Monthly Archives: November 2012

John Lewis: masterful at employee engagement, customer experience and organisational effectiveness?

What makes John Lewis so special?

John Lewis is one of the few retailers that is doing great in the UK.  My eldest son (who is studying business and passionate about retail) got to spend one week working in the menswear department of John Lewis.  During a car journey I asked him about his experience.  He told me that he enjoyed working at John Lewis and was looking into an apprenticeship.

I asked him what made John Lewis given that he already “runs” the local charity store on Saturdays and has been selling since he was 8 years old.  This is what he told me:

  •  “John Lewis is professional – they do things right“;
  • “I like the people who I worked with“;
  • “Papa, a lot of them have worked there [John Lewis store] for a long time – they love it“;
  • “One of the main people has worked there for 34 years!  He told me that he came for his interview via horse carriage!”
  • “He knows everything about John Lewis and the products they sell“;
  • “He knows instantly what size, colour and clothes will suit the customer!“; and
  • “He is great with customers – they like him.”

I am clear that John Lewis has created a unique context and thus a unique relational bond between the key players in John Lewis: the brand, management, staff and customers. Which is why one person has worked at the John Lewis store for 34 years and knows the business, the products and customers inside out.  And why so many of the staff have been with John Lewis for many years.

How has John Lewis brought about this state of affairs?  By not treating their employees as ‘disposal’ objects/resources which is what almost all other employers do.  Do you know that John Lewis is actually called the John Lewis Partnership.  Who are the partners?  The 69,000 permanent employees!  Yes, the John Lewis Partnership is an employee owned partnership through design/constitution.  Here is what the Guide to Employee Ownership says:

“The John Lewis Partnership has a visionary and successful way of doing business, putting the happiness of Partners at the centre of everything it does. It’s the embodiment of an ideal, the outcome of nearly a century of endeavour to create a different sort of company, owned by Partners dedicated to serving customers with flair and fairness.

All 69,000 permanent employees are Partners who own John Lewis department stores, Waitrose supermarkets, an online and catalogue business, johnlewis.com, and a direct services company, Greenbee.com, with a turnover of nearly £7bn last year. Partners share in the benefits and profit of a business that puts them first.

When the founder, John Spedan Lewis, set up the Partnership, he was careful to create a governance system, set out in the company’s Constitution, that would be both commercial, allowing the business to move quickly to stay ahead in a competitive industry, and democratic, giving every Partner a voice in the business they co-own. His combination of commercial acumen and corporate conscience has helped to make the company succeed.

John Lewis Partnership shares are held in Trust. The beneficiaries of that Trust are the employees of the company, the Partners. They share the profit and have oversight of management decisions through a number of democratic bodies.”

When the employer and the employees show up and operate from a ‘employees/employers are disposable’ context, what shows up?

We live in a ‘disposable’ world best epitomised by Apple: the hottest new Apple product is only hot for a year or so then it is ‘thrown out’ and the next hottest thing is bought.  That may be a great relationship as regards objects/resources.  Is this type of orientation/relationship appropriate when it comes to the relationship between the organisation and its employees?  Does a ‘disposable relationship’ lead to a good/great customer experience and contribute to organisational effectiveness?

I say that in normal economic times, the employees are alienated from their work and there is high turnover.  Staff rarely stay long enough to get the organisation: what it stands for, where it is headed, who the key players are, how work gets done etc.  Nor does their brief ‘tenure’ in their role/post allow them to develop the product expertise and the softer customer interaction skills.

What is the impact on the customer experience?  From the customer’s view the employees show up a ‘not having a clue about the products they are selling’ and lacking in basic ‘human to human communication skills’.  At best the customer is left with an ‘adequate/bland/indifferent’ experience.  This kind of experience is good enough as long as there is no real competition.  Else, it is the route to failure – it just takes a little time (that reminds me of a song).

What is the impact of that on organisational effectiveness?  It degrades organisational effectiveness in several ways:

First, it takes some time/effort/cost to recruit new staff and give them even the basic training.

