Category Archives: Employee Engagement
It occurs to me that empowerment matters. It matters enough for me to think about this deeply and search out those who have thought about this deeply. If it matters deeply enough to you then continue reading. If it does not really matter to you then I advise you to go and do something that you care deeply about. With that said, lets start.
What difference does empowerment make?
It really matters if the people in your organisation show up empowered. Empowered to do great work, to create products which show up as ‘magic’, to touch customers in a way that leaves those customers feeling welcomed-understood-validated-helped, to generate an end to end customer experience that simplifies-enriches the lives of your customers.
It really matters, if you, show up as empowered and create a context that allows the people in your business to show up empowered. And allows your customers to show up and experience themselves as empowered. And creates a space for your suppliers to show up empowered – empowered to share their knowledge and expertise in contributing to the performance of your organisation.
It really matters, if as customers, we show up empowered. Empowered to do business with organisations that stand for purposes-values-behaviours that speak to us. And not do business with organisations that do not stand for and embody that which matters to us. Empowered to get together and apply pressure on regulators and those in government to put in place legislation that protects our interests as customers and to enforce the existing legislation. We are also empowered to do nothing. That is our choice; choice is that which comes with empowerment.
In short, empowerment or the lack of it matters. It occurs to me that empowerment is rather like sunshine in the western world (in the depths of winter) or rain in a region of cursed with drought. Empowerment creates possibilities which simply are not open-present without the existence-presence of empowerment.
Perhaps because I am so vividly present to the significance and possibility that inheres in empowerment, I chose to put my children in Montessori School. It occurs to me that it is also the reason that so much of what is written on empowerment (employees, customers) strikes me as shallow and leaves me feeling disappointed-cheated.
Why all the bleating about the lack of empowerment?
There are two particular aspects of the empowerment conversation that I particularly wish to highlight. First, there is the assumption that empowerment is a thing to be gifted from the Tops to the Middles and Bottoms. And from the Middles to the Bottoms. And from the company to customers. Second, is the assumption that empowerment is a blessing and people are yearning to be empowered.
It occurs to me that by virtue of being human you and I are always empowered. You and I are empowered because you and I are free – free to choose. It occurs to me that Sartre spelled this out rather pithily:
“Man is condemned to be free: condemned, because he did not create himself, yet nonetheless free, because once cast into the world, he is responsible for everything he does.”
What shows up for me as being a more interested enquiry is this one, given that you and I are empowered why is it that you and I evade this empowerment? Why all the bleating about empowerment – more precisely the lack of empowerment? What is it that we are evading through this bleating on the lack of empowerment? Why this supplication at the feet of ‘leaders’? And why is it that so few ‘leaders’ actually show us as being empowered to chart their own course, and thus lead?
Werner Erhard’s profound insight on empowerment
I share with you the profound insight and wisdom of Werner Erhard. And I encourage you (and I) to listen, really listen to his speaking:
“If you are empowered, you suddenly have a lot of work to do because you have the power to do it.
If you are unempowered, you are less dominated by the opportunities in front of you. In other words, you have an excuse to not do the work. You have a way out. You have the security of being able to do what you have always done and get away.
If you are empowered, suddenly you must step out, innovate and create.
The cost, however, of being unempowered is people’s self-expression. They always have the feeling that they have something in them that they never really gave, never really expressed.
By simply revealing the payoffs and costs of being unempowered, people have a choice. They can begin to see that it is possible to make the choice to be empowered rather than to function without awareness.
Empowerment requires a breakthrough and in part that breakthrough is a kind of shift from looking for a leader to a sense of personal responsibility.
The problems we now have in communities and societies are going to be resolved only when we are brought together by a common sense that each of us is visionary. Each of us must come to the realization that we can function and live at the level of vision rather than following some great leader’s vision.
Instead of looking for a great leader, we are in an era where each of us needs to find the great leader in ourselves.”
– Werner Erhard
So what does it take for empowerment to show up?
It occurs to me that it takes the following for empowerment to show up in our way of being-in-the-world:
a) Getting that we are always-already empowered as spelled out by Sartre and so vividly illustrated by Viktor Frankl in his recounting of his concentration camp experiences (Man in Search of Meaning);
b) Caring deeply enough about our being-in-the-world to see-invent possibilities. Possibilities for putting our own ‘dent in the universe’.
c) Courage to put ourselves at risk and act – to live from and into the possibilities that speak to us, to give up comfort and embrace work, to let go of our existing identity and invent-create-embrace the identity that is needed to fulfil on the possibility that we have invented.
