Monthly Archives: October 2012

What does it take to generate ‘employee engagement’? (Part II)

This post is the second one on a series of post that will deal with the human side of the enterprise and in particular ’employee engagement’.  Why? Because you cannot have a customer-centric organisation that ‘stages’ great customer experiences if you do not create the context that enables your people to show up as ‘being great with customers and enabling greatness with customers’.  You can find the first post which introduced the ‘concept of persons’ here.

The idea is the absolute or why the ‘concept of persons’ is crucial

Let’s kick of the conversation with a quote from the Jose Ortega Y Gasset:

“.. the twelve hundred pages of Hegel‘s Logik are just the preparation that enables us to pronounce, in the fullness of its meaning, this sentence: “The idea is the absolute.”  This sentence, so poor in appearance, has in reality an infinite meaning; and when one considers it as one should, the whole treasury of its significance bursts open suddenly and it illuminates for us at once the enormous perspective of the world…”

If this quote occurs as too philosophical for you then let me share the words of a respected management thinker with you.  Here is what Herbert Simon says:

Nothing is more fundamental in setting our research agenda and informing our research methods than our view of the nature of human beings whose behaviours we are studying…. It makes a difference to research, but it also makes a difference to the design of… institutions”

What is the dominant ‘concept of persons’ when it comes to organisations and institutions?

What is the organisational reality that pervades organisations of all kinds?  Command and control is ubiquitous: in government, in public institutions, in businesses… – in organisations of all kinds.  Look at your experience, not the rhetoric, and you will find that just about every organisation has managers who are conditioned to command (issue orders) and then do all that is necessary (control) to make sure that those orders are carried out.  That is the very definition of a good manager – in practice, not in rhetoric.

What does this unconceal (if we leave aside the interpretation that some people love to exercise power over others) about the ‘concept of persons’?    I say it unconceals the assumption that people cannot be trusted to figure out the right course of action nor to execute that course of action.  Peeling the onion further, I say it unconceals a fundamental distrust of persons / gloomy picture of us as human beings.  I call it the negative/diseased ‘concept of persons’.  You could argue that this issue is related to the lack of competence – that people lack competence.  It goes wider than that, let’s take a look at that.

What is the ‘concept of persons’ that economics takes for granted and propagates?  Homo Economicus: the ‘concept of persons’ as rational self-interested maximisers.  Put differently, people are selfish and act always to do what is best for this self interest irrespective of the impact of their actions on others.

Yet, this dominant ‘concept of persons’ is incomplete – we have yet to factor in Abraham Maslow and his hierarchy of needs:

Maslow gave physiological and safety needs primary importance.  In effect arguing that once we have achieved  bodily well being, ensured our survival and accumulated the right property then and only then does the human being concentrate on the meaning of his/her life and spiritual well being.

So the dominant ‘concept of persons’ became and continues to be:

  1. people are intrinsically selfish so they will look out only for their personal self interest;
  2. people lack the competence to figure out what needs to be done;
  3. people cannot be counted on to do what needs to be done as they are lazy and/or selfish (see 1 above); and
  4. the way to get people to do what you want to do is through the right combination of fear (threaten their survival, belonging and self-esteem needs), reward (money and promotion), and training (to increase their competency).

Is the dominant ‘concept of persons’ in accordance with reality?

Leaving aside the issue of competence (which is easy to deal with) I wish to grapple with the ‘concept of persons’ as intrinsically selfish and whose primary needs are around bodily well being and survival.

The ultimatum game clearly shows that the human being is a social being who takes others into account – indeed he has to take others into account.  Put differently, the ultimatum game vividly demonstrates that the human being is not only self-regarding – not just Homo Economicus!  In the real world, the ‘concept of persons’ needs to envisage the person as self regarding AND other regarding AND process regarding.  That is to say people as real human beings-in-the-world consider others (other regarding) and are acutely sensitive to process especially social processes that mediate relationships between people –  acting fairly, punishing cheaters, one good deed deserves another.…. And as such the ultimatum game should make us question that which economics, management theory and organisation practice takes for granted: the ‘concept of persons’ as Homo Economicus.