Second, the employees are not invested in their roles nor in the organisation so do not come up with ideas and/or take action to: improve that which is not working well;  improve that which is working ok and could be better; retire that which is not necessary; and come up with that which is necessary and is missing.

Third, these kind of organisations are ‘held together’ by a small number of ‘long timers’ who are the ones who know how the system works and who work the system to get things done.  When they leave – and they do eventually leave as their passion/determination wears out – their knowledge/expertise/passion/dedication walks out with them.  And a big gap is left in the organisation.  Result?  The workability and performance of the organisation suffers.

Fourth, management is so busy dealing with staff related concerns – recruitment, training, interpersonal squabbles, control , exit – that the managers rarely have/make the time to do anything other than put fires out.  And create more policies and practices to further restrict/control the degree of freedom that employees have.  Why?  Because employees have shown that they are not up to the job.

What do I say?

Tell me what matters most to you, what are you really passionate about, what are you genuinely committed to?

If it is the workability and performance of your organisation over the longer term then I say take a good look at The John Lewis Partnership.  I also say throughly read/grapple with the ideas Dave Logan et al share in their book Tribal Leadership and move your organisation to a Level 4 organisation.  Why? Because I am a clear that the John Lewis Partnership is an embodiment of the Level 4 organisation and Dave Logan et al show you how to move the people in your organisation through the different levels.  The bad news?  The fundamental transformation starts with the CEO and his leadership team.

If you are committed to ‘command & control’ and ‘employees as disposable resources’ then I say carry on a you are.   And beware that in doing so you are sitting atop a fragile organisation that will break with the next big/unexpected.   I will explore the subject of ‘fragility’ and ‘Antifragility’ in a follow up post.

What do you say?

Is customer experience and the voice of the customer the CMO’s salvation?

The Economist Intelligence Unit has recently published a report titled ‘Outside looking in: The CMO struggles to get in sync with the C-suite’, sponsored by SAS.  This report has showed up as rather interesting for me and I want to share with you that which has caught my interest.

CMO’s face a number of big problems

The fundamental problem is that CMOs don’t get much respect from the rest of the C-suite.  CMOs say that they are doing a difficult job well: making a contribution/delivering significant value to product development, sales and customer service.  The problem is that the rest of the C-suite don’t agree – they question the value/contribution that CMOs are making.  And it doesn’t look like they listen to CMOs with much respect.  Here is how the EIU report puts it:

“CMOs believe they are constrained because the rest of the organisation does not consider marketing to be strategic; the C-suite believes marketing has not earned the right to be more strategic because it is ineffective at demonstrating value of its investments.”

Here are the other big problems that CMOs face:

1. Many organisations have trouble defining, clearly/exactly, the CMO’s role and responsibilities. Which could explain why it is that there is no agreement on what business objective the CMO (and the marketing function) should focus upon and be held accountable for.  Worse still there is a fundamental disagreement between what CMOs see as marketing’s priorities and the priorities that the other members of the C-suite assign to the marketing function.  Which makes me wonder if members of the C-suite actually talk with each other, share and agree what they expect of one another.  Doesn’t look like it. The EIU report says “..their greatest challenge: getting everyone to agree on marketing’s priorities.”

2. The  marketing function is not coping with the challenge that comes with the territory that falls under the market umbrella: advertising, brand, market research, communications, customer analytics, social media, mobile and so forth.  Why?  First, the marketing function lacks people with the necessary skills and expertise to cope/deal with this broad/dynamic challenge.  Second, members of the C-suite do not feel the CMO’s pain – they are not approving the necessary marketing investments.

So whilst it looks like CMOs are in a difficult position, there is no need to despair.  The EIU reports offers a route to influence, credibility, impact and respect from the C-suite.

What can CMOs do to make an impact and amass influence/respect in the C-suite?

The EIU report advises CMOs to focus on the customer experience and the voice of the customer. The authors pin their hopes on the following quote from Steve Cannon, CEO, Mercedes Benz USA:

“Every single customer experience is a brand moment of truth. If we create an aspiration through our advertising, and a customer walks into a store and does not deliver on that promise that reflects on marketing.” 

