Category Archives: Employee Engagement
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.
The majority of new product launches fail – they simply do not attract enough customers to be commercially viable. Similarly, my experience suggests that the major of CRM systems fail – the people who are expected to use these systems do not do so at the level of scale necessary to generate business benefits. Therefore, one of the most critical challenges in realising value from a new CRM system is that of cultivating-fostering trail and adoption. Such that use of the CRM system becomes a way of life.
One of the most meaningful ways that I have found to think of CRM systems is to think of them as tools. What shows up, as clues to fostering adoption, if we choose to view a new CRM system as a tool? I cannot tell you what to do as failure is common and success is rare in CRM. So allow me to point out the land-mines that blow up CRM dreams.
If I am not aware that a tool exists, what jobs it does, and the promised benefits then it is guaranteed that I will not be try out the tool. Which explains the importance of advertising: generating awareness-interest and encouraging trial.
In my experience, most managers, most organisations, do not give adequate consideration to the challenge that lies in this area. Too many think a dull email or Powerpoint presentation is all that is necessary to facilitate the trial and adoption of a CRM system. Behind this complacency-arrogance lies the ‘master-slave’ stance towards employees. We are the masters, the employees are slaves, and they will use the CRM system because we tell them to and because of the threat of the whip for disobedience.
Imagine turning up to store and finding that the store is out of stock for the tool that you are after. Or imagine that you can see the tool in your workshop : it is locked away and you do not have the keys. The lack of access, of availability, is a big issue for frontline people who are often out of the office. This is the key reason that I stay away from SaaS offerings when I am travelling and have important work to get done. Instead I rely on desktop applications (which do not need to be connected to the cloud) and pen/paper.
Accessibility/Availability continues to be significant issue for CRM systems when it comes to the folks out in the field talking with customers.
If a tool is to be used then it must show up as being usable. What does that mean? It means that I must be able to pick it up and use it without having to read a 30 page document which shows up as gibberish. It means that the tool must not be too heavy or too light. It must not be too high or too low. It must not be too long or too short. It must not be too bright nor too dark. It must not be too fast nor too slow. It must show up as just right rather like the iPad does – even for the two/three year olds.
Just about every CRM system I have come across fails the usability test: CRM systems do not show up as being easy to use. It occurs to me that CRM systems are firmly rooted in the early days of mobile phones whereas the people who are expected to use them are living in the iPad era. I cannot help but feel the busyness-clutteredness-ugliness of user interface in CRM systems. How much commerce would take place if this quality of user interface was exposed to customers?
For a tool to be used it has to be more than accessible and usable. It has to be useful. Which is to say it must either make my life simpler – make it easier/quicker to do an existing job. And/or open up new possibilities, enabling me to do that which I was not able to do, and thus making my life richer.
Many CRM systems do not show up as useful to those who are expected to use them: the sales people, the call centre people, and the marketing people. In theory, the CRM system should be the ‘one stop shop’ for all things customer. The reality is very different: sales folks, marketing folks, customer service folks have to use a multiplicity of systems to get the jobs that need to be done, done. Often, the new CRM system becomes one more system in a bundle of systems: complicating life rather than making it easier/simpler; increasing inefficiency through double keying, having to log into multiple systems etc rather than increasing productivity.
Tools change the balance of power. The introduction of the iPod and iTunes changed the balance of power between Apple and the music labels. The introduction of the iPhone changed the balance of power between Apple, the handset manufacturers, and the mobile networks. The introduction-adoption of the iPad changed the balance of power between Apple and PC makers. You get the idea.
CRM systems change the balance of power: they increase the power of those in management positions and decrease the power of those who have to feed the CRM beast: those interacting with customers.
CRM systems are resisted, in a multiplicity of ways, by those who find themselves managed (Bottoms). Many of the managed often feel vulnerable, to some extent naked, as a result of CRM systems. They are left feeling that the already small space of freedom, of autonomy, of power is being taken away by management. Often it is.
Everything that exists, exists in relationship. What does this have to do with CRM systems? Put simply, ecology matters!
Of what use is a locomotive without the right train track? Of what use are railways without trains? Of what use are trains and railways without train stations? Of what use are trains, railways and train stations without skilled personnel to drive-maintain-operate the railway network? Of what use is the railway network without passengers willing to travel by rail? Hopefully you get the critical importance of the interlocking of the ‘parts’ to co-create the ‘whole’: the system.