Now let’s take a look at Maslow and his hierarchy of needs.  I say Maslow’s hierarchy is at best misleading and at worst wrong!  I draw your attention to that which is so, the thing in itself, unclothed from theory:

  • people risk and/or give up their lives to save others including strangers; and
  • people destroy their bodies and/or kill themselves including people who supposedly ‘have it all’.

Let’s listen to Martin Seager (clinican, lecturer and advisor to the government on mental health) and what he says on the matter:

“The selfish gene theory cannot explain the majority of suicides, where no one else is protected.  Nor can it explain the majority of human self-sacrifice which takes place for wider religious and political causes, rather than the protection of small families, groups or tribes who might share genetic material……

All of this means that Abraham Maslow’s famous hierarchy is, if anything, the wrong way around.  Maslow argues that, once we have achieved bodily wellbeing, we can then concentrate on the meaning of our lives and our spiritual wellbeing.  If this were true, then suicide would be almost unheard of; it would be a fundamental violation of the primary survival instinct.  It is truer to say that if our mental and spiritual needs are not met then a mere physical existence is not enough for our species.  Great physical hardship can be endured if there is a spiritual purpose, but without such a purpose a physical existence is often given up….

And finally

I say that the human being is a being who, at some point or another,  is confronted with the question: “Is this all there is?”  That is to say the human being is a being that has an built need to live a meaningful life (a life that matters) with others.  And that includes an urge to sing his song –  to put his natural self-expression into the world.   I say the access to ’employee engagement’ lies in creating the context that allows the employee to get access to his song, sing it, and to do so in the service of a cause/stand that shows up as worthy, as noble, as meaningful.

In the next post I will take a look at fundamental human needs and will bring in Maria Montessori to show what possibilities open up when one shifts one’s concept of the being of the human being.  For those of you who have made it to the end of the post, I thank you for your listening to my speaking. And I invite you to share your experience, your perspective.

Which of these 3 orientations are you taking towards customer experience and customer-centricity?

Job, Career, or Calling?

For some time I have been grappling with how to accurately convey the various ways that a person, a team, an organisation, can orient towards the customer experience and customer-centricity.  In the past I have thought about it in terms of tactics, strategy and philosophy.  And I am not sure that I have been able to convey what I wished to convey.  Given our taken for granted listening I suspect most of you tuned out philosophy as soon as you heard it – philosophy has no place in business right?   Today I wish to share with you another way of viewing the orientation, the stance, that you can take towards customer experience and customer-centricity.

I came across this passage from Shawn Achor’s The Happiness Advantage which opened a new horizon for me and I wish to share it with you:

“Yale psychologist Amy Wrzesniewski …….. has found that employees have one of three “work orientations” or mindsets about our work.  We view our work as Job, a Career, or a Calling. People with a ‘job’ see their work as a chore and their paycheck as the reward.  They work because they have to …… By contrast, people who view their work as a career work not only out of necessity, but also to advance and succeed….. Finally, people with a calling view work as an end in itself; their work is fulfilling not because of external rewards but because they feel it contributes to the greater good, draws on their personal strengths, and gives them meaning and purpose.  Unsurprisingly, the people with the calling orientation not only find the work more rewarding, but work harder and longer because of it. And as a result, these are the people who are generally more likely to get ahead.”

What orientations have I encountered on my travels across the business landscape? 

It occurs to me that many, if not most, approach customer experience and customer-centricity as a chore/burden that has been placed upon them through the customer revolution.    These folks would prefer, at the fundamental emotional level, if business went back to the good old days when customers were powerless and businesses had the upper hand.  So they act grudgingly and minimally – to do the minimum that they think they have to to do to stay in the game of business.  Put differently, the extent of their ambition is to be on par with their competitors.  Why?  Because customer experience and customer-centricity shows up as effort and they have no desire to do more than that which is necessary.  This orientation smacks of the Job orientation and the key driver/motivation is fear.  Fear of declining revenues, smaller profit margins, a tanking share prices.  And ultimately the fear of irrelevance and what that brings with it.