Any intelligent person could drive a coach and horses through this assertion.  And for the the time being lets just accept and go with this assertion.

OK, if Customer Experience is the unifying theme and the rallying call for the organisation then how exactly can the CMO contribute to this play given that the CMO is not the CEO and does not control all the touchpoints, which as a whole, generate the Customer Experience?

Focus on the voice of the customer:

Chief marketing officers (CMOs) stand a better chance of increasing their internal influence – and changing lingering doubts about marketing’s strategic contribution to the business – if marketing can consistently deliver insights and tools that benefit others across the organisation, from salespeople to call centre agents to merchandising teams.”

How feasible is this ‘success route’ being put forward by the EIU?

I say that there is a big difference between a poor strategist and a good strategist.  A good strategist takes into account feasibility.  Specifically, he asks this question: what is the likelihood that my client can execute this strategy?  And the good strategist keeps on going until he comes up with a strategy that the client has a good chance of being able to execute successfully.

So let’s ask this question, how likely is it that marketing can:

a) marshal the voice of the customer from all the disparate sources and turn this into a comprehensive view – single view of the customer;

b) generate actionable insight into customers, how they interact with the business as a whole, the jobs that they hire the business to do for them, and their experience of using the product and dealing with the company?”; and

c) inspire the various members of the C-suite to act – to make changes in their priorities, policies and practices – so as to improve the customer experience?

I’ll let you decide for yourself.  For my part I could not help noticing the following hurdles identified in the same EIU report:

1. Single customer view.  “The airline [BA] has spent the better part of the last decade integrating its systems to support the effort; data warehouse not stores 200 separate data sources from different parts of the business to provide a more granular view of the customer, based on information they have volunteered.”

2. Converting data into actionable insight. “For all the talk about data-driven customer insight, marketers are just starting to understand how they should be using the growing repository of information they are collecting through digital media and other channels.”

What do I say?

I say that if you and your organisation are serious about building your competitive position and commercial success on the Customer Experience then follow the example of Steve Cannon the CEO of Mercedes Benz USA.  Why?

Because, the role and this responsibility or organising the business around the Customer Experience is a huge change full of organisational politics. And as such it is beyond the remit and the capacity of the CMO and the marketing function.  This role/challenge – that of aligning the organisation around the customer experience requires marshalling resources, reassigning resources, engendering and dealing with organisational conflict - belongs to the CEO.

Here is what Steve Cannon did in the words of the EIU report:

“..aligning the organisation around a superior customer experience has been the focus of Steve Cannon since he took over as CEO in January 2012…. Investments in customer experience programmes have been large – such as the formation of a dedicated customer experience team – and small – like providing Mercedes Benz dealers with iPads equipped with custom apps and videos.” 

As regards what Steve Cannon is doing at Mercedes Benz USA I draw your attention to the following:

1. Steven Cannon was the CMO before he came the CEO.  When he was the CMO he did not take charge of “aligning the organisation around a superior customer experience” No, he did it when he became the CEO.  I say he is a smart man who has a sound grasp of reality.

2. If the CMO had come up with the clever idea of buying hundreds of iPads for dealers it is highly likely that he would have reinforced the C-suite’s already always listening of the marketing function as the “department of coloured pencils” (how one CEO described the marketing function) and s/he would not have got the budget approved by the CEO/CFO.

What do you say?

What have I learned after 25+ years at the coalface: marketing, selling and serving customers

“You have been playing the game of business for 25+ years and most of that has been at the coal face – intimate contact with the customer.  In addition, as a customer you have had many encounters with many companies.  How would you sum that up?” That is the question that was posed to me recently.  As I grappled with that question two passages came to my mind that pretty much sum it up.  The first is a passage from EM Standing’s book Maria Montessori: Her Life and Work and the other is from Fyodor Dostoevsky’s masterpiece The Brothers Karamazov.  Allow me share those with you starting with the latter one.

