are your words:

We expected this to be forthcoming, so we were surprised when we were informed that this wasn’t possible and he’d given us all the figures.

Being worldly you ask for the sales contract. What happens? The salesman refuses to email it to you. He says it is standard contract and implies that you are making a big deal of nothing: the contract is a standard contract and is signed hundreds of times a day. You are not impressed. You realise that all of your correspondence with the salesperson has been through his person Yahoo account. You have no formal paperwork from the dealership itself.

What do you do?  What does all the research that backs the vital importance of Customer Experience say you will do? I say that CX dogma says that you will not buy from this salesperson, this dealership. You have asked for the basics and you have not gotten the basics. You have been treated unprofessionally – even badly. A poor Customer Experience! Besides all the warning signs are there.

CX Reality: Customer Behaviour Is Not In Line With CX Dogma And Customer Surveys

Ok you being a rational person, one whose behaviour is in line with what you said on the customer survey walk away. You walk away and find a different dealer – a dealer that provides you with the kind of premium Customer Experience you would expect when buying a premium product (Lincoln).

What does the CX guru do?  I share with you his words:

Despite our frustration, we placed the order (reluctantly) as their price was the lowest by far of any other quote we received

Price trumps Customer Experience!  Even for a CX guru who loudly proclaims the critical importance of the Customer Experience (to attracting and keeping customers) price trumps Customer Experience!  

In the real world the quality of the Customer Experience is only one factor. I refer you back to Thinking Strategically About CX: Five Components of Customer Value and this formula:

  • Value = Benefit – Effort – Risk – Price +/- Treatment

What may this formula unconceal?  It conceal the multi-dimensionality of human life: humans juggle, without even being aware of this juggling, many factors such as convenience (effort), risk, price, and the way that they are treated by a supplier. As well as the benefits they will get.

Does CX Dogma and Customer Research Get Anything Right About Customers?

Yes. Can you guess what CX dogma and customer research gets right?  Customers love to complain about how badly they are treated by suppliers. Allow me to end this conversation by sharing the words of the CX guru:

.. we received no letter of confirmation or thanks for ordering the car–no sign of appreciation or documentation of any kind. We were quoted six to eight weeks for delivery. What followed next was missed dates and failure to contact us when promised regarding the delivery…..

Suffice it to say, we were not overly impressed with our experience at Lincoln either. Nor our subsequent treatment by their Finance arm in setting up the lease payments, another whole story in itself.

If you wish to read the original post by the CX guru where he shares his experience and his learnings then Colin Shaw: Destroying The Brand One Experience At A Time.

Final Thoughts

Human living is messy. Be wary of CX gurus and their simplistic pronunciations. Beware of CX dogma: theory alway simplifies and distorts especially when it comes to human beings and human worlds. Be wary of customer research – those who pay for it to be carried out and promoted do so to push a particular agenda.  Be wary of technology vendors – CX worship is the latest techniques to sell tech, the tech itself and its impact on the Customer Experience is questionable.

I invite you to consider that if Customer Experience was as critical as it is then the business world would be desolate one inhabited only by a few stellar brands like Apple, Zappos, Amazon, John Lewis, USAA…. The reality is that ‘not great CX brands’ are legion and they continue to do survive and prosper.

Disagree?  I invite you to share your perspective / experience by commenting.

I thank you for your listening – your listening keeps me speaking despite the increasing temptation to keep silent. My particular thanks to Ilan Kirschilan for reaching out to me this week ( to let me know that my speaking speaks to him) and thus bringing me out of my hibernation.

The Customer Speaks: Customer-Centricity Through The Eyes Of The Customer

I hear you.

I hear you say that you (as an organisation) are customer friendly.

I hear you say that you (as an organisation) have a strong customer orientation.

I hear you say that you (as an organisation) are committed to delivering great customer service.

I hear you say that you (as an organisation) deliver a great customer experience.

I hear you say that you (as an organisation) are customer-centric.

I even hear some of you say that you (as an organisation) are not merely customer centric, you are customer obsessed!

Yes, I hear you – all of you. And you all sound pretty much the same.

I have a question for you. Can you guess what my question is?  If you are so in tune with your customers (folks like me) then you should have no issues in figuring out my question. Have you figured it out?

Here is my question (in various guises) as your customer: What specifically can I count on you for?  What is your promise to me?  What is it that you guarantee me?  