There are a much smaller number of folks (people, teams, organisations) who approach customer experience and customer-centricity in terms of the Career orientation.  These are the folks that think/act strategically.  They take the time to think about what customer experience means to them, their customers, their organisation, their industry.  And they are  committed to being ahead of the pack, their competitors.  The driver is a combination of greed & ambition: to be the most successful and reap the rewards, especially the financial rewards, that come with being the leader of the pack.  Would it be fair for me to characterise American Express this way?  I suspect that Apple, under Tim Cook, has fallen into this category.  And certainly, Jeff Bezos/Amazon show up that way for me.  Does Virgin also fall under this category?

Who is approaching customer experience and customer-centricity as a Calling?  I have yet, personally, to come across a leadership team/organisation where customer experience and customer-centricity shows up as a Calling.  Reading through the literature it occurs to me that Tony Hsieh and Zappos fall into this category.  And so does USAA.  Did Apple under Steve Jobs (the second time around) also fall under this category?  And is it possible that John Lewis is to be found here?

And finally

For me, personally, the work that I do on customer experience, customer-centricity and leadership occurs as a Calling.  The blogs that I write, including this one, occur as  manifestations of this calling.  How does the whole Customer thing show up/occur for you?  Job, Career, Calling?

And if you are intimately familiar with the companies that I have mentioned in this post then I would love to hear your thoughts.  Have I classified them correctly or incorrectly?

Customer Experience: how two staff in a wine bar left me feeling great and grateful

After a long week we find ourselves at Dallas/Forth Worth International Airport

It had been a long week, a week full of interviews, workshops, dinners, fellowship and travel from one site to another in Texas.  I found myself at the Dallas/Fort Worth international airport on a Friday afternoon with my colleague.  As there was some time before we would be boarding our flight back to the UK, we found a wine bar where we could sit, talk and drink some wine, together.

We ordered our wine and a friendly lady took our order and promptly returned with two glasses of wine.  Immersed in conversation, with the glass almost full, I found that I knocked over the glass.  The wine glass shattered and the wine poured onto the table and made its way to the floor.  Suddenly, I found myself self-conscious and embarrassed.

An angel shows up and leaves me relaxed and at ease, soaked in humanity

One of the employees noticed our plight and came over to clean up the mess.  She occurred as relaxed and helpful as if she had witnessed this kind of event many times.  As she was cleaning up she talked to me and assured me that there was nothing wrong, that I had done nothing wrong, that the glasses shattered easily.  And I was not the first person to knock over a wine glass.

I found myself delighted and grateful with this fellow human being.  And I told her that.  Specifically, I thanked her for recognising my embarrassment and putting her humanity into the encounter and thus easing my tension and leaving me relaxed.  She got my thanks and I got she got my thanks – we both smiled at each other.

With our humanity in action and rapport established we found ourselves sharing our personal selves.  She told me about her concerns/troubles like one of her parents being affected by Alzheimer’s disease.  And what that brought with it given that she is the daughter.  I found myself  being touched  by her humanity and reciprocated by telling her about my mother and how she is slowly losing her memory….. Then the time came for us to part company – each thanking the other, each grateful for the humanity the other put into the encounter.  I know that to this day I think of that lady and wish her the very best.

Service does not get better than this

With the cleaning up done, the lady that had served us the wine came to the table and brought me another glass.     She placed it on the table, smiled, and told me that it was on the house.  Both surprise and gratitude were present for me and I found myself smiling and thanking her.

Nothing beats the human touch that touches the heart and leaves the customer feeling grateful

It occurs to me that in our data/technology/process obsessed culture we miss the importance of the people who work in the business and make the business work.  Yes, it is the people that make the business what it is. And determine how the business shows up in the experience of the customers.  Yet, customers also have a role to play.  How customers treat the staff in the business and how the staff in the business treat customers makes such a huge difference.

If you want to generate customer advocacy then ..

I say that if you want to excel in generating customer advocacy then you have to excel at generating surprise, delight and/or gratitude.  And the most effective way to do that is to have in place staff that delight in / excel at dealing with customers.  Staff who have that human touch.  My friend Richard Shapiro calls these folks ‘Welcomers’ and has written a book on it: The Welcomer Edge.