Book 2, Chapter 4 – A lady of little faith, The Brothers Karamazov

“I heard exactly the same thing, a long time ago to be sure, from a doctor,” the elder remarked. “He was then an old man, and unquestionably intelligent.  He spoke just as frankly as you, humorously, but with a sorrowful humour.

‘I love mankind,’ he said, ‘but I am amazed at myself: the more I love mankind in general, the less I love people in particular, that is, individually, as separate persons. In my dreams,’ he said, ‘I often went so far as to think passionately of serving mankind, and, it may be, would really have gone to the cross for people if it were somehow suddenly necessary, and yet I am incapable of living in the same room with anyone even for two days, this I know from experience. As soon as someone is there, close to me, his personality oppresses my self-esteem and restricts my freedom. In twenty-four hours I can begin to hate even the best of men: one because he takes too long to eat his dinner, another because he has a cold and keeps blowing his nose.  I become the enemy of the people the moment they touch me,’ he said, ‘On the other hand, it has always happened that the more I hate people individually, the more ardent becomes my love for humanity as a whole.’”

Maria Montessori: Her Life and Work 

One day Dr. Montessori was called in to attend two small babies – twins – who were so near death’s door that their father had said, “Why trouble to get a doctor; they are already dead.” The parents were very poor and unable to afford either household help or nursing. On her arrival the young lady doctor took in the whole situation in a glance.  Taking off her coat, she lit the fire, sent the mother to bed, heated some water, bathed the two babies, “holding them in a special way,” prepared their food, and thus little by little, hour by hour, brought them back to life – servant, cook, nurse and doctor in one.

In later years when this same mother with her children met the Dottoressa in the street she would push them towards her saying, “Go and salute that lady, my dear, she is your real mother, not I: she gave you your life.”

Summing it up

Summing it up I’d say that in the vast majority of organisations ‘management’ talks a great story : about the customer; about brand values like quality, innovation, excellence, customer focus; And internal organisational values like teamwork, collaboration etc.   The talk is marvellous; I remember two CEO’s in particular who were great at that talk.

The issue for this majority of organisations is that the talk just does not translate to substantive interventions that create value for the customer, nor the people in the organisation that actually do the work that directly/indirectly impacts the customer in the form of the product and the customer experience.

Yet, this does not stop the talk.  The less substantive the change and/or the willingness to do what is necessary, the more the talk.  It is as if the urgency/degree of talk is a substitute for acting – of making changes that improve  the ‘workability’ and ‘performance’ of the organisation.

Looking into this I have become convinced that these organisations – the majority of organisations - lack faith.  They lack faith in their customers – that customers will reward them for doing the right thing by customers.  They lack faith in their people (management, employees, marketing, sales, customer service etc) to do what is necessary.  They lack faith in themselves – to effect personal changes and orchestrate/lead organisational changes.  So talking takes the place of acting. Which is why the passage (lady of little faith) from The Brothers Karamazov came to my mind.

Yet there are a small, very small, number of organisations where the people in the organisation get on with what needs to be done: to create value for customers; to engender good relationships between the various tribes in the organisation; to work collaboratively with suppliers and channel partners….

The people in these organisation are moved-touched-inspired by: the mission of their organisation; the quality of their working relationships – they actually like and respect each other; the thrill of creating a future worth creating; and the anticipation of taking on challenges worth taking on.  Which is why the passage from Maria Montessori:Her Life and Work came to my mind and which I shared with you.

What is your experience?

What does it take for ‘employee engagement’ to show up? (Part VI) v2

This post is an update to the earlier version (released yesterday) which I published before it was ready to be published by pressing the wrong button.  I apologise.

The truth that makes men free is for the most part the truth which men prefer not to hear”  Herbert Agar

In this post I continue sharing with you what shows up for me as I grapple with ‘employee engagement’.  Given that some of you may have not read the earlier posts, I will first cover some essential ground and the move forward with the ‘new’.

It all comes down to the “concept of persons” and how one should treat one’s fellow man.

