Category Archives: Culture
Is the default condition of showing-up and operating in the business world that of experience blindness? Is the reason that so little progress has been made by so many on customer experience due to this experience blindness? Is experience blindness the cause behind so many workplaces having the same feel as hospitals?
Let’s make this personal. Did you drink coffee? No, did you drink tea? No, did you drink water or some juice? Yes. Ok. Now go back to the last occasion that you drunk something and ask yourself what your experience was. What was the sensation of drinking? What was the texture of the container that touched your lips? What about the liquid itself? How did the liquid travel from the container and through you? What thoughts were present as you were drinking? What kind of mood were you in: relaxed, sad, anxious…? If you are like most people that I see-encounter, you drink in an experience blind manner. Why? We have not been taught to be mindful and present to the experience that is occurring right now. Given our blindness to our own-lived experience, how present-receptive can we be to the experience of others: customers, employees….?
Allow me to illustrate, bring life to, this conversation with two examples.
Example 1: Conversation With A Customer Experience Consultant
I found myself working with someone whom I like-respect, someone who has operated as a customer experience consultant. On a joint engagement we were planning a workshop session. The challenge was to devise a way to help the people who would be in the room choose between the various alternatives.
As we were talking, this able consultant was going through the various methods that were available for use. He talked about which methods tend to work. And he talked about the method that his latest employer recommends using. What he did not talk about was the ‘customers’ – the people who would actually take part in the workshop.
Then I was asked for my opinion. My response was immediate and it went along the following lines. We are designing this workshop for the benefit of the people who will attend the workshop and make the decision. Why don’t we ask these people which framework-method-process they tend to use, in their organisation, to make this kind of decision? And if they don’t have one method then lets run them through the most promising methods and see which one speaks to them.
What really surprised me was this: what showed up for me as the obvious way to look at and deal with the situation at hand (bring the voice of the customer into the discussion-decision) had clearly not occurred to my colleague. And this is no ordinary business person. He is customer savvy: he has been doing customer for a long time.
The only way that I can explain this to myself is that doing customer experience is not the same as being customer experience. Doing is like going to a party and putting on the proper mask and playing the proper role. Then it is time to leave the party and put on another mask and play a different role. Whereas, being is that which is embodied in the way that you show up – being lives in every fibre of your organism. It is what you are, naturally.
Example 2: Phone Call From The Director of The Building Company
Over a month ago, I arranged with the Steve, the director of a building company for work to be done on the house in which I live. We agreed the start date: Thursday 10th April (today). As I need to be around the house, I took the day off as a holiday.
Yesterday, around 18:30 I got a call from Steve. Why was Steve ringing? Steve was ringing to ask if I had emptied the room out. I told him that I hadn’t as I had just finished work for the day. And I had set aside the evening to do the clearing out. He asked me if I had taken the shelves off. I told him that his firm was responsible for doing that under the agreed schedule of work.
Then Steve got to the point. He told me that the guy that was supposed to come to the house, around 8 am, would not be coming. Why? Because he is still finishing the work he is doing for another customer. The Steve told me that he would have someone else come over to the house, after lunch, to remove the radiator and the shelves. This was just the preparatory work to enable the room to be plastered and then painted. What became clear is that the room would not get plastered even though that is what we had agreed. And what I had expected to occur. I did not need to take a day off for someone to come and do two jobs that collectively took 45 minutes.
Have you noticed what I noticed? I noticed that the conversation was all about Steve and his needs, his concerns, his priorities, his situation. Not once did Steve ask about me, ask about my concerns, or even ask how I felt about Steve not keeping his word.
Is Steve a bad person or a rotten business man? I don’t know the answer to that. All I can share with you is that Steve does not show up for me that way. How does he show up for me? Steve shows up for me as a great example of business as usual. What do I mean about that:
- Showing up and operating from an ‘inside out’ view of the world and not evening being present to any other way of operating e.g. ‘outside-in’; and
- Concerned only with the job/tasks to be done and being blind to the human being he is dealing with and thus blind to the concerns, needs, expectations, and experiences of these human beings.
It occurs to me that this is simply what goes along with living into-from a worldview that sees and thus uses human beings as resources – to be used for one’s purposes, efficiently and effectively, for largest profit/benefit for oneself. So the challenge of Customer Experience is the challenge of a transformation in worldview.
The Traditional Take On Change
So much has been written on change – particularly organisational change. It occurs to me that this material is mostly written by folks sitting in the stands, observing the game of change being played out on the court by others, and interpreting what they see through their preferred lens – the dominant one being the cognitivist-psychological one.
A favourite of change management orthodoxy is the Kubler-Ross model: the five stages of grief. The ‘love’ of this model (the content – 5 stages of grief) is so strong that almost nobody bothers to grapple with the context. What am I pointing at? The fact that this model was derived by speaking with those facing terminal illness. The skeptic in me asks, is the person confronted with organisational change confronted with death? It occurs to me that the answer is no.