And finally

If you happen to be in the International Airport (Terminal D) then pay a visit to The Bodega Winery.  Say hi to them for me – let the staff know that they have a grateful customer who remembers their generosity, their kindness, the humanity.   Tell them I wish them the very best and hope that one day our paths will cross again.

I thank you for your listening; it is your listening that makes my speaking worthwhile; it is your listening that provides the motivational fuel that results in that which shows up here at The Customer Blog.  I wish you a great weekend.  I wish you a great week.  I wish you great living.  And I say, go out and touch a life!  And if you are in business then touch your customer’s lives – that is how you generate advocacy.

What does it take to generate ’employee engagement’? (Part I)

This post is the first in a series of posts in which I will be exploring/grappling with the what it takes to call forth the best from the people in your organisation.   Some refer to this as ’employee engagement’ which in itself suggests/implies that the default state is that of disengagement.

Everyone wants ‘engaged employees’ few create the context for this to show up

If you want your organisation to come up with attractive products and to generate the kind of customer experiences that leave your customers happy, occasionally delighted, then you have to get the people /culture part right.  Getting the people part right, arguably, starts with attracting/recruiting the right people into your organisation.

Once you have the right people, the challenge is to call forth the best from your people.  It is a challenge that most companies fail.  Research and experience suggests that many if not most companies are failing to  call forth the best from their employees; most employees simply show up and do the minimum that they need to get through the day, the week, the month and collect the pay check.

Why is ’employee engagement’ lacking? 

Let me start answering this question by sharing a zen story.

Nan-in, a Japanese master during the Meiji era (1868-1912), received a university professor who came to inquire about Zen. Nan-in served tea. He poured his visitor’s cup full, and then kept on pouring. The professor watched the overflow until he no longer could restrain himself. “It is overfull. No more will go in!”

“Like this cup,” Nan-in said, “you are full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?”

I say that if we are to come up with insightful answers to the question of ’employee engagement’ we have to be willing to empty our cups of that which we already know about employees and ’employee engagement’?  I say we have to go further and radically examine our conception of the person: the being of a human being.

How best to illustrate what I am pointing at here? Allow me to share a story as told by Max DePree in Leadership is an Art.

The millwright dies

“In the furniture industry of the 1920s the machines of most factories were not run by electric motors, but by pulleys from a central drive shaft.  The central drive shaft was run by a steam engine.  The steam engine got its stream from a boiler. The boiler, in our case, got its from the sawdust and other waste coming out of the machine room….

The millwright was the person who oversaw that cycle and on whom the entire activity of the operation depended.  He was key person.  

One day the millwright died.

My father, being a young manager at the time, did not particularly know what he should do when a key person died, but he thought he ought to go and visit the family…….

The widow asked my father if it would be all right if she read aloud some poetry.  Naturally, he agreed. She went into another room, came back with a bound book, and for many minutes read selected pieces of beautiful poetry. When she finished, my father commented on how beautiful the poetry was and asked who wrote it.  She replied, that her husband, the millwright, was the poet. 

It is now nearly sixty years since the millwright died, and my father and many of us at Herman Miller continue to wonder: Was he a poet who did millwright’s work, or was he a millwright who wrote poetry?”

What can we learn from this story?

Here is what Max De Pree has to say about the story (bolding is my work):

“In addition to all the ratios and goals and parameters and bottom lines, it is fundamental that leaders endorse a concept of persons.  This begins with an understanding of the diversity of people’s gifts and talents and skills. Understanding and accepting diversity enables us to see that each of us is needed…”

What do I say?  I say that we have to radically rethink and get present to the being of human beings. And it is only when we get to grips with the being of being human beings that we will get an insightful answer to the question of employee motivation, ’empowerment’ and ‘engagement’.  Put more simply, and using Max De Pree’s term, we have to take a fresh, penetrating look at our concept of persons.