I came across this quote which pretty much sums up the humanistic school’s stance on human being and how man should relate to and treat his fellow human beings:

“If you don’t find God in the next person you meet, it is a waste of time looking for him further.”  Gandhi

Wow!  That occurs in my world as a massively powerful assertion and I can only imagine the love that gives rise to this assertion, this stance, uttered and lived by Gandhi.

Whilst the words of humanistic philosophers (e.g. Rousseau) and psychologists (e.g. Abraham Maslow, Carl Rogers) are nowhere as poetic, the underlying stance is remarkably similar: a ‘romantic’ notion about the beauty, the goodness, the nobility of the human being – every human being.  Which is why Gandhi and the humanists, as I understand them, are labelled ‘idealists’.

The world that you and I are dwelling in is shaped, ruled and peopled by ‘pragmatists’: philosophers like Hobbes;  and psychologists like Freud and Skinner.    Pragmatists look at the same reality and come up with a radically different “concept of persons”.  They say that the being of human beings is brutish and that left to their themselves people would turn our life into a brutish one.  Recent examples of this brutishness include Rwanda and Yugoslavia.  And who can forget the WWII concentration camps.  And given this dark side lying at the centre of human being, human beings need (and can be) controlled.  Who is to do the controlling?  Those who have always done the controlling:  the elite who hold/exercise power and get to determine what is good and what is bad.

Where do I stand on this matter?

As an “idealist” I can see the beauty/wonder of human beings and as such I say that “pragmatists” have a dim/dark view/unduly negative and possibly self-serving view of human beings.

As a “pragmatist” (I do have a BSc in Applied Physics) I see that human beings are so addicted to and run by the ‘four prime directives’ (you have to read my earlier post to get what these are) that human beings will slaughter life including millions of fellow human beings simply to be right, to dominate, to look good.  And if we those of us who have killed (including those of us who have stood by whilst the slaughter took place) are questioned about what we are doing/have done, we get busy enthusiastically invalidating others and justifying ourselves!

I say, I can see the value and limitations of both of these distinct “concept of persons”.  They both disclose as well as hide stuff about human being.  Taken together they provide a fuller/richer picture of human being.  Now lets move on with the main thrust of this post.

What is the underlying context that fuels our organisations and management practices?

As I have said before, the dominant concept of persons is that of the pragmatists.  Why?  Because  it is the pragmatists that won the fight, who hold positions of power and shape our world including shaping us, human beings.

If you get this then you may be able to hear and be with what I am about to say.  And which I say   gets to the heart of the matter of ‘employee engagement’, ‘empowerment’, creativity and innovation.  That is to say, it spells out why these phenomena/qualities are not present in almost all organisations and especially not in large/established organisations.

I say that organisations are prisons. Please note, I am not saying that organisations are like prisons.  No. I am saying that organisations are prisons.

When I say that “organisations are prisons” I am pointing out that the people who commission, fund, build and run prisons are primarily concerned with control: controlling the prisoners so that they become docile and do what they are told without asking questions, without questioning the power of those in power – in short without being troublesome.  And this elite use the tried and tested philosophy and practices of command and control that originated in the military which consisted of a small elite officer class and the much larger class of conscripts who were expected to do the fighting, killing and dying upon orders from the officer class.

Crucially, the people who work in organisations (the employees) experience themselves and show up (for themselves and each other) as prisoners.  They speak as if the organisation is a prison and they are imprisoned in it from 9 to 5.  They do not speak even when what is being asked of them shows up as being ‘stupid’.  They do not challenge bosses that show up for them as being incompetent and/or sadists.  In short, they show all the signs of  learned helplessness: people who, no matter what they do or do not do, cannot affect their circumstance and organisational practices.

This helplessness and the docility, compliance and doing the least that is necessary to get through the prison day is understandable – at least I understand it, I have lived it!  Think back to prisons, what shows up in prisons?  One group of people, the prison guards, are relatively small in number and exercise power over a much larger number of people who are deprived of their freedom and are powerless to decide how they live. The fundamental design and operating practice is to get the prisoners to get present to their powerlessness, their helplessness.  Deming totally got this: one of his 14 points is “Drive out fear”.