No! I am not interested in hearing about your mission statement nor your corporate values.

No! I am not interested in your brand positioning or values.

No! I am not interested in your size, your growth, your global scale…

Let me ask again, as your customer: What specifically can I count on you for?  What is your promise to me? What is is that you guarantee me?  

[Silence]

By the way it is not enough for you to make me a promise.  For this promise to be credible it has to be public. Yet even a public written promise is not enough.

A written public promise to me, your customer, is merely the starting point for showing me that you are serious about treating me fairly as your customer.

What else do I expect from you? I expect you to:

  • tell me clearly and precisely what it is that you expect from me – in order for your promise to apply to me; and
  • set out what exactly I can count on you to do, by when, as and when you fail to keep your promise.

By the way I am taking it for granted that you will figure out when you have failed to keep your promise. And that where I am the only one that knows that you failed to keep your promise, you will make it easy/quick for me to bring this to your attention.

Finally, I’d have a lot more confidence in your promise if you were to share up-to-date information on how you (as an organisation) are doing in keeping your promise to your customers  – this information needs to come from a credible independent body.

Erich Fromm On The Central Challenge Of Cultivating Meaningful Relationships With Customers

What Is The Central Challenge Of Building Meaningful & Profitable Relationships With Customers? Is this challenge about opening up 24/7 access to your business through any and all channels?  Is it about coming up with new products and services that attract customers like bright lights attract moths at night-time?  Is it about taking out costly, unpredictable, unreliable human beings and replacing them with technology?  Is it about collecting and mining all the data you can get your hands on to generate insight to customers and entice them with the right offer, at the right time, through the right communication channel?  Is it about redesigning processes and gluing up all the interaction channels so that the customer experience across the customer journey is an effortless one?

Perhaps. Or maybe this is simply thinking inside the existing way of showing up and travelling in the world.  What way am I referring to? The technological way. What kind of way is that?  It is the way that refers to human beings as human resources. It is the way that refers to customers as assets. It is the way that thinks that listening to the voice of the customer is the same as reading statistics and text which summarises and details the survey responses coming in from some customers. It is the way that seeks to replace human beings and human to human conversations with automated interfaces and self-service…..

I invite you to listen to the speaking of Erich Fromm written in the 1940s (bolding mine):

The insignificance of the individual in our era concerns not only his role as a business man, employee, or manual labourer, but also his role as a customer. A drastic change has occurred in the role of the customer in the last decades. The customer who went into a retail store owned by an independent business man was sure to get personal attention: his individual purchase was important to the owner of the store; he was received like somebody who mattered, his wishes were studied; the very act of buying gave him a feeling of importance and dignity.

How different is the relationship of the customer to a department store. He is impressed by the vastness of the building, the number of employees, the profusion of commodities displayed; all that makes him feel small and unimportant by comparison. As an individual he is of no importance to the department store. He is important as “a customer”; the store does not want to lose him, because this would indicate that there is something wrong and it might mean that the store would lose other customers. As an abstract customer he is important; as a concrete customer he is utterly unimportant. There is nobody who is glad about his coming, nobody who is particularly concerned about his wishes. 

– Erich Fromm, The Fear Of Freedom

It occurs to me that many (if not most) organisations struggle to cultivate meaningful-profitable relationships with customers despite spending significant sums on the likes of customer analytics, CRM, marketing automation, and VoC. Why?  My experience of the last 15 years working in the Customer space is that action has been at the abstract level of customer and customers. And almost nobody has paid attention to the experience of the concrete flesh and blood customer as a human being.  As such technology has been used to remove rather than enhance what little was left of the human to human relating.  Technology can do many useful things including increasing access and reducing effort. What it cannot do well is this: create, enliven, enrich human relating.

An Unconventional Take on Customer-Centric Business

Some folks are generous. Some of these generous folks think of me as thought leader in the Customer space. As a result when other folks are doing research in customer-centricity, customer strategy, customer experience they are told to reach out and ask me questions.  Such questioning took place recently on the subject matter of customer-centricity.

What is Customer-Centricity? And How Does An Organisation Become Customer-Centric?

The questioner wanted to pick my brains on the following:

  • Definition: what is customer-centricity?
  • Obstacles: what stands in the way of an organisation being customer-centric; and
  • Route-Map: what path an organisation need to take and traverse in order to become customer-centric.