Is the being of a human being in the same domain as the being of a computer?  Put differently, are employees, our fellow human beings, simply tools to be used as we wish?   Or is there something more, something unique, that shows up when a human being, an employee, shows up?  Is it possible that it is our taken for granted concept of persons does not honour that which is essential to the being of human beings and thus is the source of the lack of ’employee engagement’?

Instead of jumping to the ready made answers and techniques, which clearly do not work, I suggest that you and I sit with these questions and ponder the story of the millwright.   And let’s continue this conversation in the next post (in this series).  In that post, I intend to take a fresh look at Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

What does it take to be a leader and for leadership to show up? (Part III)

This post continues and completes the conversation on what it takes to be a leader (and for leadership to show up) from an ontological perspective as put forward and taught by Werner Erhard et al. There are three foundational strands to this model: ‘integrity’, ‘authenticity’, and ‘being committed to something bigger than oneself’.  The first post dealt with integrity, the second post dealt with authenticity and this post deals with ‘being committed to something bigger than oneself’. Warning: this is a long post and it takes something to read it.  If you are looking to skim, easy to consume content, then I advise you to go and do something else.

Leadership is a choice you make for yourself

Let’s kick off the conversation through a quote from Werner Erhard et al that speaks to me, it may do the same for you:

“In a certain sense, all true leaders are heroes.  Heroes are ordinary people who are given being and action by something bigger than themselves…… Each of us must make the personal choice to be a hero or not, to be committed to something bigger than ourselves or not, to go beyond the way we “wound up being” and have the purpose of our lives and our careers be about something that makes a difference or not, in other words, to be a leader or not.”

What does it mean to be committed to something bigger than oneself?

First I will share with you how Werner Erhard et al see this and then I will give you two examples to help this way of understanding come to life.  Here is what Werner Erhard et al talk about, relate to and ring-fence “being committed to something bigger than oneself”:

“is being committed in a way that shapes one’s being and actions so that they are in the service of realising something beyond one’s personal concerns for oneself – beyond a direct personal payoff.  As they are acted on, such commitments create something to which others can also be committed and have the sense that their lives are about something bigger than themselves.  This is leadership!”

Let’s just take a look at Tony Fitzjohn (OBE): a conversationist who worked extensively with George Adamson’ and who shows up for me as a leader who gave himself being as a leader through his commitment to something bigger than himself.  Besides putting his life at risk in working with lions (he as badly mauled by a lion whilst working with George Adamson) I want to draw our attention to the following:

“The challenge facing him at Mkomazi demanded all these skills, and more. It required someone who was an experienced wildlife manager, fluent in Swahili, a bush pilot, a skilled engineer and mechanic who could build roads, cut boundaries, strip down and re-assemble 4WD vehicles and plant machinery, set up two-way radio networks, construct and de-silt dams, maintain electrical and power equipment, organize anti-poaching patrols, deal with the bureaucracy, and keep a remote camp supplied. All this, and the ability to establish breeding programs for highly endangered species whilst constructing and repairing schools in the villages around Mkomazi Game Reserve, helping with medical dispensaries and maintaining friendly relations with the local communities…..

Arriving in 1989 with nothing but a Land Rover and a hangover, he put in all the infrastructure himself: an airstrip, 600 miles of roads, dams, electricity, water. He built a house and learnt to fly, married Lucy and had four children…..

His track record includes:

  • Established and stocked the first successful Rhinoceros sanctuary in Tanzania.
  • 30 years of successful rehabilitation of zoo animals into the wild.
  • Gained National Park status for two game reserves.
  • Completed the construction of a new secondary school for 400 children.
  • Provided local communities with clean water supply, dispensary and Flying Doctor service.
  • First successful captive breeding program for endangered African Hunting Dog in East Africa.
  • Ground-breaking veterinary research into disease of endangered species.
  • 20 years of developing and supporting Anti-Poaching Units.

The modern-day requirements of this operation, staffed only by volunteers, means that Fitzjohn has to spend a lot of time traveling in order to raise funds and generate publicity for the project. He lectures at the Royal Geographical Society, schools, zoos, wildlife parks, and talks to diverse groups of supporters….”