How much prisoner engagement, creativity and innovation shows up in a prison?  To date, I have never heard of anyone expecting these phenomena to show up in prisons.  Nor have I read or heard about great prisoner engagement, creativity and innovation in prisons.  Which leads me to believe that these phenomena – engagement, creativity, innovation – are not expected and do not show up in prisons.

What does show up in prisons?  The exercise of power and the compliance with power.  And the acceptance/resentment that goes with one set of people exercising power over the lives of another set of people.  I get that from time to time, characters like  Lt. Colonel Nicholson (from the movie Bridge on the River Kwai) show up who get fellow prisoners to be more, to do more for the sake of themselves, their morale, their dignity.  And this engagement, creativity, innovation dies when people like Lt. Colonel Nicholson lose face, lose power, change roles and/or leave the prison.

If you get, can be with, that organisations are prisons then you will stop wondering why there is a lack of employee engagement, why empowerment rarely works out , why there is so little creativity and innovation.  And you will stop listening to and taking seriously those who peddle ’10 steps to employee engagement’!

I ask you, who truly wants the prisoners to be creative/innovative?  Not those who run the prisons!  Creativity and innovation are threats to control in a number of ways including the fact that they embolden the prisoners who may then act beyond their station. Saddam Hussein engendered is downfall by his prison guards (the USA) by becoming creative/innovative and thus beyond the station assigned to him by the USA.

To sum up, creativity, innovation and authentic empowerment are seen as disruptive – threats to the orderly running of the prison and the maintenance of the status quo in power relations.  And thus are not given the space to show up and if they do show up then they are suppressed.  Those that don’t get the rules and play by the rules experience what Saddam experienced.  Yes, he was tyrant and he was not deposed because he was a tyrant.  He was deposed because he acted beyond his assigned station: he got too creative/innovative in deciding to conquer/rule and reattach Kuwait to Iraq.

How do you call forth ‘employee engagement’, creativity and innovation?

Werner Erhard coined an insightful stand/possibility: “a world that works, none excluded”.  Notice, that Erhard got that the current design and function of the systems of power is such that the world does not work for all and many are excluded.  I say this is the same for organisations and organisational life as lived.

Stealing from Erhard, I say that the foundation for employee engagement, creativity and innovation is creating/living/operating from the context “an organisation that works, none excluded”. That means that the organisational play is designed so that it works for everyone in the organisation: shareholder, management, employees, customers, suppliers and regulators.  And that there is an wholehearted authentic commitment to this context by all especially those who wield power and thus see only threat/risk (to themselves) from putting in place and operating from such a context.

What goes with such a context?  What is necessary to enable such a context to take hold and operate?  I say authentic communication.  Jurgen Habermas calls this “undistorted communication” and he spells out four conditions for communication to be undistorted:

1. Symmetry condition – every single person has an equal opportunity to talk and duty to listen;

2. Sincerity condition – every single person means what s/he says;

3. Truth condition – every single person discloses what s/he believes to be true; and

4. Normative condition – every single person says what is right morally.

If you are going to create this context “organisations that work, none excluded” and a context where “undistorted communication” is called forth and is kept in existence then you need to get present to conflict.  And you have to be a stand for peaceful conflict resolution.

Before I share these guidelines I have a question for you.  How many “leaders” do you know that are authentically up for creating/embodying the kind of context and practices that I have spelled out here?  Put differently, how many want to see/be with this truth?

Now you know why I opened this post with that quote by Agar.  Pretty much everyone who writes, and is listened to, by the business world, about these topics ignores this elephant in the room: the fundamental imbalance in power relations and organisation as prison.   Hence, the profusion of banal recipes/checklists for employee engagement, empowerment, creativity and innovation.  Which also explains (at least to me) why  these banal, even idiotic, 10 step checklists fail to deliver on the promises they make.  And some 80% of the people who work in organisations are alienated/disengaged from their work and the organisations they work for/within.