It occurred to me that what the questioner was looking for was a template. Better still a mould. A mould in which you pour in an organisation and out comes a customer-centric organisation.  Or a template, if applied precisely, to an organisation, any organisation, out comes a customer-centric organisation.

Let’s imagine that a customer-centricity wizard conjured up such a template / mould.  Surely, this template would be sold to any and all with the desire and means to purchase it.  What would be the result using this template?  Does it take that much imagination to see that each and every organisation would end up the same. Exactly the same: each would have the exact same understanding of what it is to be customer-centric: channels, processes, practices, structures…. And if this is the case then what would differentiate one of these organisations from another?

I can see the lure of ready made answers to complex challenges, opportunities, and problems.  With ready made answers and templates one does not need to think. One does not need to investigate matters including generating original meaningful insight into customers. Or the lives of employees, and that which is occurring at the coal face where the organisation and the customer meet. One does not have to put oneself in a vulnerable position of trying stuff out and accepting / embracing failure: the situation not turning out as you had hoped / planned. One does not need to be patient and iterate one’s way to customer-centricity.  And of course when one arrives at customer-centricity then one can put one’s feet up, sink into habit, and live on automatic pilot.  Yes, I get the lure.  I can see the lure of instant get rich schemes. Or no effort instant weight loss regimes.  And what do they have in common: they all disappoint. Now compare that with the folks who are serious about dealing with their alcohol addiction and show up at Alcoholics Anonymous.

Might Customer-Centricity Come In Flavours? And Be Context Sensitive?

Consider this. In the world of Apple, customer-centricity means inventing products that folks want to own because they show up as so desirable (so cool), useful (they enrich the lives of customers in some manner), and because they are so intuitive (easy) to use. In the world of Zappos, customer-centricity means providing the world’s best customer service – where it is perfectly ok for a Zappos employee to spend hours on a phone with a customer.  In the world of Amazon, customer-centricity means making it so easy for customers to buy a range of goods from Amazon at a ‘value for money’ price, and receive the goods the next day or so – no travel, no hassle.  In the world of John Lewis, customer-centricity means providing great products and calling forth great service from the folks that work in the business by ensuring that these folks share in the success of the business.

If you get what I am getting at, then you will get my advice. What advice?  Do not look for definitions of customer-centricity. Do not look for a template / mould / recipe to turn your organisation into a customer-centric organisation. Instead, live the question!     Grapple with the question!

What Is The Question And Challenge That Lies At The Heart of Customer-Centricity?

This question: In which way/s do we wish to simplify-enrich the lives of the customers we have chosen to do business with?  

To answer this question well it is necessary to understand the lives (as lived, experienced) of your chosen customers.  Generating this kind of understanding – rich understanding – is a challenge.  Why? This understanding can only come about if you get close to your customers. How close?  You have to enter their lives: to experience the world as they experience the world.  Whilst this sound challenging it may not necessarily be as challenging as it sounds provided you are in touch with your own experience of living – your own humanity. Apple’s enter into smartphones had a lot to do with Job’s frustration with using the mobile phones on the market. Zappos way of doing business is a manifestation of who Tony Hsieh is as a human being: how he feels about people and relationships between people, how he wishes to be treated by folks.

Summing up

I say that to show up as customer-centric you have to give up looking for ready-made answers and grapple with the question. The only question that matters when you are considering customer-centricity is this one: for our chosen base of customers, what do we need to do to simplify-enrich the lives of our customers, and are we doing that which is necessary?  Imagine what becomes possible if all the folks in your leadership are living this question. Imagine what becomes possible if all of the Tops and Middles are living this question. Now imagine if all the folks in your organisation are living this question.

I also say that you have to live this question every day. Why?  Because life is not life but living – which is to say it is a process. Process is flow. Which is to say that all is change. What constituted customer-centricity last month may not constitute customer-centricity today.  Which is to say that customer-centricity is not a thing. Nor a destination.  It is perception: how your customers perceive you. It is also context sensitive.  Think Tesco.  Once Tesco was considered the poster child for customer-centric business: the exemplar.  The context changed with the financial crisis, the recession, and the UK’s austerity regime.  The folks at Tesco did not change their ways.  Yet folks at Waitress who served upmarket affluent customers did notice the change of context. And in so doing they made a number of changes including the introduction of the value range.