If you want a business person as an example then I suggest looking at James Dyson, Anita Roddick, Howard Behar, Tony Hsiesh and Steve Jobs.

Leadership and the valley of tears

Many want to be leaders, few have what it takes to persevere in the valley of tears when nothing goes right, when there is nobody to count on, when there is no help at hand.  I have experienced this myself and can vouch for it.

I remember the pain, the hurt, the tears, the anger, the fear, the criticism, the questioning of my motives and character, the envy,  that I had to deal with when I set up Humanity In Action (small charity) some ten years ago.  And the only thing that got me through it was that the purpose of the charity pulled me through/around/under/over all the obstacles.

I also remember standing in front of the CEO and senior managers and refusing to carry out the CEO’s instructions.  What allowed me to take the risk despite being fearful/concerned about how I was going to pay the bills, support the family that was counting on me?  A calling, a commitment to a stand (“people matter more than things”) and a set of values of how to be in life and how to treat people.

Here is how Werner Erhard et al put it:

“.. without the passion that comes from being committed to something bigger than yourself, you are unlikely to persevere in the valley of tears that is an inevitable experience in the lives of all true leaders. Times when nothing goes right, there is no way, no help is available, nothing there except what you can do to find something in yourself – the strength to persevere in the face of impossible odds…….”

“Is that all there is to life?”

We live in a culture that encourages selfishness and the pursuit of fame/wealth/success.  Put differently we are encouraged to simply look after oneself, pursue one’s personal agenda, and leave others to do the same.  Here is what Werner Erhard et al have to say on that:

Wealth, fame, and the like, are both no more  than the scorecard for success; they are not the source of corporate or personal passion and energy.”

More importantly focussing solely on oneself and one’s personal interests does not mean that one escapes the existential question: “Is this  all there is to life?” This is how Werner Erhard et al have to say on this matter:

“No matter how good you look, no matter how good you’ve gotten your family to look, and no matter how wealth, fame or power you have amassed, you will experience a profound lack of fulfillment….. expressed by the commonly asked question: Is This All There Is?     Dealing with the crisis of “Is this all there is?” lies in having a commitment to the realisation of  future (a cause) that leaves you with a passion for living.

Werner Erhard et al go on to make a powerful point.  A point about discipline, about sticking to one’s stand.  Why does this matter?  Because we swim in a culture that is about ease, convenience, comfort, finding the short-cut and focussing on the short-term.   Here is what they have to say:

“… a commitment to something bigger than oneself empowers not only a human brain’s executive function to avoid “eating the marshmallow”, but works in the same way to empower the corporate “executive function” to forgo “eating the marshmallow”“.

As I write these words Steve Jobs pops up: his commitment to creating great products and a legacy overpowered the corporate addiction to making the sort term revenue and profit numbers.  How many times was a product introduction shelved or delayed because the product was not deemed perfect by Jobs?  How many times were ‘complications’ to the supply chain introduced (different colours…) to meet the commitment?

And finally

You might be wondering why I have dived into leadership given that this is The Customer Blog.  Because the move to customer-centricity requires leaders to show up as leaders and exercise leadership.  And it is not any kind of leadership.  It is the kind of leadership that Werner Erhard et al are speaking at. And without this kind of leadership organisations can talk as much as they like, put in as much technology as they like, redesign processes etc and they will still not show up as customer-centric as experienced by the customer.   Honestly, how many of your customers are going to help out your company when it falls on hard times?  How many are going to mourn your company when it dies?  Think RIM (Blackberry), think Nokia, think HP, think Dell……

The shift to customer-centricity requires a genuine shift to being a company that stands for creating superior value for customers: enriching their lives, improving their welfare, helping them with the issues that they are grappling with…  As such it requires a commitment to something bigger than one’s need to make the short-term numbers to collect the bonus cheques.  It requires integrity – keeping one’s promises including those that customers can reasonably expect you to keep even if you have not explicitly promised that promise.  And it requires authenticity.

Enough for today. I thank you for listening to my speaking and I invite you to share your perspective by commenting.  And if these last three posts on leadership speak to you then you might get value out of this blog:  Possibility, Transformation and Leadership. 


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