An even bigger idiocy is to put your faith in technology to bring about employee engagement, empowerment, collaboration, creativity and innovation.   Why?  Because prison guards always use technology to further their needs to control/enslave/restrict the little freedom that the prisoners experience themselves as having in organisational life. I was there when sales force automation hit the corporate scene.  I saw and experienced how those of us involved in actually doing the selling saw the technology for what it was and is.   And we used ‘guerilla tactics’ to ‘fight it’.  The fight continues and which is why social technologies have failed to deliver ‘social behaviour’ that the software vendors peddle and managers want.

I have another question for you: how likely is it, really, to get any significant and enduring employee engagement without moving from the existing context (organisations as prison) to the context that I am proposing (“organisation that works, none excluded”) in this post?  

If you think I push this too far then I ask you ask yourself this: why did so many people live normal jobs in large/established companies to start their own companies or join dot.coms when the internet hit the business world in a big way!

Guidelines for peaceful conflict resolution

I came across these guidelines at the Montessori School that my children attended.  When I saw these guidelines it struck me that every family, every team, every organisation can dramatically enhance ‘workability’ and ‘performance’ by embodying the following maxims:

Respect the right to disagree

Express your real concerns

Share common goals and interests

Open yourself to different points of views

Listen carefully to all points of view, all proposals

Understand the major issues that are involved

Think about probable consequences

Imagine many possible alternative solutions, at least several

Offer reasonable compromises

Negotiate mutually fair cooperative agreements

And finally

Montessori School stops here in the UK at age 11.  Which means that I saw no option but to put my children into the normal/traditional schools.  For my children traditional schools (they went to two of them, first was so bad I took them out after a year) showed up as prisons.  Prisons where the students have no voice, no say on the clothes they wear, nor the behaviour of the teachers or the quality of their teaching.  Prisons where the teachers are prison guards intent on dominating/controlling the pupils so that they became docile and do what teachers want them to do.  My children hated these schools and did not want to go to school.  So I made frequent trips to these schools and was seen as a troublesome/difficult parent.

I went to see the head teachers.  At each school, the headteacher  listened politely to my exposition of the Montessori philosophy and how it could be practiced in their school and the benefits for all.    Each headteacher told me that his/her school was not designed for such a philosophy, that the Montessori philosophy is disruptive, and it would not work in their school.

Each told me that their mandate is “to run an orderly institution, in a standard manner, treating all children the same’.  And this meant ensuring that they teachers had the power to control 600 unruly students.  Which meant ensuring that the student knew the rules and stuck to the rules.  And any students who created trouble were acted upon quickly.   When I pressed for the need to respond intelligently, taking into account the needs of the child/the circumstance, I was told categorically that exceptions to operating rule risked the orderly running of the school and the loss of their jobs.

School is the first organisational prison (in our society) that acts on the creative, innovative, empowered, energetic, enthusiastic, alive human beings amongst us: the children.  And it’s hidden design function/purpose is to turn these children into docile creatures who take orders from those in power and carry them out in the prescribed manner and timetable set by the powerful.  In short, to prepare them for organisational life.  And life in society.  

What do you say?

 

Communication, responsibility, leadership and customer-centricity

Did I make a ridiculous fuss about nothing?

Recently,  a reader (pxfast) read this post on Klassic Books and commented:

“You are making a ridiculous fuss about nothing. Leaving feedback is a normal part of online trade so we know whom to trust. It was request, not an order, although the email could have been worded slightly differently so as to be clear it was optional. But is there enough time to consider all nit-pickers? What your list of questions has to do with the email I do not know, but you seem to be super-sensitive about your own affairs. They were simply confirming your order and politely requesting an optional acknowledgment in return, not a surly reply.”

I like to think of myself as a learner so I revisited this post and the memory of my experience. Then I went and looked at instances where I had been complimentary about the communications of book companies.  Three instance  came to mind:

If you look through these three cases of communication and compare them with case of Klassic books, I am confident that you will notice the following regarding the communications:

a)  Better World Books and the RocketSurgery Crew are being of service to me – making my life easier and/or enriching my life.  Whereas the Klassic Books communication is focussed on its needs and asking/expecting me to make the time/effort to fulfil their needs.

b)  The tone of the Better World Books and the Rocket Surgery Crew communications lands as human/warm – human talking to a fellow human being possible across a cafe table.  Whereas the tone of Klassic Books shows up as corporate/cold – lacking that human touch.