I invite you to consider that none of the existing methods, tools, techniques, formulas, recipes, templates will help you in the challenge and opportunity of customer-centricity. The opposite may be the case. Why so?  The nature of our educational process is such that we are addicted to forcing the world to fit our moulds (theories, approaches, methods, tools, techniques).  That is how education makes us stupid.  Yet, the process of living requires us to show up with a sensitivity to that which is occurring and respond to this intelligently. This means coming up with original ways.  Consider that the folks at Zappos went against conventional advice. Consider that Steve Jobs also did the same. Do you remember what folks said about Apple’s move into smartphones, or the format of their stores?  Consider that The John Lewis Partnership is one of the few large organisation that is employee owned (through a trust).  Again, going against conventional practice.

Enough for today, I thank you for your listening.  If you disagree with that which I have shared then I ask you to share your thoughts by commenting.

Cultivating Goodwill Involves More Than Reducing Customer Effort

Is the access to building meaningful relationships with customers merely a matter of improving the customer’s experience of your organisation by making it easy for the customer to do business with you?

The temptation to orient oneself this way and thus the pull of approaching the matter of customer loyalty as an engineer / economist is strong.  With the engineering approach the focus is on: improving access say through digital channels; making it easer for the customer to self-serve; putting in more interaction channels; tweaking and automating business processes; standardising way customer scenarios are handled…. As an economist the focus is on generating / extracting value from the customer and all decisions are about ROI – I give if and only if I am guaranteed to get back more than I gave.

What the engineer and the economist both lack is humanity.  In the worlds of the engineers and economists there is no room for that which lies at the core of human. What am I talking about? Think about a genuine smile. Or an authentic warm greeting. Or generosity. Or the act of touching one another even if it is a hand that touches you lightly either through a handshake or a light tap on your shoulder as an expression of thanks / gratitude ….

What is it that I am getting at here?  Allow me to explicate it by relating a recent true story.

I was working in my study. My wife came in and grabbed hold of file from one the shelves. Then left. A little while later she returned to put the file back on the shelf. In the process she dropped an A4 lever arch file (full) on to the desk. The file landed on my right hand and the keyboard of my MacBook Pro. Both my right hand and the MacBook Pro were damaged.

Noticing that I was more upset at the broken MacBook keys, my wife took it upon herself to get the keys replaced. I forewarned her it would cost her to get the repairs done: the MacBook was outside the warranty period, and in any case the damaged was a result of our actions.  I also pointed out that she should not expect the repair to be cheap; Apple is not in the cheap marketplace.

A few days later she popped into an Apple store to find out what it would take to get the keys replaced. The folks at Apple were friendly and directed her to go online and book a time to get the work done. They also told her the work could be done in the store and in about an hour. So later that day my wife booked an appointment with Apple for when she was next going to be in town.

On the appointed day-time, my wife handed over the MacBook Pro for repair. And hour later, as promised, the MacBook Pro was like new. My wife thanked the helpful Apple employee / engineer and asked: “How much do I owe you?” The answer was that there was nothing to pay, the work had been done free of charge. My wife walked out of that store delighted.  When she came home she told me the story. And then went on to tell me how unusual it is to experience that kind of generosity. She ended up by saying Apple products are not cheap and they are worth every penny.  I find myself in agreement.  So that is my wife’s experience of Apple.

What is my experience? I am also delighted with Apple. Why? Because the folks at Apple treated my wife well. My wife knows nothing about technology. If the folks at Apple had told her the cost was £150 or so, she would have paid that. She was determined to restore my MacBook Pro to its pristine condition; I look after my stuff.  My wife is someone that really matters to me. As such Apple’s generous treatment of my wife occurs (to me) as Apple’s generous treatment of me. And importantly, vindication of my decision to do business with Apple. Paying a premium for Apple products occurs as a good decision. A smart decision. Even a wise decision.

I say to you that the path of customer effort reduction / minimisation will lead you to the customer’s heart. Yet it is your generosity towards your customers that will open up the customer’s heart and allow you place in that heart.  When you/your organisation make life easier for me, I experience an ease of doing business with you. When the folks in your organisation treat me with friendliness-kindness-generosity I experience cared for, even loved.  And that makes all the difference. Let me say that again: there is world of difference between the experience of ease and the experience of being cared for / loved.