What do you say?
I am no longer a fan of customer-centricity nor customer-centric business. I am not a fan of the way many are going about customer focus, customer-centricity, or customer obsession. It occurs to me that the approach taken by many towards arriving at customer focus, customer-centricity, and customer obsession is not gold, it is fools gold.
Why? Because it occurs to me that an organisation that shows up as customer-centric does not centre itself on its customers. At least not in the simplistic sense that is being written-talked about, promoted and acted upon by many.
I get that I make a bold, even controversial statement, and it highly unlikely to win me applause. That is OK, given that my commitment is to write my truth and take a skeptical stance towards the dominant ideologies and practices.
I get that you might want to better understand why it is that I assert that which I assert here. Allow me to point at, illustrate, and unconceal that which I am getting at here by sharing with you some quotes. Let’s start with Emmy Van Deurzen, chartered counselling psychologist and registered existential psychotherapist:
…. one can never ignore the needs of others when making personal decisions but neither can one allow others to entirely determine oneself even when alone. This is a paradox.
Yes, you do need to consider customers – their needs, their desired outcomes, their ‘jobs-to-be-done’, their preferences etc. And you cannot run a successful business just by focussing on your customers. The game of business involves other players whose needs have to be considered. For example, a facet of business life caught my attention whilst working with smaller businesses, which had not so gripped me for most of my life working in big businesses. What facet? The critical importance of finding, hiring, organising, enabling, inspiring, channeling, and retaining the people who actually work inside the business to do that which is necessary to create value for customers. It occurs to me that this is just as important for big businesses, it is not so evident because the dysfunctions of a demotivated workforce don’t show up as vividly in a huge organisation. Or take a look at Zappos, its success is partly built on the way the founders and management team treated suppliers (as a valuable part of Zappos) and thus called forth co-operation from them.
Furthermore, if you simply follow what customers are telling you then you leave yourself open to the disruption caused by those who can see beyond what customers are saying in market research and customer surveys. Here, I share a passage from Matt Watkinson, the author of The Ten Principles Behind Great Customer Experiences:
It is not only consumers who have shifted towards other-directedness and ended up struggling: businesses have too. The dominant obsession with market intelligence, competitor analysis, and customer research is all about developing a more powerful radar, and the endless hand-wringing and strategising over social media betrays the kind of anxieties that are most often found in those eager for the approval of others.
In contrast, we most admire those businesses with a strong inner direction – a clear set of values, integrity and sense of purpose – and tend to lionise celebrity CEOs who bring that ethos to life…….. Customers churn between suppliers to find the best deal, not because we are all extremely price sensitive, but because there is nothing to be loyal to.
What Matt is pointing at here is that we are not simply the kind of beings that economics says we are. Nor are we the kind of beings that rationalist philosophy, behavioural psychology, and scientific management assumes that we are. The human being is a richer human being. A human being that strives for meaning and connection, open to being loyal to ideals, values, missions that elevate human life.
Finally, I want to leave you with wisdom from John Kay, an British economist:
If you want to go in one direction, the best route may involve going in another. This is the concept of ‘obliquity’: paradoxical as it sounds, many goals are more likely to be achieved when pursued indirectly. Whether overcoming geographical obstacles, winning decisive battles or meeting sales targets, history shows that oblique approaches are the most successful, especially in difficult terrain.
Obliquity is necessary because we live in an world of uncertainty and complexity; the problems we encounter aren’t always clear – and we often can’t pinpoint what our goals are anyway; circumstances change; people change – and are infuriatingly hard to predict; and direct approaches are often arrogant and unimaginative.
So let me remind you of my central assertion:
A customer-centric organisation does not centre itself on its customers. It is a paradox. And I say that it occurs to me that the way that many organisations are going about customer focus and customer-centricity, will not get them there. The path heavily promoted, and commonly taken, is fools gold.
Whilst I abhor combat, I do welcome conflict: conflict is simply the showing up of difference. And if difference is approached through the spirit of dialogue then it unconceals aspects of the world that are hidden from each of us. So if you disagree with that which I have written then please speak your mind, educate me, share that which you see and which I do not see. I wish you a great day and thank you for making the time to listen to my speaking.
Take a look at just about any significant change initiative in customer service, CRM, marketing effectiveness, digital transformation, customer experience etc and you will find that the top barriers to successful implementation are do with lack of commitment from the Tops and ‘resistance to change’ from people within the organisation.