I say it is possible that I misinterpreted the intent of Klassic Books.  I say it is possible that I read into their email to me what was not in the email.  I say it is quite possible that I have been ‘unfair’.  And the issue is that my experience is not as such.  My head may speak this way, my heart does not.

My experience is that Klassic Books expected me to provide them a good customer review simply because they delivered a book on time.  Something that shows up as ‘table stakes’ of being an Amazon partner and getting my business.  And when I did not provide them with the review they sent me a second email and told me off for being a ‘naughty customer’: We once again request you to leave your valued feedback on this purchase.”

What stance can you take regarding your communications to your customers?

Before I dive into this I wish to point out that the lack of communication (including none at all) is powerful in itself. Why? Because, no communication communicates!  I hope that you get that.  Now let’s dive into the matter of communication and its relationship to customer-centricity and leadership.

When it comes to communication it is worth remembering the following:

- the communication will land/be experienced in a specific way e.g. helpful, unhelpful, warm, cold, relevant, irrelevant…;

-  the communication will make an impact leaving the customer thinking more or less highly of you and feeling closer or more distant towards your organisation; and

-  the communication will elicit a response – a non-response is a powerful response if you listen for it.

Which is my way of saying that when you communicate – and you cannot help communicating because you are always communicating – you act on your customers.  And when you act on your customers they respond, they communicate to you.

Now my question is this, who is responsible for the response that your communication calls forth from your customers?  It occurs to me that you can stand in one of two places.

1. You can make the customer responsible for his/her response to your communication.  This often leads to labelling and blaming when customers don’t respond as expected.  Customers are labelled ‘stupid’, ‘lazy’, ‘greedy’ and so forth.  And they are blamed for not responding to requests, filling in forms incorrectly, asking ‘stupid’ questions, wasting company time…. This the default stance of many/most folks and organisations.  Why? The charitable view is that we are blinded by our intentions and not the consequences of our communication.  The less charitable view is that we will do just about anything to ‘look good and avoid looking bad”.

Notice that this is what pxfast – the reader who triggered this post – is doing.  He is criticising me and other customers like me as ‘nit-pickers’.  Have you noticed the negative labels being applied?  “Ridiculous fuss” and “nit-picker” If a customer is labelled a “nit-picker” and “causing a ridiculous fuss” then the logical thing to do is to ignore that customer.  I call that a ‘get out of jail’ card being played.

2. You can take responsibility for the customer’s response to your communication.  This is taking responsibility as in I am the author of this response.  Or I am the ’cause in the matter of’ the communication that I have received from the customer.  This mode of being is rare at the individual, group or organisational level.

If you want to show up as a leader and/or as a customer centric organisation then embrace responsibility as opportunity

I say that if you want to show up as a leader then it is necessary for you to own up to your communication: how it lands, what impact it makes, and what response/s it generates.

I say that if you want your organisation to show up customer-centric then all the people, especially those who communicate with your customers, must take responsibility for their communication and the communication of your whole organisation: how it lands for your customers, what impact it makes in/on your customers, and the responses it generates from your customers.

Why take responsibility?  Because, it is the most powerful place to stand if you wish to be effective.  When you take responsibility you let go of the option/luxury of labelling/blaming customers.  Instead you listen for how your communication lands, what impact it makes, and what responses it generates. And where there is a difference to what you expected you say to yourself “How interesting!  I wonder what I did to cause that?  I wonder what I need to do more of?  And what do I need to do less of?  And what do I need to do differently to show up the way that I want to show up in the lives of my customers and generate the kind of response that I am up for generating?”

When you have that kind of listening then you have all that you need to become a master of communication; every leader has to be/become a master of communication; and every customer-centric organisation has to be a master of communication.  And if you have not noticed then ‘social’ is all about effective communication between you, your people (employees), your customers.

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