When it comes to your work on customer experience and/or customer loyalty you can settle for cultivating the experience of ease or the experience of gratitude / love.  Your choice.  In making that choice I invite you to consider that when my wife recounts her Apple experience, the ease of doing business lies in the background of her story. The friendliness / helpfulness of the folks in the Apple store lies in the foreground. And right in the centre of the foreground is the generosity.

Leadership Involves Mastery of Initiative Conversations

Effective Leaders Excel At Initiative Conversations

I say that a leader is s/he who brings about a future that wasn’t going to happen anyway. I also say that human beings are beings who live in-through language. This leads me to conclude that a leader is s/he who is a master of using language to bring about a future that wasn’t going to happen anyway. This begs the question, what kind of language? To bring about a future that wasn’t going to happen anyway a leader has to take the initiative and effect change in the present. This means that a leader has to excel in the art of Initiative Conversations.

An Enquiry Into Initiative Conversations

At this point you are likely to want me to define an ‘Initiative Conversation’. Here’s the definition:

An Initiative Conversation is a proposal to create a new future, with the intention of making the future a reality. What makes an Initiative Conversation unique is not that it is a way of talking about starting something. It actually does start something.

– Jeffery and Laurie Ford, The Four Conversations

I am aware of the limitation of definitions, so allow me to bring this definition to life by giving you an example of an Initiative Conversation:

I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth. No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind, or more important for the long-range exploration of space, and none will be so difficult or expensive to accomplish. Let it be clear … that I am asking Congress and the country to accept a firm commitment to a new course of action, a course which will last for many years and carry very heavy costs. If we are to go only half way, or reduce our sights in the face of difficulty, in my judgement it would be better not to go at all.

President John R. Kennedy speaking to joint session of Congress on May 25, 1961

What Makes Initiative Conversations Necessary?

In my conversations with my children I often say “The being of man, your being, my being, is not the being of this table right in front of us!” What do I mean by that? Allow me to shed light on that by sharing the following with you (bolding mine):

The twig has no relationship to it’s future, drifting passively in the wind.

People are not twigs: we can create a future by design. We have desires or intentions, goals or plans, and can have an active relationship to the future….. When we become active and intentional about our future, we can deliberately choose to make something happen… The desire for something better is characteristic of human beings. 

To make your goals a reality, begin by having Initiative Conversations: announce the future you want to achieve, and invite other people to join you in making it happen

Initiative Conversations are proposals that share an idea for an attractive and worthwhile future, and show people the possibility and the value in fulfilling it…. In many cases, the Initiative Conversation goes beyond informing people, and begins to engage them and excite them about being part of making something happen….

– Jeffery and Laurie Ford, The Four Conversations

How can you tell whether you have held an effective Initiative Conversation or not? Simple. An effective Initiative Conversation does more than inform or provide direction. An effective Initiative Conversation moves the people taking part in that conversation! The people are moved as in excited by the new future and being so excited they are moved to enter into the ‘arena’ where work has to happen to bring about the new future. At a very human level, you/i feel it: there is a certain energy, a certain buzz.

What Are The Constituents of An Initiative Conversation?

1. What-When-Why

The following three elements make up the heart of an Initiative Conversation:

1. What is to be accomplished (the desired outcome);
2. When (date-time) are we committed to accomplish the desired outcome; and
3. Why does it matter that we generated the desired outcome by such a date-time?

Regarding these elements I share the following advice with you:

What
The What element …. needs to be brief and compelling to attract the intended audience.

When
Every goal needs a timeline – that is what makes the new future a specific event instead of an abstract idea.

Why
The value of an initiative needs to be spelled out clearly for everyone, especially when it requires financial or material resources, or causes people inconvenience or extra work. Why is a value statement that provides the context for the change and allows people to choose to spend their time, money, and effort to reach the goal.

– Jeffery and Laurie Ford, The Four Conversations

2. Who-Where-How

Let’s imagine that you have thought through your What-When-Why. Are you now in a position to out into the world and hold Initiative Conversations? No. You need to think through the Who-Where-How:

Before taking your initiative on the road, consider Who needs to hear the message, Where the resources are, and How the work might get done.

– Jeffery and Laurie Ford, The Four Conversations

How much work do you need to do in this domain? Do you need to have fully fleshed out stakeholder management plan? Do you need a fully fleshed out business case and inventory of resources required? Do you need a detailed MS Project Plan running into hundreds, even thousands of tasks, that will send just about everybody to sleep? No. Just need to do enough to show that you have thought through what it will take to bring about the desired future:

Who Needs to Participate?