In the last post I shared David Maister’s assertion that our performance (individual, group, organisation) often does not improve because we are not willing to do what it takes over the time frame that it takes. Today, I share with you David’s insight into what it really takes to execute strategy, effect organisational change – which always involves personal change as well as organisational change.
This is a long post and I suggest that you read it only if you have an avid interest in strategy execution and/or transformational change. Or if you are wondering why it is that so few organisations have made the shift to being great with customers. And what it will take to make that shift.
Is the transition to customer-centric business like curing a fat smoker or helping an alcoholic recover?
It occurs to me that many organisations are addicted. What are they addicted to? I say they are addicted to a number of factors: a dominant ideology usually manifested in the business model; ‘bad profits’ – profits made at the expense of customers; a fixed way of being including policies, practices, and processes; the short-term fix etc.
In his book, Strategy And The Fat Smoker, David Maister says:
If all business improvement is like curing a fat smoker or helping an alcoholic recover, then what actually motivates people and organisations to change?
We all know the main thing that works: a major crisis! If revenues drop off sharply, it’s amazing how quickly businesses can act to deal with known inefficiencies and bad habits they could have tackled years ago.
… when the first heart attack comes, it’s amazing how many people suddenly find the self-discipline to start living right.
Does David Maister have any guidelines for us on how to effect personal-organisational change without waiting for that ‘heart attack’ to show up and force us to change? He does.
Six guidelines for strategy execution and transformational change
1. Get that it is about a permanent change in lifestyle
In my last post I mentioned that I worked for an organisation that carried out a quarterly NPS rain dance. Everyone went through the motions to get it out of the way quickly and get back to business as usual. To take it seriously, to do what was really necessary at levels-functions of the organisation showed up as being too much effort, too disruptive.
Here’s what David Maister says:
A major source of failure in implementing sensible business strategies is that we underestimate how much effort is truly required to bring about significant improvement.
Individuals and organisations frequently fail to incorporate the new activities into their daily lives. Strategic actions are viewed as special, separate events rather than regular business activities. In other words, there’s real life, and then there’s the diet.
It is about routines , not special events.
My experience since 1999, working on helping organisations shift towards a customer-centric way of doing business, including smarter marketing-selling-service, resonates with David’s words. The customer centric orientation has to be weaved into the very fabric of the organisation through it daily practices - routines – such that these practices become so taken for granted that they become invisible.
2. You must change the scorecards
There is a world of difference between playing a game where one has no skin in the game. And playing a game where one has something that really matters (like one’s reputation or wellbeing) is at stake in the game. Let’s listen to David Maister:
If strategy is to be lived and achieved, it must be publicly tracked, measured and monitored.
We all forgive ourselves too easily. We all find it quite easy to live with guilt. Even a high level of guilt doesn’t always change people. However, embarrassment, even in small doses, can be far more effective.
3. Leadership: get serious or get out of the way
One of my biggest issues with the whole customer bandwagon and business advice in general is that it panders to the Tops and Middles. That is to say the hidden assumption (which serves the interest of those seeking to sell to the Tops and Middles) is that Tops and Middles are perfect – do not need to change their way of showing up in the organisation. And the only obstacles to strategy execution, organisational change, and customer-centricity, are the Bottoms. What does David Maister say given that he has had lots of experience working with the Tops:
Organisations often rush to figure out how the troops need to change in order to live the new standards. However, this is not the first task.
If an organisation’s leaders want their people to believe that a new strategy is being followed, they must establish credibility by proving that they are prepared to change themselves: how they act, measure, and reward.
David Maister goes on to say that he can share countless examples of “failure to do this”. And gives a great example of the instructions he received from senior management prior to running training for managers in the company:
“Please don’t raise the topic of how we ourselves manage these middle managers. We’re not ready to discuss the terrible job we do at that. Keep their attention on what they could do better. We want them to change first.”
4. Principles are more effective than tactics
One of my biggest issues with the whole Customer (service, CRM, VoC, customer experience, loyalty etc) conversation is that it shows up for me as just tactics. That is to say that under all the hype and ideology of customer-centricity and employee engagement there lies a selfish concern with interests of the enterprise: the realm of expediency not principle. What light does David Maister shed on this?
.. successful implementation of a strategy requires both sustained commitment over time and broad participation across the whole organisation. Strategies in business, like diets and alcohol recovery, are implemented much more effectively when the ideas are presented as matters of principle, not just as matters of expediency.