Many CRM systems fail to be adopted because they simply do not fit into the existing way of ‘doing things around here’. And the willingness to shift the ‘way we do things around here’ is absent. Please note that the ‘way we do things around here’ is more than process and culture. It includes everything: the leadership style; the management style, organisational structure; the people who constitute the organisation; the relationships between groups of people; practices – what people do; processes; technology infrastructure; performance management framework ……
I once found myself telling a client “CRM is not about data and technology. Yes, it involves data and technology. No, its not a data and technology project. Yes, CRM involves business process. No, it is not about business process. CRM is about shifting the ‘way we do things around here.’”
Please note: all of these ‘pieces of the puzzle’ have to be addressed simply to get enough people in the organisation to use the CRM system. Whether the CRM system generates business benefits or not is a different question. Put differently adoption does not necessarily imply stronger customer relationships nor competitive advantage.
Why Not Replace People With Technology?
In the second half of the 90s I was involved in consulting in the area of shared services. Being a sidekick I got to witness the sales pitch. What was the sales pitch? No human beings. Everything in the back office was subject to business rules. The business rules could be codified, programmed and back office work could be automated. No human necessary. Nirvana: 24/7/365 nirvana of efficiency guaranteed to deliver the same outcome each and every time.
Today, I notice the same love of technology as regards the front office: where the customer meets the enterprise. In this age of technology do people still matter? Do we need sales people given that content marketing will generate the interest, product demos can be put on the web, and the ‘inside sales’ people can take the orders? Do we need to have any people in marketing given that big data will generate the insights, decision engines will contain the heuristics, market resource management systems will hold the marketing assets, and marketing automation will take care of the execution of marketing campaigns? Do we need people in the call-centres taking calls given the extensive self-help that can be enabled through digital channels and every customer would prefer to interact via Twitter? Do we need people in the stores? Why not rebuild the stores so that they resemble a combination of a website and a vending machine?
What Do These Two Women Say On The Matter?
Allow me to share a conversation that I overheard the other day between two women. Before I do that let me set some context. Waitrose is supermarket chain in the UK and it is owned by The John Lewis Partnership. The John Lewis Partnership has been and continues to do well despite tough times for retailers. Tesco used to be the darling of the CRM press and used to be the dominant supermarket chain. It has not been doing so well since austerity hit. Morrisons is the fourth largest chain of supermarkets in the UK.
As promised here is the gist of the conversation (between two women) that I overheard at the weekend:
Mrs A: “Waitrose is known for their great customer service and rightly so. It’s easy to find someone to help you. And when you ask for help in finding something, the Waitrose person walks you across the store and takes you right to the item you are looking for. They are so helpful.”
Mrs B. “I was in Waitrose this week and wasn’t sure what ingredients I needed for eggs Benedict; I haven’t cooked them before. So I asked for help. The Waitrose man didn’t know either but he told me that he would find out. I saw him walk to one of his colleagues. Then he came back and told me what I needed and how to cook eggs Benedict. He was so helpful: he made my problem his own. That’s such good service.”
Mrs B. “The staff in Morrisons don’t walk with you to the item you are looking for. Yet, I always find them warm, friendly and helpful.”
Mrs A. “I don’t like Tesco. It is hard to find people in the store to help you. And when you do find someone to help they tell you where you can find the item, point towards it, and then leave you to it. They don’t walk with you and show you where it is. They don’t care – not at all like the Waitrose people.”
Mrs B. “I used to do all my shopping at Tesco. Then Tesco got greedy – pushing up prices and cutting down on the customer service. Now, I shop for the basics at Morrisons and the rest from Waitrose.”
My Take On The Situation
I’ll leave you decide whether people matter or not in the age of technology. For myself, I am clear that humans are simply more at ease in dealing with other human beings. And there is no substitute for great customer service – the way that the folks in Waitrose (and John Lewis) stores interact with their customers, and amongst themselves.
Before you rush off to revamp your customer service remember that one ingredient does not a dish make. A great dish always consist of the insightful application of a recipe – and the recipe requires a mix of ingredients, in the right measure, and sequence, cooked for just the right amount of time. How does one generate such insight? Through experience: on the battlefield of life. What is the recipe? The business philosophy and organisational design: what matters, who matters, the operating principles, how conflict is handled, how rewards are shared, how people are structured into groups, and how interactions-relationships-differences-conflicts are handled…
Please note: I am not in the business of giving advice (in this blog). So you shouldn’t take anything in this blog as constituting advice. In this blog I find myself involved in sharing my thinking and experience. That is all. Then you make of it what you make of it.