A Phenomenological Perspective On Change
What is the challenge of change as experienced by those on the court – those actually being asked to and undergoing change? It occurs to me that the ‘as lived-experienced’ challenge of change is made of two challenges.
Challenge 1: The first challenge is that of moving from the comfortable-familiar-normal way of being-travelling in the world to a way of being-travelling that is experienced as uncomfortable-unfamiliar-abnormal and leaves one feeling exposed-vulnerable; and
Challenge 2: The second challenge is that of sticking with this new (abnormal-awkward) way of being-travelling for long enough for this way of being-travelling to occur as comfortable-familar-normal and thus drop out of conscious awareness.
My lived experience is that most change intentions-effort-initiatives fail because of Challenge 2: the inability to be with that which shows up as unfamiliar-abnormal and experience the discomfort-exposure-vulnerability that goes with this. This is particularly so for those people, in the organisation, who are in positions of power-privilege based on their familiarity-competence in the ‘way we do things around here’. And it is not restricted to them: we, all of us, are members of a herd species and we herd around-on that which is familiar-comfortable-habitual-accepted practice.
What is a way of grappling with Challenge 2? Here I lean on my experience of fasting during the month of Ramadan. I have been most effective at fasting (no eating, no drinking) when I found myself :
- in a community of people who are ALL engaged in fasting;
- each person is struggling and open to sharing his struggle with regards to making the transition for eating-drinking when one wants to not eating-drinking for up to 20+ hours during summer months;
- members of the fasting community help one another deal with the challenges that come along the way by providing encouragement-support and being living examples of the kind of behaviour that is required given the game that is being played; and
- where temptation (especially seeing others, influential others, eating-drinking) is absent.
What shows up for me as being particularly interesting is the power of context to influence behaviour. When I stopped being a muslim (many years ago) I stopped fasting. Then many years later on, in the midst of summer, I found myself fasting voluntarily despite not being a muslim and no pressure to fast. Why? Because, I found myself in the midst of people whom I liked socially, and who turned out to be practising muslims.
Some work environments are characterised by that which is called psychological safety: a shared belief, by the people who work in the environment, that it is safe to experiment, to give voice to one’s voice, to take risks.
A Thought Experiment On Psychological Safety and Performance
A researcher is researching the link between psychological safety and the number of medication errors made in hospitals. She studies eight hospital units and finds that the hospital units characterised by psychological safety have the highest medication error rates. She reports these ‘findings’ to you.
Imagine that you are the manager responsible for reducing the number of medication errors in these hospital units. How will you determine what course of action you will take given what the researcher has ‘found’? Will your action not be determined by how you make sense of the phenomena at hand: the higher the reported psychological safety the higher the reported medication errors?
Given your management training, you say something like this to yourself: “No surprise here. Where you create an environment for people to make mistakes without fear of punishment, people make more mistakes!”
Given this ‘explanation’ what will be your course of action? Isn’t the course of action shaped, even dictated, by your explanation? Will you not reduce the psychological safety? Of course you will. You will put fear into the hospital units characterised by psychological safety. Imagine you take that course. You track medication errors by person and hospital unit. You name-shame by putting together and making visible a ‘leaderboard’ of those making the most errors. And apply sanctions to those who exceed a certain error rate.
What turns out to be the impact? You find that after a little while there is significant drop in the number of medication errors that end up on your weekly management report. You congratulate yourself: you figured out what was going on, you acted, and you generated your desired outcome.
Let’s Reconsider The Phenomena AND The Explanation
Whilst you, the manager, have been ripping out psychological safety and replacing it by fear, the researcher has been doing some more digging. She had a brain wave and decided to look at independent data.
By looking at this data, she ‘found’:
- The psychologically safe hospital units did not make more medication errors. In fact, the data showed that the higher the psychological safety within a hospital unit, the fewer the medication errors made by the people in that unit.
- The folks working within units lacking psychological safety hid their medication errors, out of fear of punishment. And as a result no learning took place regarding the causes of medication errors and thus no reduction in medication errors.
With this phenomena-explanation (the explanation and the phenomena have been merged into one here) what course of action do you the manager take? Isn’t the sound course of action dictated by the phenomena-explanation? Isn’t the sound course of action to increase psychological safety in those hospital units (under your management) where fear of retribution-punishment pervades?
Your Actions Are Shaped By The ‘Story You Construct’ To Explain The Phenomena
I draw your attention to the fact that action is the access to influencing the world and generating change-outcomes: only actions cause-shape outcomes. If you think otherwise then don’t breathe and see what shows up!