If strategic rules are justified only in terms of outcomes … the diet will always be seen as a punishment on the way to an uncertain and possibly unattainable reward…
If … diet achieves the force of moral principle (“Treating clients and employees with respect is the right thing to do”), the odds are significantly higher that successful implementation will be achieved.
Managers who get things done are people who are viewed as having an ideology. Their people believe that they believe in something …. buy-in and excellent implementation result from a sense of not wanting to let people down.
5. People must volunteer
Looking into and beyond the whole field of change management and what do you see? I see that it exists to deal with ‘resistance to change’. How successful is the change management industry when it comes to dealing with ‘resistance to change’? I say that it’s effectiveness is questionable. What advice does David Maister have for us?
To achieve any goal, you must really want the goal.
A self-improvement program is successful and sustainable only when the individual chooses to to it for himself … The motivations must be intrinsic, because the essence of successful strategic change is not technique, but will …….. you can call it determination.
.. the single biggest barrier to making change is the feeling that “it’s OK so far.” People don’t disagree that the future state of being a nonsmoker would be beneficial, but they resist when they are told that they have to do it.
One of the leader’s roles is to act as a coach, drawing people’s attention to imperfections in the status quo .… asking whether things could actually be better, and questioning whether the desired change is both achievable and desirable…..
6. People must get on or off the bus
If “people must volunteer” showed up as being naive and idealistic for you then this guideline is likely to speak to your concern. David has keen sense of the pragmatic:
Every individual can, and must make a personal choice. But then the organisation must decide how to respond to those individual choices. For an organisation, strategy cannot be what “most of us, most of the time” do.
As all married people who diet know, it’s hard enough to stay the course and resist temptation when you are both attempting to do the right thing. It’s well nigh impossible if those around you continue to indulge and tempt you with food, alcohol etc.
… we cannot force others to do what we want. We can … protect those who have chosen to participate; doing so may require ridding the firm of those who refuse to come on board.
People have a desperate need for the mutual support …. that comes from joining in a common cause. The need to help each other through the tough times … instead of being part of a forgiving culture that keeps discouraging extra effort (“Oh, that’s OK, you can skip exercise today. You deserve a break.”).
Final words of advice on managing the process of change
It occurs to me that too many Tops and Bottoms live in the world of McDonald’s. They decide that they want to improve customer service, focus on the customer experience, build stronger relationships, generate growth through effective use of digital technologies etc – and they want it NOW!
Here’s David Maister’s sage advice based on lived, first hand, experience of making-sustaining transformational change:
Like alcoholic recovery, it is a process that requires you first to make a lifetime commitment, and then you take it one day at a time.
The key is to manage with a philosophy of “It’s OK to stumble; it’s only a sin if you don’t get back on the program.” The primary goal of the beginning stage of a change program is to get people to believe that it is doable and that all we are asking is that they try. This means early successes.
All that wise leader …. talk about is the next step. And they enthusiastically celebrate each small accomplishment. They focus on requiring improvement, not on requiring excellence …
Managing a weight loss program means you stop talking about the ultimate goal….. if someone says to me: “Let’s focus on losing one pound in a week, David. Do you think you can do that? That doesn’t sound impossible, does it?”
Good trainers know that life-changing improvements can and does fail by rushing to either of two extremes. The first extreme establishes overtly ambitious or time-consuming improvement goals, leading to frustration and abandonment of the program. The other extreme fails to establish any pressure to improve, allowing people to pretend they plan to get on the plan, but not just today.
What Is The Achilles Heel of Strategy?
My colleague and I put our whole selves into our work talking with folks in the business, listening to customer conversations, reviewing research, looking at competitors and trends, looking at various approaches, evaluating these approaches and coming up with optimal course of action for our client and our client’s customers.
To our delight the strategy was accepted-approved by management. A month or so later we got busy on implementation planning. It was during the implementation planning when hard decisions had to be made that the commitment to the digital strategy unravelled. Our clients got the value of pursuing the digital strategy and they found themselves in a particular situation which called forth and drove a different set of choice and actions.
This is the Achilles Heel of strategy, every executive finds himself in a particular situation. And every situation has its own ‘logic’ and a momentum. As such it really it takes something to alter course and make any significant headway. It takes resolve – fierce resolve, the kind of resolve that grabs you and keeps hold of you. It is not the kind of resolve that is created through the intellect.
Why Don’t We Do What We Know We Should Do?
Have you wondered why your organisation sucks at being authentically customer-centric: practicing relationship marketing, client centred selling, pleasing customer service? Have you wondered why it is that your organisation sucks at calling forth the best from your people?