Identify all the different individuals and groups you believe will be needed to accomplish the initiative. Who could do the work? Who could provide the resources? Who will receive the benefits? Who needs to authorise, approve, or regulate some aspect of the initiative? This is your first guess, which you will probably continue to revise as you go forward….

Where Will The Resources Come From? 

The process of taking an idea through an implementation process to its fulfilment requires resources….. consider what resources are likely to be required and where they might come from. Where could you get the money, the people, and the tools?

How Might The Work Get Done?

Even though you do not need a fully detailed work plan at the initiative stage, it is helpful to think through what might be involved in accomplishing what you are proposing…. The objective is to begin sketching out what you think will be required… suggestive rather than definitive. The prime benefit of doing this task now is that it lets you see where you need input and ideas from others …..

– Jeffery and Laurie Ford, The Four Conversations

3. Hold The Initiative Conversations And Keep Holding Them

When you have both the What-When-Why and the Who-Where-How then you are in a good place to hold Initiative Conversations through a variety of communication methods. When you hold these Initiative Conversations I counsel you to heed these wise words (bolding mine):

The important thing is to include everyone who might have a direct or an indirect contribution to make to the fulfilment of the vision. You want to give people an opportunity to learn about the initiative and think about how their own activities and environment will change. Your goal for Initiative Conversations is to get people talking….

You will probably say this same initiative statement (What-When-Why) many times. One important job for the leader is to keep the big-picture goals alive for people by repeating them as the initiative progresses towards completion. Initiative Conversations tend to have short lives. Even when things are going well, people get caught up in their local details, and the big picture fades from view, so they need frequent reminders about the purpose of their labors.

– Jeffery and Laurie Ford, The Four Conversations

What Does This Have To Do With Customer Experience Transformation?

I invite you to consider that most organisations doing Customer stuff (CX, CRM) fail because the folks in leadership positions fail to plan for and hold effective Initiative Conversations. These ‘leaders’ fail to move the folks through communicating a compelling-energizing-uplifting What-When-Why.

I also find that many ‘leaders’ fail to do a good enough job of the Who-Where-How. Consider the Who. Is it not the case that when it comes to organisational change only the favoured circle are included, really included, in the Initiative Conversations; most of the folks who will do the work and whose lives will change (usually dramatically) are treated as pawns to be moved around the organisational chess board.  Consider the questions of resources (Where) by using an airline analogy. In the airline business one does not have folks flying planes with say 90 units of fuel if 100 are needed to get to the destination. In organisational worlds that I have witnessed, I have found it is common for those charged with implementation to be given only 80 units when 100 are needed, and then for these folks to be punished when they ‘resist change’ or do not bring about the desired outcomes. Consider the How: how often is it that folks that dream up visions, develop strategies, and mandate change do not adequately grapple with  how the work of change will occur  thus storing up trouble during the implementation phase.

And Finally

I thank you for your listening to my speaking. I look forward to listening to your speaking if you choose to speak by commenting.  I wish you a great day and ask that you cause this weekend to be a great weekend for you and all whom you touch. Why not hold Initiative Conversations about what really matters to you, with the folks that matter?  Initiative Conversations are just as relevant in the personal domain as they are in the business/organisational domain.

Please note an earlier slightly modified version of this conversation was published in May 2015 at CustomerThink.com as part of the  monthly Human-Centred Leadership column.

Are There Are Any Flaws In Today’s Hot Theories on Leadership?

What does it take to cultivate strong relationships with the folks that you find yourself leading or managing?

As I listen to the folks in HR, and those that talk leadership, it occurs to me that a specific style/approach is being advocated: be nice to folks, listen to them, don’t lose your calm, delegate/share power, make them feel they matter…  If this is the case then how is it that Steve Jobs is held up as one of the most effective business leaders of all time? Steve Jobs, at least what I know of him, was not the exemplar of this approach.