Notice that your actions are NEVER given by the phenomena itself. That which is, simply is. And is discarded by most of us if we cannot make sense of it. Why? If we cannot make sense of it then we cannot orient ourselves in relation to that which is: the phenomena.
Further, notice that your actions are ALWAYS given by the ‘story you make’, the explanation you construct, about the phenomena.
What does this mean? It means that all the power-possibility lies in the ‘story you make’, the explanation you construct. Why? Your actions are influenced-shaped, even dictated, by the explanation you construct.
What Is The Access To Generating Breakthroughs In Effectiveness-Performance?
The access to generating breakthroughs in effectiveness-performance lies in the domain of explanation: the ‘story that we construct’ around the phenomena at hand.
If we are to construct more insightful stories/explanations (on the phenomena that concern us) then we have to escape the pull of the existing ‘net of understanding’ – the paradigm that gives us being and from which we operate. Listen to Ralph Waldo Emerson:
Every nation and every man instantly surround themselves with a material apparatus which exactly corresponds to … their state of thought. Observe how every truth and every error, each a thought of some man’s mind, clothes itself with societies, houses, cities, language, ceremonies, newspapers. Observe the ideas of the present day ….. see how timber, brick, lime and stone have flown into convenient shape, obedient to the master idea reigning in the minds of many persons ….. It follows, of course, that the least enlargement of ideas …. would cause the most striking changes of external things.
I say that the job of leaders is to generate that ‘least enlargement of ideas’ that Ralph Waldo Emerson is talking about. That is to say make a shift in the dominant paradigm that shapes organisational sense making of phenomena. And thus shapes-dictates their courses of action.
If you are lamenting the state of the Customer Experience like Colin Shaw is then it is worth listening to the following words by Donella H. Meadows:
There are no cheap tickets to mastery. You have to work hard at it, whether that means rigorously analysing a system or rigorously casting off your own paradigms and throwing yourself into the humility of not knowing….
The reason that organisations have not made a success of Customer Experience. And are in the process of killing it, is that the Tops in these organisations have not made the requisite ‘least enlargement of ideas The have not put aside their existing ‘net of understanding’ and so are go about the new in the same old way. Thus, I say that many, if not almost all, Customer Experience initiatives start stillborn.
To conclude: the challenge of leadership is to cast off the already existing ‘net of understanding’ and thus creating a space from which to construct more insightful stories-explanations of phenomena. And thus opening up new courses of action. Course of action that carry risk and also the promise of breakthroughs in effectiveness-performance.
If you found this ‘conversation’ one that resonates with you then I invite you to watch the following video:
Based on recent experiences I find myself moved to create a ‘Hall of Fame’. And a ‘Hall of Shame’ for well known brands based on how these businesses treat their customers. My commitment is to share the great practices of the ‘givers’ as well as the deceitful-manipulative practices of the ‘takers’.
Let’s start the ‘Hall of Fame’ with Waitrose. Why Waitrose? Yes, the stores are clean, spacious, well presented, well stocked. And our local store even has a cafe-restaurant and ample parking. Yes, the staff in the store are helpful. Yet, these are not the reason that I am choosing to place Waitrose, as the first entrant, into the ‘Hall of Fame’.
Recently, I found wife telling me that she was surprised about the quality of the tangerines: some of the tangerines were hard (too hard) and others were soft (too soft). Now, I found this interesting. Why? It was the way she talked about it. I think it fair to say she was shocked. What this suggest to me is that Waitrose, in her experience, delivers great quality products consistently.
Despite the relatively small price and the hassle involved, she decided to take them back. Why? This is not the kind of product quality she expects from Waitrose. And she was wondering how she would be treated.
Later that day, my wife couldn’t wait to tell me her experience. I was clear by the way she had a huge smile on her face that the experience was positive. What did she say? Something along these lines: “The staff at Waitrose were great. They apologised, I could tell they were also surprised and genuinely sorry about my experience. And they refunded twice the price. Not just the price of the tangerines, twice the price.”
Waitrose enters my ‘Hall of Fame’ because of the following:
Reputation for product quality – I cannot imagine my wife giving up half an hour of her time to take back a product that only cost her £3 to the likes of Tesco;
Great customer service – the staff in the store have always been friendly and helpful;
Design and condition of the stores – the Waitrose stores are clean, white, spacious, inviting, natural and for some even uplifting; and
An equitable-fair-collaborative-generous business philosophy – Waitrose lives-exhibits a philosophy of generosity and in so doing shows up as a ‘giver’. A ‘matcher’ would simply have refunded the purchase price. And a ‘taker’ would have put all kinds of hurdles in her way so that it was not worth her while even thinking of asking for a refund.
Most of all, Waitrose enters my ‘Hall of Fame’ because my wife told me she “can’t see herself not being a Waitrose customer”.
In the next post, I will kick-off the ‘Hall of Shame’ with anti-virus vendor BitDefender.