Now and then someone speaks and their speaking is wisdom. Today, I share with you the wisdom of David Maister as articulated in his great book ‘Strategy and the Fat Smoker‘:
“In business, strategic plans are also stuffed with familiar goals: build client relationships, act like team players, and provide fulfilling motivating careers. We want the benefits of these things. We know what to do, we know why we should do it, and we know how to do it. Yet most businesses and individuals don’t do what’s good for them….
The primary reason we do not work at behaviours which we know we need to improve is that the rewards … are in the future; the disruption, discomfort and discipline needed to get their are immediate…..
Our default pattern and why it doesn’t work
When it comes to improving performance at the individual, team or organisational level we tend to follow a self-defeating pattern. I have seen this pattern played out again and again over the last 10+ years as organisations have grappled with relationship marketing, CRM, customer experience, employee engagement, digital. Here’s what David Maister says:
We start self-improvement programs with good intentions, but if they don’t pay off immediately, or if a temptation to depart from the program arises, we abandon our efforts completely – until the next time we pretend to be on the program.
That’s our pattern. Try a little, succumb to temptation, and give up. Repeat until totally frustrated. Unfortunately, there is rarely, if ever, a benefit from dabbling or trying only a little. You can’t get half the benefits of a better marriage by cutting out half your affairs, cure half the problems of alcoholism by cutting out half the drinks or reduce the risks of lung cancer by cutting out half the cigarettes.
You can’t achieve competitive differentiation through things you do “reasonably well most of the time.” You not only cannot dabble, but you also cannot have short-term strategies ….. The pursuit of short-term goals is inherently anti-strategic and self-defeating.
You are either seriously on the program, really living what you have chosen, or you are wasting your time.
Why strategic analysis and listening to customers is not the answer
I worked in an organisation which expended considerably time-effort-cost in doing NPS quarterly. We had access to the voice of the customer. And the voice tended to speak the same tune quarter after quarter. Why? Because the people in the organisation were not willing to change behaviour in any significant way.
Is it possible that setting up VoC listening programs are a ruse? A way of saying to yourself and others that you are serious about improving the customer experience so that you hide your unwillingness to change your behaviour, the behaviour of your team, your organisation? What does David Maister say?
Improving the quality of the analysis is not where the problem lies. The necessary outcome of strategic planning is not analytical insight but resolve.
What are the essential questions of strategy?
If we know the why-what-how of employee engagement, meaningful customer relationships, and customer loyalty then what are the strategic question? Here’s what David Maister says:
The essential questions of strategy are these:
 Which of our habits are we really prepared to change, permanently and forever?
 Which lifestyle changes are we really prepared to make?
 What issues are we really ready to tackle?
Now that’s a different tone of conversation and discussion (and the reason that real debate is so often avoided).
What am I getting at here?
To come up with products that enrich the lives of customers requires resolve, analysis is insufficient. To create-deliver truly personalised-relevent marketing requires resolve, analysis and marketing technology are insufficient. To call forth the kind of service that generates gratitude from customers and makes them feel good about doing business with your organisation requires resolve, analysis-outsourcing-technology are insufficient. To orchestrate an end to end customer experience that calls forth customer loyalty requires formidable resolve, VoC and customer journey mapping are insufficient. Put different, dabbling won’t do; it occurs to me that most are merely dabbling.
I say, it is worth listening to David Maister once more:
There is no shame in aiming for competence if you are unwilling to pay the price for excellence. But don’t try to mislead clients, staff, colleagues or yourself with time-wasting, demoralising attempts to convince them that you are actually committed to pursuing the goal.
Relax, it’s ok to be just ok
As I get present to the world of business as it is and as it is not, I get present to the following and contradicts all the evangelising about customer focus, customer service, customer experience, customer relationships and customer-centricity:
1. Almost all businesses are unexceptional. They provide ok products (that do the job well enough). They provide OK digital real estate (websites, social media, apps, mobile). They provide OK stores. They hire OK people. They provide OK customer service – whether in stores or via the call-centres. And they generate an OK end to end customer experience, by default. As a result they do OK – they survive and make OK profits.
2. It is only against this background of OKness that the exceptional can and does show up. It is because almost all banks and insurance companies are ok that USAA glow so brig and htly. It is because most digital retailers are OK that Amazon shines brightly. It is because most high street retailers are OK that John Lewis and Waitrose (part of the John Lewis Partnership) shine brightly. It is because most organisations provide OK customer service that Zappos and Zane’s Cycles shine brightly.