We can ignore anomalies, breakdowns/holes in our existing take on reality, or look into them, explore and learn. Today, lets take this breakdown to see what it might conceal. As it happens this was a matter that I was grappling with whilst I found myself incapacitated for 4-5 weeks. I’d like to share with you what showed up for me. I invite you to listen to the words of Douglas McGregor as spoken in his book The Human Side of Enterprise (bolding mine):

Many subtle behavioral manifestations of managerial attitude create what is often referred to as the psychological “climate” of the relationship. During childhood ….. each of us acquired a high level of skill in perceiving aspects of parental behavior which told us whether everything was “all right with the relationship. Even very small children are amazingly sensitive to quite unconscious manifestations of parental attitudes of acceptance or rejection...

Granted that the subordinate’s dependency is far less in the employment relationship, it remains materially true that his ability to achieve his goals is materially affected by the attitudes of his superiors….. The climate is more significant than the type of leadership or personal “style” of the superior. The boss can be autocratic or democratic, warm and outgoing or remote and introverted, easy or tough, but these personal characteristics are of less significance then the deeper attitudes to which his subordinates respond. 

What Do You Get When You Swear At, Drive, Discipline, Dictate At Those You Lead?

Let’s continue this conversation by listening to Douglas McGregor share an anomaly that he encountered at a manufacturing company (bolding mine):

The mechanical superintendent in a small manufacturing company was the prototype of the “bull in the woods” manager. He swore at his men, drove them, disciplined them, behaved superficially like a Napoleon. He was the despair of the staff group who were carrying on a program of supervisory training in human relations. Yet, oddly, his subordinates appeared to have high regard to him. They said, “Oh is bark is worse than his bite.” Morale and productivity in his department were both high.

Let’s stop here for a moment and reflect. Here we have a real life example that goes against the conventional wisdom of human-relations – at least the wisdom advocated by leadership gurus, and HR advisors/practitioners. What is going on? How is it that someone who swears, drives, acts like Napoleon calls forth high regard, morale and productivity from the very folks he is swearing at, driving and disciplining? I say we are back to Steve Jobs and the question that I posed at the start of this conversation.

Is Effective Leadership Limited to Creating a Deep and Satisfying Emotional Certainty of Free Treatment?

I invite you to listen some more to the words of Douglas McGregor (bolding mine):

Probing revealed some significant facts. He was known as a “square shooter” who dealt with his men with scrupulous fairness. Despite his superficial toughness he was sincerely and warmly interested in his subordinatesWhen they were in trouble – whether it was a simple matter of a few dollars to tide a man over until payday, or a family crisis – he helped out in matter-of-fact way that left no uncomfortable feeling of being patronised.

Most important of all, he was known to be ready to go to bat for his men on any occasion when he felt they had not been accorded a fair break by higher management. The men spoke with awe of two occasions during a ten-year period when he had stormed into the office of the big boss to demand that a decision be altered because it was unfair to “his boys.” When he was refused in one of these instances, he resigned on the spot, put on his hat, and left. His superior actually followed him out to the gate and capitulated.

Douglas McGregor concludes his take on this superintendent and his leadership/management style with the following words of wisdom:

His managerial attitude cuts across authoritarianism, permissiveness, paternalism, firmness and fairness, and all the other “styles” of management to create a deep and satisfying emotional certainty of fair treatment.

It occurs to me that Douglas McGregor’s take on leadership/management accounts may just account for the success of Steve Jobs as a leader/manager. From what I have read, Steve Jobs surrounded himself with A players: those that showed up as A’s were treated as As, those who did not were pushed out.

I Find Myself Disagreeing With Douglas McGregor. Why?

How is it that I find myself left uncomfortable and in disagreement with Douglas McGregor? I say that the ground upon which the exercise of human-centred leadership occurs is ‘care': genuine care for the wellbeing of one’s ‘boys and girls’. Care is more than fair treatment. And is illustrated by this superintendent in two ways. First, when “his boys” were in troubles he helped out “in a matter of fact way that left no uncomfortable feelings”. Fair treatment in the workplace does not require one to lend money to the folks you are leading or help them out with family crises. Second, he resigned. Fair treatment would require that the superintendent go to bat for his boys – to make the case. It does not require one to resign. So how does this resignation show ‘care’? It occurs to me that it shows the other (usually hidden side) of care: care for one’s stand in relationship to what will and will not stand for. In his case, the Superintendent was not willing to stand for anything less than fair treatment for “his boys”. I bet that “his boys” were proud to be called “his boys”.

Note: this conversation is a modified version of the conversation published earlier at CustomerThink.com